Free will redux: responses at Rationally Speaking

Yes, I know we’re getting free-willed out, but I have no choice about continuing to post, mainly because the discussion, and critiques of my own views, continue on other sites.  This week at the Rationally Speaking website, both Massimo Pigliucci and Ian Pollock take up the issue.  I have only the time and the (unfree) will for one response, so I’ll leave Massimo’s piece, “On free will, response to readers,” aside for the moment.

Pollock’s article, “Some observations on the ‘free will wars’” does deserve a brief response.  He is defending compatibilism, the view that free will is compatible with the physical determinism of the universe. Given my view that “free will” involves the ability, at any given moment, to freely choose between two or more alternative decisions, I see free will as incompatible with physical determinism, which mandates that only one choice is possible: the one conditioned by your genes, environment, and personal history. Pollock sees this incompatibilism as incoherent:

. . . many see incompatibilist determinism a la Jerry Coyne as either “reductionism gone mad,” or, putting a positive spin on it, the logical consequence of reductionism applied to human brains.

 I confess myself perplexed by this, because it seems to me that the  intuitions driving incompatibilism stem from absent or insufficiently applied reductionism.

Pollock’s brief against incompatiblism deserves to be set out in a bit of detail:

So how would I tackle the issue of free will/volition?

Suppose I am driving along an undivided highway when the stray thought comes into my head that I could steer into the opposing lane, resulting in a horrible, deadly accident.

Of course, I don’t do so, because… well, I like living and I don’t much want to kill others, either. And I just washed my car. But I could have done it….

Wait, was I right to say that I could have done it?

Yes and no. As we have seen, the pivotal word in that sentence is “could,” and “could” has at least two meanings that are relevant to the question of free will.

Meaning #1 maps physical possibility, and in this case returns the clear answer “No, the physical state of the universe was such that you could not have steered into oncoming traffic, as evidenced by the fact that you did not, in fact, do so. QED.” Jerry sees this clearly, and I have absolutely no argument with him.

Meaning #2 of “could” maps counterfactual statements. To say that you “could” have done something in this sense is (roughly) to say that IF circumstances had been otherwise, a different outcome would have resulted. Meaning #2 returns the answer “Yes, you could have steered into oncoming traffic, if you had wanted to.”

Meaning #2 is what people actually mean by “could,” most of the time.

If you’ve been sleeping through this post, pay attention now, because the entire click of compatibilism lies in this realization.

Proposition #1: “No, the state of the universe was such that it was physically impossible for you to have steered into oncoming traffic.”

Proposition #2: “Yes, you could have steered into oncoming traffic (if you had wanted to).”

These two propositions are both true in my example. THAT is the essence of compatibilism.

Also note the very important fact that “wanting to” corresponds to a different physical state than “not wanting to.”

These propositions look incompatible because people (especially incompatibilists!) have an annoying tendency to forget about the implicit counterfactual “if” clause in proposition #2.**

Now we are in a position to see that incompatibilism is basically a huge equivocation fallacy. The incompatibilists prove Proposition #1, then assume that therefore, Proposition #2 is proven false. But this does not follow.

I don’t think I’ve ever made that argument. Insofar as Pollock argues that the two propositions are different, I fully agree with him. I also agree with him that proposition #2, in which you “want” something different, implies a different state of the universe, for your desires are no longer the same as before. But I’ve never argued that the two propositions are the same thing, nor that the first leads ineluctably to the second. That would truly be muddled thought, and if Pollock is lumping me in with such incompatibilists, as he appears to do in the last sentence, he’s mischaracterizing me.

Given that, what, then, is the “huge equivocation fallacy” Pollick sees in incompatibilism?  It boils down to this: we appear to make choices, so we really do make choices.

The fact that individuals appear to choose is, of course, true.  Even people who have brain injuries that compel them to behave in a certain way appear to make choices, as do those who are forced to behave in a certain way by electrodes implanted in their brain. If we didn’t know these facts, we’d think that they were making choices, though they weren’t. I contend that we are all in the effective state of having electrodes in our brains: we are constrained to “choose” only one alternative because of the physics of our brain. But I am jumping the gun; here’s Pollock’s argument:

Now consider this passage from Jerry Coyne’s USA Today article:

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. Most people find that idea intolerable, so powerful is our  illusion that we really do make choices. (my emphasis).

But um, Jerry, we do actually make choices, right? Don’t we? I mean, not in some amazingly deep philosophically or morally fraught sense of choice, as in “But did Hitler really have a choice to not be a monster?”, but in a basic, boring, everyday sense, as in “Do you want Froot Loops or  muesli?” Surely you talk this way too, when you go home?

I think Jerry would concede that we do make such choices, but insist that they aren’t “real” choices. Well, what is a “real” choice as distinct  from an unreal one? Like in the case of magic, it would appear that  according to Jerry and other incompatibilists, “real choice” refers to  the choices that are not real (i.e., don’t actually happen because they  require supernatural powers), while the choice that is real — that can,  y’know, actually be done — is not. real. choice.
And yet I would bet a large sum of money that Jerry et al. are perfectly  willing to use the language of choice in their daily lives, as soon as  they’ve forgotten about the day’s blogo-philosophizing. This is not just because choice is a powerful illusion (which would presumbably [sic] be their preferred rationalization) — it’s because the concept of “choice” cuts  reality at the joints. Choice is one of the most important things that  the human brain does; arguably, the brain’s ability to model the world  and choose from alternative actions IS its survival value.

But if the appearance of choice is the same thing as free choice, or the same thing as free will, do cats have free will? How about earthworms? Rotifers? And what about bacteria, who make a “choice” by usually moving toward chemical gradients that indicate food or light? All of these organisms appear to make choices.  So do plants, who can “choose” to produce one type of leaf or another, or grow in a certain direction. For that matter, so do computers. Do all of these have free will?  How do we determine when the appearance of choice in other species means something different from the appearance of choice in humans? Or does it?

Ian, there’s no need to bet, for you’d win: yes, I use the language of choice because I feel that I’m choosing, even if I don’t believe that intellectually.  But saying that “choice” is one of the most important things that the human brain does” (and try reading that as “‘choice’ is one of the most important things that the earthworm brain does”) really evades the whole question, which I see—and I know others might disagree—as this:  “At any one moment, can we have behaved other than we did?” That is an important question that Pollock completely tosses aside—or rather, admits that the answer is ‘no’ but consider that that answer is trivial. Yet, despite Pollock’s assertion that most people concur with proposition #2 above, that is the way many people conceive of free will!  Is Pollock willing to write an essay telling people that their behavior, now and in the future, is completely determined by the laws of physics, but that it doesn’t matter?

Of course it matters!  It matters in how we think of ourselves (I, for one, have tried to stop fretting about bad “choices” in the past, since I had no alternative); it matters in how we conceive of moral responsibility, reward, and punishment (if it didn’t, why are philosophers engaged in furious debate about the effects of determinism on moral responsibility?); and it matters to religious people, who really do feel that they have a choice about whether to accept Jesus as saviour, or about whether the evils in the world stem from God’s having bequeathed us free will. And it matters because for hundreds of years people thought the soul was separate from the brain, and now we know that such dualism is wrong: the mind, and our choices, reflect, pure and simple, the physical behavior of matter. There is no spooky “will” controlling our thoughts and actions.

In the end, Pollock and I sort of agree, though I think he considers himself as a compatibilist because he sees the appearance of choice as equivalent to “free will.” (In this, by the way, I think he disagrees with Massimo, who still doesn’t appear convinced about determinism, and isn’t willing to go so far as Pollock in saying our behaviors are predetermined.)  Pollock concludes:

A good reductionist would look at this incredibly useful concept of  “choice” and then try to figure out how it fits into the determined physical universe. Eventually, they would conclude that choice is a physical process like eating or breathing or thinking.

Yes, the concept of choice is useful, and I do use it all the time.  But that’s different from “free will”!  In one case you evince one of several possible behaviors, in the other you see that that selection was just one of several possible actions you could have taken. That’s a vital distinction, and it’s important to let people know the difference.

Somehow, I think, compatibilists who are also determinists are loath to preach (or even emphasize) determinism. (Pollock isn’t.) I’ve even been told by determinists that although they agree with me, it’s important not to let the general public know that their “choices” are predetermined! That attitude reminds me of an old anecdote which, as The Quote Investigator has shown, is probably apocryphal. Nevertheless, it’s appropriate:

On hearing, one June afternoon in 1860, the suggestion that mankind was descended from the apes, the wife of the Bishop of Worcester is said to have exclaimed, ‘My dear, descended from the apes! Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known.’

It’s always better to tell people what you really think about issues like this than to hush up one’s determinism under the misguided notion that the general public simply can’t handle it.  So yes, by all means let us retain the word “choice,” but let us realize what it really means.  We appear to freely choose among alternatives, but, as Pollock admits, that freedom is illusory.  But while keeping “choice,” I think we should dispense with the term “free will,” for it has so many different meanings, and is so freighted, that it’s no longer useful except, perhaps, in philosophical discourse.  In both my and Pollock’s conception of “choice”, there is no freedom in “free will”!

I’ll end with a comment by Spinoza from The Ethics:

“Men are mistaken in thinking themselves free; their opinion is made up of consciousness of their own actions, and ignorance of the causes by which they are determined. Their idea of freedom, therefore, is simply their ignorance of any cause of their actions.”

316 Comments

  1. Steve
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    I think Spinoza nailed it pretty well.

    • Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      I agree, quite well put.

    • DV
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Spinoza has not read Dennett.

      • Posted January 30, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        what peer-reviewed, double-blind data did spinoza have? nothing better than a guess without…

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        That’s a pretty safe bet.

    • Xuuths
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      “Only those who have free will are concerned with it.”

      — Xuuths paraphrasing Piers Anthony who also nailed it pretty well.

  2. Posted January 30, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Why is it that philosophy degenerates into word-definition problems? *sigh*

    I agree that our choices are an illusion of free will, and that our choices/free willies are deterministic, based on our genes, memories, experiences and even aesthetic tastes. Maybe the problem comes from using the word “pre-determined” as it appears to take away the ability to choose, and I think this is where people get hung up. Any choice I make right now is pre-determined based on my past history, however choices I make in the future are, for all practical purposes, not pre-determined, as there are too many variables, making it physically impossible to calculate what my choice will be. So from my point of view, any choice I make next week or next year as to what flavour of ice cream I will chose, I cannot say. When the time comes to choose, that is when it is all said to be “pre-determined”. Interesting in that at the exact point where I make a choice, I am not free to choose as is is pre-determined. At all points in time before that instant of choice it is not strictly pre-determined.

    If someone says “it’s a bit quantum, isn’t it?” I will probably scream.

    • Steve
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      Rixaeton,

      Respectfully if your choice at the exact point in time of making the choice is pre-determined, then it is strictly pre-determined at all point in time before that instant of choice.

      I think you are confusing predictable with pre-determined. You are correct about the predictability of your future choices, but strictly speaking incorrect about their not being pre-determined.

      • Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        Like I said, it comes down to definitions. Pre-determined has three meanings according to dictionary.com :
        a) To settle or decide in advance;
        b) To ordain in advance; predestined; and
        c) To direct or impel, to strongly influence.

        I would say that those who argue that we have free will are doing so using sense a) and/or b) by arguing that we cannot know the outcome of a future choice as it is not decided in advance. In other words, we don’t know what the choice is going to be (too many variables), so it is a free choice.

        The use of pre-determined to say that the outcome is already influenced is in sense c).

        I agree with you that in a sense any future choices I make are pre-determined, but, as Spinoza says “[we are in] ignorance of the causes by which they are determined.” So in a practical sense, we are unlikely to know what our choices will be ahead of time; I can’t pre-determine (b) what my choices will be ;)

  3. Tulse
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I know we’re getting free-willed out, but I have no choice about continuing to post

    Cheeky!

  4. orlando
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I speculate that christians saw free will as the last,unfalsifiable, way to salvage their god, now that science has demolished their other arguments. Little did they know that free will would be put on the chopping block.

    Although I have always found bizarre the “free will equals god” argument.

  5. orlando
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    And didn’t they make a movie about this issue: Free Willy?

  6. Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    I agree that the word “free” placed in front of the word “choice” is meaningless. But it seems to me that we can and should still celebrate our ability to make better choices (better as in better consequences) through deliberation, and stress to others that this is a learned and teachable behavior. This after, all is what distinguishes us in the animal world to some degree, (not the ability to make “free” choices).

    • Xuuths
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Except that without the “free” in front, there can be no “choice” — you don’t seem to agree with Dr. Coyne that there are only reactions based on previous reactions based on previous reactions in a progression back to the Big Bang.

      • Posted January 31, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

        I do agree with Dr. Coyne that all our actions are consistent with determinism. I say, with him, that choices are not free in any meaningful sense and that we should jettison the term “free will” rather than try to redefine it. It would be stupid and unnecessary, however to jettison the word “choice.” Yes, it’s a deterministic process. But that doesn’t change the fact that we have the ability to learn how to make better (as in better outcomes) choices and that this is something that we should always be encouraging each other to do. Critical thinking is a form of deliberative choice-making that is a learned behavior. Yes, of course, whether one responds to teaching and encouragement to think critically is a deterministic process. So what? We are social apes and most of spend a large part of our lives “aping” role models around us. If we lose sight of this because we’re convinced choices are illusions, we’ll be worse off. Choices aren’t illusions, contra-causal freedom is. I’m just saying one can accept determinism, be a non-compatibilist with respect to use of the modifier “free” in front of the words “will” or “choice,” and yet promote and celebrate effective deliberation and choice.

        • Posted January 31, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

          Yes, we should just remember we have predetermined choice, that is much better. Just remember, as you add to the number of predetermined opinions in the mix, the ability to actively select the direction of that society by supervenience.

          • Posted January 31, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

            sigh…
            the ability to actively select the direction of that society arises by supervenience.

            • Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

              all animals, including bacteria are reinforced to act socially….

              prosocial behaviors evolved billions of years ago….duh

        • Steve
          Posted January 31, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

          Well put, John.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted January 31, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

          Good points John. It seems people have the strong tendency to think that if we don’t have contra-causal free will, then somehow that means we don’t make choices. Even though are choices are determined before we make them, we still experience the process of computing that choice as conscious deliberation and decision making. Just as when water flows down a hill, before it does so the gradient determines it’s path, but the process of flowing downhill can be associated with visible signs of turbulence and branching and merging rivulets, so in some sense we perceive the water as “choosing” it’s path.

          I suspect this fallacy of no choice or fatalism is responsible in some way for the (stupid) experimental results that people who don’t believe in free will are more likely to cheat. The subjects somehow felt relieved of the responsibility to learn to make better choices, and abandoned their moral progress in life and said “what the hell”.

          Clearly we learn and remember and choose differently in subsequent situations that resemble previous situations. Clearly we base our choices on our knowledge of how others react to them and what we perceive what the various outcomes are likely to be in relation to our social environment.

          In Dr. Coyne’s tape-replay thought experiment, every single particle in the universe (or at least in that part that could possibly effect the subject) must be exactly identical. But in life we are faced with many situations that are qualitatively similar enough to earlier situations that for all intents and purposes we can make reasoned decisions using what we have learned and retained from prior similar experiences (even though at that moment we could not have chosen otherwise). We do have the ability at a macro-level to draw astute comparisons between present conditions and prior conditions and repeat or refine earlier decisions because our mind has changed. The fact that the decision is a deterministic process involving our constantly learning and changing mental configuration does not mean we don’t progress and learn and make better and better choices over time.

          We don’t have free will, but we have the ability to learn (or train for) better and better choices over time when face with analogous conditions.

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

            If our “free will” is equivalent to water flowing down a gradient, I think that counts as a reductio ad absurdum.

            For the record, I don’t think that a river has free will. If the same principles are involved in human behaviour, then we don’t either.

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted January 31, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

              It’s not equivalent. It’s an analogy. Of course my whole point was based on the certainty that water does not possess free will. In a poetic moment we can imagine it’s path to be a choice.

              Obviously our thinking is much more complex than a waterfall or rapid. The point is to illustrate, not to provide evidence or an exact comparison. If you can stop being totally literal for a moment, the turbulent complexity of a rapid, which can seem to us like the path the water “chose”, bears an analogy to the process of us perceiving ourselves to be making a choice by free will in that it is the visible seemingly random and unpredictably complex external sign of a deterministic activity; just as our choices can change over time, the water’s path can change over time due to erosion (learning); in the case of our free will the analogy is to the perceived deliberation whereby we (deterministically) weigh options and (deterministically) “select” an option (deterministically) based on our knowledge and experience.

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

                Jeff Johnson, you just don’t seem to like using the language that there are no choices because of determinism, while still espousing the belief in it. No choices is the natural result of determinism, you can’t avoid it.

                If you believe in determinism, you must accept that there are no choices being made, free or otherwise. There are only reactions based on previous reactions in a progression back to the Big Bang. Any other conclusion contradicts determinism.

                It really is that binary.

              • Steve
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

                Xuuths,

                There is nothing that says a reaction can’t be a choice, or that choices are not made in reaction to some event.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

                Xuuths, you are probably misinterpreting the word choice.

                If I go to get ice cream, and the options are chocolate and vanilla, and I buy and eat vanilla, that is obviously a choice, in the most simple and direct sense that a selection between two options was made. But on that day, given the state of my mind and body, I could not have chosen otherwise. I just didn’t “know” the choice before going through the deterministic computation of choosing. My choice was not free of physical determinants, but it was a choice and it felt free to me.

                I think that this is what bothers most people about the absence of free will, the feeling that we no longer have choices, that we may as well give up on life if we are robots. Even robots make choices according to the inputs available at the time the choice is made.

                To deny that we make choices is to deny the obvious that we see happening around us all day everyday.

                When we realize that we don’t have free will, we only lose something less important than we think it is: we only lose the the illusion that we are disconnected from physical causes at a particular instant of time.

                But what we don’t lose is all of our humanity. We still retain the pleasure of eating the ice cream, and we still retain the ability to choose chocolate next time based on the fact that we enjoyed and understood what vanilla was like, but we are curious or desirous for a different sensation next time.

                That choice next time will not be based on a radical freedom at the moment of choosing, but it cam be different from our previous choice based on the totality of moment to moment experiences that we accumulated over the time between the choices. All of those human experiences of pleasure and want and curiosity are in fact also deterministic changes in the state of our brain based on the inputs we know as experience.

              • Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

                Analogy is an abstract concept. If I had the right power and technology, supposedly I would be able to construct an abstract concept?
                How do you know what our minds are for, or what they do, if you do not know how they do anything?
                How, and why, do our minds operate, please?

                In any event, choice means conscious decision when applied to people, or else the terms would be along the lines of “he had no choice” or “she had to do it, what choice did she have?”

                Peoples behaviors demonstrate what they believe, and act and talk as if free will is the modus operandi of yourself and all anti-free willists I have ever seen, met, heard of, read, talked to, ever.

                You are disingenuous in your opinions.

                Furthermore, if our free will is just an illusion, it forms the basis for our definition of self, and “who I am.”
                It is not a mere artifact, it is a pronouncement of the overall state of our minds, and then how do you know that determinism isn’t an illusion, or anything, and why should I believe anything you say since it is just an illusion?

                Just because you cannot conceive of how our minds, and therefore free will works, does not mean you can ignore it/them.
                Even if you can’t say exactly how, you must have an idea of why qualia are different from the way we understand physical reality, or you are full of shit telling others exactly what is important to consider, and what is not.

                You only want to consider the ‘law’ of determinism in your stunted and primitive manner and apply it to all know phenomenon, not only now, but in the future.
                In fact, you are telling us that you could understand anything that ever gets discovered and invented from now on, right now already, in spite of numerous examples and realizations to the contrary.

                If you know that our minds produce only rote selections, then you think every thought is mechanical as well, so I ask you to explain our desires and creativity in mechanical terms.
                If not, you could explain why we have the experience of being aware in the first place if our function and behavior is mechanistic in the way you decree.

                If you know how our minds work, only then can you tell me their capacities and capabilities, and that includes whether or not our thoughts can be chosen or self influenced.

                You are far, far away from explaining our free wills in terms of how they work, just asx you are far, far away from explaining how and why gravity works. You only know about the concept we call gravity because we observe the behaviors of matter and energy under the influence of gravity.

                You propose to discount, not only a wide range of our behaviors, but a universally reported experience, that of being aware of something we call free will.

                Seeing how you all are 100% we don’t have free will, you also must know what giving us this illusion.
                If you don’t know what is giving us this illusion, STFU, because you therefore have to not understand it because it doesn’t make sense to you.
                You are saying that our experence of qualia, thinking, abstracting concepts to reality, makes absolute sense, because there is no fucking doubt that they exist.

                That is the difference between you who claim 100% knowledge that we don’t have free will, is that you have to explain how our minds function in realation to our bodies, how and why they interact, before you can claim certainty.

                Now we are back to the question of why we would expend massive amounts of energy maintaining our minds, and risk such absolute vulnerability as sleeping, to maintain a function that is both not necessary to explain our behavior, but even then illusory.

                Go ahead, make my day. Please explain to this simple person what is so obvious to yourself.

          • Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

            “The fact that the decision is a deterministic process involving our constantly learning and changing mental configuration does not mean we don’t progress and learn and make better and better choices over time.”

            Happy-talk ideology…there is no evidence for this and much against…brain capabilities, esp in men, start dropping >27

            humans, and all animals make the same short-term driven mistakes over and over…nature doesn’t provide a reset capability

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted January 31, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

              There is tons of evidence, beginning with you learning to speak english.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

                Note that you must have thought I was saying there is some kind of teleological progress or that there is only growth and never decay. I didn’t mean that or say that. I meant only to say that the human brain can learn, and it’s decisions change. We want them to get better, and you can witness a world class classical pianist or a professional athlete as evidence of a mammal who started as an infant knowing nothing of their vocation, and who via repetition and learning got “better” at it.

              • Posted January 31, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

                similar to how birds learn songs, all brain stem reflex….just posted a lecture on this..no different from any other behavior learning…

  7. Steve
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Meaning #2 of “could” maps counterfactual statements. To say that you “could” have done something in this sense is (roughly) to say that IF circumstances had been otherwise, a different outcome would have resulted. Meaning #2 returns the answer “Yes, you could have steered into oncoming traffic, if you had wanted to.”

    This line of ‘thinking’ is pure smoke, (as in smoke and mirrors). The if in this case is not just a big if… is a frickin’ ginormous IF…. what always gets glossed over by compatibilists when they deploy this gambit is that of course since there is no way for this IF to be realized in our actual real plane of existence… Meaning #2 has no force of actuality in our universe… i.e., it is only some much fanciful musing.

    Meaning #2 is what people actually mean by “could,” most of the time.

    I challenge this assertion, as subterfuge for the purpose of obfuscation in order to advance the compatibilist goal of propping up free willism. Since that meaning of could is a meaning that is only fanciful musing, how could it be that people most of the time are most of the time talking about pure fantastic not-in-any-way tied to reality smoke? That is quite a claim… and it would be more than a bit pathetic if that was the true state of intellectual integrity in the general populous.

    If only things had been different, things would have unfolded differently… well, duh, but so what, because things weren’t different. The mind boggles.

    • Tulse
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      since there is no way for this IF to be realized in our actual real plane of existence… Meaning #2 has no force of actuality in our universe… i.e., it is only some much fanciful musing

      Or, as Dandy Don Meredith used to say on Monday Night Football, “If wishes were candy and buts were nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas”.

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      Yes, I think you nailed it. Pollock’s estimation of the “reasonableness” of #2 is based on not taking seriously how important the ceteris paribus clause is. Assuming determinism, IF you had wanted differently then your brain would have to have been in a different state which would have required a precursor state different from the one you had prior to the “choice,” etc. all the way back to the womb, and ultimately to the beginning of the universe.

      We might be able to weaken this somewhat depending on how chaos and quantum uncertainties factor in, but if we’re committed to the notion that any given brainstate, along with sensory data, determines the “next” brainstate (obviously it’s more likely continuous change) then we have to acknowledge that “if you had wanted differently” is a big if indeed.

      If all “free will” means is that we can pose counterfactuals after-the-fact then I’m not sure what the point of the argument is. It’s self-evident that we can do that. I can say, “the ball wouldn’t have fallen off the table if it weren’t on the table in the first place” and that, while true, doesn’t tell us a single thing about mechanics or gravity. Why should we take this sort of argument any more seriously when it comes to the mind?

      • Steve
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

        Dan,

        We shouldn’t… conceivably only a ninny would.

        (This is not to imply that ninnies can in anyway be other than the way they are at this moment in time given their matrix of causal determinants.)

    • Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      Proposition #2: Invisible pink unicorns are real and exist (IF ours is a world in which invisible pink unicorns exist).

      Tautology much?

  8. Steve
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Somehow, I think, compatibilists who are also determinists are loath to preach (or even emphasize) determinism. (Pollock isn’t.) I’ve even been told by determinists that although they agree with me, it’s important not to let the general public know that their “choices” are predetermined!

    Yes, I agree. It has been openly suggested in comments on your blog that non-free willism, is a dangerous proposition with the implication that it therefore ought to be suppressed if it could not be proven untrue.

    • DV
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      >>A good reductionist would look at this incredibly useful concept of “choice” and then try to figure out how it fits into the determined physical universe. Eventually, they would conclude that choice is a physical process like eating or breathing or thinking<<

      This is the crucial point in the article! The corollary is that a bad reductionist would look at determinism and instead of trying to figure how to understand this in light of our ability to make choices, rejects the whole notion of everyday meaning of choice and responsibility, and end up with the absurd conclusion that we don't have choices and we don't have responsibilities!

      To compare an earthworm and a human being's quality of choice-making and conclude that because the idea of free choices doesn't make sense for an earthworm, therefore that validates the idea that human beings don't make choices either, should be a red flag that some error in reduction is happening.

  9. cooperator
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I can go along with using “choice” instead of “free will” if that will settle things (it won’t!), but I contend that aside from the religious baggage Jerry mentions, the fact that there is no “true free will” simply doesn’t matter.

    There is no such thing as a “true random number generator”. They are all deterministic algorithms, but it doesn’t matter to anybody that uses them. The choices made by plants or bacteria or earthworms are analogous to poorly designed random number generators: we can figure out the algorithm. Human choice is so complex that we could never figure out the algorithm (except in simple cases like perhaps those push-the-button experiments) so there is no discernible difference between our choices and “true free will” – just like there is no discernible difference between a good random number generator and a “true random sequence”.

    • Steve
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      So what is your point?

      I am guessing that you agree that there is no freedom to the human will.

      You do see that there are bigger issues attached to the question at hand?

      • cooperator
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        That’s just it — I don’t think there are bigger issues at hand. I agree there is no freedom in the strictest sense, but I can’t imagine how it can matter except as an issue of pure philosophy. I stand by my analogy to (pseudo) random numbers. In what sense does it matter that they are not really random – except as an issue of pure math?

        • Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

          really!? how about legal responsibility, treatment for behavioral problems, ascting on what people say and self-report — or not, etc…seems to make a BIG difference….

          • cooperator
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

            Sorry, but I think for all your examples the policy should be the same whether there is “true” freedom or only something that can’t be distinguished from true freedom.

            • Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

              so a person with broken circuts they inherited from their mentally ill parents should be punished as if they have free wil and treatment should pretend the same?

              …market researchers long ago learned that what people say is pretty worthless in predicting what they/we do…

              so we should pretend the no free will data doesn’t exist? why? cus it’s easier?

