Am I unsophisticated about free will?

For some reason that I don’t understand, I feel compelled to reiterate why I don’t believe in free will—at least in the common notion of free will. Perhaps it’s the combination of my genes and my environment, particularly the environmental stimulus provided by Massimo Pigliucci in a new post at Rationally Speaking, “Jerry Coyne on free will.” Needless to say, Massimo takes me to task again, especially for my anti-free-will article in USA Today, “Why you don’t really have free will.

I’d like to reiterate and then counter Pigliucci’s beef with my arguments. Here are his main points and my counterarguments.

1.  My concept of free will is empirically untestable.  As he says:

Before we continue, however, let’s hear Jerry’s definition of free will: “I mean it [free will] 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.” He continues: “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.”

As Jerry knows, and immediately admits in the paragraph following this quote, such a test is anything but practical. In fact, it cannot be carried out, ever. Which is why I contend that Jerry and others who push the idea that free will (and consciousness, and moral responsibility) is “an illusion” are mistaken when they think they are doing so on the basis of science.

He argues, then, that my claim that we don’t have free will of this sort is not empirical but metaphysical.

I grant that we can’t rewind the tape of life, but that indirect evidence of two sorts suggests that my argument against free will is correct. First—and to me this is the decisive one—our brains are made of molecules.  Molecules (and the neurons they make up) must obey the laws of physics.  Our “decisions” are made by brains.  Therefore our brains must obey the laws of physics.  Absent any quantum indeterminacy, then (and that cannot constitute any portion of free will), what our brains do is determined and predicted by the laws of physics.  Ergo, in any situation we could not have chosen otherwise:  we cannot decide freely which of several alternatives we choose.

Suppose that an alien observes coin tosses, and sees that sometimes a coin comes up heads, and sometimes tails.  The alien supposes that the coin is alive, and can “decide” which way to fall.  The alien cannot exactly repeat each coin toss to see whether, given identical conditions, the coin can land differently.  We can never repeat those initial conditions (though I’m told some magicians can bias the outcome by how they flip the coin). But we can conclude, without having to do the experiment, that the way the coin lands is absolutely conditioned by the laws of physics—by how it’s tossed, the air currents obtaining at the time, the height of the hand, and the nature of the surface on which the coin lands.  We don’t have to do the experiment to conclude that.

Our brains are like that coin, except they’re far more complicated and made of meat instead of metal.  But they still obey the same laws that govern coin tosses. Why, then, do our brains get to “choose” but a coin does not?  Yes, we take in more inputs than does a tossed coin (but perhaps not many more), but so what? Physics still rules.

I argue that the onus for proof is on those people who claim that our decisions are free and not completely subject to the laws of physics. For these are the people who implicitly claim that our brains are free from physical law in such a way that allows us, at any given time, to freely decide among alternatives.  It is not my responsibility to show that we have this sort of free will; everything we know about physics militates that.

Second, there are experiments like Libet’s (and better ones) showing that “decisions” can be predicted up to seven seconds before they’re made consciously.  This time lag won’t always obtain, since some “decisions” are made more quickly, as when we decide how to hit a tennis ball; but if we can show that some decisions are made unconsciously, that militates against any conscious decisions, and to me conscious decision-making is essential for my form of free will to obtain (see below).

2.  The unknowns of physics suggest room for free will.  I note first that Massimo doesn’t define free will in his piece; he’s only arguing against my conception of it.  At any rate, he argues:

Of course this conclusion depends on one’s concept of free will, and there are several on offer (more on this below). It also depends on entirely unargued for assumptions, including the following: causal closure (i.e., that the currently known laws of physics encompass the totality of causal relationships in the universe); a working concept of causality (one of the most thorny philosophical concepts ever); physical determinism (which appears to be contradicted by physics itself, particularly quantum mechanics); and the non-existence of true emergent properties (i.e., of emergent behavior that actually is qualitatively novel, and doesn’t simply appear to be so because of our epistemic limitations). I have opinions about all four of these points, but I don’t have a knockdown argument concerning any of them. The point is, neither does Jerry.

I’m just going by the currently known laws of physics, which appear to hold throughout the universe.  As for determinism, yes, I do think there are true indeterminacies on the quantum level, but their influence on our behaviors and choices is dubious at best. And even if such indeterminacies did influence us, those influences would be random and not constitute any basis for free will.

As for emergent properties, those too must obey the laws of physics, unless you hypothesize an “emergent property of free will” that is somehow physically unconnected with lower-level processes.  Yes, there are emergent properties that cannot be predicted from knowing about their constituents (the wetness of water may be one), but that wetness still must conform to the laws of physics obeyed by its constituent molecules.  The properties of water do not thereby become free from the laws of physics.

3.  Experiments like Libet’s and more recent ones like that of Soon et al. (2008) Fried et al. (2011, reference below) are irrelevant to free will.  They show only that our decisions might not be conscious ones.

Not even Libet himself took his experiments to show that people don’t make conscious decisions, in part because reporting awareness of an urge (in this case, of pushing a button) hardly qualifies as a conscious decision. The latter is the kind of reflective deliberation that Jerry and I engaged in while composing our respective essays, and it is simply not measured by Libet-type experiments. Indeed, it is not surprising at all that we make all sorts of unconscious decisions before we become aware of them, as any baseball batter, or anyone catching a falling object on the fly, will readily testify.

My argument is simple here: “decisions” made unconsciously don’t buttress my concept of free will, for they could simply reflect the generation of outputs from inputs in the same way that a computer generates outputs from inputs.  The common conception of free will—the one I’m addressing—requires making a conscious decision.  If you choose vanilla rather than strawberry at an ice cream store because your neurons and taste buds have determined that in advance, in what sense is the decision “free”?

Massimo adds:

I find it strange when some people argue that “we” are not making decisions if our subconscious is operating, since presumably we all agree that our subconscious is just as defining of “us” as conscious thinking is. Accordingly, “my brain made me do it” is hardly a defense that will fly in a court of law except, and for good reasons, in pathological cases such as behaviors resulting from brain damage.)

Well, I contend that every act of malfeasance results from “brain damage”—at least the same kind of neurological determinism that may have caused Charles Whitman, who had a brain tumor, to murder people at the University of Texas.  And I’ve never argued that “my brain made me do it” is a valid defense against criminal conviction.  Even if we don’t choose our acts of criminality, there are good reasons to incarcerate criminals, including protection of society and as an example to deter others.  Such examples are, of course, environmental influences that can affect the workings of our brains, and hence our future actions.

4. I argue, without evidence, that free will is an evolved property of brains.  Massimo argues:

But just for the sake of argument let us suspend judgment on all of this and ask Jerry the obvious question: why do we have such a pervasive “illusion” to begin with? Apparently, he knew this was coming, and answered thus in the USA Today article: “where do these illusions of both will and ‘free’ will come from? We’re not sure. I suspect that they’re the products of natural selection, perhaps because our ancestors wouldn’t thrive in small, harmonious groups — the conditions under which we evolved — if they didn’t feel responsible for their actions.”

As far as I can tell there is no empirical evidence whatsoever to support such speculation. To the contrary, we know of plenty of social animal species that seem to thrive very well indeed without requiring the illusion of free will to keep them in line. Certainly social insects don’t need to be fooled that way, and it is hard to imagine even species of social mammals, including most primates, needing to engage in deliberate reasoning before deciding how to behave toward fellow group members.

Note that I said, “We’re not sure.” I really have no idea why we have the illusion of agency, and was just speculating that it may be an adaptation.  But it might not be—it could be an epiphenomenon of having complex brains.  By the way, our brains are far more complex than those of social insects, and we process many more inputs than those of, say, ants. A big ant could not function as a human being.  And we have no idea whether animals engage in deliberate reasoning, though this morning’s kitteh post suggest that cats can, and I certainly think that primates can.

But it doesn’t matter.  I have no idea about why we have the illusion of free agency, nor am I deeply invested in an evolutionary, much less an adaptive, answer.

5.  I ignore other philosophers’ concepts of free will.

In the above comment Jerry also ignores that philosophers have been debating various concepts (not definitions, because they are not ex-cathedra pronouncements) of free will for a long time. Competing approaches to free will have been put forth, among others, by Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and more recently Daniel Dennett and Harry Frankfurt, to name but a few. It is a profound mischaracterization of the history of philosophy to present various takes on free will as being simply reactive to the latest scientific discoveries.

I’ve read about the many ways philosophers have defined free will differently from me.  And yes, if you change what you mean by “free will,” then you can find a way that we do have it.  But I am addressing what I think is most people’s notion of free will, which I think is to some extent dualistic.  Philosophers may have given up dualism, but my experience discussing this issue with others, including my biology colleagues, shows that almost without exception they have an unconscious dualism: that somehow we have some capacity to step inside our minds and influence their workings.  To me, the only free will that matters is the ability at a single moment to choose freely between alternatives—that we could have done otherwise.

6.  I argue that free will means the end of religion.  Massimo:

Jerry claims that the death of free will spells the death of religion, although ironically he then mentions the Calvinist view of pre-determination. In fact, plenty of religious beliefs are compatible with lack of free will, so it seems like religion will survive even this assault (as befits an infinitely malleable tradition of made up stories).

I never argued this. What I said is that many important religious precepts depend on free will, and those will go away if free will is an illusion. Here’s what I said:

But there are two important ways that we must face the absence of free will. One is in religion. Many faiths make claims that depend on free choice: Evangelical Christians, for instance, believe that those who don’t freely choose Jesus as their savior will go to hell. If we have no free choice, then such religious tenets — and the existence of a disembodied “soul” — are undermined, and any post-mortem fates of the faithful are determined, Calvinistically, by circumstances over which they have no control.

I have no idea why Massimo thinks that this spells the end of religion. (By the way, an important argument in theodicy, that we have evil in the world because God gave us free will, will also go away.)  Unless Massimo was tired when he wrote this, he’s failed to grasp my point.  “Many faiths” does not equal “all faiths.”

7.  Why try to argue what we “should” do if we have no free will?  In my piece I end by talking about the implications of realizing that we don’t have free will in the sense I define it. One is to give up the idea of punishment as retribution, another is to have more understanding for criminals, and not blame them for “making the wrong choice.” (I add here that perhaps we should not have so many regrets about our past, since we couldn’t have chosen otherwise.) Why would I make such prescriptions if I believe that all our actions are predetermined?

The answer is twofold.  First, I make such arguments because I cannot do otherwise: this is what I have been conditioned to do by my genes and my personal history.  But second, and more important, such arguments do affect people, and can influence their decisions.  It’s a common misconception of those who argue against my views that those views ineluctably promote a kind of nihilism, in which we should do nothing.  Well, we don’t have the choice to do nothing: we’re humans and we must act as though we have free will, even if we don’t.  It is an all-powerful illusion—perhaps an evolved one—which conditions all our behavior.

But we shouldn’t feel that our behaviors are ineffectual.  We can convince people to act in different ways through our words.  Making people love us, or hate us, are simple examples.  We are not powerless, though all of our behaviors—including whether we’re susceptible to the ministrations of others—are determined.

8.  I am a “radical skeptic.” Pigluicci accuses me of this for several reasons:

In the end, skepticism about free will seems to me to be akin to radical skepticism about reality in general (the idea that all of reality is an illusion, or a computer simulation, or something along those lines): it denies what we all think is self-evident, it cannot be defeated logically (though it is not based on empirical evidence), and it is completely irrelevant to our lives.

But what is “self-evident” to people has been shown over and over again by science to be wrong! It is self evident to many that the “design” of animals and plants is evidence for a God. Free will may be one of these things. I think science can help us show logically that we don’t have free will in the way I define it, and if we don’t have it, then there are implications for our lives, some of which I mention in my USA Today piece.

I find it curious that Pigliucci says this at the end of his piece:

That said, we should then proceed by ignoring the radical skeptic in order to get back to the business of navigating reality, making willful decisions about our lives (including New Year’s resolutions, which actually succeed surprisingly often), and assign moral responsibility to our and other people’s actions.

How does he know that he can make “willful decisions”?  And we really must rethink the idea of moral responsibility in a world in which there may not be free will.  Perhaps we can dispense with the idea of moral responsibility along with the idea of free will!  That may be radical, but it may also be sensible.  We can replace the idea of “moral responsibility” with that of “actions inimical to others,” or something of the sort.  The only things this would change would be our idea of punishment as retribution, as well as the underpinning of many religious beliefs.

Now I feel compelled to have some coffee.

____________

Fried, I., R. Mukamel, and G. Kreiman. 2011. Internally generated preactivation of single neurons in human medial frontal cortex predicts volition. Neuron 69:548-62.

Libet, B. 1985. Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action. Behav. Brain Sci. 8:529-566.

Soon, C. S., M. Brass, H. J. Heinze, and J. D. Haynes. 2008. Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience 11:543-545.

541 Comments

  1. Nils
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    If you choose vanilla rather than strawberry at an ice cream store because your neurons and taste buds have determined that in advance, in what sense is the decision “free”?

    Hm, doesn’t this sentence indicate that you, too, have not given up the idea of dualism? How can you speak of a conscious decision when you ignore the mechanisms that give you the information you need to make such a decision? Or in other words: What are “you” if not neurons and taste buds?

    • steve
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      Nils,

      No… not at all.

      • Nils
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        I suppose you answered the first question? Then tell me, if you (hypothetically) were able to consider all the evidence to why vanilla is the more preferable of the two flavors in this particular moment, given your developed dislike for strawberry, and you still (hypothetically) were able to consciously choose strawberry, would that be Free Will? This is what your neurons are doing in that particular moment.

        • Posted January 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

          Neurons can be doing lots of different things at any given moment. They even sometimes do things spontaneously, what you might call ranndom. But when they do something purposeful, as in directing a willed action, they do it in a context of what the neurons have “learned ” in the past and of the momentary situational contingencies. That decision may take one of perhaps several alternative directions. The direction chosen may be random or inevitable (thus not free) or may be repeated consistently because of learned appropriateness. Surely, you don’t want to say that learning strips one of any chance for free will. In fact, at each learning experience, one has the option of accepting or rejecting the information in that experience.

          Those of you enamored by Libet-type experiments should read my on-line peer-reviewed critical analysis at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3163487/

          • Posted January 23, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

            Are you kidding me?! I used these exact examples of known phenomenon with unexplained mechanisms for explaining them. Whether probable or not, other as yet undetected interactions or mechanisms could conceivably be at work behind our minds/experiences. Furthermore, our decisions and choices are paramount and primary in defining our ‘self’ to ourselves, I would insist, as is mentioned in the abstract.
            Francis Crick thinks the claustrum(a brain structure that sends and receives signals to and from practically all other brain structures, including the right parietal (involved in polysensory convergence and embodiment) and anterior cingulate (involved in the experience of “free will”)) will prove instrumental in explaining our mind, and he guesses it as the location.

            I very much look forward to reading your paper.

            • Posted January 23, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

              Ooops, I meant these exact examples:

              “But even traditional science could yield such theories: a case in point is the theory that quantum mechanics entanglement might influence mind at a distance (Stapp, 2007). Other possible explanations for consciousness might be imagined based on string theory, dark matter, or dark energy if the nature of these new discoveries were understood.”

          • Posted January 24, 2012 at 3:08 am | Permalink

            Hi Bill,

            I’ve responded to some parts of your paper, and to your summary of your position on free-will here. Your responses there revealed your religious thinking that lies behind your bias for insisting that there is free-will, and you decided not to continue that line of the discussion. See that post and the comments. I also responded to some other comments on your position, in comments here.

            I agree with your comment in this current post, up to the point where you say “Surely, you don’t want to say that learning strips one of any chance for free will.” Well, yes I do think that is part of the argument against free-will. How is the will ‘free’ of this activity in any sense? The ‘will’ is constituted of this activity, in that a change in the state of some neurons causes changes in the states of motor neurons which causes me to lift my arm.

            I suppose, if you really want to stretch the meaning of ‘free’ you could say that as physical automata, a great deal of our caused inner activity is self-contained, within the brain, so that eh most immediate cause of my lifting my arm is brain activity that is ‘free’, in time and space, or perhaps a better phrasing is ‘distant’ in time and space, from the many prior causes that have brought my brain to the point where is causes my arm to rise. But this is still all causal. My motor action was caused all the way. It was not ‘free’ in any sense normally associated with free-will.

            The problem is that most free-willies seem to reject the image of us being automata, but don’t actually explain the disconnect, where the freedom disconnects us from the causal chain to make uncaused free choices.

            “In fact, at each learning experience, one has the option of accepting or rejecting the information in that experience.”

            But this itself is dictated by the state of the brain. The excitory or inhibitory activity inside a neuron that makes it fire, and which eventually causes synapses to fire, and in memory causes synapses to grow, is the causal precursor of a decision being made, a thought being thought, a concept being held and remembered. What else is there but this physical activity.

            Simply stating that we have free-will that is disconnected somehow from our physical reality is to suppose something we have not yet found. Illusory free-will fits in with all we currently know, and even with evolutionary explanations of the illusion being an efficient process of the brain sufficient to get us by in the pre-scientific world, and even the pre-language world.

            For more on the physical instantiation of thoughts, concepts, and even concepts like free-will, try this.

    • Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      The choice is free in the uncontroversial sense that I wasn’t compelled by anyone else to choose as I did, rather the choice was my *own* doing, caused by *my* preferences and deliberative capacities. This is definitely a freedom worth wanting!

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

        If a mugger without a weapon says that they need you to give them your wallet, it’s still your choice whether you do that or run away. Is THAT a “noncompelled” choice? What about if your friends want you to go to the baseball game and you do for appearance’s sake, even if you want to stay home? The notion of “own doing” versus “compulsion” seems VERY fuzzy to me, and breaks down completely when you add to that the “compulsion” of your own genes and environment, which acts on your brain precisely the same way as someone else forcing you to do something. Very rarely do you have NO choice–even dying is a choice.

        I don’t think that’s a freedom worth wanting, except that I don’t want other people telling me what to do all the time. But they do a lot (like my university), and I do it.

        • Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

          There are clearly degrees of compulsion – having one’s preferences over-ridden by the demands of other agents – depending on how the demands are made (with or without a weapon, for instance). But if you think that you are being compelled or coerced by your *very own* being, by your *very own* preferences and desires, then we’re at an intuitional impasse.

          Who is it that’s being pushed around by your desires? Not a preference-free soul, since you don’t believe in such a thing. If you identify with your brain-based motives and desires, as you should if you’re a naturalist, then you can’t logically be coerced by them.

          “I don’t think that’s a freedom worth wanting, except that I don’t want other people telling me what to do all the time.”

          So it *is* a freedom worth wanting! What is the freedom that people fight for if not the freedom from being told what you can and cannot do?

        • Nils
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

          And when you consider whether or not to go abroad for college? The decision is not only based on environmental influences (e.g. appearance’s sake). This is much more complex.

          More generally: You’re not only compelled, but you also compel, surely. How can you separate yourself from your genes, your neurons, your molecules? Where do you draw the line between the agent and the reagent? Sorry, but I still find this dualistic …

          • Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

            The language is dualistic, and we may be stuck with that because of the very physical basis upon which our brains cause this sense of self. Similarly it’s very difficult to talk about evolution without imparting some aspect of agency into the language while all the time accepting that there is no agency.

            Try thinking of a chain of autonomy: a rock ‘rolls’ down a hill (active agent doing the rolling, or passive object following the natural laws of physics?); a control system ‘controls’ the temperature of a fridge (active agent or passive object?); an ant ‘decides’ to pick up a leaf (active agent or passive object?); …; a human brain ‘decides’ to choose vanilla (active agent or passive brain under the influence of current external and past internal states?).

            The challenge isn’t really to explain the natural change in the complexity, the degrees of autonomy, in physical systems (that seems to have been done), but to explain the ‘free-will of the gaps’ that we have come to believe in historically and which psychologically still drives our feelings on this matter.

            It seems well within the scope of natural physical explanation that a self-aware system that is self-aware of only one particular layer of its brain’s activity, so that it’s decisions seem to it to appear out of nowhere, because it can’t physically sense the connection from conscious thought to physical brain activity, should ‘feel’ its decisions are somehow magical, ‘free’. This is the very nature of the illusion: that such an entity would not be able, in itself, using reflection, to tell the difference between this disconnected consciousness and an imagined notion of dualistic free-will.

            • steve
              Posted January 19, 2012 at 5:57 am | Permalink

              Well said, Ron.

            • Posted January 23, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

              And of course, once these decisions are made, it is imperative to need to aware of them, coincidentally, if not completely after the fact.
              Yes, that makes sense. We don’t need consciousness and illusions of free will, yet we just have them.
              In fact, our sense of awareness is all just excess baggage, yes, yes, that makes perfect sense.

              Because, if every single thing is linearly assembled, our sensory stimuli -> actions -> realizations, then it doesn’t matter what we ‘consciously’ think because our thoughts are merely emergent and cannot effect independent change, like learning, because that would mean our consciousness is a real thing physically.

              So what is it?
              Either our senses and thoughts are illusory and therefore completely unnecessary, or
              They serve a purpose and fulfill a function which means they are real.

              If they are real, they are not illusory.

              If they are not necessary, ie emergent after the fact, then their existence wastes resources and is a detriment to the organisms survival.

              If they are partially illusory and serve a purpose ie effect changes in the physical structure of the brain for learning purposes, then they are dangerous to the survival of the organism, for an illusion is, by definition, an incorrect representation of reality.

              So, if our consciousness serves any function, and our cognitive and sensory perception is part of our consciousness, then it must physically affect the brain.

              I don’t care how pretty the picture of self direction and equivalent qualia and perceptions may be to the organism, it is completely useless if it cannot physically change the brain, not just be caused by it.

              So what is it(mind):
              1. Window Dressing
              2. Functional

              • Posted January 24, 2012 at 5:09 am | Permalink

                Consciousness is currently the label we give to our perception of the ‘mind’, which is the brain being self-aware in the sense that some parts of it are monitoring and causing change in other parts. When I ‘decide’ to move my arm I do not feel my motor neurons being caused to trigger – I feel no ‘buzz’ of action potentials in them.

                Similarly, I don’t ‘feel’ or sense in any way the precursor neurons that trigger this decision. I have the ‘feeling’ that I just ‘decide’. And this notion, this concept, is fueled by our culturally declared understanding of free-will of being ‘free’ of physical causal events in some way.

                This ‘feeling’ is not the illusion, any more than a spinning wire frame Necker cube is not an actual spinning wire frame. The ‘feeling’ is a real feeling, a perception. The illusion in the Necker cube is our perception that it flips direction. Our illusion with free-will is that it is some how free of the physics of the brain to the extent that anyone having the perception ‘feels’ like the ‘decisions’ are appearing out of, well, where exactly? The illusion is that the feeling represents reality, that there is real freedom from the causal chain.

                Similarly, when we perceive a ‘wave’ on water, we can conceptualise abstractly about the wave. But the wave is only water molecules working in some pattern dictated, determined, by the interaction of molecules. This particular illusion of the wave being something additional seems easier to dismiss.

                Given the general level of science education we are also able to hold two models of the human body as being consistent: the solid macro level appearance and the vacuous atomic model.

                I even remember my childish ‘wow’ moment, on having explained to me that the human body has such a high content of water, that on first instinct makes one wonder why we don’t drop into a sloppy mess on the floor. But on getting the structure of cells and flesh and bones, one does come to realise that yes, it all hangs together quite well. Until the processes that keep feeding it stop. Then it does eventually succumb to other processes that do turn it into a puddle of mush on the floor.

                The multiple model of the ‘mind’ is quite consistent. We can experience in real time that we appear to make decisions, while also maintaining the concept that our decisions are outcomes of causal precursors that are entirely physical.

                Causility, even complete determinism, does not necessitate that we do not suffer illusions. It does necessitate, if either be the case, that nothing that happens in our heads is ‘free’ of that fact. The necessary conclusion is that we are not actually free, but that the appearence of being free is the illusion.

                In a wholely deterministic universe “I could have chosen otherwise”, the foundation of free choice, has no meaning. It doesn’t have any meaning in a causal universe that has some indeterminate inputs, though superficially “I could have chosen otherwise” does have something of the flavour of “The universe that caused my current ‘choice’ could have cause a different ‘choice’”, but they are not the same, in that the latter does not constitute free-will.

              • Posted January 24, 2012 at 5:10 am | Permalink

                “If they are real, they are not illusory.”

                Our senses and thoughts are real, in that they are instantiated in cause and causal brain activity. The illusory aspect of it is that we feel they are free of their physical causal nature.

                “If they are not necessary, ie emergent after the fact, then their existence wastes resources and is a detriment to the organisms survival.”

                There existence is (I presume) necessary to survival. And maybe the illusion that our will is free is a helpful efficiency too. It’s the star gazing and contemplating what our thoughts are that wasn’t necessary to survival. And I think this last point on the basis that perceptual complexity and sophistication, and the language to represent those perceptions in a complex way, probably came some time after the emergence of our self-awareness and apparent independence as agents.

                “They serve a purpose and fulfil a function which means they are real.”

                Yes, as described.

                “If they are real, they are not illusory.”

                Yes. It’s the perception that they are free in any way from our physical causal foundation that is the illusion.

                “So what is it(mind)?”

                The ‘waves’, brain waves, the persistent pattern caused by busy brain activity, in a brain that does change physically but which has some consistent structure over time, giving the appearance of continued ‘identity’, ‘me’.

                Calm the waters and the waves ‘vanish’ – but really the water simply moves less than it did. Stop the activity of the brain, and the mind goes.

                To the extent that we usually conceive of the mind, as the conscious bit, you don’t even have to stop all brain activity. And to kill ‘identity’, the persistent ‘I’, you only have to stop the creation of memory, or the access to long term memory.

              • Posted January 24, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

                no, what we call consciousness and free will is like preferences for ethnic foods, unfalsifiable and mere verbal signaling for social consumption, mainly to deceive ourselves and others it appears…”Of course, I mean what I say (not).”

      • Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Isn’t a weapon-brandishing criminal simply one more environmental influence? Peer pressure with bullets?

  2. Rudi
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Another argument from “I don’t like this so it can’t be true”.

    As I’ve said before, when your best defence against a proposition resembles those typically offered by religious apologists, that should in itself be a signal that you may be on the wrong track. It’s easy to fall into this trap – indeed, I can think of good reasons why we may have evolved to do so – but that is the point of science: to give us neutral, untainted insights into the nature of reality. I’m sorry, Massimo, if your brain is telling you that you don’t like that reality, but tough!

    • Jack M.
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      I actually face the opposite hazard. I LIKE the idea of no free will. To guard against that hazard, i have to GENERATE skepticism about the absence of free will.

      To date, though I’m open to new evidence, I judge it extremely unlikely that there is any such terrible thing as contra-causal free will.

      • Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:47 am | Permalink

        At least for the explicit dualist there position is very clear, albeit relying on unexplained magic. But the non-dualist, and otherwise naturalist, who still makes a claim for free-will that isn’t essentially physicalism, doesn’t really offer any explanation of what their free-will actually is, or how it might work.

        • steve
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

          Ron,

          They don’t have any such explanation to offer. All they have is to label that which is non-free will, free will. With straight face they tell us that all that people mean when they say free will is “be able to do what they want/desire and are physically capable of, without external coercion”.

          • Posted January 23, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

            And you don’t have any explanation for how our illusion of free will might work.
            Or one single solitary sane reason for us to have that illusion.

            You don’t have a rational explanation, either, folks.

            I have an explanation of how our free will manifests: I don’t know.

            I have answers to other things that are ‘real’: What is a quanta?; What is a particle?; What is a wave function?;
            What is entanglement;
            What is the instantaneous state of the carbon-carbon bond in a benzene ring?

            See, now we get to the molecular level.
            What is a particle?; What is an atom or molecule or compound, exactly.

            If the Higgs boson is not detected, what of the standard model? What is the exact nature of reality? You don’t know. What is dark matter? You don’t know. How does not locality work? You don’t know

            What else about reality is there that we don’t know?
            You don’t know

            Do we have minds, perceptions, fantasies, learned abilities – like problem solving?
            YES
            Why are they there?
            YOU DON’T KNOW

            How did they get there?
            YOU
            DON’T
            KNOW!

            I am not asking you to explain how they work anymore. No, I am asking you to explain their presence.

            Because if you don’t know WHY we have minds that produce the perception of free will, you don’t know WHY they are unnecessary, do you?

            Maybe you can, alternatively, explain how illusions can help us deal with reality better than actual perceptions of reality could.

            • Steve
              Posted January 23, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

              Tushcloots,

              Yeah, right, we’ve gone over this before. There are things you want to know, things that I don’t have the answer to, but none of these things defeat non-free willism.

              You are a product of your nature and nurture. Everything you are, everything you do is a resultant of a matrix of behavioral determinants. Why the illusion is, I can’t say, all that I can say it that is an illusion.

            • Steve
              Posted January 24, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

              Once upon a time there were two guys lost in the desert. They had been lost for some time. As they had run out of the water they had brought with them, they were in desperate need of the stuff.
              Guy 1, looking to the North, thinks he sees water shimmering in the not too far distance. He points and declares to his travel companion, “Water! I see water.”
              Guy 2, looks in the direction pointed to by Guy1 and sees the same shimmering in the not too far distance. “Happy days!”, he rejoins.
              So off they go in the direction of the shimmering. (They are relying on the shimmering, as a basis for a course of action.)
              After a while, when they have traveled as far as it seemed they needed to get to the water, they have yet to arrive at any. But ahead they see shimmering. This exchange transpires between them.
              Guy1, “You’d think we ought have gotten there by now.”
              Guy2, “That’s what my intuition tells me. And since we ought to have gotten there, and we live in a deterministic universe, this implies we can have gotten there.”
              Guy1, “And yet, we haven’t. This implies we ought to go on.”
              Guy2, “Yes while we still can.
              And so they gone on further. They go on for what seems to be hours, until finally Guy2 says, “I’ve been thinking about what is going on here. I think the shimmering is an illusion. I don’t think there is any water shimmering in the distance.”
              To which Guy1 replies, “Do you have an explanation for how this illusion works?”
              Guy2, “Nope. Maybe something to do with heat waves?”
              Guy1, “I’m not buying that, it’s a modal thesis. And nobody has observed heat. “
              Guy2, “I’m just saying this shimmering seems to only be the illusion of water to me.”
              Guy1, “How can you be so nonchalant about this? Don’t you realize the implications of what you’re saying? Damit, we might die of thirst if there’s no water shimmering out there.”
              Guy2, “It doesn’t matter how badly we might want the shimmering to be water, wanting a thing doesn’t make it true.”
              Guy1, “But why should we have the illusion of water? How could we have evolved to be a species, if we can’t properly discern something as crucial to our survival as water? Give me one single solitary sane reason for us to have such an illusion.”
              Guy2, ‘Beats the hell out of me.”
              Guy1, “I have an explanation of how the shimmering manifests. The surface of the water reflects light. Look around us, do you see the sand reflecting light? No, you don’t, cause it must not.”
              Guy2, “That’s not true.”
              Guy1, “You’re just repeating yourself without proof.”
              Guy2, “But, I’ve already made my case, which you just ignored.”
              Guy1, “I don’t know. I have answers to other things that are ‘real’: What is a quanta?;”
              Guy2, “I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter to my claim that the shimmering is an illusion.”
              Guy1, “What is a particle?”
              Guy2, “I don’t know. What part of what I said involves particles?”
              Guy1,”What is a wave function? You mentioned waves.”
              Guy2, “I don’t know… and it was a different kind of wave”.
              Guy1, “What is entanglement; What is the instantaneous state of the carbon-carbon bond in a benzene ring? See, now we get to the molecular level. What is a particle?; What is an atom or molecule or compound, exactly. If the Higgs boson is not detected, what of the standard model? What is the exact nature of reality?”

              Guy2, “I don’t know. Not relevant.”
              Guy1, “You don’t know. What is dark matter? You don’t know. How does not locality work? You don’t know.”
              Guy2, “You’re losing it man.”
              Guy1, “What else about reality is there that we don’t know? You don’t know Do we have minds, perceptions, fantasies, learned abilities – like problem solving?”
              Guy2,”Yeah, we do.”
              Guy1, “YES! Why are they there? YOU DON’T KNOW How did they get there? YOUDON’T KNOW!”
              Guy2, “I confess, I don’t know these things… but in all fairness I am not claiming that I do.”
              Guy1, “ I am not asking you to explain how they work anymore. No, I am asking you to explain their presence. Because if you don’t know WHY we have minds that produce the perception of shimmering where there is no water, you don’t know WHY they the shimmering is unnecessary, do you? Maybe you can, alternatively, explain how illusions can help us deal with reality better than actual perceptions of reality could.”
              Guy2, “Angst can be a bummer, man.”

  3. Bjarte Foshaug
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    It should be pretty clear by now that being “philosophically sophisticated” (at least in the pigluiccian sense) is nothing to strive for anyway…

    The concept of “free will” as commonly understood seems to me a lot like the concept of God. After all “free will” is basically thougt to be an “unmoved mover” or an “uncaused cause”. It has the power to cause physical actions, but is not itself a part of the causal chain. Let’s call this “strong” version of free will “free will (1)”.

    What really annoys me are people (often other atheists who don’t believe in the ghost in the machine) who simply redefine “free will” as something else [let's call it "free will (2)"] – thereby changing the subject – and then go on to argue that your arguments against free will (1) are wrong because free will (2) exists (AS IF we were still talking about the same thing). This is very similar to theologians who equate “God” with “Life, the Universe and Everything” ["God (2)"] and then go on to accuse atheists of attacing “caricatures” for arguing against God (1) (a supernatural creator of the universe) rather than God (2).

    When people insist that you could have chosen differently than you did, they typically cheat by adding a hidden premise: “you could have chosen differently IF YOU WANTED TO”. However, this only begs the question: Could you have WANTED differently even if all prior causes (including the activities of the physical brain) had been absolutely identical? If the answer is yes, did you CHOOSE to want differently? And wouldn’t such a choice by definition require a will? The regress never ends.

    • Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

      However, this only begs the question: Could you have WANTED differently even if all prior causes (including the activities of the physical brain) had been absolutely identical?

      You seem to require a “yes” answer to that question, but the reason (so far as I can tell) for requiring a “yes” answer generates an infinite regress even if we never mention determinism: You freely choose A only if you freely choose at least one factor (call it ‘B’) that came before your choice of A; you freely choose B only if you freely choose at least one factor (call it ‘C’) that came before your choice of B, and so on. This requirement rules out free choice without even mentioning determinism or science; all we need is the commonsense assumption that you can make only finitely many choices in a finite time.

      So either: (1) Your requirement shows that the concept of free choice is incoherent, regardless of whether determinism is true; or else (2) Your requirement is no part of the concept of free choice. Why not (2)?

      • Bjarte Foshaug
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

        I don’t “require a yes answer”, but if the answer is no, then free will (1) can be ruled out on that basis alone. End of arguement.

        If on the other hand the answer is yes, you still get the problem of the infinite regress. Any argument for free will (1) requires something equivalent to baron von Münchhausen lifing himself up by his own hair.

        The argument against free will does not require a commitment to determinism which is why I never brought it up in the first place.

        • Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

          The argument against free will does not require a commitment to determinism which is why I never brought it up in the first place.

          Excellent. Thanks for the clarification. Dr. Coyne, as you know, seems to think that determinism is important to his argument against free choice. I take it that you and I agree it isn’t.

          So here’s the situation. Either (i) the concept of free choice requires what you call “free-will-(1),” in which case free choice is incoherent and impossible regardless of determinism; or (ii) the concept of free choice doesn’t require free-will-(1). Why not (ii), which is the compatibilist’s view?

          • Dan L.
            Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

            No, determinism does come in right here:

            When people insist that you could have chosen differently than you did, they typically cheat by adding a hidden premise: “you could have chosen differently IF YOU WANTED TO”. However, this only begs the question: Could you have WANTED differently even if all prior causes (including the activities of the physical brain) had been absolutely identical?

            If it’s true that you “couldn’t have wanted differently” then it is true by virtue of determinism.

            • Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

              Dan: I’m afraid you misunderstood my point. You wrote:

              If it’s true that you “couldn’t have wanted differently” then it is true by virtue of determinism.

              That’s fine. But my point was this: Why require that you could have wanted differently? If we do require that, then we can rule out free choice (as I did with my regress argument) without ever mentioning or alluding to determinism. All we need is the assumption that you can make only finitely many choices (or have only finitely many desires) in a finite time.

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

                Steve, this is the last thing I’m going to say to you because you are incredibly boorish.

                Determinism is required because if determinism is not true then one can choose differently even if all physical facts are the same.

                If you cannot see that then you have no business describing other people’s philosophical arguments as “bad.” I think you really need to get over yourself and accept that you can be wrong, miss things, etc.

            • Bjarte Foshaug
              Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

              Again, determinism only “comes in” if you presuppose that the answer is no (you could NOT have wanted differently), which I don’t. But even if you could have wanted differently (due to quantum indeterminacy etc.), this would lend exactly zero support to the notion of “free will” that people like Jerry, Sam Harris, Susan Blackmore and my humble self are criticizing. Accidentally happening to want (or choose) something does not constitute an act of free will.

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

                I’m not sure if you’re trying to argue with me and if so I’m not sure why since we seem to agree on pretty much every point.

              • Bjarte Foshaug
                Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

                Sorry, Dan. My mistake :)

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

                Oh, no problem. I like arguing usually. I just didn’t know how to rebut you when I essentially agree with you (except about determinism but obviously we’re having some trouble with that particular concept in this thread).

            • Tom
              Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

              Dan: Let me try to restate further what Steve has shown.

              Consider this principle:
              (P) If agent S’s choice C caused by a desire or preference (or some other causal antecedent of the choice) D is free, then S must have freely chosen (to have) D.

              Now isn’t it obvious that if we’re committed to (P), no finitely minded being can have free will, for reasons of infinite regress? And that this is true independently of whether determinism is true? (This, by the way, is a cousin of an argument by Galen Strawson for the impossibility of ultimate moral responsibility.) Notice that determinism itself does not support or undermine (P).

              In other words: determinism is irrelevant to whether (P) is true, and (P)’s truth alone would suffice to show that none of us have free will. If we accept (P), we have a shorter argument against free will than one that has to appeal to determinism. (I take it that this is what Steve is saying.)

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

                Determinism is not irrelevant to (P). This is very simple to see. If determinism is not true then the choice C does not need to be caused by D. If determinism is not true then D can cause some OTHER choice C’; also, C can be caused by some other desire, D’. You guys are all sneaking in determinism through the back door. I don’t need to commit to P unless determinism is true and that is what I’ve been arguing all along.

                There’s another reason why infinite regress doesn’t work here. Since we’re only alive for a finite amount of time any theory of free will must account for a first choice. But if we’re accounting for a first choice then there is no infinite regress. But I don’t even want to get into some stupid argument about the causal relationship between desires and choices.

                Why not? Because we don’t know enough about how the brain works to have those kinds of arguments. We don’t have a mechanics of choice so all we can do on this score is talk out our arses.

              • Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

                Tom: Thanks for the restatement. We can state the regress argument (as I did in my first reply to Bjarte Foshaug) even without using the words ’caused’ and ‘causal’. The argument, if it’s sound, shows that free choice is impossible. But my question has been, “Why regard it as sound?”

                Analogy: (1) No proper subset of a set S can have as many members as S has. (2) If there are infinitely many integers, then (1) is false (because there are as many even integers as there are integers). Therefore:(3) There aren’t infinitely many integers. That argument rules out the infinity of the integers, but only if we accept (1). Why not, instead, reject (1)? I ask the same question about the regress argument against free choice: why not reject its doubtful premise rather than accept its conclusion?

                (By the way, I hope you don’t get called “incredibly boorish” for restating the argument.)

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

                For the record, I called Steve “boorish” not for making an incorrect argument but for posturing. Steve:
                1) Used the word “bad” to describe Coyne’s argument without any qualification or admission that Steve himself might be mistaken on some point
                2) Seems to be demanding the Coyne do battle with the mighty Steve in the arena of analytical philosophy.
                Both are incredibly presumptuous.

                Furthermore, Steve’s argument which he claims does not invoke the notion of “cause” quite clearly does:
                You freely choose A only if you freely choose at least one factor (call it ‘B’) that came before your choice of A; you freely choose B only if you freely choose at least one factor (call it ‘C’) that came before your choice of B, and so on.

                This is a description of a causal chain. This implicitly assumes that causality and determinism are at work. “A must be caused by B” is an implicit assumption here; merely rephrasing as “must come before” doesn’t cut the mustard. If determinism is false then it is simply not true that B has to come before A. That is exactly what we mean by “determinism.”

                Steve’s wrongness on this point is a separate issue from his boorishness, however.

          • Bjarte Foshaug
            Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

            I think Jerry has made it very clear – including in the above post – that he accepts quantum indeterminacy and why it is simply irrelevant to his case againts free will.

            Even if quantum indeterminacy could somehow influence the outcome of a choice, this would only add an element of randomness to the process which is not controlled by the will. It doesn’t follow that your will ITSELF was the ultimate – uncaused – cause of that outcome. The human will is still rooted in the activity of the human brain, even if this activty is partially random. A choice is just another link in the causal chain (technically “causal web” is probably a better expression) – not the spontaneous origin of a new chain ex nihilo.

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

              Yes, I agree completely: even if quantum indeterminacy breaks determinism, it:
              a) doesn’t seem relevant at the scale of the mechanisms at work in the brain
              b) still wouldn’t constitute free will.

              But I’m not even sure quantum indeterminacy breaks determinism. Quantum indeterminacy (or really the uncertainty principle) is a theory about what we’re able to learn, not about what’s actually true.

              • Bjarte Foshaug
                Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

                I prefer to leave that particular discussion to people a lot smarter than myself.

              • Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

                Dan, I think most physicists nowadays would disagree with you. Double-slit experiments show interference patterns even when there is only one photon at a time in the experimental apparatus. The wave function does have some kind of reality, and the probabilities it generates are fundamental, not caused by ignorance (unlike the probabilities that come out of statistical mechanics).

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

                @Lou:

                Your example doesn’t contradict my thesis. When you do a “double slit experiment” you are making a measurement. My thesis is:

                it is possible that the indeterminacy of quantum experiments is caused by the measurement rather than by the thing being measured.

                So the statistical nature of the results of a double slit experiment may be caused by the measurement rather than the underlying reality. I’m not saying that this is definitely true, only that it is possible.

              • Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

                Maybe a clearer example would have been the nonlocality experiments testing Bell’s theorem. Or maybe better, the decay of a radioactive nucleus. That occurs randomly, almost regardless of what you happen to be doing to the nucleus.

              • Posted January 22, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

                The uncertainty relation certainly applies in the absence of measurement. Contrary to the recent reports, this has been known for decades. See, at the *latest*, the 1967 volume _Quantum Theory and Reality_, which has several papers which address this very topic.

                In fact, I believe one points out that even the name “uncertainty principle” is a misnomer.

                It is better to think of it sort of like this, from what I understand. In classical physics, properties like velocity and position are sharp: single-valued. Whereas in the quantum they are distributions in general. Incidentally, this is why all the stuff about realism is so wrongheaded: this is a perfectly realist interpretation, just not a classical one.

    • steve
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Bjarte,

      You are exactly right about people who for whatever reason, redefine the question at hand. I suspect this is done by those that would deny that free will does not in fact exist.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      What really annoys me are people (often other atheists who don’t believe in the ghost in the machine) who simply redefine “free will” as something else [let's call it "free will (2)"] – thereby changing the subject – and then go on to argue that your arguments against free will (1) are wrong because free will (2) exists (AS IF we were still talking about the same thing).

      I, on the other side, is really annoyed by people who simply merge the simple folk biology notion, let’s call it free will (0), with the philosophical notion of free will (1) and declare that “free will” does not exist and that free will (0) is a “mistaken” philosophical “compatibilist” notion. And long, complex sentences are annoying too.

      Of course free will exist, but not in the anti-science sense of (1). Rather it is an heuristic which is orthogonal science, and quite useful for modeling self and others. (Attributing simple notion of “free will” to complex agents instead of attributing “biology made them act according to a complex product of genes and environment”.) Heuristics exists.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        Let me be clear that existence and the usefulness of the heuristic is all I put on a stake here. See my earlier comment below, where I note that going after philosophy isn’t terribly useful for either science or atheism.

        Dualisms of philosophic “free will” type do not exist. Biology exists on a template of chemistry and physics, philosophic “free will” is unsubstantiated woo, and it is better to be upfront with that.

  4. Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne has yet to answer the question I asked in my comment on his previous post about free will:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/on-free-will-my-new-piece-in-usa-today/#comment-171033

    As far as I can tell from what he’s written, his claim that determinism rules out free choice is based on one or both of the conditions I labeled ‘C1′ and ‘C2′. But either of those conditions rules out free choice a priori, regardless of anything science says. In that case, there’s nothing scientific here, just a (bad) philosophical argument against the possibility of free choice.

    Now, there’s a third condition that just might be the basis for Dr. Coyne’s claim:

    (C3) I choose freely only if I’m consciously aware of every brain-process causally involved in my choice.

    Here’s the problem with C3. On the plausible assumption that I can be aware of a given brain-process only by way of some other brain-process, C3 generates an infinite regress, and so just like C1 and C2 it rules out free choice a priori, given that I can have only finitely many conscious experiences in a finite time. In this case again, there’s no new empirical science, just bad old philosophy.

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      Steve, why should Jerry argue with you? You’re arguing the same thing he is: that the commonsense notion of free will is incoherent. You agree with Jerry.

      You seem to think there’s a better formulation of free will than the one you criticize but you don’t mention it explicitly. But even if you did, Jerry would just say, “But that’s not free will as most people understand it.” You’re really straining to find a point of disagreement, here.

      • Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        Dan: I’m accusing Dr. Coyne of putting old (and bad) wine in new bottles — pretending that a bad philosophical argument against the possibility of free choice (a) has anything to do with determinism and (b) gains support from science. Please see my replies to Bjarte Foshaug above.

        • Dan L.
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

          You’re wrong there too as I just pointed out. Coyne’s making valid arguments against incoherent ideas. I’m not sure why you have a problem with that.

  5. jay
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    In all the pro ‘free will’ arguments I have seen, none has successfully defined how we would logically or experimentally differentiate ‘free will’ from a deterministic system with a quantum randomizer.

    Yet they talk about free will in dualistic terms, like it’s something special.

  6. Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    I love the point about replacing “moral responcibility” with something that is better defined.

    And I think the way Jerry argues absence of free will is useful if only to promote such outcome.

    In the end all our communications matter – they shape our brains and affect our actions. EAnd my personal experience shows to me that understanding the absance of free will in conventional sense improves the feeling of being in charge of ones own decisions and ghighlights the value of different points of view: one always wants to expose the brain to various ways of arguing the piont because one can never know how his/hers subconscious is going to use this information

  7. Dan L.
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    physical determinism (which appears to be contradicted by physics itself, particularly quantum mechanics); and the non-existence of true emergent properties (i.e., of emergent behavior that actually is qualitatively novel, and doesn’t simply appear to be so because of our epistemic limitations)

    Pigliucci is stretching it here:
    1. physical determinism is not necessarily contradicted by quantum mechanics. He knows he’s overstating his case here, that’s why he uses the word “appears.” He can’t even begin to make the case for this.
    2. “Emergent” is pretty much meaningless. Compare all the phenomena described as “emergent” looking for commonalities. You won’t find many. “Emergent” means essentially “something I don’t understand.”

    • Posted January 22, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      Here a less mysterian notion of emergence (e.g. that of Mario Bunge) would help clarify matters. This notion is *purely* ontological: emergent properties are “merely” novel ones produced by assembly of simpler systems. This says *absolutely nothing* about how we’d predict, know, etc. them, which are epistemic notions. In fact, one of his recent books argues that some of the most interesting scientific problems are precisely trying to understand cases of emergence: e.g. mental properties from biological ones, social ones from systems of psychological entities and so forth.

      Of course, this notion of emergence is not *likely* to get anything Pigliucci wants per se …

  8. Michieux
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    While I’m no academic, your argument rings true to me. Let me explain.

    I grew up in a conventionally dysfunctional family. I learned to call it that through reading about a great many other such families, who were ‘diagnosed’ as dysfunctional by actual academics.

    The families I read about all had a member, or members, who had fallen foul of the law, usually in very egregious ways (read serial killers and sundry other murderers: people generally placed under the rubric of ‘just plain bad’).

    None of these miscreants came from what we regard as a ‘normal’ upbringing; all came from circumstances many if not most would consider hellish, which included such delights as abject poverty (emotional, fiscal, and spiritual), physical and ‘mental’ abuse, and a litany of crap many readers wouldn’t believe.

    It seems to me that societies generally have used religion, first and foremost, as justification for judging the ‘outputs’ of such dysfunctional ‘inputs’, allowing the self-righteous to point the finger and dole out suitable punishment, while denying all responsibility for conditions they helped, and continue to help, create. (I note that the US state of Texas is nonpareil in executing the ‘just plain bad’.)

    I hope that coming to an understanding of just how ‘unfree’ our wills are may lead some to revise their opinions and voting behavior when it comes to consideration of those less fortunate than themselves.

  9. Peter
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I’ve realized since Jerry’s last post that contra-causal free will is relevant to one situation people think about:

    Why can an omniscient, omnipotent god hold people morally responsible for things that god should have seen coming, and could have stopped?

    Some people appeal to (contra-causal) free will to give god a pass on that.

    However, free will comes up in other things people think about, and I’ve yet to hear anyone plausibly argue that contra-causality is important to any of those other concepts of free will. For example:
    -contra-causality is irrelevant to secular justice
    -contra-causality is irrelevant to rejecting fatalism/nihilism
    -contra-causality is irrelevant to whether we really make choices, or whether we can make choices, or whether our choices reflect our values

    An outright rejection of “free-will” because it lacks one property that might be important for one fantastical situation seems silly to me.

  10. eric
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    One is to give up the idea of punishment as retribution…second, and more important, [I make such a prescription because] such arguments do affect people, and can influence their decisions.

    Your social policy position does not at all follow from your ‘no free will’ position. After all, punishment as retribution can influence people’s decisions the same way arguments can.

    As I understand it, you make a prescriptive argument because you think that while [x action] may not influence people’s free will (because they don’t have any), [x action] will influence other people’s actions because its still empirical input into the machine. You argue this is true when [x action] = an argument. But it will be just as true when [x action] = punishment.

    In short, your position on free will provides no support whatsoever for any particular judicial public policy position, because all responses to crime – punishment, argument, or a hug – empirically affect our non-free brains.

    • jay
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      Exactly. Learning does NOT require free will. Avoiding harm does not require free will… a fully deterministic computer program in a robot can learn to avoid damaging or negative situations. Punishment can work the same way.

    • Jer
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      Coyne has already said before that he doesn’t think that getting rid of punishment is an outcome of the elimination of free will – he says that getting rid of the idea of punishment as a form of retribution is the outcome. That punishment cannot be seen as anything except behavior modification, since the individual cannot be held “responsible” for his/her actions because those actions were already determined.

      Since punishment would be a set of inputs into the system that could alter body chemistry, I think Coyne would have to be an idiot to think that at least certain kinds of punishment couldn’t work to change that body chemistry. It’s just that this view of determinism removes the “let the punishment fit the crime” aspect of punishment and makes “punishment” completely about behavior modification, not about eye for an eye or anything like that.

      • eric
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

        he [Coyne] says that getting rid of the idea of punishment as a form of retribution is the outcome. That punishment cannot be seen as anything except behavior modification.

        If the unfree public, victims, and perps all see the State performing acts of retribution, this empirical data will affect the unfree public’s, victim’s, and perp’s future actions just as much as argument will.

        The only viable way I see for you or Jerry to argue against retribution as public policy is to show that unfreewilled people do not use retributive acts as input the same way they do other empirical inputs. And AFAIK, you have not shown that.

        • Xuuths
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          No, eric, if there is only determinism, and no choices, then it is not possible for you to make any actions — you only react based on prior states and reactions.

          No choices, no judgment, no punishment, no learning. Only the illusion of being conscious of the experiences as they happen without any actual input of your own.

          If Dr. Coyne is right (and I do not believe he is), you can’t possibly provide input of your own — there is no “you” and your molecules can only react so there is no “input”.

          All of his language demonstrates that he doesn’t actually believe that he makes no choices — the same with all the other posters who claim not to believe in ‘free will.’

          • steve
            Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

            Xuuths,

            Free will is only an illusion. This I truly believe. There is no freedom to human will.

            • Xuuths
              Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

              steve, your illusion of consciousness is experiencing the reactions from previous reactions (going back to the Big Bang) that cause a reaction that forces you to type that you ‘believe’ something.

              For the reasons that you don’t believe in free will, you also have to concede that you are incapable of ‘believing’ anything, also that there is no ‘you’ aside from the collection of atoms.

