On free will: my new piece in USA Today

I’ve written an op-ed piece that is online at the latest USA Today: “Why you don’t really have free will.

My views won’t surprise regular readers, many of whom of course object to such views.  To these detractors I’ll respond as did Hitchens at 7:03 (but, since I love my readers, without the invitation to posterior osculation): “I can’t find a seconder usually when I propose this but I don’t care. I don’t need a seconder. My own opinion is enough for me. And I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, anytime.”

Actually, I do have a seconder:  Sam Harris, whose new book Free Will is due out out in March. His views are largely confluent with mine.

I’m sure I’ll hear from the usual defenders of compatibilism: the idea that physical determinism, on which I think most of us agree, is perfectly compatible with free will. And my feeling about compatibilism is pretty much the same as Sam’s, which he expresses in his upcoming book (quoted with permission):

As I have said, I think compatibilists like Dennett change the subject: They trade a psychological fact—the subjective experience of being a conscious agent—for a conceptual understanding of ourselves as persons. This is a bait and switch. The psychological truth is that people feel identical to a certain channel of information in their conscious minds. Dennett is simply asserting that we are more than this—we are coterminous with everything that goes on inside our bodies, whether we are conscious of it or not. This is like saying we are made of stardust—which we are. But we don’t feel like stardust. And the knowledge that we are stardust is not driving our moral intuitions or our system of criminal justice.

Compatibilists resemble theologians in many ways, not the least of which is that they both engage in endless lucubrations trying to show that something that doesn’t exist, but that is hugely important for our psychological well-being, really does exist in some form or another.  People hate the idea that they aren’t agents who can make free choices, just as they hate they idea that there might not be a Protective Father in heaven.

Some sophisticated philosophers who defend compatibilism also resemble sophisticated theologians: their language is fancy, but the content remains thin.  There’s another resemblance, too: as science (in this case neuroscience) does away with the traditional notion of free will, just as science did away with the traditional arguments for a Great Designer, philosophers simply make a philosophical virtue out of scientific necessity.  That’s precisely what theologians do with the God problem.

In the end, we simply aren’t agents who can make free choices among alternative courses of action. What we do is determined not by our own agency, but by physical laws. All else is rationalization.

I predict, because I claimed that dispensing with free will makes hash of many religious views, that the most flak I’ll get for this piece will not be from philosophers, academics, or smart secularists, but from the faithful.

Finally, I’ll quote Sam again from a piece he wrote earlier this year at PuffHo,:

The problem with compatibilism, as I see it, is that it tends to ignore that people’s moral intuitions are driven by a deeper, metaphysical notion of free will. That is, the free will that people presume for themselves and readily attribute to others (whether or not this freedom is, in Dennett’s sense, “worth wanting”) is a freedom that slips the influence of impersonal, background causes. The moment you show that such causes are effective–as any detailed account of the neurophysiology of human thought and behavior would– proponents of free will can no longer locate a plausible hook upon which to hang their notions of moral responsibility. The neuroscientists Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen make this same point:

Most people’s view of the mind is implicitly dualist and libertarian and not materialist and compatibilist . . . [I]ntuitive free will is libertarian, not compatibilist. That is, it requires the rejection of determinism and an implicit commitment to some kind of magical mental causation . . . contrary to legal and philosophical orthodoxy, determinism really does threaten free will and responsibility as we intuitively understand them (Greene J & J. Cohen. 2004).

436 Comments

  1. Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    It didn’t take long for a rabid theist to show up!

    “You do have the ability to step outside the brain’s structure; and you do it on a regular basis. Christ’s Great Commandment is to “Love God with all of your heart (emotions), mind (brain), soul (spirit) and strength (physical body). If you will excuse the term, we are “bipolar’ beings, physical and spiritual. The connections between those poles are the mind/brain and the heart. (Yes, for you scientific purists, I know that the physical seat of emotions is not the heart, but then we don’t put brains and glands on valentines, now do we?) ”

    I’m not replying because trying to tease apart all the many ways this is crazy will make my brains explode, and it’s my day off and I don’t want to have to clean brains off my kitchen walls.

  2. Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    We already understand that free will isn’t a simple term. We are born with attributes we didn’t choose, to a family and conditions we didn’t choose, we get an education we didn’t choose…in short, we are raised and molded having no free will.

    As a result, a person in this world is “cooked” by his parents, the environment, and society…so he has no freedom and we cannot demand anything from him; after all, he is a machine. It seems to him that he has his own thoughts, his own desires, his own deeds, but actually they are inevitable and he is compelled to act that way..

    http://www.mutualconnection.wordpress.com

    • steve
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      I’ll second this.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      …and finally, as Steven Pinker explained, we subconsciously tell ourselves stories – rationalizations – about how we conjured those thoughts, desires and deeds ourselves.

      I can’t remember the details, but in The Blank Slate he described an experiment in which the subject received a stimulus to perform a certain action (I believe it was to walk in a certain direction) and when asked why he did it the subject didn’t respond “I’m not sure”, he responded by inventing a reason. IIRC, it was something along the lines of “I wanted a Coke, and the machine’s is over there.”

      Apologies if I really mangled the details of that experiment. But the gist remains the same. A rather large nail in the coffin of free will, it seems to me.

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

        Also, apologies for mangling my spelling and grammar.

        In my second paragraph, only the first “he” refers to Pinker.

        And “machine’s is”? What can I say? I’m tired.

      • CJ
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        If memory serves, Pinker was describing the amazing experiment done by Michael Gazzaniga here:

        • CJ
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

          i think this video demonstrates pretty clearly that “Will” is certainly NOT “Free”.

        • Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

          Yes, Pinker cited Gazzaniga a number of times, and that “music + bell” bit demonstrates the same phenomenon I mentioned. But I’m pretty sure there was another example Pinker gave that was closer to what I described. I know Coke was mentioned.

          Very cool stuff. :)

          • CJ
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

            From “The Blank Slate”:

            One of the most dramatic demonstrations of the illusion of the unified
            self comes from the neuroscientists Michael Gazzaniga and Roger Sperry, who
            showed that when surgeons cut the corpus callosum joining the cerebral
            hemispheres, they literally cut the self in two, and each hemisphere can exercise
            free will without the other one’s advice or consent. Even more disconcertingly,
            the left hemisphere constantly weaves a coherent but false account of the
            behavior chosen without its knowledge by the right. For example, if an experimenter
            flashes the command “WALK” to the right hemisphere (by keeping it
            in the part of the visual field that only the right hemisphere can see), the person
            will comply with the request and begin to walk out of the room. But when
            the person (specifically, the person’s left hemisphere) is asked why he just got
            up, he will say, in all sincerity, “To get a Coke”–rather than “I don’t really
            know” or “The urge just came over me” or “You’ve been testing me for years
            since 1 had the surgery, and sometimes you get me to do things but I don’t
            know exactly what you asked me to do.” Similarly, if the patient’s left hemisphere
            is shown a chicken and his right hemisphere is shown a snowfall, and
            both hemispheres have to select a picture that goes with what they see (each
            using a different hand), the left hemisphere picks a claw (correctly) and the
            right picks a shovel (also correctly). But when the left hemisphere is asked why
            the whole person made those choices, it blithely says, “Oh, that’s simple. The
            chicken claw goes with the chicken, and you need a shovel to clean out the
            chicken shed.”
            The spooky part is that we have no reason to think that the baloney-generator
            in the patient’s left hemisphere is behaving any differently from ours
            as we make sense of the inclinations emanating from the rest of our brains. The
            conscious mind–the self or soul–is a spin doctor, not the commander in
            chief. Sigmund Freud immodestly wrote that “humanity has in the course of
            time had to endure from the hands of science three great outrages upon its
            naive self-love”: the discovery that our world is not the center of the celestial
            spheres but rather a speck in a vast universe, the discovery that we were not
            specially created but instead descended from animals, and the discovery that
            often our conscious minds do not control how we act but merely tell us a story
            about our actions. He was right about the cumulative impact, but it was
            cognitive neuroscience rather than psychoanalysis that conclusively delivered
            the third blow.

            • Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

              Ah. Thank you! Yes. That was the passage. Perhaps it’s time for me to re-read TBS. :)

            • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

              koolio

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

        “…and finally, as Steven Pinker explained, we subconsciously tell ourselves stories – rationalizations – about how we conjured those thoughts, desires and deeds ourselves.”

        I’m sorry, but this act itself can also be reduced to the same mechanisms. So, if I cannot be said to make any choices, neither can I be said to be rationalizing my non-choice through the use of self-deceiving stories, because my rationalization itself would be a deterministic outcome of physical processes.

        Merely being able to discuss this topic requires us to take for granted certain concepts which can perhaps be reduced into other things. But during our dialog, they canot not all be fully reduced at the same time, or else our language will devolve into infinite recursion.

        • Posted January 3, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

          Neither I not Pinker claimed we come up with those stories contra-causally. Sure, they’d have to be part of the chain. But I don’t see how that could be evidence that this is not what’s happening.

          • Posted January 3, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

            Besides, did you not see the man do exactly that in the video?!

  3. Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    It is a good article, and you are right. I am not surprised by it, but people coming in cold on USA Today will (and have, given the comments) not got it yet.

    Heh, from the last line ” With that under our belts, we can go about building a kinder world.” I would have added “if we feel compelled to do so.”

    I think the ice-cream choice example would have helped to illustrate the point near the phrase “But two lines of evidence suggest that such free will is an illusion.” Given the situation of choosing between chocolate and vanilla, the choice you will make is based on the chemistry and physiological makeup of your mouth and tongue, current digestive state, and the social upbringing you have had, and memories of previous experiences with both flavours. Peer pressure would also be a factor. In any case, all of these competing inputs to the brain for making the choice are processed automatically below the level of consciousness so it feels like free will. At least, until you think about it. It is an interesting exercise to try to pull apart the various aspects of choice and see if you can identify the extent of individual motivators and controls when deciding on something as trivial as ice cream, or life affirming as coffee.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      PS: I like my strings :)

      • Afav8r
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

        I love how you say these “illusions” of free will are products of natural selection. That doesn’t answer your question of where they came from. It merely explains why they stuck around. Natural selection doesn’t create anything…it preserves it. It never ceases to amaze me how supernatural attributes are given to natural selection creating your own version of a deity.

        I would like to see your results with an experiment that involves some moral weight. It seems to me that free will manifests itself in the choices to NOT pursue the reflexive, “fleshly” desires that we’re “programmed” to follow. This is alluded to briefly in your article, but not expanded upon. Vanilla, chocolate? Green button, red button? Come on! All you’ve proven is that for decisions of no consequence, people really don’tcare.

        • Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

          “Natural selection doesn’t create anything…it preserves it.”

          That’s like saying that a sculptor never creates anything, he merely preserves stone.

          • Prof.Pedant
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

            There is a story that someone asked an Eskimo stonecarver how he carved a seal out of a stone. He is said to have replied that he “cuts away the parts that are not seal”. So, supposedly, some sculptors experience their carving as preserving or liberating what is already in the stone. Probably a useful analogy for anyone who understands that it is an analogy.

            • Jim Balter
              Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:02 am | Permalink

              That was Michelangelo, who wasn’t an Eskimo and didn’t carve seals.

        • keith
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

          Afav8r: I suggest doing some background reading on how natural selection can be both a creative force and a stabilizing force. There are multiple modes of selection whereby adaptations can come into being. If heritable cognitive traits that produced “illusions” (whether we are conscious of them or not) varied in a population and promoted the fitness of the individuals expressing those traits, then the trait would increase in frequency in the next generation. As to how a particular comes into being in the first place, there are many ways in which DNA molecules can be mutated or otherwise edited; no supernatural intervention required at all.

        • Jim Balter
          Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:00 am | Permalink

          “Natural selection doesn’t create anything…it preserves it.”

          When people refer to natural selection, they often mean NS+RM, which is certainly creative.

          “It never ceases to amaze me how supernatural attributes are given to natural selection creating your own version of a deity.”

          You are being amazed by your own unwarranted projection. Go learn some basic biology.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

      Our Jerry shud crowdsource a draft b4 going public.

  4. BrotherGilburt
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    The inanity of the theist-response-shitstorm is incredible. Several people have claimed that if free will is an illusion, then logic and reason must also be an illusion. How does that even make sense? If someone uses a valid logical argument, how is it suddenly invalid if they don’t have free will? If I say “this dog is a dog” (The Law of Identity), but have no free will, how is that statement suddenly invalid and meaningless?

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      What you’re reading there are not responses of people who have thought about the subject for more than two seconds.

      They’re just knee-jerk reactions to a subject that makes them feel uncomfortable.

      There is no objection on that page so far that amounts to anything more substantive than: “I don’t like what you are saying so I am going to say you are wrong”.

      • steve
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

        Propably so… though a couple of responses seem as if they’ve been previously tried.

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        Eh, it’s a legitimate question. If our reasoning faculties are evolved, are they reliable? Of course, the question also has a legitimate answer that certain people (e.g. C.S. Lewis) should have been smart enough to understand – our reasoning faculties evolved because they worked (with all the necessary disclaimers about how piss-poor they sometimes are.)

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      Yet you make moral judgements, as if these commenters did have free will. Is that not hypocritical?

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

        Sorry, let me help BrotherGilburt out:

        “The (completely pre-determined, nothing-they-could-have-done-about-it) inanity of the theist-response-shitstorm is incredible.”

        There we go.

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

        Did you read the bit Jerry write about how punishments, judgments, ridicule, et al. serve as inputs themselves? To either facilitate rehabilitation in the offender, or preventative rehabilitation, so to speak, in onlookers?

        Punishment/reward is not a concept we have to jettison in the absence of free will.

        • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

          Good god! I’m batting zero.

          *wrote*

          • Diane G.
            Posted January 3, 2012 at 1:03 am | Permalink

            FWIW, I never notice your typos (nor those of many others) till you (they) point them out. My brain, apparently, sees what it expects you to have written…

        • Tim Harris
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

          But why should this insight lead us to be ‘nicer’ as both Jerry and the fellow who wrote ‘The Atheist’s Guide to Reality’ suppose? Why not make punishments as draconian as possible in order to imprint upon people’s minds that they should not do certain things?

          • Chris Granger
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

            I presume it’s because realizing people’s actions are the inevitable result of their genes and their environment, we see them as not deliberately malicious or _____ [insert the appropriate word of your choice] thus making draconian punishments cruel and unjustified.

            Meat robots still suffer, and inflicting suffering for deeds done is morally wrong if it can be avoided.

            I guess you’d have to weigh the value of the effect of punishment versus the suffering and decide if the benefits outweigh the costs.

          • Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

            That’s a fair question, and I had a similar thought: how does the (alleged, admittedly) fact that punishment serves as a behavior altering input comport with the idea many hold to that the death penalty really isn’t a successful deterrent?

            Perhaps the answer is that punishment, in general, is a reliable deterrent, but the severity of the punishment is more or less irrelevant. As long as it’s made clear, with some kind of punishment, that society doesnt want to tolerate certain behavior, the work is done. Harsher punishments perhaps aren’t necessary to convey the message.

            Perhaps.

          • Jim Balter
            Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:10 am | Permalink

            “Why not make punishments as draconian as possible in order to imprint upon people’s minds that they should not do certain things?”

            Because there is not a linear relationship between draconian and effective. Recognizing that there’s no free will leads to kindness because so much unkindness is a result of vindictiveness and retribution, not a rational evaluation of the most effective deterrent.

            • Tim Harris
              Posted January 3, 2012 at 3:02 am | Permalink

              Recognising that there is no free will SHOULD lead to kindness, I agree, but will it? There seems to me to be no necessary connexion or linear relation between not believing in free will and kindness. When Stalin unleashed his reign of terror on intellectuals and others, he certainly was not interested in punishing them for their moral failings or for using their wills freely, but in cowing them and preventing challenges to his power, and until his death his methods were certainly very effective, whether or not there is a linear relation between draconian and effective. I might add that Marxism depended on a belief in historical determinism and that the bourgeoisie needed to be got out of the way because they could not change.

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        You don’t honestly expect everyone to shrug like a nihilist because those utterly unaware of the developments in this field don’t have free will?

        It’s one thing to argue about what physical determinism means in real terms for humans.

        That is not what most of the very early USA Today commenters were doing though. They were just dismissing the idea and denouncing the author – rather like those who believed that the speed of steam locomotives would be dangerous to humans.

        A bit of reading might make them change their minds, or not as the case may be. But only then would the interesting conversation begin.

  5. Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on In This Twilight and commented:
    Some Food for Thought…

  6. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    I’ve no criticism of your article because I share your views. Plus one, as they say.

    The only thing I would add is that I think that we are stunningly unaware of most of the precursor information, recent and historic, that determines our actions. Since we can observe ourselves ‘choosing’ but cannot see the reasons for the choice, we infer our own personal agency (ie free will) to justify our choices. After all we infer agency to explain the actions of people and many other things.

    Most of our early subjective knowledge appears to be formed by abduction – given a particular effect we try to abduce the cause. ‘Why is the alpha male upset with me?’. ‘What is the cause of thunder?’. ‘I’ve just been fed, what did I do to make that happen?’. In the absence of comprehensive knowledge of the causes, we assume agency. It’s a handy (blind evolutionary process) way of reducing the load on the brain, and very often works well enough to promote our well being.

    • Shack Toms
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think of personal agency and free will as being identical. Freedom is possible (and perhaps only possible) without personal agency.

      Maybe our thoughts, desires, etc have an impersonal origin. The thought of a personal agency exists as a thought, but it might be a mistake, it might not correspond to reality.

      That is, the thought “This is my desire” might not be “my” thought, and the desire might not be “my” desire (although the awareness of the thought and the desire is certainly mine).

      Maybe a way to express this is to think about listening to a radio drama, and hearing the protagonist say “I love Helga”. We observe this, but it doesn’t arise from our personal agency. It was somehow thrust into our awareness.

      According to the Coyne definition, there is free will provided that this thrusting is random, uncorrelated with any other knowable phenomena. So that doesn’t require personal agency. In fact, it seems incompatible with personal agency because that would lend a measure of predictability.

      According to my definition, there is free will provided that we like the outcome of the drama, but this is just another thought and thus need not be personal.

      Maybe a Hindu would say that there is freedom in utter disidentification, essentially in letting go of that willing suspension of disbelief that leads to concern about how the drama turns out. It is like the feeling of freedom while having a lucid dream, a freedom that comes of disidentification with the dreamed image of the self.

      There are a lot of ways of looking at freedom, and most of them don’t seem based in personal agency. So I don’t think personal agency is necessary. At least it doesn’t appear to be identical with freedom.

  7. Myron
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    As for “meat computers”:

    “The brain is not a computer, and the world is not a piece of tape.”

    (Edelman, Gerald M. Wider Than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. p. 39)

    • Jim Balter
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:19 am | Permalink

      “The brain is not a computer, and the world is not a piece of tape.”

      They’re computationally equivalent. However, that doesn’t help us understand how the brain works, which is what Edelman is trying to do. I think it is unfortunate that he engages in this false dichotomy between computationalism and biological theories like his neural Darwinism.

    • Posted January 3, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      Here’s a great video of a talk including Edelman. http://www.thirteen.org/forum/topics/150-years-of-the-origin-of-species/279/

      By the way ignore the questioner in the Q&A asking about souls–he was one of our recent trolls, David Roemer. He touted this video (in another discussion) as an example of lying Darwinists. At least I go an informative video out of that discussion.

  8. Nick
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    The Buddha solved all these problems 2500 years ago.The current problem is there’s no monks that do what he taught.All are corrupt.You must read the Nikayas to get exactly what he taught.The path is much to difficult for most people including Monks.The Mahayna became a major corruption of the path 2000 years ago.Few can succed as TOTAL commitment is the only way to get free.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

      Free of *what,* may I ask?

      • Jeff
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        Free of anxiety, anger, hatred, greed, gluttony, vanity, impatience, annoyance, contempt, vengeance, etc.

        Of course a bullet in the head could accomplish all this as well. Total everlasting peace.

        It’s difficult to take seriously the claim that our current problem is that not enough people follow a path that is much too difficult for most people to follow.

        I wonder if “TOTAL commitment” is consistent with the middle way. Even Buddha played and laughed after he got over the TOTAL commitment of excessive self-denial his ascetic period.

    • Jim Balter
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:20 am | Permalink

      Woo bore.

  9. Duke York
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Forgive me for posting this observation twice, but I didn’t get your thoughts on it the first time.

    How does the idea that we don’t have free will — that everything we do is predetermined by the physical state of the world — relate to evolution. Surely the evolutionary processes are just as determined by the physical causes as our minds?

    Consider Gould’s thought experiment in _It’s a Wonderful Life_, where he rewound the tape of time to the Cambrian Explosion. He claimed that whole different classes of life would evolve. If you take a non-free-will stance, it seems to me you’re forced to say that no, if we rewound everything, we’d get exactly the same course of evolution we have now, right?

    If you say that we don’t have free will, aren’t you also forced to concede that _Homo sapiens_ was predetermined from the initial instant of the big bang? In other words, if we don’t have free will, human beings are also predetermined, and the whole universe, in some way, came into being to have exactly us.

    It seems to me that this is a very theological statement. Am I misunderstanding something?

    Duke

    • steve
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      What about that statement make it theological? Where is the theos upon which the theology is hinged.

      • Duke York
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        Sure: this is predestination without a someone predetermining the end result.

        The overall fatalism still stands, though. If there is nothing like free will, there is no chance of a different set of evolutionary facts, and this (to me at least) seems quite a bit like Calvinist predetermination.

        • Jim Balter
          Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:22 am | Permalink

          You want evolution to have free will, and if it doesn’t then biology is “quite a bit like” religion?

    • Sigmund
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      The evolution point came up when we discussed this question previously. I think the answer is that it depends on quantum uncertainty effects. Normal neurological function is unlikely to be affected by such effects (for example decay of a radioactive isotope). Evolution, on the other hand, may be affected – since it depends on mutations, many of which will be caused by radioactive decay.
      Therefore there is a plausible basis for Goulds thought experiment – with the exception of a scenario in which even quantum level events occurred as they did the first time around.

      • Duke York
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        Sorry I missed that last conversation; They tend to get very long very quickly and I just missed it.

        As I see it, if you were to roll back the tape and then change the quantum fluctuations, it would seem to me that you aren’t really rolling back the tape.

        I remain unconvinced by the arguments, though, and not because of any sort of quantum questions; if our behavior is influenced quantum fluctuations, even if we are non-deterministic, we aren’t free in the important sense of free will.

        More to the point, I’m a compatabalist because regardless this “roll back the tape” thought-experiment, we have free will going forward. It is (as far as I see it) theoretically impossible to completely accurately predict the actions of intelligent beings. You might be able to make an approximation, but there would necessarily always be some error going forward in time.

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        Sigmund, if anything in the world ever was influenced by quantum-mechanical uncertainties, then these effects would be magnified by the chaotic nature of classical deterministic dynamics, thus creating macroscopic indeterminacy. These effects will have impacts on brains. So our brains are not immune from quantum indeterminacy, even if they were completely deterministic objects. They are linked to an indeterminate world.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Yes you are misunderstanding something. You are confusing free will with randomness.

    • Marcus
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      In other words, if we don’t have free will, human beings are also predetermined, and the whole universe, in some way, came into being to have exactly us.

      Even if we accept your argument, your conclusion still doesn’t follow. The universe no more came into existence to have exactly us than it came into being to have exactly dinosaurs.

      Determinism does not imply intention.

      • Duke York
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        I was imprecise in my language. I meant to refer to a sort of panglossian everything-is-necessary idea.

        I should have said something like “came into being to have exactly us and everything else”.

    • Prof.Pedant
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Too many events are ultimately unpredictable for anything to be determinable on an evolutionary timescale. Even if we devote every atom in the universe to computing what will happen next there is still the weirdness of quantum indeterminacy. But, sufficient knowledge of the inputs into any system does enable one to have a _probabilistic understanding_ of the likely consequences. Evolutionary history is the result of many many many of those probabilistic outcomes, predicting that under X circumstances you are most likely to choose vanilla is only one of those many many many probabilistic outcomes.

  10. Myron
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    If determinism is true, then we don’t have libertarian free will.
    Is determinism true? If yes, how do we know?

    • Jim Balter
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:25 am | Permalink

      Inference to the best explanation.

  11. Myron
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    “[L]et me define what I mean by ‘free will.’ I mean it simply as the way most people think of it: When faced with two or more alternatives, it’s your ability to freely and consciously choose one, either on the spot or after some deliberation.…—you could have chosen differently.” – J. Coyne

    Are there any empirical statistics which confirm your appeal to the people?

    • steve
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      Myron,

      After reading the responses given over at USA Today, you doubt that this is what most people are thinking people have when they say people have fre will?

  12. Gerdien
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    That is to say, Jerry Coyne’s choice in footwear is not due to his free will, but due to the deterministic processes in his brain. Big deal.

  13. Dominic
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    One of Nature’s most popular articles last year was this on Free Will – freely available I think –

    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110831/full/477023a.html

  14. David Leech
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Still no sure about this, Jerry seems to be arguing that bias in making a choice (through learning and experience) is actually no choice at all. Of course we are going to choose something we like rather than something we like less or not at all. Though didn’t we get to this point by making different choices before and eventually reaching our preferences.

    • TomZ
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      So you demonstrate proof of a choice by saying that you were led to your current biases by choices in the past? What led to those prior choices? – Why more choices of course!

      Is it choices all the way down?

      • David Leech
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 1:34 am | Permalink

        I’m just saying: personal taste + preferences = ‘no free will’ is one giant leap in logic.

  15. Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Is it just me, or does it seem that the non-free willists are the ones slinging invective and claiming absolute knowledge? An example paraphrase: “How stupid to argue against the fact that we do not have free will.”

    Yes, yes, yes, people that don’t agree with you are ignorant, they just don’t understand. Where have I heard that before?

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      I’ll grant for the moment your premise that invective is being slung (though I doubt the severity of it).

      So, your gameplan is to counter judgement with judgement? Like, do you want certain people to apologize for things they said about others who aren’t even here? Then you’ll be happy?

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        Where do you get that assumption from?
        Here, folks, is another example of the subterfuge of the NFW(non-free willists).
        Notice he only directs his attention to part of my statement, notice he seeds to intentionally miss my point even then, notice the red herring this introduces.

        To answer you: No, that wouldn’t ‘make’ me happy, because that is not the point of my contentions.

        Tell me why you sling invectives.
        Oh, I get it, because you have no choice: i.e. Godditit.

        LMAO! “So, your gameplan is to counter judgement with judgement?’” No, my gameplan is to illuminate the hypocrisy of the NFWs.

        • Jim Balter
          Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:37 am | Permalink

          “No, my gameplan is to illuminate the hypocrisy of the NFWs.”

          Does that make them wrong?

          You’re simply trolling. If you have a substantive argument for or against free will, make it.

    • Jim Balter
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:35 am | Permalink

      You’re trolling. Say something about the substance.

  16. seashell
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Show me where the blood flows to the neuron that makes my choice. Ever heard of a lag time in reflexes?

    Does the combined effect of my experiences help me make my choice? Do my ancestors live on in my genes? Does my genetic makeup predispose me toward certain responses? Yes. This is who I am. I am unique. And uniqueness equals free will. It does not dictate it.

    Behold the power of the brain. A God-like structure in the center of our anthropomorphic universe. That it processes quicker than we can “think,” only adds to the beauty of free will.