              • cooperator
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

                There is no “no-free-will data”, except possibly some simple & contrived & nonconclusive brain-electrode experiments. The conclusion that there is no free will is a corollary of the laws of physics as we understand them. This is Jerry’s main point, and I agree with this completely. Cruel punishment is probably pointless regardless of free will. If you run a simulation using a pseudo random number generator, it isn’t easier or harder to assume the sequence isn’t really random – it just doesn’t matter.

              • Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

                we don’t need to evoke physics, the basic discovery of brain research is that consciousness and language is pretty trivial…as it is in all other animals…

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

                cooperator, you can’t “prove” that any sequence of numbers is randomly generated or not based on the output sequence of numbers.

              • cooperator
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

                Xuuths, There’s no need to prove any sequence is “truly random”, in fact, a truly random sequence (independent and identically distributed random variables) may be physically impossible. (I think it depends on whether there are “hidden variables” in quantum mechanics – I don’t really understand , and it doesn’t matter.) A true random sequence is a mathematical construct, but a good sequence of pseudo-random numbers is (statistically) indistinguishable from the theoretical construct. That’s the point.

  10. NoAstronomer
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    “Proposition #2: “Yes, you could have steered into oncoming traffic (if you had wanted to).””

    Proposition #2 is just a restatement of Proposition #1 in a slightly different form. The phrase ‘if you had wanted to’ is equivalent to ‘had the state of the universe allowed it’. Our brains being part of the universe.

    What we ‘want’ is a function of the state of brains at the time the decision is made.

    Mike.

  11. Neil
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    This argument cannot be settled. Suppose I really, really want to do action A but I do action B just to prove that I have free will. (Nothing as drastic as steering into oncoming traffic, I assure you.) Then someone can redefine my choice to say I did action B because I wanted to. And in a sense that is right.

    BTW, JAC has convinced me. On the subject of posting about free will, he has no free will.

    • Steve
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      Neil,

      Well then in that case you stopped really wanting to do A, in favor of wanting to do B, so your premise that you really want to do A was no longer in force.

      This argument is not only settable, it is set. There is no free will.

      • neil
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        Yes, *as I said*, you can redefine what I want to be what I did, which makes the proposition a truism and cannot be refuted. But it is not science.

        • Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

          I don’t think redefinition is involved here. Sure, you may have sensed a desire to do “A”, but ultimately there was a stronger desire to do “B”.

          I find myself in situatuations like this all the time. I very much would like to do “A”, but because of other pressures, I begrudgingly do “B”, or at least “not A”. I haven’t demonstrated FW. Just that those “other pressures”, including my own ultimate desire, won out.

          • neil
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

            But, in this case, I do not do B because of external pressures but purely to demonstrate that I have free will. But you can then say that, ergo, I wanted to do B. So “free will” or volition is not something that can be demonstrated to an observer. You can define it away.

            • Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

              The pressure that “won” was that you desired to make a point more than you desired to do “A”.

        • Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          Exactly. At the exact moment we make the choice, that is the only one we could make because we make it, and you can only make one choice at a time.
          Steve may remember that I stated this as: Because we only make one choice, non-free willists say that, therefore, we can only make one choice.

          That is BS, because we can change our minds up to the point that we make the decision, and then we make a choice, the number of choices taken being one.

          But prior to making that choice, we could have decided to make a different choice.

          This is what Jerry doesn’t understand about Pollock’s propositions that he quoted.

          • neil
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

            “…you can only make one choice at a time.”

            Except Yogi Berra who said “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

  12. J
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Sorry if this causes you to fret, Jerry, but I think fretting about bad decisions is still an important part of our decision making process*. I agree that you were unable to make different decisions in those cases, but by fretting about them to some extent afterwards you help to program your brain such that it is less likely to wind up making similar decisions in the future, or perhaps take more time to make a decision in similar circumstances.

    *short of causing excessive stress, of course

    • Steve
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      J,

      Maybe Jerry means fret differently than you mean fret.

      • J
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        Argh, we’re back on definitions again! :P Good point though.

  13. Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Aha! Linus from Peanuts understands choices. This is a much better explanation.

  14. miko
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    This is getting too abstruse — you all agree about everything except how we should define the term “free will.” We should step back and ask if that’s interesting. They say you have free will, it’s just not what you think it is (a la Dennett). You say, if it’s not what I think it is (or what everyone means by it), then there is no point in saying I have it. To me, that is not an interesting disagreement.

    That said, I don’t know why “free will” has to mean that the deliberations of our subjective conscious pilot-self matter. People used the words “force” and “work” and “information” in colloquial ways (and still do) before they became rationally defined. We do not get confused between what a physics teacher means by force and what Yoda means.

    The difference between a person having what Pollock considers free will and a thermostat having free will is structurally the same question as whether a virus (or a self-replicating RNA) is alive. We don’t need hard boundaries to make useful — or necessary — distinctions. An extreme rejection of vitalism would be “vitalism is false, therefore nothing is alive.” That’s an easily-supportable position, because certainly what people historically understood to mean “alive” is meaningless and void. I think the course we took — trying to find definitions of life that match our new understanding — is more productive.

    I could arbitrarily decide that an act of “free choice” involves having internal models of possible outcomes and the ability to weigh them. However, for practical purposes the boundary conditions of whether lizards have such models, and thus some version of free will, and whether viruses are “alive” interest me not at all. Certainly labeling viruses “alive” or not does not help us understand them, and calling lizard behavior “free” or not does not aid in lizard ethology.

    Anyway, my point is I don’t believe you differ with Pollock over anything substantive, it’s just different semantics.

    • Steve
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      To me, that is not an interesting disagreement.

      I think you are lying. I would be willing to bet that if we put you on a polygraph, you’d fail… outright.

      If this issue is really of no interest to you, I doubt you would have bothered to even make a comment.

      So, you too don’t think there is any freedom to the human will?

      I could arbitrarily decide that an act of “free choice” involves having internal models of possible outcomes and the ability to weigh them.

      You do realize that this post isn’t about what you might arbitrarily define as “free will”?

      • Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

        Can we please conduct this discussion civilly without accusations of “lying”? I don’t like that tone here.

        Thanks.

        • Steve
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

          Jerry, at times I sincerely honestly doubt the veracity of free willists. But I know you had no choice but to issue your reprimand.

          But this farce about the absolute lack of freedom to the human will not being an topic of interest, it is a particularly dishonest ruse to obfuscate the truth that free will is an illusion. If it is indeed so damn uninteresting then they wouldn’t even bother to post a comment.

          • miko
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

            Steve,

            To say a disagreement is not “interesting” in the substantive sense is not the same as saying it is not worth discussing. If you had understood what I wrote, you would know I am not what you call a “free willist”; obviously, I do not believe colloquial uses of “free will” are true. You would also know that I think the issues under discussion are interesting, but that the difference between Jerry and Pollock are semantic, not substantive.

            I do believe there is a place for concepts of free will such as the one defined by Dennett (hardly a dualist), because it is useful in operationally distinguishing from less-free and more constrained states and it matches our experience. I am happy to consider my brain’s ability to model the future and select among possible behaviors “freedom”, even if it happens in the context of a deterministic physical system, because that is the kind of freedom we have.

            For you, I suggest herbal tea and daily walks. If I impressed you as a liar, you impressed me as a wound-up crank, compulsively adding a bit of snideness to every comment.

            • Steve
              Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

              So your impression of me is conditional upon my impression of you? Well after reading this comment I have revised by impression of you.

              If I am a crank in your opinion because I think it is important that we not call that which lacks any freedom, free, then so be it.

              • miko
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

                Words are our servants, Steve, not our masters. As I pointed out above, your hard line on requiring “freedom” to mean what dualists think it means obliges you, assuming you reject vitalism, to similarly conclude that nothing is alive.

              • Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

                words, along with most signaling by life forms is largely deception…in competition for resources…

          • Xuuths
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

            Steve, if you are a determinist, then you have to accept as a fact that “you” cannot be “sincere” or “honest” or “doubt” or “know” because those are all states from a free will.

            Your repeated use of them over and over again is evidence that you believe in them, contradicting your stated beliefs. Some would say, accurately I might add, that such a stance is hypocritical, or telling of an untruth.

            However, I agree with Dr. Coyne that such name-calling does not facilitate exchanges of information.

            But I notice that it is only being done on one side of the argument. You don’t find the free willists using language directly in opposition to their stated beliefs.

            My suggestion, for clarity, is for those who are determinists, to stop using any words or phrases that communicate a belief in choice, or free will, or anything non-deterministic. (This is like I suggest atheists don’t say ‘god willing’ or ‘thank god’ in their conversations with theists.)

            • Steve
              Posted January 31, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

              Xuuths,

              Humanity developed language while under the illusion of free will. Language is consequently fought with allusions to free will.

              I can still refer to making choice, and sincerity, and honesty, and doubting, and knowing. All that my non-free willism means is that I cannot flip into a free willist mode and think any of these behaviors are done freely.

              Your repeated use of them over and over again is evidence that you believe in them, contradicting your stated beliefs.

              Um, no. You are incorrect, it is not evidence of such. I would have to actually infer libertarian free will in my use of those terms to make your statement true.

              Some would say, accurately I might add, that such a stance is hypocritical, or telling of an untruth.

              It would be, if that were indeed my true stance, but as it is not my true stance, it is not true.

              • Posted January 31, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

                Steve =
                - “it is a particularly dishonest ruse to obfuscate”
                - “I have revised by impression”
                Sure, Steve, whatever you say.

                You said this, “your choice at the exact point in time of making the choice is pre-determined, then it is strictly pre-determined at all point in time before that instant of choice,” and the definition of choice is this: Choice consists of the mental process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one of them.;
                an act or instance of choosing; selection:,
                choose
                [chooz] Show IPA verb, chose; cho·sen or ( Obsolete ) chose; choos·ing.
                verb (used with object)
                1.
                to select from a number of possibilities; pick by preference: She chose Sunday for her departure.
                2.
                to prefer or decide (to do something): He chose to run for election.
                3.
                to want; desire.
                4.
                (especially in children’s games) to contend with (an opponent) to decide, as by odd or even, who will do something: I’ll choose you to see who gets to bat first.

                verb (used without object)
                5.
                to make a choice: He chose carefully.
                6.
                to be inclined: You may stay here, if you choose.
                that’s from the dictionary. This is from said thesaurus:
                Main Entry:

                choose [chooz]

                Part of Speech: verb
                Definition: pick, select
                Synonyms: accept, adopt, appoint, call for, cast, co-opt, commit oneself, crave, cull, decide on, designate, desire, determine, discriminate between, draw lots, elect, embrace, espouse, excerpt, extract, fancy, favor, feel disposed to, finger, fix on, glean, judge, love, make choice, make decision, make up one’s mind, name, opt for, predestine, prefer, see fit, separate, set aside, settle upon, sift out, single out, slot, sort, tab, tag, take, take up, tap, want, weigh, will, winnow, wish, wish for

                Notes: choose means to pick out or select from a number of alternatives, while chose is the past tense of choose

                – – –

                So, you said, “I would have to actually infer libertarian free will in my use of those terms to make your statement true.

                No, if you are inferring your own definition of words, you are playing games, because the fucking words you choose IMPLY that you mean freedom, as in the freedom to choose.

                Sheesh, I had girlfriends like you, and the fact that I didn’t strangle them is yet more empirical evidence that a person can exert free will, even in the most desperate and trying of circumstances.

                It is you people that are always quibbling about meaning and ‘definitions’ that are the ones to watch out for.

                TO ALL DETERMINISTS THAT DENY FREE WILL: NEVER USE THE WORDS “CHOICE,” “CHOOSE,” “DECIDE,” OR ANY OTHER THAT IMPLY SELECTION AS REGARDING HUMAN BEHAVIOR. THE VERY DEFINITIONS MEAN THE ABILITY TO EVALUATE AND MAKE A DECISION, PURPOSELY.

                I am sick, sick I tell you,;) of this discussion as if somehow society can make purposeful decisions that affect the future, even though you say individuals cannot.
                Either at some point there is active selection, or there is not, and if there is not, it is fundamentally stupid to judge anyone or anything, and it is fundamentally erroneous to speak of freedom, change, elections, decisions, debates, argument, conjecture, and probably thousands of other terms that speak to anything other than rote, mechanical, mindlessness.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                Mikmik,
                you seem terribly confused over the notion of choice and how absence of contra-causal free will affects it.

                Think of playing the piano as the act of choosing which keys to depress when. When you don’t know how to play you can still sit down and press keys, but your music will probably sound childish. As you learn to play, you make different choices, and you sound better.

                None of this is to say that you chose freely without physical and chemical determinism of your biological brain and body. You played the music you wanted, but your wanting the music was deterministic also. You chose the keys to make the music you wanted to produce, and those choices got better as you learned to play better with experience. But your ability to play, and the key choices you made at any time while playing were determined by the structure of your brain. For any particular depression of any particular key at any particular moment your forming the intention to play it and then playing the key that matches that intention was determined by the state of your brain. You chose, but you could not have chosen differently.

                If I manage a stock portfolio, and I know nothing about investing, I can choose 5 from a list of 100 options, but my reasons for choosing at first might just be random, or based on liking the name of the company for some reason. As you learn the trade, your choices become more sophisticated, based on quantitative analysis, based on other criteria you have learned, which has changed the state of your brain, thus leading it’s deterministic processes to make better choices.

                Determinism simply does not mean we are incapable of choosing, and incapable of learning, and incapable of experiencing emotions related to our choices. It simply means that when we choose it is based on the state of our brain at that moment, based on all that we have learned and remembered in the past, and that when we choose the result was totally determined by the state of our brain at the time we chose. We felt like we were freely choosing it, but we were actually just doing the computation that our brain could not have done differently at that moment.

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

                No, Steve, humanity did not and could not “develop” anything if you are correct in your determinism.