              Sorry, but it is internally inconsistent.

  11. Barbara
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    I think Massimo has one small thing right. You’ve often argued “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.”

    However, that’s totally not a practical test. You have other good arguments, so drop this idea.

    You have to realize you should; you dropped it and ran off in other directions when responding to Massimo about this.

    • steve
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      To be fair, it ought not be up to the Non-Free Willist to define what free will is.

      It is the Free Willist that asserts the existence of free will, so that rightly places the job of defining on them.

      As it turns out, free will defies definition, even for the staunchest of free willists.
      Definitions such as “FW is being able to do what you want to do” or “FW is making reasoned decisions”, or “FW is what the person wills absent of external compulsions”, are often offered up by FWists. FWists that apparently are ignorant of historically correct notion of FW… the concept libertarian free will or contra-causal free will, that has been used as the foundation for moral culpability/blame/responsibility. But even those FWists that know enough to know that free will means libertarian free will, stumble when they are pressed to define just what they are asserting.

    • Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      As Steve implies, the issue is not one of testability, but of identifying various definitions of FW to which people out there hold, regardless of whether FW exists or not.

      The use of the phrase “test of free will” is perhaps ill-advised. Coyne is only trying to describe the incoherent conception of FW many people have. The hypothesis that many people hold this conception of FW is eminently testable: simply go out and ask a bunch of people!

  12. Lotharloo
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    First—and to me this is the decisive one—our brains are made of molecules. Molecules (and the neurons they make up) must obey the laws of physics. Our “decisions” are made by brains. Therefore our brains must obey the laws of physics.

    I completely agree. Either all our decisions are natural consequences of laws of physics or the laws of physics are being violated in our brains all the time and for all the people. The latter is clearly an extraordinary claim and you know what they say about extraordinary claims.

    • Posted January 22, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      Worse, conservation laws used as an objection to such things is an old story – it was raised even (in a nacient form) to Descartes!

  13. Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Nah, this whole discussion is not going to make anything go away, not even religious precepts that depend on free will. For that to happen you would have to disprove the existence of the soul, and you will never be able to do that in any compelling easy to understand manner. The “rewind the tape” thought experiment is okay, but you get a different answer if you believe in dualism, so it is not useful to disprove dualism.

    Furthermore, the tape can indeed play out differently, depending on how far back it is rewound. There is no “moment the decision is made”, it is all a process that takes time, with no specific starting point. It all goes into setting the state of your brain, no matter how far back you go. Eventually you will reach a point where those random quantum effects will indeed affect the subsequent state and result (at least potentially) in a different outcome. It doesn’t matter if quantum effects are even involved in how your brain works, it just changes how long back you need to go. An hour, a month, a year, a decade, eventually you will reach a point where the outcome will be different.

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Actually, neuroscience provides plenty of compelling evidence against the common notion of a “soul.” Dualists can always make ad hoc redefinitions of “soul” to avoid running afoul of the neuropathological evidence that has essentially disproved the existence of souls since the case of Phineas Gage but that’s no different from the way theologians redefine God to protect the idea from scientific discoveries (and end up with the Incredible Shrinking God).

      If you can get a dualist to commit to a definition of soul that makes predictions about the real world then you can disprove it. The problem is getting a dualist to commit to anything in the first place.

      • Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        Right. Never gonna happen. Most people whose religion implicitly support dualism are not going to bother. You are not going to even make a dent in their worldview with these arguments.

        • Dan L.
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

          Prove it. :)

          Fact is a lot of people DO start to revise their worldview when exposed to evidence from neuroscience. I know this from first-hand experience.

          • Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

            That’s easy. It is analogous with the idea of God. Most people come to religion from their childhood teachings. Most will not deal with the contradictions between what they believe and what they know. This is the fundamental cognitive dissonance. When they are subjected to the contradictions, they obtain plausible deniability by adjusting their definitions during the discussions and then going back to their old ideas when the discussion is over.

            This is the standard “you can’t prove God doesn’t exist” argument. People will fall back on that argument, even though their day-to-day idea of God is indeed falsifiable. They will totally believe that God answers prayers and performs miracles all the time, but when confronted, they will happily trot out the ineffable God that has no current interactions with nature. Then when you are gone, out comes the intercessionary God again.

            The same works for the soul. They will happily imagine that their self-image is actually their soul. When confronted with the fact that there is no mechanism by which the soal can interact with the physical body, it suddenly becomes a spiritual entity that doesn’t interact on the physical realm. Until you leave that is.

            Now, of course there are some people that will be influenced, but these are questions that most people are just going to ignore because it is very easy to ignore.

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

              Now, of course there are some people that will be influenced, but these are questions that most people are just going to ignore because it is very easy to ignore.

              First you said “never gonna happen.” Now you’re saying sometimes it will happen. I suspect this discussion may not be going anywhere.

              • Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

                No, you misunderstand. I do not think that no one will be influenced, of course some people will. My “never gonna happen” was a comment on the statement that Jerry made:
                …”many important religious precepts depend on free will, and those will go away if free will is an illusion.”

                They will not go away just because the definition of free will we are using (the tape re-wound conscious mind free will) means that free will does not exist.

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

                I agree to some extent that it’s not quite as simple as showing everyone the evidence. But as long as doing so convinces some people then it’s worth making these arguments. I don’t expect the whole house of cards to tumble down just because of a few neuroscience experiments but I don’t think anyone really thinks it will.

                Those most willing to critically examine their beliefs are probably going to be some of the more intellectually inclined dualists. These are the people who lend the best intellectual support to the concept of dualism. This weakens the foundations of dualistic belief without necessarily collapsing the whole edifice. As fewer and fewer people agree that dualism is reasonable those who cling to it by making ad hoc defenses look more and more unreasonable and it becomes easier and easier to convince people to critically examine dualistic beliefs.

                I picked up on a thread in your comment that I interpreted as a kind of fatalism: that it’s not worth even talking about this stuff because you can’t convince anybody of anything. I don’t believe that and I find that attitude counterproductive. However, this might not have been what you were trying to say. I apologize if I misinterpreted you.

    • Lotharloo
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      Concept of “soul” is already doomed: we know that electrical signals is what makes our muscles move. If a supernatural entity is responsible for our actions then it follows that a supernatural entity is interfering with our bodies and is creating such electrical signal; regardless of it being done directly or indirectly, it follows that a supernatural entity is violating the laws of physics and has physiological impacts. And that claim flies in the face of all the advances in biology and physics.

      • Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        Nope. That is according to your definition of “soul”. Like the definition of “God”, it is not the same definition as that used by true believers. And it doesn’t matter what your definition is, either. Like pornography, God and Soul are defined by “I know it when I see it”. If you can disprove it, then that wasn’t the definition they are using. Even if it is the definition they are using.

        • Lotharloo
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

          Right, it would nice if you can come up with “alternate” definition that is marginally mainstream. The fact is the majority of the believers, accept the literal existence of various goofy things rejected by science. Playing definition games does not help your argument.

          • Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

            I don’t have one. But as long as there is disagreement between definitions such that the answer can be “yes” or “no” depending on your choice without some one definition being compelling to most people, the argument is simply not going to do much to change the world. The majority of people are not going to change their world view if they do not have compelling evidence. They may not even if there was, but certainly not if there isn’t.

        • Lotharloo
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

          And if you speak to the believers, when presented with scientific arguments against soul, they do not play definition games. They blame the science. They either claim in time science will support them, or science will discover “soul”, or that science has been “wrong” in the past so it will always be “wrong” and etc. I have never encountered a believer who would change his/her definition of soul.

          • Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

            I meet them all the time. It is not the definition that is really changing though. Every believer has to reconcile it in some way. Most just choose to ignore the problem. Many religion have a judgement of the soul when you die. This implies that the soul must direct the body. So, on a day to day basis, most believers say “soul”, but describe “mind”. When it is pointed out that the mind is part of the body and doesn’t have an independent existence, that is when they fall back on the normal attributes of the soul and give up on the mind. But they will almost certainly go back to thinking in terms of the mind again when the argument is over. Most people don’t think that they are changing anything here, they just go with the flow.

  14. Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    3 points, some of which have been touched on in earlier comments:

    “If you choose vanilla rather than strawberry at an ice cream store because your neurons and taste buds have determined that in advance, in what sense is the decision ‘free’?”

    The choice is free in the uncontroversial sense that I wasn’t compelled by anyone else to choose as I did, rather the choice was my *own* doing, caused by *my* preferences and deliberative capacities. Everyone wants to be free in this sense, but many are not in many aspects of their lives.

    “We are not powerless, though all of our behaviors—including whether we’re susceptible to the ministrations of others—are determined.”

    Exactly so, which is why you should retract the statement in your USA Today piece that “The ineluctable scientific conclusion is that although we feel that we’re characters in the play of our lives, rewriting our parts as we go along, in reality we’re puppets performing scripted parts written by the laws of physics.” Puppets don’t have powers, but we do, and it’s critical that people not suppose that naturalism implies puppethood. We’re just as powerful and causally effective as the factors that create us and the causal laws to which we necessarily conform in our behavior, including the laws of physics.

    “And we really must rethink the idea of moral responsibility in a world in which there may not be free will. Perhaps we can dispense with the idea of moral responsibility along with the idea of [contra-causal] free will! That may be radical, but it may also be sensible.”

    Yes! I hope people will read Bruce Waller’s excellent new book “Against Moral Responsibility” in which he shows the eminent good sense of abandoning our hugely damaging moral responsibility system, while retaining morality, responsibility (there are other varieties besides moral responsibility), and self-efficacy, http://www.amazon.com/Against-Moral-Responsibility-Bruce-Waller/dp/0262016591

    • Lyndon
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Tom,

      I think language and people’s conceptions get fuzzy.

      Take the puppet problem and the difference between being overtly compelled by a man at gunpoint as opposed to “freely” giving your money to a man on the street (without any overt compelling). The difference would be like two different puppets. In the first there is say 10 strings attached to our puppet that moves this individual’s body in a fairly overt fashion; in the latter case there is 100,000 strings not hooked up to body parts but connected to structures in the puppet’s head that subsequently, and complexly, compels the puppet.

      I, and Coyne and Sam, call both these situations puppets, for good reasons.

      Your speaking about power is also confusing. The latter puppet does not somehow control those 100,000 strings, she does not somehow cut or re-arrange those strings. If one of those strings wobbles because of quantum indeterminacy it is also not a gain of control or “power,” as we all agree. The puppet, which is what we are, is only as powerful as its strings. Our strings happen to be immense; and with better focus on building better selves, those strings become even more useful.

      It is only by continuing to abstract the agent (the individual, the puppet, us) out of the causal structure that it makes sense to say that we have a “power” and non-puppet-hood. Yes, our brains made us the universe’s greatest puppets, with qualities and characteristics and representational structures and linguistic framings, but nowhere do we step outside of puppet-hood, so to speak, nor gain a “power” without qualifying what we mean by power. When it comes to decision-making, the “power” that most people believe they excercise is not like that of Deep Blue deciding a chess move or Watson deciding on an answer, but in the end our “powers” and choices reduce to such, even those deciding on what our future self should be.

      • Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        Lyndon,

        You have two types of puppets going, one controlled by a few external strings, the other by its own complex inner workings. But why call an entity that’s controlled by its inner workings a puppet? That’s to erase the original distinction between being a puppet (exclusively controlled by external forces like strings) and being an autonomous, self-controlled entity (acting by dint of its own behavior control processes). Of course the autonomous entity doesn’t directly control its inner workings, since it *is* those inner workings (although we do exert indirect recursive self-control in many respects, as you suggest in “building better selves”). But for the same reason this also means it isn’t at the mercy of those workings, it isn’t being pushed around by them as Jerry seems to think (see my reply to him at #1). And these workings give it its own power, as you and Jerry both admit. So imo to call ourselves puppets is to deeply mis-characterize ourselves, just as it’s deeply mistaken to say we have contra-causal freedom. Saying that causation makes us puppets is not only false, but sets back the cause of naturalism badly since people really don’t want to be reduced to marionettes.

        To recognize ourselves as autonomous agents isn’t to arbitrarily or illicitly “abstract the agent out of the causal structure”, but to admit that there’s a real distinction between the person and her environment. We don’t step out of the causal stream, but the stream has robustly identifiable, stable macro-complexes, some of which constitute us. That our powers might ultimately reduce to the powers of Deep Blue or Watson doesn’t obliterate the very real distinction between naturalistic autonomy and puppethood – having no internal behavior-guiding control capacities.

        • steve
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

          But why call an entity that’s controlled by its inner workings a puppet?

          I’ll tell you why. The reason is there are people who think they (and not only their self but they think all humans) have libertarian free will (and guide/direct/set policy based upon this belief)… and so because they do, they deserve to be held morally culpable.
          So. we are forced to be quite clear that there are no “stringless” moves that anyone can make.

          People are actors, not agents.

          • Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

            Much better that we tell these people what’s actually the case: that they don’t have libertarian free will, and therefore aren’t deserving of retributive (non-consequentialist) punishment, while reminding them they still have all the causal powers they’ve been exercising all along, so aren’t mere puppets of circumstances or of other people’s bidding. Saying this, we’re being clear, not misleading, about human agency and we won’t set back the cause of naturalism.

        • Lyndon
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

          Tom,

          Are you okay calling Watson a “puppet”?

          Coyne and Harris, obviously, are using “puppet” in a similar way to the calling of a complex machine a puppet. There are complex, internal, and autonomous structures within machines. Yes, there are internal machinations, that is, massively complex internal “strings” that consistently interact and are shaped by new external strings. And humans are more complex than any machine we have touched, and have programming and structures for self-structuring and self-organizations, but nowhere do we escape the “puppet” or machine dynamic. There is no more reason to fear that analysis than to fear the analysis that we evolved from apes: it is a fact we will have to get used to, individually and as a society.

          I think, here, you are still glossing the crux of the problem:

          “But for the same reason this also means it isn’t at the mercy of those workings, it isn’t being pushed around by them as Jerry seems to think (see my reply to him at #1).”

          The self (“it”) is at the “mercy” of its strings, whether external or internal. Psychologically the self prefers internal strings to external, such preferences being structured by “strings” as well. It (the self) is being pushed around by its strings, mostly internal, there is no plausible way to escape that. Some of those strings, the more complicated and human ones, pose counterfactuals about one’s own self, about ones own behavior, and changes the self (the strings) thereby: but those are still just a complicated pattern of strings or machine-like decision making.

          The discourse here should be about upsetting the folk psychological and naive phenomenological beliefs about the self and what we do when we choose or act. Admitting that we are machines, which I would probably prefer to puppet, is the best place to start.

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

            Ok, if you want to talk about our being mechanical in the sense of algorithmic, determined, etc. that’s fine, nothing to be afraid of. But to say that not having contra-causal freedom makes us puppets is to obliterate a very important distinction in the natural world, between autonomous, self-guiding creatures (such as robots are gradually becoming, so no, Watson ain’t no puppet) and entities that have no internal behavior-guiding resources.

            And I don’t see why you and Jerry stand by the claim that the self is coerced or pushed around by it’s own characteristics or desires. To say that obliterates yet another crucial distinction: between acting on one’s own desires (an important type of freedom) and being compelled by external agents or forces.

            What seems to be going on is that in denying contra-causal free will (CCRW), you’re partaking of the supernaturalist libertarian reaction to its loss: that our natural freedoms and control capacities don’t count for much in comparison with supernatural freedom. In correcting people’s understanding of human agency, we don’t want to forget about our real powers.

            • Lyndon
              Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

              Tom,

              Distinctions are fine to make, and should be made. Language, and all the connotations that surround certain words is difficult to reflect on and draw out what those connotations are doing to us. Which is why yearning to keep the word “autonomy” in the picture, e.g., can be problematic.

              Take two simple “puppets,” to hypsostatize our example. One you pull on a string, and it lifts up. The other you pull on a string, and three internal strings that interact in some specific way, then make it lift up. If we wish to understand the situation, to describe what is happening, of course we need to describe ALL of the physical machinations, including the internal strings on the latter. The distinction between outside (direct) compulsion and internal compulsion (Compatibilist freedom worth saving) is a distinction that should be made. Applying the term “autonomy” to the latter, necessary smuggles in the connotations that attach to “autonomy” and fails to describe the situation in the best way to describe it. Coyne makes the distinction between external compulsion and internal compulsion in every article he’s written, that I’ve seen. But “acting on one’s own desires” is just another form of strings. You may value the strings that make you you, and they may be good strings for building good societies, but they are still strings.

              Coyne and Harris use “puppet,” again obviously to anyone reading their pieces, because the properties that we once described to those internal machinations work in a more “puppet” or machine like fashion, such as in the second puppet above, than like the categories that folk psychology describes to the inner workings of the human brain/mind.

              • Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

                “Applying the term “autonomy” to the latter, necessary smuggles in the connotations that attach to “autonomy” and fails to describe the situation in the best way to describe it.”

                I don’t agree, since there are perfectly naturalistic notions of autonomy that capture the distinctions we are making quite well, as for instance explored by Bruce Waller in The Natural Selection of Autonomy (see my review at http://www.naturalism.org/reviews.htm#Waller So long as we warn people, as we do, that we’re not talking about contra-causal freedom, then there’s no problem in talking about autonomy.

                “But “acting on one’s own desires” is just another form of strings.”

                Not so, since strings are external and control the puppet, which has no internal control mechanisms, whereas acting on one’s own desires is a matter of internal mechanisms guiding one’s behavior. To claim that these are equivalent is to erase a crucial, robust distinction that’s everywhere in the natural world where self-controlled mobile creatures (and robots) exist. We needn’t and shouldn’t erase it in making the important point we don’t have contra-causal freedom when correcting folk psychology.

              • Lyndon
                Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

                My example above was supposed to show that the distinction between external and internal can become rather banal. It is for a similar reason that Coyne and Harris call humans puppets, not because they are externally controlled but because of the properties of the internal strings. The internal structure is extremely complex for humans but not dynamically different than “string-like” manipulation.

                In the example above, where you have a simple one-to-one puppet as opposed to a puppet that has a one-to-four component, where one pull of the external string will move 4 internal ones, though there is an “internal” structure to the second puppet, we would probably all still call this a puppet or a toy, or whatever it is. Things get far messier for humans, including environment/innate factors that can take years to “internally” digest, where multiple outside (environment and innate) strings combine to form inner strings that combine to create ever more complex structures, but nothing about the internal structure of humans and the properties it grants us takes us out of that dynamic.

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

                Lastly, and I have enjoyed our discussion by the way, connotations are not something we choose as individuals, as philosophers, for our society. It is why most people here accept that Compatibilists pulled a sleight of hand and recognize that it is problematic to go around saying “that of course you have free will.”

                The most important thing I think we should be doing with our language is undermining its reified nature, helping us reflect on what it does to our self and our conceptions and our understandings of the world. Where language and concepts can be used in a more non-obscuring way, we should be doing so.

            • steve
              Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

              And I don’t see why you and Jerry stand by the claim that the self is coerced or pushed around by it’s own characteristics or desires.

              It’s not that the self is coerced or pushed around by it’s own characteristics/desires, it’s the the self is coerced or pushed around by the self’s heredity and environmental inputs. (Oh wait, the self is a resultant of the self’s herdity and environment… so it’s all the thing and it means the same thing after all.)

              • Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

                Right, the self isn’t self created; it’s a function of its environment and heredity. But having been “pushed around” by the factors that created it, it then equally gets to push around other things according to its motives and desires. It’s just as causally effective as the factors that created it. You can’t logically attribute power to one and not the other. Puppets on the other hand, push nothing around since they don’t have any capacity to do so.

                Glad we agree that “It’s not that the self is coerced or pushed around by it’s own characteristics/desires” which is what Jerry seems to think in #1 above.

    • steve
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      The choice is free in the uncontroversial sense that I wasn’t compelled by anyone else to choose as I did, rather the choice was my *own* doing, caused by *my* preferences and deliberative capacities. Everyone wants to be free in this sense, but many are not in many aspects of their lives.

      But it is not libertarianly free, which is what FWists mean when they refer to a choice being a FW choice. Come on Tom, let us NFWists not confuse the language of this dialog as compatibilists are want to do. Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone longs to be free in the legal sense of the word… but the real question is how people believe themselves to be (libertarianly free). The issue at hand is not the issue as to how much legal freedom an individual has, but how much contra-causal free will… which is zero, zilch, nada… man only has the illusion of libertarian free will.

      Puppets don’t have powers, but we do, and it’s critical that people not suppose that naturalism implies puppethood. We’re just as powerful and causally effective as the factors that create us and the causal laws to which we necessarily conform in our behavior, including the laws of physics.

      But puppets have the same kind of power we have. Puppet limbs move about directed by strings, our limbs move about directed by the chain of events that make up our matrix of determinants. While we may be causally effective, that effectiveness does not originate with us exactly because of the causal laws. As for naturalism, I thought the question at hand was the illusion of free will, not the bigger question of naturalism. Why conflate the two?

      • Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        I agree that it’s important to disabuse people of the notion they have contra-causal freedom, something I’ve been doing for years. But it’s equally important for people not to draw the wrong conclusions from this, see “Encountering naturalism: common errors and exaggerations” at http://www.naturalism.org/resource.htm#Encounter

        I whole-heartedly agree that our effectiveness does not *originate* with us, but that doesn’t mean we’re not effective agents with lots of internal behavior control resources, what puppets patently don’t have. Sometime have a look at Bruce Waller’s book, The Natural Selection of Autonomy, reviewed at http://www.naturalism.org/reviews.htm#Waller Here’s a quote from the review relevant to this point:

        “In his discussions of free will, Waller demonstrates that it is possible to have real autonomy (the capacity to select among anticipated alternatives) and real authenticity (the capacity to form deep, character-based commitments) without supposing that we have a “miraculous freedom from environmental influences and past causal history.” The freedom most of us normally have isn’t a “libertarian mysterious choice” but a high degree of naturally given cognitive flexibility, operating within the constraints of our naturally derived character and our available options. We can explain this freedom, naturalistically and deterministically, as the fortunate outcome of how we’ve been shaped by biological and environmental contingencies, just as we can explain the relative lack of freedom of those with limited flexibility (e.g., drug addicts, schizophrenics) as the unfortunate outcomes of different contingencies. This means that there’s no “true self” or essential self-constructing agency within the individual that’s responsible for being free (or unfree) in this naturalistic sense.”

        And I’m not conflating the issue of free will with naturalism, only pointing out how misconstruals of what science and naturalism says about human freedom can set back the cause of promoting science and naturalism, which is what I assume is among Jerry’s objectives in hosting this bl-, er, website.

    • Posted January 22, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      I too enjoyed Waller’s book, but I think it was a bit hasty in the actual argument against moral responsibility. It reads like some of my stuff, where instead of positive arguments, the arguments against are demolished instead. (A Nietzschian flavour, which is weird, at least in my case.)

  15. Rob
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    We do have a close approximation of the re-winding the tape situation. It’s called transient global amnesia. People with this condition repeat the exact series of phrases over and over like a broken record.

    For a fantastic demonstration of this, listen to the RadioLab podcast episode “Loops”.

    It would be hard to believe in free will as defined by Coyne after listening to that episode.

    • Audrey
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      I was going to bring up this same example. After listening to the “Loops” episode, I couldn’t help but think it was potentially convincing evidence against free will.

    • Posted January 19, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Great spot. Here’s the link:

      http://www.radiolab.org/2011/oct/04/

  16. Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    The brain has been shown to be malleable, and we can decide to change our brain by learning, practicing, etc. We can also risk destroying our brain by drinking alcohol to excess or riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Therefore, we are in charge of our brains.

    and I feel compelled to quote Emo Phillips here:

    “Sometimes I think the brain is the most important organ in the body… and then I realize, look what’s telling me that!”

  17. Neil
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Lets start by agreeing that one’s physical brain state determines what we do (reconstruct the brain state and you will get the same action) and that what we do can affect what others do by changing their environmental state.

    Strange, don’t you think, that I can, to some degree, control what others do, but not what I can do? But, of course, we can control what we do.

    We can agree that what we do now will affect what we will do in the future, because our current actions change our own environmental state. But, and I think this is the key point, we do not have to take physical (non-brain) actions to affect our future actions–we can simulate the results of our actions in our brains. (If I do X, then Y will happen,etc…)

    In other words, our “free will” consists of the fact that, by contemplating the results of any actions we may take, we change our brain state, and therefore what we do. In the end, JAC is right, our brain state determines what we do, but our brain can change its brain state. We change the physical state of our brain when we memorize a phone number.

    No one is claiming any supernatural force here. The brain is a computer which does not exist in artificial form (yet). It is a computer that can rewrite its programming based on the results derived from its existing programming.

    It is this strange loop, not yet fully understood, that leads me to think that something like free will (I prefer to call it volition) is compatible with physics.

    • Neil
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      This was meant to be a reply, in agreement, with that of LadyAtheist preceding.

    • Xuuths
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      Neil, your first paragraph contradicts your second.

      • Neil
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        Xuuths,

        How exactly?

    • steve oberski
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      If you are controlling what others do then by definition others are controlling what you do.

      So where does this “strange loop” lead us ?

      I interpret what you are saying to mean that our pre-determined outputs can be used as inputs both by others and ourselves.

      Other than increasing the complexity of the system I can’t see that there are any new properties at work here.

      • steve
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        Steve,
        What Neil overlooks is that his “what we do” is done without libertarian free will. If he had properly formulated his statement by saying, “that which we are fully caused to do can affect what others do by changing their environmental state” He would not have ended up with his mistaken conclusion.

  18. Cooperator
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I think on (1) the corect way to look at the analogy with coin flips is that saying we don’t have free will is like saying a coin flip isn’t random. It’s true, but somehow irrelevent.

    • steve
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Wrong… you aren’t talking about what is really being talked about regarding free will.

  19. Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Does free will matter? Isn’t the illusion of free will (since we don’t know how different variables will influence our “choice”) good enough?

    • derekw
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Does free will matter? Isn’t the illusion of free will (since we don’t know how different variables will influence our “choice”) good enough?
      I think this raises the argument from the ‘nit-picky’ to the heart of the matter. If by all accounts we feel and believe we are ‘free agents’ then we therefore can take responsibility for our actions. So then is our guilt ‘real’ or an ‘illusion?’ Not sure how to get out from under that heavy burden.

      • steve
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        If by all accounts we feel and believe we are ‘free agents’ then we therefore can take responsibility for our actions.

        No, it is not enough that we have an illusion of being free agents, we would have to be actual free agents.

        So then is our guilt ‘real’ or an ‘illusion?’

        The guilt is real, but it is an invalid guilt because it is based upon an illusion.

    • steve
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      No, Christopher, it isn’t.

      Thinking that another person “could have done otherwise” based upon the illusion that they could have is not the same as if they really could have done otherwise. Period.

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        No, steve, there can be no ‘guilt’ without the ability to do more than react — and you appear to believe there is no ‘free will’, hence, no ability to do more than react.

        Too many people don’t think through the ramifications of this process.

        I believe ‘free will’ is like ‘solid’ or ‘wet’ or ‘temperature’ — an emergent property based in the underlying physics.

        • steve
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

          Xuuths,

          Sure guilt can be based upon the illusion of free will.

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

            Then guilt itself is an illusion and has no efficacy. Then if you feel guilty about something you have no means to make amends or to change your behavior. It is what it is.

            This is simply the case for the no-free-will position. You’ll have to deal with it, and I haven’t seen anyone deal with it so far.

            • steve
              Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

              What to you expect to see in the way of “dealing with it”?

  20. Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I think the puzzle about free will occurs as follows:

    1] For most people it just seems as if they have free will. Although their lives may be incredibly restricted by circumstances, it just seems as if they are making free decisions within those restrictions from moment to moment. It could be said that they live their lives as if they had free will.

    2] Most people who reflect on the nature of physical reality come to the conclusion that free will must be impossible. This is only indirectly connected with determinism. It’s not easy to see how one could have free will in a totally chaotic universe, or indeed in any universe that can be described in an objective way.

    But note:

    3] There are those who, for religious or other reasons, fervently wish to believe either that they do have free will or that they do not have free will.

    I think [3] explains why it is such a “hot” topic of debate. To me it hardly seems to matter; the universe doesn’t have to be the way I want it to be and whatever way it turns out I have no choice in the matter.

  21. Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Again, Jerry ignores the fact that our qualia/thoughts/awareness cannot be explained physically, so he just ignores it’s utility or reason for being in the first place.

    Obviously, you don’t know all the physics behind our consciousness, nobody does, but something extremely important it taking place and it is presumptuous to ignore its place in the process.

    Something we don’t understand is taking place, of a magnitude indicative of extreme importance. You don’t know how it works, Jerry, let alone that it is extraneous or not.

    The answer is twofold. First, I make such arguments because I cannot do otherwise: this is what I have been conditioned to do by my genes and my personal history.

    This is meaningless, Jerry. It is circular, a tautology. I argue that I have no free will because I have no free will! – a child knows better, you might as well just say, “because, that’s why.”

    such arguments do affect people, and can influence their decisions.

    ???? You argue for intent, which you say we don’t have. How are we supposed to change our approach to morality and accountability without a decision to make that change? Aren’t you always insisting that our thoughts are merely emergent and therefore of no consequence as regards intentional choice?

    One more: What exactly are you trying to accomplish by repeatedly parroting the 6 second observation over and over? You cannot think we primarily and continuously operate and behave 6 seconds after stimuli? You seem to take pride in trumpeting your pet remarked observation from some experiments that themselves do not warrant the conclusion you make.

    I maintain that you people do not really understand what it would mean, personally, if we don’t have free will. It is a deeply disturbing and ominous feeling of despair, yet you behave as if it is some minor curiosity or affect.

    It is devastating and completely undermines one’s sense of self and identity. I don’t believe you know what you are talking about, Jerry. I don’t see indications of understanding from you.

    • steve oberski
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      A fine example of the false dichotomy fallacy.

      Just because we can’t explain consciousness now does not mean that a non physical (I assume you mean god did it) explanation must be true.

      This holds even if we never fully explain the physical reality behind consciousness.

      Since you claim that Jerry has no understanding in this area perhaps you could expand on this non material explanation for consciousness.

      • Posted January 19, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        Where did you get the idea that I mean a non-physical explanation entails? And you can refrain from the insults about my supposed conception of free will.
        No, I don’t mean magic, as I stated..
        I mean exactly that, because non-free willists assume a simplified version of physical reality, they should account for the situation(lack of free will and the illusion of our sense of it) if it is so straight forward and obvious.

        Why don’t you explain our illusion of free will. YOU say our mind doesn’t control decision making, YOU act like our minds are extraneous, so YOU explain why the fuck we have this awareness and illusion, because we do have it, or are you denying we don’t?

        You don’t know what is going on, so you can’t say that this or that(our perceptions, cognitions) is immaterial(LOL) to the situation.

        You are the one ignoring a blatant reality, and if can only conceive it in terms of magic, that is your unsophistication and lack of intelligence.

        You are the one claiming something effing uncomprehensible.

        The non free-willists are claiming that our minds are illusionary, that our experiences are not real. You must account for why we have a mind, not me. Everyone can demonstrate making a decision by simply acting, by taking one path out of a selection and where it is patently obvious that any choice could have been picked and acted on. Your whole effing argument is that because we can only make one choice, take one course of action at one time, therefore you conclude that that one choice was the only one possible.

        Your claim is unfalsifiable, your selection of parameters is a falsely limited representation of reality, you are the simplistic child not able to comprehend what you are actually proposing.

        Until you ‘people’, Jerry et al, can go ahead and explain why it is necessary to have an illusion of free will, why our awarenesses are there in the first place in order to necessitate having pointless illusions of reality, I could not give a shit about your mechanistic suppositions about something you obviously don’t have a clue what you are talking about.

        Do you get it yet? Do you understand what you are saying?

        Your relentless portrayal of our cognitive processes as nothing more than physical systems going through the motions meanwhile ignoring the very limitation of your mechanism to explain the central feature of the whole debate, our minds, shows how intentionally selective you are of what is being talked about.

        I get it, I effing get it, I can easily, effortlessly, envision our actions and every ASPECT OF OUR BEING as the result of a chain of precisely determined states and cause/effect situations.

        I get it, we all do, but what we don’t get is why our perceptions and awareness and experience of qualia is a profoundly important part of the situation of making choices based on the weighing of alternatives.

        I am sick of being called religious or simple and inferences of insanity vis a vis ‘magical processes’ when it is the non free willists that are being simplistic.

        You cannot conclude that our minds are unimportant, and you cannot conclude that our thoughts are directed deterministically if you do not know what our thoughts are in the first place.

        When you describe our thoughts and subjective experiences in known mechanistic procedures, then, and only then, can you suppose the requisite knowledge to include or elliminate activities and situations and conclusions as being valid and coherent or not.

        The problem is not “Do we have free will?,/b>” but it is precisely “ Why do we have our minds giving rise to the illusion of free will when it is not necessary?

        There is non-locality, there is dark matter and dark energy, there is the problem of wave-particle duality limiting our conception of what wave function components of physical reality are.

        WE DON’T HAVE A CLUE WHAT THIS SHIT IS, IT SEEMS TO BE IMPOSSIBLE – YET THERE IT IS.

        So STFU about newtonian determinism, that idea has been outmoded for hundreds of years, and STFU about ‘unknown processes – oh you mean magic/god’ when we have multiple examples, right now, and throughout history, og un – effing – known processes.

        Thinking that physics knows all there is to know about reality is a very childish and dangerous attitude.

        But for the record (I can see the petty interpretations forming already), just because I think there can be unknown processes and explanations does not mean that there is unknown and mysterious explanations behind our minds. Okay?

        I am pointing out that it is ludicrous to assume ultimate knowledge of what transpires ‘behing the scenes’ of our behaviour and perceptions.
        It is not within your purvey to render final pronouncement on what is or is not going on with our choices and subsequent actions.

        Explain what our mind is so you can explain what part of the process of making decisions it plays, or doesn’t.

        You are the ones proposing a hypothesis beyond common sense and all apparent reality, it is up to you to prove your conjectures to us because I can show your error by making a selective choice right now and any time I choose. It gies without saying that that is how we operate because it is the overwhelming and uncontested experience of reality we all have.

        So, go ahead, steve, explain how a meat robot will manifest methodological existence and behaviour along with the ability to discuss ideas and create and invent and describe its own sense of self, for that is what you are proposing, not merely an unconcious automaton.

        Explain how are minds can be a necessary part of the process yet without having the consequence of intention.

        You non free willists are the ones inhibited from exploration outside the bounds of a simplistic mechanical modalism.

        • steve oberski
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

          The question was rhetorical, I didn’t actually want an explanation.

          But I completely understand that you had no choice in the matter.

        • Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          “our qualia/thoughts/awareness cannot be explained physically” Where’s your evidence to support your position? Later you say “Where did you get the idea that I mean a non-physical explanation entails?” This doesn’t seem consistent. Could you expand on what you think is actually happening and why you think it?

          “but something extremely important it taking place…of a magnitude indicative of extreme importance” – So we’re told by both dualists and non-dualists who think we have free-will, but without any explanation of their own.

          “This is meaningless, Jerry. It is circular, a tautology.” – It’s not meaningless. A tautology isn’t meaningless, it’s just stating the same thing in different ways, which, it is hoped, will eventually get the significance across to people who don’t get the point yet. Quite straight forward means of explanation.

          “I maintain that you people do not really understand what it would mean, personally, if we don’t have free will.” Yes we do. It means it would feel just like this. Perhaps you are referring to the fear often expressed that when criminals learn of this supposed devastating fact they will find it an excuse to continue their criminal activity. Well, you still miss the point. That they might feel that may be true. But they would soon be set straight by being locked up anyway.

          “It is a deeply disturbing and ominous feeling of despair, yet you behave as if it is some minor curiosity or affect.” To you perhaps, and to many other people. I recommend you read Raymond Tallis. He’s full of the fear of nihilism that he mistakenly thinks a denial of free-will will bring upon us. Note I emphasise denial of free-will and not loss of free-will. If we never had it, throughout any of our deluded history, then nothing is lost anyway. We still feel on a personal level as we feel now. To some extent it is a philosophical and scientific curiosity, but it need not be. Far from seeing nihilistic consequences I think you’ll find most of those who see free-will as illusory see only benefit, particularly in matters of justice, in that it removes the justification for retribution, without removing protective incarceration.

          “It is devastating and completely undermines one’s sense of self and identity.”

          For you maybe. But not for me. That then speaks more of your psychological capacity to deal with shifts in philosophical ideas that don’t match your preconceptions. Your blustering manner is another clue.

          “I don’t believe you know what you are talking about, Jerry. I don’t see indications of understanding from you.”

          I’m sure many here feel the same about you. Isn’t this a clue that we don’t have common understanding yet? perhaps a few more tautologies are in order to help you get the message.

          A “simplified version of physical reality” is all we have to work with. Could you explain a more complicated version of reality that accounts for what you call ‘qualia’?

          “Why don’t you explain our illusion of free will.” A self aware system that has only limited awareness of its inner processes (the brain has no nerves through which we can feel or sense thoughts flitting across the brain) has a consequential sense that ‘decisions’ pop out of nowhere, as if they are free of the physical brain. This psychological appearance applies to other aspects of consciousness.

          Now, can you explain what you think is the actuality of free-will? What is it? You deny magic? Then what mechanisms do you propose? I think you’ll find that the free-willies are the ones making stuff up, on the basis of what it feels like introspectively. Introspection isn’t good enough.

          “YOU say our mind doesn’t control decision making” – The brain does. The ‘mind’ is just a concept (also in the brain) that summarises all we feel we experience when the brain is doing ‘mind’ stuff.

          “YOU act like our minds are extraneous” – No. We act as if we have free-will. That’s what we’re stuck with.

          “so YOU explain why the fuck we have this awareness and illusion” – My, we are touchy today. But now you are asking for information we don’t have. We acknowledge we have this awareness; and we acknowledge we have the illusion of free-will. Explaining why we have it is an interesting but as yet unexplained aspect of evolution.

          “because we do have it, or are you denying we don’t?” – Since so much time has been spent here saying that we do have the illusion we’re hardly likely to say we don’t.

          “You are the one ignoring a blatant reality” – I don’t think so. I made the point to you in another comment and you came back with some stuff about what is and isn’t physics. Read my response to that.

          “You are the one claiming something effing uncomprehensible.” – You’re only demonstrating, by your irate comments, that you are responding emotionally and not rationally. That you can’t comprehend it might be a problem you’re having – have you thought of that? Others here have no difficulty comprehending why we should consider free-will an illusion, or what the consequences are for that.

          “The non free-willists are claiming that our minds are illusionary, that our experiences are not real.” This is a bit mixed up isn’t it. The ‘mind’ is a useful concept, as I said above. If you feel it is a real thing in its own right, independent of the brain, then that is an illusory understanding of it. And of course our experiences are real. The problem you are having is mistaking experiences of the brain, which produces this illusion, for the illusion itself – the ‘mind’ as you see it.

          “Your whole effing argument is that because we can only make one choice, take one course of action at one time, therefore you conclude that that one choice was the only one possible.” – Calm down. It’s only a discussion. I really don’t think you get the consequences of causality, determinism and indeterminism.

          “Your claim is unfalsifiable” – Yours is the claim to something other than regular physics at work. Yours is the alternative hypothesis. In what way is your position on free-will falsifiable? Do you even have one that isn’t simply an emotive denial of illusory free-will?

          “Until you ‘people’, Jerry et al, can go ahead and explain why it is necessary to have an illusion of free will” – Who said it was necessary? The argument so far is simply that it is an illusion.

          “..why our awareness are there in the first place in order to necessitate having pointless illusions of reality” – An excellent question for a change. Don’t know.

          “I could not give a shit about your mechanistic suppositions about something you obviously don’t have a clue what you are talking about.” – The manner of your responses here suggests you give one massive big dump of a shit.

          “Do you get it yet? Do you understand what you are saying?” – Yes.

          “I get it, I effing get it, I can easily, effortlessly, envision our actions and every ASPECT OF OUR BEING as the result of a chain of precisely determined states and cause/effect situations.” – A few paragraphs ago it was incomprehensible. Glad you’ve got it now.

          “I get it, we all do, but what we don’t get is why our perceptions and awareness and experience of qualia is a profoundly important part of the situation of making choices based on the weighing of alternatives.” – The point is that this isn’t what is happening in actuality, even though this is how it feels to us. It feels important to us. But our feeling on the matter has no bearing on whether that feeling is true or not.

          “I am sick of being called religious or simple and inferences of insanity vis a vis ‘magical processes’” – Then explain what you think is going on.

          “You cannot conclude that our minds are unimportant” – Out ‘minds’, this collective of brain activity, is clearly very important to us. Look. It’s taken millions of years to get to this point. That we are now starting to understand some of these processes doesn’t mean we can suddenly switch them off. No more than an understanding of bird flight suddenly allows us to fly unaided. Our brains are still stuck in pre-science mode, and to a great extent even in pre-language mode. Our brains still have much in common with other mammals. How the heck do you think we can suddenly ‘snap out’ of how we feel. We all feel we have free-will. We also feel we are made of solid continuous stuff and not vacuous atoms. Feelings aren’t reliable. Get over it.

          “Why do we have our minds giving rise to the illusion of free will when it is not necessary?” – Great question again. Don’t know. But not knowing this doesn’t then mean we conclude we have real free-will.

          “There is non-locality, there is dark matter…” – Yes. read my response to your same point elsewhere.

          “So STFU about newtonian determinism, that idea has been outmoded for hundreds of years” – You’re missing the point. Determinism is used precisely to simplify the argument. The same applies with the indeterminism consequent of our current understanding of quantum stuff. But the real problem, for any entity within a system that they see as closed, is that it is indeterminate anyway, epistemologically. But that doesn’t rescue free-will.

          “Thinking that physics knows all there is to know about reality is a very childish and dangerous attitude.” – As is thinking that because you feel you have free-will that you must therefore have it. But, the thing is, no one here is claiming physics knows all there is to know. What might be being claimed is that current science tells us all we know so far, and in this context it is that no other explanation is yet available to explain our consciousness and apparent free-will other than physical brain activity.

          “just because I think there can be unknown processes and explanations does not mean that there is unknown and mysterious explanations behind our minds. Okay?” – Good. Got that. So, what non-mysterious explanation do you have to offer?

          No one is assuming ultimate knowledge. All that has been presented here is based on current knowledge and accepted as such. I don’t recollect anyone claiming the illusory free-will position as final; only the best explanation based on our current understanding of the universe.

          “You are the ones proposing a hypothesis beyond common sense and all apparent reality” – Beyond ‘common sense’? Yes, because common sense, of our feelings, in this case are unreliable, as they are often shown to be regarding illusions. Beyond apparent reality? No. This is the point. Under our current understanding of reality we expect our physical brains to behave like other physical objects. That our brains, through their processes, have limited self-awareness is real. It’s the rising up of the ‘mind’ beyond this that is going beyond reality.

          “it is up to you to prove your conjectures to us” – No. That every thing follows the natural physical laws discovered so far is the null hypothesis. Even though the feeling of free-will is deeply ingrained in our ‘minds’ that does not give it the priority of default or null hypothesis.

          “because I can show your error by making a selective choice right now and any time I choose.” – No you can’t. What you can do, with hind-sight, is say that some particular action was a ‘choice’ (we need to cover what ‘choice’, ‘decision’ mean in deterministic systems). But you have no means of demonstrating that, because you can’t re-run the universe to verify that an alternative choice could have been made. Your alternative hypothesis is unfalsifiable.

          “It goes without saying that that is how we operate because it is the overwhelming and uncontested experience of reality we all have.” – All you can say is it’s our feeling of what is going on.

          “So, go ahead, steve, explain how a meat robot will manifest methodological existence and behaviour along with the ability to discuss ideas and create and invent and describe its own sense of self, for that is what you are proposing, not merely an unconscious automaton.” – You’re missing the point again. We are ‘conscious’ automata. Our behaviour is what it is. That we feel it is something else is the point of error.

          “Explain how are minds can be a necessary part of the process yet without having the consequence of intention.” – Why are they necessary? They are a products of evolution. And evolution didn’t decide a thinking self-aware brain was necessary. It is an unguided consequence of how evolution played out.

          “You non free willists are the ones inhibited from exploration outside the bounds of a simplistic mechanical modalism.” – This is clearly not true. We all grew up thinking we had free-will. We have explored science and philosophy and it has brought us to this position. You are the one stuck with the insistence that your feeling on the matter is a significant decider.

          • steve
            Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

            You have my thanks, Ron, for undertaking to write a reply to Mike. Good work. (This is not to imply that you could have not written this reply, it is only to say that I judge it to be a good piece of work.)

            • Posted January 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

              “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

              Takes on a whole new meaning doesn’t it.

          • Posted January 20, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

            “It means it would feel just like this.”

            So, you feel that your life is meaningless and even furthermore, you are impotent to give it direction or meaning?

            That is a deeply unsettling idea, not having any control. Our whole sense of identity is tied up in how we choose to think and act, and it is a fundamental psychological need to have relevance.

            The rest of your response is just saying the same shit over that I refuted.
            Can Consciousness Be Explained? Dennett Debunked
            6. Now if a successful explanation must explain conscious events in terms of unconscious events, then I hope I will be forgiven for concluding that consciousness CANNOT be explained.(maverickphilosopher.typepad[dot].com/maverick_philosopher/2012/01/can-consciousness-be-explained-dennett-debunked.html)

            Jerry Coyne on Why You Don’t Really Have Free Will
            If Coyne thinks that contemporary neuroscience has proven that there is no libertarian freedom of the will, then he is delusional: he is passing off dubious philosophy as if it were incontrovertible science while hiding the fact from himself.

            In the sequel I will will adress the question whether libertarian free will could be an illusion. Does that so much as make sense?(It’s the next link to thee one above)

            Go get an education:(These are links to PDFs, fill your boots)
            I have written several papers that discuss the relevance of scientific research to free will and agency, including “Scientific Challenges to Free Will”, “The Psychology of Free Will,” “Why ‘Willusionism’ Leads to ‘Bad Results’,” which offers an explanation for why recent scientific claims that free will is an illusion may lead people to behave worse, “Autonomous Agency and the Threat of Social Psychology,” which considers how research in situationist social psychology potentially threatens free will, and two papers that examine Daniel Wegner’s claims about the illusion of conscious will, “Agency, Authorship, and Illusion” and “When Consciousness Matters.”

            In “Close Calls and the Confident Agent,” I consider the significance of alternative possibilities for free will. In the unpublished paper, “The State of the Free Will Debate: From Frankfurt Cases to the Consequence Argument,” I discuss the structure of incompatibilist arguments. And in an unpublished talk, “Free Will and Knowledge,” I consider the auspicious implications of understanding free will as a set of capacities to obtain knowledge about oneself and the world.

            I believe the free will debate is less about the question of determinism than the question of the mind-body relation. I am interested in how to understand that relation, especially in the study of consciousness and introspection (see my “Verbal Reports on the Contents of Consciousness: Reconsidering Introspectionist Methodology” and “The Problem of Pain”). I am also interested in the development of agency in children (e.g., theory of mind research) and the evolution of agency in primates (e.g., inhibition, theory of mind, reciprocity, and deception): see the co-authored papers “Is Human Intelligence an Adaptation?” and “Darwin’s Continuum and the Building Blocks of Deception”.

            Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?(opinionator.blogs.nytimes[dot]com/2011/11/13/is-neuroscience-the-death-of-free-will/?ref=opinion)
            Here, I’ll explain why neuroscience is not the death of free will and does not “wreak havoc on our sense of moral and legal responsibility,” extending a discussion begun in Gary Gutting’s recent Stone column. I’ll argue that the neuroscientific evidence does not undermine free will. But first, I’ll explain the central problem: these scientists are employing a flawed notion of free will. Once a better notion of free will is in place, the argument can be turned on its head. Instead of showing that free will is an illusion, neuroscience and psychology can actually help us understand how it works.

            HERE, I JUST FOUND THIS
            But if free will is an illusion, it is not an illusion that can be cast off or seen through no matter what I do. I must deliberate from time to time, and I cannot help but believe, whenever I deliberate, that the outcome is at least in part ‘up to me.’ Indeed, it is inconceivable that I should disembarrass myself of this ‘illusion.’ One can become disillusioned about many things but not about the ‘illusion’ of free will. For it is integral to my being an agent, and being an agent is part and parcel of being a human being. To get free of the ‘illusion’ of free will,
            You must awfully shallow to flippantly brush of the implications of not having free will, and I said it earlier.

            Actually, I find this discussion with you and Mr Cheerleader, steve, to be irritating, annoying, and about as productive as talking to a brick wall.
            I don’t know what our minds are made of, but I know they are a product of physical reality, you get that simple idea?
            I am getting tired of you bleating for an objective physical explanation of our minds from the likes of you as if I must defend a position that you have not even, in any meaningful way, caused relevant doubt.

            I make shit up as I go along purely on common sense, then I get grief from broken records repeating over and over that we don’t have free will, ignoring my repeated attempts to get you to acknowledge the reality of our minds and the problems inherent in ignoring that relevance.

            I also just read the term for what you do, and it is called ‘sidestepping’ and I am trying to find it again so I can quote the whole explanation.

            Another point I keep coming across that I pointed out very early, is the fallibility of reductionism in such an incomprehensibly complex situation.

            If you bother to just read the words and quit trying to assign motive and agenda to them, you wouldn’t have such a difficult time understanding plain reality, and instead you insist on interpreting everything through the false lenses of believing lack of free will is a fundamental truth, and that is all there is to it, nothing else need be considered, just saying the same shit over and over again.

            I am arrogant??

            Fucking right, towards the likes of you I am. You suppose meanings and motivations I don’t carry, you state highly debatable and unresolved issues as if explaining an obvious and undeniable fact to a five year old.

            I could go on, but I’ll give you this: I am certain we have some measure of control over our behaviours, thoughts, beliefs, and ability to choose the direction of our lives. It is fucking obvious, freedom is the primary value of our existence, and our minds are manifest with all attendant perceptions for a reason.
            Nothing so complex and energy consuming would develop unless it contributed greatly to our survivability, and it wouldn’t contribute to our survivability if it didn’t exercise power and control over our environment.

            I am bored with the provincial and tiring inability to address to the situation from anything other than just a mechanistic understanding and a couple of abstruse fmri runs.

            But hey!, go ahead, ponder deep about what it is to be an object subjugate to pointless chemical processes, merely a mute and powerless mote of dust blowing in the cosmic wind of happenstance.

            You better hope the TV stays on an interesting channel because you obviously don’t have the ability to change it.

            (And quit acting emotional, it betrays your belief that we are accountable and amenable)
            ;)

            • Posted January 20, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

              I forgot this page with all the papers (which are PDFs)

              http://www2.gsu.edu/~phlean/

              • Posted January 22, 2012 at 2:20 am | Permalink

                I’ve read a couple of the papers and scanned a few more. I’d be grateful for a pointer to where they actually define free-will in say how it can be compatible with determinism, indeterminism, causality, physics. Simply re-stating that we have free-will, qualia and other appearences of free-will is based entirely on feelings we humans have in the here and now.

                I agree where the papers say that current neuroscience and psychology (e.g. Libet, Wegner) is in itself not sufficient evidence to rule out free-will. So, we’re agreed on that. No current science is sufficient to support the rejection of free-will, based on any particular experiments.

                But this isn’t significant to the logical argument that determinism (the clue is in the name) determines stuff, and the the whole concept of free-will deosn’t firt with that, logically. Introducing indeterminism doesn’t rescue free-will, it just means that the causes of brain events that we think constitute free-will don’t allow for determinism from one state to another – in some sense the system isn’t closed and predictable. This does not mean that what we call ‘free-will’ is actually free of causal prior events, just because some of those events are indeterminate.

                All of science still assumes causality. Determinism within a closed system is just one simple notion used to make the logical point. I’d still like to here how free-will fits in with causal systems. What does the ‘free’ bit actually mean?

                Most of the other stuff in those papers seems to be about the psychology of thinking about free-will, particularly in the light of the emotional commitment to notions of moral responsibility MR. You still haven’t said why that has anything to do with the argument for or against free-will. MR comes into consideration only as a consequence. And, not liking the consequence isn’t a good enough reason for rejecting the the prior argument that leads to it. So, how about dropping concerns about MR for now.

              • Posted January 22, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

                right, how about:

                - any research data even suggesting FW in humans or animals
                - and explanation of why it has been so easy to disprove, even with our primitive current brain research techniques

            • Posted January 22, 2012 at 2:25 am | Permalink

              “So, you feel that your life is meaningless and even furthermore, you are impotent to give it direction or meaning?”