    • GBJames
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      “Uniqueness equals free will”? And each snowflake is an example?

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      You’re going to have to show how uniqueness equals free will. You can’t just assert it as though it were self-evident.

      And to counter that claim: you could say two different and one-of-a-kind Rube Goldberg contraptions were unique. But neither would demonstrate free will. We are simply very large, very complex Rube Goldberg contraptions.

      And you know, uniqueness isn’t all that unique. Even things that appear exactly alike couldn’t possibly be, down to the molecule.

    • TomZ
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Wow – “(The brain) processes (decisions) faster than we can (be consciously aware of), only adds to the beauty of free will.”
      That line of black-white war-peace double-speak is about as impressive as the ole’ reliable “Being a servant for god/jebus/etc is the most free you can ever be.”

      In other words, you think free will is great because you don’t have to use your cognitive abilities or your will to let it naturally happen. Gotcha. Thanks

  17. Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    I am not sure what the compatibilists argue, so I am not sure how your stardust analogy works. But I do have to agree with that point in that I don’t think that the fMRI results say anything about free will, pro or con. The fact that a physical process is involved in making a decision is a given of materialism. It is hardly surprising that parts of that process are not conscious. I don’t see how that makes a difference except in that your definition of free will is too limited by requiring it to be a conscious process.

    But otherwise I agree with you, but it really doesn’t make a difference. It is like tossing a coin. At the moment of the coin toss the results are determined and in principle could be predicted and would be the same if all circumstances could be restored (modulo the odd quantum effect; so it is predictable 99.99% of the time) the fact is that *we* cannot predict it, and is therefore random to any test you can make. Free will is the same way. And again, quantum effects may change things in a very small number of cases, but I don’t think that makes much difference. To those that cling to the concept of actual free will, I don’t think there is much comfort in having one in a thousand decisions be random instead of determined.

    But those quantum effects are important in the grand scheme of things. To answer Mr. York above, while quantum effects are probably not a big factor in the workings of our brains, they certainly are a big factor in the molecular processes governing DNA replication and modification. And due to the butterfly effect, they have huge effects at macro scale over a long enough time frame. I wonder if the “tape” were rewound and replayed, would even the shape of the continents have been the same?

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Please, do not forget chaos. It is another source of indeterminacy.

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        You mean like chaos in a mathematical sense with non-linear dynamical systems? Systems like this may be indeterminate to us only because of limits of computing. But exact initial conditions would produce the same results every time.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

          The problem is that you can’t reproduce exact initial conditions in physics.

          First, you can always blame experimental uncertainty. If you had access to infinite energy and time, you could possibly recreate a situation without measurable uncertainty.

          Second, you can blame quantum indeterminacy.

          Third, tying into both of the above, it may be that physics is about algorithmic resources. See Scott Aaronson on that. A simple example, what increases entropy in computing is to erase bits you choose is not important.*

          Then given locally finite resources you can’t recreate infinite precision.

          ————–
          * The last is analogous to how quantum observation means choosing important outcomes. It all comes down to that choice, variation and selection, is how the arrow of time progresses.

          And the ability of making choices, even in complex situations, is all what empirical free will describes. So it can be seen as an inevitable outcome of time and complexity.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

            Oops, I meant you can blame quantum uncertainty of course.

      • Jim Balter
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:40 am | Permalink

        Chaos is deterministic.

  18. Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I predict, because I claimed that dispensing with free will makes hash of many religious views, that the most flak I’ll get for this piece will not be from philosophers, academics, or smart secularists, but from the faithful.

    I predict that you will continue to poison the well in lue of open discussion. Of course I wouldn’t ‘know’ that were it not for my entirely superfluous conscious awareness. What exactly is awareness again? A physical thing? If I know all the components and processes of the brain, that is enough to understand a qualia?
    Pray tell, determinists, how you know so much about our phenomena of mind that you know which parts are illusion, and which ones are not.
    Of course free will doesn’t make sense, but neither does our self awareness. Yet, there you go.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      If I know all the components and processes of the brain, that is enough to understand a qualia?

      First: that should be “a quale.”

      Second: why would that not be enough to understand qualia?

  19. Gerdien
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    … determinism really does threaten free will and responsibility as we intuitively understand them (Greene J & J. Cohen. 2004).
    Does that mean that the deterministic processes in Jerry Coyne’s brain absolve him from all responsibility as to his choice of footwear? Is the argument that the deterministic processes that are unique to Jerry Coyne’s brain have left him bereft of free will in the matter of footwear?

  20. hazur
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Grania above: “They’re just knee-jerk reactions to a subject that makes them feel uncomfortable.” Well, the problem I see with Jerry’s, Sam’s, PZ’s, and others position is that every action becomes a reaction, and knee-jerk or any other qualification loose their meaning. Or I’m missing something. That’s why I find Dennett’s stance more appropriate.
    Similarly, I don’t see how ‘free will’ (in Dennett’s sense) can be criticized coherently while defending concepts like ‘meaning’ or ‘values’ and many others that are routinely used and defended by atheists (us) in general. (these problems have been pointed before and I haven’t seen them addressed by incompatibilists alla Jerry, but I may be wrong).

  21. Michieux
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    My only worry about this is that those of us saddled with a ‘through a glass darkly’ view of the world, ie, depression, will now have one less crutch to bolster an already derelict infrastructure.

    What advice, if any, do you have for such as us, Prof. Coyne?

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Not sure what Jerry would say, but I’d say that seeing we don’t have contra-causal free will – what the Buddha taught, essentially – is a good route to self-compassion and self-control, http://www.naturalism.org/therapy.htm

      I’d be interested to get your reactions.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

        The chap who wrote ‘The Atheist’s Guide to Reality’ (Alex Rosenberg? – I don’t have the book to hand and can’t recall his name), which presents a similar thesis to Jerry’s, suggests Prozac, and if that doesn’t work something else from the pharmaceutical cornucopia.

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        I have struggled with this “myself” from time to time, as a delusion can comfort one’s fatalism.

        We are exactly as “free” to chose our path as water down a hill. Entropy will win in the end, but we can enjoy the temporary imbalance.

  22. Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Whyevolutionistrue:

    “Compatibilists resemble theologians in many ways [...] People hate the idea that they aren’t agents who can make free choices …”

    Wow, argumentative Jerry! It seems to me that many compatibilists among your commentators agree with you about everything except semantics.

    I agree with you entirely about determinism and that we don’t have classical “free will”. At that point we have two choices: either strip the language of all words like “choice” and “decision”, or agree to use them for determined actions if the actor is complex enough.

    I see nothing wrong in saying that my laptop computer “chooses” an action, even though it is an entirely deterministic and programmed action, and I’m quite comfortable with the fact that I myself don’t have any more classical free-will than my computer.

    • S A GOULD
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      Mac or PC? That would make a difference. Also if you have dropped it or spilled soda in it.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      I should add to my above comment: I do agree with you that when talking to the public, who still cling to classical, dualist free-will, we should adopt a hardline “there is no free-will” stance.

      It’s only when someone thoroughly accepts that that they should then feel free to interpret words such as “choice” and “decision” in a compatibilist sense!

      • TomZ
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        In the same way that there’s *nothing wrong* with people saying “the sun has set/gone down/etc…”

        *except that, you know, it is wrong, but I don’t correct them by saying “no, the earth has rotated the sun out of view”

  23. Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Congrats Jerry, and thanks for drawing out the policy implications for criminal justice of seeing that we don’t have contra-causal free will: it’s very difficult to justify retribution. The same considerations apply when it comes to radical economic inequality: it’s much harder to justify without the myth of the ultimately self-made self which deeply deserves riches or poverty, http://www.naturalism.org/progressivepolitics.htm

    That said, it’s too bad you discount the very real determining role of the human agent in making choices. We’re just as causally efficacious in our deliberative capacities as all our causal antecedents. Claiming that we don’t really make choices (“If we can’t really choose how we behave…”) is not only false, but might lead some to confuse determinism with fatalism, leading to passivity and excuse-making. That in turn will make it more difficult for people to accept the science of human behavior and then draw the progressive policy conclusions. It looks as if Sam makes the same mistake in his Free Will essay, too bad.

    You say in the article:

    “…in reality we’re puppets performing scripted parts written by the laws of physics.”

    As I and others have pointed out many times here, this is to give all power to the laws of physics, ignoring the reality of higher level varieties of causation that participate in personhood, such as the complex brain-based cognitive and motivational processes that make coherent behavior possible. These make us active players in the world who realize our goals in accordance with our intentions; so even though we are fully determined in our development, we’re not mere puppets. To say that human choice making is just the result of the laws of physics is to say that persons and the higher levels of causation that define them are illusory, but they’re not: they are robustly certified by cognitive science, psychology, and behavioral economics.

    This means that we don’t need to *pretend* that we choose, as you recommend we do. Rather, we really *do* choose, since person-level choice-making is just as real and determinative of outcomes as the laws of physics. If you continue to deny this (for reasons that escape me), you’re actually reducing the chances that a progressive, science-based naturalism about ourselves can take hold. People quite justifiably want to be more than puppets, and on a naturalistic view of ourselves, they most definitely are, http://www.naturalism.org/demoralization.htm

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      “We’re just as causally efficacious in our deliberative capacities as all our causal antecedents.”

      This sounds like “The Ghost in the Machine” to me.

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        No ghost, just the deterministic neural processes that instantiate reasoning. These processes can’t be usefully described the level of physics, but they and their effects are just as real as any sub-atomic particle. Determinism doesn’t entail a reductionist eliminativism with respect to human agents, which is what Jerry seems to think.

        • Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

          Why can’t neural processes, perhaps in the future, if not presently, be described by physics? Especially considering that they’re real, as you admit.

          And why must reductionism entail “eliminativism”? Very often, reductionism is a helpful way to understand something more completely, to get at its basic nature, to get a look at the forest.

          In the spirit of friendly argument, I have to admit that it sounds to me like you’re trying to use language to paint Jerry’s view as “icky” (i. e. “eliminating” the “human element”).

          What I originally found suspect was that it seemed you were claiming there were causal inputs, or a set of causal inputs, that we could somehow conjure and insert into a separate and already flowing chain of cause-and-effect.

          • Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

            This is actually pretty simple. Physiology is based on chemistry, chemistry simply obeys the laws of physics. Physiology is under the laws of physics like conservation of energy, etc.

            Biology is just complicated organic chemistry. We are just talking about pedestrian animal, mammal, primate physiology and biology. Ho hum.

            • Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

              Yes. I agree.

              • Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

                Like pretty much all of this it’s not a matter of agreement, these are the simple facts.

            • Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

              Okay.
              O_o

              I was really just trying, tactfully, to point out that I was on the same side of the argument (i. e. acknowledging the simple facts, rather than trying to tap-dance around them via language and philosophical legerdemain).

              It seemed you thought I wasn’t.

          • Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

            You’re right that reductionism needn’t entail eliminativism, but Jerry talks as if higher-level processes don’t count in our descriptions and explanations of the world, including human behavior and choice-amking. Everything might be, ultimately, describable using physics alone, but that doesn’t make it the only real level of description, or the only real ontology. Plus it’s extremely awkward for purposes of prediction and control to restrict ourselves to the laws of physics.

            As for wanting to retain the human element, I plead guilty, but not because I depart from science, but because science shows that human agents and their causal powers are real natural phenomena.

            • Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

              try acting on your POV next time your child goes to the doctor or you fly on an airplane.

              • Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

                Don’t get me wrong. In what I’ve written above I’m not denying the laws of physics, chemistry or biology, only saying that they’re not exhaustive of valid scientific descriptions of the world. I and other material objects always obey the laws of physics, so I fly with confidence! :-)

          • Jim Balter
            Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:51 am | Permalink

            “Why can’t neural processes, perhaps in the future, if not presently, be described by physics? ”

            Why did you leave of Tom’s key word “usefully”, turning his statement into a strawman?

            Evolution by natural selection might also one day be described by physics, but that would not be a reason to abandon evolutionary explanations, or to dismiss evolution as a ghost in the machine.

          • Jim Balter
            Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:53 am | Permalink

            “Very often, reductionism is a helpful way to understand something more completely, to get at its basic nature, to get a look at the forest.”

            Reductionism is all about looking at trees rather than forests.

      • Jim Balter
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:47 am | Permalink

        ‘This sounds like “The Ghost in the Machine” to me.’

        I don’t know why you think that serves as any sort of rebuttal. You offer no reason to think that we are *not* just as causally efficacious in our deliberative capacities as all our causal antecedents. Would you deny the causal efficacy of computer programs in determining the behavior of computers, just because their occurrence within the computer is fully determined by all their causal antecedents?

        • Posted January 3, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

          Why do “we” need to be differentiated from other causal antecedents?

          I’ll retype here the crux of my objection: What I originally found suspect was that it seemed you were claiming there were causal inputs, or a set of causal inputs, that we could somehow conjure and insert into a separate and already flowing chain of cause-and-effect.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      …this is to give all power to the laws of physics, ignoring the reality of higher level varieties of causation that participate in personhood, such as the complex brain-based cognitive and motivational processes that make coherent behavior possible.

      What are these “higher level varieties of causation” and how they are not subject to the laws of physics?

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        The levels I refer to are those captured by cognitive neuroscience, behavioral biology, and and behavioral economics (among other sciences), which deal in causal regularities of the brain and behavior well above that of physics. These regularities are of course completely consistent with and subject to the laws of physics, but they are’t usefully captured by those laws. See for instance the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences at http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=BBS

        • Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

          The levels I refer to are those captured by cognitive neuroscience, behavioral biology, and and behavioral economics (among other sciences), which deal in causal regularities of the brain and behavior well above that of physics.

          What does “well above that of physics” mean? “Above” in what way?

          These regularities are of course completely consistent with and subject to the laws of physics, but they are’t usefully captured by those laws.

          What on earth does that mean? If they are subject to the laws of physics as you say, then in what way are we not “puppets performing scripted parts written by the laws of physics”?

          See for instance the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences at http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=BBS

          That’s just a list of studies. I see nothing supporting what you have said. What are you referring to?

          • Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

            Puppets have no internal source of behavior control – their movements are a function of external forces only, e.g., strings. We, on the other hand, have tons of internal processing that makes us radically autonomous by comparison, acting on the basis of our own motives and desires. All of this is fully determined of course, and in conformity with the laws of physics, but nevertheless quite real. Determinism doesn’t erase the distinction between people and puppets, as Jerry and Sam Harris seem to think.

            I referenced Behavioral and Brain Sciences simply to illustrate the fact that physics isn’t the only game in town when it comes to explaining human behavior, in fact it isn’t particularly suited to the job. The mechanisms of cognition, motivation, and behavior discovered by the sciences that actually do the job all depend on micro-physical substrates of course (and so operate in accordance with the laws of physics), but they are higher level in the sense that they involve composite, complex entities and processes such as neurons, neural nets, brains, bodies, persons, social networks, economies, etc. These are just as real as their physical substrates, as are the law-like regularities that characterize them, for instance the laws of operant conditioning discovered by B. F. Skinner and hyperbolic discounting as described by behavioral economist George Ainslie in his book Breakdown of Will.

            • Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

              That’s abuncha gobblygook. All animals are hyperbolic discounters, believe bacteria as well.

              It happens to be a life strategy that wurks real well. Y it’s stayed around ahhhh, few BILLION years!

              Humans have nothing they did not inherit from earlier life forms, duh.

              • Jim Balter
                Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:55 am | Permalink

                “Humans have nothing they did not inherit from earlier life forms, duh.”

                You know nothing about biology. Duh.

            • Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

              Puppets have no internal source of behavior control – their movements are a function of external forces only, e.g., strings. .

              Strings that act on a physical body designed to move in a certain way, and subject to the laws of physics.

              We, on the other hand, have tons of internal processing that makes us radically autonomous by comparison, acting on the basis of our own motives and desires.

              Apart from greater complexity, in what way is this “internal processing” different from that of a string puppet? Is it not also subject to the laws of physics?

              All of this is fully determined of course, and in conformity with the laws of physics,

              Agreed. So how are we autonomous?

              … but nevertheless quite real.

              Define “real.”

              Determinism doesn’t erase the distinction between people and puppets, as Jerry and Sam Harris seem to think.

              You haven’t explained why.

              I referenced Behavioral and Brain Sciences simply to illustrate the fact that physics isn’t the only game in town when it comes to explaining human behavior, in fact it isn’t particularly suited to the job. The mechanisms of cognition, motivation, and behavior discovered by the sciences that actually do the job all depend on micro-physical substrates of course (and so operate in accordance with the laws of physics), but they are higher level in the sense that they involve composite, complex entities and processes such as neurons, neural nets, brains, bodies, persons, social networks, economies, etc.

              So “higher level” just means “more complex.” I asked you what “above that of physics” means. All you have come up with is that humans are more complex. Well duh! You have not justified your “above that of physics” comment.

              These are just as real as their physical substrates,

              Who says neurons, neural nets etc are not physical?

              • Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

                “Apart from greater complexity, in what way is this “internal processing” different from that of a string puppet? Is it not also subject to the laws of physics?”

                In that it’s internal, not external, which is what confers autonomy on an entity: it acts according to its own internal states as it interacts with the environment. This is what justifies saying we’re not puppets, even though we’re fully determined in who we are and what we do. And yes, we’re subject to the laws of physics, but not just those laws.

                “Define real”

                Whatever figures in accepted scientific explanations of phenomena, including human behavior.

                “All you have come up with is that humans are more complex. Well duh! You have not justified your “above that of physics” comment.”

                We are more complex *and* our behavior is only perspicaciously describable by laws that aren’t laws of physics, but of entities and processes that are many levels above the micro-physical realm in terms of their composition, as in the examples I cited.

                “Who says neurons, neural nets etc. are not physical?”

                No one, it’s just that they exhibit behavior-controlling characteristics that aren’t very well expressible in terms of the laws of physics, but rather in terms of higher level regularities.

              • Joey Frantz
                Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

                It’s getting tiresome to read that we’re “subject to the laws of physics,” as if this meant our choices don’t matter, over and over and over and over. It’s not a trump card; it’s irrelevant, because it doesn’t mean our choices don’t matter.

              • Jim Balter
                Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:59 am | Permalink

                “Who says neurons, neural nets etc are not physical?”

                No one, any more than weather is not physical, but it would be foolish to try to predict the weather by examining the quantum interactions among all the particles in a weather system.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      “seeing that we don’t have contra-causal free will: it’s very difficult to justify retribution.”

      So what’s the difference between retribution and deterrence (which is easy to justify)? In one you punish someone after they’d done something wrong, and in the other you punish someone after they’ve done something wrong.

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        Retributive punishment is thought to be justified independently of any consideration of consequences, such as deterring the offender or others from committing further crimes. For instance, in a recent paper Daniel Dennett says we should eschew “the horrific vindictiveness of Kant’s rebributiivsm” see “http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/16895/MWP_LS_2011_01.pdf?sequence=1 Once you drop retribution, then punishment becomes optional, should there be better means of preventing crime and reforming offenders. With retribution, punishment is obligatory, whether or not it produces any good consequences. So one wants to know what justifies retributive punishment.

        Much more on why, given naturalism, we should drop retribution is at http://www.naturalism.org/criminal.htm

        • Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          Sorry, here’s that URL again to Dennett’s paper:

          http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/16895/MWP_LS_2011_01.pdf?sequence=1

        • Gary W
          Posted January 3, 2012 at 12:07 am | Permalink

          Tom Clark,

          You seem not to have noticed that, unlike you, Dennett does NOT advocate dropping retribution. He argues rather that we should tame it. Not that we should get rid of it altogether. In fact, Dennett claims that a purely consequentialist system of criminal justice would be “a slippery slope to totalitarianism.”

          • Posted January 3, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

            Well, as it turns out Dennett has changed somewhat on this. I attended his free will seminar last year by invitation and got him to admit that his statement “A world without punishment is not a world any of us would want to live in” is an overstatement (his word). But I haven’t heard him say this in public. For more on this point, see my review of Four Views on Free Will at http://www.naturalism.org/fourviews.htm

      • Jim Balter
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 3:02 am | Permalink

        “So what’s the difference between retribution and deterrence (which is easy to justify)? In one you punish someone after they’d done something wrong, and in the other you punish someone after they’ve done something wrong.”

        It’s either an unserious question or a foolish one, but:

        Punishment is not the only form of deterrence, and not all punishment is equivalent. With retribution, the amount and sort of punishment meted out is based on what the person “deserves”, whereas with deterrence the amount and sort of punishment meted out is based on what is effective in altering behavior.

    • Ivo
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      I second Tom Clark (and thus, indirectly, Dan Dennett).

      I agree completely with Jerry that the common naive, dualist — and ultimately magic — notion of free will is now refuted by modern neuroscience. On the other hand, to deny that words such as “choice” and “will” have any meaning seems perverse to me, and a kind of bad reductionism.

      Like others here, I am perfectly happy to say that, for instance, my laptop “chooses” to fall asleep to save energy. While this is a trivial outcome of a trivial computation, for which a more reductionist description would do just as well, when confronted with more sophisticated systems such as the cognitive apparatus of animals like ourselves, it is most useful to use the language of choice in order to understand what is going on. Indeed, this is already evident to many programmers and engineers who realize that, when a system is designed precisely in order to produce informed decisions based on some inner models fed by inputs from the environment, at some point it becomes difficult NOT to ascribe the power of choice to it. Our brains are evolved instead of designed, of course, but the same applies.

      Are these “free” choices? Frankly, I think this is a meaningless question, which is based on our animistic ghost-in-the-machine intuition. As Jerry points out, today we know better.

      It this a bait-and-switch tactic, that tries to save the popular and cherished traditional notion of free will from the threat of modern science? No. Or at least, not any more than with the notions of “life”, “matter” or anything else that we now understand to be quite different from what we used to think. The fact that living systems are some sort of very complicated chemical system doesn’t show that life is an illusory phenomenon, does it?

  24. MAUCH
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Are we tricking ourselves into retaining our notions of dualism by renaming our souls as free will? Do we think that our brain delivers  observations and memories to our free will in order for us to make decisions? With any reflection that notion has to seem ludicrous. If we hope to stay alive no organ in our body has the free will to veer off on its own agenda so why should the brain be any different. Perhaps the best the best we can hope for is that we might be able to put our flabby brains on a fitness program.

  25. Centricci
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    But Jerry…..that invitation to posterior osculation is the best part! :-)

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Depending on the posterior in question, of course.

  26. Heber
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I’m with you and Sam on every point. But this from your article sounds somewhat paradoxical:

    “Sociological studies show that if people’s belief in free will is undermined, they perform fewer prosocial behaviors and more antisocial behaviors.”

    Shouldn’t people’s behavior remain unaltered by whether they believe in free will or not? After all, given the nonexistence of free will, their behavior has been predetermined, even before they had to contemplate any notions of free will.

    I hope my question made sense. Does anybody else see a problem with this?

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      “Sociological studies show that if people’s belief in free will is undermined, they perform fewer prosocial behaviors and more antisocial behaviors.”

      Shouldn’t people’s behavior remain unaltered by whether they believe in free will or not?

      No. Behavior can still be influenced by external inputs such as the information found in studies. Once the brain has taken in the new information in the studies, future behavior may change. But you don’t have a choice about how your future behavior will change. 

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      People’s behavior can be altered by what they are led to believe, and that’s a deterministic process involving higher-order levels of causation that the brain carries out when modeling the world in terms of abstractions like free will. So there’s no mystery or contradiction here.

      Btw, there are many methodological flaws in the research that Jerry refers to, not the least of which is that people are likely conflating lack of contra-causal free will with fatalism, see for instance James Miles’ recent paper in The British Journal of Social Psychology, http://www.naturalism.org/BJSP%20Miles.pdf

      One a more positive note, it’s also the case that when people are led to question contra-causal free will, they become less punitive. Google “His Brain Made Him Do It:
      Encouraging a Mechanistic Worldview Reduces Punishment” by Joshua Greene, Azim Shariff and Jonathan Schooler (in preparation). You’ll get a pre-print of the article.

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

        People’s behavior can be altered by what they are led to believe, and that’s a deterministic process involving higher-order levels of causation that the brain carries out when modeling the world in terms of abstractions like free will. So there’s no mystery or contradiction here.

        I never said here was a contradiction. I believe that’s what you were doing.

        The previous poster asked, “Shouldn’t people’s behavior remain unaltered by whether they believe in free will or not?” I explained why the answer was “no.” The fact that people’s behavior can be altered by what they are led to believe as you put it, doesn’t mean that they have free will.

        Btw, there are many methodological flaws in the research that Jerry refers to…

        Sure – it’s early days. I look forward to more experimentation in this area.

        • Posted January 3, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

          “I never said here was a contradiction…”

          Right, I was responding to Heber in my comment.

    • TomZ
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      The fact that stimuli can (and does) impact future behaviors is not evidence against free will.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      It looks like you’re assuming that predetermined behavior = unchanging or constant behavior.

      What if it was predetermined that an individual would come across information about free will (or the lack thereof) and have his or her behavior altered (that is, noticeably unlike his or her prior usual behavior) as a result?

  27. DV
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Sorry, Jerry but you and Sam don’t make sense to me in this topic. Dennett does. You accuse Dennett of a bait and switch, because you think that the “psychological truth” of what people “feel” regarding their identity and consciousness is important or counts as a strong argument against a conceptual understanding. But in the same breath you dismiss the psychological truth that people do in fact feel that they have free will!

    Btw, I don’t see why the fact that we are stardust should demolish the understanding that we are more than our conscious selves. A mountain is made of stardust also. Yes, we are made of stardust but a very special arrangement of stardust that exhibits design (courtesy of evolution of course, not God).

    • DV
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      And I like Dennett’s approach as well: Give a new understanding of free will based on the “redefinition” of self as more than the conscious mind. More productive and less argumentative than insisting on the limited understanding of self and then telling people “you don’t have free will”. Looking at the resistance to the no-free-will suggestion on the comment section of Jerry’s op-ed, it would seem that the feeling that people have free will is a weightier psychological truth indeed.

  28. Egbert
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Coyne is simply wrong. Or at least the zombie robot without any consciousness that calls himself Coyne, is wrong. I assume there is a room full of such machines writing these quality articles, that would at least explain why there is a high degree of quality and quantity on this website.

    • Chris Granger
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Well, that was certainly a substantive rebuttal of all of Jerry’s points. You have totally convinced me.

      /snark

  29. Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    “I can’t find a seconder usually when I propose this but I don’t care. I don’t need a seconder. My own opinion is enough for me. And I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, anytime.”

    I was just wondering, as often as this quote turns up, might we just call it Hitchens’ Law? I could say, for example, “You don’t like it? Follow the law! Hitchens’ Law, that is!”

  30. Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    notify…

  31. Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Here are a couple of perspectives:

    – First, the myth of individual choice and free will, especially in America, is a lynchpin of most ideologies. It’s a little complicated to discuss here, but suffice to say that without the scam of free will you can’t sell people stuff — including religion and politics. So, like belief in a “god” or guardian angels, free will is a critical part of these cons.

    – Since there is no free will, the explicit challenges to magical beliefs need to be rethought. People therefore have no control over whether they follow silly beliefs or not and any verbal reports are nonsensical. So we are looking for wholly automatic and unconscious, millisecond drivers of behavior and verbal reports and consciousness are trivial.

    • Terry
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      That is exactly like giving everything the “Million Year Test.”

      Check back a million years from now, and everything will have happened just like it did.