                Sorry, Steve, but you are incorrect that your continued use of choice-based words is anything but continued evidence that you actually believe you make choices — which contradicts your “stance.”

                You seem unwilling to be consistent, or accurate in your communication, not using language that accurately reflects your stated beliefs. That does not show you in your best light. You should make better choices so that we can communicate better.

                Oh, but since a particle collided with another particle at a particular angle and force a femtosecond after the Big Bang, you can’t, and all your actions/reactions are predetermined and beyond your control.

                So silly . . .

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

                No, Jeff Johnson, you contradict yourself.

                You keep using “choose” and then say you cannot choose without physical and chemical determinism — the two are mutually exclusive. They cannot both be right. You need to pick one and stick with it.

                Determinism simply does mean that we are incapable of choosing. It means that we are merely reacting based on previous reactions in a regression going back to the Big Bang. I keep repeating that same phrase, because that is what your stance actually means.

                And it is silly. And your vocabulary choices demonstrate you do not believe it either.

              • Steve
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

                No, non-free willism means that we are incapable of libertarian freely choosing. Choices are made, but they are determined choices.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

                Xuuths,
                There is no contradiction. You are stuck on one particular meaning of the word choice.

                You seem to be insisting that choice is the same as what is commonly and traditionally thought of as free will, which is choosing with a radical freedom from influence by physical causation. This is the same as dualism, and belief in a soul, spirit, or other ghost-in-the-machine. You are insisting on an overtone in the meaning of the word “choice” that is ascribed to it by believers of free will only.

                Verb
                choose (third-person singular simple present chooses, present participle choosing, simple past chose, past participle chosen)
                To elect.
                He was chosen as president in 1990
                To pick.
                I chose a nice, ripe apple from the bowl.
                To decide to act in a certain way.
                I chose to walk to work today.

                There is nothing in the dictionary definition of choose (or choice) that states it must be free of causal determinism.

                When an industrial robotic machine sorts fruits by size, color, or other measurable quality, it is making choices. Those choices are the results of programmed algorithms, and the distinctions made by the algorithm are based on the inputs of sensors.

                When a human decides what music they want to hear right now, they are making a choice that involves inputs from memory, from past experiences and reactions to various forms of music or songs, the mood one is in at the moment based on the trials and tribulations of the day, etc. All of these things are parts of the biochemically determined state of the brain at the moment, and the brain will go through a selection algorithm that takes all these things into account. The brain chooses. The choice is determined by the state of the brain.

                Tomorrow, or an hour later, the brain is in a different state, and may choose different music, but the choice is still a deterministic selection from all the available options. It is not some kind of spooky magic independent of physical processes.

              • Steve
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

                Xuuths not only makes this error with the word “choose/choice”, but also “sincere”, “honest”, “doubt”, “know” and “develop”.

                I think he is the variety of free willist that believes that without free will there is no personhood. If all our behaviors are determined then we cease to be. If our thoughts and emotions are fully caused then we don’t really have them.

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

                Jeff Johnson, you and Steve are both unwilling to accept the ramifications of determinism, which is that there are no actual choices, only the playing out of reactions starting from the Big Bang.

                Your dictionary use presumes intelligence capable of making choices (note it will not give you a scientifically accurate rendering of “solid” as an illusive emergent property, so I’m not sure why you felt it was somehow supporting your position.).

                People are in error and anthropomorphizing qualities that machines do not have. Machines are not “choosing” when they “sort.”

                I am not saying free will is “some kind of spooky magic independent of physical processes.” I don’t think anyone on this website is. We are merely saying free will is an emergent property of the physical processes — which we currently do not understand, but does not appear to us to be deterministic.

                Like asking what “color” an atom is turns out to be meaningless. And yet we all clearly see color, and can even measure it with instruments. How can that be? Does that violate the laws of physics? Or is it an emergent property that we don’t completely understand at this time, but does not appear to be deterministic?

                Steve, I’m surprised you don’t see the contradiction between your musings on my thought about thoughts and emotions, and your own about choices. You believe that you don’t really have free choices, but only the illusion of choices. Pot, meet kettle.

                Steve, without free will, and under determinism, there is no actual personhood — only the illusion of personhood, only the illusion of choice, only the illusion of hones/sincere/doubt/know/etc. This is because determinism says they are merely uncontrollable reactions based on previous uncontrollable reactions based on previous uncontrollable reactions going back to the Big Bang.

                You seem to want it both ways, and refuse to see how they are mutually exclusive.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

                Xuuths,
                you are the one trying to have it both ways. If you are not a dualist, then you are still trying to preserve some dualistic concept of free will. Apparently you believe that being emergent makes something non-deterministic. I don’t see how that could be possible. It only makes the appearance of non-determinism possible, which is the source of the illusion.

                Of course their is personhood, honesty, sincerity and doubt even though these properties of a human brain are all products of biochemical processes. These are results of how our brain develops over time, and the behaviors it exhibits, and the choices it makes based on its biochemical computations.

                It is absolutely true that a machine can choose. It selects between options based on criteria that guide it’s reactions to dynamically changing inputs. A machine can balance a broomstick in a vertical position, just as you could balance it on the palm of your hand. It can learn to balance it, it can make all of the minute adjustments and precise reactions and decisions needed to make compensating movements in a horizontal platform in such a way that the stick remains balanced in a vertical position.

                It just can’t choose in the magical way you would like to use the word, which means independent of cause, which is dualist free-will talk.

                The meanings of choice, honest, sincere are all clear and they don’t depend on reserving something mysteriously independent of causation. They are not results of simple minded one to one cause effect relationships. They are aggregate effects of a complex fabric of physical causes, what you would like to call emergence, and what you imagine is somehow independent of causation.

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

                Jeff Johnson, finally we get to the crux of your argument (from incredulity):

                I don’t see how that could be possible.

                A dropped ball does not “choose” to head to the floor, neither does a machine “choose” — those are anthropomorphizations, not accurate descriptions.

                You are confused about the ramifications of your position. If you are right, your “personhood” is an illusion “you” experience along the ride of uncontrolled reactions. You are like a little child pretending to drive the cars at Disneyland — they are on a track, moving at preset speeds. You can turn the “steering wheel” or press the brake or put your foot on the accelerator all you want, but you won’t turn, stop or go faster.

                That is what you are arguing for with determinism. The illusion of driving. The illusion of choice. The illusion of being a driver.

                It really is that simple. Determinism is clear that choices are impossible, only reactions — you and Steve just don’t want to accept that as the results of your stance.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

                When I wrote I don’t see how that could be possible I was saying: I don’t see how “emergence” can disconnect a system from causation. Do you? If so, explain how that happens.

                When I say a machine makes choices, it is not anthropomorphism. I don’t see much resemblance between a machine and a human. It is a simple observation of the meaning of choose, which is to select from several alternatives. Certainly the human mechanisms for choosing are vastly more complex than those of a machine; they can involve emotion, memory, experience encoded into aesthetic values, etc. But in both cases choices are made in ways that are not independent of the laws of physics and chemistry.

                You seem to me to be attributing some kind of quasi-spiritual meaning to the word choose, which causes you to assume only humans can perform the act of choosing using something you want to call “free will”, which you evidently see as independent of the laws of physics and chemistry.

                My personhood comes from being a member of homo sapiens, a biological organism, a mammal with a highly complex meat computer that feels, chooses, reasons, hopes, can be honest and sincere or hostile or deceptive. It does all this with a complex biological computer made of meat that follows the laws of physics and chemistry.

                So where do you see indeterminism entering into the picture, and how does this happen?

              • Xuuths
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

                Jeff Johnson, you appear to suffer from a reading comprehension problem. I have been very clear that humans are not the only living beings using free will. Just do a text search on Xuuths.

                I have also been very clear that I do not believe in anything spiritual or even quasi-spiritual. Where do you get those conclusions? Was it a particle collision a femtosecond after the Big Bang that caused it? (snicker)

                In order to be consistent and accurate within the constraints of your stance on determinism, you should say “my illusion of personhood, deriving from chains of uncontrollable reactions beginning at the Big Bang until now, has the illusion of experiencing feelings, the illusion of experiencing choices, . . .”

                You are anthropomorphizing the capacity to make choices onto machines, but unwilling to acknowledge it. (Hint: the object doesn’t have to resemble humans for you to anthropomorphize it.) So be it.

                It is not up to me to provide the exact mechanism for how free will works. I see it working. You claim it is not working, or what I see working isn’t free will. The onus is on you.

                If I claim that I’m driving my car, and you say I’m not, that I’m on tracks, you have to show the tracks. But you haven’t done that. You toss up your hands, say “laws of physics and chemistry”, and admit you can’t imagine how I could be driving. Then demand I prove that I’m driving. I say it is obvious that I’m driving. Again, the onus is on you to demonstrate I am not.

                This isn’t faith. I’ve made a claim, and provided evidence. It is up to you to show my evidence is faulty, or provide other evidence to show my claim is faulty. You have done neither.

              • Posted January 31, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

                ” not the only living beings using free will” huh!? this include ants, bacteria have intentional behavior, it appears, any animal or living thing must behave to get food…

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

                Xuuths wrote:

                You are anthropomorphizing the capacity to make choices onto machines, but unwilling to acknowledge it. (Hint: the object doesn’t have to resemble humans for you to anthropomorphize it.) So be it.

                I’m well aware of the meaning of anthropomorphism. In order for you to claim that it is anthropomorphism to say that a machine chooses, you need to believe that choice is something uniquely human. Otherwise it is not anthropomorphism, it is simply stating the obvious fact that sufficiently complex machines make choices from among options in response to dynamic inputs. This is what led me to assume you believed there was something more than mere brain based computation involved in human choice, something perhaps quasi-spiritual. Evidently you don’t believe this, so in light of this your claim that machines don’t choose, and your attributing to me the fallacy of anthropomorphism only becomes more confused.

                But let’s forget about that. There are other features of the human brain, more complex than simple choice from options, that machines can’t do, such as to love or to want, and I won’t claim this.

                In order to be consistent and accurate within the constraints of your stance on determinism, you should say “my illusion of personhood, deriving from chains of uncontrollable reactions beginning at the Big Bang until now, has the illusion of experiencing feelings, the illusion of experiencing choices, . . .”

                There is nothing illusory about my personhood. I am fully a specimen of homo sapiens of the mammalian class.

                My feelings are not illusions, nor are my choices. The only illusion is the appearance that those things are results of free will, independent of physical causation. I don’t see why you should imagine physically caused emotions to be an illusion. Why must human experience be disconnected from causation to be “real”? I don’t know about you, but I get emotional reactions depending on what someone says to me, depending on what I smell, or music I hear. It’s pretty obvious that these feelings are frequently caused in response to environmental stimuli. We can also stimulate them in response to examining our memory and past events.

                If I claim that I’m driving my car, and you say I’m not, that I’m on tracks, you have to show the tracks.

                I never said any such thing. This is something you dreamed up out of your confusion.

                When you drive your car, you make choices, just as I have always said we make choices. You just aren’t making choices that are free of causation. When you decide to make a left turn it is because you know where you want to go, and because you know the layout of the streets. There is nothing uncaused in that. When you turn the wheel to negotiate the turn your brain is involved in a feedback process between the input from your senses and how your resulting actions change the sensory input during the turn. You feel tension on the wheel, you see the changing angles in your visual field, and you feel the equilibrium changes due to centripetal acceleration. And each moment of this process your brain state is changing and reacting to the changes in order to complete the turn accurately. There are no tracks involved whatsoever. The brain and its interactions with the environment is not static and fixed like tracks; it is dynamic and fluid.

                This isn’t faith. I’ve made a claim, and provided evidence. It is up to you to show my evidence is faulty, or provide other evidence to show my claim is faulty.

                I don’t see where you’ve provided evidence for anything.

                Here’s what I don’t get: you deny there is something spiritual. And yet you deny that the functioning of the brain is material and subject to causation and determinism. To me that is a contradiction. You are reserving some space for immaterial non-deterministic phenomena that are neither physical nor spiritual. But you can’t say what these phenomena are. And I think people hold onto these notions, such as saying that causality makes personhood and emotion illusory, is because of an emotional attachment to notions of the human mind that are only supported by religious-type thinking.

                When we pay attention to what is happening in our minds, we notice ourself making choices, but we don’t see all the unconscious processing involved.

                It seems that you feel there is something non-caused that is “emergent”. But emergence is not disconnected from causality. It is simply new qualities that are the result of complex aggregates of simpler components, such as multi-cellular life forms emerging from collections of simple cells cooperating, for example. Totally under the laws of physical causation, but the chains of causation are more complex so we see qualities that are more complex than simple stimulus and response, or simple collision and rebound.

                The activity of the brain, all based on biochemical reactions and bio-electrical impulses also gives rise to emergent qualities via the complex composition of intricate neural networks. But it does not somehow escape causation. You just no longer see the direct relationship between cascades of interconnected reactions and the emergent properties.

                If I’m trying to quit smoking, the process in the brain is a competition between independent nodes each representing different emergent mental qualities, such as the urge for oral gratification, the addiction to nicotine, the desire for social approval, the need for self-preservation, the ability to project into the future and anticipate consequences of actions, and many others. These all operate independently, according to the laws of causation based on our sensory input, our memories of experiences, our emotional responses. Maybe I smell someone else smoking, and now I’m faced with increased signaling from the part or parts of my brain that express the desire to light up. There is now a competition for control in my brain among the desires for the pleasure of smoking, and the parts that represent reasons and motives for not smoking. Whether or not I end up lighting a cigarette is not a radically free choice independent of causation. It depends on which of these complex networks generates the strongest signals to control that part of my brain which implements intention and triggers action. Most of this is totally unconscious, but there are conscious traces of the decision process. Finally there is resolution: either my choice is to say what the hell, I’ll just have one, or I decide not to have one. And depending on that choice I may feel virtuous, or I may feel guilty. In response to guilt I may engage in some activity that helps reinforce my intention to promote my health, such as exercising or reading more about the negative effects of smoking. This changes the state of my brain so that next time I’m faced with this choice I can choose differently from this time and overcome the primitive sensory urges that drive me to smoke.