              No. I mean I feel as though I am making the decision to respond to you, to take part in this discussion. I feel my life has the meaning that my brain is determined to attribute to it. I feel as though I have free will.

              “That is a deeply unsettling idea, not having any control.”

              It can be, if you apply the interpretation to it that you suppose I do. But it’s not unsettling for me because my interpretation is very pragmatic. If determinism is the case, then everything is determined and my appearance of free-will is an illusion. But the determined consequence is that I continue with this feeling of free-will, in the moment, while upon reflection I acknowledge that, under determinism, if it holds, I do not actually have it. This is no more disturbing than acknowledging that I am made of discrete atoms and lots of empty space, while actually feeling as though I am solid.

              “Our whole sense of identity is tied up in how we choose to think and act, and it is a fundamental psychological need to have relevance.”

              I agree that this might well be the case. But that doesn’t make our need the dictator of what actually is.

              “I don’t know what our minds are made of, but I know they are a product of physical reality, you get that simple idea?”

              So, given you have no idea what ‘minds’ are made of, on what basis do you object to them actually being physical stuff – i.e. the brain itself in action? If the ‘mind’ is a product of physical reality in what way is it independent of causal events to be able to dismiss causal precursors and change the course of events that were about to be caused prior to some decisions?

              “I am certain we have some measure of control over our behaviours, thoughts, beliefs, and ability to choose the direction of our lives. It is fucking obvious, freedom is the primary value of our existence, and our minds are manifest with all attendant perceptions for a reason.”

              Your certainty is charming. “It is fucking obvious” Is it?

              “Nothing so complex and energy consuming would develop unless it contributed greatly to our survivability, and it wouldn’t contribute to our survivability if it didn’t exercise power and control over our environment.”

              But, if determinism holds, then that is in the midst of the rest of the environment being determined. Evolution doesn’t have a purpose. Our brains were not designed to solve a problem. Evolution does not solve problems because evolution knows naff all about what’s coming next. The notions of problem solving are just our psychological ex post facto interpretation, our way of explaining it to ourselves. As are all physical laws. The universe just does stuff. The nature of the elements of the universe is that the same elements interact in the same ways. Patterns of elemental behaviour ensue. We come along and recognise these patterns and put labels and symbols on them and explain then in languages such as maths. It’s all in our heads.

              “But hey!, go ahead, ponder deep about what it is to be an object subjugate to pointless chemical processes, merely a mute and powerless mote of dust blowing in the cosmic wind of happenstance.”

              That’s what we are. But, that’s not what my brain thinks I am. This isn’t Matrix. There’s no red or blue pills. There’s no other reality waiting beneath this one. The whole point is that this reality, where we feel we have free-will, is the same reality that causes us, every atom in us, to follow the laws of nature, which appear to be based on causality. They are indistinguishable to us. Our problem is reconciling that. And that I do quite easily.

              • Steve
                Posted January 22, 2012 at 5:27 am | Permalink

                Excellent.

              • Posted January 28, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

                “I don’t know what our minds are made of, but I know they are a product of physical reality, you get that simple idea?”

                So, given you have no idea what ‘minds’ are made of, on what basis do you object to them actually being physical stuff – i.e. the brain itself in action? If the ‘mind’ is a product of physical reality in what way is it independent of causal events to be able to dismiss causal precursors and change the course of events that were about to be caused prior to some decisions?

                There, you see what you said, ronmurp?I’m not the one saying it is outside ‘the chain’, that is exactly what I am saying, that it is part of the chain
                You are the one saying it is ‘inside the chain’ but then you say it ‘isn’t inside the chain’ or else it would be able to alter what has already been determined.
                You cannot have it both ways. You cannot insist that our minds are an effect of physical causes yet do not make effects themselves.
                I want to stress this over and over. How can our minds be the result of physical causes, part of the cause effect chain of determinism, and how can they be part of the cause by having thoughts and values become part of the cause of our behavior, yet the ONE TIME OUR THOUGHTS VIOLATE THE CAUSE AND EFFECT CHAIN OF EVENTS IS WHEN OUR THOUGHTS AND VALUES ARE A WISH TO INITIATE SOME ACTION?????????????????

                I am the one stating, very clearly that our minds are part of the cause and effect cycle.

                That is the whole argument against religion/God in a nutshell, as well. If God can interact with people, which are part of nature, then God is a part of nature and there would be evidence of Him manipulating natural events, FFS!

                Everyone get that, steve, sleeprunning, Ron Murphy, Jerry Coyne, ronmurp?!?!

                You are the ones that somehow think our minds are outside the deterministic reality of nature, not me and the other free willies(lol)!!

                It can be, if you apply the interpretation to it that you suppose I do. But it’s not unsettling for me because my interpretation is very pragmatic. If determinism is the case, then everything is determined and my appearance of free-will is an illusion. But the determined consequence is that I continue with this feeling of free-will, in the moment, while upon reflection I acknowledge that, under determinism, if it holds, I do not actually have it. This is no more disturbing than acknowledging that I am made of discrete atoms and lots of empty space, while actually feeling as though I am solid.

                Look, I do not believe you understand and, in fact, I believe that you actually do think you have free will. I call you on your bullshit.
                Which is it: you are at ease and accepting because you seem to be operating with free will, and choosing what to say here and feeling satisfaction at your effeorts, or you really are an emotionally void robot that is not affected by the fact that your life is meaningless, and it is meaningless because you have zero say in how you partake in, and run your, life.

                In want all you guys mentioned to telll me that you really and honestly understand that it is not you doing the thinking and acting, and tell me that you are just aware of things happening to you while you watch and pretend, like a child in a car seat with a steering wheel pretending to drive her parent’s car.

                If that is the case, I want you to convince me that you understand that you deserve zero recognition for what you write and say, that you truly should get no credit whatsoever for anything.

                I wqant you to pretend for a few hours that that is all there is to life, to concentrate and experience what it would feel like if you were not making choices how to act and think, and I want you to look around at everything and everyone and see it and them as just the result of a set of chemical and physical reactions running their course and that not you or anyone else, ever, absolutely had nothing conscious to contribute to reality.

                When you can tell me what that looks and feels like, then I will know if yoyu are full of massive amounts of shit, or you really do understand what you are claiming to accept so blithely.

                I want you to watch some fuckhead gangstas being total pricks and for you to feel scared and intimidated and insecure about whether they will do something unpredictable and cruel, or sensless, and not feel angry and judgemental at them.

                I want you to screw up and say something, or act some way unintentionally that you didn’t mean to, and not feel guilt or remorse or because you didn’t have anything to say in what happenned.

                You will feel something, and it will be something very deep.

                When you people go and do this to the best of your ability, and that means do it, because everyone here is exceptionally capable, then tell me that you are content with it all being uncaused by human will, that it is all just a meaningless stage that ‘happened this way’, then I will know you are not human. Then I will know you are just a meat robot, or deeply psychotic.

                But if come and tell me that feeling that comes drains over you when you understand that everything, no matter how interesting, is unchangable by human decision and will, was not in any way a result of conscious vision and planning mediated by decision to do this or that, that in effect it is all just inanimate matter doing the only thing it possibly can, and nothing is creditable to human will(by which I mean ability to choose a course of events, only then will I know you mean it when you say we have no free will(which means any will except that directed by mindless physical causes).

                For if ever, at some point, somehow, through some accumulation of processes, history has been guided by human (by which I mean mind) input and effort, then free will has been established.

                You see, it’s easy to imagine for one moment or two, that we are just thinking and acting as we are compelled to, but then realize the magnitude of what that means, alright?

                Meanwhile, since I already did all that, and assuming it wasn’t just illusions and mis percetions, I’ll sit here and go through all the words here, starting with Jerry Coyne’s, and respond thoughtfully, and ponder why I get to ride in such a handsome and talented thought support unit, or maybe watch TV.

  22. TJR
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    This exchange seems to confirm that the main difference of opinion is over what should be the null hypothesis.

    Jerry (and others) think that “We do not have free will” should be the null hypothesis.

    Others think that “We do have free will” should be the null hypothesis.

    Unfortunately there is not (as yet) enough empirical evidence to reject either null hypothesis.

    • Posted January 19, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      Given that there is no evidence yet of anything that might be considered non-physical then the null hypothesis is that everything does follow physical laws. We are looking for exceptions. On this basis the dualist notion of free-will is the alternative hypothesis, and that it does not exist is the null hypothesis.

      That free-willies think that theirs should be the null hypothesis is based only on their ‘feeling’, the historical and personal notion that we have free-will. But ‘feeling’ that something is the case doesn’t cut it as sufficient evidence, or reason, to think that it should form the basis of the null hypothesis.

      Whether it is traditional dualist free-will (or soul), or even this other form of free-will that is supposed to be non-dualist and yet has no concrete explanation, they are both alternative hypotheses awaiting even a good definition let alone the possibility of falsification.

      The illusory nature of free-will is simply the common sense view derived from all we know about the universe so far. That some of us don’t like it, and even that all of us appear to act as if we have free-will, is no support for that alternative hypothesis, whichever way it is framed.

      • steve
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        Ron,

        Aptly but, Ron.

      • steve
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        Make that Aptly PUT.

      • Posted January 19, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        It is overwhelming support.
        Given that there is no evidence yet of anything that might be considered non-physical
        non-locality.
        The spontaneous existence of dark matter, matter that supposedly is not affected or reactive to physical presence, electromagnetic or strong or weak interaction, or any collision or reaction to matter and energy.

        An idea is non physical.

        If our minds are physical, what are they? Where exactly? If our minds are physical, they must exhibit force, they must be part of cause/effect or action/reaction interactions.
        In order to be physical, they must have a surface, a boundary, a size, and a position(see special relativity).

        You say everything is physical, explain what a virtual particle is.

        I’m not saying anything is non physical, only that your understanding of what ‘physical’ entirely means.

        Your fallacy is: Because physical properties as we know them explain what we know, it will explain everything that can be known.

        The fact that you cannot explain our minds is a large question mark on your assumption, in many ways.

        • Posted January 19, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

          That some details of physics are not fully understood is not a free-pass for free-will. All the phnomena in your first paragaraph are physical. In what way is energy non-physical?

          An idea is non-physical? Yes it is – in its instantiation in a human mind. It’s yet another form of dualism to suppose that an idea, a concept, a thought; and part of the same illusion that brings us free-will.

          In supposing our minds are non-physical you are already pre-supposing the non-physicality of the mind to argue for its non-physicality. But ‘the mind’ itslef is a human construct, made up in a human ‘mind’ – in otherwords, the activity of a brain.

          “If our minds are physical, they must exhibit force, they must be part of cause/effect or action/reaction interactions.
          In order to be physical, they must have a surface, a boundary, a size, and a position(see special relativity).”

          Yes. In that context the mind is the brain. It’s the physical states of the brain, in all its transient and persistent complexity. This is the point.

          A virtual particle is still encompassed by our physical laws, even if as yet no fully understood.

          I’m not saying that because physical properties as we know them explain what we know, it will explain everything that can be known.

          What I am saying is that anything we come to know and include in our view of the universe (or beyond) will be incorporated into the naturalistic, and for the time being, awaiting any other definition, a physical interpretation. Even if evidence for God appears, that will, being evidence, be incorporated into our natural understanding. At one time the nuclear forces were unknown. We didn’t ditch physics when they were discovered, we incorporated them. That dark matter isn’t yet understood isn’t a claim for something non-physical; it just means we don’t yet understand some physical aspects of the universe.

          But, yes, it does depend on our current view of the universe, our current view of science, and our current view of the physical nature of the universe. And so, my point about the null hypothesis, and the requirement for free-willies to give some evidence of what they think free-will actually is, under that view, still stands.

          If you really want to go further, and posit non-physical stuff, then your on an express train to solipsism. Feel free to take this up here.

        • Posted January 19, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          A more complete response to your point about ‘ideas’.

          http://ronmurp.net/2012/01/19/ideas-concepts-thoughts-physical-instantiation-in-brains/

  23. eric
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:54 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.

    Question for Jerry – do you think the brain is chaotic, in the sense that infinitesimal changes in starting conditions can significantly change the outcome?

    Because while rewind isn’t possible, it should be possible to provide a brain with an extremely similar input twice, separated by a very short amount of time (maybe milli- or microseconds), and watching whether the cascade of activity is noticably different. This would be an experiment of testing “almost the same brain” [i.e., the same brain milliseconds apart] with “almost the same input.”

    I’ll make a wild-assed guess that the brain is chaotic, and the pattern of activity would be detectably different. If so, this would not be evidence of free will…but it would support the conclusion that it is impossible to distinguish between fully deterministic brains vs. “free will” brains in practice.

    • Posted January 19, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      I run this experiment every Saturday morning when the alarm goes off. My brain thinks “It’s Saturday, I can sleep,” and then it instructs the hand to hit the snooze button. My brain will make this same “decision” several times before it has been changed sufficiently to make another action. However, at this point it is my bladder, not my brain, that is in charge.

  24. Bjarte Foshaug
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I cannot be the first person to make this suggestion, but the “Free Will of the Gaps” definitiely deserves a name of its own. Just because “our qualia/thoughts/awareness cannot be explained physically” doesn’t support a non-physical explanation. Of course there are unanswered questions in neuroscience (as in any other field of science, which is why there is always going to be a need for more research), but those very same questions cannot be answered by anything else either.

  25. Joshua Fisher
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Once again, I think Harris’ answer (to the idea of ‘moral responsibility,’ etc.) is the right one–or at least the right phrasing: those actions which are conducive to the well-being of conscious creatures.

  26. Bill Gilliland
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I’ve always felt your “rewinding the tape” thought experiment was flawed (since Heisenberg uncertainty dictates that it’s not even theoretically possible) but I could never put my finger on why. But I think I found the flaw in the reasoning.

    If we do not have free will, then after we “rewind the tape” things will play out exactly as before, as you say.

    If we DO have free will, then our choices could change the outcome. However, if you “rewind”, and you restore every quantum fluctuation to exactly where they were before, then all of the things that influenced our choices would get precisely rewound as well. This is only fair — if you get to rewind the tape more precisely than the laws of physics allow, then free will (whatever that means) would by necessity have to be rewound as well.

    Therefore, the two hypotheses (free will or no) make the exact same prediction, and this thought experiment cannot determine between them.

    I think my concept of “deterministic free will” hinges on the fact that part of the laws of physics that goes into determining what choice the brain will make includes the brain’s current conditions (which includes the brain’s mental state, and our knowledge of our past mental states). This iterative dependence on previous conditions will rapidly amplify small changes up to macroscopic scales. This implies that at some point, a decision that would have gone left will be changed to go right as a direct consequence of our mental states.

    In other words, the deterministic fact that my deterministic brain thinks it can change the deterministic future… changes the future.

    If that’s not the same thing as free will, what is it?

    • steve
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      I’ll tell you what it is: it is wrong. Thinking that we can change the future does not in anyway grant us freedom in what we think.

      • Bill Gilliland
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        If my deterministic brain thinks I can change the future, then the things that my deterministic brain does in the deterministic future will be different than if my brain had not had that thought.

        I’m not arguing that we have freedom in what to think; I’m arguing that the outcome is no different whether or not we have it.

        • Posted January 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          In a deterministic system, the pre-thought state is determined, your thought is determined, the post-thought state is determined. That you thought you had made a changed is a determined illusion. That I think you had no choice available to you is determined.

          Determinism means everything is determined. There is no ‘other’ option for you to choose.

        • steve
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          Bill,

          Well then if you are not saying (arguing)that we don’t have freedom in what we think, then we agree.

          But I am curious as to what you mean when you use the phrase “change the future”. Change the future from what to what?

          • Bill Gilliland
            Posted January 20, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

            What I mean is that the deterministic future is dependent on what we do or do not think.

            A computer pseudorandom number generator is a good analogy — if seeded with the same value, the same sequence of numbers will always occur. But the numbers generated (as long as you don’t know the seed or restart the generator sequence) have all the same properties as ideal random numbers, and can be used as such.

            If we have free will, then what I think can change my future choices.

            If we do not have free will, then what I am predetermined to think is part of the sequence of events that predetermines my future choices. Therefore, whether or not I happened to have had a particular thought in the past has an effect on whether or not I am predetermined to make a choice in the future.

            But in both cases, what I thought in the past altered what I thought in the future. Therefore, if we don’t have free will, we have a pseudo-free will with all the properties of the real thing. And if we have something that is indistinguishable from free will, why should we act any differently than if we had the real thing?

  27. kevin
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Bjarte’s point about “uncaused causes” really strikes a chord with me. Those who argue for the existence of free will certainly allow that free will, however we define it, can manifest in the physical world. Of my own free will I decide to pick strawberry ice cream. And they don’t argue that free will is the only input to the decision making process, of course. I might want to pick strawberry of my own free will, but be compelled to pick vanilla because of a bribe, or a sale, or a threat. So apparently, the physical manifestation has two classes of causes, free will, and other causes, which are presumably physical causes.

    Suppose one sets out to build a free-will-controller machine, which which one can influence the free will of others. Is such a thing physically possible?

    We could test a purported machine by putting subjects in the machine, setting it to influence free will towards strawberry, then checking for bias in the actual outcome.

    Of course, we can build such a machine. Just bribe the subject. Or torture them. A free-will advocate must argue that this isn’t influencing free-will, but some of those “other”, purely physical causes. So lets use drugs. Again, just physical causes, the advocate must argue. Same with radio waves, magnetic fields, gravity.

    If there is a possible physical mechanism to influence this “free will”, then its all just physics. If there is no possible physical mechanism to influence “free will” (and yet free will can manifest physically), then it’s just dualism. And a particularly stupid form of dualism. Apparently, the ghost in the machine has outputs, but takes no inputs from the physical world. That’s an odd kind of thing to want.

    • eric
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      I don’t think Pigliucci and other free-will defenders are necessarily positing a soul. I think they are trying to find a way to agree that it IS all just physics, but still say the perception of choice is on some level, not a sham.

      Personally I’m okay with a ‘free-will lite,’ consisting of the idea that the brain produces thought patterns and thought patterns influence brain structure in an iterative fashion. Its still all material, but an iterative loop like that makes the mind participatory. What you think is not just an output of the brain, it is an input to the brain just as much as environmental stimuli.

      This view is ‘lite’ because it doesn’t necessarily mean consciousness matters – animals could have free will the way I’m describing it – and it might also fail the rewind test. But it would suggest that mental activity is not analogous to a puppet on a (brain’s) string. The strings run both ways, and both brain and mind are sometimes puppet, sometimes puppeteer.

      This view is my own, I’m not attributing it to Pigliucci or any free-will defender.

  28. Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I am so tired of this discussion. At the level of determinism as specified in these sorts of things, the concept of “free will” is meaningless. Will it change your perception of yourself? No: that is predetermined. Will it change how others view you? No: that is predetermined. Will it change how the law views your behavior? Not at all. It’s the sort of useless speculation that is primarily the field of religion. Is there a God? Unprovable and useless.

    And it is based on the flimsiest of scientific evidence: the three articles referenced. Not that they are bad science but, like creationists, the science is being extrapolated way beyond what it supports.

    All of the self-volition experiments are the equivalent of evaluating noise in a circuit. We have a circuit (the finger movement in the experiment) to which we have prohibited any specifying input but has an indicator. (the subject reporting a “decision.”) Consequently, we are only measuring the noise in the circuit. We watch the pattern of noise and extract patterns. We correlate those patterns with the indicator. What a surprise we can detect patterns that can infer the state of the indicator before the indicator itself is triggered.

    Where in this experiment lies “free will” or “decision?”

    Is the decision intractable? Once we have predicted the decision how long can we predict that decision in the face of countervailing stimulus? Can we extrapolate from this experiment anything regarding an actual decision?

    I suggest that the answer to all of those question is between no and unknown.

    In other words, for all of the normal definition of the word, “decision”, this experment tells us nothing at all.

    But we’re right there using it as evidence of free will.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Am I unsophisticated about free will?

    Based on what I have said before, I should say that you are overthinking it. “Free will” is philosophy, not biology of neuroscience.

    Moreover if the goal is to establish neuroscience (and mote philosophic dualism of “free will”), this is enough:

    I argue that the onus for proof is on those people who claim that our decisions are free and not completely subject to the laws of physics.

    This is much better. Coincidentally this testable definition follows from the correct critique that the old claim of “rewind and play again” isn’t. Good critique is good for us.

    Neuroscience is an essential part of physicalism. QED.

    If Dr^3 is arguing for philosophic “free will” (as opposed to the folk biology notion) he is anti-science and doesn’t do all of those Dr’s justice. Neuroscience predicts mechanisms of, and is tested on, biology, chemistry, and physics.

    Philosophic “free will” is inconsistent with that, as it argues that is an innate non-biological property, which is most cases as here is god given and not evolved.

    Btw, folk biology version of free will is an emergent effective method, so no inherent testing problem there: delays of consciousness is not prohibitive for use. It is orthogonal to science, not anti-science.

  30. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    “I’m just going by the currently known laws of physics, which appear to hold throughout the universe.”

    The currently known laws of physics are incomplete and inconsistent. In my view, it is entirely unjustified to use them to argue against free will. Lord Kelvin made that mistake when he claimed that the Earth was no more than 40 million years old, in the absence of knowledge of radioactivity. I understand the desire to banish dualism, but this no-free-will argument rests on very dubious assumptions; namely, that we have a complete, consistent, and accurate physical model.

    “The answer is twofold. First, I make such arguments because I cannot do otherwise: this is what I have been conditioned to do by my genes and my personal history. But second, and more important, such arguments do affect people, and can influence their decisions.”

    How can any argument affect any person’s decision if they have no free will to decide one way or another? That makes no sense at all. The no-free-will camp is refusing to accept the implications of their position — the negation and ultimate futility and meaninglessness of
    intentional action and language.

    • eric
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Speech and action meaningless? Maybe in some philosophical sense. But futile? Absolutely not. A meat-robot would still be expected to respond to outside stimuli. And speech, language, the actions of other meat-robots are all “stimuli.” Absent free will, my speech to you is still input. You still process it and respond to it, just as you might process and respond to anything else.

      I think Jerry’s problem comes in when he starts to agree with you that some stimuli (i.e. retributive punishment) will be futile. Assuming the word ‘retribution’ actually has some empirical referent – i.e., a meat robot can detect the difference between retributive and non-retributive punisment – then there is no prima facie reason to claim retributive punishment is futile. Its still input. Stimuli that will alter how this meat-robot acts.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        My point isn’t that stimuli and responses don’t exist. My point is that any *intention* on your part to affect stimuli and responses toward some goal is meaningless and futile if you believe (another intentional concept) that the no-free-will argument is valid. I don’t see how you can get around this. It follows directly and inexorably from the no-free-will position.

        • eric
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

          If you are saying that some internal mental state of mine (intention) undetectable to other meat-puppets can’t directly affect them, I agree with you. But as long as another meat puppet can detect the difference between an intentional act and an unintentional one, it’s input and will elicit a response.

          Of course, if they detect wrongly (attributing intention to some act which doesn’t have it, or not attributing intention to some act which does have it), they will respond to their perception and not my internal mental state.

          In any event, my point is that anything empirically detectable by meat robots isn’t gonig to be futile. Be that an emotional state signaled by facial muscles or intention signaled by some other means.

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      I understand the desire to banish dualism, but this no-free-will argument rests on very dubious assumptions; namely, that we have a complete, consistent, and accurate physical model.

      You do realize that every successful scientific theory so far discovered has been discovered in the absence of a complete, consistent, and accurate physical model? If we can’t figure anything out without a complete, consistent, physical model then we cannot figure anything out at all.

      We have to make conjectures and assign them truth values on the basis of whether the knowledge we do have makes them probable or improbable. “Free will isn’t magical” is, in my opinion, a completely reasonable and very probable conjecture along these lines.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        “You do realize that every successful scientific theory so far discovered has been discovered in the absence of a complete, consistent, and accurate physical model?”

        Of course I realize that, but I also realize that the laws of physics as we know them today apply only in strictly circumscibed situations. For example, we can use quantum mechanics to make precise predictions in the quantum realm, and we can use general relativity to make precise predictions in the macro realm, but we haven’t reconciled them. They are inconsistent.

        Jerry is making a deduction. It goes like this:

        - I believe that the laws of physics as we know them are correct.

        - The laws of physics as we know them preclude free will.

        - Therefore, free will doesn’t exist.

        But when you make a deduction from an inconsistent set of axioms you can deduce anything at all, and your deduction is worthless.

        • Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

          Ah, the “new physics of the gaps” argument…

          /@

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

            No, “gaps” represent the incompleteness of physics, which is troubling enough. I was referring to the inconsistency.

            • Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

              But the incompleteness of physics doesn’t imply that the laws of physics as we know them are incorrect. So, my point was that absent a deeper understanding of how thought, consciousness, imagination, etc. emerge from the meat in our heads, there’s no evidence against the null hypothesis, viz. that they consistent with the laws of physics as we know them. That we cannot yet explain them is not an argument for new physics.

              And by the way there is no inconsistency between quantum theory and general relativity. Yes, the physics of quantum gravity is incomplete, including some thorny, unresolved conceptual issues, with a number of proposals (strings, supersymmetry, supergravity…) for ways forward, but that’s a different matter. General relativity causes no problems for established quantum fields theories (QED, QCD) or vice versa.

              /@

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted January 19, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

                “And by the way there is no inconsistency between quantum theory and general relativity.”

                Yes there is, and it’s fundamental.

              • Posted January 19, 2012 at 5:11 am | Permalink

                You see, how is abstract awareness consistent with ‘physics as we know it?’

                That is the point continuously ignored. A = initial brain state. B = resultant action.

                BUT, A and B are not the only two variables in the equation!!

                A -> B at the same time as A -> C! C = consciousness and awareness.

                A -> B + C Then you have the next set of circumstances, which is the new A, which is A and C.
                A + C -> B + C.

                C is undefined physically, but it is a relevant condition that influences B!

                It is not that C is magic, it is that C is unknown in the terms that A is.

                New physics???? Used as an epithet, isn’t it.
                Our consciousness is just a new (to us) understanding of ‘physics as we know it’, or perhaps it is some new physics, but whatever it is, there is a process going on who’s effect is unexplained, yet is causally part of the process.

                Maybe it is virtual dark matter particles producing interactive vortices or some manifestation of non-locality, or what the f ever, but to say that the Heisenberg indeterminancy is the only consideration for introducing unknowns into the physical processes that is our brain state, is to arbitrarily constrain the parameters of the arguments about the physics to what is currently understood.

                But what is currently understood is assumed by hard determinists to be all that can be understood, when plainly that is not the case because no one understands what a thought or a sense of awareness is in physically describable terms.

                You’ll get no argument from me (or most free willists) that a chain of strictly mechanical events, as we know it, leads to the exclusion of arbitrarily guided outcomes, but obviously this is an incomplete picture or else you would all explain what a sense of the color red, for example, is in physical and objective terms.

                You cannot account for these things, our qualia/awareness/whatever, but neither can you arbitrarily ignore them as irrelevant, nor can you brush them off as ordinary results of ‘known physics’.

                I give you Arthur C. Clark from “The Hazards of Prophecy; the Failure of the imagination”

                Clarke’s Three Laws are three “laws” of prediction formulated by the British writer and scientist Arthur C. Clarke. They are:

                When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
                The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
                Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

                The processes in place to give us our minds and impressions of free will are such an advanced technology, I figure. Evolution invented it, but whatever.;

                Non free willists cannot completely account for our mind state, so then you cannot justifiably ascertain a complete, final, conclusion i.e. we don’t have free will.

            • Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

              *that they are consistent

  31. Tom
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I think Professor Coyne’s article is very persuasive in general, although I have a few objections. Here I want to focus on his view of legal punishment. Suppose he is correct that our actions are ultimately outside of our control. He notes that even if so, we can still have some kind of system of legal punishment, since punishment serves beneficial consequentialistic purposes.

    The problem with this justification, as philosophers such as Randy Barnett and David Boonin have noted, is that it seems to go too far. Specifically, it seems to justify sometimes “punishing” the innocent and not punishing the guilty, and disproportionate punishment.

    “Punishing” the innocent: For punishment to have a deterrent effect on other people, the criminal doesn’t actually have to have committed the crime; all that matters is that people believe he or she did. So the state could achieve its deterrence goals by framing people and “punishing” them. But surely (right?) this would be morally impermissible.

    Not punishing the guilty: If a beloved celebrity kills a few unloved hermits, and only one detective finds out about it, that detective ought to keep quiet, because the bad consequences (millions of people saddened, some perhaps even committing suicide) would outweigh the harm of a few unloved hermits dying, from a purely consequentialistic perspective. But surely (right?) if Justin Bieber kills a bunch of hobos, he should answer for his actions.

    Disproportionate punishment: If we were to make all drunk driving punishable by death, we would probable ultimately save a lot of lives. But most would say that goes too far, even though the consequences would be overall better.

    Therefore, I think, we have to reject the consequentialistic justification of punishment that Coyne offers, and so it follows rejecting the existence of free will would actually lead to a very revisionary justice system.

    • Posted January 19, 2012 at 5:18 am | Permalink

      I think we should frame Justin Bieber already!

      Yes, I agree that it leads to an ‘end justifies the means’ scenario.

  32. Tom
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Here’s the other objection I had.

    I don’t think Professor Coyne has successfully refuted compatibilism. As philosopher W. T. Stace pointed out, competent English speakers sometimes attribute freedom to a person’s choice, even if the person’s actions were caused. For example, Gandhi fasted to compel the British to free India; he did this of his own free will. Even if you told someone that if we rewound the universe, Gandhi would still have fasted (given those conditions), no matter what, or if you told people that a computer could have predicted with 100% accuracy that Gandhi would have fasted, some would still say he did it freely. (Experimental philosophers such as Shaun Nichols have confirmed similar results.)

    Now I take it that Coyne would be happy to grant that some people talk as if a certain kind of causal relationship is sufficient for freedom, and they’re not (say) not speaking English anymore, but he would add that this sort of freedom is ultimately irrelevant to our most important ethical concerns. But his view of the policy or political implications of abandoning free will (e.g. when it comes to punishment) seems actually quite amenable to compatibilism. I assume he agrees that people whose brain tumors cause them to kill should receive less punishment than people who choose it for some other reason. (Maybe this is for compatibilist reasons: we can’t control (or people believe we can’t control) as easily whether we have brain tumors, and so deterrence based on uncontrollable factors doesn’t work as well.)

    But crucially, look at the position we end up with: If people commit crimes because they’re insane, or suffering from brain tumors, we don’t punish them as much or the same as if they aren’t. And the compatibilist says the tumor sufferer didn’t freely commit the crime, but other people did. Putting these positions together, we get: We should hold people responsible when they’re compatibilistically free, and not (or at least less) when they’re not compatibilistically free. In short, if we accept compatibilism, we get the same recommendations that Coyne issues. It seems we do care about the kind of freedom the compatibilist cares about, and even when it comes to ethically important issues. In the end, we punish people when they (compatibilistically) freely commit crimes, and not so much when they don’t.

  33. Curt Nelson
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Will someone please tell me why our behavior is not random (like a coin toss) if we do not have free will?

    I understand that we’re meat machines that operate according to the laws of nature. Fine, but obviously our behavior is not random, it follows patterns and is even logical. Where does the logic and all come from? A coin can be heads or tails, it makes no difference. But we choose not to step in front of oncoming traffic, to wait. Our behavior is not random.

    The machine has free will. We are the machine.

    • Paul P
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Do not mistake your inability to determine the result of a coin toss with genuine randomness. A coin toss *is* deterministic.

      • Curt Nelson
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Paul P. I get it that the coin toss is deterministic, not random. But what about our behavior, why isn’t it incoherent if we don’t have free will?

        We’re logical machines that make sensible choices all the time. If that isn’t free will what is it?

        • Paul P
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

          Do you agree that our behavior is also deterministic? If you do, I think you are making a simplified form of compatibilism. Which is ok. I don’t consider myself a compatibilist because I tend to view it as a postion that exists to salvage some notion of free will. As I said this is fine but not important to me.

          • steve
            Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

            Paul P,

            I agree with you that compatibilists are struggling to “salvage some notion of free will”: compatibilists are free willists. But, I don’t see anything fine with this.

            • Curt Nelson
              Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

              I don’t see anything fine with your take on my argument – struggles of a drowning man, was it?

              Anyway, why not just tell me how a meat machine’s behavior is not free will? Who or what is responsible for the behavior if not the animal?

              I mean, the thing is, animals do all kinds of things, and the question: Is it the animals who are doing what they’re doing? is, of course, yes. The animals are doing it. Do the animals have souls? No, but they don’t need a soul to do things. They’re just machines. Why can’t a machine be said to do something – to be the author of it? What is so hard about that? What is wrong with that? I don’t think physics is the author, because physics doesn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other.

              • steve
                Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

                Why can’t a machine be said to do something – to be the author of it?

                Curt,

                There is a difference between doing a thing and being the author of a thing… meat machines do things, but they do not author things…the aauthor of your actions would be your heredity and environmental inputs.

            • Paul P
              Posted January 19, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

              Pure speculation on my part – but I think for some (not necessarily Curt as I wouldn’t know) that for a person to be “accountable” for his/her action that person must have free will (even if it is vaguely defined or undefinable). In other words accountability and free-will have a tight coupling.

              I don’t share this view.

              On determinism vs compatibilism it feels like it becomes a discussion in semantical munitia. And in this particular case that doesn’t interest *me* all that much. I don’t want to imply you should share my apathy towards it.

  34. Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    our perspective is a practical one — do pop notions of free will (no special pleading necessary) predict behavior better than other approaches, say a brain based one?

    kant say it adds much information value, at all.

  35. Karl Withakay
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    OK, I’ve read numerous posts here and hundreds, if not thousands of comments and have come to the following conclusion:

    Jerry has defined free will as he believes it is most commonly understood (which I have yet to see anyone seriously dispute is the common understanding of free will), and has laid out his position against that concept of free will.

    As far as I can tell, those arguing against Jerry are mostly either arguing for or against something other than what Jerry is discussing (different concepts of free will or positions that do not appear to be Jerry’s, etc), or they are arguing for dualism.

    So far, I don’t believe I have seen any arguments which are actually against Jerry’s take on free will as he has defined it that don’t invoke or at least imply dualism.

    Arguments against his definition of free will aren’t really relevant to the discussion. They might be at least tangentially relevant if you were to take the position that the definition he uses is not the predominant concept of free will. I do not recall anyone ever having disputed that position here so far.

    • eric
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      The rewind argument is strong. The stipulation that only conscious choice counts is, IMO, not well aligned with the commonly understood notion of free will. I have no survey statistics on that, just my own opinion, but I doubt most free-will-believers care whether the the choice occurs a millisecond, second, or 5 seconds before the perception of choice – its either choice, or it isn’t.

      A tiny and somewhat silly thought experiment: let’s say tomorrow someone proves that an immaterial, dualistic soul chooses to have me talk in my sleep. Is that discovery relevant to the question of free will or not? I think most people would say that such a discovery is evidence in favor of free will. But under Jerry’s definition, such a discovery would be irrelevant because talking in my sleep is not a conscious act. That seems very wierd and at odds with a standard notion of free will.

    • OldFuzz
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      “Arguments against his definition of free will aren’t really relevant to the discussion.”

      Isn’t this a slippery slope? Within science there are various definitions (characterizations) of many phenomena. Of course the concept of free will may not be a purely scientific one, but science is employed in its support or denial.

      From the limited reading I have don on the free will controversy, defining it seems to be at its heart; e.g., the paper at SEP

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/

      which identifies it as a purely philosophical term not a scientific one.

      • Karl Withakay
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        A slippery slope? I’m not saying that those arguments aren’t relevant to any discussion of free will, just that they are not relevant to this narrow discussion of free will as Jerry has defined it.

    • DV
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Note that it’s not just Jerry’s free will concept that some people object to. In fact that by itself would be uninteresting. But more importantly, the conclusions that he draws from this reductionism – we don’t have choices, and we don’t have responsibility – these are the conclusions that are primarily called to be in error, or at least in trouble with our sensical experience. When somebody says “we don’t have free will”, the proper response would be “who cares about that kind of free will”.

      • Karl Withakay
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        “When somebody says “we don’t have free will”, the proper response would be “who cares about that kind of free will”.”

        The answer to that question would be: “most people who believe in a god, especially the god of the Jews and Christians.”

        The problem with trying to redefine the term free will in a way not commonly used is that most people will continue to use their definition. It’s likely a hopelessly irredeemable term.

        • DV
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          Who cares about what philosophically-inclined God-delusional people think about the source of their ability to make uncoerced choices?

          Yes, one of the problem with Jerry’s definition is that it is not commonly used. The other one is that is that is nonsensical to common experience.

          Luckily most people (“most people” in the broadest sense, not the narrow sense of “most people in the philosophy department”) will continue to use phrases like “act of my own free will” with no confusion at all.

          • steve
            Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

            DV,

            If you agree that there is no such thing as contra-causal free will, then what your point? If you do believe in free will then defend your position. Either way, please drop this “people who believe in free will aren’t saying they believe in contra-causal free will” nonesense.

            • DV
              Posted January 19, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

              My point is simply to reclaim the definition of free will that is meaningful to our experience. As I have said the important point of contention is the absurd conclusions of “we don’t have choices” and “we don’t have responsibilities” that the incompatibilist position leads to.

              • Posted January 19, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

                Incompatibilism doesn’t deny choice, or responsibility, so you’re missing the point.

                My fridge control system makes decisions. So do computers. Any system with some degree of autonomy will make decisions.

                If my fridge control system goes wrong and my food is spoiled there is and immediacy of autonomy in which I can say “My fridge spoiled my food.” My fridge is most immediately responsible, even if poor manufacture was a more distant responsibility.

                Applying these principles to human automata is well within a naturalistic physicalist view of human beings.

              • steve
                Posted January 19, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

                DV,

                What reclaiming?…. compatibilists can’t be reclaiming the definition, because the original definition of free will was, and has been since the get-go, libertarian free will or contra-causal free will. No, what the compatibilists are trying to do is shift the definition of free will to basically mean “be able to do what they want/desire and are physically capable of, without external coercion” AKA The Freedom You Really Want to Have ™.

                Actually the unavoidable conclusions are that we don’t make libertarianly free choices, and we don’t have moral responsibilities. (Which is not the same as we don’t have a responsibility to be moral.)

    • greg byshenk
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Jerry has defined free will as he believes it is most commonly understood (which I have yet to see anyone seriously dispute is the common understanding of free will), and has laid out his position against that concept of free will.

      I believe that I have disputed this, and more than once.
      I don’t think that Jerry’s definition captures “the common understanding of free will”. The problem is that “the common understanding” (at least as I understand it) is that, (using the ‘rewind’ analogy) in the same same situation, one could act differently — if one willed differently (or, if one wanted to). Which means that to capture the “common understanding”, one must also capture the “willing differently” aspect, which Jerry’s definition fails to do.
      Jerry’s definition supposes that one “rewinds the clock” exactly, such that everything is exactly the same, including all of one’s motivations, desires, etc. Which in turn means that this definition suggests that one can only have ‘free will’ if one was in exactly the same situation, willing exactly the same thing but somehow behaving differently. In other words, the upshot of this definition is that one can have “free will” only if one acts contrary to one’s will.
      Maybe I’m just missing something terribly important in this, but this suggests to me not that there is some problem with “free will”, but that there is something wrong with defining it in this way.

      • Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        Yes! As I said in a comment on a much earlier post on free will, everything being exactly equal, why would you – why would you even want to – choose differently? I don’t think you could and still be authentically “you”.

        /@

      • Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        PS. The persistance of the belief that you could’ve chosen differently is (in part) a consequence of regrets about choices you made.

        /@

      • steve
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        Grey,

        Yeah, you are misunderstanding on a couple of points.

        • greg byshenk
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 4:03 am | Permalink

          I am open to that possibility. That said, if in fact I do misunderstand, it seems not unreasonable to expect someone to point out what and how it is that I misunderstand, rather than just ignoring the argument.

      • Vaal
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        greg,

        What is weird is how those arguing for incompatibilism just don’t seem to even see this point, much less address it directly.

        Vaal.

  36. Tim
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the thing. We have no idea about the underlying nature of the quantum reality of the universe. We can say some descriptive things about it, but we don’t know the fundamental reality underlying those descriptions. So the argument I see Jerry making in asserting deterministic qualities to those quantum mechanisms that enable consciousness seems to be without any solid basis. It really is an argument from reality more than anything. “We know that at a macro level, the universe is deterministic, therefore we assert that at a quantum level it must also be so.” Why exactly must this be so? Let’s just be honest about what we know, and what we don’t know. NOBODY knows what fundamental quantum reality really is. So let’s not make pronouncements on it prematurely.

    • Tim
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      “It really is an argument from reality more than anything.”

      Should have been…

      It really is an argument from ANALOGY more than anything.

    • Karl Withakay
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think Jerry was saying quantum mechanics is deterministic. (if he was, predominant thought on quantum physics is against him) It seemed to me that his point was that the indeterministic and probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics is in no way any kind of support of the concept of free will.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        “I don’t think Jerry was saying quantum mechanics is deterministic.”

        If Jerry won’t say it, I will. Quantum mechanics is deterministic. Wave functions unfold in a precisely deterministic manner — as deterministic as classical Newtonian mechanics. There is a great deal of dispute, completely unresolved, about the proper interpretation of the so-called *collapse* of the wave function upon a measurement, which only casts more doubt on Jerry’s faith in the laws of physics as we understand them today.

  37. Tim
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    “It really is an argument from reality more than anything.”

    Should have been…

    It really is an argument from ANALOGY more than anything.

  38. DV
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I feel like this is another rewind of the tape and Jerry again falls into the error of bad reductionism.

    So I guess that proves he could not choose otherwise. :)

  39. Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    The fact is that we have explanations for much of what happens in “mind,” and a framework that allowed for those explanations and, apparently, all further possible explanations of mind/brain.

    The “free will” people have nothing, and, like creationists, show little interest in ever trying to explain how “free will” exists. Word games are all that they play.

    There is no reason even to suppose that “free will” exists any more than “God” does (and it’s a circular to consider what you’ve learned to believe is “free will” as something that is inevitable–if it’s inevitable it’s more evidence for a lack of free will, and often, even, of ability to learn something different from what you’re used to at some point), unless you’re just talking about “weak free will” or whatever you want to call the fact that we’re aware of our ability to “make decisions” (if hardly to control our “decision-making” in an ultimate sense).

    There is no model of free will, no falsifiability, no mechanism, nothing but magic as any possible “excuse” for such an inane notion.

    Glen Davidson

    • Vaal
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      Glen Davidson wrote: The “free will” people have nothing, and, like creationists, show little interest in ever trying to explain how “free will” exists.

      That is absurd and is, disappointingly, written like someone with his fingers in his ears and hands over his eyes while others are presenting arguments.

      The compatibilist point of view has been explained here numerous times, and any good library likely has plenty of books in which philosophers have indeed explained precisely what they mean by free will (a majority coming down on the side of compatibilism, I believe). Simply posting a version of “la-la-la I can’t hear you, you haven’t said anything!” does not make this fact go away.

      I’m an atheist who has done many years of “battle” against theistic arguments and I may as well point out that your post is, to me, strikingly like the attitude I find when debating theists. I get the same “talking to a wall” sensation in reading your view of the issue. So you don’t get to be the only atheist feeling like the other side can display a theistic type of evasion and pig-headedness.

      However, such characterization of the other side of a debate hardly matters to the actual arguments.

      Do you agree with Jerry’s conception of Free Will? Then, please, answer the issues that folks like greg byshenk and I (and others) keep bringing up again and again.

      Look at greg’s post, not far up from this one. There seem to be some real issues with Jerry’s concept of Free Will INCLUDING problems with the claim that his concept represents some norm (of the everyman conception of free will, or whatever). When examined, not only does it come out as incoherent, it ALSO does not seem to actually do a good job representing what many people think of when the issue of Free Will comes up.

      And in trying to support his initial assumption about the concept of free will, Jerry resorts to anecdote (ignoring most philosophy on free will), saying he’s asked some colleagues what they think of free will. Well, I have anecdotes as well. I asked my wife (the least philosophically inclined person I know) and also some friends what their conception of “Free Will” meant. And every one of them came out with what was essentially “being able to make a choice that is not strongly coerced” and being able to express their will. Pretty much a compatibilist notion of free will.

      So, do Jerry’s anecdotes count in identifying the every-man concept of Free Will, yet mine don’t? Let’s not special plead.

      There are still some real argument to be had over what most people mean by “free willed choice” and what are the salient issues involved. If you dismiss this as mere “word play” without presenting a good argument for that claim, then it is not the compatibilist who is acting like a theist ;-)

      You don’t get to just claim the ball as yours (“I define Free Will this way, no matter how incoherent the result…and if you define it differently YOU are just playing word games!) and go home, without doing the work to establish why anyone ought to accept your initial assumptions about Free Will.

      Vaal

      • steve
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

        Vaal,

        This means you aren’t even talking about the issue at hand… so your comments are just noise. The issue at hand is whether libertarian free will exists or not. The topic is not “”being able to make a choice that is not strongly coerced”…

        • Vaal
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

          Steve,

          Glen made no such distinction. Even if he did, incompatibilists have been promoting a certain version of Libertarian free will as THE Free Will that, if it doesn’t exist, means Free Will doesn’t “really” exist. And it’s been typical of incompatibilists to depict compatibilist concepts of free will as not being the “real” concept of free will, but rather just “re-defining” free will and playing word games.

          Jerry himself has been promoting this take, including his insistence that his version of free will captures the everyman concept. Which some of us have argued against, including pointing out the problems of his anecdotal support.

          So my points above are indeed pertinent.

          Cheers,

          Vaal

          • Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

            Glen made no such distinction.

            You’re an incompetent reader, because I did mention “weak free will,” clearly a compatibilist concept, and also one that barely matters in the context of Piglucci’s “reasoning.”

            Even if he did, incompatibilists have been promoting a certain version of Libertarian free will as THE Free Will that, if it doesn’t exist, means Free Will doesn’t “really” exist. And it’s been typical of incompatibilists to depict compatibilist concepts of free will as not being the “real” concept of free will, but rather just “re-defining” free will and playing word games.

            No, idiot, that’s not the point at all. Just as you can’t properly read what I write, you pay no heed to the “free will” that Piglucci was actually discussing.

            So my points above are indeed pertinent.

            Out of context of the thread, and uncomprehending of what I actually wrote.

            Look, you’re incompetent in this discussion, and a hideous bore. 95% certainty I’m done with you in this thread.

            Glen Davidson

          • steve
            Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

            Vaal,

            No Vaal, I hate to break it to you but you are wrong… you really don’t understand what is really is being discussed.

      • Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

        That is absurd and is, disappointingly, written like someone with his fingers in his ears and hands over his eyes while others are presenting arguments.

        No, dumb schmuck, I’m just not interested in endless idiocies from people like you who change definitions. I’m aware of compatibilism, it’s just stupid, like you. What is more, that’s not what this thread is about, it’s about Piglucci’s attempts to ignore the limits of science to leave “free will” of the wooish kind possible.

        The compatibilist point of view has been explained here numerous times, and any good library likely has plenty of books in which philosophers have indeed explained precisely what they mean by free will (a majority coming down on the side of compatibilism, I believe). Simply posting a version of “la-la-la I can’t hear you, you haven’t said anything!” does not make this fact go away.

        Just saying “compatibilism” as if it answered anything is more insipid stupidity from you. Since you’re as incompetent at reading as at arguing, you ignore the fact that I mentioned “weak free will,” clearly a nod to compatibilism, which is not something I really care about, as it has nothing to do
        with the traditional issue at all.

        I get the same “talking to a wall” sensation in reading your view of the issue.

        You would, ignoramus.

        So you don’t get to be the only atheist feeling like the other side can display a theistic type of evasion and pig-headedness.

        True, you’re a pig-headed jerk who can’t read what I write with comprehensionm, nor stick with the notion of “free will” that’s actually at stake for Piglucci.

        . There seem to be some real issues with Jerry’s concept of Free Will INCLUDING problems with the claim that his concept represents some norm (of the everyman conception of free will, or whatever).

        There probably are issues with Jerry’s notions of free will, but I haven’t followed his line of thinking. I’m more on the order of dealing with morons like Averick and Piglucci, who are trying to bypass physics.

        You don’t get to just claim the ball as yours (“I define Free Will this way, no matter how incoherent the result…and if you define it differently YOU are just playing word games!) and go home, without doing the work to establish why anyone ought to accept your initial assumptions about Free Will.

        And you, cretin, don’t get to just redefine words to mean what you want them to, when clearly you’re not dealing with the “free will” about which Piglucci is “agnostic.” That’s what was at issue, and your vile attempts to pretend that something else was at issue indicates what a waste of thought you are.

        Glen Davidson

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

          Please lay off the invective, like calling fellow commenters “morons” and “cretins”. There’s no point in that rude behavior: we’re engaging with ideas here.

          • Posted January 19, 2012 at 12:09 am | Permalink

            we’re engaging with ideas here.

            Who’s we? I mainly saw a lot of egregious unprovoked attacks by someone who doesn’t even understand how wooish Pigliucci’s “physics” argument is. Deepak Chopra couldn’t have thrown up a greater “physics” smokescreen, Pigliucci just stays “agnostic,” but not the slightest bit more scientific.

            So this was a discussion of ideas, was it?

            That is absurd and is, disappointingly, written like someone with his fingers in his ears and hands over his eyes while others are presenting arguments.

            Mere invective. That’s about all that was ever produced in what was little other than a beside-the-point attack on me–apparently because I dealt with Pigliucci’s nonsense, and this person couldn’t even recognize compatibilism when it was in my post.

            I’ve never understood the policies here, since simply calling someone what their comments suggest them to be seems to be verboten, while utilizing mere invective and attack seems to be all right.

            Obviously I really don’t intend to refrain from calling people what they show themselves to be, so I’ll rarely comment here, just leave questioning why ridiculous ad hominem and ignorant attacks are fine and apparently “discussing ideas,” while retaliating to such lack of good faith and personal attack is somehow beyond the pale.

            Glen Davidson

        • Vaal
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

          Glen,

          Your points seem to be scattershot. First your subject seemed to be “The Free Will People” (who have “nothing”)…but who are these “Free Will People?” you are attacking? No one here has been arguing for the type of free will you seem to attack. And certainly, Massimo does not. Yet you seem to say it should be obvious that people like Massimo are your targets:

          “What is more, that’s not what this thread is about, it’s about Piglucci’s attempts to ignore the limits of science to leave “free will” of the wooish kind possible.”

          and:

          “nor stick with the notion of “free will” that’s actually at stake for Piglucci.”

          and:

          “I’m more on the order of dealing with morons like Averick and Piglucci, who are trying to bypass physics.”

          But the “free will” that is “actually at stake for Piglucci” is NOT the wooish free will you seem to imply, and which you railed about. And he’s not trying to “bypass physics” to get this “woo” version in. Here is Piglucci on free will, in one article:

          http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rationally-speaking/200911/the-incoherence-free-will

          “The Incoherence Of Free Will”

          “Anyway, back to the “free” part of free will. The obvious question is: free from what? That’s where coherence quickly becomes a problem. Unless you are a dualist — a thankfully dying breed among philosophers — you can’t possibly mean free from causal interactions with matter/energy, i.e. independent of the laws and materials of the universe. The will, whatever it is and however we like to conceptualize it, is grounded in the biological activity of our neurons. And last time I checked our neurons are made of matter, exchange energy (in the form of electrical currents and chemical reactions), and are subject to the laws of physics. So if that’s what you mean by “free,” it’s a no starter.”

          In the same article, he also discounts the “woo” version of free will some try to find in Quantum Physics. Hardly the words of someone who is inclined to “bypass physics” to find some woo-version of free will, as you imply. In fact, ultimately it seems he is sympathetic to Dennett-concepts of Free Will (compatibilism).

          Which is of course why Piglucci certainly did not in the article referenced by Jerry, go advocating for some “woo-style” libertarian free will that bypasses physics. In fact, like any determinist, Piglucci’s views seem to line up quite well with Jerry’s in general until one gets to whether it’s legitimate to *call* X a free willed choice or not. What Piglucci DID say that if Jerry want’s to
          argue against the naive version of free will (which Piglucci does not advocate in this or other articles), then Jerry still has some more assumptions that need supporting (and that he was skeptical of a knock-down argument for those assumptions). (I think Jerry does a decent job of answering, in a nutshell).

          So on one hand you knock me for lack of reading comprehension, while on the other railing against a form of free will that no one here advocates, INCLUDING Piglucci. Yet we are supposed to understand that in railing against these “Free Will” people, you were thinking of Piglucci. Sorry, but your criticism of Piglucci is confused.

          However, given the volatility of your reply…perhaps it’s best to slowly back out of the room…

          Vaal.