      I like that.

    • Barb Knox
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

      verbal reports and consciousness are trivial

      Not at all. Conscious experiences loom large for almost everyone. And currently we have essentially no clue how the brain generates them.

      Because we have lacked scientific explainations for conscious experience, all sorts of bogus explanations have become entrenched, just as “god(s) did it” has been a common explanation for the workings of the external world.

      These entrenched explanations include souls, spirits, dualism, and free will. Since conscious experiences loom so large, people will latch onto some explanation for them.

      Just as a lot of weong-headed social policies will persist until “god(s) did it” is supplanted, so too will wrong-headed notions of free will etc. persist until we begin to actually understand the workings of consciousness.

      • Posted January 3, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

        So do perceptions that the earth is flat, magical forces inhabit everything, etc.

        Here are some correlates:
        “Information is expensive” Consciousness is very cheap and inexpensive data, thus the information value is low.

        “What can be easily measured is not important.”

        We are like the drunks under the lampost. We hyper-reify what we label human consciousness and self-reports because it is lying around.

        If it was such a critical and important biological faculty, why don’t other animals have it?

  32. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    “Compatibilists resemble theologians in many ways …”

    … inasmuch as anticompatibilists resemble hard-core Calvinists (i.e., belief in predestination).

  33. RFW
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    There’s a fundamental difficulty in all this disputation: just what is meant by the phrase “free will”?

    It’s indisputable that human (and animal) behavior is unpredictable, but is it unpredictable in the sense that the weather is, because we can’t predict it exactly and our predictions veer increasingly off course the further into the future they extend? If that’s the case, then we’re looking at something explainable as a quasi-chaotic phenomenon.

    Or is animal behavior unpredictable even in the shortest of time frames, therefore implying that its unpredictability is due to something more fundamental than quasi-chaos?

    It may be simplest to treat the term “free will” as a place holder, somewhat like the astrophysicists use “dark matter” as a place holder to name an unexplained phenomenon.

    I’ll stop here: my wheels are started to spin.

    PS: I remind everyone of the old adage, “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

    • GBJames
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      It could be a duck mimic.

      http://www.oocities.org/glarryg/duckmimic.html

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      actually behavior is pretty predictable in animals and humans, however it doesn’t track self-reports or verbal self-talk.

      animal, yes humans are animals, behavior is fairly limited.

    • Egbert
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      Or it’s a zombie duck.

  34. Terry
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more!

    I am so glad that my molecules aligned during the outward expansion of the Big Bang, (the Only True God, :) and let my brain understand this idea.

    For years I have argued that no one can “rewind” a decision, that decisions were made by our brains based on what happened in the past and what was happening instantly, based on physics alone. That means no free will.

    A Theist believes in Dualism, and that, separate from their physical body, a soul or some such contraption, infects the “meat computer” (love that description Coyne,) and decisions are made based on this idea of free will.

    Every Atheist here, that is every true Atheist here, should be a Monist. By Monist I mean the Materialism or Physicalism descriptions found in Philosophy.

    Dr. Coyne also writes of the seemingly nihilistic view that one might take when examining the criminal justice system devised by humans. If a criminal does commit a person to person crime, and that criminal is acting out the physics of his existence, then why do we incarcerate and/or execute these people for these acts? The answer is simply that this is how it plays out. Frankly, it could be the other way around, except that evolution wouldn’t work within that scheme; we would otherwise go extinct.

    • darnoujoum
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • Ivo
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 3:37 am | Permalink

      [blockquote]
      If a criminal does commit a person to person crime, and that criminal is acting out the physics of his existence, then why do we incarcerate and/or execute these people for these acts? The answer is simply that this is how it plays out.
      [\blockquote]

      This answer, while true, is remarkably uninteresting, because it applies to everything else too. It is more informative to say that we incarcerate them in order to prevent the criminals to repeat their actions, and also in order to deter other potential criminals by example. Uncharitably, in most societies, also in order to satisfy our evolved lust for retribution towards antisocial behavior. These answers are also (mostly) true, and actually explain something.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

        Absolutely correct, Ivo. And surely it is naive to assume that a lack or denial of the lust for retribution (which is certainly something I should like to see) will, somehow automatically, lead to a greater kindness to those who are forced by nature and circumstance to commit crimes. I can certainly imagine a certain kind of philosopher or biologist king (remember Plato, and the relationship between biology and eugenics – I think of Karl von Frisch, whom otherwise I hugely admire) lending scientific support to a policy of cleansing the world of those who are defined as psychopaths and sociopaths, whether they have committed crimes or not, on the grounds that they constitute a danger to humanity.

  35. Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Someone tell me if I’m being dense here – but why would anyone think we have free will? As Pinker points out, our brains are not seperate from our minds. So saying “I as a person made the decision before my brain did” does not make sense.

    I suppose it depends on how you define free will. It’s like those “Happiness” studies. How do people define Happiness? Isn’t that really subjective?

    Regarding what Terry said about “rewinding”, well we do that all the time when we regret something. Our (brain’s) ability to change (our) minds proves that we are individuals. Sure we may not be *seperate* from our brains, but we are unique individuals with unique genomes and brains. It’s not free will, but it is freedom from being clones of other people. Is that not some form of freedom, at least? (Take note I am not trying to argue FOR free will, just baffled by it).

    • Kharamatha
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Freedom is a bit of fluff to fight about because the mechanics aren’t as fun.

      “Free will” vs “no will” is analogous to “free ice cream” vs “no ice cream”.

      That is to say, it’s stupid. Just pay for your fucking ice cream, all of you.

  36. Peter
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that Jerry is exactly missing the forest for the trees when he and other hard determinists declare that because of physics, we don’t have free will. The assumption of magic is sometimes a lazy, convenient, but imprecise way to describe what one means by free will, but it’s rarely important to what people really want from free will.

    Granted, what some people want from free will, some of the time, is evidence that we’re made of an immaterial soul that could survive death. And sometimes that their unique talents could never even in principle be emulated mechanically. But I for one prefer to just straightforwardly deny that a soul exists by denying that souls exist, not by denying that free will exists, therefore souls aren’t particularly likely.

  37. tdraicer
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Either I don’t really understand Jerry’s argument or I remain unconvinced by it, though to the extent I do understand it, if he is correct terms like understanding and convinced are themselves meaningless. So perhaps a simple question to clarify: does Jerry believe I had no choice but to write this reply, and if so, what is the point of this site, other than the apparent inability of Jerry not to write it? Is consciousness an illusion, or an actual state? Are thoughts nothing more than the atoms that make up their transimssion? It all seems overly reductionist to me, that is if an “I” is actually writing this.

  38. Marcus
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    “A practical test of free will would be this: If you were put in the same position twice — if the tape of your life could be rewound to the exact moment when you made a decision, with every circumstance leading up to that moment the same and all the molecules in the universe aligned in the same way — you could have chosen differently.” — Jerry Coyne

    If we’re discussing science rather than philosophy, then this seems to me to be a rather poor definition of free will.

    As far as science goes, it’s not practical if it’s not testable. If it’s not testable, it’s just philosophy.

    I think you need to come up with a different definition. One that *is* testable.

    • Peter
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Jerry keeps using this as his definition of free will. But it’s clearly *not* what he means by free will, since he has to carve out an ad hoc exception for quantum indeterminancy.

      Personally, I think it’s a bad idea to imagine there is great importance on whether or not we could do things (like act differently if the tape were rewound) if only we could do things that we absolutely cannot do (like rewind the tape).

    • Peter
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      If we try to base the free will question on whether we can act differently, then we must really be interested in whether we can act differently in similar circumstances: similar to those of other people, similar to those we’ve been in before, and so on. And clearly, we can act differently in similar (but not identical) circumstances.

      Saying simply that we can’t act differently if the physics is identical misses all the interesting ways the situation can be similar but that we’d choose to act the differently, and that it can be different but we (or other people) would make the choice in the same way.

      Although, as compatibilists keep pointing out, the free will question is not just about being able to act differently, it’s also about being able to act consistent with the way you want to act. And examination of Jerry’s definition shows he misses that point, to, as it ends up as the observation that we’d choose to act the same whenever we wanted to choose that way.

    • Peter
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      If we try to base the free will question on whether we can act differently, then we must really be interested in whether we can act differently in similar (not identical) circumstances: similar to those of other people, similar to those we’ve been in before, and so on. And clearly, we can act differently in similar (but not identical) circumstances.

      Saying simply that we can’t act differently if the physics is identical misses all the interesting ways the situation can be similar but that we’d choose to act the differently, and that it can be different but we (or other people) would make the choice in the same way.

      Although, as compatibilists keep pointing out, the free will question is not just about being able to act differently, it’s also about being able to act consistent with the way you want to act. And examination of Jerry’s definition shows he misses that point, to, as it ends up as the observation that we’d choose to act the same whenever we wanted to choose that way.

      • Peter
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        Oops!

      • Tim Harris
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

        There is also the case of recognising that one would not have made a decision one did make if one had known a fact that one has learnt after making that decision one now regrets.
        Diawl! (Welsh for ‘the devil!': how opaque that sentence sounds.)
        Yes, everything is ultimately determined, but what one (I!) should like to see is a real – ie scientific – attempt at explaining in what way these findings are relevant to someone’s understanding of, say, ‘On the Origin of Species’. The fellow who wrote ‘The Atheist’s Guide to Reality’ asserts that through reading his book neurons in the brain are re-arranged, which is obviously true, but it seems to me to be just a way of avoiding saying that a reader is persuaded (or perhaps so infuriated that s/he writes the kind of comments that Jerry’s essay has attracted).

      • Ivo
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

        +2

        Good point, I hadn’t thought about this.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      +1.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      But all Jerry is discussing is what most (or at least many) people think of when they think of free will. That is eminently testable. Just ask a bunch of people. Which Jerry has done.

      The “tape rewinding” illustration is just an analogy. He’s not trying to show that free will is actually and exactly like that. He’s trying to show that it doesn’t exist at all!

      • Ivo
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 3:49 am | Permalink

        I am not convinced that Jerry’s definition of free will really captures what people want to refer to. Insofar as they refer to some capacity of producing autonomous (i.e. self-determined rather than outer-determined) and well-informed decisions, then Jerry’s definition is completely missing it. People might be utterly wrong in ascribing some magical freeness to this capacity, but they are correct in their intuition that some process worth calling “choice” is going on in their heads.

        • Posted January 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

          Even if what you say is true (that most people have a more sophisticated conception of FW than Jerry reports), it has no bearing on the fact that Marcus’ demand for a scientifically sound and testable hypothesis about what FW would really be like, were it to exist, irrelevant to the discussion he’s having, i

          • Posted January 3, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

            Ignore the above. Stupid new WP mobile format!!!!!

        • Posted January 3, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

          Even if what you say is true (that most people have a more sophisticated conception of FW than Jerry reports), it has no bearing on the fact that Marcus’ demand for a scientifically sound and testable hypothesis about what would be the bestest ever analogy for FW, were it to exist, is irrelevant to the discussion he’s having, i. e., showing why it doesn’t exist, regardless of the analogy you might use.

          Marcus’ objection would be a moot one from Jerry’s POV. There’s no way to test something that doesn’t exist.

          Jerry’s just trying to describe what people in his experience (as he recounted in a post from about a week ago) think of when they think of FW. You must run in a sophisticated crowd. Here in the good ol’ US of A one cannot underestimate the level of ignorance and simplemindedness that abounds.

          • Ivo
            Posted January 4, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

            well, yes, as a European academic I do frequent some sophisticated crowds, thank you :-)

            Still, according to this reasoning, EVOLUTION is an illusion too: if Jerry went about asking his fellow Americans how they conceive of it, the creo-masses would provide him with a common definition which wouldn’t refer to any existent (or even possible) process. Then, for consistency, he should write a blog post arguing that evolution (“what most people think of when they think of it”) is an illusion that does not really exist…

            Slightly more seriously, I believe that in any case it is rather uninteresting to select the most common understanding of FW, and then proceed to show that it is wrong. OK, it’s wrong, now let’s move on: as it happens, many thoughtful people (including myself) agree with Jerry on this, but find it VERY annoying that he insist we stick forever and ever with this (mistaken, nonsensical, useless) definition. This is silly, because it precludes us from attaching the words “Free Will” to a(real, sensible, interesting) phenomenon that seems to be going on in our heads and that moreover also seems to be what people try to — albeit only vaguely and with lots of mistaken assumptions and intuitions — point to when they use this term.
            In other words (and with some gross over-simplification): in-compatibilists like Jerry keep repeating that the usual, perhaps most intuitive, notion of FW is refuted by science, while compatibilists like Dennett (while accepting this) move on and try and advance our understanding of our minds as choice-making agency.

  39. Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Perhaps my body chooses to comment on this because it likes typing?

    Some of the experiences in my life have been outside of accepted norms. To me they are “real”. “I” experienced them.

    Bodies require certain conditions to remain alive here.

    Unique self survives in a different form after the body no longer functions, in my experience.

    When awareness of self survives the physical body it is no longer affected by that body. That removes all “physical” input from that self. The body would have no effect any longer on that “self”.

    That “awareness” (self) can think, contemplate, interact with others, chose actions, seek and process information and have intentions. It can love. It is so very much “alive” and it has no human body or physical body as we define it.

    I see that as the part of a human that can chose, apart from the body’s demands or needs.

    Knowing a fear of water, never learning to swim, a human may still attempt to rescue another human, against all the body will communicate to it to the contrary.

    Our love for another will chance the sacrifice of this body. It IS a choice. I can’t see this old body making it willingly. But I know my love would do all it could to save a child from harm here…

    To know yourself as only a body is your choice. To know we are more than a body is mine.

    I like my way better, because I can look forward to meeting you one day and discussing it then, in depth. :)

    Yes, I know this gets tagged as “crackpot”. But check out the website first.

    I’m not an intellectual or highly educated debater, but I can’t leave your thought standing alone for others. There is more than one way to see it…

    D.S. Weiler

    • Chris Granger
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      Unique self survives in a different form after the body no longer functions, in my experience.

      This is incoherent nonsense, with no evidence provided to support the claim.

  40. Gary
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    G’day

    This is doing my head in.

    Where does choice fit in?

    Bugger. :0

  41. Dave
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I have no free will when it comes to what I believe. For example, I cannot decide to believe there is a gawd. (Of course, then I have to give the same pass to the theist!) I can make a decision that seems conscious and voluntary in most others areas. For example, difficult though it may be, I can decide not to have that third glass of red (and have done so, on many occasions. OK, once, but you get the point.). I can also decide not to rip off a few thousand people in a pyramid scheme, even if I was tempted by, say, my genes, upbringing, etc. So the argument must be a lot more complicated than that because I don’t get it.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      no ur brain is tricking you into pretending you make these “decisions.”

      Similar to — Is the sky blue?

      Yes, our brains can only see the blue spectrum of the light.
      No, our brains can only see the blue spectrum of that light.

      • Dave
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        Why would my brain do that to me? Is there an evolutionary advantage to my brain tricking me?

        • Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

          As Michael Gazzaniga explained in the video far upthread, our brain isn’t so much tricking us as trying to provide rationales for why we exhibit our hard-wired behavior. It makes sense to me that evolution would’ve produced a mechanism for this to happen. If we constantly felt out-of-control or totally at sea we probably wouldn’t be very successful.

    • OldFuzz
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Not sure where to post in this thread. Gazzaniga was interviewed on Book TV: After Words about his latest book. His view on free will, if I got it, is that it’s a term that has outlived its utility, that responsibility and accountability are what deserve current attention. Since I live a bit in the hinterlands, I rely on WorldCat and inter-library loans for the latest. Am looking forward to his Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain

      what intrigues me is his view that a step wise linear cause/effect view of cognitive neuroscience processes may be in error.

      Thanks for the interesting back and forth on this.

  42. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry, but I have to exercise my free will:

    They trade a psychological fact—the subjective experience of being a conscious agent—for a conceptual understanding of ourselves as persons. This is a bait and switch.

    Compatibilists resemble theologians in many ways, not the least of which is that they both engage in endless lucubrations trying to show that something that doesn’t exist, but that is hugely important for our psychological well-being, really does exist in some form or another.

    Asserting an effective free will is definitely not predicting what doesn’t exist or making a bait-and-switch but simply predicting a characteristic of behavior that exists: that it is too complicated to be modeled by an algorithm for the individual.*

    Whether that ties into a religious-theological-philosophic notion of “free will” dualism, or is “compatibilist” or not, I leave to philosophers that like to argue how many “angel” embodiments can fit on a needle point or how many “qualia” representations can be fitted in a sensory circuitry. The important point is that such a model survives test.

    The opposite and general hypothesis that there exist no “free will” in any form is in more trouble. Besides not making headway on the empiricist notion, physics does not allow for the philosophically necessary “contrafactuals” (realized alternative pathways that didn’t happen in our universe).

    As I noted before, this doesn’t seem to be a productive strategy to convince people that modern neuroscience rejects soul dualism. It may be better to tackle the meretricious claim straight on:

    “How is the spirit energy supposed to interact with us? Here is the equation that tells us how electrons behave in the everyday world: [...]

    If you believe in an immaterial soul that interacts with our bodies, you need to believe that this equation is not right, even at everyday energies. There needs to be a new term (at minimum) on the right, representing how the soul interacts with electrons. (If that term doesn’t exist, electrons will just go on their way as if there weren’t any soul at all, and then what’s the point?) So any respectable scientist who took this idea seriously would be asking — what form does that interaction take? Is it local in spacetime? Does the soul respect gauge invariance and Lorentz invariance? Does the soul have a Hamiltonian? Do the interactions preserve unitarity and conservation of information?

    Nobody ever asks these questions out loud, possibly because of how silly they sound. [...]

    I’ve been talking here like a particle physicist, but there’s an analogous line of reasoning that would come from evolutionary biology. Presumably amino acids and proteins don’t have souls that persist after death. What about viruses or bacteria? Where upon the chain of evolution from our monocellular ancestors to today did organisms stop being described purely as atoms interacting through gravity and electromagnetism, and develop an immaterial immortal soul?”

    —————-
    * One can very well note that it is _unnecessary_ to have such a model, since it may be predicted from complexity of brain-body interactions (or possible body interactions) of sufficiently complicated organisms.

    But again, it is an effective theory predicting what is, not what is not. I can agree with Harris that it is excellent for well being, but not that the model and its robust prediction does not exist.

    As an analogy, you can predict ice melting phase change from an Ising type model, but also from an empirical thermodynamical model. Both works.

  43. piero
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I really can’t understand what the discussion is about. To me it’s obvious that we cannot have free will.

    The mind is the software our brain runs, as evidenced by the fact that when the brain is lost, so is the mind, and when parts of the brain are lost, so are parts of the mind.

    Ergo, the mind arises from the processes in a physical object, and no physical object can override the laws of physics.

    Whether determinism is true or not has no bearing on the matter. Our minds can no more control deterministic physical processes than unpredictable ones. Whatever the ultimate nature of the laws of physics turns out to be, it is obvious that they are not subject to the control of our minds.

    Free will cannot exist. Deal with it.

    • Egbert
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Therefore, you do not exist. Deal with it.

      • piero
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        What?

        • Dave
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

          If I may (and, Egbert, correct me if I missed it) he means that your incredibly arrogant dismissal of anyone else’s thoughts on this combined with what you said means you had no choice so, whether you actually exist as a sentient human being or not, matters not.

          • piero
            Posted January 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

            Incredibly arrogant? Why? Because I disagree with free-willers? Is that a sufficient reason to dismiss me as a non-entity? If we are playing the arrogance game, I’m certainly losing.

            But I won’t sell my defeat cheap. Do you want arrogance? Well, you’ve got it: belief in contra-causal free will is a sure sign of delusion or IQ deficiency. No-one has yet provided even a hint of the mechanism whereby it could be implemented. In other words, free-willers are putting forward mere obfuscation. Show me a computer program that has free will and I’ll abjectly apologize for my arrogance. Fail to show me such a program and I’ll call you an idiot until my tongue tires.

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted January 5, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

              If I’ve accused any person of being arrogant, I apologize, but I do think that there is arrogance in the position that we know everything important about the physical world that is worth knowing. I don’t think we know shit.

            • mikmik
              Posted January 8, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

              Show me a computer running software that is sentient, then you can decide if it has free will.

              Arrogance is asserting opinion as fact; assuming you are the only one capable of perceiving all the relevant issues and dictating what is therefore the only possible conclusion.

              Every person on the planet perceives their own free will, every experience demonstrates subjectively that our minds create thoughts and make decisions.

              As stated elsewhere, a large majority of our energy expenditure goes towards our cognitive processes, so if you assert that our minds are extraneous, you better propose an exceptional reason for us having one.

              When you can show why our minds obtain from the physical states of our brains, then, and only then, can you explain how our thoughts can or cannot elicit controlled changes in the brain via choice.

              Calling names and commands to deal with it are signs of immaturity and your lack of respect in this way is a childish and transparent attempt to disguise your lack of knowledge and analytical abilities, so grow up. ;-)

  44. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    What we do is determined not by our own agency, but by physical laws.

    This is the sound of the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.

    If I were to say that what a computer does is determined not by its software, but by the action of electrons in its circuits, you’d think I was either delusional or a hair-splitting pedant. Anybody who’s ever used a computer knows that software makes a difference to its operation, without in any sense violating physical causality. But you persist in rejecting the notion that conscious cognition can make a difference to the operation of the human brain. Apparently, in your view, natural selection has equipped us with this elaborate and energetically expensive mechanism for mentally modeling alternative courses of action, that somehow in the end has no effect on our actual behavior.

    I fail to see how this position is even remotely defensible (Sam Harris notwithstanding). Just what do you think conscious cognition is for, if not to control our behavior? That’s the question you’ve consistently failed to address in all of these debates on free will, and you’ve just ducked it again in the USA Today piece.

    • piero
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Until you show us a piece of software that does “what it wants”, your argument is specious.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Deep Blue “wants” to win chess games — and does. That is to say, it chooses from among the legal moves available to it in such a way as to further its designed-in goal of winning the game.

        We too have goals, instilled in us by natural selection as well as by experience and introspection. And we use our cognitive powers to choose behaviors that advance those goals. That’s what it means to “do what you want”.

        Our goals, behaviors, and cognitive powers are (obviously) considerably more complex than Deep Blue’s. But both cases involve the use of abstract reasoning to steer goal-oriented behavior, all within the framework of deterministic physics. How is that specious?

        • piero
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          I think you’ve provided an enlightening argument for the non-existence of free will. Deep Blue could never have chosen to say “Fuck it! This game is nonsense. Who cares whether the king can or cannot evade an attack? Why should I waste energy and processing power in such an idiotic game?” But then neither could Kasparov.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

            Whether or not you choose to call our decision-making ability “free will”, my point was that Jerry seems to want to deny that cognition or abstract reasoning plays any role whatsoever in controlling our behavior. What else are we to make of his repeated claims to the effect that “What we do is determined not by our own agency”? This position seems clearly untenable to me, regardless of how you define “free will”.

            • piero
              Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

              I might be wrong, but I think Jerry’s point is that our decision-making ability is constrained. We don’t “freely” choose our goals, but only the goal available to us at any given moment. For example, I’ve never seen a sane person smashing his balls with a hammer. Why not? Obviously, because we are averse to pain. But we are averse to countless other things that finally determine our behaviour.

            • Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think Jerry claims any such thing.

              Cognition and abstract reasoning are not phenomena that exist outside the strictly determinist flow of material cause-and-effect. To say they do is to try to sneak the ghost back into the machine.

              Rather, Jerry would say they arise from that material chain of cause-and-effect and serve as links in the chain in their own right.

              When he says “what we do is not determined by our own agency”, he is only trying to refute the idea of agency that most (many) people hold: contra-causal free will.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted January 3, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

                What you’re describing is exactly the compatibilist position. Yet Jerry continues to insist that compatibilists have it wrong. I take this to mean he rejects the idea that we have conscious agency of any kind, even the compatibilist kind. That’s why he sets so much store by these fMRI finger-twitch experiments that he seems to think preclude the possibility that conscious thought plays any role in decision-making.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      Nicely put and right on, see also #23. Jerry seems determined to stick with the hyper-reductionist eliminativism that says higher-level neural mechanisms, such as those that support consciousness, rational deliberation and choice-making, don’t count in explaining behavior, only the laws of physics. But as you point out using the software analogy, it’s the brain’s organization and higher-level processing, not its atomic micro-structure, that perspicaciously accounts for behavior. Choice-making is a real, causally effective process consistent with physics, but not usefully explained by physics.

      • steve
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        Tom,

        Why not confirm this idea you have about Jerry with Jerry? And if it is indeed true, ask him why it is that he is so inclined.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

          Here we are on Jerry’s website, asking him. If he thinks we’ve misrepresented his position, he’s had ample opportunity to straighten us out in all the previous threads on this subject.

      • steve
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        I mean afterall, he is a non-free willist, and you’re a non-free willist, so you have a material disagreement, so one would think you could just talk things out.

    • Ivo
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 4:17 am | Permalink

      “This is the sound of the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.”

      Exactly. As I mentioned above: imagine if those early biochemists declared to the world that life is an illusory phenomenon, because it can be completely reduced to chemistry. The common traditional view of a life force or elan vital animating living beings is wrong, there is no such thing. Hence life is illusory! Yeah, and Jerry Coyne is just a specialized chemist — no wait! a hyper-specialized physicist.

      And what about, say, all those people who study control theory? Are they just misguided engineers and psychologists trying to pin down a nonexistent something? — because nothing can really control or influence its own behavior in order to pursue its own goals, everything being determined in advance by the laws of physics.

      I can hear the frustrated wail of the thrown out baby.

  45. enleuk
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Just read the comments on USA TODAY. I don’t know how familiar people are with the phenomenon known as internet comments, but this was no exception.

    All I wanted to say (well, “wanted” is a strong word :P ) was that you have my support. There is no metaphysical will. We are bags of electric flesh, space monkeys on a grain of sand heading, if we can agree amongst each other for five seconds, into the unknown dust-clotted darkness of the immense Milky Way where other forms of consciousness might exist.

  46. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    The claim that there is no such thing that can reasonably be called free will, whatever your definition, seems on the face of it to be outrageous, implausible, morally reprehensible, and against all subjective experience. Those are not arguments against the claim, merely my reactions to it.

    On the one hand, I’m annoyed by the arrogance of the non-free-will proponents who seem to think that our contemporary understanding of physics is the end-all, be-all secret to the universe, especially when they have a shallow understanding of physics and a lack of appreciation for how much we don’t know.

    On the other hand, I’m an athiest and a materialist, and I’m repelled by any slight aroma of dualism or “magic.”

    I think a skeptic should be noncommited about this question. There’s no preponderance of evidence on either side, and both sides have reasonable arguments.

    • piero
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Think of bacteria. Now think of worms. Now think of insects. Now think of birds. Now think of gorillas. At what point exactly does some unknown physics enter the picture?

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        It’s turtles all the way down.

        Seriously, self organization happens at all levels of abstraction and we haven’t the faintest clue how or why.

        I’ll make a suggestion that’s almost as provocative as the no-free-will assertion. What if the universe admits acausal events? By acausal I don’t mean events with no cause. I mean events that take inputs from the future. That would completely upset the no-free-will applecart.

        If you think that’s absurd while taking seriously the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics then I suggest you’re not being consistent.