                None of this requires non-material non-causal phenomena. Non of it is illusory, except your sense that your choice was independent of physical causation.

                It’s not the same as a hardwired link between the smell of smoke and a reflex action direction causing your arm to reach for a cigarette. The complex competition between independent parts of your brain can be reconfigured over time due to new inputs so that you might make a different choice in the future. But at the time you choose, you do not have the freedom to choose otherwise, you choose according to the results of all these competing components that we experience as thinking and deciding.

      • miko
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        It is clearly about definitions of free will, and whether or not we need to be constrained by popular/historical understandings of it. I think, as with “alive”, the answer is plainly “no”.

    • Posted January 31, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Yeah. Determinism as a synonym for materialism or naturalism in opposition to some sort of idealist concept of free will. Just glad this didin’t turn into a dispute about reduction and emergence! Oh,wait…no, noooooo..

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      “Anyway, my point is I don’t believe you differ with Pollock over anything substantive, it’s just different semantics.”

      I agree that this is close to true – Jerry & I don’t seem to have any substantially different *empirical* commitments here.

      However, it would be a bit hasty to say there is no substantive disagreement. Jerry thinks that choice is an *illusion,* and moves on from there to derive fairly radical prescriptions for ethics & criminal law, whereas for me the fact of determinism has approximately 0 implications for either ethics or the law.

  15. Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    the special pleaders and ideologues/philosophers want to make this about words — it’s about data.

    we’ve had enuff chit chat — where is the data supporting either compatabilistas or free willers?

    ….there is none…all they have is chit chat…eg ad hominem, etc.

    • miko
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      The disagreement IS about words. There is no data that could distinguish between them, because they agree about the empirical state of things, just not on whether we should call it “free will.”

      • TJR
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Exactly, as in miko’s comments above and my comment in a previous thread that there are two different null hypotheses being used and there is no empirical evidence that can reject either of them.

    • Persto
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      I have some evidence.

      Human functioning can be delineated to biological occurrences about which we possess no conscious cognizance. This demonstrates free will is an illusion.

      Case in point, Benjamin Libet substantiated that activity in the brain’s motor regions can be identified some 350 milliseconds before a person reckons that he has resolved to move.

      “fMRI data shows that some “conscious” decisions can be predicted up to 10 seconds before they enter awareness.” As Harris stated, “I, as the subject of my experience, cannot know what I will next think or do until a thought or intention arises; and thoughts and intentions are caused by physical events and mental stirrings of which I am not aware.” The human notion in free will proceeds from our second-to-second unawareness of precise anterior eventualities.

      Succinctly, “choices” unambiguously originate in the brain efflux: this evinces that free will is illusory. As a matter of fact, “the illusion of free will is itself an illusion.”

      • miko
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        Everyone knows Libet. Guess what? Those parts of your brain lighting up on the fMRI? They are also you. Libet shows we sometimes don’t have reportable awareness of our decisions, despite the decisions having been already made in our brains. No one is here is supporting the kind of “free will” this refutes, and it has nothing to do with compatibilism.

        • Persto
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          Yes, the results are famous, but I am intrigued as to how, you know, “everyone knows Libet?”

          What? Actually, maybe you don’t “know”, but Libet asserted “while we don’t have free will with respect to initiating behavior, we might possess free will to veto an intention before it becomes effective.” However, this is spurious because the veto would also emerge on the premise of unconscious neural happenings. Maybe you don’t know Libet?

          How is this not relevant to compatibilism? It patently affirms you are “as much responsible for your thoughts as you are for being born.”

          • Persto
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

            Also, you remember several years ago when people were responding “duh” to imperceptive observations. Well, “Those parts of your brain lighting up on the fMRI? They are also you.” Duh!

          • miko
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

            Because compatibilism is not dependent on our perceived conscious will being the origin of choices. Whatever Libet says in his discussion, his data only refute this dualist interpretation of choice.

            • Persto
              Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

              “Compatibilism is not dependent on our perceived conscious will being the origin of choices.”

              Ok. Consciousness is not the origin of our choices, but it is “the context in which our intentions become completely available to us.” Hence, my anterior comment that “choices” unambiguously originate in the brain efflux: this evinces that free will is illusory.

              • miko
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

                You (and Libet’s data) are arguing against a version of metaphysical free will that no one is defending. It is explicitly NOT what the incompatibilist/compatiblist debate is about.

              • Persto
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

                @miko Do you HAVE a reading comprehension issue? I am not employing only Libet’s data, as you conflictingly imply. I have not professed anything incongruous with the debate. My conclusions are germane.

                Also, if free will is not constrained to operating according to physical laws, as you suggest, isn’t it a metaphysical concept?

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        Persto, Libet’s conclusions were based on the data from extremely contrived and unnatural tests that have no real chance for falsifiability. It is a bit silly to use the “results” to make definitive statements about anything other than what some people were observed doing in an extremely contrived and unnatural situation with post hoc recall of events.

        • Persto
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

          Dennett believes, like you, “that no clear conclusion about volition can be derived from Libet’s experiment because of ambiguities in the timings of the different events involved.” However, one can’t, at the moment (Considering neuroscience is in its infancy.), replicate, perfectly, the intricacies and complexities of the human brain. However, what is 350 milliseconds to 10 seconds.

        • Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          another straw man based on ignorance, of course, Libet’s work has been thoroughly challenged, tested and duplicated ad nauseam…keep up with the science dudes..

          if FW is so important:
          – why isn’t it found evolved in other animals
          – why has it been so quickly debunked
          – why isn’t there a single experiment showing it?

          geez….

          • Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

            That’s too funny.

            So, you gonna answer the question about Libet’s conclusions being deeply flawed?

            Are you going to evade my question, also?

            I want to ask you, sleeprunning, why should anyone engage you or listen to your assertions if you don’t address all the problems behind your conclusion(that FW is an illusion/doesn’t exist/predetermined)?

            In fact, isn’t your opinion based almost entirely on Libet’s conclusions for his experimental results?

          • Xuuths
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

            sleeprunning, please provide citation where free will has not been found in other animals.

            You haven’t “debunked” it here, so your conclusion that it has “been so quickly debunked” is inaccurate.

            Your decision to write a rebuttal is evidence showing that you have it.

            And Libet’s work has not “been thoroughly challenged, tested and duplicated” — in fact, it is given as an example of shoddy science making unsupported conclusions.

      • Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        agree

      • Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        extreme physics q effects don’t act on macromolecules that drive the brain and Newtonian mechanical effects are found at quantum level too…check recent Nature and Ohm’s law…duh…

        these commentators know less than a HS kid about basic evolution and biology, so dum

        • Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

          A person with zero knowledge of basic evolution and biology could destroy your arguments using logic alone.

      • Posted February 1, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

        “Case in point, Benjamin Libet substantiated that activity in the brain’s motor regions can be identified some 350 milliseconds before a person reckons that he has resolved to move.”

        Hell’s bells! Your *brain* decides before *you* do!

    • Xuuths
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      sleeprunning, your point is the same as a theist who claims everything is god’s will — no matter what happens, that is god’s will. For you, no matter what choice someone makes, you say they didn’t really make a choice. All data, you say, points to reactions upon reactions going back to the Big Bang.

      There is no difference between such positions. And, as such, you can be ignored like the theists claming god’s will. Your position is not falsifiable, therefore not really scientific, even though you use science words.

      My data? I made the choice to write this post. If you disagree, it is up to you to prove that I didn’t make a choice. Not with some unrealistic thought experiment, or references to shoddy neuroscience experiments.

      • Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        “Statements that are not supported by data do not need data to disprove.” like your tooth fairy…

        this is all about data the rest is chit chat…you say the sky is blue…it’s not…surprise…

        • Xuuths
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          sleeprunning, I did present data. In fact, I can present the data of billions of people who chose to purchase food at McDonald’s instead of Burger King.

          If you are now claiming that they weren’t actually making a choice — it is up to you to provide the evidence for your claim, or provide evidence to refute my claim.

          Since you patently do not do so, try this instead: what evidence would support the existence of free will?

          • Persto
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

            “It means nothing to say that a person would have done otherwise had he chosen to do otherwise, because a person’s “choices” merely appear in his mental stream as though sprung from the void.”

            What if your resolution to purchase food at Mcdonalds instead of Burger King was attributable to an arbitrary manumit of neurotransmitters? How could that account for free will? This kind of indeterminacy, if it were predominantly efficacious everywhere in the encephalon, would expunge any pretense of human intercession.

            • Xuuths
              Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

              Persto, I ask you:

              What evidence would support the existence of free will?

              • Persto
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

                Biologist Martin Heisenberg’s observations that some fundamental processes in the brain occur at random.

              • Persto
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

                Therefore, thoughts and actions cannot be determined by environmental stimuli and much of our behavior is self-generated. However, of course events originate in the brain. Much like a bird’s or a dog’s does. This question really throws kinks in his conclusions:

                What if your resolution to purchase food at Mcdonalds instead of Burger King was attributable to an arbitrary manumit of neurotransmitters? How could that account for free will?

        • Xuuths
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

          sleeprunning, you bring up the concept of “the sky is blue” — what color is an atom? What color is a molecule?

          If an atom has no color, how can a molecule (which is made up of atoms), or anything? Yet, clearly things have color.

          Oh, yes . . . color is an emergent property. Ah, yes, another illusion. Like the illusion of “solid” or “liquid” or “gas” or “temperature” or . . .

      • Persto
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        I suppose sleeprunning, and I can’t articulate for him/her, is asserting, and this is subtle, that the enigma of free will is a manifestation of dubiety. Something like, “We do not feel as free as we think we feel. We are not what we think we are.” The instant we embark to unravel how we surmise we feel we unearth free will is non-existent.

        Am I putting words in your mouth, sleeprunning?

  16. Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    But if the appearance of choice is the same thing as free choice, or the same thing as free will, do cats have free will? How about earthworms? Rotifers? And what about bacteria, who make a “choice” by usually moving toward chemical gradients that indicate food or light? All of these organisms appear to make choices. So do plants, who can “choose” to produce one type of leaf or another, or grow in a certain direction. For that matter, so do computers. Do all of these have free will?

    What happens in the physical world is underdetermined by the laws of physics. That’s an consequence of quantum indeterminacy.

    All biological systems have some ability to opportunistically exploit this underdetermination to their own advantage. Those organisms that do this best are the survivors of natural selection.

    The notion of “free will” carries with it an implication of some sort of conscious deliberation in making choices. There is possibly some of that deliberation in cats, but very little, if any, in earthworms, rotifers, bacteria and plants.

    • eric
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      What happens in the physical world is underdetermined by the laws of physics. That’s an consequence of quantum indeterminacy.

      Arg, please don’t bring QM into this unless you have actual evidence of there being significant QM indetermancy at the macroscopic scale of neuron function. Neurons weigh micrograms; that’s ~15 orders of magnitude larger than an atom. Its closer in scale to a cannonball than a subatomic particle; how seriously would you take it if someone claimed QM indeterminancy affects cannonball trajectories? So why take seriously the claim it affects neural signaling?

      In any event, such indeterminancy is no more ‘free will’ than full determinancy. You’ve replaced ‘physics in charge’ with ‘dice roll in charge,’ but neither of those things is ‘will in charge.’

  17. Scott de B.
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    “But if the appearance of choice is the same thing as free choice, or the same thing as free will, do cats have free will? How about earthworms? Rotifers? And what about bacteria, who make a “choice” by usually moving toward chemical gradients that indicate food or light? All of these organisms appear to make choices.”

    The key question is whether the chooser is aware that they are making a choice — that is, do they deliberate among possible alternatives. In that sense, no, bacteria and plants do not choose.

  18. Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Pollack’s proposition #2 hinges completely on the phrase “if you had wanted to.” He doesn’t really explain what “if you had wanted to” means, but surely it just means “if your brain had started from a different physical configuration.” Well, if your brain had started from a different physical configuration then you could only have acted on proposition 2, so you still had no free will.

    And btw, the fallacy Pollack is referring to is not equivocation, I’m pretty sure it’s false dilemma.

    • Tulse
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      He doesn’t really explain what “if you had wanted to” means, but surely it just means “if your brain had started from a different physical configuration.” Well, if your brain had started from a different physical configuration then you could only have acted on proposition 2, so you still had no free will.

      Yes, I don’t see how resorting to counterfactuals and modal reasoning helps — by this argument a mountain “chooses” whether to have an avalanche — that event is determined physically in precisely the same way our actions are.

      I think it is quite reasonable to ask why counterfactuals get called “free will” in the case of human behaviour, but not in case of events in other parts of the physical world.

      • Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        Um, cognitive thought?

        What are comparable time spans we are talking, how many events. Because my thoughts influence my future behavior, and my wishing to explore options before making a decision is part of the process going on.

        This is considerably different than what the collection of sand and rocks and mountain before motion takes place.

        I am going to ask you what I ask everybody. What physical properties does a thought have?

        In any event, how far back are you talking before the event that causes the decision? .000001 second, 1 second, 2, 5, 30, >30?

        In other words, counterfactuality exists because the route between before and after are physically different.

        But, you folks are just merely interpreting prop. #2 incorrectly.

        Proposition #2: “Yes, you could have steered into oncoming traffic (if you had wanted to).”

        It says, “could have,” not, “would have.”

    • Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      So I wanted to make sure I checked to box to get email updates on my previous comment, but I forgot to, and I didn’t.
      So, that means I was predetermined to not select to receive updates, in your opinion, correct?
      But I might have remembered to select the check box, and that would have been predetermined, in your opinion, correct?