          • Posted January 19, 2012 at 5:09 am | Permalink

            Hi Vaal,

            The ling to Pigliucci’s 2009 article was helpful. It seems that nearly all the way Pigliucci is in agreement with the physicalist view of consciousness and that the dualist free-will is an illusion.

            What remains though, the ‘free will worth having’ isn’t really explained well there, and I’ve not seen it explained convincingly elsewhere.

            Is this ‘free will worth having’ non-physicalist in any way? I suspect not, but I’d just like that clarified from your perspective.

            The big problem that seems to hang over compatibilism is “I could have chosen otherwise”.

            Well, what if you could? What sort of free-will is that to make it worth having? In practice you can’t choose otherwise.

            That people do get a second chance sometimes may be contributing to the illusion, because what we experience as second chances are not real re-runs of the first chance. There is no way beyond speculative metaphysics that we can even contemplate a geniune re-run. All experienced ‘second chances’ are altrenative oportunitites precisley because they change the conditions (in the environment or in the brain) that allow a different path to be taken. If anything, alcoholism, repeated failed marriages, the life of the ‘loser’, if anything, illustrates how difficult it is to do otherwise, even when many conditions do change. So, “I could have chosen otherwise” isn’t a particularly convincing assertion.

            I’d really like to drill down on this with a compatibalist (if indeed that’s what you are) – and with all due respect for our mutual misunderstanding and without resorting to abusive language. If you’re up for that by all means drop by at my blog, as linked in the previous paragraph.

            • Vaal
              Posted January 20, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

              Sorry for the late answer Ron. I appreciate your offer to chat on the subject and hope to find time to drop by your blog.

              Vaal.

          • steve
            Posted January 19, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

            O.K. Everyone… we now know that Vaal also agrees that libertarian free will is an illusion. Thank-you Vaal for clarity on your stance… you agree with the rest of us non-free willists.

            • Vaal
              Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

              My pleasure to be in agreement with you :-)

              I’m certainly (and no doubt obviously) not an expert in this field. Like others, I’m just looking at the arguments offered for each view and deciding “this one seems to be making more sense, at this point.”

              Cheers,

              Vaal.

  40. OldFuzz
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    “Am I unsophisticated about free will?” No more than the rest of us would be my bet. Where I grew up, one of the events at the county fair was catching a greased pig. The more I read about free will, the more I think about those contests.

    As I posted above, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy paper on Free Will (here) identifies free will as a (purely?) philosophical term, making but one scientific reference.

    I wonder if this introduces a discontinuity into the discussion?

    • Xuuths
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      And yet, in every county fair, someone caught the greased pig. Always. Without exception.

  41. SplendidMonkey
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree with Jerry’s lucid concept of free will. I find it interesting and perhaps telling how much we humans enjoy the trill of being put in situations where things are out of our control or where our control is limited, e.g. sky diving. It seems like our consciousness inherently enjoys the experience of seeing what happens. Similarly we enjoy movies, TV, and video games almost as much as experiencing things directly. I believe my experience of real life is similarly a drive to enjoy those things I observe happening in my life. I for one am mostly happy with the trajectory of my personal star stuff.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      “I for one am mostly happy with the trajectory of my personal star stuff.”

      Whether you are happy or unhappy with your trajectory has no significance, according to your and Jerry’s position. It just “is.” Your happiness (according to your philosophy) is merely an epiphenomenal mental state that can have no influence whatsoever on the external world. You cannot strive to increase your happiness or the happiness of others, and, if you imagine that you do so, it’s an illusion with no practical effect.

      • SplendidMonkey
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        Exactly.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          In other words, don’t worry, be happy.

          I regret to have to say that I find that attitude jejune and irrelevant to this discussion.

      • Posted January 22, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

        Why can one’s mental state have no influence on the rest of the world? Only by assuming psychoneural dualism does that make any sense.

    • Vaal
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      SplendidMonkey: “I completely agree with Jerry’s lucid concept of free will.”

      So you think that “free will” would only exist if we could make irrational choices that do not reflect our own desires?

      That IS what Jerry’s concept of free will entails, if you follow the logic.

      (For some reason I haven’t seen Jerry directly address this problem…or I missed it if he did).

      I suggest thinking about it a bit more and then ask yourself again if you think this is a “lucid” concept and that you agree with it.

      Vaal.

      • steve
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

        Vaal,

        It’s not Jerry’s concept of free will, it is the concept of believers in libertarian free will… which we non-free willists agree is a very incoherent concept.

  42. Zen Druid
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    [Hi, first comment here]

    I can only see the phrase ‘free will’ as part of an admonitory clause to the dogma that’s shoveled by the theologians and other assorted storytellers. To wit, “One way or the other. Submit and receive communal bliss, or rebel and suffer the consequences.”

    Only in a moral, or moralistic, context does the phrase have any gravitas.

    imho.

  43. Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    “Why, then, do our brains get to “choose” but a coin does not?”
    Because that’s what brains do. Describing the process in atomic terms misses a vital point about volition.

  44. Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Subscribing – I just had to.

    /@

  45. Curt Nelson
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    We’re logical meat machines that make sensible choices all the time. If that isn’t free will, what is it?

  46. Xuuths
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne, what is the temperature of a single atom? What color is a single atom? How solid is a single atom? How wet?

    Do you deny that objects are solid? Or have temperature? Or have color? Or can be wet?

    If it takes more than one atom of something to define temperature/color/solid/wetness, what about the addition of the second atom is making the change?

    These are emergent properties which I believe exist. We have scales for temperature, color, tensile strength, viscosity. We make a lot of calculations based on them.

    Free will is like them. I believe free will exists as an emergent property of our consciousness. I believe our consciousness is an emergent property of our brains.

    • steve
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      uuths,

      You are believing in an illusion.

      Everything you think and do is a function of your heredity and environment… you have no freedom of will.

      • Vaal
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        So, Xuuths’ “heredity” and “environment” thought:

        “what is the temperature of a single atom?” What color is a single atom? How solid is a single atom? How wet?

        …and wrote those sentences?

        What could you actually mean?

        Thanks,

        Vaal.

        • steve
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

          Vaal,

          Yes, just like your heredity and environmental inputs caused you to respond as you did.

      • Curt Nelson
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

        “…everything is a function of heredity and environment…”

        Animals have behavior that arises from natural causes. Yes. That’s true. The behavior is coherent, productive – it makes sense. The animal machines make sense, because they inherited it and learned it. The sensible behavior does not arise from basic atomic interactions, which can’t think or act according to any plan, it arises from the machine. And if that isn’t free will, I don’t know what is.

        • steve
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

          Right you are, Andy.

          • Curt Nelson
            Posted January 19, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

            You can say that again, Mike.

        • steve
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

          Curt,

          Then you don’t understand what libertarian free will is, becausse what you just agreed to is the opposite of free will.. it is will devoid of freedom… will that is necessitated by heridity and environment.

          • Curt Nelson
            Posted January 19, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

            Libertarian free will, huh? No, I don’t understand that. Why can’t we just talk about regular free will?

            Yes, I believe in the kind of free will that is necessitated by heredity and environment. Is there any other kind? Are you thinking of the kind a soul might provide? Why is it assumed that because nature and nurture are big influences on behavior that they actually dictate every move, instead of guiding behavior generally?

            Free will is an illusion – where do people get that, such an emphatic statement? It seems to be inspired by quantum physics where the least intuitive solution is the correct one. You think you’re thinking but you’re not! Please tell me how it was determined that free will is an illusion.

            • Peter
              Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

              It’s really quite simple:
              -pick a stupidly easy idea to defend: libertarian free will is false
              -pretend that’s interesting
              -laugh at everyone who thinks the stupid idea was never that interesting
              -win!

            • steve
              Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

              Libertarian free will, huh? No, I don’t understand that.

              Curt, you have joined a conversation about the existence of libertarian free will. This is the subject of Jerry’s blog entry: Jerry holds the belief that libertarian free will does not exist.

              Why can’t we just talk about regular free will?

              Well we could if there was an agreement as to what was meant by regular free will.
              The adjective ‘regular’ does not adequately remove ambiguity with the phrase “free will”. To facilitate meaningful dialog there needs to be differentiation between:
              Libertarian Free Will (also known as Contra-Causal Free Will)
              Legal Free Will (as in when you sign a contract and attest that you are doing it of your own free will)
              Unspecified other definitions of free will… (there seems to be a steady flow of new meanings attached to the two word label “free will”.
              On another level an answer to your question might be that the subject that Jerry wants to talk about is libertarian free will.

              Yes, I believe in the kind of free will that is necessitated by heredity and environment. Is there any other kind?

              Well see, here is the crux of your difficulty… if the free will you are thinking about is necessitated by heredity and environment they it is not free… because of being NECESSITATED. That is what being necessitated means. This would not be free will… this would be non-free will. If you believe in will that is necessitated by heredity and environment then you are not believing in a will that can properly be called free will.

              Are you thinking of the kind a soul might provide?

              Not me (as I say there is no libertarian free will), but many of those that assert the existence of libertarian free will do ascribe this functionality to “soul”. Others just claim it to be an emergent property of the mind. You really would have to quiz those that believe in the existence of free will to tell you what they are talking about.

              Why is it assumed that because nature and nurture are big influences on behavior that they actually dictate every move, instead of guiding behavior generally?

              First: this isn’t an assumption so much as a conclusion based on observation. When we look at behavior and its relationship to nature and nurture, we see that the degree to which nature and nurture combine to influence (cause) behavior is 100%. Necessitated by heredity and environment, as you said.
              As to your suggested alternative; “guiding behavior generally”… this would mean what, that nature and nurture don’t have 100% command of behavior but some smaller percentage of control (less than 50% in order to be overridden), and something else would have to have the remaining percentage of control (more than 50% in order to be effective)? What do you have in mind? I am wondering what would you identify as that something else? If there is something else that is influencing behavior that is not covered by nature and not covered by nurture, then what is this thing? And what is it about this thing that allows it to imbue behavior with that which can be rightly identified as freedom?

              Free will is an illusion – where do people get that, such an emphatic statement?

              They come to be convinced of this conclusion from various directions. (None of them would seem to be inspired by quantum physics.) Some of them from vary same belief you report believing, that human behavior is necessitated by heredity and environment. Just read the various posts by those that don’t believe in free will, and you’ll see.

              You think you’re thinking but you’re not!

              I haven’t seen any non-free willist make such a statement.

              Please tell me how it was determined that free will is an illusion.

              People thought about just how free the human will is, and after careful examination of the proposition they came to the conclusion that the human will was devoid of any freedom. Ego, that which we have the subjective feeling of, must be an illusion.

              • curt nelson
                Posted January 21, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

                Steve, I want to talk about the common, or literal interpretation of free will. If there are other kinds then different words should be used to differentiate them (I guess libertarian free will is one), because the standard question “is there free will?” (the topic of this blog post) is a simple question. Descriptions of what is meant by this simple question are simple themselves: When you lift your arm is it really you who are doing it?. Yes, of course it is you, is my answer. How can there be controversy about this? Is the question really about something else, and if it is, why not just ask that question? Maybe it’s actually a question about souls – do we have them? (No. We are biological machines.) Why all the talk about the Libet experiments, which point out that the subconscious aspect of the mind decides things before the conscious aspect is aware of it. (So what. It’s all in the brain. It’s all us.) And the quibbling about quantum probabilities and just which kinds might or might not support a deterministic explanation of will: It strikes me as absurd to suggest that any coherent behavior is a manifestation of quantum physical events.
                100% of behavior is caused by nature and nurture? I can’t imagine how that was determined. I suspect it is the result of thought experiments performed by biased brains. I seems to me that the concept of the mind as an emergent property of the brain is right on. So the mind would be guided by nature and nurture but there would be abundant slack in the system to decide whether or not to lift one’s arm. The machine can act independently.

              • Steve
                Posted January 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

                Steve, I want to talk about the common, or literal interpretation of free will.

                I take that to mean you want to talk about libertarian free will.

                If there are other kinds then different words should be used to differentiate them (I guess libertarian free will is one), because the standard question “is there free will?” (the topic of this blog post) is a simple question.

                Again I assure you the topic of this blog post is the fiction of libertarian free will.

                Descriptions of what is meant by this simple question are simple themselves: When you lift your arm is it really you who are doing it?. Yes, of course it is you, is my answer.

                What do you mean by “really”? If I tell you that every time you raise your arm it is because you are caused to raise your arm by a combination of your heredity and environment and that at the moment of the arm raising event you could not have done otherwise… would this constitute you really raising your arm? If yes, then I agree with you. If no, then I don’t agree with you.

                How can there be controversy about this?

                There is the potential for controversy any time there is disagreement. Do we disagree so far?

                Is the question really about something else, and if it is, why not just ask that question? Maybe it’s actually a question about souls – do we have them? (No. We are biological machines.)

                Well many people who believe in free will believe it is an attribute of an immaterial/supernatural/immortal soul. Some theologies hold that humans alone have souls and also that humans have free will. But I don’t see that this blog post is necessarily about the non-existence of souls.
                I make note that you believe us to be biological machines. This is interesting because many advocates of free will are very insistent that humans are more than mere biological machines and the existence of free will is the very thing that lifts them into this superior position. (They are in error if there is no libertarian free will.)

                Why all the talk about the Libet experiments, which point out that the subconscious aspect of the mind decides things before the conscious aspect is aware of it. (So what. It’s all in the brain. It’s all us.)

                This is because most supporters of libertarian free will believe libertarian free will is evidenced as conscious control of what we do, or conscious decision making. They do not attribute libertarian free will to those events or functions of the subconscious or unconscious mind. (For example they would not claim that a tourettes tick is a result of a freely willed event.)
                So…if the Libet experiment can show that that which is perceived by the subject as a conscious decision, was originated subconsciously and then subsequently shows up in the subject’s consciousness, then it would not be counted as an example of a libertarian free will decision.
                These experiments undermine the proposition that consciousness has the power of control by demonstrating that in these experiments consciousness was not the source of a choice even though the subjects were deluded into thinking that their consciousness was doing the deciding (as evidenced by their reporting that they made conscious decisions)… when actually it was their subconscious (which remember is not attributed with libertarian free will) that did the deciding.

                And the quibbling about quantum probabilities and just which kinds might or might not support a deterministic explanation of will: It strikes me as absurd to suggest that any coherent behavior is a manifestation of quantum physical events.

                I agree with you here: quibbling.
                My impression is that those motivated to defend the existence of free will try to do so in various ways. This is just another way. It works like this… believing that libertarian free will is incompatible with a completely deterministic universe, they grasp at what they think quantum physics says about determinism (rightly or wrongly.) Thing is, intermediacy does not establish free will. So this appeal to quantum physics is just so much desperate foolishness.

                100% of behavior is caused by nature and nurture? I can’t imagine how that was determined. I suspect it is the result of thought experiments performed by biased brains. I seems to me that the concept of the mind as an emergent property of the brain is right on. So the mind would be guided by nature and nurture but there would be abundant slack in the system to decide whether or not to lift one’s arm.

                I asked you to propose a counter explanation if you don’t agree. What are your percentages?
                Anyway, I don’t think you’ll find a non-free willist that is opposed to the idea that the mind is an emergent property of the brain, that is not even being questioned. Non-free willism just says that this emergent mind does not have the capacity of libertarian free will.
                Now we get to this idea you posit of “slack in the system” as the decider of arm lifting. So you counter proposition is that human behavior is a function of heredity, environment and slack in the system? And somehow this slack in the system is not covered in heredity or environment and works in some way immune to causality, and is part of our consciousness, and is not something akin to a soul and does not have anything akin to magical powers? I wonder if this “slack in the system” is relegated to decisions as trivial as arm lifting… would slack in the system be making crucial decisions like robbing banks, or career choices or where to live, or political affiliation, or what to believe on religious questions, etc? No, it is pretty obvious to even the most diehard free will adherent tat crucial decisions can be made based upon nature and nurture. Free willists can often be found saying things like, “look at me, I am making my arm go up and down at will… ah ha! I’ve proved free will.” You never hear them saying things like, “look at me, I am switching from being a peace corp volunteer to a hit man for hire and now back to a peace corp volunteer” (completely contrary to my upbringing and life experiences).

                The machine can act independently.

                Maybe independently is a valid term… independently but certainly not libertarianly free because the machine can only do what its built and programmed to do. But I am thinking that for you if a machine is not libertarianly free then it is also not “really” independent.

  47. Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I am a completely novice in thinking about “free will”,and probably very unsophisticated about it. I understand and perhaps intelectually agree with Jerry about the non existence of free will, based on the necessity of reality, including our brains, to obey the laws of physics.
    However, I believe that there is a Catch-22 issue in Jerry’s prompting to act “morally” or to “convince people”. I believe that if physical determinism rules and there is not free will, the only possible philosophy is nihilism.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Well, there’s that. Nihilism, I mean. But don’t neglect the other possibility.

      Existence is real in Jerry’s scheme, but there’s the ineffable feeling of awareness, which we are to believe is illusory and absolutely inconsequential and ineffective, but remains unexplained; and further, we have to act as though this feeling were not inconsequential and ineffective if we’re to converse in any meaningful way.

      I’d prefer nihilism.

      • Posted January 19, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

        Yes, their attitudes, and explanations, are paradoxical and incomplete.

    • steve
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad you’ve come to see through the free will illusion.

    • steve
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      Toni,

      I don’t fully understand what you are getting at here… are you suggesting nihilism as a philosophic template for living one’s life? I would think that if one wanted to adapt nihilism there could be many paths to that course, non-free willism being only one of perhaps many.

      Whatever the case… non-free willism can’t be rejected just because it might lead someone to nihilism.

  48. pendulum21
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    “Even if we don’t choose our acts of criminality, there are good reasons to incarcerate criminals, including protection of society and as an example to deter others.”

    I don’t see nearly enough attentiom given to the concept of reward, it’s always about punishment. Should we continue to reward ourselves? I suppose the argument would be that rewards promote certain behaviors, while punishments deter. what about admiration for those who accomplish great things? What about pride in ourselves? Should we be proud of accomplishments we have no control over?

    These questions need to be thought through in a world where we acknowledge no free will.

    • Andy Dufresne
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

      “I don’t see nearly enough attentiom given to the concept of reward, it’s always about punishment.”

      It’s a good observation to inject periodically, since, indeed, the scope of what’s at stake encompasses ALL our prior notions of what people deserve or are entitled to as a result of their choices.

      Sometimes people think it’s hyperbole, or somehow not meant literally. But “illusion” is meant literally: our perception of having made a “free” choice is a perceiving of a phenomenon that did not take place. The magician sawed a woman in half; I saw it with my own eyes. Actually, no, but it looked that way. Ditto free will. The brain is similarly seamless in executing its trick, but it is a trick.

      • steve
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

        Andy,

        You are right…

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        No, Andy Dufresne, if there is no free will based on the hard determinism, it is not possible to ‘inject’, or have ‘notions’, or ‘deserve’ or ‘choose’ or ‘think’ or ‘made’.

        You and the others who believe as you do have really not thought through all the ramifications of your stated belief — even to the point that there is no ‘you’ or ‘belief’ to have.

        Taking your magician example — there have been people who have cut beings in half, beings that died. They have been observed. A magician is doing something similar, something with a misdirection geared precisely at the habitual way people tend to observe actions. Note that a magician watching another magician saw a woman in half is highly unlikely to perceive it as a woman being sawed in half.

        You may correctly state that there is nothing ‘solid’ on an ultramicroscopic scale — but I assure you that you can still hurt yourself in the attempt to run through a ‘solid’ concrete wall.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

          The no-free-willists want to have it both ways. There are no choices, no decisions, no freedom of action whatsoever in their position, but they pretend that there is by using intentional langage. As a trivial example, they appear to want to convince people of their position, which is one of the silliest, most incoherent stances I can imagine, but it goes much deeper than that. Their language is LOADED with intentional concepts, which by their philosophy are futile and meaningless. It’s ridiculous.

          They may be right (or they may not), but they look foolish by arguing for it.

          • pendulum21
            Posted January 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

            This is what I’ve been trying to express here and in other discussions, and thanks to Stephen I think I’ve found a new phrase that captures what I also have been struggling with, “intentional language”.

            The evidence is leaning towards ‘no free will’ but this, to me, is as impossible to comprehend as non-existence/nothingness itself, which I think we can also all agree, um… exists… I grant it can easily be acknowledged, but in pure subjective, self reflective terms, it cannot be reconciled, we can acknowledge the evidence, but we can never “believe” it (this is of course my opinion, based on my own subjective ponderings of this subject, but my point is I don’t see enough discussion from a subjective point of view, which is the only way free will can be understood). This is an issue for me, but apparently not for the author, or many others on this thread. I choose to think that is because the universe hasn’t brought them to that particular road block. So it’s not right, in an absolute sense of right, for me to judge them, or for them to judge me, none of us have a say on where we land in the matter, we just hope it’s as close to the true nature of reality as it can be. But, of course, judge we all will, but that is the point.

  49. bad Jim
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    In an earlier post, Coyne noted that our actions are influenced by what other people say. It’s reasonable to extend that to note that we’re influenced by our own thoughts, which may be somewhat indeterminate in origin, occasioned by more or less random events or the deliberate introduction of noise, as for example the consumption of intoxicants.

    In any event, the behavior of self-reprogramming automata is poorly understood (hell, the behavior of human-programmed automata remains stubbornly intractable), so it’s a stretch to say that we’d always take the same path from A to B, and more so the longer the path.

  50. Kharamatha
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    “Free will” is to “will”

    as

    “Heart-located love” is to “love”.

    • steve
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Kharamatha,

      Please elaborate. Are you meaning to say that free will is not but an illusion?

  51. Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    This, from Michael Gazzaniga, suggests that our brains make up stories. I’d suggest the ‘free-will’ story is one of them.

    But his book product description (I’ve not read it) includes this:

    “Gazzaniga shows how determinism immeasurably weakens our views of human responsibility; it allows a murderer to argue, in effect, “It wasn’t me who did it——it was my brain.” Gazzaniga convincingly argues that even given the latest insights into the physical mechanisms of the mind, there is an undeniable human reality: We are responsible agents who should be held accountable for our actions, because responsibility is found in how people interact, not in brains.”

    Which is the same old fear based argument that completely misses the point of determinism (an indeterminism). That we are responsible agents is a story that our brains make up – it is after all a very human concept. I don’t know that other animals have concepts like guilt and responsibility. Again, a supposed non-dualist gets confused by using the very human feelings that are in question to support those human feelings. That’s question begging, and compatibilists that argue against physicalist determinism (or physicalist indeterminism) can’t seem to grasp.

  52. Posted January 19, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    let’s put it this way, since we can only find free will in folklore right now, maybe that will change, what’s another basis for punishment? Seems revenge and i-4-i is strongest appeal.

  53. greg byshenk
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I’m tossing this in at the bottom because the software doesn’t seem to want to allow the comments to nest any further.

    Incompatibilism doesn’t deny choice, or responsibility, so you’re missing the point.
    (Ron Murphy, above

    I may be misreading, but it seems that at least some incompatibilists (of the ‘no-free-will’ variety) do “deny choice”, or at least suppose that the “choices” we make somehow aren’t real ‘choices’, and that we have only the illusion of making choices.

    What reclaiming?… . compatibilists can’t be reclaiming the definition, because the original definition of free will was, and has been since the get-go, libertarian free will or contra-causal free will.
    steve, above

    You can pound the table as you wish, but “libertarian” or “contra-causal” free will are not the only concepts of free will. Indeed, if they were, then those very modifiers would be unnecessary. If you wish to argue that such are the only possible concepts, then you need actually to show that, and not merely assert it.

    • steve
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      No Greg, you are wrong. What kind of intellectual dishonesty are you trying to get away with here?

      I am not saying that there are no other concepts that have been labeled free will. Hell’s bells, there could be a zillion different concepts that have been called free will.

      All I am saying is the the free will that is the topic of this conversation is libertarian free will aka contra-causal free will. Anyone that wants to sound off about something else that they just happen to also want to refer to by the same shorthand name is just adding noise to the conversation.

      • Peter
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        Compatiblists (and almost-compatibilists, like Tom Clark and Ben Goren, I think) do have an actual argument with Jerry and some of the other incompatibilists here. Jerry is not just making an ontological point that contra-causal, libertarian free will is false.* He seems very much to be attaching value to contra-causality, and saying that because we don’t have that, all the values people usually associate with free will must be drastically reconsidered or thrown out.

        Compatibilists are making the point that contra-causality has never been worth wanting, and has never been an important part of what people think about when they think about free will. At most, it’s maybe a somewhat careless way to describe our experience of free will. Granted, though, that contra-causality is important to some theological arguments, to deal with an omniscient, omnipotent god.

        How can anyone here honestly continue to miss that distinction?

        *as in a comment above in reply to Tom Clark, I think, that deterministic freedom is not worth having

      • Vaal
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        steve,

        Please don’t be so quick to throw around charges of intellectual dishonesty. That’s how it can often feel when you think you’ve explained yourself and another person does not fall in line with your reasoning, but
        I see no reason to think it’s really the case here. Personally, I don’t think ANYONE in these threads is being intellectually dishonest. We are all doing our best to follow our reason, and we think we are doing so.

        Greg’s points and questions are entirely pertinent for these reasons:

        This thread centers around critiques of Jerry’s USA article on Free Will, including critically looking at Massimo’s critique, as well as our own.

        Contrary to what you claim, the issue is not ONLY the existence of Libertarian Free Will, because Jerry has attached OTHER claims to his position, in his article. He claimed that we haven’t “really” made choices – that we have in fact “no choice.” Which his highly arguable and relevant to compatibilist responses. Further, Jerry gives his “rewind the tape” version of free will (which for now we can grant as a Libertarian type free will), but ALSO claims that is “the way most people think of it.”

        That too is highly arguable and one of the features of the compatibilist position is that compatibilist free will actually is better (if any version is “better”) at capturing our common notions of free willed choice. In fact, Jerry has only offered brief anecdotes for his assertion (e.g. questioning some colleagues). Whereas others, such as Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and his colleagues, have done more systematic ressearch and found that most people tend to believe in a sort of “naive compatibilistic free will”.

        Which greg (and I) have argued.

        Further, Jerry not only claims his formulation to be the folk concept of free will, he ALSO claims in his article that it isn’t just one variety of free will but that it is the REAL free will. Quotes from his article (emphasis mine):

        - True “free will,” then, would require us to somehow step outside of our brain’s structure and modify how it works.

        And also:

        - “but philosophers have concocted ingenious rationalizations for why we nevertheless have free will of a sort. It’s all based on redefining “free will” to mean something else.”

        And Massimo rightly took Jerry to task for such a statement, because there hasn’t been some grand agreement on DEFINING Free Will as simply the Libertarian version. Rather, philosophers have debated various CONCEPTS of free will for a long time (and these generally try to account for how humans, on average, seem to think about free willed choice). Which makes Jerry’s assertion about philosophers “re-defining” free will misleading.

        Again, elucidating compatibilism is one appropriate response to Jerry.

        Jerry has said he thinks his formulation of free will is the “only free will that matters.” (See this very post of his).

        And it’s entirely reasonable for a compatibilist to make the case that Jerry might want to re-consider this stance, for various reasons that support compatibilism.

        Accusations of intellectual dishonesty are beyond the pale when folks like greg are bringing in honest, pertinent responses to what Jerry is writing in his articles and in this post.

        Vaal.

        • Xuuths
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

          Vaal, according to steve, he had no choice but to do what he did — based on reactions to reactions going back to the Big Bang.

          Silly.

      • greg byshenk
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

        Others have already responded to this, but I see no dishonesty. As others have pointed out, the issue is not just “libertarian free will”. Indeed, if the point were to say “libertarian free will is incoherent”, then I (and I am pretty sure many others in this discussion) would gladly agree.

    • Posted January 19, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Hi Greg,

      My point was about incompatibilism, as a term being opposed to compatibilism. The point being that the incompatibilism doesn’t require that we deny the possibility of choice, because automata can choose, or make decisions. It may be that some ‘incompatibilists’ do deny ‘choice’, but then you’d have to quiz them on what they mean by ‘choice’ to be sure they were denying what you think they are denying. I suspect they are denying ‘freely willed choice’, but not decision making in automata. All tricky language, I appreciate.

    • Peter
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      Whether or not incompatibilists in general deny choice, Jerry Coyne DOES EXPLICITLY DENY THAT WE MAKE CHOICES.

  54. Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    been listening to Gazzinga’s Book TV presentations and they just don’t make sense.

    let’s put it this way, say you want to effect behavior for any reason, not just to punish people but say to be more effective in work — what is the best knowledge to use for understanding brain and behavior? well that leads to the no free will work, clearly.

    hedging on that is just ideology and salesmanship — which MG seems pretty good at.

  55. Patrick
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    I read the article that there’s no such thing as fee will and found it pretty unilluminating. Not very thought out either for that matter. Here’s the problem with the idea that due to our chemical composition and out genetic make up we therefore have no free will: When a man is put into a position where he must do one thing or another he still has a choice. When a man is given a choice of action or inaction he still has a choice. Dr. Viktor E. Frankl in Man’s Search For Meaning gives a clear example of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. When men had nothing left to lose and nothing to gain, there were those that chose to act animalistically, fighting for survival. But then there were those that would give a man the last piece of bread that he had and the last thing he had left to him just to ease the suffering of those around him.

    People who think they are victims of their surroundings and the entrapments of their bodies, or even of circumstance use these types of arguments so that they have an excuse to act in whatever way they want.

    Remember, that when a person loses his temper it’s a choice to stay there or to change his mood. There might be an initial reaction but the choice is still there in whether he stays there or whether he pulls away from the initial reaction. A person can also choose his initial reaction beforehand as well, if he can anticipate the situation.

  56. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    I see in this thread references to computers making decisions, as though to justify what I consider to be the ridiculously contradictory assertion by (some) no-free-willists that we can make decisions even without free will.

    Here’s a fairly typical example:

    “My fridge control system makes decisions. So do computers. Any system with some degree of autonomy will make decisions.”

    If you, as a denier of free will, apply the same degree of radical reductionism to your fridge controller and to your computer as you do to to your brain, they emphatically do not make decisions. There are merely electrons flowing through wires and transistors and capacitors so on, playing out their predetermined role, regardless of the programmer’s if-then-else syntax and his intention.

  57. Thomas
    Posted January 20, 2012 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    I haven´read the comments, but I can´t resist pointing out one crucial thing about Libet´s experiments (and others alike). These experiments – even if successful – do not show that decisions or intentions are unconscious. At most they show that the brain initiates urges and desires unconsciously. But no one has ever claimed that urges are in any sense free. Free will is displayed in choices and decisions, not in urges. The most plausible candidate for Libet´s “RP” at -550ms is an urge or a desire, not a choice. Libet and others fail to recognize these crucial conceptual differences between different types of mental states, therefore jumping to unwarranted conclusions from the empirical data.

    An important philosopher of action, Alfred Mele, has argued extensively for this point. See, for example this paper:

    http://www.unisi.it/eventi/practical_philosophy/paper/Mele.pdf

    Because of this, a philosopher Bill Vallicella is rather blunt against professor Coyne´s arguments in the USA Today -piece:

    “If Coyne thinks that contemporary neuroscience has proven that there is no libertarian freedom of the will, then he is delusional: he is passing off dubious philosophy as if it were incontrovertible science while hiding the fact from himself.”

    (http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2012/01/jerry-coyne-on-why-you-dont-really-have-free-will.html)

    • Posted January 20, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      “passing off dubious philosophy as if it were incontrovertible science”

      This is pretty much what free-willies have been doing all along.

      • Posted January 20, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        Another intellectual giant has spoken.

        • Posted January 20, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

          In all deterministic modesty I can’t accept that accolade. But thank you.

    • Posted January 20, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      Yes!! I am tired of the smug arrogance Coyne and many of the commenters here condescendingly ‘inform’ us that, “no, you just think you have free will,” and continue to pretend that this is a plainly forgone conclusion that we are psychologically incapable of facing.
      The second link you give supports exactly what I was ranting about earlier here, “that I can make a decision/choice any time I want, in fact I just did,” in response to their pleading for me to prove my position because the default is strict determinism.
      What Coyne and many here forget, or ignore, is that there is mostly suspension of credibility by neuroscience and researches, Gazzinga’s book, Tom Stafford, Matt Webb… and Newell calls this thinking ‘dangerous’ and unwarranted.

      I especially get ticked off with the parroting of a six or seven second lead time as if all our decisions are so badly predisposed as to be finished before we are even exposed to stimuli!!

      6ooo – 550 ms there is zero correlation above chance, and even the so called ‘pre awareness’ activity is only indicative of at best 57% on simple either/or(two choice) conditions.

      Thanks for your lucid comments, thank you.

      • Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        Your seems to be the most smug, arrogant behaviour on here.

      • Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        “and Newell calls this thinking ‘dangerous’ and unwarranted.”

        Why dangerous?

        • Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

          it’s simple and not a matter of personalities…the data suggest that what we understand as controlling behavior not only can’t be found but the opposite seems true based on multiple good experiments….duh

    • Tom
      Posted January 20, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      This is a very important point, and one that Professor Coyne et al. typically do overlook.

      I also think there’s a simpler point to be made here, too, vis-a-vis Libet: Even if we suppose that what is happening at -550ms is a choice, this says nothing about whether that choice is free. It may well be that we are only subjectively aware of our choices half a second after we make them. But that doesn’t say anything about whether those choices are free, does it?

      Suppose that a Cartesian demon instantly erased my memory of where I parked my car, every day, and I had to find out later in the day by looking for my car in the parking lot. Does that by itself mean my choice of where to park wasn’t free? Of course not, even though my awareness of my choice is delayed by several hours.

      There may be good arguments against libertarian free will, but this is certainly not one of them, as people (such as Mr. Murphy in his reply to you) seem to recognize when they refuse to mount defenses of such arguments.

    • steve
      Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Bill Vallicella is rather blunt against professor Coyne´s arguments in the USA Today -piece: “If Coyne thinks that contemporary neuroscience has proven that there is no libertarian freedom of the will…

      I wonder why Bill Vallicella used the term libertarian freedom of the will? Could it be that I am not the only one who thinks that libertarian free will is the actual issue Jerry is discussing?

  58. Tom
    Posted January 20, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    A quick argument for libertarian free will, borrowed from Michael Huemer:

    Suppose that determinism is true.

    If so, anything you can do, you will do, since you can only ever do what you actually do, if determinism is true.

    Now we tend to think that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’: we don’t criticize people for doing something they absolutely couldn’t have avoided doing. If you fail to prevent a disease epidemic because you don’t have a cure, I shouldn’t say to you, ‘Yes, I understand that you couldn’t have prevented the epidemic, but you still should have.’

    We also tend to think that in general, we ought to have true beliefs; we should make true beliefs our goal. (Or, weaker if you like, we ought to have justified beliefs. The conclusion of the argument is almost as friendly to libertarianism.)

    Putting these ideas all together, we find that if we ought to have true beliefs, then we can have true beliefs. And if determinism is true, then if we can have true beliefs, we do have true beliefs. So if determinism is true, then if I’m a libertarian about free will, my belief in libertarianism is true.

    So now we have a dilemma: If determinism is false, then it doesn’t provide a good argument against free will. If determinism is true, and I’m a libertarian, then libertarianism is true. Either way, determinism does not refute libertarianism.

    • jeff j
      Posted January 20, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Maybe I’m not following the argument, but wouldn’t the same be true for belief in anything? God? Or the tooth fairy?

      • Tom
        Posted January 20, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Actually, you’re quite right: If determinism is true (and given the other fairly plausible assumptions, that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ and that we ought to insure that we have true or at least justified beliefs), every belief everyone has is true.

        Thus if the argument is sound, this is a very powerful reductio against determinism.

    • Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      “Now we tend to think that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’…”

      In everything from here on you are explaining what are human concepts of ‘ought’, ‘can’ and so on. But, this whole conceptual business, all of our philosophy, has been constructed in human ‘minds’. So, if human ‘minds’ are nothing but the behaviour of a physical brain in a deterministic universe then all this philsoophy about ‘ought’ and ‘can’ and ‘beliefs’ is irrelevant. If the universe is deterministic, then even these mistaken philosophical veiws are outcomes of determined brain activity.

      You might, by the same token, think that the view expressed by this post, that free-will is an illusion, and that determinism (or causal indeterminism) ensures that these ‘thoughts’ were determined too. Yes. But that doesn’t make this view wrong. It actually makes it compatible with the dterminism posited in the first place. And, incidentally, it nullifies the claims of arrogance made against people holding this view, since we have to acknowledge we couldn’t help holding this view, given the history we experienced.

      Determinism, if it holds, is complete in its consequences: everything is determinate. Random indeterminism, if it holds, is just as complete in its consequences, as long as the random events are causal in their consequences once they have occurred.

      The significant indeterminism isn’t a result of ontological random indeterminism, but of epistemological indeterminism. Epistemological indeterminism masks any ontological determinism/indeterminism.

      That is, if it were possible for Leplace’s demon to re-run a deterministic universe, then everything would occur exaclty the same. With sufficient capability the demon could, in principle, predict any future state of the universe from initial conditions. If the demon were to run an indetrminate universe again (one with truly random events – whatever that means) then the universe would not repeat, and the demon could not predict future states.

      But none of this is of any benefit to claims of free-will. For conscious entities such as us, within the universe, given how our brains evolved, in a deterministic universe they would reach the same point in the same state on each re-run. That would feel just like this. To such entities every re-run appears as the one and only run.

      That we feel we have free-will is no assurance that we have it. And given what we understand about the physical universe we have no other useful explanation beyond the illusory nature of physical brains in action.

      • Tom
        Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the reply. Two points:

        First, I’m not sure that determinism is inconsistent with ethical realism, or that I’ve even seen an argument to that effect. Determinism might be inconsistent with moral responsibility, but that’s a different issue. It might be true that physical objects ought not behave in various ways toward other physical objects.

        Second, it sounds as if you’re denying the principle that we ought to have true or justified beliefs. (Is that right?) If so, I’m not really sure why you would ever try to argue anything to anyone. Someone could just say, ‘I don’t care whether my beliefs are justified.’ (E.g. a theist could say, ‘it doesn’t matter whether my belief in God is true or justified,’ or a libertarian could say, ‘it doesn’t matter whether my belief in free will is true or justified.’ What would you say in response?

        • Posted January 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

          Tom, I’m not sure how to interpret your use of ‘ought’ here. In a genuinely deterministic universe, when we’re considering that that actually means, ‘ought’ has no significance whatsoever. Justification is irrelevant since there is no true free agent to do any justifying. All of ethics and all of human thought is just constructs, information in transitory physical form occurring in physical brains, which (under determinism) are as determined as any other physical system, as much as the interaction of any innanimate matter is.

          Whether we stick with determinism, or invoke some indeterminism, it’s pretty much the same consequences for us.

          But, as humans, we seem destined, determined by causal events, to simply do what we do. The fact that we seem to attach meaning to all this is also something we appear to do, and seem unable to escape from it.

          We illusory-free-willies are just as stuck; but the causal events in our brains are playing out in such a way as to make us consider re-thinking the need for retribution in our justice systems. But the motions we go through in this are just as caused, deterministically or indeterministically, as those of any free-willie, or as any thesist.

          The usual question then is, well, what’s the point of having these discussions? Well, the answer is, we have no choice in that either. So, my words will cause you to changer your outlook, or they won’t. I don’t know before hand, because to me, the outcome of our conversation is indeterminate – I don’t know if I’ll persuade you or you’ll persuade me. we have to wait and see.

          What about the supposed nihilist approach, that I won’t bother, I’ll give up and not take part in this discussion. Well, if that’s what one does then that too is caused, determined.

          • Tom
            Posted January 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

            It looks as if you’re biting the bullet here and denying the existence of true normativity or oughtness. (Are you?)

            Three consequences:

            - It is false that: you ought not torture children for fun.

            - Libertarians are just as rational or reasonable as hard determinists.

            - It is unjustified to believe in determinism.

            So you believe all of those propositions, right?

            Now, finally, we can compare three propositions:

            (1) It is wrong to torture children for fun.

            (2) Libertarians are wrong to be libertarians.

            (3) Determinism is true.

            Which of those, given all your evidence, seems most likely to be true? (Don’t you have to say (3)?) For my part, I can’t imagine any evidence for determinism that’s more ultimately plausible than (1). But your denial of (1) et al. seems to be what’s motivating your affirmation of (3).

            Finally, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m not even sure what the evidence for determinism is supposed to be. Certainly it’s not empirical, as William James pointed out, since empirically we only ever observe actualities, not necessities or impossibilities, and the latter are required to establish determinism.

            • Posted January 22, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

              “…denying the existence of true normativity or oughtness.”

              As objective something or other in the universe, yes I deny that.

              As human concepts (probably based on biological drives under cultural development), no, I don’t deny them in this sense. But human moral concepts only ever have meaning to humans.

              “It is wrong to torture children for fun” – To human minds yes. But ask a lion who takes a new mate with cubs already what he thinks about the wellbeing of those those cubs.

              “Libertarians are wrong to be libertarians.” – They are what they are. If they are wrong in some moral sense it is only because some other humans don’t like what they believe, or represent, or whatever.

              “Determinism is true.” – I suspect it might be, possibly limited by some indeterminism. But I’m persuaded in that only by our apparent observation of causality. I’m open to persuasion that the universe operates otherwise.

              “I’m not even sure what the evidence for determinism is supposed to be. Certainly it’s not empirical…”

              “…since empirically we only ever observe actualities, not necessities or impossibilities, and the latter are required to establish determinism.”

              Agreed. It is a contingent conclusion based on observation of actualities. I don’t know of any Universe Requirements Specification that insists on determinism as a necessity.

              • Tom
                Posted January 22, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

                ronmurp,

                (1) So if I were to kidnap and torture a child to death, you wouldn’t think I ultimately did anything wrong. For my part, I can’t imagine an argument for determinism with more plausible premises than ‘it’s wrong to kidnap and torture a child to death.’

                (2) Sorry, I meant to say that the determinist who denies the existence of oughts must admit that libertarians are not wrong to be libertarians. Libertarianism is just as reasonable as hard determinism, and hard determinism is unjustified. I doubt many hard determinists will want to make this huge of a concession, but maybe they do.

                (3) I’m not just pointing out that the empirical evidence for determinism fails to establish that determinism is a necessary truth. I’m pointing out that there is zero purely empirical evidence for determinism. From science and observation alone, we should be neutral between determinism and indeterminism. Only non-empirical evidence (such as intuition) could support determinism.

            • Posted January 23, 2012 at 2:21 am | Permalink

              “So if I were to kidnap and torture a child …”

              To me, as a human who is stuck in this present moment with all my biology and cultural history, then of course its wrong for me. Does planet Earth think so? No. Does the cosmos think so? No. Do other animals think so? No – though for many animals if they witnessed a child in pain and fear it would frighten them; and some primates that have a similar social awareness, they may feel something akin to the deep emotion we feel. Also, bear in mind that many people think torture itself is justified in some circumstances. Some think so much of their religion that they will kill apostates, or women who have unmarried sex. Our morals have no objective reality beyond our biological and cultural history.

              So, ‘ultimately’? Outside all human and animal consideration? No. Nothing wrong with it because there is nothing outside that scope that has the remotest interest.

              “who denies the existence of oughts must admit that libertarians are not wrong to be libertarians.”

              I don’t know what ‘oughts’ have to do with it. I think free-willies are wrong, in the context here and now. But just as with (1), to a deterministic cosmos, they are not wrong because that framing of the point, a very human perceptual one, has no relevance.

              “Libertarianism is just as reasonable as hard determinism” – Not in our current context, but in the context of the nature of the universe this has no meaning.

              Human concepts must, without evidence to the contrary, be based on the laws of nature as we understand them so far. They exist purely as brain states, transient fleeting states and longer states. They probably relate to things in the world with some complex, variable and vague correspondence. So, the question then is, does the free-will concept, the notion, inside a human brain, match, correspond to, the nature of the universe any more than does the notion, the concept in a brain, of illusory free-will. I’d say the correspondence with reality, as understood so far, is in favour of illusory free-will.

              “I’m pointing out that there is zero purely empirical evidence for determinism.”

              So, can you explain why using f = ma we can determine (clue is in the name) the force on a mass corresponding to the acceleration? Science is full of determinism. We look for it and find it. The question is, how much determinism and how deep does it go.

              “..fails to establish that determinism is a necessary truth”

              I agree. I’ve said all along, if determinism holds, then…etc. I know of no reason why determinism must hold, only that we observe it to some extent.

              This could, of course be coincidence. Maybe there is no cause-effect. Maybe everything we perceive as cause-effect is all correlation, that things all happen with no connected order at all and that what we see as order, the determination of one thing by another, is all illusory. But if so, then how does this rescue free-will? If there is no determinism then when you think you freely will something it’s not happening because of your will, so there is no free-will anyway. And if your scepticism is so deep, why not go all the way to solipsism? I can offer no logical or empirical refutation of solipsism. I only arbitrarily decide to go with observed reality and figure stuff out from their.

              “we should be neutral between determinism and indeterminism”

              We should go where the evidence leads us. We observe a hell of a lot of local determinism. We now observe some indeterminism in the form of quantum stuff, but even there many philosophers and scientists aren’t convinced it’s genuine ontological indeterminism. So, if you wish, there’s enough evidence to at least make us wonder about determinism. But this doesn’t save free-will in any way. Determinism in the context of this argument (from my perspective) is only being used as one of the possible objections to free-will. Indeterminism does similar.

              “Only non-empirical evidence (such as intuition) could support determinism.”

              But we know intuition is so unreliable that you wouldn’t let it help your granny across the road. So, no to intuition. It would be nice if there was some reliable means of assessing all this, but there isn’t. We find ourselves stuck in this universe with fallible senses and fallible minds. We are stuck with making the best of it, which is science. Science seems, so far, to tell us that everything is based on what we perceive as causality. Causality is deterministic in arrows time, in that cause precedes effect, and we see this deterministically. There are some events that seem indeterminate to us, but we’re not really sure they have no deterministic underpinning. The fact that, as a whole, and in the smallest detail, it’s all indeterminate to us (we are not Leplaces’s demons), doesn’t help us gain any certainty in all this. We can only go on what we observe.

              So, again, we observe determinism, and possibly some indeterminism, but we can’t be absolutely certain. Free-will, or any free-will worth its name doesn’t fit this understanding. And, there’s no further evidence or good explanation of how our will might be free of the physical world (deterministic or indeterministic aspects). Some think our feeling of free-will is evidence. But our introspective feelings are not good evidence, because we know how flawed they are in many other cases. Put all this together and there’s no room for or evidence of free-will.

              • Tom
                Posted January 23, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

                To sum up, if you deny the existence of “real” oughts and shoulds:

                You don’t think kidnapping and torturing children is really overall wrong.

                You don’t think libertarianism about free will is really overall wrong.

                “I’d say the correspondence with reality, as understood so far, is in favour of illusory free-will.”

                But you don’t think the evidence against free will is any better than the evidence for free will, at the end of the day.

                In contrast, even if you think there are oughts, but only in some kind of attenuated, “human context,” that might be enough to make Huemer’s argument go forward: (in human context) “‘ought’ implies ‘can’”; (in human context) we ought to have justified beliefs; (in human context) determinism–anything we can do, we do; therefore (in human context) we have justified beliefs; therefore (in human context) libertarians are justified in being libertarians.

                “Science is full of determinism.”

                Not determinism in the philosophical sense. If you’re talking about F = ma, that’s just an identity, really a definition or maybe what philosophers call a ‘synthetic identity.’ If you’re talking about merely predicting things, that doesn’t require determinism. In the context of the free will debate, determinism is (or implies that) for anything you do, it was impossible for you not to do it. I don’t recall seeing that as a premise in any scientific argument, nor as a constitutive lemma in any scientific theory.

                “… only that we observe it to some extent.”

                And I’m pointing out, following James, that no, we have never, ever observed determinism being true, not even to a little extent. (See the previous paragraph.) There is utterly zero purely observational or scientific evidence for determinism. There couldn’t possibly be, since determinism is not a thesis about anything observable; it’s a modal thesis.

                We can predict how systems will behave pretty reliably, yes. But even if libertarianism were true, we could still largely predict how humans will behave. (If I release a rabid wolverine into a subway car, most people will run away from it.)

                “But we know intuition is so unreliable that you wouldn’t let it help your granny across the road.”

                Well, this is a separate debate. But I bet it would help my granny cross the road, if at some point it seems to her that it’s safe. (How can you observe ‘safeness’? What element are compounds of safeness made of? Do photons bounce off of safeness and strike retinas?)

                Intuitions are especially accurate if we define them as intellectual seemings, and restrict our scope to modal truths. (Both of these moves are standard among epistemic intuitionists or rationalists.) Your intellectual seemings are extremely accurate when it comes to modal truths, as you can verify if you trust observation. (For example: It seems to me as if tables and chairs are possible. It seems to me as if necessarily, 2+2=4. And so on.)

              • Steve
                Posted January 23, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

                “Science is full of determinism.” Not determinism in the philosophical sense.

                Tom expresses his desire to distinguish between determinism and philosophic determinism. I think he means by “determinism in the philosophic sense”, non-free willism, (NFWism), so later when he says, “that no, we have never, ever observed determinism being true, not even to a little extent.” he meant we have never, ever observed non-free willism being true, not even to a little extent. which we can refute as not true, because we see non-free willism all the time. A great example is the inability anyone to freely will their self into believing in non-free willism.

                There is utterly zero purely observational or scientific evidence for determinism. There couldn’t possibly be, since determinism is not a thesis about anything observable; it’s a modal thesis.

                Translation:

                There is utterly zero purely observational or scientific evidence for non-free willism. There couldn’t possibly be, since non-free willism is not a thesis about anything observable; it’s a modal thesis.

                Two points about this claim. 1) The same would have to be said about FWism, and 2)since this is only philosophic determinism why should we be expecting scientific evidence?

              • Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

                who cares about morality — how do we predict and stop murder?

                obviously, moralizing doesn’t work with brain impaired folks or non-brain impaired folks under the thrall of murderous ideologies…

                philosophy and religion, by purposefully denying the latest and best science just compound the problem for the sake of theri own power plays…

              • Tom
                Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

                Why should we stop murder, if murder (according to you) isn’t bad or wrong? Why care?

                I disagree that philosophy ignores science. An entire metaphilosophy or methodology, naturalism, incorporates science, and an entire branch of philosophy, experimental philosophy, uses scientific research.

              • Tom
                Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

                Steve,

                Thanks for your comments.

                Philosophical determinism (qua the thesis that

                all physical actualities are physical necessities

                ) is not just the denial of “free willism.” Libertarianism about free will may be in just as much trouble from indeterminism about choices as it is from determinism; this is the “dilemma of determinism” philosophers talk about. Here I’m just pointing out that science is absolutely silent about whether (philosophical) determinism is true.

                I agree that we should not expect scientific evidence for philosophical determinism. The worry is that no other kind of evidence for determinism exists either. Sure, there’s intuition, but that seems to support indeterminism even more strongly than it supports determinism.

                In sum, I think the anti-free will side should abandon arguing from determinism. That’s what I’m most concerned to demonstrate in this sub-thread.

                (As for the evidence for libertarianism about free will, many would say it’s (1) the intuition that I sometimes could have chosen otherwise and (2) the intuition that I am ultimately in control of many of my decisions. If we trust intuition (and believe it or not, most of us do most of the time), the conjunction of (1) and (2) provides some prima facie evidence. So far, I’ve only suggested that determinism cannot outweigh this prima facie evidence, and intuition probably can’t, either.)

              • Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

                we just read a study on this and apparently one person who did thus multiple times had neurons that drove cascades of acute feelings that were sedated by killing, thus self medication…

                where is any notion of free will in that?

            • Posted January 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

              I’m not clear on your use of ‘ought’ and ‘can’. Sometimes you seem to be using ‘ought’ in the moral prescriptive sense and on other occasions in the sense of a recommendation:

              (a) Killing is wrong, so we ‘ought’ not to kill.

              (b) If I want to run faster than I can I ‘ought’ to train.

              “You don’t think kidnapping and torturing children is really overall wrong.”

              I’m not sure what you want me so say here. I think it is wrong from my current human perspective, but I think it not objectively wrong with respect to the universe. They are simply two perspectives that your question conflates. It is an unclear question given the context of this discussion. I could answer just as vague a manner with “Yes and No”, and that would be a legitimate answer to your question.

              “But you don’t think the evidence against free will…”

              Specific experimental evidence, from experiments designed specifically to verify or falsify the hypothesis of free-will? No. So, free-will as a hypothesis doesn’t get off the ground.