        • piero
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

          I have no idea what you mena by “self organization happens at all levels of abstraction”.
          Concerning acausal events or events that take inputs from the future, they have no bearing on the problem of free will. Unless you are willing to accept that our minds can cause desired acausal events (which is nonsense), or alter the future the way we wish (which is nonsense squared).

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

            “I have no idea what you mena by “self organization happens at all levels of abstraction”.”

            I mean it literally. Self organization occurs from fundamental physics to ambiogenesis to biological evolution to embryology and development to language and culture, and everything in between.

            “Concerning acausal events or events that take inputs from the future, they have no bearing on the problem of free will.”

            That comment reveals a shocking lack of imagination.

            “Unless you are willing to accept that our minds can cause desired acausal events (which is nonsense), or alter the future the way we wish (which is nonsense squared).”

            To be clear, I’m not promoting acausality as a solution to the problem of free will. There’s a lot of crackpottery associated with the concept that I don’t endorse, but it doesn’t appear to be ruled out by anything we know about physics, and it doesn’t appear any weirder to me than the other-worlds interpretation of quantum physics.

            By the way, if you think time is a settled, cut-and-dried, well-understood physical concept you’re mistaken.

            • piero
              Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

              “That comment reveals a shocking lack of imagination.”

              I’m shockingly unimaginative. Can you help me visualize a scenario where acausal events or future-determined present events could have a bearing on free will?

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

                “Can you help me visualize a scenario where acausal events or future-determined present events could have a bearing on free will?”

                The no-free-will assertion implicitly assumes causality (and perhaps probabilistic determined randomness such as radioactive decay). The present is the effect of the past and the cause of the future. That’s THE basic premise. Acausality — inputs from the future — allows for events that have no preceding cause.

              • piero
                Posted January 5, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

                No, it allows for events that are tiem-reversed, i.e. caused by future events. In any case, causality holds and free will still does not exist.

  47. Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    When he’s pressed to explain why determinism, as such, rules out free choice, Dr. Coyne says things like this: “Some philosophers claim that if we can change our actions in response to reason, then we’ve shown free will. But of course the words and deeds of other people are simply environmental influences that can affect our brain molecules.” It seems, then, that among Dr. Coyne’s requirements for free choice is either

    (C1) You freely choose to do A only if you choose to do A in the absence of any external influences;

    or else

    (C2) You freely choose to do A only if you freely choose at least one of the factors that influence or affect your choice to do A.

    C1 is crazy: No one should think that a free choice can’t be influenced by any external factors. No one should say that I can’t freely choose to drink water because water is nearby (and I’m thirsty).

    So that leaves C2. But it’s obvious that C2 implies an infinite regress: you freely choose at least one of the factors (at some time) only if you freely choose at least one of the factors (at some prior time), and so on without end. Assuming human agents can make only finitely many choices in a finite time, it follows from C2 that human free choice is impossible. But this reasoning is a priori, not based on empirical findings from science, and determinism never comes into it. So, apparently, the reason Dr. Coyne thinks that determinism rules out free choice has nothing to do with determinism and nothing to do with science. Instead, it’s a priori philosophical reasoning — and of dubious quality.

    • piero
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      C1 is not crazy. It is just how matters stand. I’d bring to your attention that “you” means “your consciousness”; hence, any part of the brain whose workings are inaccessible to our consciousness should be considered an “external influence”.

      • Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        Please read C1 again carefully. C1 is not “just how matters stand.” C1 doesn’t say (or deny) that external factors influence your choice. Instead, C1 lays down the following requirement for free choice: You choose freely ONLY IF no external factors influence your choice. That IS crazy as a requirement for free choice. What would it even mean to choose something based on no external factors at all? Let all unconscious factors be external factors; C1 is still crazy. I can’t imagine that Dr. Coyne really endorses it. Furthermore, the quotation from Dr. Coyne concerned factors of which you’re conscious: “the words and deeds of other people.” Even in that case he says you don’t choose freely. So we’re left with C2.

        • piero
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

          I fail to see why C1 should be deemed crazy. Are you aware of the workings of your brain? Of course not. If that were the case, there would be no mental illnesses, no psychotherapy, and Freud wouldn’t be a household name.

          • Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

            Are you aware of the workings of your brain? Of course not.

            Right. But why must I be aware of the inner workings of my brain in order to choose freely? If I must, then we’ve got an infinite regress like the one produced by C2 (assuming that I must be aware of some brain-process by means of some other brain process). That regress rules out free choice a priori — it has nothing to do with determinism or empirical science.

            • piero
              Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

              Nope. If you are unaware of the workings of your brain, then you have no basis for claiming that you’ve made a free choice. You may consciously believe you have, but in fact the decision could have been made for you by some unaccessible part of your brain. In fact, this happens all the time: when you touch a hotplate, do you decide to remove your hand? When you see a sexually attractive person, do you decide to become sexually aroused? When you’ve felt your job was unsatisfying, have you ever decided to become a hermit?

          • Peter
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

            C1 is a *crazy* requirement for free choice because it stipulates that if our choices are influenced by anything we learned through sensory input, then our choice is not free, by definition.

            • piero
              Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

              Precisely.

  48. Joey Frantz
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I think Sean Carroll nailed this when he responded to Coyne’s usual “laws of physics, all else is commentary” line by saying “Commentary matters. It includes, for example, all of biology.”

    You can claim our choices don’t affect things, but by the same token evolution doesn’t affect things. It all comes down to the laws of physics. Clades and gene flow and so forth–it’s all an illusion, because it all comes down to the laws of physics. And economics, what with its “markets” and so forth–it’s all an illusion, because there really just are the laws of physics.

    He’s right that the Christian notion of free will is wrong. But the assertion that we don’t really make choices is just bald on its face, and his argument is no less facile than the claim that plants don’t exist because there’s really just the laws of physics.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      Excellent, thanks, see also #23 and Gregory at 44.

    • piero
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      This is silly. Of course you wouldn’t describe the behaviour of a snail by referring to quarks, just as you wouldn’t describe a symphony by referring to frequencies. The point is that whatever the level of description, it can ultimately be expressed in terms of the fundamental laws. Harmony and counterpint are high-level concepts, but you can, if you so wish, describe them in terms of frequency ratios and time intervals. There is nothing supernatural about them.

      • Joey Frantz
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

        Right, and choices can be described in terms of fundamental laws too. But of course I’m not denying that. I’m just saying that the choices are meaningful in the same sense that melodies are meaningful, even though they could be expressed in terms of pure physics. For example, my choice to use the word “cogitation” in a few words came after a moment of cogitation; this was indeed determined by the laws of physics, but it is not irrelevant that I considered alternative words and dismissed them.

        • piero
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

          The point is why you dismissed them. You chose “cogitation” because it “sounded right”. But why did it sound right? Could you have chosen “musing” or “reflection” instead? No, you could not, because “cogitation” made you feel better: perhaps it sounded appropriately latinate, and you felt (unconsciously) that it made you sound smarter; perhaps it sounded like “cogent”; perhaps it reminded you of “coitus”. I’ve no idea. But neither do you.

          • Joey Frantz
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

            It’s true that I don’t know all of the factors that made me choose “cogitate,” but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a meaningful choice. It’s meaningful that I’m inserting the word “coitus” in this sentence for no reason. You probably think less of me as a person for doing so. Do I know all the reasons I did that? No. Maybe I’m immature, but I don’t know all the factors that make me immature. But I still don’t see how we get from “you don’t know all the factors behind your choices” to “you do not make choices,” which is Coyne’s take.

            • piero
              Posted January 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

              Not knowing all the factors involved in your choices is equivalent to not making choices, because you (your conscious self) can never be sure it was you (your conscious self) who made the choice.

              I fail to see the mystery in that.

  49. Zedeeyen
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    I’m comfortable as a deterministic input-output machine, consciousness being the mechanism by which my brain arranges and processes past inputs, and free will being an illusion, a real-time feedback-loop caused by said consciousness applying post-hoc rationalizations to the entirely automatic processes that govern my every action.

    Of course I might change my mind, depending on future inputs.

  50. piero
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    @Stephen Barnard:

    Sorry, apparently comments canoot be nested any further, so I’m replying here.

    “Acausality — inputs from the future — allows for events that have no preceding cause.”

    I’ve tried to see how your statement can be in any way related to free will, but I’ve failed. Can you give me something more specific? Specifically, I’d like to know how the mind can decide to cause acausal events.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      Acausality, if it exists, would be related to the problem of free will because it violates the basic premise of the no-free-will assertion; namely, causality. Events could occur with no preceding cause. Sorry if I can’t be more specific.

      Look, I don’t even believe in the acausality story, although I take it seriously. If I tried to spin an acausal scenario for free will I’d sound like I was on drugs, which is how the multiple-worlds quantum people sound to me. But I take them seriously.

      • piero
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        There are many concepts of modern physics which I don’t understand: acausality, multiple worlds, quantum tunnelling, quantum fluctuations, etc. However, I’ve never seen an apple spontaneously appear or disappear, which suggests that the macro world is ruled by statistics, not by esoteric nano-scale phenomena. What I dispute is the recourse to those esoteric phenomena in order to squeeze free will through the cracks of our knowledge, given that our brain is certainly a macro-object and hence subject to statistical laws just as much as the Sun or the Moon.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

          “There are many concepts of modern physics which I don’t understand: acausality, multiple worlds, quantum tunnelling, quantum fluctuations, etc.”

          You’re not alone. It should give you pause before you take the no-free-willists at face value.

          • piero
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

            No, and I explained why.

        • Shack Toms
          Posted January 10, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

          The attempt to squeeze free will in through quantum uncertainty faces a number of problems.

          The most basic, I think, is that quantum uncertainty relates only to what is knowable in advance about a future measurement, the measurement will still have a definite value (even thought that value may be different in each of the many worlds, if you take that approach, and I do).

          Thus it isn’t that the measurement doesn’t have a well-determined value, it is only that the value is not known or knowable in advance of the measurement.

          Thus, the resort to uncertainty identifies freedom with ignorance.

          It is really the opposite of freedom, in that freedom ought to mean that outcomes align with desires, and thus freedom is more associated with predictability than with non-predictability.

          For example, consider whether knowledge of the laws of nature is liberating. I contend that it is, precisely because it makes the consequences of our present actions more predictable.

          • Posted January 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

            we just posted on a new Science article that shows that Newtonian mechanical principals apply even at the atomic/quantum level.

            these extreme physics special pleadings are just uninformed deflection attempts…

            • Shack Toms
              Posted January 10, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

              I thought that article was about Ohm’s Law, not Newtonian mechanics. Some principles of classical mechanics hold up at the quantum level, others do not.

              There is nothing wrong with bringing extremes of physics into the discussion, since a correct world-view must withstand any test.

              I just don’t see how they support the idea of free will.

  51. OldFuzz
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    As a novice in this discussion, I find the views of the learned to be intriguing. Michael Gazzaniga,Director of the University of California-Santa Barbara’s SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, was interviewed by by Sally Satel on C-SPAN2’s Book TV the other day. It will be aired again Sunday, January 8th at 12pm (ET).

    He explains his fundamental premise that people are responsible for their actions and should be held accountable, despite any neurochemistry in the brain that may influence specific behaviors.

    He also respectfully considers Dawkins’ view of determinism.

    I need to spend more time on this whether I can choose to or not.

    • piero
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Of course people should be held accountable for their actions. Knowing that they will be held accountable is one important factor in determining their choices, and the choices of others.

      • Gary W
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

        Of course people should be held accountable for their actions.

        It doesn’t make any sense to talk about what we “should” do or about “accountability” if you think we don’t have any control over our behavior. Your own language betrays the fact that you do in fact think of people as moral agents even though deny that they are.

        • piero
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

          Wrong. I’m not claiming that people should be held accountable for their behaviour because of some moral imperative. I’m saying that the knowledge that they will be held accountable acts as a deterrent. In other words, it shapes their will in a convenient way, from the point of view of societal health.

          The real discussion is what should we held people accountable for. Clearly, we should deter murder, rape and drunken driving. I’m not so sure about other things.

          • Gary W
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

            The point is that the word “should” implies the ability to choose between different ways of behaving, and you deny that anyone has that ability. So your claim that we “should” do such-and-such is meaningless.

            • piero
              Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

              “Should” means “if you want X, then do Y”. The determining factor is not the multiple choices open to you, but what you want to achieve, and that desire is not freely chosen. Is your desire not to be killed or your desire not to see your children die a freely chosen one?

              • Gary W
                Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

                “Should” means “if you want X, then do Y”.

                You’re claiming that we can’t choose whether we do Y or not. It doesn’t make sense to say we “should” do something if we can’t control what we do.

                Similarly, it doesn’t make sense to speak of “holding people accountable” for their behavior if you think they couldn’t have chosen to behave differently. It’s like saying we should “hold smallpox accountable” for all the deaths it caused.

              • piero
                Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

                @Gary W
                The ability to choose between different ways of behaving is an illusion. Think about it: of the almost infinite range of options available to you at any given moment, how many are realistically available? Have you ever smashed your fingers with a hammer, for example? Or driven a needle through your eyeballs? Or drunk washing-up liquid?
                “Should” is far from meaningless. We are biological entitities who have inescapable needs, and hence desires. For example, we desire to live, and to avoid pain and suffering. If we want to live and to avoid pain and suffering, then we ought to do X, Y and Z. That’s our reasoning in action. But we cannot choose to do what we don’t want to do: we cannot choose to do what causes us the most pain; we cannot choose to do what goes against our desires, and our desires are not freely chosen. So, where could free will acquire its freeedom from?

              • Gary W
                Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

                The ability to choose between different ways of behaving is an illusion.

                Then, as I keep telling you, it is meaningless to tell people that they “should” behave in a certain way, since they cannot choose how they behave.

                “Should” is far from meaningless. We are biological entitities who have inescapable needs, and hence desires. For example, we desire to live, and to avoid pain and suffering. If we want to live and to avoid pain and suffering, then we ought to do X, Y and Z.

                But on your account there’s no such thing as “ought.” We can have no obligation to behave one way rather than another if we cannot control how we behave. I don’t know why you can’t see this contradiction in your statements.

              • piero
                Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

                @Gary W

                “I don’t know why you can’t see this contradiction in your statements.”

                Maybe because there is no contradiction?

                Let’s say I’m overweight, and think that perhaps I ought to go on a diet. There are two conflicting desires involved: my desire to be fit and healthier, and my desire to derive pleasure from eating. In other words:

                IF I want to be fit and healthier, THEN I OUGHT to fo on an diet.

                IF I want to derive pleasure from eating, THEN I OUGHT to eat as amuch as I want.

                What I finally decide to do depends on factors beyond my control. For example, how much I care about my looks, how much I care about my longevity, how important is food as a substitute for love, etc. The fact that my decision will ultimately depend on unconscious agents does not mean that a rational analysis of the situation won’t imply OUGHT statements.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

                Again, on your account there is no “ought.” “If X then Y” merely expresses a causal relationship between a condition and an outcome, not an obligation. Either you accept that human beings are agents capable of making choices about their behavior, in which case the language of agency makes sense (“should,” “ought,” “accountable,” etc.), or you hold that we have no choice about our behavior, in which case it makes no more sense to talk about what people “should” do than about what rocks “should” do.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

                IF I want to be fit and healthier, THEN I OUGHT to fo on an diet.

                But according to you, you don’t have any control over whether you go on a diet or not. What you “want” is irrelevant. Your desires are themselves just an outcome of physical processes in your brain. They don’t have any causal effect on the behavior of the matter in your body. What is it supposed to mean to say you “ought” to do something if you don’t think you have any control over whether you do it or not? How can you possibly have an obligation to do something if you cannot control what you do?

              • piero
                Posted January 3, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

                Gary:

                You take the word “should” to mean a moral imperative; I take it to mean a logical consequence: IF you want to lose weight, THEN you SHOULD go on a diet. There is nothing mysterious about that, nor is the will involved in any way. It’s merely a matter of fact.

                Does the statement “if you want to lose weight then you should go on a diet” imply that we have free will? Not at all. We “decide” to go or not to go on a diet depending on the state of our brains, which cannot be freely manipulated. At any given moment, we do what we most desire to do, but our desires are not freely chosen. For instance, I cannot choose to like gristle or Glenn Beck. I cannot choose to feel sexually attracted to turtles. I cannot choose to become a hermit and let my children starve.

                However, the information contained in the sentence “if you want to lose weight then you should go on a diet” is also a part of the environmental factors that shape my desires. If I didn’t know that there was a relationship between the amount of food I eat and my body weight, I’d have no reason to consider the possibility of going on a diet.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 3, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

                You take the word “should” to mean a moral imperative; I take it to mean a logical consequence: IF you want to lose weight, THEN you SHOULD go on a diet. There is nothing mysterious about that, nor is the will involved in any way. It’s merely a matter of fact.

                But your sentence does not express a logical consequence. It expresses your belief that the desire to lose weight creates an obligation to go on a diet. To express the “logical consequence” that dieting causes weight loss, you need to write “dieting causes weight loss” or somesuch.

                Does the statement “if you want to lose weight then you should go on a diet” imply that we have free will? Not at all.

                Of course it does. It implies the freedom to choose either to go on a diet or to not go on a diet. If there is no freedom, then it doesn’t make any sense to tell anyone what you think they “should” do, since they have no control over what they do.

                We “decide” to go or not to go on a diet depending on the state of our brains, which cannot be freely manipulated.

                But it’s not a decision if you’re not free to decide otherwise. It’s a compulsion. “I decided to jump” implies that you were free to not jump. “I was forced to jump” implies that you were not. You’re using words that imply freedoms you do not believe people possess, which just confuses your meaning. If you go around talking about what you think people “should” do, “ought” to do, “decide” to do, etc., your audience is going to assume that you think people are free to choose what to do, when in fact you deny that they have any such freedom.

              • piero
                Posted January 4, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

                No. “If you want to paint the house red, you should use red paint” is equivalent to “Red paint paints red.” It merely specifies the means to an end.

                “You should lose weight” is an imperative; “if you want to lose weight you should go on a diet” is not.

                The “freedom to choose” whether to go on a diet or not is illusory, as evidenced by the proportion of obese people.

                All our choices are compulsions, whether we like it or not. If we run the travel-back-in-time thought experiment, it is incoherent to assert that the exact same set of circumstances would produce a different outcome. Of course, it might be the case that a virtual particle pops into existence or a nucleous emits a particle and somehow these phenomena change your decision (though I cannot imagine by what mechanism). But even so, those phenomena do nor depend on our volition. So either we would have done the exact same thing, or we would have done a different thing because of some uncontrollable phenomena. In either case, we have no free will.

      • OldFuzz
        Posted January 14, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        Sorry I missed your reply. While I agree we should be accountable for our actions, I think Gazzaniga point is that even with free will a term worth abandoning, we have a sense of responsibility and accountability.

        (I am reflecting what I think he said, not what he really said.)

  52. GeorgeM
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    I have a problem grokking this. As I understand it, our consciousness is an emergent property of our complex brain, something that arose as a way for our unconscious to manage moving through the world. For the most part, “we” are aware only of that which our unconscious makes available. It’s a wonderful “trick”. There really isn’t a “me” that exists apart from my body. I like the color blue for reasons unknown to me. I cannot “make” myself like something that I don’t like. I may grow to like something, but it will be a process that occurs slowly and beneath my awareness. That much I get.
    However, I restarted my running program in 2011. I ran on 100 degree days and 30 degree days. On days that I didn’t want to run, I told myself to not think about it, just go run. That seems like free will to me. I override my impulse to stay in the A/C or by the fireplace.

    • Chris Granger
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the conscious portion of your mind did not want to run, but deeper processes that you are unaware of compelled you to run anyhow. Then your conscious mind rationalizes this post-hoc by saying to itself, “don’t think about it, just go run.” And so you run.

  53. Dr. I. Needtob Athe
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne, I’m particularly uneasy about this portion of your article:

    “But we should continue to mete out punishments because those are environmental factors that can influence the brains of not only the criminal himself, but of other people as well. Seeing someone put in jail, or being put in jail yourself, can change you in a way that makes it less likely you’ll behave badly in the future. Even without free will then, we can still use punishment to deter bad behavior, protect society from criminals, and figure out better ways to rehabilitate them.”

    I fully support protecting society from criminals, but the idea that the primary justification for punishment is its value as a deterrent to others seems seriously flawed to me: If seeing someone put in jail is good then it follows that seeing someone whipped, waterboarded, burnt at the stake, beheaded, crucified, or otherwise cruelly tortured must be even better; and for maximum good effect, such punishments should be meted out in public before the largest audiences possible.

    I strongly suspect that you wouldn’t really be in favor of reverting to such cruel medieval practices, yet they seem to follow logically from your premise.

    • Chris Granger
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      The “maximum good effect” of the punishment has to be balanced with the goal of minimizing suffering to people.

      Also, seeing the state mete out torture might deter people from committing crimes, but it might also convince people that the state is cruel and should be rebelled against.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

      That’s well put — a good argument against utilitarian “justice.”

      What bothers me, though, is Jerry’s assertion that “we should continue to mete out punishments because those are environmental factors that can influence the brains of not only the criminal himself, but of other people as well.” And so on. That is pure nonsense in light of his no-free-will stance. What is this “influence,” and who intends to mete it out, and to what purpose? Is there no free will involved? It doesn’t matter what we do with criminals, really, according to Jerry. The future is preordained.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 12:34 am | Permalink

        I’m glad that someone else has pointed out that if meting out punishment is intended, in a sort of Skinnerian way, to influence others and so prevent crime, then there is no real hindrance – pace Chris Granger – to making those punishments as draconian as possible. And the meters-out can feel gratified that they are doing the best thing in the circumstances: ‘I’m only doing this for your own good, Harris’, as a certain master used to say before beating me, though the meters-out of punishments for criminals can add ‘for the good of society’ and feel doubly righteous.
        But what honestly strikes me is how little in fact is genuinely changed with respect to the treatment of criminals if one is going to say that they cannot be held morally responsible for what they have done and at the same time punish them in order, first of all, to change, if possible, their neuronal neworks and deter them from so offending again, and secondly to provide a horrid example that will deter others from committing crimes. I do not see the sea-change that Jerry Coyne suggests will come about.

    • Shack Toms
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      I think the idea is more the approach of trying to figure out what treatment of criminals would follow from Rawls’s Original Position.

      Like most optima, the answer is not found at any extreme. Neither at the extreme of of foregoing all punishment, nor at the extreme of beheading everyone and letting God decide. The optimum is found in a balance of competing interests.

      You could think of it along the lines of building flood-control dams, even though the river doesn’t freely choose to flood.

      I don’t think you need to have a sense of vindictive retribution in order to justify the correction of an injustice, even if that correction may involve punishment and the threat of punishment.

      In Christian terms, this is called “hate the sin, but not the sinner.”

      And besides, if there is no free choice, then you can’t justly denounce vindictive retribution any more than the original injustice. It all just happens. Justice is then a matter of fairness given the Original Position, not a matter of just deserts.

  54. Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    This whole argument boils down to a debate over semantics: e.g. should Dennett be able to call the concept he is explaining “free will”, or must that term be reserved only for what mainstream intuition tells us (and, since intuition can be shown to be wrong here, be called false altogether)? It is like arguing over whether the Ship of Theseus is the same ship or not after all of its planks are replaced: it makes for an interesting debate when both sides are engaging in the nature of the underlying concept (in the ship’s case, identity), but it just becomes boring and rote when both sides are simply repeating their arguments right past the other.

    If I slapped Jerry Coyne in the face, he would likely believe an entity identified as me had assaulted him. And clearly, Coyne believes there is an entity identified as Dennett out there somewhere who himself holds particular beliefs about the nature of human free will, and Coyne holds different beliefs, and would like to share them with us, ourselves individual readers.

    When pressed, Coyne may explain all of this as merely an extremely complicated game of particle Plinko, and that really none of us take any voluntary actions or hold any particular beliefs because really all of us are just a combination of particles in a given state within the universe. But nevertheless, it is clear that exchanging the bits of information that make up the ideas in this thread requires us to take certain emergent concepts for granted, reducible or not.

    I see no value in suggesting simply that such concepts do not exist because they are reductive, no more than there is value is saying that my car does not exist because it’s just a collection of atoms (or that the atoms don’t exist because they’re just a collection of quarks, or fermions and bosons, or 11-dimensional vibrating strings, and so on).

    Or rather, in certain contexts it *is* valuable to reduce these things, while in other contexts is isn’t. If we want to understand the neurological forces that drive human behavior, then by all means reduce what we perceive as free will into deterministic neurobiological processes. If you want to discuss ethics, however, reduction is going to bear fruit only in exceptional circumstances.

    Compatibalists such as Dennett are simply trying to explain that the mechanics of what we call “free will” are not what we intuitively think they are, and they offer alternate explanations in their place. The counter-argument that these alternate explanations do not match people’s intuition is somewhat silly: of *course* they don’t match people’s intuition, that’s why they are alternate explanations!

    And Coyne, etc. should be careful when they proclaim that all behavior is driven by deterministic physical processes, because as I’m sure they all know, the best current models for quantum physics posits a certain amount of randomness (and/or probability, and/or “fuzziness”) to reality.

    • Ivo
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

      I agree wholeheartedly. There is a phenomenon (the deliberating and choosing we do), and there is an intuitive and traditional explanation for it (the acaused, counter-factual view of free will). It is just silly to point out that, since the latter is false, the former is an illusion and all alternative explanations are illicit goalpost-moving tricks. What makes the whole subject interesting is the phenomenon that we’re trying to understand, not the precise meaning that a couple of overloaded words should have.

  55. Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Another objection:

    If the beliefs “we” form about our behaviors are purely epiphenomenal, as Coyne’s (and Harris, etc.) argument implies, then that raises the question: why do we experience this phenomena? Indeed, then, why do we experience any phenomena, including the concept of self? If all of my choices are made via physical processes *and* what I perceive as my consciousness has no input into such choices, then what value is consciousness, in the evolutionary sense? I should expect that the energy spent by our brains to form such rationalizations would be a detriment to our survival: that energy could be much better spent gathering more food and having more sex, and thus I would expect so-called “philosophical zombies” to dominate the world.

    But, applying an anthropological principle here, we recognize that, whatever its true nature, people perceive within themselves something called free will (or, perhaps a little more formally, we hold beliefs about conscious causes to our choices). So, there is most likely some value to that perception. Note here that I am *not* arguing that because we perceive things in a certain way, that reality must conform to those perceptions. But I am arguing that there is something there to be spoken of, and I find it likely that the conscious beliefs we maintain about our particular choices do provide some feedback or other input to our existence worth further discussion, or else our brains wouldn’t bother forming those beliefs (false though they may be in particular cases) after millions of years of evolution.

    • Posted January 3, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      if it’s so valuable why don’t other animals have it?

    • Posted January 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been trying to say this for weeks.

  56. Vaal
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Jerry C. wrote: Compatibilists resemble theologians in many ways, not the least of which is that they both engage in endless lucubrations trying to show that something that doesn’t exist, but that is hugely important for our psychological well-being, really does exist in some form or another.

    Incompatibilists resemble theologians in many ways, not the least of which is their tendency to cling dogmatically to outdated and incoherent concepts of free will, no matter how many times the incoherency and contradictions in their concepts are pointed out to them.

    Given the incompatibilists surely can not be led to their conclusions by reason; it must be some physiological hang up that explains their clinging to incompatibilism.