      Or, as happens many times, I end up off on some tangent and decide not to submit my comment, but I wrestle with the decision, for that is the physical path my brain, and therefore physical reality, travels, correct?

      So, by introspection, I become aware of new avenues of thinking, and this influences my future thinking, correct?

      You with me so far?

      Because I will (figuratively) kick the non-free willies butts, you just wait.
      Or, I won’t. I might even change my mind about matters. At this point, is that pre-determind, whatever happens?

      • Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        no this is just chatter that has loittle, if any predictive value in behavior for you or anyone else…maybe contrary predictive value however…

        if you had to make an active decision about checking a box, weighing options, etc…u wouldn’t have time to do anything, let alone post a comment, duh….

        • Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

          So, either I am lying, or I didn’t have time to submit my comment yet.
          Which is it?

          • Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

            yep, the best we can say is we just don’t know and have little way to do so…as with pretty much everything else…predictable statements are usually based on intersubjective sources…

            our individual utterances, like in any signaling, is most effective in deceiving ourselves and others….

            it’s like depending on human eyesight to determine if the sky is blue…it’s not btw

      • Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        I am going to ask you what I ask everybody. What physical properties does a thought have?

        A thought has whatever physical properties that the brain has. Why would it be anything different?

        So I wanted to make sure I checked to box to get email updates on my previous comment, but I forgot to, and I didn’t.
        So, that means I was predetermined to not select to receive updates, in your opinion, correct?

        It means you had no choice.

        But I might have remembered to select the check box, and that would have been predetermined, in your opinion, correct?

        It means you had no choice.

        Or, as happens many times, I end up off on some tangent and decide not to submit my comment, but I wrestle with the decision, for that is the physical path my brain, and therefore physical reality, travels, correct?

        Yes, but that doesn’t mean you have a free choice

        So, by introspection, I become aware of new avenues of thinking, and this influences my future thinking, correct?

        Correct. External inputs can change the decisions you make, but that doesn’t mean you have a freee choice.

        You with me so far?

        Yes I am, but are you with me?

        Because I will (figuratively) kick the non-free willies butts, you just wait.

        I am. Still waiting.

        • Xuuths
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          Skeptico, you seem reluctant to say “predetermined” but change it to “it means you had no choice” as if they were not the same thing. Why change it? Why not just answer “Yes, you were predetermined to do that.” I mean, it appears you don’t like the word “predetermined” even though that is apparently what you believe is right.

          • Skeptico
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

            Things can still be random, so not predetermioned. But that would not be choice.

            • Xuuths
              Posted January 31, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

              Skeptico, in the response to mikmik where you used the phrase “it means you had no choice” to replace mikmik’s use of “predetermined” how is that random? Why bring up random there?

  19. RFW
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I’m currently reading Kahnemann’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”. Its subject can be described as “how we make decisions.” A large part of it is devoted to explicating the two-fold structure of the human mind. Kahnemann calls the parts “System 1″ (intuitive, fast, always active) and “System 2″ (logical, slow, and lazy).

    The arguments in TF&S shed some light on the issue of free will, esp. some of the brief descriptions of experiments that have been conducted, and the odd ways in which System 1 in particular can be deliberately influenced in one direction or another.

    Haven’t seen the phrase “free will” in it, but reading it recasts the whole debate about free will into different terms than we normally use.

    PS: Plus signs galore for Jerry’s reference to Spinoza. Not much read these days but more relevant than ever. Spinoza was one of that group we can call “clear thinkers” and has much deep wisdom in his pages.

    • Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      DK’s ideas are simple to the point of cartoonish.

    • Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      This is an important point I started to make on a previous thread, that of time, and also that of having a wish, or a confusion, as being a physical state that influences states leading up to a decision, or even the length of time until a decision.

  20. J.J.E.
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    This is where I invariably land on this topic:

    1. Dualism is empirically wrong;
    2. The way that cognition participates in mediating humanity’s interaction with the rest of the material world is important and interesting;
    3. Number 2 is probably the underlying observation behind what we label with the term “free will”;
    4. The dualist interpretation of free will (among others) is an attempt to engage number 2 much like religion has often been an attempt to explain other transparently material phenomena like the change of the seasons and the movement of extraterrestrial bodies — this is to say that the non-material answer is what is wrong (dualism), not the topic of the question (free will);
    5. Recognizing the importance of how our behavior is determined by the material world can be done without discrediting “free will” as long as dualism is discredited and material processes are acknowledged.

    As many others say here, this smacks to me of semantics. Whether semantics is interesting is in the eye of the beholder — I withhold judgment.

    • Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      semantics in the services of a sales pitch for self-serving ideologies is dum…and a waste of time…

      • J.J.E.
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        To what ideology do you refer? The one that builds its notions of morality on dualist assumptions, then rejects dualism? :p

  21. Phosphorus99
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Of course what Spinoza could not know is that a program may be written into a material object which may alter its capabilities.

    The object and its output would be fully material but the program could make its functions beyond anything that could be produced solely by the laws of nature.

  22. Vaal
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry, two posts…

    Jerry,

    JC wrote: In the end, Pollock and I sort of agree, though I think he considers himself as a compatibilist because he sees the appearance of choice as equivalent to “free will.”

    That appears to me to be a misleading characterization of Pollock’s argument. It seems you don’t seem to have taken in the point of the “magic” analogy cited by Pollock. Pollock explicitly argued against choices being mere appearance, and did not argue simply “from” appearances. Instead he argued the a good reductionist will conclude that choice ACTUALLY EXISTS because it’s a useful word to describes real things that brains do (that determinists would only deny on pains of special pleading).

    JC: “At any one moment, can we have behaved other than we did?” That is an important question that Pollock completely tosses aside—or rather, admits that the answer is ‘no’ but consider that that answer is trivial. Yet, despite Pollock’s assertion that most people concur with proposition #2 above,

    This seems in line with your claim that your formulation of Free Will, essentially a contra-causal/libertarian version (the one you also reject, obviously), represents the common-man conception of Free Willed Choice. But what data do you offer in support? So far it’s been your own anecdotes. I’ve also asked people I know, and funny enough they come up with a compatibilist version of free will, essentially “I could have done otherwise IF I WANTED TO.” Whose anecdotes better represent the common notion of “free will?” The only systematic study I’ve ever heard of has been done by Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and his colleagues, cited in Wikidepdia’s entry on Free Will, in the section “What People Believe:”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will#What_people_believe

    It says: “The researchers instead sought to identify what other people believe, how many people believed it, and the effects of those beliefs. Baumeister found that most people tend to believe in a sort of “naive compatibilistic free will”.

    So the only systematic research I’ve heard of contradicts your claim that Free Will, as you describe it in non-compatibilist terms, represents THE (or common) concept of Free Will.

    Vaal

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      That may be, but it still ignores the actual importance of the ceteris paribus clause in this formulation. Ultimately, number 2 just recapitulates determinism: “current physical facts would be different if earlier physical facts had been different.” Yes, and that’s exactly why there’s no such thing as free will.

      As I said earlier, there’s no syntactic difference between these two statements:
      1) I could have driven into oncoming practice if I had wanted to.
      2) The ball could have fallen off the table if it had ever been on the table.

      Does that mean the ball had a choice as to whether or not to fall off the table? If not then it’s hard to see how (1) demonstrates the existence of choice, free will, or anything else. If people really just believed (2) as it’s stated putting as much importance on the ceteris paribus clause as it actually has then people would realize that the ability to “choose” is no different from any other counterfactual: “The sky would be pink if it had a higher partial pressure of carbon dioxide. Uranium would be less dense if it had a lower atomic number. Koalas would be less gross if they didn’t eat their parents’ poop.” If we’re assuming determinism applies to the brain then these counterfactuals use the exact same logic as the “I could have chosen otherwise had I wanted to” formulation but people don’t seem to think of them that way. They don’t think of the ball as having a “choice” to fall off the table. (At least I never did when I was a naive free-willist.)

      So I think Jerry has a point in that even those who might pay lip service to the notion that they would have to have “wanted otherwise” but they don’t take seriously the meaning of the phrase.

      • Vaal
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        Hi Dan L,

        Dan: “current physical facts would be different if earlier physical facts had been different.” Yes, and that’s exactly why there’s no such thing as free will.

        Only if you are ruling that out as part of the concept of free will. In other words, you still seem to be assuming a certain concept of free will – which is what is under debate – in order to dismiss the compatibilist concept of free will. The above fact IS compatible with the compatibilist concept of free will – it’s PART of the concept – so saying “that’s why there isn’t really free will” is begging the question.

        I’m trying to figure out how you are going to deny the use of the word “free” by compatibilists in a way that is not special pleading, or that does not end in a sort of conceptual sink-hole in which you undermine ANY use of the word “free,” or even counterfactual concepts.

        For instance, take a traffic jam, or a plugged drain. “Traffic is now moving freely” or “water is now flowing freely through the drain” are common uses of the concept “free” and seem quite useful. Would you deny us our use of these terms? If not, I suggest you are going to run into special pleading in denying the compatibilist use of the term “free” as the compatibilist simply extrapolates from this form of “applying a term to describe real differences between A and B situation” and says “The term Free does some useful descriptive work for us when applied to people making choices.”

        What about counterfactuals? Science, for instance, seems to depend on counterfactuals for it’s very theories and propositions about the world. “X will behave in Y manner IF Z conditions occur.”
        For instance, take water. Science will tell us that (roughly speaking) water WILL freeze IF it is at
        0 degrees Celsius. On the other hand, water WILL boil and rapidly vaporize at 100 °C (212 °F) at standard pressure. There are therefore at least these 2 potentials, these 2 possibilities for water.

        So let’s say there is a shallow puddle on a day in which the temperatures will turn to freezing. I have a blow torch and I instead quickly boil and vaporize the water with the fire. Now, any scientist is still going to say that the water COULD have frozen insofar as it would have on that day if I hadn’t changed the physical circumstances. But what if I retort: No, that’s just wishful thinking an illusion. The universe is run by deterministic physics so we KNOW scientifically that water was always determined to end up as vapor today, not ice. It’s just an illusion to say it could ever have been anything different. If you, Mr. scientist, want to say “If you hadn’t boiled the water, it could have frozen” is simply to say “current physical facts would be different if earlier physical facts had been different.” And that is an empty statement.

        Surely this would be reductionism gone mad and I can’t imagine you’d go along with such a retort.
        (You’ll correct me if I’m wrong). It seems silly to think science can’t really say anything of value, of content, in terms of it’s descriptions and predictions which tend to assume counterfactual concepts. And yet your objection to compatibilism seems to be playing on this same street. Because the same reasoning underlying why a scientist thinks he is giving us understanding goes for most of our rational interactions with one another. If we say to Fred “If you’d backed up your data you wouldn’t be having to re-do all your work from your hard drive crash” what if Fred replied “Well, that’s of no content or value. I was ultimately determined to have not backed up my data, so you telling me that if I’d physically done something different the physical results would have been different is just empty, fruitless talk.”

        Certainly Fred’s wild reductionist reasoning would be missing something here, as it would seem to undermine practically ANY prescription and ANY knowledge or value content of anything we could tell one another.

        But this is the route you seem headed, at least as your objection is now. I’m sure you would say I’m wrong, but I’d like to see how.

        I wanted to get to your “ball falling off the table” scenario, as it appears obviously problematical to me (in other words, not a substantive objection). But I think I’ve blabbed enough for the moment.

        You’ll probably already want to explain were my inferences above may be incorrect, which I welcome.

        Thanks!

        Vaal.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 31, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      I went to Wikipedia and looked up the two references that are referenced as support for the statement that you put in bold. They are these:

      Baumeister, R., A. W. Crescioni, and J. Alquist. 2009. Free will as advanced action control for human social life and culture. Neuroethics. doi:10.1007/s12152-009-9047-7.

      Paulhus, D.L., and A. Margesson. 1994. Free Will and Determinism (FAD) scale. Unpublished manuscript, University of British Columbia,Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

      I read the first paper and it says exactly NOTHING about people believing in “naive compatibilist free will”. Rather, it proposes an evolutionary scenario about how “free will” ideas arose, and talks about what people consider to be components of free will (lack of coercion, etc.). There’s nothing about whether people consider their notions of free will to be compatible with determinism.

      I can’t get hold of the second paper because it’s unpublished.

      So far, then, I have seen no evidence that the average person is a compatibilist.

  23. Vaal
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Jerry,

    I’d like to move to the problem (it seems to me) of the coherence of your arguments FROM your conclusion about free will:

    JC: I, for one, have tried to stop fretting about bad “choices” in the past, since I had no alternative

    Would you say to a murderer/rapist that he should stop fretting about bad “choices” he made in the past, since he “had no alternative?” And from your determinism this would apply to someone’s future, given the future is as “determined” and in that sense fixed as the past. “Deciding on whether to commit that rape or murder, or instead spend your time helping others? Don’t fret about possibly making a bad choice. You don’t have any alternatives.”

    ???

    The problem I and others keep bringing up is not whether you can mouth some words that influence someone. Simply stating things like “I’m predetermined to make these arguments” or “I acknowledge that my making an argument has a physical effect that can change your behaviour” etc…these do not at all answer the problem of whether the actual arguments you make for changing behaviour are coherent, or sound, or valid. In other words, whether you can actually make GOOD ARGUMENTS for why one should or ought to do anything, given
    your view of determinism.

    <b:JC:it matters in how we conceive of moral responsibility, reward, and punishment

    So here’s the problem:

    To say “it matters” implies we CAN DO something about it. If we couldn’t, why would your argument “matter?” You have argued FROM your conclusion that we have no Free Will TO saying this would mean we OUGHT to or SHOULD re-visit our notions of moral responsibility and our behaviour towards criminals (e.g. both in attitude and in sentencing).

    But this seems incoherent, as are following from “We can not do otherwise” to therefore “We OUGHT to do otherwise.” If we COULDN’T do otherwise then the actual coherence of your prescription is no better than your 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.