              But the collective of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, neuroscience, all are compatible with either determinism alone, or some combination of determinism and indeterminism. The default position then, the null hypothesis, is that everything conforms to these two positions.

              Given then that the notion of ‘free-will’ is not a will that is free under determinism or indeterminism from causal effects, then where is the free-will?

              Would you like to give an explanation of Huemer’s ‘ought implies can’, because I find the notion patently false. I can’t really respond to you on Huemer until you do.

              “determinism – anything we can do, we do”

              An inadequate framing. As deterministic events (plus indeterministic events) unfold in the brain, there is a point at which it could be said that we next ‘can’ do A or B, though the outcome to an observer, including the owner of the brain, is unknown. As events unfold it turns out we actually do A. There is no sense in which “I could have done otherwise had a freely willed to – i.e B.” However, there is the sense in which I could say “Had prior events been different then I could have done otherwise – i.e B.” But this latter is not free-will, but an expression that if the universe had been different it would have been.

              “justified beliefs”

              Justified beliefs have nothing to do with this. In what way do you think they do?

              “Not determinism in the philosophical sense”

              Yes in the philosophical sense. The equation f = ma can be used to determine one thing from some others. Can you explain what you think determinism is? I appreciate that some words have different meaning in philosophy and science but in this case they don’t.

              “If you’re talking about merely predicting things, that doesn’t require determinism.”

              The clue is in the word: to determine. That we don’t we can’t compute to the hypothetical precision of Leplace’s demon does not mean we are not using what determinism we can deal with, observe, and use to predict. In what way is there any significant difference? The philosophical notion of determinism is derived from observation of nature.

              All of our science falls apart without the presumption of causality. Causality implies determinism. The question outstanding for now is the extent to which all the causal determinants themselves are determined. Some may be indeterminate – but that means only that they cannot be determined, either by us (epistemological indeterminism) or at all, say by Leplace’s demon (ontological indeterminism). That seems like a pretty significant assumption right at the heart of all science.

              “There couldn’t possibly be, since determinism is not a thesis about anything observable; it’s a modal thesis.”

              Of course it’s about the observable. Where do you think the concept comes from?

              And would you like to expand on ‘modal thesis’ and its relevence here.

              “if at some point it seems to her that it’s safe.”

              Many people are in road accidents, as pedestrians or drivers, because their intuitions don’t give them an accurate perception of what’s going on, or they are deluded about the capacity of their perceptions to measure time or distance or detail. People on mobile phones while driving, grannies not able to judge the speed of oncoming cars, …

              Intuition is not a scientific tool. Scientific tools are used specifically to compensate for our fallibilities in intuition and perception, either in scope or precision.

              “I think the anti-free will side should abandon arguing from determinism” [to steve]

              It’s used here because of its relation to causality. Causality can also include indeterministic causes – i.e. events for which we cannot determine the source, and so appear random, or measuring one property prevents us measuring another so we can’t get a complete description of it. Determinism still follows from the causal effects even of indeterminate sources.

              • Tom
                Posted January 23, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

                Ron,

                Throughout this discussion, I’ve always meant oughts in the categorical imperative sense: that independently of one’s other desires and beliefs, one always has a pro tanto reason to have justified beliefs.

                I’ve cut out the stuff about the meaning of ‘determinism,’ even though mine seems to agree with the OED and with wiktionary. The reason is that whatever determinism is, it only presents a problem for free will if it entails the principle ‘Can Implies Does,’ that

                (CID) anything I can do, I do.

                (For the contrapositive is the basis of the main hard determinist argument.)

                So do you agree or disagree with (CID)?

                “They are simply two perspectives that your question conflates.”

                Suppose a mad scientist caused everyone tomorrow to believe that kidnapping and torturing children to death was permissible. If so, would it still be impermissible? Suppose you tricked yourself into thinking that kidnapping and torturing children to death was permissible. Would it be permissible for you to do it?

                “Would you like to give an explanation of Huemer’s ‘ought implies can’, because I find the notion patently false.”

                The claim presupposes that there are oughts. If you don’t think there are, see above. If you do think there are, then: Suppose someone told you that you have committed a very serious moral error by allowing millions of people to die painfully of cancer. Is that person correct? Why not?

                “Causality implies determinism.”

                Not in this sense. Causality only implies determinism if causes necessitate their effects, which is very much up for discussion. (It could be that causes only raise probabilities.)

                Mere causality doesn’t impugn even libertarian free will; even libertarians think, e.g., that persons are the causes of their actions.

                In any case, no one has ever observed a “cause,” either, independent of the physical objects related by the causation; all we ever observe is constant conjunction. Hume made this point centuries ago.

                “And would you like to expand on ‘modal thesis’ and its relevence here.”

                ‘Modal’ (here) means ‘of or relating to possibility, contingency, necessity, and impossibility.’ Thesis (CID) is a modal thesis, and no purely scientific observations ever provide evidence for modal theses. Science is about what is actually the case; (CID) is about what must be the case.

                “Many people are in road accidents, as pedestrians or drivers, because their intuitions don’t give them an accurate perception of what’s going on, or they are deluded about the capacity of their perceptions to measure time or distance or detail.”

                And yet, most people cross the street safely when walking and cross crosswalks safely when driving. Intuition is overall very reliable, especially when restricted to modal truths.

                Interpolated from another thread:

                “In the recommending sense, then, if the Holocaust actually happened, and if I want my beliefs to match what happened because I like to be accurate, then I ought (it is recommended) to believe it.”

                This is a hypothetical imperative sense of epistemic justification. It suffers from several problems, but I’ll just mention one here: According to you (right?), if I don’t care about having justified or true beliefs, it’s just as reasonable to believe the Holocaust never happened than to believe that it did happen.

                And if you deny the existence of objective oughts, then again (according to you), in the objective sense or grand scheme of things, it’s just as reasonable to believe in free will as it is to deny it.

            • Posted January 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

              “If we trust intuition (and believe it or not, most of us do most of the time)…”

              Yes, because we have evolved with intuitions that work efficiently – that is most of the time in the appropriate context of survival. But not all of the time, and not in the context about investigating the nature of the universe and the working of the human brain and the reliability of the intuitions themselves. Somehow I suspect these latter curiosities weren’t on the minds of early humans and their evolving brains. Philosophy and science have come to challenge our intuitions and show them to be at fault in this latter context that it is totally inadequate to assume they can be relied upon.

              • Posted January 23, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

                no, science just shows that our perceptual systems and nervous systems are:

                - very limited
                - descended from earlier animals
                - “optimized” for environments and needs millions of years ago, some capacities are billions of years old

                only the childish notions of “specialness” and philosophy lead to these silly claims and ideas…

                it does appear however, that humans are special in terms of immune systems, that is pretty darn interesting but of no monetary value to philosophers/ideologues/politicians/religious folks…and way to complex for a sound bite

    • steve
      Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      Tom,

      Did you think about what Huemer is saying here? Do you understand what he says? Can you in your own words restate his arguement affirming each and every step?

      • Tom
        Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        Steve,

        Yes; yes; I just did. Do you have any objections to the argument?

        • steve
          Posted January 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          Yes I do, it is flawed. But first I am interested in hearing your restatement of his argument. I am wondering if you found the error in his thinking, and corrected for it.

          • Tom
            Posted January 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

            When I said ‘I just did,’ I’m sorry if I was unclear. My original post was a restatement of his argument.

            But here’s another restatement if you want it:

            One of these propositions must be true:
            (1) ‘Ought’ does not imply ‘can.’
            (2) It is not the case that we ought to have true or justified beliefs.
            (3) No one has any beliefs that contradict anyone else’s, or contradict determinism.
            (4) Indeterminism is true or justified.

            And #4 is more plausible than ##1, 2, or 3.

            Why must one of them be true? Because the conjunction of their denials leads to a contradiction.

            • Posted January 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

              There’s so much flexibility, ambiguity, in the language of these statement I’m surprised you can deduce anything resembling logic. I’d love to see a good definition of ‘ought’.

              • Tom
                Posted January 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

                Do you believe ‘people ought to have justified beliefs’? If so, I probably mean the same ‘ought’ as you do there. If you don’t believe that, then you don’t think there’s anything unreasonable or irrational, e.g., about Holocaust denial.

            • Posted January 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

              “Do you believe ‘people ought to have justified beliefs’? If so, I probably mean the same ‘ought’ as you do there. If you don’t believe that, then you don’t think there’s anything unreasonable or irrational, e.g., about Holocaust denial.”

              ‘Justified beliefs’ is an inadequate attempt by philosophy to tighten the correspondence between what goes on in a brain and what is the case in the universe. It has nothing to do with this free-will in this context. Whether I believe the Holocaust happened or not, it does not change the physical fact of it happening or not.

              The notion that people ‘ought’ to have justified beliefs depends on your use of ‘ought’.

              In the recommending sense, then, if the Holocaust actually happened, and if I want my beliefs to match what happened because I like to be accurate, then I ought (it is recommended) to believe it.

              In the moral prescriptive sense, then, if the Holocaust actually happened, and I think it immoral to deny it, then if I want may beliefs to fit my moral expectations of me, then I ought (prescriptive) to beleive it.

              You are busy trying to impose local (in time, space, culture, species) conceptual dilemmas onto a physical explanation of how the universe works. You might as well ask if a clock ‘ought not’ deny the Holocaust, or if Mount Vesuvius ‘ought not’ destory Pompeii. Simply totally the wrong question.

    • Peter
      Posted January 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Obviously this argument is not sound, it’s just a silly semantic game. The error is here:
      “we tend to think ‘ought’ implies ‘can.’”

      But that’s a sloppy shorthand for “if we suppose we ought do a thing, then we suppose we can do that thing.”* State carefully like that, it’s clear that it doesn’t mean we’re *right* about being able to do that thing.

      On the other hand, while that argument definitely can’t get you libertarian/contra-causal free-will, it might not be completely worthless for a compatibilist sense of free-will. We hardly mean “can” in the ultra-rigid sense of physically determined.

      *Or maybe it follows from some theology: if God says we ought to do something, then God must have made it possible to do something. We can throw out the theological version, since clearly there is no god.

      • Tom
        Posted January 20, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        Peter,

        Thanks for the reply.

        I’m not sure I agree with the equivalence you might be claiming (correct me if I’m wrong) between ‘”ought” implies “can”‘ and ‘if people believe one ought to do x, then people believe one can do x.’

        Do you deny that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’? That is, do you think it would be sensible for someone to say, ‘I understand that you couldn’t have stopped that disease epidemic, but you still should have’? That would sound pretty strange to me, at least. Maybe the explanation is that ‘ought’ does imply ‘can,’ or more precisely (less sloppily I hope):

        (OC) For all actions phi, if S ought to phi, then S can phi.

        If you disagree with (OC), what is your explanation for why ‘I understand that you couldn’t have stopped that disease epidemic, but you still should have’ sounds strange or nonsensical?

        (I do agree with you that the argument as stated only shows at best that libertarianism follows from determinism. There is still the possibility that indeterminism is true and libertarianism is false, since libertarianism entails but is not entailed by indeterminism.)

        • Peter
          Posted January 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

          Of course that equivalence holds, because oughts are only human beliefs. Surely that’s not controversial.

          On the other hand, “can” is also a matter of interpretation. Context usually makes it clear what sort of things we’d allow to be different, and yet still be within the bounds of a particular use of “can”. Consider a movie director going to his FX crew, asking if they can make a particular effect. They say, sure they can! All it’ll cost is $2,000,000. So the director goes to the producer, and says they can get this great effect for just $2,000,000. And the producer says they can’t do it, they’re over budget already. Were the FX crew abusing the word “can”? I think they used it in a perfectly normal sense, just with different bounds for that particular context.

          So I guess the upshot is that you might go from “ought” to “can” in the sense of figuring out what a person is considering possible. But it obviously doesn’t *make* something possible.

          (and did I suggest that libertarianism follows from determinism? My understanding is that those are names of mutually exclusive positions)

          • Tom
            Posted January 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

            I’d say it’s very controversial that oughts are “only” human beliefs. You ought not murder, rape, and torture children, and that would be true even if everyone thought it was okay. Most people would think the denial of that is controversial.

            Back to the epistemological case, if you don’t think people ought to have justified beliefs, or ought to proportion their beliefs to the evidence (as Hume says), why would you ever argue with anyone? What would you say, e.g., to a Holocaust denier, or to a person who thinks that women are inherently inferior? You certainly couldn’t say that they ought to stop believing that, could you? (At least, you couldn’t consistently say it.)

            (I didn’t meant to suggest you thought libertarianism followed from determinism; what I meant is that your criticism of the argument, if correct, shows that at best the argument only derives indeterminism from determinism.)

            • Peter
              Posted January 20, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

              If *everyone* thinks it’s okay, “murder, rape, and torturing children” become “assisted suicide (or maybe violent sport), consensual sex*, and horseplay.” But even if you want to insist that some oughts are universal, most of them are just expressions of opinion. And as for your particular examples, those are all conspicuously crimes of choice: of course people can choose not to murder, rape, and torture, in a normal sense of the word “can.”

              As for your second paragraph, I haven’t noticed myself picking up that argument. I think people ought to have justified beliefs, I don’t think I’ve said anything that contradicts that, or anything directly about that at all.

              *by definition

              (and where I come from, if an argument shows that A -> ~A, then the argument was fallacious, or an assumption was wrong. If you think indeterminism derives from determinism, it’s probably because you’re conflating different contexts of “can”, with different bounds on them. Which is what Vaal and I are saying is wrong with the argument.)

              • Peter
                Posted January 20, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

                Sloppy me, if A->~A, and A, then the argument is wrong. A->~A is equivalent to ~A, which is fine by itself.

              • Tom
                Posted January 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

                Peter,

                Are you denying that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’? Then what’s your explanation for why ‘I understand that you couldn’t have prevented that epidemic, but you still should have’ sounds so strange?

                The overall argument is intended to show that indeterminism follows from both determinism and indeterminism. Since one of those–determinism and indeterminism–must be true, we have a constructive dilemma. If the argument is correct that indeterminism follows from determinism, there’s nothing ultimately incoherent about that; it merely shows, as you recognize, that indeterminism is true.

                Here it is formally, for the record:

                (1) Either determinism or indeterminism is true. (Excluded Middle.)

                (2) If someone ought to do something, then he or she can do that thing. ((OP) thesis.)

                (3) If determinism is true, then if you can do something, you do do it. (Df. ‘determinism.’)

                (4) Therefore, if determinism is true, then: if you ought to do something, then you do do it. (From (2) and (3).)

                (5) Mike believes indeterminism. (Assumption.)

                (6) Mike ought to have the correct belief about whether indeterminism is true. (From the principle that we ought to have true beliefs.)

                (7) Therefore, if determinism is true, then Mike has the correct belief about whether indeterminism is true. (From (4) and (6).)

                (8) Therefore, if determinism is true, then indeterminism is true. (From (5) and (7).)

                (9) Therefore, indeterminism is true. (From (1) and (8).)

                The argument is strictly deductively valid; premise (1) is a substitution-instance of a logical truth; premise (3) is true by definition; and premise (5) is true of some cognizers.

                Therefore, to reject (9), you must deny (2) or (6). But as you say in your latest comment, you accept (6). So you deny (2)? Do you really have an argument for determinism that’s more plausible than (2)?

                (Note, for example, that empirical evidence cannot establish determinism, as William James pointed out. Empirical observations only ever have actualities as their content, but determinism is a thesis about modality: about necessity and impossibility.)

              • Posted January 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

                Tom your argument appears to be equivocating over the meaning of “can”. The force of “If X ought to do Y then X can do Y” is that I have no business insisting X do Y or in threatening sanctions against X for not doing Y unless I can envisage circumstances, which might include my insisting or threatening, in which X would do Y. In other words the word “can” must be understood relative to a range of circumstances including the actual circumstances in which X finds him/herself. However in the statement “If determinism is true the if X can do Y then X does Y”, the word “can” is understood relative only to the circumstances in which X does find him/herself. If that were not so then the statement would be straightforwardly false.
                To make (2) and (3) simultaneously true you need “can” to mean the same in both.

              • Tom
                Posted January 20, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

                Bernard,

                Thanks for your comments.

                By ‘S can phi’ I mean ‘it is possible for S to phi.’

                Here are my restated (2) and (3):

                (2′) If someone ought to do something, then it is possible for him or her to do that thing. ((OP) thesis.)

                (3′) If determinism is true, then if it is possible for you to do something, you do do it. (Df. ‘determinism.’)

                If we insert (2′) for (2) and (3′) for (3), the argument is still deductively valid.

                In turn, I’m not sure how there could be an equivocation here over “possible.” We could analyze it Leibnizianly if we want:

                (2”) If S in the actual world @ ought to do something at time t in @, then there is a possible world w that shares its history up to t with @ in which S does that thing at t in @.

                (3”) If determinism is true, then if there is a possible world w that shares its history up to t with @ in which S does something, then S does that thing at t in @.

                This is probably as precise as we can get about possibility.

                In any case, it sounds as if you would deny (2′) and (2”). If you do deny them, though, then it might make sense to say ‘I understand that it’s impossible to go back in time and kill Hitler, but you really should do it.’ But that sounds crazy to me.

              • Peter
                Posted January 20, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

                I’m denying that ought implies can in the way it needs to for that argument to work, as I’ve expressed. I’ve also described the stricter sense in which [belief in an] ought does imply [belief in a, or context for a] can, but that doesn’t make the argument work. Maybe the way Bernard Hurley is saying it is clearer?

              • Peter
                Posted January 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

                At most, you’re deriving that our knowledge is insufficient to determine the outcome. You aren’t deriving physical indeterminism from physical determinism with that argument.

              • Peter
                Posted January 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

                I agree with (2) if you mean:
                If I prescribe that someone ought to do something, it follows that I consider it possible that that person do that thing.

                But then the scope of “can” or “possible” has changed between (2) and (3). What a person considers possible is rarely the same as what is determined to happen (by physics, or whatever is doing the determining).

              • Tom
                Posted January 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

                Peter,

                Surely you don’t just think belief in an ‘ought’ psychologically implies belief in a ‘can’–you also think that ‘S ought to phi’ implies ‘S can phi,’ right? As in, given that S ought to phi, I am entitled to derive that S can phi?

                If you don’t think that, then you have the (I think) crazy consequence that someone might reasonably say, ‘You really ought to have gone back in time and killed Hitler; you were wrong not to.’

                The argument actually does logically derive physical indeterminism from physical determinism when the latter is conjoined with these assumptions:

                (2′) If someone ought to do something, then it is possible for him or her to do that thing. ((OP) thesis.)

                (6) Mike ought to have the correct belief about whether indeterminism is true. (From the principle that we ought to have true beliefs.)

                As my enumerated summary shows, the argument is deductively valid. (Cf.

                http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/am-i-unsophisticated-about-free-will/?replytocom=175839#comment-175825

                if you haven’t already.)

              • Peter
                Posted January 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

                Yes, I do think that, and that shouldn’t be controversial at all! I’ve already pointed out that most oughts are clearly matters of opinion. And even if we grant for the sake of argument that some oughts are universal (although I don’t think your examples were), the only access we have to oughts is through human cognition. If there are actually universal oughts, then our knowledge of them is only propped up by best evidence, presumably including our best evidence of what’s within the realm of possibility. Why should that be surprising?

              • Tom
                Posted January 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

                I have to start a new thread here, below, since we keep bumping up against the reply limit …

              • Posted January 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

                Sorry Tom, ‘possible’ suffers from the same ambiguity as ‘can’. Incidentally, I think the Leibnizian account of possibility is hopelessly confused. I have written about this on my blog: http://bernardhurley.posterous.com/tag/fredmeets although I have not spelled out my ideas in detail.

                If someone asks me “Is it possible for you to jump over my box?” then if it is small enough I will answer “yes”. Perhaps she needs to leave it outside my door for a few moments and is worried what will happen if I have to leave in a hurry. I might never get the opportunity to do so, or if I do I might get the opportunity but get shot as I attempt to do so. It is in this sense of the word possible that we can assert “If X ought to Y then it is possible for X to Y.” However there is another meaning of the word possible. According to this meaning, if the universe is deterministic (incidentally I’m not claiming it is,) and I do not in fact jump over the box, then it is not possible for me to jump over it. It is in this sense of possible that “If it is possible for X to Y then X does Y.”

            • Posted January 23, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

              “I’d say it’s very controversial that oughts are “only” human beliefs.”

              It may seem controversial to you. But it isn’t universally controversial. I, and I’m sure many others, think precisely that all ‘oughts’ are entirely human beliefs.

              • Tom
                Posted January 23, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

                Ron:

                Well, whether they assert that oughts are mere human constructions and whether they actually believe it are two different things. I suspect most people on the planet think that murder, rape, and torture (at least of humans) are generally wrong, and wrong in a way that doesn’t depend upon what any particular mind believes. If you were the victim of a violent crime, I’m sure you would feel that you were wronged, even if the criminal didn’t believe in oughts. Does this mean you actually, deep-down, do believe in oughts? I don’t know, of course, but at least it makes the question interesting.

    • Vaal
      Posted January 20, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Tom,

      Either I’m not following this argument or it is as invalid/unsound as it seems.

      Take this premise (emphasis mine):

      Suppose that determinism is true.

      If so, anything you can do, you will do, since you can only ever do what you actually do, if determinism is true.

      But that can be said whether determinism OR indeterminism is true. Even if my actions were not determined, whatever I do will amount to what I “actually” do, so either way I can “only ever do what I actually do.”

      I think the ambiguity is residing in the word “can.” It’s like what Dennett points out when someone says that determinism means that “you can’t actually change the future.” (Hence thinking our decisions will change the future is an illusion). But it really depends what one can mean by “changing the future.” Because “the future” is going to happen ANYWAY. No matter what happens, it’s the future, whether it’s antecedent condition was determined or indetermined.

      So this doesn’t seem an argument that can be aimed only to eliminate determinism. It also doesn’t tell us any particular about what what we WILL do.

      Further, following the ought implies can reasoning:

      And if determinism is true, then if we can have true beliefs, we do have true beliefs. So if determinism is true, then if I’m a libertarian about free will, my belief in libertarianism is true.

      Again, the ambiguity in “can.”

      If we are really trying to derive an argument from the logical implications of the meaning of “ought” and “can” then we can’t go ignoring some just-as-strong implications.

      Just as it makes no sense to say one “ought” to do something they can not do, it ALSO makes no sense to say one “ought” to do something he has no choice but to do.

      Given, for instance, the impossibility of our bodies not obeying the laws of physics, saying:

      “You [u]ought to[/u] obey the laws of physics” is as nonsensical as saying “You [u]ought not[/u] obey the laws of physics.

      So your use of “can” derives from the validity of the use of the word “ought,” but for “ought” to mean anything it logically implies a two way street, that “A” or “B” are possible options.

      Therefore, if you say one “ought” to have true beliefs, it logically implies it is possible to not have true beliefs. And introducing the word “can” does nothing to help, because one “can” therefore have a false belief and one “can” have a true belief.

      So as long as you are using those terms coherently in the argument, then it does not follow at all that stating that one “can” have a true belief equates to one having a true belief, since one can also have a false belief.

      Vaal.

      • Tom
        Posted January 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the response. I take it there are two main points here.

        (1) I agree that ‘can’ can be ambiguous. Maybe this restatement of the premise will be more helpful:

        If determinism is true, then everything a person can do at time t, he or she does at t.

        But indeterminists say that sometimes a person can do something at time t, but does something else at t.

        Only the first allows us to deduce the argument’s conclusion.

        (2) Later, you write, “Therefore, if you say one ought’ to have true beliefs, it logically implies it is possible to not have true beliefs.”

        I would say it at least connotes that, yes. But even if we grant this, I’m not sure how this is an objection to the argument, or at least how it undermines the argument’s conclusion.

        Suppose we accept that if one ought to have true beliefs, then one can have false beliefs. It would follow (given determinism) that one does have false beliefs, because the set of what one can do and the set of what one does are always completely coincident, according to determinism. (Remember, they say that there’s only ever one way the universe can go.) But then all determinists have false beliefs.

        More specifically, everyone ought to have a true belief about whether determinism is true. Therefore (given your principle) it is possible for everyone to have a false belief about whether determinism is true. Therefore (given determinism), everyone does have false beliefs about whether determinism is true. (But that leads to a contradiction, of course.)

        • Vaal
          Posted January 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

          Tom,

          Your reformulation of determinism entailing false beliefs suffers from exactly the same problem as the one entailing true beliefs.

          The problem is the argument relies on granting the legitimacy of “can” and “ought” in the first place.

          And since those words, particularly “ought,” require alternate possibilities, it is incoherent to use them in an argument whose conclusion denies alternate possibilities.

          So long as you have the premise “one OUGHT to have true beliefs” it requires the possibility for having false beliefs, and visa versa. Thus, with that premise in your argument, one can not say determinism would entail true or false beliefs either way.

          Vaal.

          • Tom
            Posted January 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

            Vaal,

            If you’re suggesting that determinists must abandon the idea of “ought,” well, certainly some determinists might agree. That would mean they’re denying that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’; they’re denying one of the premises of the argument.

            So these determinists would say there’s nothing epistemically wrong with people who believe in libertarianism, since it is false that they ought to stop believing in libertarianism. And these determinists would say there’s nothing epistemically wrong with Holocaust denial; Holocaust deniers are just as reasonable as people who accept the existence of the Holocaust, according to determinists, if they abandon the idea that there are epistemic oughts. (Right?)

            It follows, I take it, that determinists (those who abandon the idea of “ought”) have no objection to libertarians; at least, they don’t think libertarians are doing anything wrong or irrational in believing in libertarianism.

            • Vaal
              Posted January 20, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

              Tom,

              That critique seems to be legitimate, and it has been made numerous times in these threads. However, that is straying from the exact formulation of the argument you presented.

              The argument you presented takes “ought” to be legitimate. But here you are talking “well, what if ought then isn’t taken via determinism to be legitimate.” Which is to abandon the argument you were giving.

              I agree there seems to be a problem with prescriptive language – “ought,” “should” etc – for the hard determinist/incompatibilist.

              The incompatibilist will say “But I acknowledge that my saying things to you, presenting arguments, will physically effect your brain and hence, even though it’s all determined, it therefore makes sense for me to make my arguments to you.” And the incompatibilist (some anyway…apparently not Jerry from his article) will say “I also acknowledge that people make choices, even if they are determined.”
              He may also say “I was pre-determined to give this argument, and you may have been pre-determined to be affected by it, so there’s nothing wrong with my giving the argument.”

              Unfortunately, the indeterminist acknowledging all those things does NOT address whether the arguments he makes are actually valid, or sound or coherent.

              As has been pointed out, to say for instance as Jerry wants to say that if determinism is true then we should/ought take X stance toward criminality necessarily implies that we could do otherwise. If we COULDN’T do otherwise then the actual coherence of Jerry’s prescription is no better than his telling us “If hard determinism is true, we should obey the laws of physics.” It makes no sense to prescribe that we do something that we have no choice but to do.

              Jerry, and others, seem to think they have addressed this problem of prescriptions by acknowledging (as some do) that we do make choices, and that arguments are part of the physical cause and effect of determinism. But…it simply doesn’t solve the problem.

              Vaal.

              • Tom
                Posted January 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

                Thanks again for your comments. I’m glad to see my suspicion is correct that at least many of the hard determinists here can’t really make sense of the existence of epistemic normativity: that certain beliefs are rational or irrational, reasonable or unreasonable, or that people should or shouldn’t believe various things. Indeed, I suspect that Professor Coyne’s ultimate position entails that no one ought to believe that free will does not exist.

    • Steve
      Posted January 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      A quick argument for libertarian free will, borrowed from Michael Huemer:

      Suppose that determinism is true.

      Is this determinism or determinism in a philosophic sense?

      If so, anything you can do, you will do, since you can only ever do what you actually do, if determinism is true.

      There are lots of things I can do that I will never do. I can drown in a submarine accident. I can die in a plane crash. I can die in a car accident. I can live to a ripe old age and die in my sleep. I can talk to God, if there is a God and He/She/It wants to talk to me. These are all things I can do, but these are not all things that I will do.
      I would concede that non-free willism says that all that we have done is all that we could have done. This does not equate to anything I can do, I will do.

      Now we tend to think that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’: we don’t criticize people for doing something they absolutely couldn’t have avoided doing. If you fail to prevent a disease epidemic because you don’t have a cure, I shouldn’t say to you, ‘Yes, I understand that you couldn’t have prevented the epidemic, but you still should have.’

      Currently people are being criticized for doing that which they absolutely could not have avoided doing. This is one of the reasons for the non-free will objection. This is because people are assumed capable of having been able to have done something other than what they did. This then is clearly is begging the question. But you are right, if a person could not prevent a disease epidemic because they didn’t have the cure, then you ought not say to them, ‘‘Yes, I understand that you couldn’t have prevented the epidemic, but you still should have.’ Well, ought not to if you care about your credibility.
      What is really true instead is this, we tend to think that ‘ought’ implies ‘may’: we expect that if we think someone ought to do a thing then they ‘may’ do the thing. And conversely if they are forbidden to do a thing, then they ought not do that thing. Or the other way around, those things we think ought not be done, we forbid, saying that they may not do them.

      We also tend to think that in general, we ought to have true beliefs; we should make true beliefs our goal. (Or, weaker if you like, we ought to have justified beliefs. The conclusion of the argument is almost as friendly to libertarianism.)

      We tend to think that in general, we ought to have reserves in a savings account in case of being laid-off. We ought to have a fulfilling career, nice digs, nice threads, caring friends, and a loving family. (Or, weaker if you like, we ought to have sense enough not to buy a pig in a poke.)

      Putting these ideas all together, we find that if we ought to have true beliefs, then we can have true beliefs. And if determinism is true, then if we can have true beliefs, we do have true beliefs. So if determinism is true, then if I’m a libertarian about free will, my belief in libertarianism is true.

      Oh, I see what you did there… you tried to make all the determinism in the universe vanish in a puff of logic. All the observable chains of cause and effect just disappear in one logical double bind. But we have seen that even though we can/may have true beliefs determinism says that we actual have them. So, determinism is true, and you may/can be libertarian regarding free will, and your belief in libertarianism may still be false.

      So now we have a dilemma: If determinism is false, then it doesn’t provide a good argument against free will. If determinism is true, and I’m a libertarian, then libertarianism is true. Either way, determinism does not refute libertarianism.

      If determinism is true, and you’re a libertarian, then determinism is still true and you are in error.

      • Tom
        Posted January 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        Steve,

        By ‘determinism’ I mean the thesis that is or entails that anything you can do, you do. (This is typically thought to be the sort of determinism that poses a problem for libertarianism.)

        “There are lots of things I can do that I will never do.”

        Then determinism is false.

        “I would concede that non-free willism says that all that we have done is all that we could have done. This does not equate to anything I can do, I will do.”

        The two are basically contrapositives of each other, so yes, they entail each other. ‘If I can phi, then I phi’ is the contrapositive of ‘if I don’t phi, then I couldn’t phi,’ which is what you conceded; just insert ‘not do’ for ‘phi’ in both points.

        “Currently people are being criticized for doing that which they absolutely could not have avoided doing.”

        Because most people have indeterminist leanings or intuitions.

        “But you are right, if a person could not prevent a disease epidemic because they didn’t have the cure, then you ought not say to them, …”

        Not only that, but it would be wrong to say they should or ought to have prevented it. It’s false that you have committed a serious moral wrong by not instantly, universally curing cancer. Why? Because you lack the ability to do that.

        “But we have seen that even though we can/may have true beliefs determinism says that we actual have them. So, determinism is true, …”

        I don’t understand the inference from your first sentence to the first two clauses of your second sentence. Yes, determinism says (given the other principles) that my beliefs regarding determinism are true or at least justified. So if I believe in indeterminism, then according to determinism (plus the other two principles), that belief is true or at least justified.

        • Steve
          Posted January 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

          By ‘determinism’ I mean the thesis that is or entails that anything you can do, you do.

          I don’t know of any such thesis. You can dress up in women’s clothes and hang out in bars, does than mean you do that? No. (Well at least I don’t suppose you do. I don’t know. Regarding this I am just guessing.) Where in the world did you ever come up with this as part of determinism?

          (This is typically thought to be the sort of determinism that poses a problem for libertarianism.)

          I would rather thing that that sort of determinism would pose a problem for determinism. That is just whack… anything you can do, you do… nope. Plenty of stuff I can do, that I don’t do.

          By determinism I mean the thesis that entails nothing happening without a cause that determined it to happen (or set of causes).

          As I think I have said, nobody does all that they can do (or all that they may do, (may meaning permitted)). There are many more things that I can do, that I will never do.

          Determinism in no way claims that everything a person believes is automatically true… no matter how badly they wish to be true.

          I suppose you could say that by determinism you mean the thesis that is or entails that everything you say is true… and therefore if you say libertarianism is true, it must be true, but then determinism has to stop being… but that just doesn’t seem to stand up or be reasonable a thing to say.

          • Tom
            Posted January 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

            Steve,

            In your previous reply, you wrote, “I would concede that non-free willism says that all that we have done is all that we could have done.” As I pointed out in my reply to that reply, your position does logically entail that if you can do something, you do it. I don’t know why you didn’t respond to that. Here is the proof, in any case.

            (1) Suppose: All that we have done is all that we could have done.
            (2) It follows that the set of things we can do is identical to the set of things we do. (From 1.)
            (3) Suppose, for conditional proof, that I can do x. (Supposition.)
            (4) It follows that x is an element of the set of things I can do. (From 3.)
            (5) Therefore, x is an element of the set of things I do. (From 2 and 4.)
            (6) Therefore, I do x. (From 5.)
            (7) Therefore, given ‘all that we have done is all that we could have done,’ it follows that if I can do x, I do x. (From 1, 3, and 6.)

            “Where in the world did you ever come up with this as part of determinism?”

            Decades of the literature concerning the free will debate.

            “By determinism I mean the thesis that entails nothing happening without a cause that determined it to happen (or set of causes).”

            Did that cause necessitate that result? (In other words, given that cause, was it impossible that a different result would occur?) If yes, then your determinism entails ‘anything I can do, I do.’ If no, then your determinism poses no problem for libertarianism, since we could still make choices that go either way even given the same causal inputs.

            “Determinism in no way claims that everything a person believes is automatically true… ”

            It entails it (given the principles that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ and that we ought to have justified or true beliefs), if it entails that anything I don’t do, I couldn’t have done, or if it entails that any state of the universe necessitates any later state.

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

              Number 2 fails… It follows that the set of things we can do is identical to the set of things we do.

              This is what I dispute… I say the set of things we can do is larger than the set of things we do.

              • Tom
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

                “I say the set of things we can do is larger than the set of things we do.”

                (Earlier) “I would concede that non-free willism says that all that we have done is all that we could have done.”

                But ‘all that we have done is all that we could have done’ literally means that the set of what we do and the set of what we can do are identical, right?

                “I say the set of things we can do is larger than the set of things we do.”

                So sometimes we do one thing, but we could have done something else. Then there’s no problem for libertarian free will from determinism. The libertarian is who insists that sometimes when we do one thing, we could have done something else, even given the same outside stimuli.

                “Also I didn’t agree with ought implies can …”

                Suppose someone said to you: ‘I think you have committed a very serious moral wrong by not instantly curing all cancer in the world. You’ve caused millions of people to suffer and die. You should be ashamed of yourself.’

                What would you say in response?

              • Steve
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

                But ‘all that we have done is all that we could have done’ literally means that the set of what we do and the set of what we can do are identical, right?

                Wrong… the set of what I can do is larger than the set of what I will do.

              • Steve
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                So sometimes we do one thing, but we could have done something else.

                Not in the moment of doing the one thing. Just because we are doing one thing now, does not limited the number of potential things we may yet do later.

                We do is in the present tense… we could have done is in the past tense.

              • Steve
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

                The libertarian is who insists that sometimes when we do one thing, we could have done something else, even given the same outside stimuli.

                The free will who makes that claim is deluded. It would be such a rare instance when an individual could have done B) just as easily as they could have done A). This certainly would not apply to any choice of any dire consequence. I doubt anyone says I could have just as easily tortured some children this morning as not tortured children.

                The non-free willist claims that there are determinants that cause the libertarian to do the one thing that they did. NFWist will even go so far as to say the libertarian is caused to hold their libertarian world view. NFWist would also acknowledge that libertarians are the only people who would/could believe that NFWists are freely choosing to deny that free will is not an illusion.

              • Steve
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

                “Also I didn’t agree with ought implies can …” Suppose someone said to you: ‘I think you have committed a very serious moral wrong by not instantly curing all cancer in the world. You’ve caused millions of people to suffer and die. You should be ashamed of yourself.’ What would you say in response?

                I take it this is a rhetorical question, and you really aren’t interested in hearing my response. The best I can tell, what I have been trying to communicate to you has been falling on deaf ears.

              • Tom
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

                “Wrong… the set of what I can do is larger than the set of what I will do.”

                Okay. Suppose I choose C at time t. At t, was it possible that I would choose something other than C?

                If yes: Determinism itself poses no problem for libertarianism. My actions aren’t decided 10,000 years ago.

                If no: Then the set of what I can do is not larger than the set of what I actually do.

                “It would be such a rare instance when an individual could have done B) just as easily as they could have done A).”

                No one said “just as easily.”

              • Steve
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

                If we assume complete determinism, then your answer is no. But you are wrong that this implies that “the set of what I can do (in the future) is not larger than the set of what I actually do (in the present)”.

                I see what you are doing… you are trying to define what an entity can do to be equal to the set of all the thing the entity will eventually do.

                So if I say, I can visit the space station, you would say that is not a true statement unless I eventually visit the space station…

                If I say I can be drown in a submarine accident, you would just ignore that claim altogether because it doesn’t follow the pattern you are trying to establish.

                If I say I can travel to Seattle, you would say that was not a valid statement unless I eventually go to Seattle.

                Well I know I can go to any city in the country, but this is different than saying I can go to every city in the country, but I’ll never go to half the cities in the country, and that does not prove the universe is not deterministic.

            • Steve
              Posted January 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

              Also I didn’t agree with ought implies can… only ought implies may.

            • Steve
              Posted January 24, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

              Decades of the literature concerning the free will debate.

              Well then if by determinism you mean non-free willism… let’s call it that since determinism is not necessary for non-free willism to be true.

              • Tom
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

                Steve,

                “Determinism would apply to the universe devoid of beings capable of holding beliefs… so how can the validity of determinism hinge upon beings beliefs automatically being true?”

                It doesn’t. Determinism does not entail that beliefs exist. It only entails (given those other two principles) that every belief that actually does exist is true or at least justified.

              • Steve
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

                Describe how that would be valid in the universe before beliefs existed?

              • Tom
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

                Steve:

                “Describe how that would be valid in the universe before beliefs existed?”

                Conditionals can be true even if their antecedents are false, and subjunctive conditionals can be true even if their antecedents fail to obtain.

                “I take it this is a rhetorical question …”

                No; what is your answer?

              • Steve
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

                No, Tom… you claim that the universe can not be deterministic..because the way you figure, determinism says that all beliefs necessarily have to be true…

                You are trying to say that in a universe were there were no beliefs, determinism would still be untrue because if there were entities that had beliefs determinism would necessitate that they could only have true beliefs. So in effect you are saying that the universe could never have been deterministic.

                Good luck with this.

              • Tom
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

                Steve:

                “No, Tom… you claim that the universe can not be deterministic..because the way you figure, determinism says that all beliefs necessarily have to be true… ”

                No; I’m not saying any of this. I feel that I’ve said enough in my various presentations of the argument to allow people who read and think about it carefully to understand it.

                “If we assume complete determinism, then your answer is no …”

                You agree that for any choice C you make at t, it was impossible for you to do anything else at t. It logically deductively follows that anything you can do at t, you do at t. I’ve already given you the proof, and so once again I feel I’ve already said all I need to.

            • Steve
              Posted January 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

              “Determinism in no way claims that everything a person believes is automatically true…

              It entails it

              Determinism would apply to the universe devoid of beings capable of holding beliefs… so how can the validity of determinism hinge upon beings beliefs automatically being true?

  59. Posted January 20, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    these comments are a whole lot of chit chat but no data or evidence…if any version of free will is true:

    - where are the experiments even hinting at it?
    - why have experiments already so easily debunked it?

    “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”

    • Tom
      Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      As many commenters have shown, the experiments are quite silent on whether free will exists. The Libet-style experiments say nothing about whether the choice (at, e.g., -550 ms) was free, and the (alleged) fact that our brains are physical objects says nothing until we have the lemma that physical events cannot be free choices.

      In any case, many libertarians believe that the positive evidence for libertarian free will is that indeterminism very strongly seems to be sometimes true, and since empirical evidence cannot establish determinism (as philosopher William James pointed out–empirical data are only ever observations of actualities, not impossibilities), the empirical evidence (especially from introspection) is actually, on balance, favorable to indeterminism.

      • Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        what do political beliefs have to do with empirical reality?…if FW is so important why isn’t it easy to find and we find the opposite in the experiments?…

        choosing not to accept the data is only evidence of unconscious defensive reactions…verbalized post hoc…

        • Xuuths
          Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          sleeprunning, do a quick search for the text “libertarian free will” in this thread, and you’ll get the explanation — which has nothing to do with the Libertarian political party.

  60. Tom
    Posted January 20, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    I thought I’d start a new thread, since the others keep bumping up against the reply limit. People keep accusing me of unclarity or ambiguity, so I’ll use the precise versions of the premises.

    Here’s a version of the argument by Michael Huemer against determinism:

    I. INITIAL ARGUMENT

    (1) Either determinism or indeterminism is true. (Excluded Middle.)

    (2”) If S in the actual world @ ought to do something at time t in @, then there is a possible world w that shares its history up to t with @ in which S does that thing at t in @. (This is a version of ‘”ought” implies “can.”‘)

    (3”) If determinism is true, then if there is a possible world w that shares its history up to t with @ in which S does something, then S does that thing at t in @. (This follows from the definition of ‘determinism.’)

    (4) Therefore, if determinism is true, then: if you ought to do something, then you do do it. (From (2) and (3).)

    (5) Mike believes indeterminism. (Assumption.)

    (6) Mike ought to have the correct belief about whether indeterminism is true. (From the principle that we ought to have true beliefs.)

    (7) Therefore, if determinism is true, then Mike has the correct belief about whether indeterminism is true. (From (4) and (6).)

    (8) Therefore, if determinism is true, then indeterminism is true. (From (5) and (7).)

    (9) Therefore, indeterminism is true. (From (1) and (8).)

    The argument is strictly deductively valid; premise (1) is a substitution-instance of a logical truth; premise (3) is true by definition; and premise (5) is true of some cognizers.

    Therefore, to reject (9), you must deny (2”) or (6).

    II. SUB-ARGUMENT FOR (2”):
    If (2”) is false, then, e.g.,

    (H) you ought to have gone back in time and killed Hitler; you have committed a moral wrong by not doing that.

    But (H) is false. So (2”) is true.

    III. SUB-ARGUMENT FOR (6):
    It follows from a more general principle that

    (6G) people ought to have correct or at least justified beliefs about things.

    If (6G) is false, then Holocaust deniers are not being unreasonable, and it’s not the case that people should believe in determinism. But Holocaust deniers are unreasonable, and (at least according to determinists) people should believe in determinism. Therefore, (6G) is true.

    IV. THE WEAKNESS OF EMPIRICAL CASES FOR DETERMINISM:
    Any argument anyone offers for denying (2”) or (6G) should only persuade us if we think it’s more plausible than (2”) or (6G). But the arguments for determinism fail to meet that threshold, at least unless they appeal to non-empirical premises, since empirical observation by itself can never provide evidence for determinism, since (in turn) no one empirically observes impossible alternative possibilities.

    V. CONCLUSION
    So if anyone objects to (9), I would like to see an argument against (2”) or for (H). As far as I can tell, only an argument against (2”) or an argument for (H) has any hope of avoiding (9).

    • Peter
      Posted January 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      Derp. We can alternately reject (6), rather than rejecting determinism.

      Just because it’s widely believed that we ought to have true beliefs, that doesn’t mean that we actually ought have true beliefs. We could be wrong about that ought. In fact, it’s well known that we are often wrong, and that our ability to predict what will happen in the world is limited to some very simple systems. Who can predict what a particular person will believe about an ethereal philosophical concept? So I think it’s safe to throw out (6) as it’s based on a completely fantastical assumption.

      • Tom
        Posted January 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

        Glad to see you’re still interested in continuing this discussion.

        I’m not sure what your objection to (6G) is, which is what entails (6). Would you restate it please? And if you deny (6G), what would you actually say to a Holocaust denier, or to a libertarian about free will, and why would you say it? (Presumably you don’t actually think they’re doing anything wrong by having unjustified or false beliefs.)

        I also don’t understand what you mean about the universe evolving and so on. Holocaust deniers are unreasonable because the evidence makes it highly epistemically likely that the Holocaust occurred. In other words, the evidence for the Holocaust far outweighs the evidence against the Holocaust. That’s the support for the claim that Holocaust deniers are unreasonable. I think this means they’re forming their beliefs wrongly, because, in turn, (6G) is true.

        • Peter
          Posted January 20, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

          If determinism is true, then Holocaust deniers *can’t* accept the Holocaust, therefore they *oughtn’t* accept the Holocaust. So if you’re considering them unreasonable, then you must have good evidence that they can accept the Holocaust, right? That is, you have good evidence that determinism isn’t true.

          Your above argument doesn’t cut it, since that would be circular in (6)–If Mike can’t believe in determinism, even though determinism is true, then he oughtn’t believe in determinism, and asserting instead that he ought is just begging the question.

          Another way: (6G) may or may not be true, but it’s truth is not sufficient for us to know that it’s true, or to reasonably assert it. And no-one has ever done the work necessary to justify it: you’d have to show that it’s *possible* for everyone to hold only justified beliefs in order to claim that they *ought* have justified beliefs. Some people have unjustified beliefs, but if they can’t but have those beliefs, then there’s no ought. Justifying (6G) requires refuting determinism. You can’t just assume it to refute determinism.

          Unless you have another method of justifying (6G)? Only from the left? That seems a reasonable approach for most contexts, but the sort of “possible” that you end up with will only amount to “possible” to the best of our knowledge, rather than “possible” in the sense of (2”), since at best our version of (6G) won’t be true because it’s Truth, rather it’ll just be true to the best of our knowledge. This is what we mean when we say you’re conflating “cans” from different scopes. You need to recognize how you’re doing that, and stop doing it.

          • Peter
            Posted January 20, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

            Huh, and I’m engaging this bad argument against determinism, even though QM is probably* sufficient to refute determinism. Yay, procrastination!

            *because QM is indeterministic, but maybe not in a sense that’s appropriate for this discussion.

          • Tom
            Posted January 21, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

            I’ll try to respond in order of your paragraphs:

            (1) Determinists think Holocaust deniers aren’t doing anything wrong. I’m not defending determinism, so I can perfectly happily say that they can accept the existence of the Holocaust, and they ought.

            (2) I’m not the one asserting that Mike ought to believe in determinism. The argument points out that if determinists think that, they’ve defeated their own position. (But if they don’t think that, why do they argue for it?)

            (3) Our evidence for whether people ought or ought not do things comes from other sources. Intuitionists think it comes from intuition; metaethical naturalists think it comes from observation and some story about how terms acquire their references or extensions; and so on. So no, justifying (6G) simply requires some other story about ethics. (Analogy: ‘Justifying the existence of trees requires refuting the beliefs of others that trees don’t exist.’ Sure, but the observations of trees are those refutations. Analogously, the discovery (through intuition or the naturalist’s method) that people ought to have true beliefs is (part of) the refutation of determinism.)

            As I’ve mentioned, if you want to deny all of normativity in your defense of determinism, then you have to believe, e.g., that ‘determinism is true’ is more plausible than ‘it’s wrong to kidnap children and torture them to death.’ But I can’t imagine an argument for determinism, the premises of which are more plausible than the claim about the wrongness of torturing children to death.

            (4) As my restatement of the argument shows, I’m not saying anything about epistemic modality; my modality is what metaphysicians call ‘metaphysical’ or ‘broadly logical.’ This is obvious from premises (2”) and (3”).

            Maybe yours is just a roundabout way of arguing that (6G) is at best only true to the best of our knowledge. Maybe so, but that’s a pretty weak response, right? (‘I accept that your position is true to the best of our knowledge’ is essentially a concession.)

          • Tom
            Posted January 21, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

            Sorry for the add-on, but here’s one more way to think about it.

            Suppose you’re right that determinists should give up the idea of normativity. Then:

            Either determinism or indeterminism is true.

            If determinism is true, then it is not the case that you should believe in determinism. (From the above idea that determinists should give up normativity.)

            If indeterminism is true, then it is not the case that you should believe in determinism.

            Therefore, it is not the case that you should believe in determinism.

            I’m not sure determinists really want to accept that: a proof that no one should believe in determinism.

            • Peter
              Posted January 21, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

              The argument I’ve just presented is supposed to be taken in the context of the argument we’ve been having for a while, as well as in the context of the argument you’ve been having with Vaal, Bernard, and I think Ron Murphy had been making the same points.

              In that context: We’ve all been making the point that you are using “can” or “possible” in different sense in different parts of your arguments. I’m trying only to draw your attention to the different senses of “can” you’re using.

              So, first, I’m not claiming that determinists need to throw out normativity. They’ll base it on a different sense of “possible” than “e is possible there exist worlds where e occurs”.

              Second, the tools you suggest to support (6G) do not rely on, or assume, a sense of “possible” in the sense of “e is possible if there exist worlds where e occurs”. There, you cannot derive that such worlds from the “oughts” you derive with such tools. And actually, the tools you suggest for deriving (6G) are completely usable by determinists.

              Third, try this:
              (6G’) Everyone ought hold only true, justified beliefs

              Corollary: (since “ought implies can”)
              Everyone can hold only true, justified beliefs

              (6G”#!) Everyone who can ought hold only true, justified beliefs

              Is the problem clear yet? Both forms of (6G) should apply to the same sets of people, so they should both work in your argument. But if determinism is true, then (6G”#!) doesn’t oblige anyone who does not actually hold only true, justified beliefs, since by determinism, they “can” only do what they actually do. So your in your argument, Mike will only be obliged to believe in determinism if both determinism is true, and he actually believes it (with justification). Either you are begging the question with your version of “ought implies can”, or else you’re straining two senses of “can.”

              But why am I spending all the effort addressing your arguments? Why don’t you try addressing the point I made before (rather than just dismissing it, then forgetting I made it):
              “ought implies can” can only mean that “what one suppose people ought, one must suppose people can”
              (remember that? if you reread my previous couple of posts in light of that, is my meaning any clearer? Also, for support for that claim, see my points about how no-one supports their ought-claims by first refuting determinism)

              • Peter
                Posted January 21, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

                Oh, also, in light of my rejiggering of (6G), I don’t think anyone can hold only justified, true beliefs, therefore we shouldn’t ought that on everyone, and I think that’s a pretty good reason to be dubious of (6G), regardless of the determinism question.

              • Tom
                Posted January 21, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

                (Point A) “I’m trying only to draw your attention to the different senses of ‘can’ you’re using.”

                To substantiate this claim, please explicitly name one of my premises that contains ‘can’ or ‘possible,’ tell me explicitly the meaning of that word in that premise, then name a different premise that contains ‘can’ or ‘possible’ and explicitly tell me the different meaning in that premise. (The only possibilities, of course, are (2”) and (3”).)

                (B) “There, you cannot derive that such worlds from the ‘oughts’ you derive with such tools.”

                I derive (6G) from however people derive ethical truths. If you deny that it’s possible for anyone to be justified in believing in propositions with ethical content, that’s something else entirely, and we can talk about that. (Do you?)

                (C) I’m not begging the question against determinism; I’m simply presenting an argument for a position that’s inconsistent with determinism.

                My suggestion is that (6G) (or a restricted 6G that deals with, e.g., beliefs about whether determinism is true; see below) is far more plausible than any argument for determinism. (Do you deny this?)

                (D) “‘ought implies can’ can only mean that ‘what one suppose people ought, one must suppose people can’.”

                When I say ‘”ought” implies “can”‘ I mean what I said in (2”). Therefore, it is false that ‘”ought” implies “can”‘ can “only” mean what you say it can only mean.

                (E) “Oh, also, in light of my rejiggering of (6G), I don’t think anyone can hold only justified, true beliefs, therefore we shouldn’t ought that on everyone, and I think that’s a pretty good reason to be dubious of (6G), regardless of the determinism question.”

                Probably no one can completely avoid committing moral wrongs. Therefore, is it false that people ought to avoid committing moral wrongs? Certainly not. Just because people fail to live up to perfection, doesn’t mean they can’t possibly make errors.