    Jerry C.:  People hate the idea that they aren’t agents who can make free choices, just as they hate they idea that there might not be a Protective Father in heaven.

    People HATE the idea of being morally responsible, just as they hate the idea that there may be a Father In Heaven who will judge them on their moral choices. This psychological fact, and not reason, explains why incompatibilists look for a way to be able to conclude “I’m not really morally responsible..I don’t have a real choice”

    There…wasn’t that fun, well-poisoning and attributing the opponent’s conclusions to psychology? Anyone can do it. Except it ends up as petty and often just wrong. The risk you take when pop-psychologizing about the other side of the debate is that when you get it wrong, you’ve shown them (at least in this case) you are full of it. It’s like when theists smugly declare we atheists disbelieve not because we have good reasons for our doubt, but because we secretly “hate” God or it’s a desire to sin without being accountable. After all, we atheists couldn’t REALLY have an opposing view based on the fact we believe we have good reasons…can we? That’s what it is like as an atheist who finds compatibilism convincing (as apparently do a majority of atheist philosophers) to see someone trying to attribute such conclusions to psychology, rather than as our reasoned conclusions – of our honest inquiry into the matter.

    I have no problem believing in things I hate or find distressing. I hate the idea that crazy regimes are armed with nuclear devices that could start a horrifying nuclear war. I hate the idea that cancer exists and kills untold millions, including people I”ve loved, and may kill me. I’m not particularly fond of the idea that I’ll likely die in pain and then just cease to exist. I hate the fact my dad died relatively young and is no longer around. I could go on and on about the propositions I really wish were not true. But I BELIEVE them because I think there are good reasons to believe in those propositions, whether I like them or not. Just like other rational people behave…like Jerry Coyne.

    Same goes for the subject of free will. IF hard determinism/incompatibilism had good arguments in their favour, I would not suddenly change my course and disbelieve when I find there is justification for believing them. The reason I don’t go in for incompatibilism is amply illustrated by Jerry’s arguments FOR incompatibilism. I find Jerry’s arguments (and those in agreement with him) to be very problematic. If I were of the mind to poison the well: to me what some incompatibilsts write, including some of what Jerry has written, reminds me of arguing with a theist. I can’t believe they actually can’t see the problems in what they are writing! Jerry thinks compatibilists are defining free will into existence, but it looks to me just the opposite, that Jerry is defining free will out of existence, rather than having a fully cogent argument. However, I would not in fact fall back into attributing this simply to psychology on Jerry’s part. I’m quite sure Jerry’s has reached his conclusion based on reason – on his understanding of the issues. And I respect that. It’s not some Freudian psychological hang up he’s working out.

    Please remember: The same goes for those of us who may defend the idea of compatibilism. The arguments for incompatibilism just make little sense to compatibilists, and they seem to commit obvious errors, whereas compatiblism makes more sense to me. Watching incompatibilists make their points in this thread only re-enforces what seem to me to be the failings of that position. It’s not a matter of “hate” or “fear.”

    Jerry seems to have accepted the idea he has no free will, and yet has not shrivelled up into a blubbering, fearful person. Same with many other commenters. Consider the possibility that other people (like myself) just MIGHT be brave enough to hold up to such a concept, should we find what makes for a convincing argument…just like the rest of the brave incompatibilists. It’s just that, from our perspective, we have yet to find a convincing, cogent argument for incompatibilism.

    Cheers,

    Vaal

    • Ivo
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink

      Thank you, very well said. I think in this debate Jerry is not trying hard enough to understand the opposite side.

      He is right about determinism being incompatible with his version of free will, but he is wrong, and somewhat arrogant, in his insistence that we accept his definition in the first place. It has now been explained to him several times and in some detail that there is, just perhaps, some interesting phenomenon that people point to when using the words “free will” and “choice”. But somehow, this is all besides the point because it’s not the true and sole legitimate meaning of those words.

      So what? I’m sure that the concept of “species” that Jerry adheres to is not the one that used to be commonly accepted in pre-Darwinian times, but biologists haven’t automatically abandoned the term as useless or meaningless. Rather, they have redefined it to better accomodate our improved understanding.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

        I take your points, and will respond eventually, but lay off the criticism of the management. I don’t at all appreciate the adjective of “arrogant”. I am willing to be wrong, but I’m not willing to be insulted.

        • Peter Beattie
          Posted January 3, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

          I don’t think that was (let alone was meant to be) an insult, actually. As I see it, Ivo meant it to be a description of your behaviour: of presuming, without proper warrant, to be in possession of the right definition of something. With respect to ‘free will’, you have, AFAICS, given neither any actual reason to think that most people take the term to mean contra-causal free will (you have only asserted as much) nor have you given any argument as to why anyone should properly take the term to mean that (and your engagement with, for example, Dennett on this point seems to me rather superficial).

        • Ivo
          Posted January 4, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

          Sorry!

          I didn’t intend any insult: my “rather arrogant” refers to how I perceive your position on this one issue, and I wasn’t certainly saying that I find you arrogant as a person (I like and follow your blog also because it generally shows you to be a remarkably reasonable and sensible person).

          However, I guess my choice of words might have let out some frustration — once again, I’m sorry for this.

    • Posted January 3, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Dr. Coyne owes us an explanation of why determinism, as such, rules out free choice. As far as I can tell, his explanation has nothing to do, in the final analysis, with determinism or empirical science, contrary to what he says in the op-ed. It’s pure philosophy, as I said in my comments and replies at 47.

  57. Diane G.
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    Very cool that JAC is (yet again) getting such thought-provoking questions out of the Ivory Tower and into the hands of the masses. Who knows how many will be reached who would otherwise never have run across these ideas?

  58. Jim Balter
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    Same Harris: “Dennett is simply asserting that we are more than this—we are coterminous with everything that goes on inside our bodies, whether we are conscious of it or not.”

    Dennett does not assert that, and he doesn’t assert anything “simply”.

    “Compatibilists resemble theologians in many ways … People hate the idea that they aren’t agents who can make free choices”

    Oh come on … compatibilists are determinists — that’s what they’re compatible with. Rather than Harris you should follow Tom Clark … he’s a more experienced, subtle, and charitable thinker who gives folks like Dennett their just due without descending into such ad hominem dreck of attacking their motives.

  59. curious
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I am more certain about the existence of my own free will, then I am about almost everything else (for instance the proposition that causal determinism is true — I do not think the problem of induction is an idle philosophical problem). Moreover, the extraordinary amount of evidence that is required to upend this belief has not yet been provided by science. In fact, I believe, ‘free will’ is a nonsensical word, in the sense that there is no non-trivial way to define the term so that the proposition ‘There is no free will’ can have a truth-value as established by evidence.

  60. Posted January 3, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    The human brain is interesting, of course.

    So, like with so many scientific and medical things, the facts are in on the lack of free will yet most folks duck, bob and try to squirm away from the facts. It’s instructive to see how.

    Personal attacks (blame the messenger), attacks on methodology, calls on authority and personal feelings of the moment, trotting out “philosophical” arguments, magical claims including quantum effects — anything and everything but engaging with the data and evidence and facts at hand. Seems pretty dum but is universal.

  61. Marjorie Spencer
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Stepping outside the biological context momentarily and into the semantic, my understanding of the word ‘determinism’ includes hard achronicity; the past determines the future in a specific manner, which is to say that whatever happen has been pre-set to happen since the beginning of time. I don’t think that is what Jerry or Sam is arguing, but it’s a material difference to the conversation about whether the factors that make us act as we do include our sense (so as not to beg the question) of our own agency in the world.

    • Posted January 3, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      See this is the problem. The data is clear. Obfuscating using ordinary language is just a rhetorical and ideological scam — and a BIG waste of time as we see on this post.

      Would you have such silly semantic gymnastics with your doctor or airline pilot?

      Biology is all that matters and predicts the rest is trivial chit chat.

  62. Peter Beattie
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    To these detractors I’ll respond as did Hitchens at 7:03 (but, since I love my readers, without the invitation to posterior osculation): “I can’t find a seconder usually when I propose this but I don’t care. I don’t need a seconder. My own opinion is enough for me. And I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, anytime.”

    This is not just a huge, though rhetorically effective, strawman, since nobody is actually trying to abridge your right to defend your position; and notwithstanding the laudable impulse not to grant a majority vote the power to determine truth, the statement in its radical form as quoted is also somewhat wrong-headed in that any isolated individual is simply not capable of ascertaining or even asessing truth. This latter process necessarily involves the criticism of one’s ideas by other people, otherwise it would be almost indistinguishable from revelation. No scientifically-minded person should ever say, ‘My own {opinion|study|theory} is good enough for me.’ Science, in the Popperian view that (quite justly, in my view) seems to be the current favourite among scientists, is about the exact opposite: trying as hard as possible to find out where one’s opinion is not good enough—not just because that’s what it will eventually turn out to be, anyway.

    • Posted January 3, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      Bravo!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am tired of being told that we have no free will is an established fact, and several have intoned that what I think is all very besides the point because I don’t have free will, so get over it.
      It has occurred to me several times that some opponents of existence of free will do not try to question their own stance.
      From a purely deterministic viewpoint, I can easily conclude that I don’t have free will. This leaves the question of our perceptions, what our perceptions are, etc.
      Determinism in no way explains what is going on enough to logically conclude that we have minds, perceptions, awareness, and qualia, and so there is obviously something very large that is, at the moment, unexplainable to the point of being incomprehensible.
      Determinism does not predict our minds in the least, so how can these people insist that determinism predicts that a part of our minds is illusory.

      Determinism does not predict our minds in the least, so how can these people insist that determinism predicts that a part of our minds is illusory.

      Lots of people have said this. There are others, including neurosurgeons,m that do not agree that we know enough to eliminate free will from our behavior.

      ONE of many: Scientists think they can prove that free will is an illusion. Philosophers are urging them to think again

      And this: Probably the most lucid mainstream analysis of why neuroscience isn’t killing free will has just been published at The New York Times where philosopher of mind Eddy Nahmias takes the mourners to task using a narrow and largely irrelevant definition of free will.

      So, does neuroscience mean the death of free will? Well, it could if it somehow demonstrated that conscious deliberation and rational self-control did not really exist or that they worked in a sheltered corner of the brain that has no influence on our actions. But neither of these possibilities is likely. True, the mind sciences will continue to show that consciousness does not work in just the ways we thought, and they already suggest significant limitations on the extent of our rationality, self-knowledge, and self-control. Such discoveries suggest that most of us possess less free will than we tend to think, and they may inform debates about our degrees of responsibility. But they do not show that free will is an illusion.

      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.

      I say it over and over again, account for our consciousness. If it is unnecessary then why do we have it.

      Sorry for running on, Beattie. I just read Matunos and you and I got excited because I am seeing you two and others starting to address the important problem of consciousness, and pointing out methodological flaws in their(Coyne et al) reasoning and behaviors

  63. Posted January 3, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    While others are busy spinning philosophical or extreme physics fantasies about behavior and the brain here is a practical finding: “Brain activation patterns while radiologists diagnose disease from X-rays are very similar to those observed during naming animals and letters…they could identify abnormalities in the X-rays to reach an accurate diagnosis (in) just 1.3 seconds after first seeing the images”

  64. Paul s
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I’ve read all comments (59) and replies so far and I’m more confused than when I started. I thought I know what free-will was, but now I’m not so sure. I thought it was the ability to make a choice. E.g. Do I turn right or left on my way to the store. Either choice is ok, but somewhere in my brain, I make a decision and that’s the direction I go. I would assume that this decision is based on things I know, but don’t think about. If I consciously thought about everything that goes into that choice, I’d be standing at the corner forever. It’s like breathing, I don’t think about it, but I do it anyway.
    That doesn’t make it magical or supernatural, it’s just seems to me to be based on experiences (input) and how those are interpreted by my brain. So I may not have made a conscious choice to go left, but somehow my brain told my body to turn that way. I could have just as easily gone right.
    Is the argument that I do not have free-will because I did not consciously make the decision and that it was based on external input and decided before I actually turned? If that’s the case, then ok, I do not have free-will.
    If on the other hand you are saying that nothing that I experience has anything to do with my choices and everything has already been predetermined, then I’m lost.

  65. Kharamatha
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    It is the freedom that is illusory, not the will.

    This is so fucking simple, and all of us (except the few actual theists who keep stopping by) already know the rough outlines of how the brain operates in practice.

    This long ago turned into two guys standing in a field, facing eachother; one walking in a circuit, the other turning on the spot.

    “I’ve circled you!”

    “Nu-uh, you’ve never been behind me, only in front of me!”

    “Have too circled you! I’ve been to that tree, and that rock, and then back again!”

    “Have not!”

    “Have too!”

    An adult would see that it’s a mostly sophistic conflation.

  66. Overcast
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Nonetheless, this, like so many other ‘modern day revelations’ of conceptual genius – fails to provide any *concrete evidence* anymore than another man’s theory of God and the faith required for that belief.

    So if you believe this, you do it purely out of faith.

  67. Dr. I. Needtob Athe
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Here are the three major positions promoted by Dr. Coyne that have been the most influential in making me a big fan of his:

    1. Atheism – There’s no adequate evidence to justify a belief in God.

    2. Why Evolution is True – In light of the knowledge we possess today, denial of evolution is a patently ridiculous position.

    3. Religion and science are incompatible – The scientific method of observation, research, testing, analysis, peer review, and free abandonment of flawed old theories in favor of superior new theories is incompatible with the religious method of making sh*t up and threatening those who don’t believe you.

    With that in mind, I consider it unfortunate that Dr. Coyne is apparently offering denial of free will as a fourth major controversial position of his, because:

    1. If mankind accepts the first three points then we’ll all be better off, but there doesn’t seem to be any obvious benefit in talking people into denying free will.

    2. The idea just doesn’t fly – it seems that few people accept it. The first three positions I listed are based on common sense, while the fourth seems to defy common sense. It’s very difficult to accept the seemingly paradoxical proposal that we don’t have free will, and promoting the idea may damage Dr. Coyne’s overall credibility.

    3. It appears to be beyond Dr. Coyne’s field of study and expertise. As a neurologist, Sam Harris may be qualified to speak on this subject, but I think it ventures too far outside of the field of biology for Dr. Coyne to speak about it with compelling authority.

    4. Finally, I think it’s damaging to the atheist cause because Dr. Coyne’s arguments tend to connect religion and free will, such that supporting free will is tantamount to supporting religion; and denying free will is tantamount to denying religion. Many of the comments after his USA Today article were along the lines of “No, you’re wrong about us not having free will, God DOES exist.” Tying the two together in such a false dichotomy is likely to damage the cause of atheism more than it promotes denial of free will. In my opinion, you CAN believe in free will and also be an atheist.

    So please, Dr. Coyne, let Sam Harris handle that issue!

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, but when you read what Sam says in his book, you’re not going to find any substantive difference in either opinion or tone from what I’ve said here. Second, should you tell Sam to let Bart Ehrman handle religious issues because Bart has training in religion? Where did Sam get his expertise in religion?

      Be careful before you say that somebody shouldn’t comment on something because it lies beyond their area of training and expertise. The ideas that Sam adumbrates are largely in line with mine, and it is the ideas, not the person, that should be judged.

      Plus what you said is just offensive period. So what if few people accept it. Few people don’t accept atheism, either, and the evidence supporting the determinism of our brains (which, by the way, most TRAINED philosopher and psychologists accept) is just as strong as the evidence that there is no God.

      Finally, I’ll say what I think even if there’s no obvious benefit to it, just because I value the truth. And, as I said at the end of the USA today piece, there IS an obvious benefit to realize the truth about our brains.

      Free will is connected with religion; tying them totgether is not a false dichotomy. I wonder why you even say that. If there is no free will, much of Abrahamic religion collapses.

      Finally, as a matter of manners and policy, it’s not good to tell someone who runs a website what he/she should or should not write about.

      • Dr. I. Needtob Athe
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

        Hold on now! Most of what I wrote above concerns how I believe your article was RECEIVED by your USA Today audience. I didn’t necessarily mean for my comments above to disagree with any of your assertions; it’s just that at several points while reading the article I thought to myself, “Oh boy, I can guess how the commenters will respond to that!” and as it turned out, judging from the comments, my guesses were mostly correct.

        All I’m saying is that if your purpose was to compel people toward your point of view, that article probably didn’t enjoy a whole lot of success, not did I expect it to as I read it. I never said that anything lies beyond your area of training and expertise, I only said that it APPEARS that way, which means that, although it’s not necessarily something that I believe myself, it’s a counter-argument that you should expect to hear from some of the article’s readers.

        And in the sense I meant, free will is only connected to religion because you chose to connect it to religion. You could have written a pure science article and avoided religion entirely, which would have disarmed many of your critics, but it was your choice to tie the two together and present what your critics are likely to portray as a “hidden agenda.” They’ll say that you’re only denying free will to promote atheism.

        They’re dead wrong, of course, but I’ll bet that’s what they’ll say.

        Anyway, I was sincerely counting on the first half of my post to ward off any offense on your part, but it seems that didn’t work out so well for me. At this point I can only plead that your first sentence beginning with “Finally” is my answer to your last sentence beginning with “Finally.”

        • piero
          Posted January 3, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

          I intensely disliked your comment. The arguments you proffered were illogical, your aim unclear, and your choice of expression unfortunate.

          First, unless you possess relevant and outstanding qualifications, it’s none of your business to tell others what they can comment on. If you have arguments to counter Jerry’s position, then put them on the table. If not, shut up. If your main concern is not truth, then why do you frequent this blog?

          Second, most people believe they have free will. That only shows that most people are wrong. Most people think their children are beautiful, too.

          Third, the connexion between free will and religion is obvious and unavoidable. Just as evolution disproves creation, the absence of free will disproves all the major tenets of all the major religions. Do you believe that’s just a minor issue that should be shoved under the carpet?

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted January 4, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

        “Free will is connected with religion; tying them totgether is not a false dichotomy. I wonder why you even say that. If there is no free will, much of Abrahamic religion collapses.”

        First of all, I had no idea you were so thin skinned. Although Dr. Athe’s arguments were weak, I thought he was respectful and polite. If you publish a blog (and your website has all the characteristics of a blog, including comments, despite your stubborn insistence that it isn’t one), then you have to expect some criticism. (it’s a very good blog, IMO — one of the best.)

        Secondly, I’m astonished that you continue to use intentional language. Given your stance on free will, your intentions, including your admirable desire to unseat Abrahamic religion, are meaningless, futile, and inconsistent with your philosophy. I intend to keep hitting on this point, along with Garry W.

  68. Posted January 4, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    it is instructive how, effectively, none of the commentators want to engage with the biology and brain science on this matter — the evidence.

    in fact, everyone seems to be running away from the hard data as fast as their lil feet can carry ‘em.

    instead we are wallowing in everyone’s hyper-defensive reactions: solipsistic special pleading for their own uninformed ideas and feelings/ideologies; personal attacks on our Jerry; etc.. ho hum so predictable

    this is a good example, however, of how it is impossible for serious science to be engaged with by a general audience. the material is just too intellectually demanding and challenges too many belief systems/ideologies so all you get is nonsensincal defensive pushback.

    plus, no one really knows the first thing about basic biology, evo science and brains science.

  69. matteo
    Posted January 4, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    mmm…. bad post… a little superficial… a little stupid… nothing special…like reductionists mind :)… what he calls “sophisticated philosophers” are people like dennett or antonio damasio who aren’t philosophers like harris… they are philosophers and psychologists… and then they’re still working in neuroscience…
    sorry, poster… you’re confused and I think a little bit depressed :D Harris isn’t a scientist… is a teaser… maybe when harris or the man who post this semplicistic article grow, they’ll understand what compatibilism is. bye… smile to the life :D

  70. Posted January 4, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    there’s an (un)intelligent response:
    1. “Read the book…” [DaMasio is a decent bench scientist, middlebrow writer and consciousness is trivial] look at the comments on this post, not one scientifically interesting or even informed comment, well there has to be one somewhere — Nothing but meta nonsense. WOT – waste of time. Decent HS students know more brain science and evo bio.
    2. Personal insult

    like we said – just deadly dumb commentators. whew…too bad

    how about we get back to cowboy boots, ppl oughta be able to speak semi-intelligently about that!!

    free advice: comment[a LOT] less, read more — not pop sci books but the primary research — stretch yourselves — or not…lol

    http://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/home?utm_source=Neuroscience+Newsletter+-+Active+Zone&utm_campaign=39f347f105-Neuroscience_Newsletter_Issue_151_3_2012&utm_medium=email

  71. Mary
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the article Jerry. Well written

  72. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    The no-free-will stance precludes intentionality. It doesn’t preclude the “feeling” of intentionality, whatever that is. It precludes the efficacy, and hence the significance, of intentionality.

    This is obvious. If intentionality exists as a conscious, mental state, as we all know that it does, then it can have no effect on the future according to the no-free-will stance, because that would amount to free will.

    So when people arguing for the no-free-will stance use intentional language, which they nearly always do, and do implicitly by commenting in this forum and seeming to be trying to change other people’s minds, that takes be aback. It’s incoherent.

    Now you can just say that’s just the way it plays out and I don’t need your approval and you can kiss my arse. I’m fine with that.

    • Posted January 5, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      wurds don’t mean nuttin’..other life forms have less than zero use for them, ho hum…

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted January 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        Words (i.e., language) aren’t necessary for intentionality, but intentionality is necessary for words, unless you happen to be a paper tape reader or something similar.

        • Posted January 5, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

          why?

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted January 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

            Will you grant that the no-free-will stance precludes the efficacy of intentionality?

            • Posted January 5, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

              why?.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted January 5, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

                Precisely. It doesn’t matter.

              • Posted January 5, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

                bacteria have “intentionality” they communicate chemically, etc.

  73. Shack Toms
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    You defined free will wrong. Your definition essentially equates freedom with randomness. I can see why someone would want to do that, but I think a more useful definition, and one more in line with what most people want when they claim to want free will, is the alignment of our destiny with our innate desires.

    That is, suppose I offer to a choice of salad dressing. According to your definition, you would have free will only to the extent that your choice were unknown and unknowable in advance, to you or to anyone else (most importantly for the theological issue, not known t o any divinity). But most people would associate meaningful free will with reliably getting the salad dressing they wanted. To get a random result is not meaningful freedom.

    We may be able to achieve our desires, but we do not meaningfully choose the desires themselves.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      Exactly right, IMO. The no-free-will stance REQUIRES that our intentional, conscious mental states, which all know exist, are completely INEFFECTIVE. That is, they can have no effect whatsoever on future events according to this position. This no-free-will position assumes a clear understanding of causality, which we don’t have in contemporary physics, so I count that assumption as naive and unsupported. Looking a little deeper into quantum physics, it also requires reversibility, which is clearly not the case.

      Something important is missing from our understanding of physics, and IMO the proper stance of a skeptic to this issue at this time is skepticism — i.e., being noncommital.

      • Posted January 8, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        and apparently ignore the data in favor of chit chat…

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted January 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

          Your attitude reminds me of William Thompson (Lord Kelvin), one of the greatest physicists of his day, who used sound reasoning, physical theory (thermodynamics), and hard data to calculate that the age of the earth was somewhere between 20 million and 40 million years.

          He was off by two orders of magnitude because his assumptions were wrong, and they were wrong not because he was stupid or because he misinterpreted the data, but because neither he or anyone else had knowledge of radioactivity. His physics was incomplete, and so is ours — more complete than Lord Kelvin’s to be sure, but nevertheless incomplete. Even worse, it’s inconsistent.

          If anything, our greater depth of knowledge of physics should make us more aware of what we don’t know that Lord Kelvin could have imagined.

          • Posted January 9, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

            indeed so a purple feathered ice cream sundae the size of a galaxy is as probable as anything you propose….well done that

            btw ad homimen arguments only prove the absence of your knowledge

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

              “btw ad homimen arguments only prove the absence of your knowledge”

              I’m sorry if you thought that was an ad hominem argument. As for Lord Kelvin, I don’t think he requires an apology.

              (Kelvin was a devout theist. His low-ball estimate of the age of the earth was a major impediment to the acceptance of Darwinian evolution, until the unanticipated discovery of radioactivity saved the day.)

              I often see discussions of “scientism” on this website, usually in the context of theists or accomodationists beating up on rationalists, unfairly, by equating their position with religion. But “scientism” has a distinct meaning to me: The overweening, unjustified belief that science, AS WE UNDERSTAND IT TODAY, has all the answers, at least in principle.

              This flies in the face of the fact that science as we know it today has vast gaps and contradictions, and some of those gaps and contradictions bear acutely on the question of free will. Theists try to fill those gaps and contradictions with god, while the scientistic no-free-willers try to paper them over. Neither position should satisfy a skeptic.

              My point was not that are wrong, but that, like Lord Kelvin, you are being scientistic.

              • Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                of course there are gaps, only ideologues and sales people want to claim absolutes…with real knowledge there are always error bars…with sales scams, never

                the simple question is which is more predictive? Right now?

                what? uncharacteristic your opponent’s ideas as a personal weakness isn’t obviously ad homimen?

                we are talking about ideas, not ppl..unless your brain re-actively, and unconsciously, codes any idea that disagrees with yours as a personal attack which most brains on the internet do…in fact those kind of impaired brains drive their owners to be hyper-vigilant on the internet for potential “threats” since those brains don’t have adequate internal soothing mechanisms…inherited brain deficit

    • GBJames
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:37 am | Permalink

      So, a man in a restaurant that offers only Balsamic Vinegrette is expressing free will if that is to his coincidental taste? Would the choice of two dressings he hates eliminate free will? I don’t think your definition works.

      • Shack Toms
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

        Yes, freedom is attained if one achieves the alignment of destiny with desire even if the undesired alternative is not presented as a choice.

        If you were omnipotent, so that reality conformed itself precisely to your every desire, this would not deny your freedom. Yet I think your take on freedom leads to the conclusion that such omnipotence would mean you had no freedom, because you only got everything you wanted and didn’t also have an equal chance of getting the things you didn’t want.

        Think of what freedom means in a scientific context. An object in free motion may have a predictable motion. Building a tube around the free path does not impose a meaningful constraint.

        Consider freedom in the context of gay rights. A homosexual did not choose to be gay, but in that regard freedom entails the right to choose a partner of the same sex. If same-sex partnerships are denied to all, then by your argument it would pose an equal limitation on free will, since heterosexuals would also be denied the option of same-sex partners.

        I think that neither heterosexual nor homosexual would feel they were more free by having a pairing that was uncorrelated with their desire. Yet this is the ideal of freedom Coyne proposes (and he is far from alone in his definition, though it is also far from universal).

        I think it is a widespread error, but I am puzzled by it because it seems so obviously entirely wrong that I fear I am missing something. I don’t really understand at all how someone could possibly think that having the outcome of their every choice decided randomly would seem at all liberating.

        • GBJames
          Posted January 10, 2012 at 12:47 am | Permalink

          You hang much on the word “destiny”, undefined. It has the feel of “God’s plan”. I smell a fish. Ann maybe a loaf.

          • Shack Toms
            Posted January 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

            OK, substitute “futurity” for “destiny” if you like. All I mean by destiny is “what actually happens”. I don’t think my argument depends upon whether the future is pre-determined.

            You bring “God” into this. I am not sure what you mean by that term. I am not even sure what I mean by it, and I am a theist. But I am pretty sure that I also disbelieve in God by the definitions that most atheists and physicalists would use for that term, so probably there is some common ground.