    If you really believe “we can’t do otherwise” then you seem stuck giving us incoherence. If you DO believe we could do otherwise, then in what sense? It seems to me you’ll have to end up justifying it similar to how it is understood in compatibilist terms. (Unless I’m wrong…but I’d like to see why).

    There does seem to be at least one paragraph approaching this issue:

    JC:Yes, the concept of choice is useful, and I do use it all the time.  But that’s different from “free will”!  In one case you evince one of several possible behaviours, in the other you see that that selection was just one of several possible actions you could have taken. That’s a vital distinction, and it’s important to let people know the difference.

    Well, there is that word “possible” in there. It seems you allow for some use of the word “Possible.” What do you mean by “possible?” All seems to hinge on that word. Thus far, I see no answer to the incoherence problem.

    Cheers and thank you for the great topics in your blog!

    Vaal.

    • Lyndon
      Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Counterfactuals and possibilities are tools that humans/robots use to model the world. For instance, if a machine flips two coins, and you are asked to place any wager from a stack of 1000$ on the outcome, you are going to model the situation and say it is “possible” for certain combinations to come up. You make a probability judgment out of ignorance, you (a machine) do the best you can (because you have been built with emotional drives that encourage you to thrive) to try to understand the situation. Just because you say there is a possibility in the situation, you may also fully hold the belief that it is determined but out of your reach. If you have decided that you want money, or to eat, etc., essentially already creating your “ought,” and you are then presented with this situation that can help you achieve it, you model the “possibilities” in the best way possible to serve that ought.

      The better that you model the world, if you recognize the posibility of h/h is 25% (from your dearth of information) instead of say 50%, a bad claim on the possibilities of the situation, you will therefore thrive better. Modeling “possibility” and using such language is far from confirming that the possibilities were truly open- they were merely contingently open from your limited perspective.

      Going back to morals, we may as a society encourage responsibility or encourage “thriving” through capitalistic means and punitive means, but as hard deterministics (hard incompatibilists) we may also recognize that this individual’s thriving and this individual’s utter failures (say homelessness or jail) were not because they “chose” in some desert-entailing way, but only because that system and, say, the threat of punishment of failure is what makes the most people (machines) make the best choices and create the most robust society. The individual(s) who model the situation and decide that better education or brain surgery (etc.) will be more socially and personally beneficial for criminals and society than say cutting off wrists, are fully determined in their analysis (they are machines as well), but their modeling of the world may be closer to the correct “possibilities” of creating a good society (corresponding with the correct 25% above) than say Hamurabi’s method which may be closer to the 50% miscalculation above. And thus we turn, creating better societies, achieving better results, flying to the moon, feeding more people, having less people in poverty, and so on.

  24. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    We are now down to semantics (‘(free) will’), and I am tired of talking about talking. So I’ll let another blog do that for me:

    “Jerry sensibly rejects all notions of mind/body dualism or any notions of a supernatural “soul” which can over-ride the laws of physics.

    However, Jerry is at odds with many of his readers in rejecting any notion of “free will” that is compatible with a deterministic universe. Such “compatibilist” stances have been advocated, for example, by Dan Dennett in his 2003 book “Freedom Evolves”, and recently by Sean Carroll.

    In essence that dispute is simply about semantics, with both sides agreeing on the physical reality.”

    Why can’t we have (free) will if we have consciousness, desires and goals?

    But I will also note that while Jerry’s definitions of (not) free will are often untestable (the “rewind and replay” being the foremost example), the compatibilist notion is eminently so. A “(free) will” model is no different from noting that solid ice can emerge out of liquid water.

    • Vaal
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      Torbjörn Larsson wrote: But I will also note that while Jerry’s definitions of (not) free will are often untestable (the “rewind and replay” being the foremost example), the compatibilist notion is eminently so. A “(free) will” model is no different from noting that solid ice can emerge out of liquid water.

      Er…why do you say that?

      Compatibilism comes in variations, but one version often repeated here has been that Free Will means “I could have chosen otherwise if I wanted to.” And compatibilism rejects the notion of “If EVERY SINGLE THING were the same I could have chosen otherwise.” Rather, it acknowledges we more sensibly would mean “I could have chosen otherwise in similar circumstances.”

      On such understanding, today at the cafeteria I was offered a choice between pizza and a burger. I love both. But today I want the burger more, so I choose the burger. Tomorrow, however, I will also have the choice between a burger and pizza, but it’s quite probable tomorrow I will WANT to choose the pizza. Can I do so? Yup. Can we test such things? Why not?

      Want to test the proposal that “Vaal could have done otherwise in similar circumstances, offered the same choice?” Go ahead: test me for a month, for months, offering me pizza or burgers, and you’ll see I was able indeed to “choose otherwise” (not choose the burger) in the compatibilist sense.

      If for some weird reason you’d still want to say “But…despite the results of the test, you couldn’t REALLY have done otherwise” then I’m not sure what you could mean, in a way that doesn’t throw out the significance of tests in any other realm of science.

      ?

      Vaal.

      • Posted January 30, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        there is no scientific, data or logical basis for being a compatabalista….the only motive is intellectual laziness (ideology) and defense of the pre-scientific status quo, of course.

        • miko
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          Read Dennett and get back to us. You are confusing compatibilism (agreed its a bad word choice) with dualism.

          • Posted January 30, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

            did long ago, he plays to the cheap seats…more ideological chit chat and zero data…who cares….

    • Xuuths
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Torbjörn Larsson, OM — exactly correct. Emergent properties from identical components. +1

      sleeprunning, you appear to have forgotten what you read of Dennett, as he does include data, and the “cheap seats” wouldn’t understand what he wrote. (Perhaps you didn’t either.)

      I apologize, but I had no choice in writing that snark. You see, this one particle a femtosecond after the Big Bang was at a 68.038798892° angle (I’m not sure the other aspect of the movement, speed, vector, etc.) that caused a collision train that ended with me writing the snarky comment.

      I hope you get just how silly that is when put that way. And that is what you are arguing.

  25. chance
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Pollock points out that this whole argument is semantic, then goes on to trash Jerry anyway.

    What’s wrong with our intellectual discourse lately?

    I agree with Jerry. “Free will” just doesn’t make sense as a concept. But this is purely semantic and based on my concept of “free.”

    Compatibilism is perfectly acceptable, I just don’t think it’s useful linguistically/semantically.

    • Posted January 30, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      older, conservative guys dominate the web, and other media, comments because their brains are easily threatened by new ideas which they reflexively (unthinking) feel as immediate threats to their belief systems…they aren’t belief systems, as we see from most of the commentators here, are immune to facts or logic…

      then they make stuff up and, mainly, do ad hominem attacks…because all this FEELS very personal to them, it’s not…

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        citation, please for your . . . (ahem) . . . statements.

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        You do realize, sleeprunning, don’t you, that you are the one stating that no one can possibly do anything other than act reflexively (unthinking). Right?

        You see, your posts provide evidence that you do not believe the theory you espouse.

    • miko
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      So, to bring back my favorite analogy, when we rejected vitalism, we could have decided that therefore nothing iss alive, because nothing fits vitalism’s conception of “living”. Clearly there was still a phenomenon to talk about, even if we couldn’t define its boundaries or necessary properties. I think calling some things alive and some things not remained useful for this reason and still serves a semantic purpose. It’s ok that for many things we aren’t sure.

      Likewise, dualism is nonsense, but I think there is an operationally useful difference in the control mechanisms of rational agents who predict and model the outcomes of their actions and select — deterministically, of course — among them when compared to thermostats and nematodes. If the problem you have is calling this kind of control “free choice” instead of “controllativity” or something more technical, then we really are having a superficial semantic argument. But we should call it something, and I don’t see what’s wrong with “freedom” or “choice” when an agents is not coerced or constrained and has responsibility (again, operationally, not in some undefined moral sense) for the action.

      • eric
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Interesting analogy which sort of accords to my own thoughts about where free will (if it exists) is ‘located.’

        The trick to getting out of vitalism while maintaining a useful definition of life was understanding that life is process, not a component or “thing.” Life is usefully defined as metabolism, a type of flow of chemical energy through a certain type of system.

        Likewise, I see free will as the process of mind-brain interaction. Thought patterns influence the growth and development of future physical and chemical brain structures; iteratively, these structures influence thought. If its anything, its this iterative process. The thoughts you have are is not just the output of your brain; they are also inputs.

        However, I think (heh) I already mentioned on an earlier thread that this definition would not meet Jerry’s requirements. It fails the ‘rewind’ criteria, and would also result in pretty much any animal with a complex brain being labeled as having free will.

        • Xuuths
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

          eric, why would “pretty much any animal with a complex brain being labeled as having free will” be a bad thing? We are merely animals with more complex brains that most other animals — not all other animals, and not all humans.

          I agree with Dr. Coyne that cats make choices — exhibiting free will (do I claw the couch and risk a swat with the paper, or claw my special claw post?). I also point out that bacteria move towards food and away from harmful chemicals, demonstrating an extremely rudimentary form of consciousness. Why is that so threatening to so many people?

          We, as humans, are not made less by being just one of a large group of consciousness-possessing living beings. I think it is a joyous thing! I applaud discoveries of subsonic language use by elephants, or among crows, or the use of sign language by primates, or . . .

    • Persto
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      “Science proceeds by studying particulars.”

      As to your implication that the discussion is intellectually trifling because it is “mere” semantics. That is unsound. As Pinker stated,”Semantics is about the relation of words to thoughts, but it is also about the relation of words to other human concerns…. reality, community,emotions, and social relations.”
      Human minds interpret ideational concepts in terms of tangible and definitive sequence of events. I don’t imagine this is “just” semantics.

      • miko
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        In science or any formalism, semantics is about the relationship of words to their definitions. Again, incompatibilism and compatibilism is almost exclusively about whether we should define free will in metaphysical terms (incompatibilism) or according to the brain functions that serve to create the experience of free will (compatabilism).

        • Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

          these are worthless false labels…we are talking about basic biology and physiology…well anywhere but with group of commentators…

          do you use these same arguments with your doctors or car mechanic?

          • miko
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

            Well, I’m a behavioral neuroscientist and physiologist, so I talk about those things when I talk about neurobiology. If you think that’s what this discussion is about, you’re in the wrong place. This thread is explicitly about in/compatibilism with respect to free will.

          • Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

            do you use these same arguments with your doctors or car mechanic?
            Yeah, what’s with those frikkin mechanics these days? They say, “You owe me thousands of dollars for the work.”
            I say, “WHAT!? What work?!”
            They say, “On your car, the engine part.”
            I say, “What exactly in the engine part? WTF did you do, replace the block?!”
            They say, “these are worthless false labels…we are talking about basic auto mechanics and car parts…well anywhere but with group of commentators…customers…

        • Persto
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          Maybe I am obtuse, but what is your point? I believe I was misleading and vague in my post but I am not sure what your gripe is here?

        • Persto
          Posted January 31, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          Miko, I must apologize for I have erroneously portrayed you. Yesterday, I was reading only your replies to my comments and not your other comments on this thread. That being said, I assumed you were opposing me because you were asserting some configuration of indeterministic compatibilism. It appears, after reading some of your other comments, you are not safeguarding that postulation at all. It seems, I was perplexed about the complexion of your retorts because they were deficit explications. (You just dismissed the conclusions without offering any evidence to the contrary-=other than that it was irrelevant.) So, naturally, I assumed you were sidestepping the issue. However, it appears, believing I had perused your other posts, you were just expressing, very subtly, that we agree scientifically, but not semantically. And if, as you say somewhere on this thread, you are not disagreeing with the science, we are only, as you have said, engaging in a semantical argument about the utilization of the expression ‘free will’.

          “As to your implication that the discussion is intellectually trifling because it is “mere” semantics. That is unsound. As Pinker stated,”Semantics is about the relation of words to thoughts, but it is also about the relation of words to other human concerns…. reality, community,emotions, and social relations.”
          Human minds interpret ideational concepts in terms of tangible and definitive sequence of events. I don’t imagine this is “just” semantics.”

          This is my comment from yesterday regarding semantics. I conclude, maybe I shouldn’t, you are puzzled about what I intimated. I did not mean to imply that the argument is more or less than semantics. I was only declaring that to adjudge the disputation intellectually trifling because of its semantical disposition is unsound. In view of the fact that semantics has real-world importance and is decidedly noteworthy in interpreting the process by which language influences thought. That is why I quoted Pinker who clearly suggests this: “Semantics is about the relation of words to thoughts, but it is also about the relation of words to other human concerns…. reality, community,emotions, and social relations.” Pinker is claiming that “even our most abstract concepts (free will) are understood in concrete scenarios.” (I added free will to the quote.)And that some of our most cherished, presumably tangible scenarios, can “only be understood through the lens of semantics.” My last sentence is a bit misleading, but I was only restating that to suggest the in/compatibilist argument is superfluous because it is semantical is faulty logic.

          Now, answer me this: Why ,if you agree with me scientifically, are you disagreeing with me semantically? Or are you disagreeing or agreeing with me at all? I am still confused about this.

  26. Posted January 30, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    The definition issue recalls last week’s discussion over at Eric MacDonald’s Choice in Dying, which was spawned from an earlier discussion Jerry started.

    Toward the end, after the discussion of what the implications are of the subconscious making the button pushing decision before the conscious mind is aware of the decision, a reference was made to a report on free will, experiments using fruit flies, and the advocacy of a two stage model for free will.

    Since the thread had grown stale and Eric wanted to move on to other topics, I filed away my overview of the article and reservations about the model. But it might be of interest here.

    Eric @ 64

    Indeed, it seems that there is a certain amount of indeterminacy even at the level of fruit flies. See:

    http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2010/12/14/rspb.2010.2325.full

    I don’t see why this is so hard to understand.