                And in any case, suppose we just said that people ought to have justified beliefs about whether determinism is true. It follows that it’s possible for Mike to have justified beliefs about whether determinism is true. But then, given determinism, Mike actually does have justified beliefs about whether determinism is true, so Mike is justified in rejecting determinism.

              • Peter
                Posted January 21, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

                “suppose we just said that people ought to have justified beliefs about whether determinism is true. It follows that it’s possible for Mike to have justified beliefs about whether determinism is true.”

                You wrote this? It didn’t strike you as implausible? It’s not that asserting an ought makes it possible to satisfy the ought. Rather, in order to justify an ought, you must show that it’s possible to satisfy the ought.

                Now, if there are objective oughts, then sure, they only apply to those who can satisfy them. But as I’ve said, and you haven’t addressed, we don’t know what those oughts are without justifying that knowledge. And that justification is going to have to include showing that people can satisfy them. Hence, from you’re perspective, it’d seem that you’d have to refute determinism. And in practice, the justifications of oughts always use a looser form of “can” or “possible” than is needed to refute determinism.

                Otherwise, you are begging the question. I showed exactly where. You didn’t address that.

                And finally, one form of “can” or “possible” that is often used is something like this (which is also compatible with determinism): An event e is possible if: we know the configuration X(t) of a system to within an error E(t), and can predict the future configuration of the system X(t + dt) with error g(E, X, dt). Then an event e within time dt is possible if there is a configuration of the system within the surface X(t + s) +/- g(E, X, s) for 0 < s < dt. Um, I feel like my notation is very sloppy here. Hopefully you can tell what I mean.

              • Tom
                Posted January 21, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for your continued responses. I started one more new thread, below, re-summarizing Huemer’s argument and responding to you in particular.

    • Peter
      Posted January 20, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      Also, if you consider Holocaust deniers unreasonable, I’m sure it’s because you’ve done a lot of work showing that, given determinism, the universe would evolve in such a way since some time t that there would be no Holocaust deniers. Is that work published somewhere? Can you link to it?

  61. Posted January 20, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    It seems that any further discussion of free will should be conducted in lojban as English is clearly insufficiently precise and unambiguous. ;-)

    /@

  62. Posted January 21, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Steve

    Posted January 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Steve, I want to talk about the common, or literal interpretation of free will.

    I take that to mean you want to talk about libertarian free will.

    If there are other kinds then different words should be used to differentiate them (I guess libertarian free will is one), because the standard question “is there free will?” (the topic of this blog post) is a simple question.

    Again I assure you the topic of this blog post is the fiction of libertarian free will.

    I assure that you poison the well and assert your opinion as fact at every opportunity.
    The topic is the conclusion that there is no free will; see how you dishonestly reframe this to imply that your opinion is the assumed default position.
    You are a liar.

    Descriptions of what is meant by this simple question are simple themselves: When you lift your arm is it really you who are doing it?. Yes, of course it is you, is my answer.

    What do you mean by “really”? If I tell you that every time you raise your arm it is because you are caused to raise your arm by a combination of your heredity and environment and that at the moment of the arm raising event you could not have done otherwise… would this constitute you really raising your arm? If yes, then I agree with you. If no, then I don’t agree with you.

    What is your basic problem? Obfuscation is your trademark.
    It is simple, he raised his arm by whatever mechanism. You seem to be saying that if he doesn’t define it the exact and restricted way you want him to, that he didn’t lift his arm? Really? ReallY??
    He didn’t lift his arm?
    That is what you said. You just said that unless he involuntarily lifted his arm due to a circumstance outside his voluntary control, then he didn’t really lift his arm!!!!

    Do you listen to yourself, steve. I mean, really??

    How can there be controversy about this?

    There is the potential for controversy any time there is disagreement. Do we disagree so far?

    You see the dishonesty steve? You manufacture a controversy by being insipid and obtuse but pretend there is an absolute controversy in order to give the appearance of validity to your bizarre stances.

    Is the question really about something else, and if it is, why not just ask that question? Maybe it’s actually a question about souls – do we have them? (No. We are biological machines.)

    Well many people who believe in free will believe it is an attribute of an immaterial/supernatural/immortal soul. Some theologies hold that humans alone have souls and also that humans have free will. But I don’t see that this blog post is necessarily about the non-existence of souls.
    I make note that you believe us to be biological machines. This is interesting because many advocates of free will are very insistent that humans are more than mere biological machines and the existence of free will is the very thing that lifts them into this superior position. (They are in error if there is no libertarian free will.)

    WHAT? Most people?? Give evidence, you liar. No one here means we have a soul or mystical component, so why do you say it is happening at all, let alone a majority??
    It boggles my mind, steve, how relentlessly and twist meanings and just make shit up every chance you get.

    Not one fucking person here says it is the result of an immaterial/immortal/supernatural soul, you unabashed bullshitter.

    See?:”many advocates of free will are very insistent that humans are more than mere biological machines and the existence of free will is the very thing that lifts them into this superior position.?
    Where the F did anyone say this? Huh? HUH?
    Where are these many advocates that say free will lifts us up or seperates us in any from any other animal??

    You are a liar.

    I am not going to go through the rest of your comment. I believe I’ve more than made my point that you reframe, reduce, redefine, and purely bullshit and erect straw men and use innuendo to defame.
    There. Yu remember where I listed the fallacies you used, and you agreed except for appeal to emotion?

    STFU already.

    • Steve
      Posted January 21, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      tushcloots,

      You are quite bent out of shape by this topic, aren’t you? I can’t help but feel sympathetic for you. (Knowing as I do that you are only doing what your heredity and environment cause you to do… in other words I know you are doing the best that you can.

      • Posted January 21, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

        Don’t go to the trouble of standing up for your words, by any means, buddy! ;)

        • Steve
          Posted January 21, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

          tushcloots,

          There doesn’t seem to be much point in exchanging thoughts with you, given what seems very much like blinding rage when you struggle with this topic.

          • Posted January 21, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

            I would think dishonesty and evasion signs of struggling, but whatever. You have your opinion, for what it’s worth.

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted January 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

            The reason tushcloots is frustrated (and I sympathize with him) is that you refuse to address his main point, which that your physics (which I consider to be naive physics) does not, and cannot, explain the undeniable existence of consciousness, qualia, and intentionality.

            By the way, I’m reading Laurence Krauss’ new book, A Universe from Nothing. I recommend it to the no-free-willists who think physics as we know it today is wrapped up in a neat little tidy package.

            • Steve
              Posted January 21, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

              I have no idea what you mean by “My physics”. I am not a physicist… I’ve never represented my self as a physicist. How did I end up with having physics that are particularly mine to defend?

              Also, it (his main point about non-free willists not having the answers to his questions about the undeniable existence of consciousness, qualia, and I guess intentionality) has been addressed… he has been told him this is not relevant to the proposition that libertarian free will is an illusion.

              I’m trying my best to help anyone who wants to understand why humans don’t have libertarian free will.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted January 21, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

                Your argument, and Jerry’s, against free will is based entirely on a physical viewpoint — one that I find naive. It does not hold water to claim ignorance of physics and, implicitly, ignorance of the limitations of physics as we understand it today. You don’t have to be a physicist, but you have to take physics and its present-day limitations seriously to be taken seriously.

                I can’t prove that free will exists. You can’t prove that it doesn’t exist. That’s where we stand.

              • Steve
                Posted January 21, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

                But I can prove free will doesn’t exist.

                Your argument, and Jerry’s, against free will is based entirely on a physical viewpoint — one that I find naive.

                You don’t know this to be true… you have no idea why I am convinced that there is no freedom to human will. And since you are wrong about why I confident in my position you are just blowing hot air to say, “It does not hold water to claim ignorance of physics and, implicitly, ignorance of the limitations of physics as we understand it today. You don’t have to be a physicist, but you have to take physics and its present-day limitations seriously to be taken seriously.”

                I wish I knew what it is that you think you know, because from my vantage point you are way off base.

                I can’t prove that free will exists.

                Well then you all you have is the illusion to base your insistence that people have freedom of will.

                Like I said, I can prove my position.

                That’s where we stand.

            • Posted January 22, 2012 at 2:54 am | Permalink

              Stephen,

              The main points, that are not being addressed, are:

              Causality is the foundation of all our science.

              The simplistic determinism case of causality is used just to make the point that any notion of free-will, where the ‘free’ means anything worth while, simply cannot exist. I can’t see why the logic of this is so controversial, but even this simple case is denied by the free-willies.

              A reasonable objection then is to say that strict determinism doesn’t hold, citing quantum indeterminism, or even just epistemological indeterminism. But then these don’t rescue free-will.

              Next, you could try arguing that causality doesn’t apply, or that it doesn’t apply in the case of free-will. But then that seems to be a claim that free-will itself is free to come about un-caused, but that it has the privilege of causing effects – in the sense that something is being willed to happen and therefore it does.

              The summary of the logical position then is that there is nothing in science that actually allows free-will, in any of the definitions of free-will that give any real meaning to the ‘free’ bit. Even if science demonstrates ‘something from nothing’, in terms of the coming and going of elementary particles, that is simply an indeterminate cause of subsequent events. It doesn’t have anything to do with our notion of the will being ‘free’ to ‘choose otherwise’.

              This is a wholly contingent position based on how we understand ideas of causality, determinism, indeterminism and how they are used in science.

              This is quite different from claims that any specific science (e.g. Libet) is direct evidence against free-will – I agree it isn’t.

              I’m not sure why it is thought that in this universe, with the contingent physics we understand so far, that psychological experiences, such as the feeling we have free-will, or bogusly named notions like ‘qualia’, have any sway whatsoever. There is plenty of psychology and neuroscience that already puts into question our psychological perspective. Even the whole notion of ‘self’ has been put into question so much that it has no scientific foundation. Introspection is not a scientific tool. This point is made often, but then ignored. Why is introspection, which persuades us of the notion of free-will, given the weight that free-willies seem to give to it?

              So, I’d still like to see a definition of free-will that does not keep harping on about qualia, or claiming that our free-will is obvious. One of the big benefits that philosophy and science brings to the table is the message that we should be challenging the obvious.

              So think of the argument here as follows. This is a challenge to give any definition of free-will that does not conflict with our understanding of causality. I assume you want to rule out dualisms of any kind, but maybe not.

            • Posted January 22, 2012 at 2:57 am | Permalink

              “The reason tushcloots is frustrated…”

              We all are. If this subject was as obvious as he feels it is to him the argument would have been settle millenia ago. Bringing on the manners of a petulant child who can’t get his way doesn’t really cut it as a form of argument.

            • Posted January 22, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

              [...]the undeniable existence of consciousness, qualia, and intentionality.

              Hmm…

              “consciousness” is a very slippery term and seems to mean all things to all people so whether its existence is undeniable is difficult to ascertain.

              “qualia”: I actually do deny the existence of qualia so it seems that I have managed to do the impossible. I gave a talk last Monday at a PSE meeting at which I did just that. My preview page is at: http://bernardhurley.posterous.com/mindbody-problem-what-mindbody-problem and a transcript of the meeting will appear on my blog sometime. I also discuss the issue here: http://bernardhurley.posterous.com/cartesian-dualism-and-its-legacy

              “intentionality”: this is merely the property of one thing being about something else as when my belief that the sky is blue is about the sky. Who denies that that is possible? Of course I might wish to deny what some philosophers say about intentionality.

  63. Tom
    Posted January 21, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    For those just joining the discussion of Huemer’s argument against determinism:

    Let’s use an abbreviation for ‘”ought” implies “can”‘:

    (OIC) For any subject S, world w, time t, and action phi, if S ought to phi at t in w, then it is physically possible for S to phi at t in w.

    Let’s also use an abbreviation for a version of determinism:

    (D) For any subject S, time t, and action phi, if it is physically possible for S to phi at t, then S phis at t.

    (This is just the contrapositive of a more familiar version of determinism, that if someone doesn’t do something, then it was impossible for her to do it.)

    (D) and (OIC) together logically entail ‘”ought” implies “does”‘:

    (OID) For any subject S, time t, and action phi, if S ought to phi at t, then S phis at t.

    Now suppose we assume a principle about epistemic obligations:

    (E) Indeterminists ought to hold the most rational position about whether determinism is true.

    (OID) and (E) together entail that indeterminism is the most rational position about whether determinism is true.

    To respond to this argument, determinists cannot deny (D); they’d be denying determinism. So they’d have to deny (OIC) or (E).

    Now in response to Peter in particular:

    I. ON THE DEFENSE OF (OIC)

    “It didn’t strike you as implausible?”

    If it were physically impossible for someone to do something, then she’d have no obligation to do it, right? (Again, consider the intuitive example of the disease epidemic.) But (a substitution-instance of) the contrapositive is just that if people have an obligation to have justified beliefs, then it’s possible for them to do so–which is what you said was implausible.

    II. ON BEGGING THE QUESTION

    “Otherwise, you are begging the question. I showed exactly where. You didn’t address that.”

    I was only begging the question in the sense that all valid deductive arguments are “question begging”: the denial of the conclusion is inconsistent with the conjunction of the premises. An argument only really begs the question if people who disagree with the conclusion have no good reason to agree with the premises or to employ the argument-form; it doesn’t beg the question just by appealing to a premise that militates against the denial of the conclusion.

    Compare: Suppose Smith kidnaps and tortures a child. If I am an indeterminist, I might claim that what Smith did was wrong. Why? In part because it’s wrong to cause intense pain to children. Can Smith really say in his defense, ‘You are begging the question, because you have to prove first that what I did was wrong, which I deny, before you can appeal to the fact that causing intense pain to children is wrong’? Surely not, even though ‘causing intense pain to children is wrong’ entails that what Smith did was wrong.

    As long as the indeterminist appeals to independently plausible evidence that we should have justified beliefs, she doesn’t have to refute determinism some /other/ way too (by showing that someone could have done otherwise), does she?

    III. THREE OPTIONS FOR THE DETERMINIST

    Now presumably (right?)

    (1) the determinist who accepts (OIC) will say that what Smith did was not wrong, because it was impossible for Smith to do anything else. But

    (2) the determinist who does /not/ accept (OIC) will say you are committing a very serious moral wrong by not going back in time and saving all the victims of the Holocaust. (Unless

    (3) the indeterminist rejects all ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds.’ That person thinks no one should accept determinism.)

    None of these three positions is very attractive–but which do you think the determinist should accept? (And surely no argument for determinism is so persuasive that it justifies accepting one of those positions.)

    IV. ON THE ANALYSIS OF POSSIBILITY

    “One form of ‘can’ or ‘possible’ that is often used is something like this …”

    Let’s use physical modality: x is possible if it is consistent with the laws of physics that x occur.

    (Also, I don’t like your definition, because it would follow that nothing was possible before there were minds that could make predictions.)

    • Tom
      Posted January 21, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, III part (3) should say ‘determinist’ for “indeterminist.”

  64. Posted January 22, 2012 at 12:41 am | Permalink
    I can’t prove that free will exists.

    Well then you all you have is the illusion to base your insistence that people have freedom of will.
    Like I said, I can prove my position.
    That’s where we stand.

    (Shakes head…)
    Well, you have the illusion that you can prove free will exists.

    Ya see, steve? You start from a position that your premise is true, no matter what.
    That’s what your argument comes down to, doesn’t it? (No, I don’t expect rational analysis and genuine answers from you, but you keep proving our points over and over)

    Your final argument, the coup de grace, is, “No, I am right therefore you are wrong.”

    Your perception of the issue is so distorted that you imagine your opponents invoking mysticism and magic, and you honestly believe that is what is going on. I pointed that out, which you evade.

    Who cares if I appear angry or not, because the relevant factor is whether or not our arguments are rational, or not. Yet when I point out, in frustration, no doubt, that you are disingenuous and use fabrications to represent your opponents and, by implication, their lack of rationality, you exhibit the characteristics of denial and a closed mind.

    You say that because there are times that people are fooled by illusion so then all our perceptions about free will are wrong. You are saying:
    A(illusions) exists at certain times, therefore A(illusion) exists now. What kind of a mind makes arguments like that, while at the same time insisting that it only applies to others and not himself?
    xuuths pointed that out in #9, and you never responded.

    I may get angry, steve, but at least I am not mad:

    What Neil overlooks is that his “what we do” is done without libertarian free will. If he had properly formulated his statement by saying, “that which we are fully caused to do can affect what others do by changing their environmental state” He would not have ended up with his mistaken conclusion.

    It’s starting to get embarrassing, steve.

  65. Steve
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    #9 Is a post from Peter… Xuuths had nothing to do with #9…. I would point out to you that you are in error… but you would no doubt call be a liar who has fabricated something or other and turned your words around to make them something or other…. and that I have no right to tell you this because I can’t explain why we see red when we see red… and this is oh so very frustrating to you because you are seeing so much red.

    For me I felt embarrassed for you way back in 21… and even more so when you started confusing me with the other steve(s) posting in here. But I understand you are only doing what you are caused to do.

  66. Peter Beattie
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I am addressing what I think is most people’s notion of free will

    And while that may reflect you personal experience discussing this topic with others, it should be a sufficiently important matter to try to make sure that it actually works as a premise for your argument. I (or anybody else, for that matter) cannot, and should not, just take your word for it. So, is there any objective evidence at all for the contention that contra-causality is what practically everybody assumes to underlie free will? (And I would bet a substantial amount of money that, if you flat-out asked those people you spoke to whether they thought free will meant being able to flout the laws of physics, they would deny that. That may be cognitively dissonant, but it would still contradict your simple story of popular belief in CCFW.)

    I very much suspect that the evidence does not exist, or in any case that it is far from as unambiguous as you think. But even completely conceding that point to you, how can that even in principle determine how the term ‘free will’ should be understood? If, for example, practically everybody had a slightly wacky interpretation of ‘species’ or ‘evolution’ (as most people, I think we would agree, actually do), why on earth would that compel anybody at all to stick to that interpretation? Quite on the contrary, we would insist that a better interpretation be used. If most people thought that placental and marsupial wolves belonged to the same (sub)species or were very closely related, we would rightly point out not just that their concept was unhelpful but actually that they were mistaken. We should do the same when confronted with a definition of free will (as CCFW) that is just as obviously absurd.

    • Steve
      Posted January 22, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Peter,

      Say there is only one person in the whole wide world that believes humans have libertarian free will, or contra-causal free will. What would be the problem of Jerry blogging that he doesn’t believe that this libertarian free will or contra-causal free will exists? What would be wrong with him blogging his conclusion that libertarian free will is a myth and that the feeling of having libertarian free will is an illusion?

      Jerry would still be correct, would you not agree, that humans do not have a contra-causal free will?

      Certainly you are not the one person who believes in libertarian free will? You certainly are not one who believes that as we have gone through our life we could have done other than what did?

      • Posted January 22, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        these are not matters of political/philosophical or ideological debate but data…

        where is the peer-reviewed, double blind experimental data to support any version of FW?

        there is none…

        • Steve
          Posted January 22, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          sleeprunning,

          I respect what you are saying. You are right. Peter is not interested in engaging on the issue of the existence of libertarian free will, instead he wants to make some issue of how many FWists out there are meaning libertarian free will when they talk about FW…

          Of course there are those that have redefined FW as being able to do what you want to do, while not being coerced by some outside influence . And they will go from that to say there is no need for a double-blind experiment to prove that people do what they want to do, ergo FW does exist QED. And just for good measure they will conflate the whole issue by telling anyone concerned about what non-free willists are pointing out about how there being no FW, well this is not true because will they have proven that FW does exist…

          • Posted January 22, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

            “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion.”

            all this special pleading is jst ideological/power driven straw men…but effective in confusing the facts…

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted January 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        » Steve:
        Jerry would still be correct, would you not agree, that humans do not have a contra-causal free will?

        Certainly you are not the one person who believes in libertarian free will?

        You seem not to have read my post. My point is exactly that Jerry does not clarify at every turn (as you did in your comment) that he is talking about spooky free will. Instead, he pretends to speak for practically everybody and just says, ‘We don’t have free will.’ But he can’t speak for everybody, not without evidence anyway. And even if he could, why should anybody talk about an absurd interpretation of free will in the first place? You fail to address both points.

        • Steve
          Posted January 22, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

          You seem not to have read my post. My point is exactly that Jerry does not clarify at every turn (as you did in your comment) that he is talking about spooky free will. Instead, he pretends to speak for practically everybody and just says, ‘We don’t have free will.’ But he can’t speak for everybody, not without evidence anyway. And even if he could, why should anybody talk about an absurd interpretation of free will in the first place? You fail to address both points.

          I can’t speak for Jerry. So of course I can’t answer you for him.

          But you certainly can speak for yourself. Please answer my questions that I asked of you.

  67. Posted January 22, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    tushcloots,

    In response to comment (couldn’t reply to another level)

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/am-i-unsophisticated-about-free-will/#comment-176245

    “That people overwhelmingly think and act(as you do, BTW) as if they are making choices at almost every juncture, is obvious.”

    Exactly. I thought I’d made my point clear, that to anyone remotely interested in getting to the bottom of this stuff, simply calling on what’s obvious isn’t good enough. Philosophy and science should be challenging what seems obvious to us.

    “That our behaviors are predetermined by inanimate material bits interacting in a way that is independendent of our thoughts and perceptions…”

    Still missing the point. I’m not saying inanimate material bits are independent of our thoughts and perceptions, and specifically opposing the idea that thoughts and perceptions are independent of inanimate material bits (the route to dualism). Even the use of the term ‘inanimate’ is misleading in this context, because that term is generally used to exclude what is considered to be life, such as humans and their brains. To be clear then: I am saying our thoughts and perceptions are constituted of animated inanimate matter – the inanimate matter being brain stuff, its animated nature being brain activity.

    “…perhaps thousands of time per person per day qualifies as obvious, does it not?”

    It does indeed, to the layman. Except that isn’t good enough for philosophy and science examining the nature of these familiar processes. So, even though philosophers and scientists themselves take part in the obviously natural behaviour of finding their personal perception of their minds as being free to choose, they should be challenging it, not assuming it.

    “It is also obvious that our minds and higher brain functioning are unfathomably complex and resource hungry. Do you deny this?”

    Not at all. I endorse it to the point that I suspect the complexity of the brain processes and the limited introspective access we have to them masks the material nature of what’s going on. The impression we are left with is that we are making free-will choices.

    “It is obvious that a complex function would not easily evolve by accident…”

    More confusing use of words. The current human brain wasn’t designed, was it? In terms of the stimulus for change ‘accident’ doesn’t quite satisfy the un-planned, un-guided route that evolution takes.

    “…and that a resource hungry and deeply complex functional structure adds a tremendous burden…”

    It seems obvious put that way. Until you consider what made the brain survive as a useful tool. Did it survive to help us fathom the workings of the universe? Well not really. Did it survive natural selection in order to let it introspectively figure out that it does not have free-will, and that it is just one more complex product of natural laws? Well, seeing as we’re still struggling with that it seems that coming to that conclusion wasn’t one of its survival benefits. Perhaps it survived simply because it gave humans some edge in survival in pre-scientific times, even pre-language times. Perhaps the brain never needed to know, from a survival perspective, that it didn’t actually have free-will. Perhaps the illusion of free-will is actually a good adaptation, a very efficient one, when all it needs to do is assess and react to what’s happening in its environment for the benefit of the organism, as opposed to having the organism sit on its rear contemplating the universe and its own inner workings.

    “So, then, isn’t it obvious that our brain and minds functioning is intrinsic to our ability to survive, and advance? Is it, or not?”

    Well, I think it was so completely. But for millenia humans have been more contemplative than that, and have considered the extent to which someone is culpable for what they do. We already allow that someone is not fully responsible. We have already been challenging the obvious in our judicial systems, that the man with the blooded knife in his hand is the killer, for example. We demand more thought.

    “Is it not obvious that you negate the purpose of having perceptions and self awareness and concious decision making by explaining all our actions as the result of purely physical systems of response and stimuli?”

    Actually no. I don’t find this obvious. The free-will illusion is a helpful one. Just as is the illusion that I’m solid. I don’t expect, in my normal operation, to worry about the coming and going of every atom in my body. I don’t expect to worry that I don’t actually have free-will, because even as a fully determined autonomous system (allowing determinism for now), I use (i.e. it is determined that I use) this efficient illusion quite happily.

    If, in time, science is able to demonstrate sufficiently to convince you that we don’t have free-will, what will have changed? The discovery of the fact will not have an immediate impact on the biology of your brain, so that you suddenly stop dead in your tracks waiting to computational process your next determined move. You ill carry on as you are, as if you have free-will. Considering some humans can devote their entire waking lives to God, free-will doesn’t seem the worst of illusions.

    “Is it not obvious that such a complex and mysterious(what is qualia, creation of original idea) …”

    Invoking mystery doesn’t help your case. I’m sure you don’t mean the spooky kind, but it seems to lead to a free-will of the gaps argument, “We haven’t figured it out yet, so it must be free-will.” To ‘God of the gaps’ devotees this move is similarly convincing to them.

    “Isn’t it then obvious that if our brains and minds are critical to our functioning, that they have a physical effect on our functioning beyond the simple…”

    Missing the point again. Our brains (and the ‘mind’ model we conceptualise for it) are critical to our functioning, as parts of a physical autonomous system. All complex physical systems are constituted of simple pathways of action-reaction, cause-effect – just made complex by the quantity and complexity of interconnection. Nothing has been discovered to suggest anything else is present in a human skull. There is no mysterious other thing to do the mysterious work. This suggest, as best explanation, that the mystery is contained entirely in how the brain works, physically.

    “Yes, it’s obvious you have no idea how our brains give us thoughts and independent awareness and sentience, it is fucking obvious, it is called the hard problem of consciousness.”

    I’ve argued all along that our brains give us thoughts, partially independent awareness (some autonomy), and sentience. I agree it’s tricky figuring out how. What I dispute here is that this necessitates that our apparent free-will is free in any meaningful sense, or that our independence from the rest of physical reality is anything more that the degree of autonomy we enjoy by virtue of the complexity of our embodied brains.

    “…why not conscious thought – we know it is real, have bearing on the actualization of a volitional impetus?”

    I agree it does. But this doesn’t make it free of the physical causes that make conscious thoughts arise. The conscious thoughts that then cause the brain to start motor action are themselves caused. What is there that is free from any of the physical substrate on which all this happens? And, where are these conscious thoughts when they are occurring, if they are not part of this physical system? What are they made of?

    I’m not sure what point you are making regarding the Ramachandran piece. The only mentions of free-will refer to the sense of free-will, and the anterior cingulate’s involvement in the experience of free-will, which I’m not disputing, neither of which I’m denying.

  68. curt nelson
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Steve, your insistence that we’re talking about libertarian free will is bugging me. This blog post does not have that word in its title. “Do we have free will?,” and “Free will is an illusion” are the two statements most associated with what we’re talking about here. Raising one’s arm or any other such trivial action are the sorts of examples commonly mentioned to illustrate the kind of thing we might will ourselves to do. I don’t want to read up on the different ways this question has be explored because it is, as I’ve explained, put forward very straightforwardly. We know what “will” and “free” mean, and we’re told no, that we don’t have free will, that though it might seem like we do, it’s an illusion. Everyone understands this back and forth.

    I get it that religion is going to have all kinds of things to say about this because of “souls,” but you know I don’t believe in souls and think we (all living things) are just machines. And I regret using the phrase slack in the system in making my point. I’m having trouble with language for expressing myself on this. But you’ve essentially put it in my lap to explain the dimensions of the slice of us (all animals) that is not in the grip of the strongmen nature and nurture, as if it is plain that everything is caused by them and a pretty good story will have to be told to prove otherwise. Maybe there are 100 other things competing with nature and nurture for a piece of us. I don’t know. My sense is that you’re using “is a basis for” to mean “is the cause of” when it comes to nature and nurture. Nature and nurture and physics are the basis for physical machines that have an emergent property called the mind that can author and execute actions independently from any other authors. That is what I meant by “really.” If we (the machine) are not the author of our actions, who is? – and it does need to be a who, because someone is composing sentences, and walking purposefully, and that isn’t the half of it.

    • Steve
      Posted January 22, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      Steve, your insistence that we’re talking about libertarian free will is bugging me.

      I am just trying eliminate confusion. That this bugs you make me wonder why.

    • Steve
      Posted January 22, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      This blog post does not have that word in its title.

      No it does not have that word in the title… but it is what Jerry is blogging about, I am just trying to be a clear as possible… to avoid semantic difficulties. If Jerry wasn’t blogging about libertarian free will, then I am sure he’d point out my error.

      Honestly it used to be one could say “free will” and it was an accepted abbreviation for libertarian free will. But in here there has been much obfuscation on the part of compatibilists who want squash non-free will dialog by hijacking the simple two word label to mean only what they want it to mean.

    • Steve
      Posted January 22, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      We know what “will” and “free” mean, and we’re told no, that we don’t have free will, that though it might seem like we do, it’s an illusion.

      That is the message of non-free willism.

    • Steve
      Posted January 22, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Everyone understands this back and forth.

      Everyone understands what back and forth? That libertarian free will is an illusion?

    • Steve
      Posted January 22, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      I get it that religion is going to have all kinds of things to say about this because of “souls,” but you know I don’t believe in souls and think we (all living things) are just machines. And I regret using the phrase slack in the system in making my point. I’m having trouble with language for expressing myself on this. But you’ve essentially put it in my lap to explain the dimensions of the slice of us (all animals) that is not in the grip of the strongmen nature and nurture, as if it is plain that everything is caused by them and a pretty good story will have to be told to prove otherwise.

      Yep.

      Maybe there are 100 other things competing with nature and nurture for a piece of us.

      Obviously I don’t think so. As you start to parse out things that make a person they all fall into things that are part of an individual’s nature, and thing that come via an individual’s nurturing. (Also known by heredity and environmental inputs.) But say you found something that was neither nature nor nurture you would have to make a satisfying case that it was able to bring freedom to the individual. Randomness is often suggested as something that is neither nature nor nurture, but it doesn’t bring the element of freedom that satisfies our intuitions about libertarian free will.

      I don’t know.

      I’ve been there, I hear you. I suspect one thing that you know is the feeling that you have a free will (CCFW). That is only the illusion that you are experiencing… and it is one powerful illusion with so much built upon it or tied to it. We non-free willists understand full well the motivational forces that must be at work on the free willists.

      My sense is that you’re using “is a basis for” to mean “is the cause of” when it comes to nature and nurture.

      They pretty much have the same meaning… I was trying to leave a space for you to fill in something.

      Nature and nurture and physics are the basis for physical machines that have an emergent property called the mind that can author and execute actions independently from any other authors.

      Trouble is there is no contra-causal freedom for that author… it has to write what it is caused to write.

      That is what I meant by “really.”

      I still am not sure what constitutes “real” or “really” to you.

      If we (the machine) are not the author of our actions, who is? – and it does need to be a who, because someone is composing sentences, and walking purposefully, and that isn’t the half of it.

      But it is not a who… as has been pointed out many times before: needing something to be true does not make it true.

      • curt nelson
        Posted January 22, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

        Steve, I think you and I are on different wavelengths. Keep on keepin’ on.
        - Curt

        • Steve
          Posted January 23, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

          Or vibes (as in we vibrate at different rates)?

          The difference is I have seen through the free will illusion, and you have not as yet done so.
          Too bad you don’t have FW, you could just will yourself to see through the illusion, the fact that you can’t ought to be the new thing that bugs you.

  69. Posted January 22, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    The perception of free will is free will. Coyne and many here have a misunderstanding of what is is people actually commonly think free will is. He shouldn’t be so glib by deploying his ‘If you’re changing what God is all the time it’s impossible to argue against it’ move (which is spot on accurate and fair in that context_; here he is just plain getting wrong what people actually commonly think free will is, and thus what the proposition to consider is.

    • Steve
      Posted January 23, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

      The perception of free will is free will.

      So the illusion of free will is all that free will is? Well I won’t deny that the perception of free will happens. So I guess humans have free will… you win. Case closed. Go home people, nothing to see here. Move along. And Jerry, you can quit saying people don’t have free will, because the perception of free will is free will.

      Now that you’ve had your say… leave. Since you ought not be a believer in libertarian free will, you’re not refuting Jerry’s case, and you certainly aren’t supporting his case, so all this is, is noise. Noise to what end? Obfuscation, perhaps?

      here he is just plain getting wrong what people actually commonly think free will is, and thus what the proposition to consider is.

      Under what set of rules do you think we get to
      say what propositions bloggers are to consider or not?

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        steve, we all agree that “solid” is an illusion. There is just the tiniest amount of matter separated by vast amounts of nothing. Everything we perceive as “solid” is actually the flimsiest of sieves.

        And yet our internal organs don’t leak out onto the floor. We can’t walk through walls. A cup actually holds water. You can grasp objects with your hands.

        The illusion of “solid” just happens to remain persistent and consistent — even though we technically ‘know’ that there isn’t anything that is actually “solid.”

        So, calling “solid” an “illusion” isn’t really helpful. There can be no prisons, because the walls and bars aren’t “solid” — yet you clearly can confine someone inside.

        This is much like a Zeno paradox (you can’t get from A to B, because you first have to get halfway there. But before that you have to get halfway to that point. But before that you have to get halfway to that point, etc.) — which you can demonstrate is false just by getting up, walking to a goal, and arriving there. It may be that “free will” may be such a thing. When you try to break it down into tiniest parts, it is impossible, yet people do it all the time.

        As I’ve written before, I believe free will is an emergent property.

        • Steve
          Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

          Intriguing.

        • Curt Nelson
          Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

          Yes, free will (authorship of one’s actions – like lifting an arm) is an emergent property. It allows us to be beings who do not just lie on the floor vibrating from the collection of quantum events that underlie our existence and instead compose sentences and walk and talk…

          If you disagree, please explain how coherent behavior (waking, talking, everything) arises, how basic physics composes sentences – and everything. Either it is us or it is another intelligent being doing it. Which is it?

          • Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

            it’s not emergent, it’s just delusional, trivial verbal signaling used mainly for deception in social settings containing little information value….

            ther is no data showing it effects behavior and much showing it is post hoc…

            • Curt Nelson
              Posted January 23, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

              Yes of course. Thank you for clearing that up.

            • Xuuths
              Posted January 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

              sleeprunning, you make the same mistake as Dr. Coyne in merely stating it’s just delusional without actually proving that it is. Or in demonstrating that it is substantially different from “proving” that nothing is “solid” — yet still being able to carry things (see my comment above)

              Please don’t cite Libet’s “research” — as there are MANY problems with the tests, which render their so-called conclusions unsubstantiated. Not the best example of the scientific method.

              The concept of “deception” demonstrates free will, rather than mere reactions based on previous reactions that are all everything is — if free will does not exist. You don’t appear to have thought your stance through very completely.

              • Posted January 23, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

                no, bacteria and all animals give deceptive signals without “intention”…

                Libet’s work has been replicated by many other researchers with wholly different methodologies with same kinds of results….

                we work in market research and the deceptive nature of people’s self-reports is universal, it’s called social desirability, this can come from just going along with the crowd, without intentions…

                ideas that have no proof, do not require evidence to disprove….like the tooth fairy…

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 23, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

                sleeprunning, your first sentence makes no sense:

                no, bacteria and all animals give deceptive signals without “intention”…

                Do you have any evidence of bacteria giving deceptive signals (without “intention”)? Perhaps you meant ‘confusing’ signals, rather than deceptive. Deceptive requires intention.

                If you don’t believe in free will, which necessitates that there are only reactions, there can be nothing ‘deceptive’ about anything. Deceptive indicates desire, which is impossible here there are only reactions based on prior reactions.

                As I’ve stated previously, and your post indicates, you have not thoroughly thought out the ramifications of your stance.

              • Posted January 23, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

                a false signal, all animals do it, deception is a basic survival tactic of all life forms, including plants…

                the effect defines the behavior not some verbal category, duh…

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

                sleeprunning, you are very confused. Merely repeating yourself is not providing evidence.

                What “deceptive signal” do plants give? What bizarre definition for ‘deceptive’ are you using that does not involve intention?

        • Steve
          Posted January 23, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

          steve, we all agree that “solid” is an illusion. There is just the tiniest amount of matter separated by vast amounts of nothing. Everything we perceive as “solid” is actually the flimsiest of sieves.
          And yet our internal organs don’t leak out onto the floor. We can’t walk through walls. A cup actually holds water. You can grasp objects with your hands.

          And yet you don’t deny that there is an illusion of solidness. You don’t argue against atomic theory. Again, intriguing.

          The illusion of “solid” just happens to remain persistent and consistent — even though we technically ‘know’ that there isn’t anything that is actually “solid.”

          So, calling “solid” an “illusion” isn’t really helpful. There can be no prisons, because the walls and bars aren’t “solid” — yet you clearly can confine someone inside.

          But we do know thatl solidness an illusion… so much so that you began you post by confidently asserting that “we all agree that solid is an illusion”. It doesn’t seem as if acknowledging the truth has done any harm… there are prisons even though the truth about solidness is that it is an illusion. We are none the worse for being honest about solidness. Intriguing.
          Every science teacher out there would disagree about your assertion that, “calling “solid” an “illusion” isn’t really helpful.” Illuminating illusions is always helpful. If we don’t share the truth about solidness because it is in some way helpful, then I doubt the truth would be told.
          But your analogy between the two illusions is flawed in another way: there is a significant difference between these two illusions. This is why your attempt to draw an analogy between the illusion of solidness and the illusion of free will is intriguing.
          What could be the difference??? Could it be that there is more riding upon the illusion of free will than there is the illusion of solidness? Yeah, I think so.
          Where’s that list of things that have to be rethought if free will is only an illusion? Pride, guilt, blame, credit, responsibility, justification, revenge, sense of being in control (oh I’ve probably left something off the list. What has to be rethought if solidness is only an illusion? Nothing.
          But again, you aren’t spending time to prop up the illusion of solidness as truth. Intriguing.

          As I’ve written before, I believe free will is an emergent property.

          Again what has emerged is devoid of freedom. All that has emerged is an illusion of freedom.

          • Xuuths
            Posted January 24, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

            Steve, your comment fails in an important way. You write:

            But your analogy between the two illusions is flawed in another way: there is a significant difference between these two illusions.

            But you didn’t give a first flaw before claiming to point out a second one.

            Oh, and then you don’t state or discuss the second flaw.

            No flaw — they’re both emergent properties that clearly exist.

            We all acknowledge that “solid” is an illusion, yet we have to also acknowledge that something is happening because we can’t walk through walls. So it isn’t helpful to stop saying that walls (and everything else) are “solid” — because they exhibit all the characteristics of “solid” at everything but the microscopic level.

            Perhaps “solid” is short for “solid at everything but the microscopic level.”

            It isn’t “intriguing” that I don’t spend time on the solid issue on a thread about free will — it is sticking to the thread and not derailing it.

            You should do more research on the subject of emergent properties. Really. It is fascinating!

            • Steve
              Posted January 24, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

              they’re both emergent properties that clearly exist.

              You can’t claim that solidness is an illusion, and also assert that solidness clearly exists.

              Also freedom of will in not an emergent property, it doesn’t exist, it is an illusion.

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 25, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

                Steve, perhaps you did not follow what I wrote. I’ll try again.

                You cannot walk through walls because both you and the walls are solid. (If the walls were liquid or gas, we could walk through them.)

                Yet, upon ultramicroscopic examination, we clearly see that both you and the walls are not solid, but made up mostly of space between subatomic particles.

                It appears to be a paradox, or some other as yet unknown explanation, because both are contradictory, yet both appear to be true. It is not an illusion that you cannot walk through walls — it is a fact. It is not a matter of perception or an optical “illusion”, as regardless of your perception or vision you cannot walk through walls.

                Do your body and the wall obey the laws of physics? Of course. But that doesn’t settle the paradox.

                In a similar way, I chose to write to you. I did not feel compelled by any external or internal agency. I did not feel forced or threatened into it. There was no insatiatable hunger, no lust in the loins, no desperate must-get-air-because-I’m-drowning compulsion.

                I weighed the pros and cons of making the effort to explain myself. I chose the specific time I would respond to fit into my current schedule. I debated word selection.

                Yet, you would seem to think that some poorly designed tests with semi-conclusive results demonstrate that these were not actual choices on my part, but only reactions based on reactions based on reactions in a regressive chain going back to the Big Bang — no more a choice than frame 605 in a film chooses actions after frame 604, or a ball chooses to fall to the ground when released.

                Perhaps it is also a paradox of the emergent properties. (We observe that consciousness is an emergent property of a complex nervous system — we can demonstrate this by surgically removing portions of it, which impact/eliminate aspects of consciousness in highly predictable and consistent ways, or even eliminate consciousness entirely.)

                Do our brains obey the laws of physics? Of course, but that doesn’t eliminate the supposed paradox.

                Personally I believe: we have evolved with the requirement to have our brains make predictive visual images every tenth of a second or so — because reacting after the visual image of an imminent or unexpected danger went through the eyes and visual processing system to the nerves and musculature for action would be too late to prevent harm. So we also evolved a requirement to make pre-choices based on the very recent past environment every tenth of a second or so. Our brains process a “does a decision need to be made?” subroutine every tenth of a second or so.

                That is what Libet and others are detecting amid all the other noise, and concluding there is no free will. And they are wrong, in my opinion. A computer subroutine checking the keyboard to see if a key has been pressed is not selecting which key is pressed – even if experience has taught it that certain patterns are likely.

                I hope that explains it.

            • Posted January 25, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

              “It appears to be a paradox, or some other as yet unknown explanation, ”

              It only ‘appears’ to be a paradox, when you don’t understand the cause of the apparent solidity. And it’s not an unknown explanation.

              At the level of the molecule and atom it’s the electric forces of repulsion between ions for adjacent atoms and molecules, and between the electrons within an atom, together with more complete details.

              So, it’s our common understanding of what solid is that is causing the problem for us. In physics terms, the atomic stuff is what it is to be solid. Our common notion of solid doesn’t match our theory of solidity.

              “I chose to write to you. I did not feel compelled by any external or internal agency…”

              You are already presupposing your own agency in declaring that you choose. You are begging the question – using the concept that is being challenged to support that very concept. But it’s your very agency that is challenged by determinism. So, in the context of determinism ‘agency’ is a meaningless concept.

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 25, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

                Ron Murphy, you should provide links to your source on your “explanation” on solidity, as it does not agree with information from my own physics training (which could be outdated by newer information).

                I am experiencing my own agency, not presupposing it. (Even feral children who have never had the concept of presupposition or language, experience their own agency, make their own independent choices. Even animals, when presented with a selection of new food items, make a choice — clearly without making presuppositions. This is not just a linguistic thing.)

                I agree that the outcome of determinism is that ‘agency’ is a meaningless concept — which is one reason I disagree with it.

                You are using language that contradicts your thesis: notion, understanding, unknown — these also are meaningless concepts if determinism is accurate.

                It is an unfalsifiable solipsistic (and therefore silly) idea to keep hammering away words to the effect that “you only think you are making choices, but really your moledules are only reacting to previous reactions to previous reactions going back to the Big Bang, and you happen to be able to observe it with the illusion of participation.”

                Silly and pointless.

            • Posted January 25, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

              Xuuths,

              If you want to consider solidity from a higher perspective, say chemistry, then the structures of particular solids are formed by the bonding of atoms, ions or molecules – but this is determined primarily by electric forces of the interaction of negative electrons and positive nuclei in the various bondings.

              But, since there’s so much space in an atom there is room, even in solid structures, for solid objects to move through each other. So, it’s the various forces within and around the atom that determine that atoms can’t get too close, or go through each other. At the scale of the atom’s electron cloud and the fact that electrons can’t occupy the same space that determines the size of the cloud, and the size of the atom; and this prevents clouds of negative electrons, supported by the internal atomic structure, being forced closer together. The electrostatic repulsion dominates at this boundary, but of course that’s only possible because the other forces hold the nucleus together and in turn keep the electrons at a distance.

              “I am experiencing my own agency, not presupposing it.”

              Then you are presupposing that this particular introspective feeling is a valid tool for examining that workings of the brain. It isn’t.

              “I agree that the outcome of determinism is that ‘agency’ is a meaningless concept — which is one reason I disagree with it.”

              Then you are looking at it from the wrong perspective.

              Your feeling of agency, as an introspective feeling, is unreliable.

              All other aspects of science that rely on causality, upon which determinism relies, and so much of science relies in turn on determinism. The only other observed behaviour of nature is the indeterminism of the quantum world. But this doesn’t save your free-will. And the quantum world may not be totally indeterministic anyway.

              We have no evidence that the brain has any other influences, forces or magic that can be considered the source of free-will.

              So, the overwhelming understanding of nature is that determinism, with or without indeterminism of the quantum world, makes our universe causal. There is no room for a free-will that is ‘free’ of physical causes, and therefore not meaningful.

              If determinism is how it is, then that’s how it is and your feeling, your psychological bias, doesn’t get a say in the matter.

              So, I turn your own criticism on your: “…keep hammering away words to the effect that … It’s no use you simply keep on hammering away with words to the effect that “I feel I have free-will therefore I have.”

              Instead, why don’t you give an account of what free-will is at some more basic level. Like, how it works. Where it comes from. Anything.

              And, solipsism isn’t silly. There is no refutation of solipsism that I know of. If you think there is, then I’d really appreciate your explanation here.

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

                Ron Murphy, I’ll accept your lack of providing a link for your position on “solid” as evidence that you don’t have one. So I will ignore your comments about it, as unsubstantiated opinion.

                You are confused about what constitutes “a valid tool for examining that [sic] workings of the brain.” Introspection is used in almost all brain study.

                Thinking of math problems while an fMRI sees where blood flows requires the subject to actually think about math problems, rather than porn. Observing what areas of the brain light up while watching photos of cute animals requires the subject actually think about that, and not about violently dismembering their parents.

                Brain study requires feedback from the subject about their experiences — which is entirely introspective. It is not possible to get any of that information from some other person, or to know if the subject is lying. In fact, researchers have to trust that the subject does think about what they are asked to — and the only way that can happen is if subject introspectively does so.

                Introspective feelings allow you to do a self-analysis of “have I been injured? Do I feel some malady? Can I determine whether this drink has been poisoned?” It works reasonably well enough for us to survive, thrive and evolve into our current society. Throughout almost all human history, medicine has relied upon our personal, introspective feelings of ourselves. Even now, all treatment for pain is based on introspective feelings. Same for depression, and a host of other things.

                Gravity is unreliable, depending on location. Yet I believe it is pretty trustworthy.

                The refutation of solipsism is simple: it is not falsifiable, therefore it can be disregarded. Even more simple: first prove to me that you exist, and then I’ll provide detailed scientific refutation of solipsism. (See how silly that becomes?)

                I don’t need to provide detailed explanations of how free will works. I just need to give you an example of it. It is then up to you to prove that my example is false — which you have not done. Which you cannot do. Merely stating that everything is subject to the laws of physics and deterministic is not providing proof free will doesn’t exist. Merely making impossible-to-do thought experiments is not providing proof free will doesn’t exist.

                You sound like theists claiming that whatever happens is “god’s will” — no matter what happens. There’s no way to disprove such silliness, so it can be ignored.

                And, no, this is not like claims about god at all — if someone claims that god did this or that, or speaks to them, you can find ways to demonstrate that it did not happen (such as having them wear the god helmet, or showing evidence that the occurrences have natural explanations).

                Your blog has too much ‘new agey’ sounding stuff in it for my tastes.

                I would say that you have completely failed to support your theory that “thinking you’ve made a choice” isn’t actually making a choice. Quite the contrary, I feel that if you feel you’ve made a choice, you have made a choice.

                Just like my refutation of Zeno’s paradox — which contradicts math — is easily achieved. I state a very simple solution. It is up to you to prove that I haven’t refuted it. Please try.

            • Posted January 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

              Xuuths

              “I’ll accept your lack of providing a link for your position”

              How very generous. You could be even more generous and quote from your physics book.

              “You are confused about what constitutes “a valid tool for examining that [sic] workings of the brain.” Introspection is used in almost all brain study.”

              fMRI is the tool used to do the examining. Introspection is part of that which is being examined, part of the subject matter, as in what part of the brain is busy with blood flow when some specific introspection is going on. This is quite different from using introspection as the tool of choice to examine one’s own brain activity and assuming it will give you details about what’s actually going on.

              “Brain study requires feedback from the subject about their experiences”

              Yes. And it’s odd that such feedback is rejected by those that disagree with inferences from studies such as Libet’s, because the subjective nature of self-reporting subjects is an unreliable report of what’s going on. It’s an objection I agree with; but i also think the same objection applies to our natural feeling that we have free-will.

              “Even now, all treatment for pain is based on introspective feelings.”

              Of course. Because in that case it’s the feeling, the self-reporting that is the measure of the effect of pain. But one’s feeling of pain does not tell you that the pain is a perception of the frequency of action potentials in the sensory neurons. You feel pain, but that doesn’t help you understand what it is. You feel free-willed, but that doesn’t explain what it is.

              “Gravity is unreliable, depending on location.”

              I think your mistaking reliable for variable. It may be variable, but it is extremely reliable. Unless you know of an anti-gravity device I believe gravity is related to mass pretty reliably.

              “The refutation of solipsism is simple: it is not falsifiable, therefore it can be disregarded.”

              I agree it can be disregarded, but only as an arbitrary choice. And, you contradict yourself. To refute something is to actually show it false. You can’t show it false (i.e. refute it) if it’s unfalsifiable. I agree it is unfalsifiable, and that’s why I said it can’t be refuted.

              “Even more simple: first prove to me that you exist, and then I’ll provide detailed scientific refutation of solipsism.”

              I can’t prove I exist. The very fact that I can’t prove I is precisely why I can’t refute solipsism.

              “I don’t need to provide detailed explanations of how free will works. I just need to give you an example of it.”

              You have given an example of how you feel about it. If determinism holds then there is no free-will and you would still feel the same way. This is the folly of introspectively supported examples of free-will.

              “It is then up to you to prove that my example is false”

              No it isn’t. Do a search on this page for the null hypothesis. You need to keep up.

              “Merely making impossible-to-do thought experiments is not providing proof free will doesn’t exist.”

              Again, you need to keep up. Nobody here saying free-will is an illusion has claimed any proof of that claim. Look at my last couple of responses to you – I explain it’s an overwhelming support from what science shows and the conclusion that determinism holds, or determinism and some indeterminism, both under causality. And as such, and without evidence to support the alternative hypothesis of free-will, the illusory free-will is the best explanation. Nobody said proof.

              So, tell me. What’s your position on causality? Are there any causes and effects?

            • Posted January 26, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

              Xuuths,

              Is that enough detail? So far I’ve only given a classical description, and I’ve missed important detail. Perhaps that’s what you want. Do you want quantum details, such as descriptions of electron orbitals, spins, and so on; and the Pauli exclusion principle, which also prevents the atom collapsing.

              In terms of your original point I’m trying to respond to “It appears to be a paradox, or some other as yet unknown explanation“, and I objected that the explanation was not unknown.

              You asked for a link, and I’ve been looking for one that doesn’t just explain the physics, but also explains why the physics is the basis of solidity and explians solidity. I couldn’t fine an online link. But, I do have two good books:

              Jim Baggot’s The Quantum Story – this explains the history of quantum discoveies, and I feel sure that in there is such a relational description that connects the understood physics of the atom to why we experience solidity. Trouble is I can’t put my finger on a specific page.

              Peter Atkins’ Galileo’s Finger – this is a smaller book, but packed with interesting stuff that relates to the discussion of free-will to. But with regard to your question I did find this: “This principle [and here he means the exclusion principle] … is why objects are solid, even though they are mostly emptiness…”

              So, to what extent is there no explanation for the experience of solidity? The illusion that we are ‘solid’ is in the sense of there being no or little empty space is an illusion. In a more technical sense of being ‘solid’ so as not to allow mostly empty atoms collapse or pass through each other includes the empty space. So, solidity is real in both senses. Our illusion is also real too, in that it is the illusion that real solidity does not include so much empty space. So, it is not a paradox (but granted you said only that it appears to be one; though then the appearance of there being a paradox also disolves once you know it isn’t.

              Do we need more physics? More references? Or, do you continue to think “It appears to be a paradox, or some other as yet unknown explanation“.

            • Steve
              Posted January 27, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

              But you didn’t give a first flaw before claiming to point out a second one. Oh, and then you don’t state or discuss the second flaw. No flaw — they’re both emergent properties that clearly exist. We all acknowledge that “solid” is an illusion, yet we have to also acknowledge that something is happening because we can’t walk through walls. So it isn’t helpful to stop saying that walls (and everything else) are “solid” — because they exhibit all the characteristics of “solid” at everything but the microscopic level. Perhaps “solid” is short for “solid at everything but the microscopic level.” It isn’t “intriguing” that I don’t spend time on the solid issue on a thread about free will — it is sticking to the thread and not derailing it. You should do more research on the subject of emergent properties. Really. It is fascinating!