            The main point of contention, I think, is that I don’t think an objective description of reality can be a complete description. For example, a complete objective description of any possible reality would contain the results of all possible measurements within that reality. Thus none of these possible measurements can reveal whether the reality actually exists. The existence of reality is thus not an objective attribute, it is a matter of subjective experience, supernatural with respect to the objective description. My theism amounts to a belief in the ineffable nature of subjective experience, and of reality in general.

            I am not even arguing here that free will exists (and certainly it does not exist without qualification), only that Coyne defined it in a way that would be undesirable even if it did exist.

            But I would accept that if there is no future, then there is also no freedom. So if you want to deny freedom by denying the concept of futurity, go right ahead. I don’t think I have an answer for that.

            Destiny as a predetermined fate is even more applicable to physicalism than to theistic religion. In physicalism, all attributes are objective attributes, which means that their truth about a particular event in space and time is independent of the perspective of any observer.

            Our current knowledge of a future measurement may be limited, but within physicalism the measurement itself is an objective fact about the measured event in time and space.

            Thus it seems that, within physicalism, the only meaningful definition of a free choice is “ignorance”, because one’s future, whatever it is, is already an objective fact. I think that is why Coyne wanted to equate freedom with unpredictability. I think he was looking for a physicalist analog of freedom that worked in a universe in which all facts were objective, and thus independent of perspective.

            To put it another way, the notion of “now” (and thus also of “past” and “future”) does not exist in physicalism, except as the perspective of a person at some time “t”. There can be no concept of the present as some distinguished time that changes (with respect to what would it change?). In physicalism, your destiny already exists because all facts about all events in the entire time-space continuum are objective facts–our knowledge about them may depend upon our perspective in time, but the facts themselves are fixed. Que sera, sera.

            • Posted January 10, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

              the core problem is that “physicalism” doesn’t exist…it’s just a word with no data/empirical referent.

              • Shack Toms
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

                Sure physicalism exists. It is the philosophy that an objective description of reality can be completed, in the sense that there is no fact about reality that is left unaccounted for in the objective description.

              • Posted January 10, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

                it only exists as a rhetorical term that has no independent meaning…”Show me the data.”

              • Shack Toms
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

                I am not sure what you are asking for. Do you want me to show you data that supports physicalism as a true theory? It isn’t true.

                Do you want me to show you data that supports physicalism as a theory that many people hold? How about this? http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/

                Don’t you have access to Google?

              • Posted January 11, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

                it would seem sensible to support a claim that an idea describes generalized behavior to have peer-reviewed double blind studies supporting that claim, of course…cross cultural would be valuable as well..

            • GBJames
              Posted January 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

              That you are a theist was evident. That was the fish I smelled. That you can’t articulate your definition of your god reflects a level of confusion which may account for the long-winded nature of your comments. It makes it very hard to tell what your actual point is but I think you are trying to say that the universe is incomplete unless you make things up. I don’t think there is any reason for the rest of us to care about things you make up.

              • Shack Toms
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

                I did articulate my definition of theism.

                But, from what you write, I don’t think I am a theist, by your definition.

                If you are not someone who believes in subjective awareness, then perhaps you simply don’t have it. In that case, I am sympathetic to your assertion that I have made it up.

                It would be like a player in a video game trying to explain to a simulated non-player character that there was something more than the abstract objective model at work, that there was an actual, subjective experience.

                To the non-player character, who simulates an aware being but who has no actual faculty of subjective awareness, it would seem an unnecessary addition, with no explanatory value. The non-player character might assert that all of the characters in the game are simulated non-player characters and that the meaning of such things as pain and joy was in fact their abstract model in the simulation.

                My argument for the essential incompleteness of objective descriptions of the universe was based on its existence. Do you disagree that the universe exists?

                I doubt you do disagree that it exists, but I wonder what possible meaning you can assign to the existence of reality without an appeal to subjective experience.

                Can you articulate what it means for reality to exist, with no appeal to subjective experience?

                It seems to me that any such definition would be unable to distinguish between a computer simulation of a world and a world in which experiences (joy, pain, etc) were real.

  74. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    “we are talking about ideas, not ppl..unless your brain re-actively, and unconsciously, codes any idea that disagrees with yours as a personal attack which most brains on the internet do…in fact those kind of impaired brains drive their owners to be hyper-vigilant on the internet for potential “threats” since those brains don’t have adequate internal soothing mechanisms…inherited brain deficit”

    I see that we’re talking at cross purposes. Sorry to bother you.

  75. Posted January 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    For the quantum effects special pleaders in free will and other brain processes here is a bit of debunking in new Science mag report: “Ohm’s Law Survives to the Atomic Scale”

  76. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    “Sure physicalism exists,” by Shack Toms, self-confessed theist. :-)

    I agree with the theist here. Physicalism exists in the same sense as spiritualism, as an idea, a concept. We have more than ample reason to trust physicalism, however defined, more than spritualism. The ratio would be infinite, dividing by zero.

    But that doesn’t mean that naive, scientistic (dirty word) physicalism can’t lead one astray, as I think it’s doing to the no-free-will camp.

    • Posted January 10, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      no, these are meaningless self referential rhetorical terms…unless one buys into antiquated philosophical chit chat is blocks any sort of understanding or knowledge…just name calling…

    • Shack Toms
      Posted January 10, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      I am not sure that I am a theist, as that word is defined around here. I think that folks around here have a materialistic definition of God, and I don’t believe in that.

      My theism is really just my belief in the faculty of awareness as something that we can know to exist (well, it is subjective, so only those who have it can really know it) and yet we do not find to be an object or experience within our awareness. But there are lots of non-theists who have a similar belief, though they use different words. The labels are less important than the reality.

      You may disagree that subjective awareness exists, but I don’t think the evidence for it is zero. On the contrary, I don’t think there is convincing evidence for the existence of an external, objective reality.

      Consider F=ma. Force is something we can experience, we can observe acceleration. But mass is simply an expression of a relationship between the two. Mass is defined as this relationship, in informal terms it is what we call “heft”.

      At one time, mass was thought to be a substance but no longer. The relationship is now thought to arise from an interaction with the Higgs field. But the crucial point is that force and acceleration are subjectively knowable, whereas mass is simply a reliable relationship between these knowable experiences.

      I can certainly understand someone coming initially to believe that these reliable relationships arise from an interaction between external objects, but I cannot understand your assertion that there is zero evidence for the subjective experience upon which these relationships are based.

      Just as I can realize that a disbelief in external objects might take a bit of inquiry to develop, I think you should realize that a disbelief in the prior subjective experiences that gave rise to the belief in external objects might be even harder to shake.

      Why do you think physicalism is a dirty word? Don’t physicalists use that word to describe their philosophy? Again, I refer you here… http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/.

      I assure you that I did not mean to insult anyone with that word, well beyond the implied insult of thinking that believers in it were mistaken. But that kind of insult is inherent in any discussion of a disagreement.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted January 11, 2012 at 3:18 am | Permalink

        “You may disagree that subjective awareness exists, but I don’t think the evidence for it is zero.”

        I’m afraid you misunderstood me. I must not have been clear. Of course subjective awareness exists — I’m experiencing it right now — but unlike you I don’t equate it spiritualism. My point was one of epistemology, not ontology. The RELIABILITY of spiritualism (which I take to mean the dualistic belief in immaterial souls) is zero.

        “Why do you think physicalism is a dirty word?”

        Again, you misunderstood me. Physicalism isn’t a dirty word. The dirty word around here is scientism, which I define as an overweening, unjustified belief that science, AS WE UNDERSTAND IT TODAY, has all the answers, at least in principle.

        • Shack Toms
          Posted January 11, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

          If you agree that subjective awareness exists (and it is surprising to me when people assert that I am just making it up) then everything else is just a matter of investigation.

          Whether we refer to this awareness as spirit, God, matter, the void, the soul, or whatever else doesn’t really make a huge amount of difference, at least not as a starting point. It also doesn’t much matter that you would bet that it will turn out to supervene upon the objective, so long as you are willing to investigate whether that belief is true.

          There are a lot of things to notice about this subjective awareness, but from the standpoint of its relationship to science, I think the first thing to notice is that subjective awareness is not something we perceive. So, in that sense, it is misleading to say that we are “self-aware”.

          A traditional way to notice this is to take some time when you are “experiencing subjective awareness” (i.e. any time you like) and see if you can find the awareness itself as a thought, feeling, or perception (i.e. some aspect of your experience) within your awareness.

          In lots of traditions, this idea of the unperceived perceiver goes by the name “I am”. Sometimes the investigation to see if this “self” exists within awareness goes by the name “neti, neti” (sometimes translated as “not this, not that”).

          For example, you might notice that you are aware of the computer monitor, so you ask whether the monitor itself is the awareness…no. So you notice that the experience of the monitor entails an experience of color, so you ask whether the color is the awareness…no, again the color is something you are aware of, not the awareness itself. It may seem a little frustrating, because we started with the unshakable knowledge that we are experiencing subjective awareness, but whatever we notice within our awareness, it turns out not to be the awareness that we believe in.

          One step along the way might be to think of the awareness as “the one who watches”, but not even that works, that is still a conception not the perceiver. Eventually, one comes to realize, perhaps to one’s surprise, that awareness doesn’t exist within the realm of things perceived.

          So I think it turns out that you are not “experiencing subjective awareness” but rather that it is more that you simply have the undeniable knowledge that this subjective awareness exists. All knowledge comes down to self-evident axioms, and this is one of those (alongside the self-evident existence of our subjective experiences).

          It is a little like the process of realizing, while dreaming, that the dreamed vision of the self is not the dreamer, and that in fact the true dreamer does not appear in the dream at all.

          Within a dream, what would be the referent of the word “dreamer”? I think the referent would be “that which self-evidently is, yet which is not perceived”. The pointer to it is the fact that it cannot be pointed to.

          If physicalism were true, so that subjective awareness could arise from the interaction of perceived attributes, then the dreamer could supervene as the creation of the perceived attributes within the dream. But since this sort of thing never happens, I see the belief in that kind of thing as special pleading. Awareness always enters systems from the outside, it is never created within the system. Never happens. On the other hand, our ordinary experience is that systems exist within awareness.

          Of course, the meaning of “subjective” is such that you have to do the experiment for yourself, unlike an objective (i.e. abstract) fact, it isn’t something you can fully know simply from its description.

          • GBJames
            Posted January 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

            An argument that relies on “subjective awareness” has little explanatory value. On the other hand, it does seem to be useful for creating some most excellent word salad.

          • Posted January 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

            how do we know subjective awareness exists independent of assuming it?

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted January 11, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

              “how do we know subjective awareness exists independent of assuming it?”

              In your case, I’m beginning to have my doubts.

              In my case, I have no doubt. In fact, it’s the only thing I know for sure.

              • Posted January 12, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

                right, so you have no proof nor any idea on even what a proof would be, aside from a personal insult…

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted January 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

              By the way, “knowing” is an intentional mental state that obviously presupposes subjective awareness. (I’d call it consciousness, but whatever term you like.)

              So is “assuming” an intentional mental state.

              By using intentional language you’re contradicting yourself in a rather comical way.

              • Posted January 12, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

                language is trivial as either an indicator of behavior or empirical realities…all other animals have “intention” or actually behavior an outside observer would label as such, w/out any language…

  77. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    “right, so you have no proof nor any idea on even what a proof would be, aside from a personal insult…”

    OK, now wait just a minute. You seem to be arguing against the existence of subjective awareness, but when I (jokingly) say that I’m having doubts about whether you have it, then you take that as an insult?

    Can’t you see that that is incoherent? The mere fact that you feel insulted destroys your argument.

    • Posted January 12, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      LOL! I guess he ascertained an insult using, um, ……….. osmosis! That’s it! ;)

      • Posted January 12, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        so human behavior is exceptional why? because we use verbal (really chemical) signaling? nope

  78. OldFuzz
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Interesting.

    “I can’t find a seconder usually when I propose this but I don’t care. I don’t need a seconder. My own opinion is enough for me. And I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, anytime.”

    Who can argue with that? In his Book TV interview, Michael Gazzaniga made the point, which the variety of discussion here may validate, that free will is a term that has outlived its utility, that the evidence doesn’t support the idea in its fundamental form. He did, however, state that even in the absence of free will we are responsible and accountable.

    Looking forward to future experimental findings that move us from opinion to knowledge.

    • Posted January 12, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      “even in the absence of free will we are responsible and accountable”

      why?

      • Posted January 12, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        It’s all exxplained here ‘Free Will Debate: Who’s in Charge?’ by Michael Gazzaniga (review)

        • Posted January 12, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

          we know MG’s work and find it uninformed on the notion of blaming and responsibility, punishment etc.

          he does a special pleading for current social norms, of course. norms which now have no factual basis.

          • Posted January 12, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

            By “we,” I assume you are speaking for both hemispheres? Or are you trying to slip in an argument from popularity fallacy? Surely you wouldn’t stoop to the “air of superiority insinuating greater knowledge” fallacy, which is a blatant case of special pleading?

            Or the case of ignoring our cognitive behaviors as moot special pleading fallacy?

            While we’re on the topic of cognitive superiority, aren’t you about to claim, as fact, that ‘we’ are descended, not evolved(false inequality fallacy), from bacteria and other eukaryotes and that this bantering back and forth between us, by typing our thoughts and sharing them via the internet, is the same as exuding, by osmosis, chemical signals as a way of communicating with other cells in order to “communicate with other’s group together for defense” in the war on terra, and as such, exhibit no factual difference in intent in our behaviors?
            Is this not the most egregious example of special pleading ever fabricated in the history of osmosis, I mean life?

            Shite, I am out of the chemicals for stimulating motion. I’ll be back after I saturate my intra-neuronal fluid with 1,3,7-trimethyl-1H-purine-2,6(3H,7H)-dione
            3,7-dihydro-1,3,7-trimethyl-1H-purine-2,6-dione(chemical structure of caffiene). And by “I”, I mean some part of this cerebral cortex and its attendant affects.

            • Posted January 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

              “What’s the point of a brain? This fundamental question has led Professor Daniel Wolpert to some remarkable conclusions about how and why the brain controls and predicts movement. In a recent talk for TED, Wolpert explores the research that resulted in him receiving the Golden Brain Award.

              The sea squirt, a type of marine filter feeder, swims around looking for somewhere to settle down for the rest of its life. Once parked on a rock in a suitable spot, it never moves again. So the first thing it does is eat its own brain. While this may seem a little rash to some, for Professor Daniel Wolpert it makes perfect evolutionary sense.

              “To me it’s obvious that there’s no point in the brain processing or storing anything if it can’t have benefits for physical movement, because that’s the only way we improve our survival,” says Wolpert. “I believe that to understand movement is to understand the whole brain. Memory, cognition, sensory processing – they are there for a reason, and that reason is action.”

              Wolpert is firmly convinced that movement is the underlying factor and final result behind every functional aspect of a brain. “There can be no evolutionary advantage to laying down memories of childhood, or perceiving the colour of a rose, if it doesn’t affect the way you’re going to move in later life,” he says.

              A professor in the Department of Engineering, Wolpert examines computational models and uses simple behavioural experiments to describe and predict how the brain solves problems related to action. Through this combination of theoretical and behavioural work, Wolpert has begun to revolutionise the study of human sensorimotor control, the way in which the brain controls physical movement.

              He was recently presented with the prestigious Golden Brain Award by the California-based Minerva Foundation. The award is given to those producing original and outstanding research into the nature of the brain, regarded by many as the most complex object in the known universe.

              So what occurs in the brain when humans produce movement? Science has long struggled with the mysteries of this question. Wolpert uses the example of the game of chess: “We have computers that can generate algorithms of possible chess moves at tremendous speeds, beating the best human chess players. But ask a machine to compete on a dextrous level, such as moving a chess piece from one square to another, and the most advanced robot will fail every time against the average five-year-old child.”

              The models employed by Wolpert and his team have yielded startling results, offering a possible glimpse into the patterns integral to our mental matrix. “It turns out that the brain behaves in a very statistical manner, representing information about the world as probabilities and processes, which is possible to predict mathematically,” says Wolpert. “We’ve shown that this is a very powerful framework for understanding the brain.”

              For action to occur, a command is sent from the brain causing muscles to contract and the body to move. Sensory feedback is then received from vision, skin, muscles and so on, to help gauge success. Sounds simple, but a vast amount of misinformation or ‘noise’ is generated with even the most basic action, due to the imperfections in our senses and the almost incalculable variables of the physical world around us. “We work in a whole sensory/task soup of noise,” says Wolpert. “The brain goes to a lot of effort to reduce the negative consequences of this noise and variability.”
              The brain’s crystal ball

              To combat this noise, our brains have developed a sophisticated predictive ability, so that every action is based on an orchestrated balance between current sensory data and, crucially, past experience. Memory is a key factor in allowing the brain to make the optimal ‘best guess’ for cutting through the noise, producing the most advantageous movement for the task. In this way, our brains are constantly attempting to predict the future.

              “An intuitive example of this predictive ability might be returning a serve in tennis. You need to decide where the ball is going to bounce to produce the most effective return. The brain uses the sensory evidence, such as vision and sound, and combines it with experience, prior knowledge of where the ball has bounced in the past. This creates an area of ‘belief’, the brains best guess of where ball will hit court, and the command for action is generated accordingly.”

              Movement can take a long time from command to muscles, which can leave us exposed. Like chess, we need to be anticipating several moves ahead, so the brain uses its predictive ability to try and internally replicate the response to an action as or even before it is made, a kind of inbuilt simulator. The brain then subtracts this simulation from our actual experience, so it isn’t adding to the noise of misinformation.

              “For behavioural causality, we need to be more attuned to the outside world as opposed to inside our own bodies. When our neural simulator makes a prediction, it is only based on internal movement commands. The brain subtracts that prediction from the overall sensation, so that everything left over is hopefully external.”

              But this can have intriguing effects on our perceptions of the physical world, and the consequences of our actions. “This is why we can’t tickle ourselves, as tickling relies on an inability to predict sensation, and your neural simulator has already subtracted the sensation from the signal,” says Wolpert.
              “But they hit me harder!”

              A further example of this sensory subtraction occurred to Wolpert during a
              backseat bust-up between his daughters, a familiar experience for most parents during long car journeys. The traditional escalation of hostility was ensuing as each child claimed they got hit harder and so retaliated in kind.

              Wolpert explains: “You underestimate a force when you generate it, so as one child hits another, they predict the sensory movement consequences and subtract it off, thinking they’ve hit the other less hard than they have. Whereas the recipient doesn’t make the prediction so feels the full blow. So if they retaliate with the same force, it will appear to the first child to have been escalated.”

              This observation led to a simple but effective experiment being conducted called ‘tit for tat’, in which two adults sit opposite each other with their fingers on either side of a force transducer. They were asked to replicate the force demonstrated by each other when pushing against the other’s finger. Instead of remaining constant, a 70 percent escalation of force is recorded on each go. It seems that we really don’t know our own strength.
              Deciding to act

              The next challenge for Wolpert is to investigate how we make the decision to act, and what happens in the brain if we change our minds after the initial decision. “We think that the fields of both decision making and action share a lot of common features, and our goal is to try and link them together to create a unifying model of how actions affect decisions and vice versa,” says Wolpert.

              “As we walk around the world, do our decisions depend on how much effort is required, and to what extend does perceived effort influence the decisions we make? Similarly, to what extent does perceived effort relate to the decision to change our minds? These are the questions we want to address.”

              To this end, Wolpert is about to begin on a project for the Human Frontiers Science Programme on linking decision to action. “We’ve developed robotic interfaces in the lab which allow us to control and create experiences that people won’t have had before,” he says.

              “We ask subjects to perform simple tasks using a joystick. Once they are in a rhythm, we generate forces that act proportionally to speed but perturb their arm in unusual ways, such as right angles, and see how they respond. This allows us to build a dataset on novel learning, how people adapt to various forces, and the decisions that they make in the process.”

              Wolpert’s ultimate aim is to apply these models of the brain and how it controls movement to a greater understanding of brain disorders. As he explains: “Five percent of the population suffers from diseases that affect movement. The hope is that we will not only understand what goes wrong in disease, but how to design better mechanisms for rehabilitation.”

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted January 12, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                I watched Wolpert’s Ted talk. It was very good. But you didn’t have to cut and paste the whole thing. A link would have done. No big deal. Thanks for the reference.

              • Posted January 12, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

                might want to listen to Brassler on bacteria communications and research on social insects, bees decision making is being closely studied…properly humbling….

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted January 12, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

              I took it as a royal we, not an actual we.

              I, for one, haven’t read or heard of MG’s book. I looked it up on Amazon, the reviews were positive, so I ordered it. Thanks for the recommendation.

              • OldFuzz
                Posted January 13, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

                He was interviewed on Book TV last week. I like his calm non-confrontational approach which tells me, “We know what we know and don’t know what we don’t. It’s the stuff we’re about to discover that’s exciting.”

                To watch, go to this link

                http://www.booktv.org/Program/13035/After+Words+Michael+Gazzaniga+Whos+in+Charge+Free+Will+and+the+Science+of+the+Brain+hosted+by+Sally+Satel.aspx

                and click on “watch” in the box.

              • Posted January 14, 2012 at 1:00 am | Permalink

                so you don’t care if he’s factual or correct, you like to be soothed…

              • OldFuzz
                Posted January 14, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

                sleeprunning. There are facts, fictions and fantasies… It’s important for me to consider every experience and have the sense to know the difference. I’ve yet to find a fact that does not have some element of uncertainty and have followed many fictions that become fact. Scientists probe the boundaries of fact trying to penetrate the mystery.

              • Posted January 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

                what mystery? that’s just childish anthropomorphism, a pathetic fallacy and solipsism..

                real knowledge comes with error bars and likelihoods of falseifiability, degrees of predictive value, except for magical ideas and philosophy…

                what philosophical/ideological/magical idea has a degree of predictive validity? none

              • OldFuzz
                Posted January 14, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

                sleeprunning: The mystery I refer to is the mystery, that which is yet to be known, that scientists and philosophers have referred to for centuries… it keeps changeing…

              • Posted January 15, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

                and the fact that humans can’t and won’t ever know things is the basis of what — making things up to deceive oneself and others?

                this is all about simple lying and deception, unfortunately now engaged in by philosophy

        • OldFuzz
          Posted January 12, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for the link.

      • OldFuzz
        Posted January 12, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

        It’s an opinion which is as valid as Coybe’s opening.

        • OldFuzz
          Posted January 12, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

          Oops, Coyne… darn laptop in lap can’t spell.

    • Posted January 12, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      That will happen right about the time the Standard Model is replaced with a classical theory.

      • OldFuzz
        Posted January 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

        Again, thanks for the link. As a pedestrian on this subject I appreciate the patient redirection I get in my halting attempts to understand these ideas.

      • OldFuzz
        Posted January 12, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

        I will also read http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/concepts/

        • Posted January 13, 2012 at 3:24 am | Permalink

          That site is a goldmine. My turn to say thanks.
          I just started learning all this stuff about 6 weeks ago myself. I went through a phase where for about 2 days I thought that, yes, the non free willists were right, and I suffered from melancholy. (See what reading does to ya? LOL) Nevertheless, I could not reconcile the problem of cognition and awareness if we only are zombies that react to stimulus and elicited potentialities in our neurons, which would seem adequate for complex behavior. If every movement and act we carry out is purely calculated as the only choice our bodies could make, we wouldn’t need awareness and executive function. It could all be explained as a series of stimulus responses(which is what the hard determinists here still maintain) which would suffice without the massive energy expenditures required to power our abstract ‘fantasies’ and illusions of control and decision making – planning, rumination, plotting, creating, and the like.
          In short, our experiences are far, far, far to complex and deeply enmeshed in our organism for them not to be vitally important to our behavior on a merely survival level, let alone giving reason and meaning to our pursuits of recreation and discovery like cosmology, for instance, and art, music, love, etc.

          Our higher functioning also very obviously confers such a great survival advantage that we don’t need strength or speed or sharp claws and fangs to fight, protect ourselves, and hunt, and plow.
          The more I thought about these things, the more asinine it seemed to assume that our consciousness is but an impotent byproduct of our lower level functioning.

          The other great problem that won’t go away, is the (hard) problem of explaining what exactly our sense of awareness and experiences of, for example, colors, or daydreams are as physical objects, if that is what our minds and thought patterns must be in a universe that seems to be almost completely explained and observed to operate as physical forces between solid matter.

          Our minds are not explainable, or even possible, when reduced to simple cause and effect events.
          But I thought of dark matter, and the closed watch explanation of our theories and understanding of reality, and the presence of unexplainable mind function suddenly didn’t seem so improbable after all.

          Finally, I came up with the gem of a thought that I put at the bottom of the web page I link to, and now, having minds and consciousness seems almost pedestrian again to me.

          Two more links, of many many, that corroborate my and other wiz kids, Stephen Barnard for instance, thinking and understanding.

          I love these discussions and sharing of knowledge and ideas, and I’m pleased to meet you, OldFuzz!

          Neuroscience vs philosophy: Taking aim at free will

          Monkeys Control Virtual Limbs With Their Minds

          Complex Decision? Don’t Sleep On It

          The free will rebellion

          Too many links now, held for moderation?

          • OldFuzz
            Posted January 13, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

            Whew! Great reply. I’ve got a schedule that prevents me from digesting it now. Will get to it later.

            Six weeks? You may have wandered into the abyss. You mention the hard problem for which David Chalmers is known to address. Have you discovered his site of consciousness? It’s at

            http://consc.net/online

            More than seven thousand papers on consciousness. If you visit this may be goodbye forever. It’s a great pleasure exchanging views with you and I believe I had a choice in so saying.

            • Posted January 14, 2012 at 2:13 am | Permalink

              Wild! That is certainly a most comprehensive and thorough collection, my god!

              I found this article expresses my views quite well. You don’t really exist, do you?

              I really hope we keep ‘seeing’ each other here, OldFuzz. Almost nothing is more important to me than sharing ideas and discussion. That Stephan Bernard character appears around here now and then, AFAIK, and a few others are clinical in their thinking, and have fine tuned satire and sarcasm mastery. That’s what all the forces that are making my fingers move over the keyboard think, anyways, but they are only pawns of the DNA bitches anyways. Next thing you know, they’ll want to vote, sheesh.

              I remember a book by Michael Lockwood called “Mind, Brain and the Quantum” which I saw 25 yrs ago. I didn’t get very far into it, but it still strikes me as my favorite book I’ve ever read. I just loved the way he proposes concepts and clarifies them, but ultimately he ruthlessly questions and tests them for validity and finds them lacking.
              I have to get a copy again, along with the one linked elsewhere on this thread. It’ll wait while I pick through David Chalmers’ collection, sigh. :)

              Funny about sleeprunning. The two most important elements of human existence are freedom, and communicating, and he denies that one exists and holds that the other is meaningless.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted January 14, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

                Sleeprunner is either has Asberger syndrome or he’s a “normal” person playing a deep game (and I don’t intend Asberger to be an insult).

                It’s so easy to ridicule people in the no-free-will camp because they inevitably lapse into intentional language, and then they’re caught up in contradictions and inconsistencies. It’s a temptation that I try to resist, not always successfully.