              Your first flaws was this, Not all illusions are of the same type. It is an error to mix your illusion types when trying to compare them. The solidness illusion would be a different type of illusion than the free will illusion. An illusion that is the same type as the free will illusion would be the illusion (that man was deluded by for a long time) would be the illusion that the sun travels around the Earth. Or that a magician actually cuts his assistant in half. You would have come closer to the proper analogy if you had used a holographic project as an example of something that gives the illusion of solidness, but isn’t in actuality solid. Prison walls and coffee cups are solid even though there is space inside their atoms.
              Second flaw is that you can’t keep it straight whether solid is even an illusion or not (again, poor choice of illusion with which to draw your analogy). You state over and over that solid is an illusion, but then you describe how solid is an actual property (of walls for example). But vacillating over whether solidness was an illusion or not was your problem not mine.
              Thirdly your assertion that the free will is not an illusion but an emergent property that clearly exists, merely begs the question. You have no proof that the property exists.

        • Posted January 25, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

          The comparison to Zeno’s paradox is beautiful.

      • Posted January 25, 2012 at 12:07 am | Permalink

        I wrote:

        here he is just plain getting wrong what people actually commonly think free will is, and thus what the proposition to consider is.

        You wrote:

        Under what set of rules do you think we get to say what propositions bloggers are to consider or not?

        Jerry wrote:

        I’ve read about the many ways philosophers have defined free will differently from me. And yes, if you change what you mean by “free will,” then you can find a way that we do have it. But I am addressing what I think is most people’s notion of free will.

        The set of rules is that if blogger A says ‘I’m addressing proposition Q because it’s X,’ and I think it isn’t X, but that instead proposition P is X, then by his own stated intention, I can conclude that, if I’m right, he’ll want to address P rather than Q. I think I get to say he ought to address what is really most people’s notion of free will, if he is claiming to be addressing what is most people’s notion of free will. (“I think” is a weasel word here, because under that assertion, he could be addressing anything rather than this proposition.) Now, if he wants to say, no, I’m right and you’re wrong about what most people’s notion of free will is, he can do that. But then we’ll have to get into evidence. Because right now, I’m not conceding: “I think” one thing, and “he thinks” another.

        • Posted January 25, 2012 at 12:15 am | Permalink

          …And yes, I said “he’s wrong” without providing evidence. That’s because I’m fine with the idea not being proved: the point is just that I, nor anyone else, don’t have to accept his assertion on his assurance that it is true. His argument hinges on it, whereas I don’t have an absolute argument that free will exists, beyond that for my purposes my first-hand experience of free will is enough to prove to me that it exists, and that for public purposes it depends entirely on definitions.

  70. Curt Nelson
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    But there’s still one thing I don’t understand. Our behavior is thoughtful – we compose sentences and do all kinds of complicated things – and someone has to be the author of all that. Who is it?

    • Posted January 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      “who” is the author of any muscle movement in the body?

      why should movement in the muscles of the voice box be controlled any differently from those of the skeleton, stomach, para-sympathetic system, etc.?

      • Curt Nelson
        Posted January 23, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        What I’m trying to get at are extended behaviors. Not isolated muscle twitches, but things like walking or talking, the kind of complex behavior all animals do constantly. For instance, who composes the sentences that we speak or write? Who is the author of our behavior?

        • Posted January 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

          why would there be different brain processes for what you are calling extended?

          why would our ancestor life forms have developed something like this?

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 25, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        Except, sleeprunning, the fact that there are many muscles in your body that you cannot consciously control.

        There are many that you can control only in a limited fashion.

        “Who” is controlling your sphincter of Oddi? Or your pyloric sphincter?

        “Who” is telling your lungs to breathe while you’re asleep? Clearly not the same conscious “you” who decides when they will hold their breath, or hyperventilate.

        These are good questions. They are clearly controlled differently.

        • Posted January 25, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

          what would be the mechanism where we would have more conscious control over different muscles? it doesn’t make sense.

          even food and mate getting muscles would only be efficiently driven by mainly automatic mechanisms.

          • Xuuths
            Posted January 25, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

            sleeprunning, you are very confused.

            Brain imaging confirms that different areas of the brain are used to control holding you breath than are used to control breathing while you are asleep. And they are different areas from those used to control the sphincter of Oddi or your pyloric sphincter.

            The areas of your brain that make your hands shake from nervousness are different from when you do “jazz hands” or pretend to have nervousness.

            Clearly different mechanisms are in use. Is it that confusing? (It’s like delivering pizza by car, bicycle or walking — the pizza is delivered, but the mechanism and routes are different.)

            • Posted January 25, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

              yes, there are different nervous systems controlling different muscles but where is there any evidence on what’s called “conscious control”?

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

                sleeprunning, you’re going to have to take some personal responsibility here and do a bit of research yourself. There is a lot of evidence about conscious control — even your vaulted Libet study gives information about it.

                You are making unfalsifiable claims, which render them inherently unscientific.

                If that is all you have, and it is, there is no use engaging with you.

                Continue in your silliness.

              • Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

                citation please, we can’t find any…

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                I repeat:

                sleeprunning, you’re going to have to take some personal responsibility here and do a bit of research yourself.

              • Posted January 25, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

                so you have no data to counter the accumulating against any kind of control and devolve to clucking like an old aunt….lol

    • Steve
      Posted January 23, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      Curt,

      Human behavior is a function of heredity and environment. What a person writes is a function of their heredity and environment.
      The fact that our behavior is thoughtful does not provide a way for a person to transcend their heredity and environment (which they would have to do in order to not be the product of that H&E). The thoughts you are having as you read this, you don’t control, they are just coming to you as a result of your matrix of causal determinants. A model of human thinking that works by conscious thinking to control what is thought would describe an infinite regression of thinking thoughts to control thoughts that control thoughts that control thoughts…..

      Think of individuals as conduits of cause and effect. Conduits that can pick up a pen and scribe with it as per the dictates of everything they were born with in combination of everything they were exposed to.

      • Curt Nelson
        Posted January 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        I wonder what it would take to get you and sleeprunning to answer my question? (Who is the author of our actions?)

        • Posted January 23, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

          the brain processes are clearand lie mainly in the brain stem where other life forms found them most efficient…

          who is the “author” of DNA or a photon? why does there need to be an author?

        • Steve
          Posted January 23, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

          I’ve given you my answer…

        • Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

          I wonder what it would take to get you and sleeprunning to answer my question?

          This is known as the hard problem of contentiousness.

      • Posted January 25, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        The fact that our behavior is thoughtful does not provide a way for a person to transcend their heredity and environment

        You got a better way? ;)

        Are you familiar with identical twins experiments?

  71. Posted January 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    it is interesting and seems universal that no one of the commentators wants to engage with the science but spin out all over the place with self-referential and magical talks…

    the facts include: “..all cognition emerges from the interplay of electrochemical impulses along the brain’s circuity, which can call a word to mind, apply the rules of grammar, and voice it aloud in 600 milliseconds.”

    • Xuuths
      Posted January 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Except Libet seems to say that they can pre-determine what that will be 7 seconds — not milliseconds — ahead of time.

      Big difference.

    • Posted January 25, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      So, you mean cognition is a physical thing, correct?

      The ‘facts’ are, specifically, that “all cognition seems to emerge from the interplay blah blah blah……

      What you don’t seem to get, sleeprunning, is that the ‘emerging’ of cognition and abstract thoughts and whatever else, doesn’t make sense in the first place, so you can’t really explain if or if not it is part of a feedback loop, a variable container accumulating input from other feedback loops which in turn might be outputting based upon variable thresholds, both conscious and unconscious networks, with simultaneous potentials for affecting a rise in awareness of one, or many subsequent thoughts, each being both processed serially and in parallel, all of which is in a feedback loop with a cognitive process called, let’s say, a wish – all the while chemical cascades and ion pumps are being branched into areas potentiated by previous memory and desire, while others are new combinations of neural networks while excitations of both anxiety and pleasure accompany, to varying depths, the overarching communication between 14 nexus and 7297 loci of wishfulness semi-cognitions, all occurring within 300 one billionths of second and repeated one dozen times in exactly.6 of one blink of an eye – thoughts arcing and interacting like lightening in the eruption cloud of an volcano …..
      can you?

      I mean, the same deterministic principles that give rise to thoughts and wishes also include the thoughts and wishes as part of the determining process, and that part may be the termination of a constantly evolving else/if which was itself initiated by a thought process, probably the perception of a need which in itself is the expression of a weighted conclusion of a series and combination of physical responses to physical influences as transmitted by being aware of them, don’t they?

      Therefore, even if my massive attempted bullshitting is but a shadow of the complexity of our brain function, you know it to be a fact that the outcome of some analogous process to what I describe, can be predicted, and in fact initiated, with an instantaneous (specific time) summation of the physical system?

      If you guys want a specific explanation or example of a deterministic process that produces a selectively variable outcome, here it is:

      Our physical brain -> some unknown process -> awarenesses and intentions -> same unknown process linking abstract thought to known physical interaction -> vanilla, no, strawberry flavored underwear.

      • Steve
        Posted January 26, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

        Tushcloots,

        Our physical brain -> some unknown process -> awarenesses and intentions -> same unknown process linking abstract thought to known physical interaction -> vanilla, no, strawberry flavored underwear.

        Nowhere here do you show were freedom is introduced. All of this that you SPECULATE on necessitates freedom. It’s all chain of events through and through.

  72. Patrick
    Posted January 25, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to make one last comment on this subject. The article above makes some compelling arguments to support the author’s definition against free will. However, he also contradicts himself about the very idea. Sam Harris’ book Free-Will talks about why he thinks we don’t have free will and again he has some compelling reasons to believe against the idea of free-will.

    However, the author even admitted that the very idea suggesting that we don’t have free will suggests that all criminals that have committed crimes in our justice system are therefore innocent of all crimes committed due to the idea that they don’t have free will. Now this idea that all criminals are therefore innocent is ludicrous. If the author was standing in front of a man with a gun pointed at his head, I’m sure that he wouldn’t be saying to the man. “It’s okay dude, I won’t blame you for killing me man, because after all, you don’t have free will.” He’s going to be pleading with that man not to pull the trigger because after all he’s got a choice. Pull it or don’t pull it.

    It is true that all men have neurons in their brains that trigger reactions that we quite often can’t avoid. However, what has not been mentioned is that those reactions are often less than a hundredth or even a thousandth of a second in length. You can make a choice to continue in your reaction (anger, hatred, sexual arousal, etc.) or you can choose to follow another path. And no, it’s not that simple. Fighting your impulses are very difficult things to overcome. When an addict has repeatedly made choices that keep him in a particular mode, it is very difficult for an addict to fight his compulsions. However, if an addict fights his compulsions long enough he will eventually overcome them for the rest of his life. He doesn’t have to remain an addict.

    One of the most compelling arguments for free will is stated in Dr. Viktor E. Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning. In it he speaks about the atrocities of Nazi Concentration Camps that he was a prisoner of. He spoke of how men would give there last piece of bread to a fellow prisoner to ease his suffering and how others would vicously attack their fellow prisoners because they chose to be part of the enforcing staff. Men chose to be the oppressors of their own people and men chose to be part of the healing staff.

    I’ve studied this phenomenon over and over in my college studies. You can see that there are people that have grown up without being taught right from wrong and therefore have nothing to reach back into their experience that would tell them to react differently to. But then that doesn’t explain those that have been taught to take advantage of others and yet they don’t choose to participate in violence and stealing. There are those that have been shown nothing but deceitfulness and dishonesty and yet you can’t get them to tell you anything but the truth. Are these then those that have been granted the genes of the honest and forthright? The idea is ridiculous to me. These would be those that listen to what Christopher Hithens himself called in his book God Is Not Great “the inner voice.” You see there are some that have the ability to hear this voice despite how quiet it is. This voice that isn’t our own that Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln,and so many others spoke of. Even Christopher Hitchens spoke of it and he couldn’t explain it. Most people in religion call it The Holy Spirit. It must be a crying shame for those of the idea of atheistic thought to have to concede that there is a voice that isn’t their own that they couldn’t explain to save their lives.

    Free will is not really a debatable subject. Yet the very reason that people are debating it is due to the fact that there are those of us who would like to believe that choosing badly isn’t really our fault. After all our DNA, our economic circumstances and, our environment are all to blame for our bad choices. I bet you most of the criminals in our penal system would love for you to believe just that so that we could dissolve our judicial system and they could be free to roam the streets doing just what they please. The fact of the matter is that we do have free will and most of us have the ability to choose between right and wrong (I say most because it is true that there are people born with brain damage that prevents them from choosing right from wrong, and there are those with brain injuries that have the same problem, but that’s not most of us). Most of us know the difference between right and wrong, even when we don’t want to admit it. We don’t live in a just world, but honestly, most of that’s our own faults. The very fact that there’s a debate over free will is proof of that.

    • Posted January 26, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Yes, and I’ve stated elsewhere that non free will proponents better be aware of the consequences of an establishment of their viewpoint. I still can’t find the link, but, some research shows that believing that we don’t possess free will leads to more a-social behavior.

      • Steve
        Posted January 26, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        This makes you a proponent of we can pick and choose what is true based on what we desire.

        • Patrick
          Posted January 26, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          I am not a proponent of “we can pick and choose what is true based on what we desire.” I believe that we are limited by other people, our circumstances and the rules of social order.

          For instance, I know that a man can choose the emotions he chooses to exhibit and feel. Maybe not initially, but however, once he has had his initial reaction to something he can choose to act and feel differently than his initial reaction. He also can be acted upon by others and also his environment. Suppose for instance that a man would like to become the President of the United States. That man has no backing from any person that supports his candidacy. Realistically the man has not a prayer in hell to become the President of the United States. However, he can still choose how he reacts to someone not supporting him for his candidacy.

          The very idea that a man can pick and choose what is true is again ludicrous. The fact that you misinterpreted the results of what I said shows you just scanned what I said rather than really reading what I said.

          I read a bit of the thread above that was talking about how we are ruled by our minds. When we move our fingers and our toes the synapses are firing so quickly that it is almost automatic. The synapses that fire our heart and keep it pumping are automatic and therefore this proves that we have no free will of our own. I found the argument not convincing.

          It’s as simple as this. Anyone who’s taken psychology courses that describe brain function can tell you that there are billions of neurons and synapses being fired all at one time. They control at the very same time, your automatic responses, your semi-automatic responses, your cognitive responses, your unconscious responses and your semi-cognitive responses. What is amazing about this is that your heart is pumping blood through your veins automatically and it keeps you alive. This would appear that we don’t have free will through this very fact except for the fact that despite the fact that brain is firing neurons to keep your heart pumping, there are those of us who have learned to slow the heart rate and our respiration rate down so much that we can give the appearance of death. Yet, they also have enough control over themselves to bring up their heartrate and respiration rate to a normal capacity. When we move our arms and legs it is semi-coginitive and we can contol how high we raise our arms and legs, what direction they go, and what speed we raise them. We are therefore excercising free will over our bodies.

          Now it is true that we can have illnesses that cause us to lose control over our bodily functions. However, this doesn’t preclude the idea that we have free will. We can still think however we choose to think. We can choose our emotional responses and we can choose whether we want to live or die. There are people who have been prisoners or slaves and have had their agency taken from them but not one person could ever take from them how they feel about themselves or what they choose to say or feel.

          It is natural for a man when he is told that he is no longer free to fight one way or another for his freedom. It is unnatural for others to take this away from him. Yet throughout the ages there has always been someone trying to assert their authority over another person and take away their freedom. The very idea that we are debating this issue is proof of this. The idea that we are puppets of our social circumstances, DNA and environment suggests that we are still being controlled by something other than ourselves. A higher order (or chaos). While we are influenced by this we are still able to choose our thoughts and emotions.

          The very idea that we are debating the idea of free will is pretty ludicrous. We do have free will, the proof is inside of each and every one of us. (I never thought I would be defending a justice system that I don’t particularly agree with (but that is another argument)) The idea that we don’t again suggests that we are mistakenly holding prisoner those who would like to take our free will away from us. Murderers, thieves, rapists and child molestors are put away for taking away other people’s rights and agency. The absence of free will would suggest that these men are innocent of their choices because they didn’t actually choose to violate our agency. They were victims just as their victims were victims.

      • Posted January 26, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        so we lie to ourselves and others, deny the facts and pretend because we’re afraid of possible bad behavior, how would knowledge and civilization every proceed?

        • Posted January 26, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          Well religion, which has used that principle often, and in some cases still does, and actually slows progress and censors knowledge.

          Surely what all decent scientists and philosophers oppose.

          • Patrick
            Posted January 26, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

            I agree that there are those that use religion to suppress knowledge, freedom, and basically to get whatever they want. But unfortunately that still depends on free will and agency.

            But then you can’t ignore those that have used their free will wisely and have done nothing to destroy knowledge & freedom.

            Most people that believe in Chritian thought and teachings and still use religion to get whatever they please or to deny the expansion of knowledge all in the name of God either don’t understand the Christian principals or understand them and are purposely being obtuse with the purpose of getting gain.

            In my humble opinion (I’m actually probably not very humble), science does nothing but confirm the existance of a God. Those of us who use science to try and assert that there is no God do so through faith. Amazingly enough we must also use faith to say there is a God. It’s funny to me that we both use faith (one to assert that there is a God and the other to assert that there isn’t). Science can’t prove there is a God, but at the same time it can’t prove there isn’t either.

            • Posted January 26, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

              Hi Patrick,

              For me and I suspect most atheists it’s not faith, it’s evidence (following the arbitrary choice to reject solipsism) see here; but I agree it’s not a matter of proof.

              • Patrick
                Posted January 26, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

                Hi Ron,
                I read your comment and your link. Here’s why I call it faith. Faith is practiced by every person every day in every way. A child has faith in their parent or caregiver that when it cries it is going to be taken care of. We have no idea what is actually going on inside that caregiver’s brain, we just hope that they are going to take care of us when we cry. The same thing goes for us when we start our car. We’re hoping that nothing has gone wrong and that everything will work properly, enabling us to start the car and we can get on our way. When we turn that key we expect the battery to have enough charge, the alternator to be connected properly, there to be gas in the tank, the spark to ignite the fuel, the pistons to be driven down and the crank shaft to drive them back up again, etc… If you think about it it’s a lot to expect to go right but nevertheless we still expect it. That’s faith.

                I read another thread on evolution in this same subheading on Why Evolution is True. It talks about the fossil record showing the links between amphibian and reptile, etc. Scientiests still haven’t found the link between ape and man but the author failed to recogize this. He claims that we’ll eventually find it. That’s faith.

                When scientists made the claim that there were atoms that were made up of tiny particles whirling at incredible speeds (I’m not disputing this by the way), and these particles were called neutrons, protons and electrons but no one had ever seen an atom let alone these particles (until they finally photographed an atom some years back), the fact that people believed these scientists without proof is called faith.

              • Posted January 26, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

                Hi Patrick,

                “Faith is practiced by every person every day in every way.”

                You’re confusing religious faith with practical trust.

                Trust comes from experience – it is evidence based. The trust we have in science comes from a commitment to its methods, and its results. Being empirically inductive it doesn’t have to be right all the time. It can tolerate some poor scientists, dishonest ones, and even changes to the results over time. It’s adaptable and on balance reliable. The trust can be lost; and even regained, though with less ease. There’s no insistence on believing stuff that can’t be evidenced.

                Religious faith is belief despite the lack of evidence, and some times despite evidence to the contrary. It’s about the least rational form of belief that any normally sane person would subject themselves to. That is, were they not indoctrinated as a child or gullibly seduced as an adult by the flowery language and fancy dress.

                As far as infants are concerned I doubt there is faith or reason behind their crying. They are just responding to the stimulus of an empty stomach or a wet bottom. It is the nonsense of faith that assumes that such an infant is in any way religious. Infants and children are hungry learners – as we are practically the same as early humans, they had to be. They soak up any useful knowledge, and any old guff that’s thrown at them, precisely because they don’t have the skills of learned reason and experience to distinguish between them. They are primed to believe what their parents tell them. Purposeful religious indoctrination of the young is the most sinister of indoctrinations, polluting the mind into adolescence and often beyond. That this is perpetrated by those supposing to be loving in the tradition of their religion makes the nature of the problem worse.

                “Scientists still haven’t found the link between ape [pre-human primate precursors?] and man …”

                There are plenty of links, just not every step of the way. There is no one ‘link’. Barring any seriously big genetic change, of which there’s no evidence, from daughter to mother to grandmother, on, all the way back to what you imagine is an ape, there was not one of the daughters that was a different species than her mother or grandmother.

                “He claims that we’ll eventually find it.” – Could you point to the post on that.

                “That’s faith.” – Again you’re mistaking religious faith for the trust one acquires that a system of investigation, science, will continue to come up with the goods. This again is a trust born of inductive evidence of prior success.

                “…the fact that people believed these scientists without proof is called faith.”

                No. Trust, mostly. I’m not denying that some people can believe science, or the absence of God, on a kind of blind faith, like religious faith. I’m sure some do. But mostly it’s trust, even among those not experienced in a particular science and technology.

                Most people trust air travel from experience of the fact that there are millions of successful flights a year. If the popularity of air travel relied on faith, then some planes, like the British made Comet, would still be with us today. It dropped out of the skies a few times and people lost their trust in it. Had it been faith, they would have had faith that despite all the deaths the next flight would be bound to succeed. The religious on the other hand continue to have this type of faith, despite the failures of prayer, for example.

                Do you get the difference? Trust in science is categorically not anything like religious faith.

                Forgive me, but I have temporarily switched into present time free-will mode, and find the freely willed corruption of children and the misrepresentation of science both abhorrent. Normal determinist free-will opposition will be resumed as soon as possible.

              • Posted January 27, 2012 at 2:57 am | Permalink

                Patrick is a troll. Patrick’s words have been spoken and refuted thousands of times, and he knows it.
                Believing that your car will start is a matter of empirical experience.

                Those of us who use science to try and assert that there is no God do so through faith.

                Uh, question. Who is this ‘us’ you are including yourself so presumptuously with? Because if you mean ‘the group of people that understand logic and critical evaluation’, I regret to inform you that you are actually in ‘the group of people that think their cars start because they prayed for it’.

              • Patrick
                Posted January 28, 2012 at 12:09 am | Permalink

                Hi Ron and tushcloots,
                I see your point on faith. However, faith, trust…eh…same difference. While I can empathize with what you’re saying about there being a difference but really there isn’t any difference. I say this because of this…if you checked up on everything a scientist says (nope they don’t get it right all the time and sometimes they’re proven wrong)you’d be spending all your time checking the facts for yourself and wasting a lot of energy and time on a huge amount of information that sometimes you just don’t have the resources for. That’s faith guys…like it or not. You’re trusting someone that you don’t know and you haven’t even the slightest idea that he or she is telling you the truth but you sure hope that his or her data is right because it jives with everything that you’ve accepted as fact before. I’m not confusing religious faith with practical trust. You don’t like the word to describe how look at the world and really that’s the problem. Religious faith isn’t actually different than what you call practical trust. Check out Taoism. They don’t actually speak of a deity in any way. Not to say they didn’t believe in a deity (If you check Chinese belief you’ll see this, they believe they are descended from gods). Yet their belief in a code, (treating others as you would treat yourself, avoiding lying and cheating and stealing, etc.) dominates their entire belief system. They have faith that this way of life is the best way to live. They actually speak of it in their texts.

                I realize that what you say about children being a sponge hungry for input is true. You’re absolutely right. They really are. I’ve seen that in my own children.

                I read a book by Stephen J. Gould called the Blank Slate. Interesting book though it was there really was a great deal of crap in it. For instance he asserted that children doen’t have the ability to laugh or smile until they’ve been around for more than a couple of months. Absolute garbage. My wife was watching my son at the age of a week while he was sleeping and he started giggling as though he was hearing a joke and responding to it. And the next week I saw him do the same thing. My sister-in-law spoke of the same phenomenon in one of her daughters.

                Children crave structure and stablilty. Religion gives them this. It’s kind of hard to do that when you don’t actually believe in anything and you need proof to back up everything before you actually put some stock into it.

                As to the link where to find what this anonymous author or authors have said…I wish I knew how to highlight a link and then put “here” like you guys do, but I don’t. So I’ll just tell you where I found it. Go to Daily Hitchens, then scroll down to the bottom and follow the link Why Evolution is True and then go to the article Creationist Paper in Medical Journal and there you go. It’s in there somewhere.

                And Tushcloots, nothing has been said that refutes what I’ve said. You’ve done namecalling and sometimes you make sarcastic remarks but really you don’t actually say anything. You’ve really left it up to Ron and he’s made some really good remarks that I respect but mainly he hasn’t convinced me either. He’s doing a good job of making a case for himself but some of it is doubletalk and some of it is lacking just as my arguments are lacking to you and him both. The main thing is that he’s been respecful where you have not. He’s actually addressed what I’ve said and well…you responded with prejudice. Kind of like the idea that people of religion “are sexist and homophobic” (yeah I remember what you said Ron, I didn’t comment because it didn’t describe me and was actually off topic…but we’ve been off topic for quite a while). While untrue of me…I agree, a great many religious people are just that.

            • Posted January 28, 2012 at 5:36 am | Permalink

              “faith, trust…eh…same difference”

              No. Very different as I explained earlier. Trust is built up by evidence and can be lost the same way. Trust is adaptable. Having faith in religious terms (e.g. All my family have met horrible deaths, and I am now being tortured, but I have faith in God) is blind faith – having faith when there is no supporting evidence or when there is contrary evidence.

              Until you get this difference we won’t get anywhere.

              • Patrick
                Posted January 28, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

                I agree that when someone has had some horrible tragedy and there is no proof of the existence of a God and they have nothing to base their belief upon that is blind faith. But not all faith is blind. A lot of faith has some foundation that they can point to. Proof isn’t actually there and evidence is limited but it’s still based upon something. An experience, or a feeling, or something else I’m not able to think of. We know that 2 + 2 = 4 based upon experience. We have faith that pi is infinite based upon this experience (well, and some other deductive reasoning). However, we can’t incisively prove that pi is infinite without this deductive reasoning. In fact there’s scientists still trying to find some repeating decimal or an end because they can’t take another scientist’s word for it. I would say that’s a LACK of faith.

              • Patrick
                Posted January 28, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

                I agree that when someone has had some horrible tragedy and there is no proof of the existence of a God and they have nothing to base their belief upon that is blind faith. But not all faith is blind. A lot of faith has some foundation that they can point to. Proof isn’t actually there and evidence is limited but it’s still based upon something. An experience, or a feeling, or something else I’m not able to think of. We know that 2 + 2 = 4 based upon experience. We have faith that pi is infinite based upon this experience (well, and some other deductive reasoning). However, we can’t incisively prove that pi is infinite without this deductive reasoning. In fact there’s scientists still trying to find some repeating decimal or an end because they can’t take another scientist’s word for it. I would say that’s a LACK of faith. However, out of respect for your abhorrence with the word I’m willing to use trust if it will make you feel better.

      • Posted January 26, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        tushcloots,

        “I still can’t find the link, but, some research shows that believing that we don’t possess free will leads to more a-social behavior.”

        Even if it does that is no reason to deny the fact, should it turn out to be a fact. Does truth depend on consequences? Some people will latch on to any excuse. It was thought that young people shouldn’t learn about sex before marriage, in case they should want to indulge in it. They do learn, and they do indulge. And maybe there’s more STD’s than in less ‘promiscuous’ times. Well, we have to be grown up and deal with that, not sweep the facts under the carpet.

        The research is irrelevant to the fact of the matter. If considered at all it should be in a different forum that’s discussing how to re-educate so that consequences of these findings are reversed.

        But, since it gets raised here I’ll go ahead.

        Since we can’t escape the experience that we have free-will (we can’t escape the illusion) then we continue to act as if we have it (and we can’t help doing that either). Relativity didn’t change my experience of walking – the small mass increase at 3-mph isn’t noticeable. That my will is not free really doesn’t prevent most of the same determined outcomes that would occur anyway. What will happen (what will be determined, or will not happen if determined not to happen) is that we simply take account of it in the judicial system to extend the consideration we have already about culpability.

        We change the meaning of responsibility to frame it in deterministic causal terms. If people feel they are excused responsibility then it needs to be explained that being the collection of matter with the most immediate and timely causal connection to an event, their body and brain combo is considered the most responsible partially autonomous object – they still caused the event, free-willed or not. They remain responsible for the action.

        Physicalism isn’t denying an object (person) caused an event, it’s simply changing the underlying view of what the caus is constituted of. By removing free-will it prevents us making the mistake of not taking extenuationg circumstances into account. We can still choose (i.e. be determined) to deny the relevance of additional prior caused as being significant. It doesn’t matter that a serial killer was abused as a child, he still needs locking up to pretect others. We don’t allow poorly maintained vehicles on the road because of the unpredictable or even predictable incidents they may cause. Same for a serial killer. Once inside, compasion of determinism shoudl elad us to accept the cause of his past on his current psychological makeup and provide teatment.

        I see positive results. I’m not of the school of early railway and automobile critics that demanded we walk in front of them with a red flag. I don’t want to prevent the truth of illusory free-will (if that is the case) our of fear of the consequences. I’d rather learn the truth of the matter deal with the consequences.

      • Patrick
        Posted January 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        I appreciate what you said. I’m not sure that this is entirely true. I’m a sociologist. Many atheists have been given moral instruction as I asserted in another comment. The problem of the matter is that ALL social code is based upon religion of one sort or another. Every civilization throughout history has had a social code and every one of those codes are from a religious based code. There is no such thing as a country without a social code and there is no such thing as a social code without religious influence. Yet every atheist has a moral code that is somehow influenced by a social code. Therefore if an atheist asserts that he is moral, how can he be certain he’s moral? Where does an atheist’s code come from.

        Christopher Hitchens believed he was moral. His moral code according to God Is Not Great came from his religious teachers in the Presbyterian faith, his teachers in Greek Orthodoxy and his studies of the Koran. I’m sure he adapted his code to his own choosing but this is entirely beside the point. He was still influenced through religion to believe in what was moral.

        • Posted January 26, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

          Well, I happen to know that the egg came first, or are the dolphins and whales members of an unknown sect?

          PS Argument from authority don’t work good on us janitors ;)

          • Patrick
            Posted January 26, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

            I actually don’t expect my credentials to impress you. However, I’m hoping sound logical thinking will. Believe it or not, my religion is based upon sound logical thinking as well as faith. Unfortunately for those that want proof first, it is based upon faith first. I know this can sound convoluted but it has it’s own logic. I’ll explain it to you if you’d like but be prepared to be sorry you asked. LOL

            • Posted January 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

              Hi Patrick,

              I doubt your religion is based on sound logical thinking. You might have valid logical thinking (maybe) but you can’t be sure your premises are true, so it’s not sound. Your religion, like all of them, will be founded ancients texts. That is poor evidence, let alone a premise that is certain of being logically true.

              There’s no requirement for proof. Only good evidence.

              “I know this can sound convoluted but it has it’s own logic.” It’s poor logic I’m afraid.

              • Patrick
                Posted January 28, 2012 at 12:31 am | Permalink

                I guess if you don’t accept ancient texts as valid tools of logic then I guess you’re right. By the way, what do you define as ancient? Would you throw away the texts of Socarates, Plato, etc. because they’re ancient? Are you like Christopher Hitchens and you throw out everything you don’t agree with but keep only what you agree with? I found it priceless when he called Sir Isaac Newton an idiot standing on the shoulders of giants. Throw out everything that Newton did and you actually throw out a great deal of your scientific calculations (the father of calculus I believe as well as physics). So what DO you consider valid information? You claim it must have evidence. Do you only believe in what you can validate? Or are you a picker and a chooser of what you can believe in without evidence?

                Thanks for at least thinking I might possibly be a logical thinker. I’ll take that much from you.

              • Posted January 28, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

                Patrick,

                “I guess if you don’t accept ancient texts as valid tools of logic then I guess you’re right.”

                Yes. You shouldn’t accept them either.

                “Would you throw away the texts of Socarates, Plato”

                It’s not a question of throwing them out, but a matter of criticising them. Personally I think Plato’s idea of ‘forms’ is wrong, but there’s plenty of good stuff. I accept some historic content of the Bible, when reliable un-biased religious scholars tell us which bits they think happened. There do appear to be some reasonably unbiased religious scholars who are religious, but not many. There are some good atheist religious scholars.

                Look, when atheists complain that the religious ‘cherry pick’ the good bits, this in itself is not a criticism of cherry picking. We should all cherry pick the good bits and discard the wrong bits of any text. The problem with cherry picking in religious hands is that they use the good bits to affirm the whole story, yet ignore th bad bits that disaffirm it.

                “I found it priceless when he called Sir Isaac Newton an idiot standing on the shoulders of giants.”

                I did too. We are all fallible humans with limited mental capacity. Our brightest thinkers use all that has come before them to make small steps forward. Despite being good at the science he did, newton was still fixated on religious myths. He hadn’t manage to use the his approach to science, rational investigation of nature, in application to the evidence for God. The scientific method as we understand not it wasn’t fleshed out for him to understand.

                “Throw out everything that Newton did”

                Wow! I can see how literalism works in a religious mind. Criticise one little mistake and throw out all the work, good and bad? Given how many mistakes of reasoning you have displayed you should, by the same token, dismiss yourself as a complete idiot. I suggest you don’t though. I’d prefer a more charitable view, that you are simply indoctrinated with religion and haven’t the first clue about logic. This is a fatal combination.

                “Do you only believe in what you can validate? Or are you a picker and a chooser of what you can believe in without evidence?”

                Bits of both. I accept many things I haven’t personally validated, because I understand how some people (e.g. scientists) have validated them, of failed to falsify them, which is mostly good enough. But I’m definitely a cherry picker.

                “Thanks for at least thinking I might possibly be a logical thinker.”

                We can live in hope (not faith). But I’m certainly not basing it on the evidence of what you’ve been writing.

              • Patrick
                Posted January 28, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

                Hi Ron,
                I’m a cherry picker too. I think you and are I are quite similar though I suspect you don’t.

                Actually, Christopher Hitchens did reject EVERYTHING that Newton said. At least that’s what he asserted in his book God Is Not Great. He tended to take a person and reject them entirely if he didn’t like their religious views and then find ways to accept someone even if they might have said something that was religious. For instance, he rejected anything that Einstein might’ve said about believing in a God based upon finding some text where someone said he couldn’t have actually said THAT. Therefore Einstein was one of his. He did the same with Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. I’m guessing it was just his way.

                I don’t reject everything someone says when someone makes a mistake. I haven’t rejected everything you’ve said. Far from it. I respect your point of view. However, I think I’m more inclined to agree with tushcloots than I am you.

                You don’t like the word faith. I get that. It doesn’t change what I know of the word or what I know of human nature but faith is abhorrent to you. I get that. You’re right, we aren’t going to get anywhere because you’re convinced you’re right and I’m convinced I’m right. I don’t mind. I actually respect your point of view. I guess it’s just best to agree we don’t agree.

                By the way, where in the U.K. are you from? My wife’s originally from around London but spent time in Leeds and Cornwall. I love England and want to go back, maybe not for good but I still would love to go back.

            • Posted January 27, 2012 at 3:08 am | Permalink

              Believe it or not

              I choose not to believe it. LOL. BTW:

              http://www.salon.com/2011/11/13/the_controversial_science_of_free_will/singleton/

              You mention social contracts, and in the book you describe many ways that the human brain is kind of programmed for sociality. So what are some of our innate social instincts?
              The one that’s grabbing everybody’s pulse in the last few years is the realization that there seem to be some universal moral judgments that we make, such as fairness. The notion that you can actually find identifiable circuits in the brain that deal with the activities of making moral choices is an incredible advance. People argue about whether some of these things are built into us or whether they are all culturally learned. Well, it turns out that it’s both. Take fairness, for example. Fairness is clearly a capacity that is present in the adult brain and it’s clearly a capacity that young babies have.

              Oh, and I found out where god got its morality from:

              Yeah, I was really taken with that portion of the book. One thing I was surprised by is the fact that in some of these studies that you mentioned people seem to have built-in retributive instincts when it comes to punishing others for their misdeeds.
              I think the evidence is pretty clear that we have a built-in retributive sense to ourselves. You hit me, I’m gonna hit you back. Babies have it and you certainly see it all over our responses. Think about someone harming a member of your family. It would take you two nanoseconds to harm them back. The question is, do we as a human culture want to harness that and instead use healing or provide treatment instead of punishment.

              FYI

              • Posted January 27, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

                yeah, but is is best for the group and society to base law on infantile reflexes?

        • Posted January 26, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

          Most current societies have laws and moral customs that are at least to some extent coincident with some religious moral teachings. But what do you expect since for centuries various cultures have been dominated by religious control that set the agenda.

          The real question is where did the earlier religions get their moral codes? The ones we atheists tend to share with the religious now are natural human ones. So, there should be no surprise that we atheists have them too. But there are many that atheists can easily dispose of by reason: homophobia and sexism are the obvious two with respect to Christianity. And since we can follow moral codes without religion, religion clearly isn’t necessary. And since your logic fails to prove your even exists, then you have no foundation upon which the base your assertions about moral origins.

          This is one of the points Jerry often makes about accommodationism – it fails. It’s not only Creationist Christians that have a problem with evolution and other sciences. The very essence of Christianity, the association of morality and related sinfulness with the religious claim about God, does not fit with evolution, neuroscience, or psychology, which together point to a far better explanation.

          • Patrick
            Posted January 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

            Alight, let’s go with the idea that there is a natural order and therefore a natural moral code. You’ve asked the question “where did the early religions get their moral code?” Anyone who believes in God would say that they got it from God.

            Now let’s leave off that argument because any atheist knows that’s a silly way to look at things.

            If you look animalistically you will notice that the moral code of an animal is to hunt to kill and any male who opposes you you kill and any female who opposes your will you kill. I know that there are those that take care of each other. But that’s not really the point is it? The strongest survive and there’s very little else as a moral base to draw from.

            Humans however, have the natural instinct to continue to improve themselves. This goes with whatever a human posits as interesting to himself. If a person wants to participate in a game and he feels it’s worth his while he puts his all towards it. If he wants to be an intellectual then he pursues intellectual goals and he does it to the best of his ability. It doesn’t mean that we don’t do things that are not in our best interest. It just means that we try to excel at anything that interests us. If he wants to steal from someone he tries to learn anything that will help him get away with the item that he intends to steal without getting caught. What would be in his best interest would actually be to try and obtain the item honestly but the thief doesn’t look at it that way an therefore he tries to obtain it dishonestly and therefore the person who works diligently to catch the thieves of the world catches the thief in the act and thief loses his freedom or life. So with that in mind, where is there a natural moral code? If anything the natural man is nothing but contradictory to the idea of a moral code.

            It isn’t natural for a man to be honest no matter what when his survival is at stake. It isn’t natural not to kill someone when you are the dominant person and someone is threatening your authority or worse your livelihood. It isn’t natural for a man to not lust after another man’s wife and if she lusts after him not to sleep with her. It isn’t natural for a man not to take whatever he can in order for him to secure his own survival. So with all this in mind, how is it natural to have anything but a survivalist instinct and leave off hurting others just so that you can continue being the leader of the pack? I submit that there’s nothing natural about it. In fact many people in our current society do not follow a moral code that is similar to the old religious codes. It’s more animalistic than anything else. Look at the L.A. gangs, or for that matter anyone who leads a gangster’s life. There’s a scripture in my religion that goes something like this. “The natural man is an enemy to God.”

            If you want sound logic about religion then here goes. We were sent here as a test. The test being that we were to live the moral code set by God to the best of our ability. If we failed to live the code perfectly then we were sent someone that could do it perfectly (namely Christ). That example was meant for us to follow but even more so Christ was there to atone for our imperfections. Basically to make up for all our imperfections and transcend them. The reward for following the code was to have the chance of becoming like God. In other words the reward was a universe of our own, children of our own, and power beyond our wildest dreams. We are here to provide service to our fellow man. Funnily enough that is also the purpose of God. Why else would he give us the chance of becoming like him? Destroying the agency of man destroys our chance at becoming like God. If you look at each and every commandment in the Bible you will see that each one is set there to support free will. If you look at what Christ taught you will see that it supports that idea even more.

            I’m sorry, but there is not such a thing as a natural moral code.

            And here’s what’s even funnier. If I’m right and you actually take a chance on that, following a religious moral code such as what the Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believe. You get a few universes of your own. If I’m wrong and you follow that code you lose nothing. Not your freedom or anything else. Just your obstinancy.

            • Posted January 27, 2012 at 3:19 am | Permalink

              Oh, you said “obstinacy.” I thought you said, “objectivity.”

              I take it you have faith in Mitt Romney?

              Actually, a better place to discuss your views would be here where we like to discuss our faith.

              • Patrick
                Posted January 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

                Nope. I think Romney is an idiot.

          • Posted January 27, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

            here’s the problem, we have no idea whether religious-magical utterances mean anything….they certainly don’t refer to anything in the world…

            the best we can say is that religious moral chit chat seems to correlate with certain behaviors…we have no idea about causality….

            • Patrick
              Posted January 28, 2012 at 12:34 am | Permalink

              sleeprunning,
              Nope you’re right we don’t. It’s about faith. I think I made that point already.

              • Posted January 28, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

                faith which really means any nonsensical idea i can others to agree with is ok?

                generally that means ideas that either sooth my and others emotions (mainly fear) or give me and other power over others actions — right?

                use of the word “faith” is a clever and dishonest manipulative tactic implying a prosocial decision when it is actually just a power play….

        • Posted January 27, 2012 at 2:06 am | Permalink

          Patrick

          “Alight, let’s go with the idea that there is a natural order and therefore a natural moral code.”

          I’m not sure of your meaning here. That smacks of an objective morality to me. Could you consider this…

          If all humans became extinct, would there still be a natural moral code in the universe?

          If the last surviving human, a male say, with no prospect of giving birth, what moral obligations do you think he would have?

          “If you look animalistically you will notice that the moral code of an animal is to hunt to kill and any male who opposes you you kill and any female who opposes your will you kill. I know that there are those that take care of each other. But that’s not really the point is it?”

          That is very much the point. You have an odd view of animals. Have you never seen herds grouping together, and the larger adults protecting the young of the group? I’ve seen more evidence of non-fatal aggression, toleration, and co-operation than fatal aggression. And even the fatal aggression isn’t intended mostly. If it’s sufficient to fend off a rival, why risk more by pressing the attack when there might be other competitors to deal with – save your energy. I suspect most fatalities from in group rivalry occur because of and injury or exhaustion that prevents the victim surviving.

          Evolved social instincts seem a very good candidate for human morals. Only mistaken religious notions of human specialness sets us apart from other animals. We are animals with inherited and learned animal social instincts.

          “The strongest survive”

          No only the strongest, and not always the strongest. A better notion would be that generally the weakest and the unlucky fail to survive. The weakest are the most likely to succumb to predation and death through sickness or lack of food. The unlucky, even if the strongest, fail to survive if struck by lightning, hit by a falling branch, fall and break their neck, become isolated and succumb to predators, …

          “Humans however, have the natural instinct to continue to improve themselves.”

          I don’t know it’s a natural instinct to improve; more a learned social one.

          “If he wants to steal from someone..”

          Funnily, I don’t know that many thieves. You seem to have negative view of your fellow humans.

          “So with that in mind, where is there a natural moral code? If anything the natural man is nothing but contradictory to the idea of a moral code.”

          Well, that’s because there is no ideal moral code. Humans, being evolved animals that just happen to be here (evolution didn’t design us to be ideal) we should expect quite a bit of variation in character. Our biology pretty much guarantees that.

          “It isn’t natural not to kill someone when you are the dominant person and someone is threatening your authority or worse your livelihood.”

          Yes it is. It’s more natural to avoid a fight if you can, and make do with aggressive persuasion if you have to. Don’t you think that killers are few and far between, the odd ones out, the unusual? I’m sorry, but your view of humans isn’t worthy of us or any other animal. And remember, even for those animals that do kill regularly, such as female insects that eat their mates, there is no moral aspect to it, because morality as we see it is a human social construct built on top of animal behaviour. Other animals aren’t clever enough, or dumb enough, to invent moral codes.

          “It isn’t natural for a man to not lust after another man’s wife”

          Okay, I’ll give you that one.

          “The natural man is an enemy to God”

          Well, not quite. If there is no God then that’s plain wrong as there is no enemy. Perhaps you mean some people are an enemy to the fiction of God. I think most atheists fall into that category.

          “If you want sound logic about religion then here goes.”

          OK

          “We were sent here as a test.”

          Whoa! Can I stop you right there. I don’t accept that premise as proven. Proof over! Even if what followed in your argument was valid, it fails on its first premise.

          But maybe you have multiple arguments and only those that need that premise fail. Let’s press on.

          “…that we were to live the moral code set by God…”

          Whoa! Sorry. Again, I don’t accept the premise that there is a God as proven. Failed.

          “namely Christ”

          Nope.

          “That example was meant…”

          No proof of an agency (God or otherwise) that could mean (intend) anything. Nope.

          I read the rest but didn’t spot any logic whatsoever. Just a bunch of assertions (premises) all of which not only have no supporting proof, but also no evidence.

          • Patrick
            Posted January 27, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

            Hi Ron,
            I don’t actually have a negative view of human people. Just realistic. Apparently you’ve never spent any time in gang territories before. If you had you’d know that very few gang members like to mess around with just intimidation. They like to intimidate for a short period of time but if they find that it isn’t working they just get rid of you.

            Secondly, I’ve studied animal behavior and yes you have a point. Many different animals like to intimidate before killing, but again if that’s not working then killing does end up being the answer. Look at the behavior of chimpanzees. Dogs and cats also do the same things. But you see it doesn’t stop there.

            And yes, the strongest survive due to the fact that other animals kill off the weak and the sick through predation. But you see you proved my point. The strong end up surviving. Quite often the whole reason an animal ends up wounded is due to the fact that animals of the same herd, pack, etc. were having some contest of wills or fighting over food. The animal doesn’t die directly but ends up not being able to keep up. Eventually they die out due to being weakened from their contests. The end result is just what I said in the first place.

            As to you not knowing that many thieves. I guess you’re lucky. I’ve been in Utah for the past 15 years and I don’t know many thieves anymore. But when I lived in Las Vegas and in Hawaii I knew plenty. I’ve encountered many in L.A. as well AND I’ve been told that you don’t wander into many places in the east unless you’re looking to get robbed. I suspect that you don’t know many thieves due to the fact that the area you live in is better morally grounded than some of the places I’ve lived.

            Unfortunately, you contradicted yourself when you said, that you follow a natural moral code and then you just said that there isn’t a natural moral code. I was just following up with what you told me in your response back to me and basically most of my response was in response to that assertion.

            I realize that you aren’t going to believe anything about what I said about my religious beliefs but I threw them out there because first of all there’s a Bible that a lot of people put a great deal of stock into. There’s a Koran and a Torah and a Book of Mormon and a lot of other religious books that people put a great deal of stock into. Me, I follow the Bible, and the Book of Mormon. I follow them because to me they make the most sense. The Bible can’t be taken literally quite a bit of the time and yet so many people take it literally. The Book of Mormon on the other hand can be taken literally most of the time and it makes clear most of what is trying to be said in the Bible. If I didn’t have these books (as well as some experiences I had as a child as well as an adult) I’d probably be just like you.

            My church doesn’t reject the possibility of evolution. However, it doesn’t accept it totally either.

            As far as proof goes… I wasn’t going for proof. It’s a faith thing. There’s no proof for God. There never will be until the test is over. There is a logic to what I said if you accept the Bible or even the Koran or the Torah. If you don’t then well you’re right…there’s no logic to follow.

            I’ve read the Bible so many times I have most of the concepts in there memorized. My religion is the only one that is the most logical to me. All others fall short. If there was no Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints there would be no religion to me and I would be just like you.

            By the way I read everything that a lot of people have said about Joseph Smith, including Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens didn’t know what he was talking about and trust me I’ve done the research. I’ve also read a book called Mormon Polygamy by Richard S. Van Wagoner. Van Wagoner purposely misrepresented facts and told a tale of fiction that was utterly believable until you start checking his work. He has people saying things they couldn’t have said in places they couldn’t have been due to the fact that many of those people were actually hundreds of miles away at the times that they were supposed to have said things.

            I guess what I find most interesting is that the moral code that’s laid out by Christ in the Bible has been studied by sociologists through and through. What they’ve found is that if you actually live by the precepts he’s laid out for us to follow, there’s really only short term downsides and long term upsides. If you don’t follow them there’s only long term down sides and short term upsides. For instance stealing, you get what you want, however, you don’t really value what you’ve stolen so you don’t treat it with respect and therefore lose interest in it. Socially some people admire you but then you find that most people don’t trust you around their things.

            Basically, how could this uneducated man know what the social ramifications would be? The same thing would go for Moses, or the author of Taoism. There’s a lot of people that reject these teachings today and amazingly enough are only worried about the short term gains they get from not following them. If you read the papers every day the stories in them prove this. Or (though I don’t really encourage it) watch it on the news channels.

            • Posted January 27, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

              “As to you not knowing that many thieves.”

              I’ve know plenty. You are too presumptuous. And, for what it’s worth, I grew up on a really rough ‘estate’ (a public housing area) in the UK. I’ve seen plenty of it. Of course we didn’t have the guns.

              “I suspect that you don’t know many thieves due to the fact that the area you live in is better morally grounded than some of the places I’ve lived.”

              LOL.

              “Unfortunately, you contradicted yourself when you said, that you follow a natural moral code and then you just said that there isn’t a natural moral code.”

              There is no objective moral code out there in the universe. What moral codes we have we invent, but guided by our intuitions, which we have evolved with us. It is natural (not God given) in animal origin, but not natural in a cosmological sense.

              “there’s a Bible that a lot of people put a great deal of stock into. There’s a Koran and a Torah and a Book of Mormon and a lot of other religious books that people put a great deal of stock into. ”

              All with contradictory claims. The laughable part, the bit that genuinely I can’t help laughing at, or at least a suppressed snigger, is when a religious person tells me that the Bible is true because it says so (a move also used by Muslims about the Quran). Read this:

              Ron Murphy, I, as God, have divinely inspired you to write this paragraph and spread the word on the internet. Atheists are really intelligent people, and I’m so pleased that they think for themselves that I’m going to let them into heaven. I’m not too fussed that they didn’t get round to discovering me, but they went about it in the most sensible way: evidence based understanding of the universe. All the dumb Christians, Muslims and others just make stuff up about me and then believe their own stories. What idiot would use blind faith to figure out anything? And, by the way, they were dead wrong. I didn’t create the universe – it was an accident, honets; I didn’t touch a thing. Much less did I have anything to do with the religious people in it. What could have possibly interested my in human pre-scientific life? If anyone doubts the truth of this paragraph, just assure them it is true because my divine word here confirms it. By the way, do you think it would be more convincing if I wrote it in archaic English?

              That pretty much accounts for the sum total of religious logic and reasoning. The rest of your comment confirms this general point.

              • Patrick
                Posted January 28, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

                Uh…Ron,
                Read your comments to me. You said yourself you didn’t know that many thieves. Now you’re saying you do. Make up your mind.

                I’ve never ever said that you should believe the Bible because it says it’s true. Nor would I ever. Besides, it doesn’t self assert itself. At least I’ve never read anywhere where it says specifically that it’s true. People that use that sort of logic got their heads so far up their rear ends that it makes me want to gag. Sorry, but I’m with you on that one.

                Actually, have you read the Book of Mormon? There’s nothing contradictory about it. Does it contradict some things said in the Bible? Yeah, actually it does. Is it based on the Bible? Not really. However, if you know much about the Bible you know that a great deal of it was translated incorrectly. Are there contradictory things in the Torah and the Koran (sorry Quran, never really know just which spelling is the most correct). Yep. They’re still a good study. At least to me. I find it interesting to read other religious texts. It gives you more of an appreciation for your own. I respect their religous beliefs more and understand them better despite not agreeing with them.

                As to summing up religious thought. Maybe some, but not all. You’ve got very little handle on what I believe. I can see you’re prejudiced about my beliefs but then again I’m prejudiced about yours as well. I’ve tried to respect your beliefs and use argumentations that I think are sound but I realize that a great deal of it depends on my belief in the Bible and the logic that stems from that. I appreciate your giving me a chance to see why you don’t find my argumentation sound. You haven’t changed my mind and really I don’t think you could. I haven’t changed your mind and really I don’t think I could.