          • Posted January 13, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

            without data it’s just idle solipsism and chit chat…if caurse and effect explanation ain’t sufficient try that next time your child goes to the doctor…philosophy is just another form of magical beliefs, the belief that ordinary language is worth anything…it’s not

            • Posted January 13, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

              That is so screwed up that it is not even wrong. That computer you’re on? Wouldn’t happen without language. The technology and sophisticated skill and diagnostic ability of the Dr. and anesthesiologist and the whole team in the O.R. performing neurosurgery on my child? yup, due to language, fundamentally objective reality, and empiricism.

              If caurse and effect and ‘data’ is all that’s needed to understand and explain everything(you see my point about language? lol), then I’ll ask you, and all heavy-duty determinists the same fricking question for the umpteenth time: explain the presence of our minds and awareness and experiences.
              You see? Do you see? The single most fucking important circumstance in all of osmosis I mean reality ever, the one thing that must be answered in order to discover our identity and ultimately unlimited ability to cause change on the vastest scales, this thing that is ‘us’, you cannot explain by caurse and effect using the deepest knowledge and understanding of objective, measurable, reality.

              Your explanations for our minds are so pathetically insufficient and profoundly lacking in explanatory ability that it is absurd and fantastic that you stick so vehemently to a strictly provincial mindset. Your most important concept is useless – so far, and perhaps always – for the one thing that matters most.

              Your singularly linear view is the stunted position to take, especially with the reality of our behavior smashing you in the face at every juncture. Our minds gives us the ability to choose our own destiny. The data(lol) is prevalent, just look around.

              Your explanations are nothing more than post hoc rationalizations that fail completely to explain the experience of autonomous existence.

              I imagine ;)

              • Posted January 14, 2012 at 12:58 am | Permalink

                Dream on….

              • OldFuzz
                Posted January 14, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

                If you want to bend your mind around one view of the proper place for science and philosophy, the issue of knowledge and faith, read The Way to Wisdom by Karl Jaspers.

                It is a central volume in my mind energizing library.

                I shall look for your comments.

            • OldFuzz
              Posted January 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

              Which came first, science or philosophy? What is the impetus for further scientific inquiry, science or philosophy. How does science quantify the mystery it explores without evidence? Just asking.

              • Posted January 14, 2012 at 12:59 am | Permalink

                what has philosophy ever predicted, what can it now, what do you want in your operating room or flying your airplane?

  79. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    “language is trivial as either an indicator of behavior or empirical realities…all other animals have “intention” or actually behavior an outside observer would label as such, w/out any language…”

    No, all other animals do not have behavior that suggests intention. Some do, and some don’t. A dog does, a sponge doesn’t. But so what? You seem to have an anthropocentric attitude that places humans on some special pedestal with respect to self awareness. This is, ironically, reminiscent of the dualist position of Descartes, who vivisected dogs with no moral qualm because he thought they had no self awareness.

    The claim that language is “trivial as … an indicator of behavior” is absurd. If a robber points his gun at you and says, “Give me your wallet or I’ll kill you,” you’d be well advised to give him your wallet.

    • Posted January 12, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      how does any animal feed, if it doesn’t have intention?

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted January 12, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Osmosis.

        • Posted January 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

          bacteria move to eat, communicate with other’s group together for defense, etc. there is no way resources can be taken into an organism and waste products expelled without an active process…

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted January 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

            When you get right down to it, it’s all osmosis. We’re just tubes, with an input and an output and some chemical machinery in between to keep everything going. Right?

            • Posted January 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

              yup, all just basic chemistry and physics, the brain is described as a self-fueling organ, that’s all, we are descended, not really “evolved” from…we just inherited everything…even speech is just a couple of gene tweaks away from other primate and animal verbal/chemical signaling..ho hum…

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted January 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

                You seem to have a lack of appreciation for satire.

  80. chance
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Its a surprising but joyful coincidence that three of my favorite scientists fall in line, one after another, to the same position I hold on a subject seemingly independently from one another (and myself).

    Steven Pinker
    Sam Harris
    Jerry Coyne

    Despite my love of Daniel Dennett I never could make sense of his compatibilist position either, and that paragraph you quoted from Sam’s new book does wonderfully well to illuminate exactly why.

  81. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Sleeprunner wrote: “what philosophical/ideological/magical idea has a degree of predictive validity? none”

    The scientific method itself is a philosophical idea.

    Empiricism is a philosophical idea.

    Deductive logic (and one could argue all of mathematics) is a philosophical idea.

    Falsifiability is a philosophical idea.

    I could go on.

    • Posted January 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      nope they are activities and behaviors, not words, especially not post hoc, words made up and self referred by philosophers…

      where is there any data supporting the idea that something like “empiricism” predicts any behavior?

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted January 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        Before you wrote the passage I quoted, you wrote:

        “real knowledge comes with error bars and likelihoods of falseifiability [sic], degrees of predictive value, except for magical ideas and philosophy…”

        Aside from tacitly accepting the philosophical idea of falsifiability as somehow important (thank you for that concession), you’re just trying to make the (philosophical) empiricist case. It’s already been made, quite adequately to my satisfaction, by philosophers of the logical positivist school and the Vienna Circle.

        • Posted January 14, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

          yea, and i’m convinced of santa claus by the north pole school of silly stuff, name a single predictive, data proven, double-blind experiment proposition of philo….if none, why bother?

  82. Posted January 15, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    We have listened to over 10 hours of MG’s lectures. Decent on hemisphere experiments, his other ideas border on crackpot, as happens to old scientists when they step outside of the work as young men…

  83. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    About Scientism

    I looked up “scientism” in the oldest dictionary that came to hand, a 1977 Webster’s New Collegiate, and I was surprised to find it there. I was under the impression it was a newer coinage.

    I was also surprised that the second definition captures perfectly my understanding of the word: “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science to explain social or psychological phenomena, to solve pressing human problems, or to provide a comprehensive unified picture of the cosmos.”

    A skeptic should always be suspicious of scientism, just as for theism, or any -ism. There are examples of scientism, so defined, leading us astray. I’ve mentioned in another post Lord Kelvin’s confident calculation that the earth was no more than 40 million years old. Another example is the currently fashionable psychobabble that attributes every human quirk to an evolutionary adaptation. It could be argued that eugenics and phrenology and behaviorism were scientism run amok. Examples abound.

    This is not to diminish science, or to justify the dishonest efforts of theists to use the word to equate rationalism with theism. It’s a caution to treat science (and I’m mostly talking about physics) as it is: an incomplete work in progress, with vast blank spots on the canvas. Some of these voids bear on big issues like causality, time, reversibility, conservation of information, emergence, and qualia — issues of importance to the question of free will.

    • Posted January 15, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      if your definition of reality and predictability is found in a dictionary it might as well be a bible/koran/etc

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted January 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

        If I had a definition of reality, which I don’t (but you seem to), I doubt that it would be found in a dictionary. Those definitions tend to be circular and unsatistfying. It’s notoriously difficult to define common, intuitively obvious words like “real.” Look up the definition of “is” or “be”, for example.

        The definition of “scientism” that I quoted, on the other had, seems perfectly adequate.

        • Shack Toms
          Posted January 16, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

          On the definition of reality. I think the best definition is “that which is self-evident but not tautologous”.

          Reality is our self-evident experience. That which, but for our experience, would not be knowable. This includes awareness, even though awareness is not experienced, because it is known to exist from the fact that we do experience. We experience the knowing, if not the awareness itself. Si fallor, sum.

          This combination of awareness and my perceptions is what I refer to as “my consciousness” (the word “my” needs to be taken with a grain of salt, there isn’t necessarily any personal agency involved). Everything else is a conclusion drawn from an exploration of this reality.

          Science is a matter of trying to discover the rules that apply to the objective aspects of this reality, this experience, but apart from that it really doesn’t touch upon the experience itself.

          It is like a game of chess. Knowing the rules is nice, but the rules only have “explanatory value” if the game is actually played, or experienced in some way, and the rules alone can’t answer the question of whether the game is actually being played.

          Scientific truth is related to reality in that scientific truth is falsifiable, but it is our self-evident experience of reality that actually provides the test of falsification. In other words, falsification means precisely that the model contradicts our self-evident, subjective experience. Falsification means that the model is inconsistent with the self-evident axioms.

          As Wittgenstein showed in his Tractatus, such a definition of reality leads directly and inexorably to mysticism, the understanding that the basis of reality, the basis of our ordinary experience, is ineffable. Thus physicalism is not only falsifiable, it is falsified–it is logically inconsistent with our ordinary and self-evident experience of each moment.

          If Wittgenstein’s logic is sound, to falsify physicalism you need only sound logic plus the doctrine that truth about reality involves some falsifiable statements, statements whose truth or falsity is a matter of experience rather than of logical tautology or logical contradiction.

          So any insistence that truth involves falsifiable statements entails mysticism (the existence of the ineffable) as a logical necessity.

          Physicalism thus contradicts itself.

          • Posted January 16, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

            what is obvious is trivial, of course and contains little predictive, explanatory of even social value..

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted January 16, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

            Wow. Great post. I read Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations many years ago, but didn’t get the point, or at least not the point you’re making. I’ll have to revisit it.

            • Shack Toms
              Posted January 17, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

              Thanks, but I am not sure everyone sees Wittgenstein that way. That is my view, however, and I think it is somewhat mainstream.

              I think that the difference of opinion arises because Wittgenstein thought that language had fundamental limitations, this was part of his view that reality transcended the expressive ability of language.

              I think, for example, proposition 6.53 is subject to some misinterpretation. “The right method of philosophy would be this: To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other — he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy — but it would be the only strictly correct method.”

              I think that you can see this method being employed by physicalists, but to Wittgenstein the problem was that language was inherently limited whereas the physicalist holds that the problem of meaningless language arises because there is no reality except that which can be described.

              Wittgensten precedes that proposition, and makes the sense clear, with proposition 6.522. “There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.”

              And follows with, 6.54 “My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)

              “He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.”

              The reason his propositions come to be seen as senseless is that he shows that all of the meaning in reality is contained in its degrees of freedom. A cause has all of the meaning of its necessary effects. Cause and effect are equivalent. Wittgenstein found no additional meaning in a conclusion reached through a logical tautology. The meaning is entirely in that which is uncaused and beyond logic and thus seemingly arbitrary. Thus the causal model describes only the meaningless aspects of life, and the meaning is entirely contained in the arbitrary and causeless residue. The meaning is entirely in that which cannot be said.

              Of course, I find it very hard to constrain myself in the way Wittgenstein suggested in his concluding proposition 7, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

              Furthermore, I am perhaps more of an optimist than he was.

              • Posted January 17, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

                The meaning is entirely in that which is uncaused and beyond logic and thus seemingly arbitrary. Thus the causal model describes only the meaningless aspects of life, and the meaning is entirely contained in the arbitrary and causeless residue. The meaning is entirely in that which cannot be said.

                The meaning transcends understanding? I mean, not just expression, but a literal ideation?

              • Shack Toms
                Posted January 23, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

                “The meaning transcends understanding? I mean, not just expression, but a literal ideation?”

                Yes, and I think that is a good insight.

                There is a difference between reality and its description, so there is necessarily always some sense in which reality is indescribable, and thus also even beyond ideation.

                Knowing is ultimately a matter of self-evident seeing/experiencing rather than of believing. Our ordinary experience transcends the conceptual.

                One of the miracles of reality is that our thoughts can refer to the unthinkable, to that which is beyond conception. The causal history of the universe is so arranged (in this moment) that we have such thoughts.

                This can happen because there actually is no conflict between determinism and freedom, in much the same sense that a novel is deterministic from the perspective of the characters in a particular story and yet authors have a lot of freedom in what they write.

              • Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

                “There is a difference between reality and its description,” how could any knowledge of this occur let alone be expressed?

                what is unknown is inexpressible and unknowable thus not a coherent topic for discussion…

              • Shack Toms
                Posted January 23, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

                ‘”There is a difference between reality and its description,” how could any knowledge of this occur let alone be expressed?’

                We have a word for a world that is nothing apart from its description. The word is “fiction”.

                A symbolic system which has no non-symbolic referent is abstract. It is the non-symbolic referent that makes a description of reality concrete.

                “what is unknown is inexpressible and unknowable thus not a coherent topic for discussion…”

                If we could have a coherent discussion only of that which is already known, then there would be no such thing as a new discovery or learning and falsification would be meaningless.

              • Posted January 24, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

                that is an idealized and false notion of new information which is built only on old, by definition…

              • Shack Toms
                Posted January 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

                “that is an idealized and false notion of new information which is built only on old, by definition…”

                It is interesting to me that it is the theist (and by my definition I am a theist) who is claiming that the test of knowledge is experiential, and it is the physicalist who is claiming that truth is entirely a matter of a description.

                In any case, by definition, new information cannot be derived only from previously known information. The information content of a message is related to its unpredictability, it can be measured by the so-called “Shannon entropy”. A message that is completely predictable from previous knowledge can contain no information. Its Shannon entropy is 0.

                Nominalism seems to get you nowhere. Nominalism in any form, including physicalism, leads to a paradigm of reality that is indistinguishable from fiction.

                Science is important *because* its scope is limited. That is, it is important because it stands beside (or properly within) the reality it studies. Thus scientific tests are meaningful tests of that larger, independent reality it studies.

                In other words, science is only meaningful to the extent it accommodates a reality that transcends it. Because the reality transcends science it is necessarily metaphysical. Our ordinary experience is metaphysical, and science is the study of the rules that appear to govern this metaphysical experience.

                I think the same can be said for religion. It is only meaningful if it, too, is justifiable in relation to the self-evident truths of our actual experience. Of course religion has a different focus, it is a matter of our relationship to the metaphysical rather than of the rules that appear to govern the metaphysical.

                But the notion that there is no difference between the reality and the description makes a mockery of science. Science is based on actual experience, not mere symbolism.

              • Posted January 27, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

                we reject all labels and tagging as a rhetorical trick and stick to ideas that are evidence, not rhetoric based…

                something “transcendent” whatever that is, we might as well say delusional is, by definition unable to be discussed…meaningful language only has real world referents….

                because this is all rhetorical and make believe the supposed logic is gobblygook and just a sales pitch…

              • Shack Toms
                Posted January 29, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

                ‘we reject all labels and tagging as a rhetorical trick and stick to ideas that are evidence, not rhetoric based… something “transcendent” whatever that is, we might as well say delusional is, by definition unable to be discussed…meaningful language only has real world referents…. because this is all rhetorical and make believe the supposed logic is gobblygook and just a sales pitch…’

                On the one hand you say you want evidence, not description (i.e. rhetoric and labels), and on the other hand you deny that there is any difference between reality and description.

                Either there is a difference between description and reality or there is not.

                If there is a difference between reality and its description, then these aspects of reality are necessarily known only through an ineffable experience.

                If there is no difference between reality and description, then you are talking about fiction.

                If there is no ineffable knowledge, then all the knowledge I have about any particular incident in my life can be expressed. So suppose I express that knowledge to you. Actually having the experience would then convey no additional information to you, and thus (according to your view) it could not change your conclusions about anything. In particular it could not change your conclusion about whether it was something you had experienced. Thus, according to your assertion, it would then follow that you would believe that the experience had happened to you just from my having described it, you would be unable to distinguish between knowing all of the objective facts about the experience and actually having the experience.

                You claim to believe in “real world referents” but you don’t actually assign a meaning to that term, except to insist that it cannot be anything beyond an abstract description.

                What does a word mean to you? Does it ever refer to something beyond words, or does it always just refer to more words?

                I think it is time you went back to square one to investigate what it is that you actually know with certainty. The self-evident truths.

                To me, there is awareness (the “I am”) and the actual subjective experience within that awareness. That is the reality, everything else is just abstract description, made concrete only through reference to that reality.

                The reference to that purely subjective experience is what it means for an investigation to be empirical.

                You have inverted conceptions of the abstract and the concrete. You take the symbolic as concrete and the self-evident, ineffable reality as abstract.

                It turns out that there is no such thing as secular reality, all experience is metaphysical.

                That is why you are stuck in mere word games, and in seeing what I have written as word games, denying any possible appeal to actual experience, evidence, or reality. Your world-view is based on the incorrect assumption that an abstract model can become concrete simply through its completion with internal consistency.

                You deny the appeals that I have made to experience (to the experience of every moment) because you deny that an appeal to experience is meaningful. You claim that only the symbolic description of experience is meaningful. So long as you do that, your thoughts can never escape the rhetorical abstraction.

              • Posted January 29, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

                this is gobblygook….look, all this stuff and philosophy is just simple lying to sell others ideas and get power — butts in pews who fill the collection bucket or jobs teaching philosophy…best sales tactic is always to pander to people’s, and your own, overwrought emotions mainly brain’s fears…ho hum..

                there is not a single atom of evidence for any of it…so why waste time even discussing it?

              • Shack Toms
                Posted January 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

                “there is not a single atom of evidence for any of it…so why waste time even discussing it?”

                Everything that I have written has been based on evidence and reason. Despite your denials, it is my ongoing experience that there is a difference between knowing the objective facts about an experience and actually having that experience.

                You may not have this kind of experience, I cannot say, but I think that most people do, and to me it is valuable that people use reason and experience to come to their conclusions, and not be mislead by your unsupported and unsupportable conjecture that this actual, ineffable (and thus metaphysical) experience is meaningless.

                The ordinary experience of reality is essentially metaphysical. So it is not surprising that a philosophy that begins with the dogma that the metaphysical does not exist will lead to a divorce from realty and instead attempt an appeal to pure abstraction.

                An empirical approach, by contrast, begins with that which is known. Once there is any contradiction in a world-view, it ceases to describe a possible world. This is the process of empirical falsification. We can reject wrong models of reality based upon our empirical knowledge.

                Thus anyone who experiences the ineffability of experience can reliably know that physicalism is wrong. This is not a matter of dogma or belief, but of our directly seeing, in every moment, that this is the case.

              • Posted January 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

                “logic” is a mere social conversation (sales) convention and the idea of “metaphysical” is meaningless….wot elze u got?

                nuttin…

              • Shack Toms
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

                “‘logic’ is a mere social conversation (sales) convention and the idea of ‘metaphysical’ is meaningless….wot elze u got? nuttin…”

                Beyond reason and experience? How about being? But perhaps being transcends meaning.

                By now denying the appeal to reason and even the appeal to experience, it seems you are bringing pure nihilism into it. This is an interesting twist. Such nihilism is a self-consistent world-view, or it would be were it not that it is a contradiction for anyone to hold it. A true nihilist cannot even believe in nihilism.

                I see no way to quarrel with nihilism. To reject all concepts is to accept all possibilities. Perhaps this is identical with nirvikalpa samadhi. This may be contrasted with logical contradiction, which accepts all concepts and rejects all possibilities.

                Your nihilism isn’t going to justify physicalism, though. It doesn’t justify anything. It is a complete wrecking ball. The wrecking ball of my empiricism is puny by comparison.

                But I accept that I find first principles in awareness and experience, which I hold to be self-evident. And I have never knowingly encountered a situation in which logic both applies and also fails. So I still have a belief in logic.

                Perhaps this is my shortcoming, but like everyone else, I have no choice but to believe that which I think is true.

              • Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

                we believe the sky is blue, that the earth is flat etc. it appears that brain research is teaching us that what we believe and say and think is trivial and a very poor predictor of what happens….

        • Posted January 16, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

          this is very simple..it is a childish conceit and marketing scam to propose that natural language ideas, categories, eg philosophical/theological stuff is going to contain much information vaklue and either describe or explain reality…

          describing and explaining reality is a very, very hard task…but apparently not for philosophers of theologians, duh

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted January 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        I’m fascinated by your case. You should be recommended to the estimable Oliver Sacks as a potential type specimen for cognitive dissonance.

        You seem to dismiss any significance of language and meaning, yet you use language and words that presumably have meaning, at least to you, to make your case.

  84. Posted January 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    wither free will and punishment with this?:

    Mathematicians Reveal Serial Killer’s Pattern of Murder
    A simple mathematical model of the brain explains the pattern of murders by a serial killer, say researchers
    On 20 November 1990, Andrei Chikatilo was arrested in Rostov, a Russian state bordering the Ukraine. After nine days in custody, Chikatilo confessed to the murder of 36 girls, boys and women over a 12 year period. He later confessed to a further 20 murders, making him one of the most prolific serial killers in modern history.
    Today, Mikhail Simkin and Vwani Roychowdhury at the University of California, Los Angeles, release a mathematical analysis of Chikatilo’s pattern of behaviour. They say the behaviour is well characterised by a power law and that this is exactly what would be expected if Chikatilo’s behaviour is caused by a certain pattern of neuronal firing in the brain.
    Their thinking is based on the fundamental behaviour of neurons. When a neuron fires, it cannot fire again until it has recharged, a time known as the refractory period.
    Each neuron is connected to thousands of others. Some of these will also be ready to fire and so can be triggered by the first neuron. These in turn will be connected to more neurons and so on. So it’s easy to see how a chain reaction of firings can sweep through the brain if conditions are ripe.
    But this by itself cannot explain a serial killer’s behaviour. “We cannot expect that the killer commits murder right at the moment when neural excitation reaches a certain threshold. He needs time to plan and prepare his crime,” say Simkin and Roychowdhury.
    Instead, they suggest that a serial killer only commits murder after the threshold has been exceeded for a certain period of time.
    They also assume that the murder has a sedative effect on the killer, causing the neuronal activity to drop below the threshold.
    Simkin and Roychowdhury used their model to simulate the pattern of firing in a brain to see how often it surpasses a given threshold long enough for a murder to take place.
    In the model, they used a 2 millisecond period as the fundamental time step, that’s about the time between firings in a real neuron. And they simulated some 100 billion time steps, equivalent to 12 years or so, that’s about the period that Chikatilo was active.
    The results are remarkably similar to the distribution of Chikatilo’s real murders and Simkin and Roychowdhury speculate that it would be relatively straightforward to introduce a realistic correction factor that would make the fit closer.
    They say: “One could enhance the model by introducing a murder success rate. That is with certain probability everything goes well for the killer and he is able to commit the murder as he planned. If not, he repeats his attempt the next day. And so on.”
    This model leads to an interesting insight into the nature of serial killing. It suggests that the likelihood of another killing is much higher soon after a murder than it is after a long period has passed.
    That’s a well known property of power law distributions that holds true for all kinds of phenomenon. A large earthquake, for example, is more likely soon after another large earthquake.
    Interestingly, Simkin and Roychowdhury’s work bares much similarity to other recent work suggesting that the distribution of epileptic fits also follows a power law. The reasoning here is the same too–that patterns of neuronal firing can spread through the brain, like an avalanche, causing a fit in the process.
    This suggests an obvious avenue for future research in working out whether other forms of extreme behaviour, and indeed ordinary behaviour, follow the same pattern. Perhaps these guys and others are already working on the data.
    Chikatilo was eventually convicted of 52 murders and executed by a gunshot to head in 1994.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted January 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Scientism run amok.

  85. Tim Harris
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    It certainly doesn’t seem to me that the mathematicians’ suggestive analysis of the mind of a mass-murderer is merely ‘scientism run amok': that’s a silly dismissal.
    ‘sleep-running’ may overstate things and I grow tired of his constant complaints about ‘ad hominem’ attacks (and he’s surely wrong in his view of language, something on which the whole edifice of science depends)but what he is getting at is not so easily dismissed.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted January 17, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      I agree with sleeprunner that the no-free-will position nullifies all conception of morality. That’s not an issue.

      What I object to is the ridiculous suggestion (actually more than a suggestion — a conclusion) that the “power law” analogy explains the motivations of a serial killer.

      This is scientism at its worst.

      • Posted January 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        right, philosophical concepts are so much more predictive and explanatory….lol

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted January 17, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

          Now I think I understand your case. You’re grasping at straws.

          You need prediction, but does the “power law” business provide prediction? No. At best, it’s postdiction. It’s somewhat interesting, I’ll admit, and it might even be at least partially true, but it’s irrelevant.

  86. Posted January 31, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    sleeprunning

    Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    we believe the sky is blue, that the earth is flat etc. it appears that brain research is teaching us that what we believe and say and think is trivial and a very poor predictor of what happens….

    Okay, IBM, time to shut down the AI experiment. I’m not saying ‘back to the drawing board’, but you have some work to do.

    You do win the world record for over interpretation, though.

    • Posted January 31, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      I forgot to add irony, IBM. Your unit is explaining away its own relevance by insisting it can’t trust its own perceptions, yuk yuk ;)

      • Posted January 31, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        the silly claims that computers can come anywhere close to brain function is just a lie to sell computer stuff…

        most ppl buy it literally and figuratively…

        • Posted February 1, 2012 at 2:51 am | Permalink

          Funny, that’s exactly what I AM SAYING!

          You, sleeprunning, are the one saying that we are just computers processing input, all you guys, Jeff and Steve, are saying we are just mechanically processing input.

          Yet we are different from computers.

          Not according to you guys. Oh, yes, you SAY we are human, we have emotions, blah blah BSblah.

          I asked you to explain what part our minds play, and both Jeff and Steve have been honest enough to even address that once, each.

          They both said that no, they can’t explain it mechanically, ….

          You people want it both ways, you are the dualists. You are claiming that we work mechanically like computers, yet you admit we are different because we have minds and feel emotions and give meaning to life.

          It is transparent bullshit that you claim one thing, that we are mechanically computing and arriving at the only one output that we can, because it is predetermined by linear cause and effect, then in the next breath you claim that we are aware.

          WE ARE AWARE, AND THAT IS DIFFERENT. WE HAVE QUALIA, AND THOSE QUALIA CANNOT BE EXPLAINED YET THEY ARE A CAUSE OF OUR BEHAVIOR!!

          You say that choice is being made even though only one possible flow of events are possible. In your world, somehow that excludes rocks falling, oh no, they are not choosing between falling and floating, they can only follow the laws of physics.
          But when a computer, or our brains only follow the laws of physics to the only one possible outcome, like the rock falling, now you introduce the concept of choice, even though there is no conceptual difference between what is inevitable.

          A rock falling has no meaning, no purpose, it does only what it can inevitably do, mindlessly obey the laws of physics.

          BTW, I was going to go into theoretical physics, but I was better at chemistry, so I enrolled in Honors Chem at U of A. I flunked out because I chose to drink and play soccer and sports instead of homework, but I still got passing marks in my labs even though I didn’t go. I almost intuitively understand physics and chemistry and just went to lab tests and finals, and passed. I didn’t have enough hours, though, so I didn’t get credits.
          Funny, my verbal IQ is higher than my other subscores, though, and I better at language, in aptitude, than math!!!

          I know perfectly well that this is all bullshit, it has zero worth in determining my real understanding and deployment of information and physical concepts and mechanisms, except that one corporation they accused me of cheating on the mechanical and verbal aptitude tests because they didn’t believe it when I got the highest scores they had seen, so it remains for me to explain my ideas in a coherent way to others, just as that applies to everyone.

          And yes, sleeprunning, it is the idea, only, that has merit, for that is what discussion is, but an exchange and evaluation of ideas, which are further ideas.

          This is what I value most in reality. Ideas. This is the premier importance to making us human, who we are, our individuality is but an expression of our ideas(which I include emotions as part of abstract concepts in the idea theatre).

          And the only way we can express our ideas is if they are different from a rock in freefall, or they are exactly as meaningless. It does not matter how complex and convoluted the path of flight is, it is still just the only event possible.