                But that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve developed a respect for you and your method of argumentation. Most of the people on here tend to be bullies and try and bowl over everyone else by saying they’re right and don’t bother giving any sources. I don’t really give any sources either but however, I have them. You want them I’ll quote them for you so you can look them up for yourself. The other thing I find sad about this site is that when someone gives a source and someone doesn’t agree with it and argues with it people on here resort to namecalling and automatically assume that you’re just like everyone else in religion or atheism who’s made really bad judgement calls. Or even worse, they think they’re stupid. I don’t know about you but I was rated a genius. I have read a great many of the threads on here and I find a great many of the people on here pretty intelligent with what they have to say. I don’t necessarily agree with them but I don’t have to in order to realize that they are mostly smarter than the average bear.

  73. Posted January 26, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    It is up to the physicalists
    What the physicalist really needs to settle the issue is a theory of phenomenal concepts (a theory, that is, of the allegedly special concepts that are deployed from the first person point of view when we recognize our experiences as being of such-and-such subjective types) which is itself compatible with physicalism. There are proposals on offer (see, for example, Hill 1991, Loar 1990, Levine 2000, Sturgeon 2000, Perry 2001, Papineau 2002, Tye, 2003), but there is as yet no agreement as to the form such a theory should take, and some philosophers contend that a proper theory of phenomenal concepts shows that no satisfactory answer can be given by the physicalist to the example of Mary’s Room (Chalmers 1999). Another possibility is that the very idea of a phenomenal concept, conceived of as a concept very different in how it functions from concepts applied elsewhere, is itself confused. On this view, physicalists who have appealed to phenomenal concepts to handle the example of Mary’s Room have been barking up the wrong tree (Tye forthcoming).

    Another famous anti-reductionist thought-experiment concerning qualia appeals to the possibility of zombies. A philosophical zombie is a molecule by molecule duplicate of a sentient creature, a normal human-being, for example, but who differs from that creature in lacking any phenomenal consciousness.

    It’s what we’ve been saying. No amount of known physics or deterministic conjecture can account for our ‘condition,’ so any conclusions you draw are therefore insufficiently supported.

    • Steve
      Posted January 26, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      How do they conclude that a molecule by molecule duplicate wouldn’t have phenomenal consciousness?

      Isn’t that like saying a molecule by molecule duplicate only covered in feathers or with a big wart at the end of its nose?

    • Posted January 26, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      tushcloots

      I almost agree with you here, about the theory part. The difference is that I think it’s for scientists and science theorists, to come up with a theory; though of course if they are physicalists in their philosophical persuasion your point includes them. But I would say it’s not a matter for physicalist philosophers – it’s not a philosophical theory we need, because we’ve already got them, as incomplete as they may be. Though, again, there’s no bar in principle to philosophers doing science. As long as they do science and not the nonsense that is Mary’s room and Zombies.

      I think there are sufficient principle ideas to make the connection, with mappings from information theory to concepts. The big trouble isn’t at the brain end of the business and the mapping of information to brain states, as technology will improve to be able to examine the brain in live action in finder detail. The problem is from the psychological experience perspective, in that I think concepts and ideas are very much more fluid, transient, misty, than we feel they are intuitively. They’re akin to vision: we have a sharp focal area but blurred peripheral vision and the brain fills in from saccade data. We probably have loads of buzzing around which perceptually feels like a consistent idea when we consciously think of it. We don’t recognise intuitively that when we recall a memory the concept retrieved is being reconstructed anew, and possibly nothing like as precisely the same from one recall to the next. The problem isn’t that ‘qualia’ are something different from or separate from brains states, its that our experience of them isn’t anywhere near as precise as we think.

      This might seem at odds with some obvious precise experiences, such as remembering a scene in great detail. People with ‘photographic memories’, while maybe not as precise as they think they are, they are still better than average. Perhaps they actually do have a better and more consistent mapping of visual imagination and the data in memory, or their reconstructive processes are more accurate than the average person. Perhaps it is all pretty precise in the depths of our brains, an it’s just that the conscious stuff is essentially a poor and noisy communication channel looking in on actual brain states. We know we don’t need precise sequence of instructions to raise an arm – we just think it and it happens (whether using the causal model or the free-will model).

      My objection to philosophers getting in on the act is precisely examples like Mary’s room and the Zombie. They are examples of really poor philosophy.

      The problem with the Zombie is the starting point. It uses the same incorrect move that free-will does. Why on earth would you think that a molecule by molecule copy would be different in any way? The example already presupposes there is something else that could be taken away. So, what physically do you do in the zombie building box that constructs an entire human molecule by molecule that doesn’t result in a thinking conscious human? What have you left out? It’s not a lot different saying, lets copy a human molecule by molecule, but leave out his shape. Meaningless. On the other hand, copying a human molecule by molecule, but leaving out his right leg, is meaningful, because leaving out his right leg identifies something we have already established exists and which we could leave out – with ‘molecule by molecule’ having the implicit addition of ‘except for those that make up his right leg’.

      Mary’s room is just as bad. This is the problem of assuming the primacy of reason and deduction over experience, which many philosophers suffer from.

      Mary didn’t have the experience of colour while in the room. No amount of information while in the room will give her that experience. The very experience of colour is new information, forming new corresponding brain states, including adaptations of the visual cortex in processing colour.

      Experiments with animals that cover an eye while very young show that they never have vision in that eye, not only because of problems with the eye but also because the part of the brain that would use that data has been assigned to something else. Maybe Mary would never experience colour vision, in qualia terms, because her brain could not process it.

      But the basic problem is the conditions of the thought experiment. The claim that Mary knows everything about colour while in the room is just plain wrong. The mistake may have been made because of the mess of epistemology. Philosophers can’t put together a useful and consistent definition of knowledge. Knowing stuff requires experience – from the emergence of the early brain in the fetus the brain begins its experiences. Reason is not a different thing. Reason is experience internal to the brain, as instantiated in the physical brain. Mary’s experience, her knowledge, is gained through the experiences of reading books and looking at charts and graphs about light and frequency. This is only partial knowledge by any reasonable understanding that knowledge requires experience. The experience left out, her missing knowledge, is based on experiences she will have on the outside. A major premise of the thought experiment is plain wrong.

      It’s no surprise that the same philospher can buy into these two arguments. In one he is assuming something (different) is there that isn’t (that which he wants to leave out – consciousness) and in the second he’s assuming something’s there that isn’t (that which he thinks has been put in – complete knowledge of colour). The surprise is that this rubbish comes from a philosopher, who does philosophy, the supposed pinnacle of the thinking professions.

    • Posted January 26, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      “any conclusions you draw are therefore insufficiently supported”

      As current verified science, I agree – the case is week. As a tentative inductive argument I disagree. Inductively all the causal observations of science demonstrate determinism, with what looks like indeterminism. That, inductively, suggest there is nothing else that could support ‘free’ will.

      And, the only claimed support for free-will, is that we feel like we have it. And, inductively, it’s easy to show that intuitive and introspective perceptions are unreliable. So, free-will is insufficiently supported inductively, and has zero going for it scientifically.

      The balance lies with illusory free-will.

      • Posted January 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        Inductively all the causal observations of science demonstrate determinism

        I am still wrestling with that one. I absolutely believe every event follows a chronological cause and effect relationship, and, the cable guy is here!
        I really want to follow up with all your comments and posts and I find very little wiggle room between our understanding of things, very little, as I am a ‘physicalist.’
        I’ll get back in a few hours, and address everyone’s comments, if I have any say in the matter, or not!, in any event, it’s a prediction. :)

  74. Curt Nelson
    Posted January 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    The discussion you’re having about the ins and outs of this problem is really excellent, only it does seem like a discussion of the “half way problem” (Zeno’s paradox) another commenter mentioned above. It, too, seems to be difficult to flesh out and in need of careful analysis until one reflects on the fact that movement from point A to point B is obviously doable.

    Free will is obviously doable, too. If you think it isn’t, please explain who composed this post if it wasn’t me.

    • Steve
      Posted January 26, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      Curt,

      You wrote what your matrix of determinants made you write… like you have said, your behavior is a function of your heredity and environment.

    • Posted January 27, 2012 at 3:41 am | Permalink

      Curt, Steve is one of those dualists that think our consciousness and sense of self are ‘illusions.’

      He, and others, think our thoughts and reflections and intentions exist in some walled off portion of our brains, where they can’t interact with our ‘real’ physical being, snicker.

      It’s explained here:

      “What are these ramifications? To begin with, the concept of personal responsibility is obsolete. Since all actions are determined by the “preexisting state of the universe,” we have no choice in the matter. As they put it: “Given a set of prior conditions in the universe and a set of physical laws that completely govern the way the universe evolves, there is only one way that things can actually proceed.” Thus we can logically trace everything back to the Big Bang that blasted the universe into existence. Should you ask why I had bagels rather than bananas for breakfast this morning, for example, I can refer you to the Big Bang theory of human action.

      But if there is already the Big Bang, why do we need neuroscience to reveal our lack of free will? According to Greene and Cohen, for ages “scientific” philosophers, i.e. philosophers of their determinist camp, had argued against free will, but because the mind was then a black box, it was easy for the deluded religious people, the soft humanists, and other dim-witted souls to cling to the illusion of free will.

      Now that we have neuroscience, however, the mind is a black box no more — it is high time for the rest of us to wake up from our dogmatic slumber and smell the deterministic universe. In short, while the Big Bang provides the big picture, neuroscience supplies the details, which will make it abundantly clear, even to the lay public, that we are literally puppets in a deterministic universe after all.”

      With me so far? I think Steven Bernard and Xuuths and Vaal and you would enjoy this article, Does Neuroscience Refute Free Will?, very much.
      It covers a lot of ground including much of what we’ve(free willies) argued above, and elsewhere, like:

      Blame it on the brain
      Greene and Cohen argue that our brains are responsible for all our behaviors. Our “brains” commit crimes. “We” are innocent. Thus, in their words, “demonstrating that there is a brain basis for adolescents’ misdeeds allows us to blame adolescents’ brains instead of the adolescents themselves.” It is fortunate that the boys in the neighborhood have not read their article, for here is their new defense after damaging your property: I didn’t do it, it was my brain!”

      I’ll stop this comment with the following, still from the same comprehensive, albeit lengthy, and entertaining article(will links and references):

      “Readers of my earlier article will be familiar with Greene and Cohen’s penchant for evolutionary speculation. Here they go again. According to their new so-so story, parts of the brain, in the course of evolution, become specialized modules for folk psychology, e.g. attributing free will to others; other parts, for folk physics, e.g. believing in the sort of motion typically seen in a Disney cartoon. We know that folk physics is wrong, but folk psychology is just as wrong, according to Greene and Cohen. Because of our folk psychology system, we think of other animate objects as uncaused causers. But after learning neuroscience, “when we look at people as physical systems, we cannot see them as any more blameworthy or praiseworthy than bricks.”

      Perhaps we could posit, in addition to the folk physics system and the folk psychology system, a third system of masochistic scientism, which fools one into believing one is a brick being acted on by the forces of nature, rather than an acting agent responsible for his actions. The neural basis of this third system, I submit, remains to be established.”

      • Posted January 27, 2012 at 5:38 am | Permalink

        “As they put it”

        That’s a bit sweeping, because what you explain doesn’t count for me.

        “the concept of personal responsibility is obsolete”

        That for a start isn’t the case. Even under determinism it still makes sense to associate effects with some localised, in space and time, causes. So, to say that some fleshy automaton was responsible for some action is no different from saying a falling rock is most immediately responsible for the crushing whatever it crushes. This use of ‘responsibility’ in a deterministic context just happens to coincide with the fee-will interpretation of responsibility, in the locality and timeliness of causes. The difference being that the free-will view being that the entity labelled as responsible actually freely will the action they are deemed responsible for, while the deterministic view is that they did not freely will it.

        I’d be really grateful if you could explain how in a causal universe you think the will is ‘free’. I get that you’re not a dualist, but your rejection of the consequences of determinism, or determinism itself, or determinism+indeterminism, seems counter to your position on causality.

        “Should you ask why I had bagels rather than bananas for breakfast this morning, for example, I can refer you to the Big Bang theory of human action.”

        Not quite, because no one is claiming to be Leplace’s demon. Your use of theory here reminds me of religious objections to the theory of evolution on the basis that there are missing fossils that link us back every step of the way to pre-human ancestors. Even pretty good equations such as f = ma are used on principle, not on exhaustive examination of every possible mass and acceleration.

        This recent tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson makes the point:

        “Could physical laws change at small & large cosmic scales, you ask? They can differ any place we’ve yet to look”

        There are many details of accepted science that are based on inferences of related cuases and effects and not direct and exhaustive observation.

        If you accept causility, then the causes of causality are deterministic in the effects they have. The only complication yet observed is with the indeterminacy introduced by qauntum physics, which introduces uncertain causes. It does not mean these ‘random’ causes didn’t have a cause, juts that we can’t get at it. And it doesn’t mean these ‘random’ causes have no subsequent cause, once they occur. Where is there room for a ‘free’ will?

        What do you find wrong specifically with free-will being an illusion?

        Not why you find it objectionable (e.g. some people behave worse when they think free-will is illusory), but on what principles you think it *must* be wrong. Hold on, “It is fortunate that the boys in the neighborhood have not read their article, for here is their new defense after damaging your property: I didn’t do it, it was my brain!”” Oh, that is your reasoning. This is irrelevant.

        If you think free-will *might* be an illusion, but your opinion is just that it isn’t, then thre’s not that much between us. I think it *might* be an illusion, and because I can’t see how to detach a ‘will’ from causal precursors to make it ‘free’, mine is a pretty strong *might*.

        “Greene and Cohen’s penchant for evolutionary speculation.”

        The claim for free-will is speculation of the detachment of the will from the causal on which all science, and free-will itslef, depends. Without causality free will has nothing to cause, so without causality everything is ‘free’, but you have loss the power of ‘will’ to do anything, to cause anything.

        “rather than an acting agent responsible for his actions”

        This is already relying on there being an acting agent, in the free-will sense. Since it’s this very agency that is being questioned you can’t use that agency as an objection to the challenge. You need to explain the agency, and in this context how it is free of the causal chains that make it ‘free’.

        Given the extent to which you complained much everlier that we keep stating the same stuff, you do it also. The difference is that we’ve given a reason why we think it. You simply deny that reason hols, because we have free-will – re-stating your assertion again. Even your claim that it is obvious, ans so doesn’t need explanation I’ve shown to be wrong, because it’s the obviousness of the feeling that is persisting the belief in the illusion.

        Your requirement for confirmation for the illusory free-will case seems to be totally out of proportion to what convinces you that there is free-will, which so far seems to only that it feels like we have free-will. All your posts seem to offer no more than this.

        Really, I think you need to do better, and deal with the issue of the detachment of the ‘will’ from causal events in the brain to give it any sense of being ‘free’, or any sense that “I could have done otherwise” has any meaning in a causal system.

        • Posted January 27, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

          Man, I think that we have two issues going on; the meaning of ‘free’ and the meaning of ‘responsibility.’

          You said, That for a start isn’t the case. Even under determinism it still makes sense to associate effects with some localised, in space and time, causes. So, to say that some fleshy automaton was responsible for some action is no different from saying a falling rock is most immediately responsible for the crushing whatever it crushes.
          I entirely agree, so I don’t understand what you say next,
          This use of ‘responsibility’ in a deterministic context just happens to coincide with the fee-will interpretation of responsibility, in the locality and timeliness of causes. The difference being that the free-will view being that the entity labelled as responsible actually freely will the action they are deemed responsible for, while the deterministic view is that they did not freely will it.
          But if they didn’t freely will it, it is outside the sphere of influence in the calling it will is irrelevant because it is already irreversibly determined. If A -> B and B -> C, then A -> C. You cannot insert an arbitrary event B and assign responsibility to it if the result C is already defined/determined by A.
          I see no difference between free fall and any situation. If I get dropped, or pushed, from a ledge because even if I decide that I will fall, even if I want to fall initially, so what? It is already determined that I will fall, and I can’t be assigned responsibility for actually dropping, or for making a mess when I hit, and even if I make a mess in my pants when I realize the stupidity of my (illusory) decision to fall.

          I’ll leave it here as I have to go right now, and it took me twenty minutes to compose this much so far! I want to follow this through because you make some very interesting(and also valid, lol) points.

          Any ways, I have an idea how we could have the illusion of free will if our decisions are even slightly probablistic, yet not actually freely initiated, but I’m not sure it holds up.

          Anyways, I’m not sure what you mean by responsibility or, let’s say, accountability.

          MikeL

          • Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

            “But if they didn’t freely will it, it is outside the sphere of influence in the calling it will is irrelevant because it is already irreversibly determined.”

            Yes. This is the point. That’s why free-will is an inappropriate term for what’s actually happening, and why an account of the extent to which it is ‘free’, which is the significant bit, would be helpful.

            I’ve been letting the ‘will’ bit pass as merely part of the label. But yes, the problem is that the compound word ‘free-will’ does include the agency aspect.

            I could say, let’s cut out the ‘will’ part, for the purposes of establishing the freedom from physical causes, and define ‘free-will’ as the ability of an ‘agent’ to apply ‘free-cause’ (this agent’s causal actions being free of prior physical causes and so free to alter the course of an otherwise causally deterministic universe).

            In that case it then becomes clear that I’m first objecting to the ‘free-cause’ that some ‘agent’ ‘wills’. If I can make a case against ‘free-cause’, then that implies such causes, from within a human, are not free, but caused in turn by prior causes. That deals with the ‘free’ bit: the agent’s actions are totally caused by the material brain – an automaton. That then brings into question whether the terms ‘agent’ and ‘will’ are appropriate for what is left.

            Well, as for ‘agent’, it does have dualist free-will overtones, but it’s still a handy word that gives some indication of the degree of complexity and autonomy a human automaton has – compared to my fridge, for example.

            I accept that the uncertainty, the probabilistic nature of quantum physics for example, changes the game slightly. Leplace’s demon looking at the otherwise deterministic universe is no longer able to calculate a future state from an earlier state because of the introduced uncertainty.

            But where do these randomly provided causes come from? Some possibilities are that they are in fact deterministic, but our current science doesn’t have a model that accounts for the hidden determinism. Or they come from outside the universe and so their cause is supplemental to the universe’s internal laws. But, just because they are random to us, or the universe as a whole, does that necessarily mean they are actually uncaused? If we’re going to allow uncaused causes into our otherwise causal understanding then how do we deal with that?

            However we deal with random causes, they become deterministic in the subsequent effects they cause. So they are still components of an otherwise causally deterministic universe. That may mean they are ‘free’ of prior causes. But then could you hang the notion of an agency’s ‘will’ on them?

            So, I still see no room for the term ‘free-will’ in such a model of the universe: i.e. totally deterministic, or with indeterministic random events.

            The other point I made much earlier is that humans are not Leplace’s demons, so even if the universe is fundamentally totally deterministic, it’s still epistemically indeterminate to us. We can perform approximate determinations of a few future events based on a sub-set (a very small one) of the universe’s state, as we do in science. But the deterministic yet chaotic nature of many systems prevents us predicting precisely.

            This epistemic indeterminism, along with the inability of the conscious brain to detect its own neural activity in detail, is sufficient to make any determined brain activity appear to us as a ‘will’ that is apparently ‘free’ of other causes. This is how I think we come to have the appearance of free-will, and why it is an illusion.

            But to restate another point from earlier comments, I am happy to use the term ‘free-will’, along with others like ‘agency’, ‘responsibility’ because the nature of the experience is so vivid. I am happy to talk as if we have free-will, while understanding that we don’t.

            This double-speak isn’t a problem for evolutionary biologists, for example, who still use terms related to agency when talking about evolutionary processes (e.g. The Selfish Gene) while understanding among themselves that no teleology is implied. The use of the concept of agency is so ingrained within us that it’s a very useful concept I wouldn’t want to drop just because it’s fundamentally wrong (in the sense that saying genes are selfish is wrong, but very useful).

            You suggest ‘accountability’, and i agree that this is fine, but does it describes the localisation of the compound causes of an action well enough? The term ‘responsibility’ still seems to do that without it necessarily implying agency. I appreciate that it does imply agency to many people; but then so does ‘free-will’. We anthropomorphize so casually we have no problem declaring that my broken fridge is ‘responsible’ for my food rotting.

            • Steve
              Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

              Ron,

              I have suggested for years that ‘actor’ is a more accurate replacement for ‘agent’. (Since ‘agent’ implies agency which we don’t have and ‘actor’ does not.)

              • Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

                Actor suggests agency too, to me.

                The problem is that the anthropomorphic language is very useful.

                I wouldn’t, for example, want to start using stilted words like ‘actuator’, which though is mechanistic and so less prone to the misinterpretation of agency, doesn’t really do it for me.

                I think we’re stuck with the language. But we deal with ambiguity all the time. Euphemisms depend on it. But that’s fine by me as long as we come to understand the meaning in each context.

              • Posted January 27, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

                “Although we feel like free agents contemplating and choosing, they would argue that these sensations are merely an emotional remnant that brain activity leaves in its wake. If these neuroscientists are right, then free will isn’t worth much discussion.”

                we’re talking about brain circuits here, not centuries old ideas….duh…they certainly aren’t worth much discussion…

              • Steve
                Posted January 27, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

                Think of actors from a theatrical sense of the term… as in “poor actor that struts and frets his hour upon the stage”.

      • Steve
        Posted January 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        Tushcloots,

        I am no dualist.

        • Posted January 28, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

          Then how can our thoughts and desires be separate from our physical brain. What is the illusion that is taking place?
          How can our thoughts be part of the physical brain but not affect it, how can our minds ‘emerge’ and be separate from the chain of cause and effect?

          Plus, if I was a meat robot, all I would be able to do is say “THAT DOES NOT COMPUTE “

          • Steve
            Posted January 28, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

            Tushcloots,

            Then how can our thoughts and desires be separate from our physical brain.

            Why throw down this question to me? I’ve never said they are separate from our physical brain, if anything I’ve said they are a phenomena.

            What is the illusion that is taking place?

            The illusion of libertarian free will.

            How can our thoughts be part of the physical brain but not affect it,…

            They are a phenomena of our brains; they are an effect, not a cause.

            …how can our minds ‘emerge’ and be separate from the chain of cause and effect?

            Um… it can’t, that is why nobody has a free will.
            A we having a dialog in good faith or are you just a series of angry incoherent venting?

            Plus, if I was a meat robot, all I would be able to do is say “THAT DOES NOT COMPUTE “

            Seems like to me this is exactly what you’ve been doing for weeks.

            • Posted January 28, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

              What is the illusion that is taking place?

              The illusion of libertarian free will.

              No, I meant the qualia. Is it part of the brain. I see that you do think it is(so do I)

              How can our thoughts be part of the physical brain but not affect it,…

              They are a phenomena of our brains; they are an effect, not a cause.

              You accuse me of talking nonsense?? Really? See my above question, what is the phenomena, where is it, what is it made of?

              Is it difficult to understand that if something is ’caused’, that it is still part of nature and physics, and it can ’cause’ stuff itself?!

              Do you claim special status in this one instance, or have you any examples in history, anywhere, since the universe began, of an, ahem, effect of nature/physics that suddenly stopped being part of nature physics?

              You do understand that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed?
              You do understand that it continues to have an effect on locality, it doesn’t disappear? You are the one saying, “it’s an effect, a phenomenon”, for fuck sakes, you are the one acting like it is separated from our physical brain somehow, in that it can’t continue to be part of the cause and effect deterministic process.

              So, WTF, eh? Is a thought, a perception, an illusion, part of our brain or not?

              …how can our minds ‘emerge’ and be separate from the chain of cause and effect?

              Um… it can’t, that is why nobody has a free will.

              HUH!?!? It can’t be seperate, therefore it has no effect, be free to act?
              If it is part of our brain, then it can affect other parts of the brain. YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS, steve.
              Everything is just a brain state, what is different from the brain state that detects stimuli, and responds in a manner that is influenced by the brain state it is in, one that has been influenced by knowlegde and experience and memories, IE OTHER BRAIN STATES.

              I have said nothing about free will here, steve, so please just stick to the topic.
              Eithor our thoughts are part of determinism, or they are outside of it, they are part of our physical brain, or are not part of it.

              Do you understand why I claimed you were a dualist, now?

              Get your stories straight, my man,

              A we having a dialog in good faith or are you just a series of angry incoherent venting?

              Sorry, that is a false dichotomy. You didn’t include the options; or am I being incoherent, and, or am I misunderstanding what you are saying. Then I might have a reasonable chance of selecting an appropriate answer.

              It is also an ad hominum. Don’t worry, I spread uncalled for implications around like rice at a wedding, so it doesn’t bother me…much:)

      • Curt Nelson
        Posted January 27, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        Ron,

        It astonishes me that you think I have done nothing to support my assertion that we have free will. I have outlined the problem as I see it and put it to the “illusionists” to explain how then intelligent/purposeful/coherent behavior can be explained. The response should be either: your idea of free will is faulty for these reasons… or: the answer to the question you pose based on your view of the problem is… Instead, nothing I say is directly addressed and I effectively get: free will is an illusion, get over it.

        Do you agree that this post has intelligence behind it, that it is not the result of an undirected process?(I guess you don’t.) If you do please tell me who authored it if I didn’t. “I” am the emergent property of my brain called the mind. Maybe heart beats are caused by the big bang but coherent behaviors have got to have authors not just causes.

        Do we have free will? Yes, we are the authors of our behavior whether it is conscious or unconscious (both are properties of the mind – and we are our mind). Sure our behavior is constrained by nature and nurture and who knows what else, but our specific behavior is free. It must be because the big bang can not consistently compose purposeful behavior. I can’t imagine how anyone can think it can and if you do please explain how that would work.

        • Posted January 27, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

          Curt,

          “I want to talk about the common, or literal interpretation of free will.”

          I find your take on free-will very confused. I can’t tell what you think free-will is.

          And ‘common’ free-will is usually the dualist free-will.

          What do you mean by ‘literal interpretation’? The take the ‘free’ part literally I would have to know what you think it is free from.

          Though I don’t agree with the dualist’s free-will, at least they are clear about what free-will is free from: from being caused by physical activity of the brain, because the mind as they see it is something else altogether.

          But if you’re not a dualist, and you think the ‘mind is the brain’, and the mind operates freely, in order to make choices that are free of physical causes in some way, then I’d like to know how it achieves that.

          “When you lift your arm is it really you who are doing it?”

          We all agree that the answer is yes here. That isn’t in dispute. The question is about how the ‘you’, the body and brain, comes to do that. Is it causal determined by material physical causes? If so, then how is it ‘free’ of physical causes?

          That is unless you are implicitly imposing the free agency of dualism on the ‘you’.

          “Is the question really about something else, and if it is, why not just ask that question?”

          The question is again, what is this ‘will’ actually ‘free’ of or from? I’ve given my explanations of why, if the brain is part of the causal universe, it cannot be ‘free’ of it.

          Emergent properties concept is a red herring. Flick a rope tied at one end and a wave will travel along it. The wave is an emergent property. But in reality it is only the rope in motion. Stop the rope and the wave vanishes. The wave behaviour occurs according the deterministic nature of the rope’s action under the impulse of the flick.

          The mind, if an emergent property, is only the brain activity. Stop the brain and the mind vanishes. The mind is only ever the activity in the brain under deterministic influences that cause the brain activity. The mind, under this description is not ‘free’. It is as caused as anything else in the universe.

          “The machine can act independently.”

          It has a certain independence, and autonomy, that is the result of the fact that it has memory, and is enclosed in a body, so that it absorbs external influences, reacts to them internally, causally, and produces behaviour. But that is not free-will.

          “If we (the machine) are not the author of our actions, who is?”

          You are attributing agency again. You can use the language of agency if you wish, but in a causal system the phrase ‘author of actions’ in relation to some system, merely means that the system has merely absorbed lots of inputs over time, has been internally effected by them, and has caused in turn some outward behaviour. This is not free-will, either ‘common’ or ‘literal’.

          “and it does need to be a who, because someone is composing sentences, and walking purposefully”

          You’re imposing agency on your interpretation of what’s happening. It does no need to have a ‘who’ – that’s only the common agency labelling. And purposefully has no meaning in a deterministic autonomous system. Purposefulness is an anthropomorphic attribution to observed action. You can not use the notion to explain the notion.

          “Yes, free will (authorship of one’s actions – like lifting an arm) is an emergent property.”

          You are just making an assertion here. You are not explaining.

          “If you disagree, please explain how coherent behaviour (waking, talking, everything) arises ”

          Coherence has no relevance. Coherence is our perception of consistent patterns. But it is our physical bodies and brains that are responding to patterns, reacting somewhat consistently, but with great complexity. You are being fooled by the complexity. You are suffering an incredulity gap because you can’t imagine that complex physical systems can behave regularly. Do suppose plants are intelligent and free-willed? Watch a time lapse of a plant and it seems to have a will. Watch a venus flytrap catch a fly. Look at all the insects and other animals considered not to have free-will. Complex behaviour is no measure of whether we have free-will or not.

          “how basic physics composes sentences”

          With a great deal of complexity in various parts of the brain that have formed patterns of behaviour that respond to other parts of the brain. The principle is very simple even though the detail is complex.

          “Either it is us or it is another intelligent being doing it.”

          What? Of course it’s us. Specifically it’s our brains, as autonomous systems in a causal universe. W=In what way is it free?

          “Our behaviour is thoughtful”

          So, what are thoughts actually made of?

        • Posted January 27, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

          “What I’m trying to get at are extended behaviours. Not isolated muscle twitches, but things like walking”

          Try this and watch an automaton walk. And it doesn’t event have a brain as such. And walking didn’t need an especially complex brain. There’s little difference in complex activities between humans and very simple animals that are thought to lack sufficient consciousness, so that they are considered automatons. As I said, you have an incredulity gap.

          “For instance, who composes the sentences that we speak or write?”

          Broca’s area does a lot of the work. A lot of our speech production is unconscious, with contributions from various parts of the physical brain. Read the section on Evolution of language.

          And, where is the ghosts in the machine that your ‘who’ is referring to?

          Zeno’s paradox is a poor analogy. The illusion of Zeno’s paradox is that Achilles cannot overtake the tortoise, the illusion being caused by the poor way it is explained and superficially understood. The actuality is that Achilles can be shown to overtake the tortoise using regular speed comparisons. The illusion occurs because of the unexplained successive infinitesimalisation of time required. In the limit, as time slots go to zero, Achilles draws level with the tortoise – so it’s not the case that he never does. The illusion is comparable to the free-will case, but Zeno’s paradox is equivalent to ‘free-will’, and the practical explanation of the paradox, how it works, is comparable to the physicalist explanation of what actually happens. The illusion is the persistent fixation on the free-will, the agency, the ‘I’, as if that is real without any explanation of how it works in relation to causation; along with a intuitive rejection of a fairly simple causal explanation.

          So, in summary, I think you have done nothing to support your assertion. It’s all assertion: of free-will in terms that assume free-will, or of an agency that has free-will. You have not explained how free-will works in a causal universe – in what sense it is free of physical causes that cause behaviour. The opposite case is explained as there being a causal universe and that the ‘apparent’ freedom of the will is illusory and so there is nothing to contravene the causation.

          • Patrick
            Posted January 28, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

            I do agree with Ron on this one point. Zeno’s paradox is a poor example. Sorry Curt.

        • Patrick
          Posted January 28, 2012 at 1:44 am | Permalink

          Hey, I’m with you totally Curt. I’ve made arguments that are dismissed that agree with you as well. The problem is that most of what we say is dismissed due to the fact that most of the people here have their minds already made up and you’re just pissing in the wind trying to convince them that you’re right and they’re wrong. They say they want evidence. They don’t want to admit that the evidence in within them and honestly that’s the only evidence there is.

          How do you determine whether you have free will when it’s within yourself? How do you determine that you aren’t controlled by your environment or your genetic make up when in reality it’s within your mind?

          After all, the yogis that have achieved control over the beating of their hearts and their respiration isn’t proof that you have control over your automatic responses or for that matter your semi-automatic responses. You see, you can’t argue that this is evidence of free will because to them there’s still the unknown, the lack of evidence that we are not controlled by outside forces.

          To me it’s ludicrous. To you it’s ludicrous. But to them it’s religion.

          • curt nelson
            Posted January 28, 2012 at 5:02 am | Permalink

            Patrick, I’m glad to hear it. Thanks.

            • Posted January 28, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

              First lesson in reasoning for Patrick then:

              Don’t reject arguments because they disagree with you. Read the arguments and respond to them with reason. If two people are arguing passed each other it’s probably because one or both don’t get what the other is saying. Keep trying. And finally, you are not right just because the other side has not convinced you yet.

              • Patrick
                Posted January 28, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

                Hi Ron,
                I haven’t rejected the arguments because they disagree with me. Far from it. I’ve spent the time on it, looked at what I know and what I believe, didn’t actually reject what was said but thought “that’s an interesting way of looking at it” and then moved on. I realized that there’s no real way to prove my thoughts and now real way to prove yours either. That’s why I’ve moved on. You’ll be arguing the ideas until the cows come home and you’ll still have gotten nowhere. I know it bugs you guys when I say faith when you say you trust in evidence. So I’ll say it this way. It’s a trust issue.

                Lastly, we all think we’re right until we are convinced otherwise. If you didn’t think you were right you wouldn’t invest the time or effort into convincing others that they were wrong.

        • Posted January 28, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

          Curt, “Instead, nothing I say is directly addressed and I effectively get: free will is an illusion, get over it..”

          You are not the first person to notice that. You are not the second, or the third or the fourth, either. I’m not gonna go count, but probably at least eight of us have said that, and more than once at that.

          Steve et al never explain anything except to say “it is a result of cause and effect, and that cause and effect is deterministic, so there!”

          Or else they say, “you haven’t shown how free will can operate, nyah!”

          You’ve seen it. When you do show them that it is operating, they say it is an illusion, get over it.

          Then we say, “why do we have the illusion?” and they say, “who cares? Just admit it and get over it.”

          It almost drives me batty

  75. Posted January 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    sleeprunning
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    yeah, but is is best for the group and society to base law on infantile reflexes?

    Oh, absolutely, if not fetal reflexes, when the Rostrocaudal (Anteroposterior) axis exhibits presence of retinoic acid and FGF at levels leading to hypogonadism post maturative status, and we find the advent of radial migration along the, uh, something glial – anyways, I can’t remember right now – of interneurons from the ganglionic eminence to the cerebral cortex. One example of ongoing tangential migration in a mature organism, observed in some animals, is the rostral migratory stream connecting subventricular zone and olfactory bulb when the output reaches 400 mA between ethico-mediating complex.

    Generally speaking, blastoid duplexing in Canis lupus familiaris is the best time to harvest innocent morality principles however, the Phoenicians prefered the cultivation of Felis silvestris lybica from zygotes. This is indicated by their society developing values that were more solitary than social, but individual curiosity was highly prized.

    Or did you mean baby Jesus?

  76. curt nelson
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Ron,

    We means the mind. Free means, able to, not prohibited, unhindered. Will means volition, determination, intention to, desire to. Are we unhindered from doing what we determine to do? Are we prohibited from doing as we desire? Are we free to do as we wish? Do we have free will?

    Free from what? Determinism, the idea that our actions, all that we do and think, are somehow the result of physical processes that were inexorably set in motion at the beginning of time… and inevitably play out as us and all that we do.

    That is my “common or literal” interpretation. I don’t know how that phrase, as repeated and discussed as it has been, can be interpreted much differently. It’s pretty easy and you must know that it is thought of this way by the average person. I admit that determinism is a complicated idea, however that word does not appear in the question.

    Our minds, which are just biological machines (no soul), are the authors of our behavior. The mind sets us apart from plants and some animals. My mind wrote this. I don’t think it came from the random interactions of particles and I think that I could have written it differently. If determinism was correct I do not think that our behavior would be as coherent and purposeful as it is. We would be like plants (vegetables, I’m afraid).

    • Posted January 28, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

      curt

      “We means the mind. Free means, able to, not prohibited, unhindered. Will means volition, determination, intention to, desire to.”

      All these terms are based on you explaining how it is free, how you can be unprohibited from doing something you are caused to do. You are stuck in the mind-set that accepts that free-will is there and seem unable to challenge it, let alone explain it. You are supposing what is being challenged.

      “Are we unhindered from doing what we determine to do?”

      This too assumes agency and free-will.

      “It’s pretty easy and you must know that it is thought of this way by the average person.”

      It’s the average person’s perception that is wrong. Just as it is about how solid we feel we are. When someone first learns of the relative space in an atom there is real cognitive dissonance, until they come to realise why we feel solid. I have been through this step personally and have seen it in people I’ve taught. The vivid feeling that we are somehow free of causal chain and ‘could have done otherwise’ is what fools us.

      “I admit that determinism is a complicated idea”

      No. It’s a simple idea. All science is based on cause and effect, where a cause *determines* an effect, That’s what determinism is, by definition. Quantum indeterminacy adds some complication, but not much. It just means that we can’t determine where or when some of the causes appear. The thing that really messes it up for us, makes it seem really complicated, is that our brains are not geared up to measure the mass of complexity that is an active human brain. We introspective experience all this activity as a ‘mind’. But that is not sufficient to warrant the belief that the ‘mind’, the brain, is somehow free to change the course of causal events.

      “Our minds, which are just biological machines” – You are using ‘mind’ again. You should use ‘brain’ in this context. If it’s a machine then it does follow causal chains of events.

      “are the authors of our behaviour” – Again, that’s just a way of saying that data is fed into our brains over time, lot’s of internal stuff happens (causal events, such as neurons firing), and eventually this results in the brain triggering motor behaviour. And, from the outside the human is now the most localised cause of the behaviour it performs. But so is Asimo for it’s behaviour – and it is has nowhere near the complexity of a human brain.

      “The mind sets us apart from plants and some animals.”

      The brain of a human is intrinsically biologically connected through evolution to the simplest organism on Earth. We are all made of the same stuff. It’s just that some of us have nervous systems that are more complex that others, and some have no nervous systems as such. A nervous system is no more than the specialisation of cells.

      You can take a human brain and apply some very specific damage and all the complex behaviour we associate with a ‘mind’ becomes impossible. The mind is nothing more than the active behaviour of a working brain, and that brain obeys the laws of physics at every level.

      “My mind wrote this.” – No. You’re brain body system wrote it. When you think the concepts you want to convey your conscious mind is not deciding the words or instructing the detail of the arm, hand, finger action, or the eye co-ordination. This is all automatic.

      “I don’t think it came from the random interactions of particles”

      Who said anything about random interaction? Determinism, causality, is all about predictable action. That we humans aren’t capable of predicting it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

      “I think that I could have written it differently”

      That you think that in no way is evidence that you actually could. No one, ever, has changed an event from one outcome to another. Ever. Don’t mistake subsequent similarities between one a event and what we humans think of as trying again, a second event, are actually the same event being changed. They are not.

      “If determinism was correct I do not think that our behaviour would be as coherent and purposeful as it is”

      Incredulity gap. Look at Asimo. It has the appearance of coherent and purposeful behaviour, but it is a deterministic system. If you put an obstacle in its path it will go round it, but this is just the complexity of the system at work.

      If determinism is correct (and you’ve given no explanation as to why, in our causal understanding of the universe it isn’t) then we still feel the same way, because our feelings on the matter, our introspection, don’t give us the detail to see the causal events.

      • Posted January 28, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        All these terms are based on you explaining how it is free, how you can be unprohibited from doing something you are caused to do. You are stuck in the mind-set that accepts that free-will is there and seem unable to challenge it, let alone explain it. You are supposing what is being challenged.
        Ron, I used to think we had no free will. When I think is a straight line from one cause to one effect, which is the one cause to the next one effect, I see that we can’t have free will.
        Yet, you are the one that is stuck in your thinking, because this is the only way you put stuff, and you re-interpret everything we say into, “no, it can’t if it follows cause and effect.”
        We are not a single line of one event after another. Different parts of the brain seem to function independently from others, and no one part of the brain is the sole locus of control.

        I tried to point that out before. You seem to think that there is one exact instantaneous state of the overall brain that is pre-decision/action, and then one instant later the brain is in a state of discharge, or whatever, and a decision/action has now taken place.

        I can see no other way for the string of causal determinism to operate, can you? A before state of the system, and the after, or next state. Am I correct?

        Just say yes or no, please. Only if you say no, then I ask you to explain how this idea is wrong.
        Thanks, MikeL

      • curt nelson
        Posted January 28, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Ron,

        Honestly, I can’t get past your first couple of sentences in which you argue against me defining “free.” I guess we speak different languages.

  77. Posted January 28, 2012 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    Patrick =

    I say this because of this…if you checked up on everything a scientist says (nope they don’t get it right all the time and sometimes they’re proven wrong)you’d be spending all your time checking the facts for yourself and wasting a lot of energy and time on a huge amount of information that sometimes you just don’t have the resources for. That’s faith guys…like it or not. You’re trusting someone that you don’t know and you haven’t even the slightest idea that he or she is telling you the truth but you sure hope that his or her data is right because it jives with everything that you’ve accepted as fact before.

    Look, I spent good money on this Radio Shack 1981 Vortronix nMRI, pictured here while running initial calibrations, using grandma as a subject(I was 22 at the time).
    We were using a 2nd hand Soviet thermal breeder with 9.2 kg MOX (look it up, it’s really interesting) and 8gm Th232, for power generation, producing a field density of 14 teraGauss initially.

    Unfortunately, after the first run, granny’s eyes stayed locked on magnetic north afterwards, and complained of excruciating pain behind her temples when facing south, although she did come in handy out in the bush.

    We were able to (once we zeroed on 263 Teslas) return statistically significant predictions of 50.96% correct on the Libet sequence, to a pre-subject awareness time, of within about 10−11 seconds of the expansion phase of the initial conditions of the Big Bang, as symmetry breaking had occurred and we could differentiate gluon-antiquark ratios of specific subluminal condensations which indicated the specific sub cortical region of activity would obtain prior to her reported conscious choice of a left or right button press.

    So yes, I do have time and resources to check up on everything the scientists claim, and in fact they get ‘it’ right enough that I did trust medicine enough when I needed a MRI on my knee two weeks ago, after Pastor Doltski failed to cure my cartilage degradation by placing his hand on my forehead and screeching, “You Ah Heeeld!”

    Patrick, look, I just can’t take you seriously, the more I’ve gotten to know you. My mind boggles over how you can say that scientists are wrong sometimes, and therefore you can’t trust them ever, while at the same time imploring a bunch of atheists, who’ve thought deeply about matters for many years and decades, including getting science educations and professions themselves, to take it on your word alone, a person we don’t know, that we should have faith that you are right, and not our own experiences of reality.

    You still fail to understand the sheer hypocrisy of your position. The basic difference between Christian’s philosophy of knowledge, and ours, is deeply profound.
    You are indoctrinated into a way of understanding life based on the highest levels of hearsay, and for some reason are unable to comprehend the idea of any other source of knowledge and understanding having any merit. You can only understand people as sheep who base their thinking exclusively on what authorities tell them.

    You seem unable, Patrick, to comprehend what it is to think critically, and to evaluate knowledge on its merits alone. You only learn to blindly accept matters as dictated to you authority, and to not question that authority under punishment of ridicule and banishment from your sub culture, and eventual cruel and vicious eternally hateful torture and punishment.

    You seem psychologically incapable of grasping the concept of reality checking, of insight into how we really function successfully day to day. I(and I’m sure many) attribute this to a form of deep denial, the only way you can accept the fundamentally flawed explanation of reality and life purpose you are scared to question, for your whole concept of existence and meaning is obviously and evidentialy flawed and you, therefore, think that is how everyone operates. To comprehend otherwise would undermine your foundation of understanding, and that is a very scary concept to imagine, let alone confront.

    (You aren’t alone, my friend(I mean that, I like you and actually respect you quite well, Patrick), as you can see as we struggle with the question of free will and what it means to our perceptions of who we are.)

    I don’t know how to express it to you, my man, how exhilarating it is to not be intimidated by what others tell you – well, except for my emotional problems and neediness! – and have the confidence to question and the fulfillment generated by discovering truths for yourself.
    Nothing means anything to me(and everyone, I know) but the truth, but I, and most everyone here, feel, or know, that the only way there is to understand things is to question what others tell you,
    and especially what we tell ourselves!!!!, in order to decide what it is that makes the most sense personally.

    Obviously, the truth is not afraid of light (and I don’t care who thought of that first, religion or Thomas Edison, just kidding), but in order to trust that the light is shining on what is real, on what we want it to, AND NOT JUST A PICTURE SOMEBODY IS POINTING THE FLASHLIGHT AT, is for us to personally point the light.

    Really, Patrick, it is only by pointing the light myself that I can begin to tell if what others illuminate is real, or photoshopped, lol!

    You see, faith is wrong to me, Patrick, fundamentally flawed in concept, and you must understand that when you try to speak of faith to me, and atheists, that I don’t care how bright your searchlight is if you are pointing it at a place that others insist it must be pointed at, and only that place. My little flashlight points where I want it, and I get to checking for the presence of an easel behind what is being shown.

    Also, sleep deprivation. I need to recharge my batteries, haha. See you later!

    • Posted January 28, 2012 at 3:26 am | Permalink

      10−11 seconds

      should read: 10 to the minus 11, or one hundred billionths of a second, I think! This is about when radiation stopped dominating and probably was the beginning of the dark phase. Man, back to google!

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted January 28, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        Okay, it’s time for you and Ron, who both have websites, to argue this on your site rather than mine. Your comments are often very long, verging on essays, and I don’t want them to dominate this thread, which they are doing.

        You can have one comment per day, and no longer than 200 words or so. Otherwise, take it to your sites.

        • Posted January 28, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

          Okay, no problem. I’ll but up a blog. I do realize that I have sort of hijacked this.

          You have a great blog, and it is appealing to have my words seen here, and a privilege!

          Thanks, man :)

        • Posted January 28, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

          OK. Thanks for letting it run this far.

    • Patrick
      Posted January 28, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Thanks tushcloots,
      Actually you have it wrong. I’m not afraid of questioning my religious thoughts or feelings. I never have been. The reality is I’ve read a great many papers by scientists and philosophers alike. I’ve spent time with brilliant men like Dr. Coonts who was a think tank botanist who spent a great deal of time thinking up how stomates on plants work as well as plant digestion. Amazing stuff really. Funnily enough he told me that most of the stuff he and his other scientists developed were logically thought out first long before they were supported by scientific calculation or in some cases photographs.

      You don’t really realize that most of my thoughts on religion are actually supported by science. I don’t actually believe that science will eventually tear religion apart (at least my religion). I’ve found no evidence that it will. I wholeheartedly believe in science and that it will do nothing but support the idea of God.

      I admit that my lowly bachelor’s degree couldn’t compete with your (most likely) doctorate’s degree (the way you talk). However, nothing you’ve said that I’ve read has changed my mind. Not because I’m being obstinate, but because you’ve offered no evidence. My past experiences as a child and as an adult (they’re personal so don’t ask) have proven to me God exists. Actually a great deal of what you’ve said makes sense but then you seem to lose sight that to me you are actually affirming that there is a God. Some of what you’ve said is well over my head but most of it isn’t. I find you a brilliant man. You’re also a very strong personality. You really hate it when people disagree with you, especially if they don’t agree with you.

      As to me not trusting scientists and saying you shouldn’t trust them. I never said that. I do think we should trust scientists. Steven J. Gould was a scientist and a brilliant man but he was wrong many times. He even had the good form to say when he was wrong. I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with many scientists that have admitted when they are wrong. I’ve also had the misfortune to spend time with scientists who never can admit to making a mistake because their pride won’t let them. I’ve read things in the newspapers about scientists making some claim or another and then another scientist refuting that claim and then another scientist refuting that claim and then coming up with a whole other idea. I believe that is how we come to an eventual truth.

      By the way do you really have the time to check every fact? I don’t. If you really do, all I can say is WOW! You must have a really spectacular mind.

      I spent time working on being an archaeologist, I found it so full of contradictions I thought it would be a waste of my time. I worked on being an electronics engineer, got tied up in the math and found my attention drifting. I worked on becoming a botanist and again got caught up looking elsewhere and finally landed on sociology. I found in sociology I could study everything and it still has my attention. I’ll probably still continue with my electronics engineering but being a poor dude It’ll take me some time. This is who I am to a degree. I love science. I also love studying human behaviour.

      And I do have to say that you’re absolutely right about me thinking of MOST people as sheep. Take a look at the people who dominate the Republican party or even the Democratic party for that matter. The people in both parties are so full of contradictions and silly platitudes that a good many of the people just go blindly into the night, saying yessah, you betcha massah. Never really fact checking for themselves and only taking the words of these politicians because they have a pretty face. I know this especially because I live in Utah of all places. Many of these people are sheep.

      I brokered these conversations with you guys because I figured you weren’t sheep. Not because I was trying to bamboozle you with BS. Rather I was trying to make some sense of some of the things I’d read by people like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. I read a lot of what they had to say and I found a lot of their arguments lacking. I now see why.

      By the way critical thinking is taught in college and in high school. I’ve thought critcally my entire life. That’s why I didn’t take Richard S. Van Wagoner’s word for it when I read his book, that’s why I didn’t take Stephen J. Gould’s word for it when I read his. That’s why I question everything I read and apply it to what is known and what isn’t.

      • Posted January 28, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        I actually realized right after that I was very unfairly pigeonholing you, as you obviously think properly and openly discuss with us science. I apologize.

        And, thanks for the compliment, but I really am a janitor with no college but for 1 semester that I flunked out because I am alcoholic etc. I’m in a recover program that is Christian, so really I understand a very important part of it, and them, and that is they helped me, sheltered me, cared for me, shared what is important to them with me in the hopes it would help me, and they’ve done this without condition or expectation except to pitch in around here, and to help others.

        These are my friends, here. Not all of them, but a few are. One pastor and I are bookworms and yak endlessly and laugh and care for each other, and respect each other deeply.

        I am going to get a blog up on my website I just bought, so I will make sure everyone can post and we can make suggestions and whatever, if we want to have spill over threads from here. I’ll work on it today, and I really want to be able to talk stuff with you. You have stuff that is more important than education that I like. Humanity, compassion, caring, you know!

        Mike Laing

        • Patrick
          Posted January 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

          I’d be happy to join you on your website Mike. Just let me know where and when. I think I’ve decided to move on from here anyway.

  78. Mark Dillon
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Would anyone mind if I were to ask a simple and rather naive question?

    Suppose I were to sit down and try to decide whether I should listen to a CD of Mahler, or a CD of Bruckner?

    I accept:

    – That my consciousness is a physical function or aspect or property of my physical brain. There is no “ghost in the machine.”

    – That my brain must reflect and follow the known physical laws of the universe.

    – That my brain is influenced by heredity, physical states, and other material conditions.

    I would like to ask:

    *What* is this, this choosing between Bruckner or Mahler?

    My genes, the physical laws of the universe, know nothing about either composer. They have no consciousness, no volition, no will. But as far as I can tell, I *do* have these things… and if I were to choose Mahler, in what sense would this choice not be free? In what sense would it conflict with physics, genetics, or any other material condition of the universe?

    In short, if free will is an illusion, then what has just chosen the Mahler CD?

    • Ben Murray
      Posted May 23, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Clearly, if you REALLY had free will, you would have chosen Bruckner!

      • Mark Dillon
        Posted May 23, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        True, very true! :)

        But here’s one of the points that I don’t understand:

        There are no genes for choices between Bruckner or Mahler.

        But there *are* genes that code for extremely complex central nervous systems and complex frontal lobes. These material systems do not contradict physical properties or laws, and they do seem to show a great deal of “plasticity” in their purely material functions.

        My question: does this material complexity make it possible that brains can choose, can will, with enough autonomy that — for all practical purposes — will can be considered free (even if *largely* determined without conscious thought)? If not, then why not? Where in this thinking and willing and choosing Mahler is the violation of physical laws as we know them?

        • Mark Dillon
          Posted May 23, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

          By the way, just for clarity, the sense of free will that I have “in mind” (in brain? We need a change in metaphor!) is what Sean Carroll has called “weak” — “a useful theory of macroscopic human behavior [that] models people as rational agents capable of making choices,” a compatibilist definition.

          I simply don’t understand how this weak sense of free will would violate Mr. Coyne’s argument that such will would (quite naturally!) be “completely subject to the laws of physics.”

          • Posted May 24, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

            It doesn’t violate it. Jerry has written about Sean Carroll’s weak free will before. He essentially views it as a cop-out, redefining free will to make it compatible with physical laws. I do not exactly agree nor do I disagree. I agree with Jerry that “strong” free will does not exist because it would violate physical law. I agree with Sean Carroll though in that I think that “weak” free will is closer to what most (rational) people think of when they say “free will”.


6 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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