          How do you people, sleeprunning, Jeff, Steve, the other anti-FW’s, somehow introduce the concept of choosing between alternatives when no alternatives exist?
          You are the ones that unmovabley obstinate about there being only one possible outcome when presented with a set of stimuli, you are the ones that insist that there are no conceivable scenarios that are different from the only one dictated by physics, you plead with us to understand that this is not amenable – you say there is one, and only one event allowable, even in concept

          Now, I told you that I could come up with more complete mechanistic explanations for our actions, so, Jeff et al, believe my when I say I get it, I understand what you are saying, I get it better than you do(appeal to my authority, yuk yuk!).

          So, now I want to deal with a couple of points.
          1 – your insistence of calling inevitable outcomes choices, and,
          2 – your insistence that you understand completely, all the pertinent processes necessary for our behavior and functioning.

          In both cases you employ A DUALITY OF INCOMPATIBLE CONCEPTS.

          1. This is not open to debate, as afr as I can see. A rock falls. A plinko chip falls, and even though the ultimate path(outcome) is unpredictable, it is determinate. A flipping coin lands on one side of two possible, but the coin itself is not choosing anything.
          Now, electrons passing through a gate or being stopped there, is not their decision. If their passage is determined by the state of the gate(lol) which is determined by the output from other gates, there is no decision, or choice, at any gate, or in fact, in any circuit in any computer. Beside random indeterminancy, the computer only has one possible output.

          In fact, I know you agree, and more importantly, you also agree that our brains only process electro-chemically with one possible output. No choice is introduced merely by adding steps to a series of one way, pre-determined outcomes, each operation being dependent on the next, and vise versa.

          A rock that falls on another rock, which falls, then, into another number of rocks, and they all fall in the only possible path, behaving, let’s say, as what we define as an avalanche, comes to rest in the only possible pile/arrangement possible to those rocks. They do not choose where they ultimately lie, which even may be on another precariously balance pile of still more rocks on the side of a mountain.
          This resulting pile will only fall more if conditions, such as wind or erosion, dictate that they become subject to motion in a gravitational field.
          At no point do they decide to fall or not fall, they just exist in an environment described by two way cause/effect forces. There is no meaning to the behavior, they do not choose their paths, the only reason we might say they ‘choose’ one gully over another is because, to us, we don’t know which one will be prescribed by the laws of physics. There only ever was one possible outcome, no selecting between alternatives was made.
          The same with a computer, the same with our behavior, it is only ‘falling’ in one possible path with only one possible resultant outcome.
          The same is therefore true with our behavior, for you guys(people) say that there exists, at the outset, however arbitrarily you assign it, only one possible outcome, which is defined as an action, and even many of these actions, defined as behavior, is still, the only series of events possible.
          You people say so. Outside of random indeterminacy, you claim exactly this. And you are correct, there is only one possible outcome, I agree with you 100% that that is a valid conclusion.
          Where we do disagree, however, is whether or not to call this a process of choosing; for you do, indeed, introduce the concept of choice in your descriptions of these purely ‘pre-determined to follow one path to one pre-determined(by the laws of physics) outcome.’

          So, no, we do not choose anything, we don’t choose our feelings, our actions, our thoughts derived from our feelings, our actions and behaviors derived from our thoughts and emotions, nothing, nothing is chosen. It is entirely analogous to an avalanche, there is no meaning inherent in any of it.
          Not only that, ‘meaning’ can not somehow magically appear at some mysterious point in the process, just as ‘choice’ cannot, either.

          Now, in light of this understanding, I want you people to explain where you get the principles of choice and meaning from any process in nature!
          Even your thoughts that there is meaning are meaningless, logically and, in reality, for these judgements of meaning are not judgements, but the only possible outcome of a pre-determined set of circumstances, and therefore, there is no meaning that way, and in the fact that by definition, meaning could only possibly exist in a state of alternativesd, of which none exist!

          (Shite, I don’t even know if the formatting, or anything, really!, is sensical at this point – we need a preview option, and I need to shut up)

          And, finally (whew):
          2. None of the above, nor nonFWist concept, contains one iota of a shred of explanation for our awareness and qualia, except to say that no explanation is necessary and is therefore moot.

          But, I retort, it is part of the causal chain.

          So what?, say them, it is a result of known physical laws, and is therefore a combination of matter/energy and physical forces and can only be inevitable, given the physical arrangement of our brains and bodies, and behaves no different than any other system that can be conceived.

          Well, I reply, then our minds must be the same as all other matter/energy, and explainable in concepts we already understand.

          Yes, they say, that is correct.

          But, and now I play dirty(because I won’t let them keep up their evasions), our minds/thoughts/qualia/values/abstract concepts are not apparently physically the same as all the other instances of matter and energy we have ever investigated!

          It doesn’t matter(lol), they say.

          I then conclude that they are silly and illogical, for they cannot ignore the impact of the most important entity in the universe! Surely they cannot say that they understand how something they don’t understand, or can equate in any known or conceivable way to any other state of matter/energy in the known universe, works and interacts with known solid matter. They just said they don’t understand how it acts! Yet they understand how it interacts!!!

          I’ll say it again. You cannot say that the mind is unimportant, is secondary, and most of all, illusory, and then claim, by using the same organ you describe, that what you know is in fact, not illusory, when you are using that very organ in a way that you cannot explain or conceive of why and how it does what it does, or even what it is capable of doing, FFS!!

          You do not know if our minds can function using unknown, and at this point inconceivable, methods that fit in line with our perceptions of experience.

          You can not know what effect our qualia have on our physical actions, because you do not know how qualia interact and process data.

          Because you cannot understand qualia and perception as a consequence of physical processes, it necessarily follows that the process of generating our thinking, perceptions, and intentions is completely unkown.

          If this process of generation of a phenomena is completely unknown and un nonsensical, then the reverse, the interaction of our qualia with the generator, our physical brains and bodies, is also unknown and nonsensical.

          What is going on in our heads is important for our survival and functioning(did I put that in the right order? lol).

          The presence of our awarenesses does not make physical, or resourceful sense. The only way that our minds make sense, is if they act in the manner that appear to, that they fulfill the functions that make sense ie. making decisions.

          You say that the making of decisions are illusory, and therefore not decisions or choices. So, what are our aware minds doing there in the first place?

          First you claim that our minds are inconsequential, then you claim that yes they are consequential, they somehow give our lives value, even though value is a selective decision between possible alternatives. (Remember, in lesson 1, we learned that nothing is a choice or has value if it isn’t comparable to any alternative, and there are no possible alternatives in the reductionist minds.)

          I, and my buddies(you know what I mean), if I may be so bold as to speak for others and assume they agree with me, haha, explain our minds in the only way that makes logical sense.

          You can claim we don’t make decisions or conscious selections all you bloody well want, but your claims are illogical, overall.
          If we don’t need our minds, why do we have them? Even more bizarre, why would we have minds that trick us with illusions? And, please, don’t compare this to sensory illusion and simple tricks of lighting.

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted February 1, 2012 at 3:41 am | Permalink

            Bravo, Tushcloots. I admire your passion and your logic. These silly reductionists have no answer to your arguments. I hesitate to call them arrogant, because that sounds like a personal attack, which I don’t intend, but they ARE arrogant in their unfounded belief in their naive physics, which demonstrably cannot explain everything, and particularly the most important and personal things we experience. I’m too weary to make further arguments — practical matters to attend to — but please carry on.

            • Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

              it’s not about people, as ideologues always like to pretend, but data….where is the data contradicting the multiple studies showing no conscious and language processing of behavior in humans or any other animals…

              • Shack Toms
                Posted February 2, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

                “it’s not about people, as ideologues always like to pretend, but data….where is the data contradicting the multiple studies showing no conscious and language processing of behavior in humans or any other animals…”

                Your response is like the guy whose wife caught him in an affair, in medias res. He sits up in the bed and proclaims his innocence saying, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

                The abstract models do not (and cannot) contain the actual experience of reality, but you assert that this is a shortcoming of the experience rather than seeing the shortcoming as being in the expressive capability of an abstract model.

                You seemingly only believe what you are told and deny what you actually experience.

                Physicalism isn’t just a little bit wrong. It isn’t just falsified by esoteric experiments (although there are some doozies). It is falsified in every experience of every moment.

              • Posted February 4, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

                “it’s not about people, as ideologues always like to pretend, but data….where is the data contradicting the multiple studies showing no conscious and language processing of behavior in humans or any other animals…”

                What data? Are you serious?! Citations and links, RFN (right f*$#ing now).

                Are you seriously saying that we don’t process speech and interpret the emotions displayed by others, and thus respond accordingly, when we are awake and lucid?? Give your head a shake.
                Examples like the McGurk effect plainly demonstrate that we are responding in a way that could only take place when we are purposely paying attention to someone pronouncing the sound ‘bah’ and looking at their lips.

                What I think you mean is that there is brain activity when ‘processing’ and that is somehow ‘unconscious’ in your world.

                Tell me, why are patterns of brain activity different when we are awake vs sleeping vs comatose vs brain dead(vegetative) FFS?

                I am amazed at how completely some people can interpret simple and obvious, everyday types of reports and observations in a completely befuddlingly contrary manner. It’s like it suddenly turns into opposite day when something disproves, or doesn’t support, your biases.

                I want to see supporting documentation for your bizarre claims, and that mean lots of it, too. Multiple, in your words.

              • Posted February 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

                huh?

              • Posted February 4, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

                I forgot to tell you, Shack Toms and Stephen Barnard, that I marvel at your ability to illuminate and express ideas in concise and novel ways.
                You put perspective on things that others, myself included, go to great lengths and detail trying to explain – in a manner that makes seem simple and obvious.
                Stephen, thanks, your opinion means much to me, whether you like it or not(lol) and when you replied “osmosis” to sleeprunning, and it made sense!, that was funny, that was good, and obviously I well remember that.
                These discussion are not only illuminating, but very much fun, with the likes of you :)

              • Shack Toms
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

                “I forgot to tell you, Shack Toms and Stephen Barnard, that I marvel at your ability to illuminate and express ideas in concise and novel ways. You put perspective on things that others, myself included, go to great lengths and detail trying to explain – in a manner that makes seem simple and obvious.”

                Thanks for the very kind words. Of course, we will not agree on everything, so don’t be surprised if you find that I let you down later. There may be disagreements, but I do enjoy the discussion.

                Because these matters go beyond what is actually possible to talk about, and even beyond what can be completely conceptualized, the attempt is necessarily something of a challenge.

              • Posted February 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

                by definition silly/dum ideas are always the easiest to understand and the most emotional soothing…

              • Shack Toms
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

                “by definition silly/dum ideas are always the easiest to understand and the most emotional soothing…”

                By that definition, to the degree you recognize something to be sensible and beneficial, you define it as “silly/dum[sic]“!?

                The better test of an idea is its consistency with experience. The experience itself, the qualia we perceive in a given moment, are thus self-evident. Models of reality may be subtly inconsistent with experience, to be sure, but once the inconsistency is found the models become hard to believe in.

                Well, not by your definition! By your definition, wisdom is found only in nonsense and/or suffering.

          • Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

            wah!? there are really good medications to help with this….lol

          • Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

            wha!? there are really good medications that can help with this….lol

  87. Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    I posted this on another thread but meant to put it here:

    You, sleeprunning, are the one saying that we are just computers processing input, all you guys, Jeff and Steve, are saying we are just mechanically processing input.

    Yet we are different from computers.

    Not according to you guys. Oh, yes, you SAY we are human, we have emotions, blah blah BSblah.

    I asked you to explain what part our minds play, and both Jeff and Steve have been honest enough to even address that once, each.

    They both said that no, they can’t explain it <i>mechanically</i>, ….

    You people want it both ways, you are the dualists. You are claiming that we work mechanically like computers, yet you admit we are different because we have minds and feel emotions and give meaning to life.

    It is transparent bullshit that you claim one thing, that we are mechanically computing and arriving at the only one output that we can, because it is predetermined by linear cause and effect, then in the next breath you claim that we are aware.

    WE ARE AWARE, AND THAT IS DIFFERENT. WE HAVE QUALIA, AND <B>THOSE QUALIA CANNOT BE EXPLAINED YET THEY ARE A CAUSE OF OUR BEHAVIOR!!<B>

    You say that choice is being made even though only one possible flow of events are possible. In your world, somehow that excludes rocks falling, oh no, they are not choosing between falling and floating, they can only follow the laws of physics.
    But when a computer, or our brains only follow the laws of physics to the only one possible outcome, like the rock falling, now you introduce the concept of choice, even though there is no conceptual difference between what is inevitable.

    A rock falling has no meaning, no purpose, it does only what it can inevitably do, mindlessly obey the laws of physics.

    BTW, I was going to go into theoretical physics, but I was better at chemistry, so I enrolled in Honors Chem at U of A. I flunked out because I chose to drink and play soccer and sports instead of homework, but I still got passing marks in my labs even though I didn’t go. I almost intuitively understand physics and chemistry and just went to lab tests and finals, and passed. I didn’t have enough hours, though, so I didn’t get credits.
    Funny, my verbal IQ is higher than my other subscores, though, and I better at language, in aptitude, than math!!!

    I know perfectly well that this is all bullshit, it has zero worth in determining my real understanding and deployment of information and physical concepts and mechanisms, except that one corporation they accused me of cheating on the mechanical and verbal aptitude tests because they didn’t believe it when I got the highest scores they had seen, so it remains for me to explain my ideas in a coherent way to others, just as that applies to everyone.

    And yes, sleeprunning, it is the idea, only, that has merit, for that is what discussion is, but an exchange and evaluation of ideas, which are further ideas.

    This is what I value most in reality. Ideas. This is the premier importance to making us human, who we are, our individuality is but an expression of our ideas(which I include emotions as part of abstract concepts in the idea theatre).

    And the only way we can express our ideas is if they are different from a rock in freefall, or they are exactly as meaningless. It does not matter how complex and convoluted the path of flight is, it is still just the only event possible.

    How do you people, sleeprunning, Jeff, Steve, the other anti-FW’s, somehow introduce the concept of choosing between alternatives when no alternatives exist?
    <b>You are the ones that unmovabley obstinate about there being only one possible outcome when presented with a set of stimuli, you are the ones that insist that there are no conceivable scenarios that are different from the only one dictated by physics, you plead with us to understand that this is not amenable – you say there is one, and only one event allowable, even in concept</b>

    Now, I told you that I could come up with more complete mechanistic explanations for our actions, so, Jeff et al, believe my when I say I get it, I understand what you are saying, I get it better than you do(appeal to my authority, yuk yuk!).

    So, now I want to deal with a couple of points.
    1 – your insistence of calling inevitable outcomes choices, and,
    2 – your insistence that you understand completely, all the pertinent processes necessary for our behavior and functioning.

    In both cases you employ A DUALITY OF INCOMPATIBLE CONCEPTS.

    1. This is not open to debate, as afr as I can see. A rock falls. A plinko chip falls, and even though the ultimate path(outcome) is unpredictable, it is determinate. A flipping coin lands on one side of two possible, but the coin itself is not choosing anything.
    Now, electrons passing through a gate or being stopped there, is not their decision. If their passage is determined by the state of the gate(lol) which is determined by the output from other gates, there is no decision, or choice, at any gate, or in fact, in any circuit in any computer. Beside random indeterminancy, the computer only has one possible output.

    In fact, I know you agree, and more importantly, you also agree that our brains only process electro-chemically with one possible output. <b>No choice is introduced merely by adding steps to a series of one way, pre-determined outcomes, each operation being dependent on the next, and vise versa.</b>

    A rock that falls on another rock, which falls, then, into another number of rocks, and they all fall in the only possible path, behaving, let’s say, as what we define as an avalanche, comes to rest in the only possible pile/arrangement possible to those rocks. They do not choose where they ultimately lie, which even may be on another precariously balance pile of still more rocks on the side of a mountain.
    This resulting pile will only fall more if conditions, such as wind or erosion, dictate that they become subject to motion in a gravitational field.
    At no point do they decide to fall or not fall, they just exist in an environment described by two way cause/effect forces. <b>There is no meaning to the behavior, they do not choose their paths, the only reason we might say they ‘choose’ one gully over another is because, to us, we don’t know which one will be prescribed by the laws of physics. There only ever was one possible outcome, no selecting between alternatives was made.</b>
    The same with a computer, the same with our behavior, it is only ‘falling’ in one possible path with only one possible resultant outcome.
    The same is therefore true with our behavior, for you guys(people) say that there exists, at the outset, however arbitrarily you assign it, only one possible outcome, which is defined as an action, and even many of these actions, defined as behavior, is still, the only series of events possible.
    You people say so. Outside of random indeterminacy, you claim exactly this. And you are correct, there is only one possible outcome, <b>I agree with you 100% that that is a valid conclusion.</b>
    Where we do disagree, however, <b><i>is whether or not to call this a process of choosing; for you do, indeed, introduce the concept of choice in your descriptions of these purely ‘pre-determined to follow one path to one pre-determined(by the laws of physics) outcome.'</i></b>

    So, no, we do not choose anything, we don’t choose our feelings, our actions, our thoughts derived from our feelings, our actions and behaviors derived from our thoughts and emotions, nothing, nothing is chosen. It is entirely analogous to an avalanche, there is no meaning inherent in any of it.
    Not only that, ‘meaning’ can not somehow magically appear at some mysterious point in the process, just as ‘choice’ cannot, either.

    Now, in light of this understanding, <b>I want you people to explain where you get the principles of choice and meaning from any process in nature!</b>
    Even your thoughts that there is meaning are meaningless, logically and, in reality, for these judgements of meaning are not judgements, but the only possible outcome of a pre-determined set of circumstances, and therefore, there is no meaning that way, <b>and in the fact that by definition, meaning could only possibly exist in a state of alternativesd, of which none exist!</b>

    (Shite, I don’t even know if the formatting, or anything, really!, is sensical at this point – we need a preview option, and I need to shut up)

    And, finally (whew):
    2. None of the above, nor nonFWist concept, contains one iota of a shred of explanation for our awareness and qualia, except to say that no explanation is necessary and is therefore moot.

    But, I retort, it is part of the causal chain.

    So what?, say them, it is a result of known physical laws, and is therefore a combination of matter/energy and physical forces and can only be inevitable, given the physical arrangement of our brains and bodies, and behaves no different than any other system that can be conceived.

    Well, I reply, then our minds must be the same as all other matter/energy, and explainable in concepts we already understand.

    Yes, they say, that is correct.

    But, and now I play dirty(because I won’t let them keep up their evasions), our minds/thoughts/qualia/values/abstract concepts are not apparently physically in the same manner as all the other instances of matter and energy we have ever investigated!

    It doesn’t matter(lol), they say.

    I then conclude that they are silly and illogical, for they cannot ignore the impact of the most important entity in the universe! Surely they cannot <b>say that they understand how something they don’t understand</b>, or can equate in any known or conceivable way to any other state of matter/energy in the known universe, works and interacts with known solid matter. <b>They just said they don’t understand how it acts! Yet they understand how it interacts!!!</b>

    I’ll say it again. You cannot say that the mind is unimportant, is secondary, and most of all, illusory, <b>and then claim, by using the same organ you describe, that what you know is in fact, not illusory, when you are using that very organ in a way that you cannot explain or conceive of why and how it does what it does, or even what it is capable of doing, FFS!!</b>

    You do not know if our minds can function using unknown, and at this point inconceivable, methods that fit in line with our perceptions of experience.

    You can not know what effect our qualia have on our physical actions, because you do not know how qualia interact and process data.

    Because you cannot understand qualia and perception as a consequence of physical processes, it necessarily follows that the process of <b>generating our thinking, perceptions, and intentions</b> is completely unkown.

    If this process of generation of a phenomena is completely unknown and un nonsensical, <b>then the reverse, the interaction of our qualia with the generator, our physical brains and bodies, is also unknown and nonsensical.</b>

    What is going on in our heads is important for our survival and functioning(did I put that in the right order? lol).

    The presence of our awarenesses does not make physical, or resourceful sense. <b>The only way that our minds make sense, is if they act in the manner that appear to, that they fulfill the functions that make sense ie. making decisions.</b>

    You say that the making of decisions are illusory, and therefore not decisions or choices. So, what are our aware minds doing there in the first place?

    First you claim that our minds are inconsequential, then you claim that yes they are consequential, they somehow give our lives value, even though value is a selective decision between possible alternatives. (Remember, in lesson 1, we learned that nothing is a choice or has value if it isn’t comparable to any alternative, and there are no possible alternatives in the reductionist minds.)

    I, and my buddies(you know what I mean), if I may be so bold as to speak for others and assume they agree with me, haha, explain our minds in the only way that makes logical sense.

    <b>You can claim we don’t make decisions or conscious selections all you bloody well want, but your claims are illogical, overall.</b>
    If we don’t need our minds, why do we have them?

    And, Steve, stay away from the strawman you always erect because this is not about ‘libertarian’ or ‘contra-causal’ free will, AND IT NEVER HAS BEEN.

    If we don’t need our minds, why do we have them?

  88. Stephen Barnard
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    from Tushcloots: “Stephen, thanks, your opinion means much to me, whether you like it or not(lol) and when you replied “osmosis” to sleeprunning, and it made sense!, that was funny, that was good, and obviously I well remember that.
    These discussion are not only illuminating, but very much fun, with the likes of you.”

    Humor is an especially interesting and peculiar state of mind that seems to be precluded and, in fact, completely inexplicable under the philosophy of our literal-minded opponents.

  89. Shack Toms
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    A lot there, and very well done, but I have some questions about it.

    “WE ARE AWARE, AND THAT IS DIFFERENT. WE HAVE QUALIA, AND THOSE QUALIA CANNOT BE EXPLAINED YET THEY ARE A CAUSE OF OUR BEHAVIOR!!

    Certainly awareness is different, but do the qualia cause our behavior? I keep coming back to the distinction between (unperceived) awareness and the objects of awareness (i.e. the qualia). The qualia are that of which I am aware.

    Somehow, though it seems that the qualia are real, and therefore that intent is real, and the perceptions of behaviors that correspond to that intent are also real perceptions, I don’t know if the intent causes the perceived behaviors or if they simply both arise out of the unperceived awareness.

    I am not really sure that it makes much difference, since I don’t know what causes the intent in the first place. Do I have a free choice to intend?

    “But, and now I play dirty(because I won’t let them keep up their evasions), our minds/thoughts/qualia/values/abstract concepts are not apparently physically in the same manner as all the other instances of matter and energy we have ever investigated!”

    Here I have another couple of questions. What do you mean here by matter? I can understand mass and energy as terms in equations that describe relationships between qualia. Their existence is nothing more than that mathematical relationship, they aren’t perceived otherwise. But there is no term in any physical model that corresponds to “matter”. The models only address attributes (i.e. relationships between qualia), such as mass and energy.

    So the question arises, why are these relationships reliable? The universal answer is that these relationships correspond to some unperceived reality (what we perceive are the measured attributes that presumably arise from this unperceived reality). Some people call this unperceived reality “matter”, some people have other names for it, such as “God”.

    The primary difference between the concepts of God and matter is that matter is held to be divisible, whereas God has no parts. Another difference is that God is presumably aware, whereas most people believe that matter is not (Thomas Jefferson thought it was, but that was an unusual view, I think).

    To me, I think it is nonsensical to hold that awareness arises out of non-awareness through some process, so I hold that awareness is itself the ground of existence. I think that with some investigation it becomes clear that this awareness can have no parts. Thus I identify the awareness itself with God.

    “And, Steve, stay away from the strawman you always erect because this is not about ‘libertarian’ or ‘contra-causal’ free will, AND IT NEVER HAS BEEN.”

    Exactly so. It seems to me that the relationships between the qualia (e.g. those relationships we label as mass or energy) must arise from some principle within awareness. I think they arise from the simplicity of awareness. Because awareness has no parts, the manifested qualia must be related to each other in ways that come down to the application of simple principles from a simple origin.

    But if each moment is an entirely new creation, the internal consistency of one moment does not constrain the next.

    “If we don’t need our minds, why do we have them?”

    Most justifications are relative–the existence of A is justified in terms of the existence of B. But eventually, you have to get to something whose existence is good in itself. I think that this is what we might call “happiness”.

    That raises the question of who is this “we” that “has” these minds.

    I don’t seem to be able to get farther than the notion that our thoughts and perceptions are known, but only as qualia. So there is the thought “I have a mind”, but who is aware of this thought? I am not the thought (I am that which is aware of the thought).

    Somehow the thought arises, but the “I” concept in the thought doesn’t seem to refer to anything within the qualia.

    I think this is very strong evidence that the causal chain in the “physical” manifestation is an illusion. It exists as an abstraction, perhaps in part for the purpose of having the “I” thought, but since awareness is not available as something that can be measured within the physical world, it must be that the “physical cause” of the “I” thought does not actually refer to awareness. Thus it exists in order to refer to the “true Self”, but in the physical chain of causation it cannot have the true Self as its source.

    I think that this answers the problem Wittgenstein had with language. He knew that language was impossible, and yet it exists.

    It is like having a dream of being able to speak and understand a language that you don’t speak or understand in reality. The notion that the language is the cause of the understanding is something of an illusion.

    But in real life, you have to have learned the language, because the simplicity of awareness doesn’t allow the creation of a world where the parts don’t fit together according to a consistent principle.

    I think it works because the manifestation is created in the service of the unperceived awareness, and what appears as physical cause is actually simply a reflection of the relationships between different aspects of the manifestation, these relationships arising because of the simplicity of the source.

    So science works, and is very useful, despite that it cannot be a complete description of reality, it can find the relationships between the describable features of reality.

  90. Shack Toms
    Posted February 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    The theological importance of free will is the idea of just judgments. From that point of view, the notion of agency doesn’t make a lot of difference.

    If you make a number of (say) clay bowls, you may decide that you prefer some to others. You might keep the ones you like, and discard the ones you don’t like as well.

    So, is this judgment just? Does it depend upon the agency of the bowls?

    I think the uneasiness from this kind of thing arises from the idea that we, unlike the bowls, have awareness, and that this awareness is individual–and thus that the judgment of me as an individual is something that I alone endure.

    But how do we know that awareness is individual? The thoughts and perceptions are associated with an individual, but it seems inescapable that there is a single awareness that is the awareness of all of the thoughts and perceptions of every individual.

    This point of view leads directly to the doctrine of human equality, since the awareness of one person’s experience would thus be identical with the awareness of any other person’s experience, in much the same way that the awareness of the experience of the left hand is identical with the awareness of the experience of the right hand.

    I don’t think that physicalism leads to a notion of human equality. If awareness arises through a physical process, well… where else is there something that arises from a complex physical process where different instances of the process have exactly equal arisings?

    Of course, that isn’t the reason to reject physicalism. The reason to reject physicalism isn’t that it leads to unacceptable conclusions but that it is inconsistent with reason and experience. If physicalism were true, then perhaps human equality, despite its virtue, would simply be a wrong idea.

  91. Sam
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    What we are born with demonstrates an obvious lack of free will. What we can choose to do physically is something else altogether.

  92. Jim Balter
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    “All of these phenomena simply don’t exist in Jerry Coyne’s reductionaist, hard determinist world.”

    Wrong.

  93. Posted January 3, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    The ad hominem/blaming the messenger is a common tactic. This is about data — no one individual’s opinions, ideas or worldview.

  94. Overcast
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    hehe, but it’s all circumstantial and suggested evidence, nothing I read would lead me to believe any of this ‘evidence’ is concrete at all.


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