    I have read through the article you referenced, and it first rules out dualistic free will, and that the argument over free will has been removed from the theological and metaphysical world and placed firmly in the realm of science.

    Observed behavior indicates that variability is inherent in responses and that learning can narrow the variability of evolved evolutionary responses. There are neural systems that introduce variability into reponses:

    …variability in spontaneous turning manoeuvres both in tethered and in free-flying fruitflies could not be explained by random system noise [63,64]. Instead, a nonlinear signature was found, suggesting that fly brains operate at criticality, meaning that they are mathematically unstable, which, in turn, implies an evolved mechanism rendering brains highly susceptible to the smallest differences in initial conditions and amplifying them exponentially [63]…

    Examples of learning narrowing (inhibiting) variable responses are shooting basketballs or mastering a golf swing.

    It then concludes that both classical determinism and quantum indeterminacy are insufficient to account for observed behavior in insects and, indeed, people. Rather, there are evolved neural systems that introduce variability in responses so as to thwart predators. And that these variability systems can be inhibited.

    The paper then goes on to explore “actions versus responses”, where actions seem spontaneous and far removed from any stimulous. The argument being that learning about the environment means generating spontaneous behavior that is variable, and which variability can be expanded or restricted as the environment. It is in this variability that a scientific understanding of free will can be found.

    In a long section discussing arguments about free will, the paper discusses various systems including leeches:

    For instance, isolated leech nervous systems chose either a swimming motor programme or a crawling motor programme to an invariant electrical stimulus [78–80]. Every time the stimulus is applied, a set of neurons in the leech ganglia goes through a so far poorly understood process of decision-making to arrive either at a swimming or at a crawling behaviour. The stimulus situation could not be more perfectly controlled than in an isolated nervous system, excluding any possible spurious stimuli reaching sensory receptors unnoticed by the experimenter.

    But the problem I see here is one the paper previously noted, that is that neural systems seem to operate on the edge of criticality and that extremely small variations in a stimulus can produce widely divergent results. One must wonder exactly how controlled is the “invariant electrical stimulus”?

    The paper concludes by supporting a two stage notion of free will. Here, a preliminary stage generates options for action (free) and a second stage prunes the possibilities and selects one, or rejects all (will):

    the biological process underlying free will can be conceptualized as a creative, spontaneous, indeterministic process followed by an adequately determined process, selecting from the options generated by the first process. Freedom arises from the creative and indeterministic generation of alternative possibilities, which present themselves to the will for evaluation and selection. The will is adequately determined by our reasons, desires and motives—by our character—but it is not pre-determined.

    It appears to me that this is where the proponents of free will and those that deny free will part company.

    The model proposes (and the two stage model has been advocated for a long time) indeterministic generation of possibilities and selection by processes that are not pre-determined.

    Those that oppose the notion of free will might argue that the first stage is anything but free and rather is the resting state of the brain. And the second stage is likewise not willed but remains an interplay of variability and inhibition that lies on a criticality surface that might be subject to extremely small perturbances that result in a decision.

    I am sympathetic to the model and the support it has in neurophysiology, but the interpretation of the model in support of a new definition of free will is suspect in my mind.

  27. DV
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    >>stop fretting about bad “choices” in the past, since I had no alternative<>I’ve even been told by determinists that although they agree with me, it’s important not to let the general public know that their “choices” are predetermined!<<

    yeah – but are these determinists compatibilists?

    • DV
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      >>stop fretting about bad “choices” in the past, since I had no alternative

      Did someone put a gun to your head when you made those choices? If not, and if they were “choices” then by definition you had alternatives. It is an abdication of responsibility to say you could not have chosen otherwise. In any case, it is still a good idea generally to stop fretting about past choices especially if you can’t do anything about them now.

      • miko
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        It strikes me as strange to reject a dualistic understanding of choice and maintain a dualistic understanding of responsibility. Of course you are responsible for your choices (except under circumstances of coercion or similar duress). If the agent Jerry Coyne steals my ice cream, he is responsible, and holding him responsible with punishment may change the agent’s future models of ice cream-stealing outcomes to everyone’s benefit.

        The fact that we worry over choices, re-weighing alternatives, is almost certainly a cognitive mechanism for improving our future choice-making models of the world.

        • DV
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

          I imagine the agent Jerry Coyne would say “i have stopped fretting about stealing your ice cream, because I had no alternatives”.

          • miko
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

            Hmmm… sounds like a path to sociopathy.

            • Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

              And indeed, research supports this!

              The Value of Believing in Free Will
              Encouraging a Belief in Determinism Increases Cheating
              Abstract

              Does moral behavior draw on a belief in free will? Two experiments examined whether inducing participants to believe that
              human behavior is predetermined would encourage cheating. In Experiment 1, participants read either text that encouraged a
              belief in determinism (i.e., that portrayed behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text.
              Exposure to the deterministic message increased cheating on a task in which participants could passively allow a flawed computer
              program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that they had been instructed to solve themselves. Moreover, increased
              cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, participants who read deterministic statements
              cheated by overpaying themselves for performance on a cognitive task; participants who read statements endorsing free will
              did not. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.

            • Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

              Ooops :)

              http://pss.sagepub.com/content/19/1/49

          • Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

            no, that’s the the silly libertarian straw man — antisocial behavior has immediate negative effects…

            • DV
              Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

              who’s saying anything about the effects or non-effects of antisocial behavior?

              Jerry coyne has indeed already said he had no alternatives about the bad choices he had made.

              Do you mean, there was not enough immediate negative effects in his particular case to prevent such excuse-making?

        • Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          Miko = It strikes me as strange to reject a dualistic understanding of choice and maintain a dualistic understanding of responsibility

          You nailed it!

          • DV
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

            who’s maintaining the dualistic understanding of responsibility? noone in these pages as far as I can tell.

        • Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          jerry steals your ice cream and you want to punish/deter/treat — on what fact basis will that occur — your morals? the 10 commandments? social convention?

          • miko
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

            The evolved ethology of social mammals.

  28. Posted January 30, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on humanathema and commented:
    Jerry Coyne defends incompatibilism.

  29. Posted January 30, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on humanathema and commented:
    Jerry Coyne defends incompatibilism.

  30. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    How do we determine when the appearance of choice in other species means something different from the appearance of choice in humans?

    This has been answered any number of times in previous threads, and is answered again by Pollock in the quote right above your question:

    Choice is one of the most important things that the human brain does; arguably, the brain’s ability to model the world and choose from alternative actions IS its survival value.

    We choose by modeling reality and reasoning about those models. Plants, bacteria, rotifers, and earthworms lack this capacity for abstract reasoning and therefore cannot be said to choose in the same way that we do. They don’t plan; they merely react, following purely genetic programs, and suffer the Darwinian consequences of any errors. We can anticipate errors and (sometimes) avoid them by choosing alternative courses of action. We are “evitability machines” in Dennett’s phrase.

    This anticipatory error-avoidance is a new way of governing behavior and enhancing fitness that has arisen fairly recently in our evolutionary history, and I’m at a loss to understand why you want to pretend it doesn’t exist, or that it’s somehow no different from what rotifers do when chasing a chemical gradient.

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      I’m pretty sure Jerry’s not arguing against the concept of abstract reasoning. Not sure why you’d leap to that assumption.

      Let’s start simpler. You put two toys in front of a dog and it picks one up in its mouth. Did the dog make a choice? Is this what we mean by choice?

      Or do we ONLY count behaviors that are correlated with activity in the prefrontal cortex so that only human beings and maybe some great apes can actually make choices?

      Saying that our brain “models” things isn’t any kind of argument. An earthworm’s brain models chemical gradients just as Jerry said; it has no capacity to reflexively examine this model the way human beings do but that doesn’t mean the model isn’t there. Now we’re back to the dogs. Does the dog’s cognitive processes have to be reflexive for picking up a toy to constitute a “choice”? I don’t think so. And honestly, I doubt most of the choices I make over the course of a day are the result of high-level planning functions — most of them are just rote, internalized gestures that are part of my routine. I doubt I’m even aware of most of the choices I make.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        Do you grant that we have the ability that I’ve called anticipatory error-avoidance? Do you think that earthworms and rotifers have it too? If the answers are yes and no, respectively, then it seems to me that you must accept that our choice-making ability is qualitatively different from theirs. But this is precisely the point that Jerry seems to want to deny when he claims to see no difference between our choices and an earthworm’s.

        Dogs are obviously somewhere in between, and I’m not competent to say to what extent they engage in planning or reasoning about the future. (There does seem to be some evidence that squirrels and birds can plan strategies for caching food.)

        • Dan L.
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

          Do you grant that we have the ability that I’ve called anticipatory error-avoidance?

          I do grant it. But I also grant that earthworms, which can learn simple mazes, have a primitive version of this as well. Do you grant that we have no choice in employing this “anticipatory error-avoidance”? That it just happens unbeckoned? If so, I don’t see how “using” a higher-order computation (we’re not actually using it, if anything it’s using us) introduces an element of “choice” into an otherwise deterministic process.

          Dogs are obviously somewhere in between, and I’m not competent to say to what extent they engage in planning or reasoning about the future.

          There’s nothing “obvious” about this. This problem gets to the heart of a lot of deep, unsolved problems about the mind and about determinism.

          I’m also suggesting that maybe there’s different modes of what we call “choice” — you’re focused on the higher-level functions of the prefrontal cortex but when I choose to get out of bed it’s not because I’ve made a plan to do so — it’s because I have somewhere to be. I do not think to myself every morning: “gee, guess I’ll get out of bed. First one leg, then the other…” I just get up. Is this not a “choice” according to your formulation or are you willing to admit that there’s more to “choice” then what happens in the prefrontal cortex?

          • miko
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

            “(we’re not actually using it, if anything it’s using us)”

            Dan, you’re slipping into dualism. The computations isn’t using you, it IS YOU.

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

              I’m not slipping into dualism and I don’t buy into identity theory. Actually, identity theory is essentially a form of Platonism so if anything you’re the one flirting with dualism.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

            “I don’t see how ‘using’ a higher-order computation…introduces an element of ‘choice’ into an otherwise deterministic process.”

            Choice and determinism are orthogonal. The rules of chess permit a choice of legal moves from a given board position. A chess-playing human (or computer) must select one of these legal moves in order to move the game forward. These are real choices in the sense that the need to choose is a real problem that agents must face, and the choice made is a real solution to that problem. There is no other sense of “real” that’s relevant. Whether the decision procedure used to arrive at that choice is deterministic or not is beside the point.

            Similarly, the fact that some choices require more complex decision procedures than others does not negate the reality of the need to choose or of our ability to make choices.

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

              I didn’t use the word “real” in the bit you quoted so I’m not sure how any of this is relevant. I certainly don’t think chess-playing algorithms “choose” moves in the same way that human beings make choices.

              Similarly, the fact that some choices require more complex decision procedures than others does not negate the reality of the need to choose or of our ability to make choices.

              It all depends on how you define “choice.” I disagree with your definition. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think “choice” means anything at all — I just don’t think it means what you insist it means.

      • miko
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        No, earthworm nervous systems to not have the representational systems to model their own interactions with their environment, let alone predict outcomes. Their chemotactic strategies are like those of bacteria.

        Going down the phylogenetic tree to nitpick over where what we want to call “choice” emerges is the same meaningless exercise that it is with “consciousness” or “life.” Whatever your precise definition is, there is a boundary somewhere… does it matter where?

        Modelling and comparing future outcomes is in fact the key difference, and I don’t see why that’s not an argument. It might not be an argument you like, but there it is.

        • Dan L.
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

          Whatever your precise definition is, there is a boundary somewhere… does it matter where?

          Yes, it does. If we agree there’s a difference then the precise nature of that difference is not only important, it is the only important thing about the question.

          Modelling and comparing future outcomes is in fact the key difference, and I don’t see why that’s not an argument. It might not be an argument you like, but there it is.

          I disagree, but it’s not because it’s an argument “I don’t like.” That’s a pretty disrespectful way to engage, by the way.

          • miko
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            Maybe we’re at cross purposes. The form of compatibilism I’m defending is that, given materialism and determinism, a useful definition of free choice that distinguishes us from thermostats and — trust me on this — worms is that we are able to build predictive models in our brains, that these models are used to weigh outcomes and determine choices, and that they are updated by experience.

            When an agent can deploy these models in an uncoerced and not overly-constrained way, I say we might as well call this free will. You assert that this is “not an argument.” Well, it IS the argument of compatibilism, and it certainly has better defenders than me. We don’t have metaphysical, dualist free will, yet incompatibilists are hung-up on this metaphysical conception that is, to me, totally incoherent. Our freedom in the compatibilist sense is the source of our subjective experience of being freely-choosing agents.

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

              We don’t have metaphysical, dualist free will, yet incompatibilists are hung-up on this metaphysical conception that is, to me, totally incoherent.

              Yes, I’m essentially a compatibilist except that I don’t think the term “free will” is even remotely useful. That is the only difference between me and a compatibilist. Happy now?

              If you knew what you meant by “free will” you would say that thing instead of “free will” and then we’d know what the hell we’re talking about. And as for this:

              trust me on this

              Why not trust me? Why assume that I haven’t read everything you’ve read on the subject and simply come to my own conclusions? Dennett’s pretty good but he isn’t quite infallible.

              • miko
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

                I just meant trust me about worms. My specialty, and by the laws of probability probably not yours. I think it is ok to say “I freely make choices” rather than “I do the thing were I am not metaphysically freely choosing but it seems like it and we should operationally act as if it is so.” For the same reason I can safely ignore vitalists when I say something is alive, I feel I can ignore dualists when I say I am free to choose which way to walk home from work.

                I get rejecting the term “free will” on principle. But you need something else that captures the difference between people and steam engine governors. And I think that’s all this debate is really about, which isn’t much.

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

                But you need something else that captures the difference between people and steam engine governors.

                This is what is being argued. I think we are incredibly complicated steam engine governors and looking for this magical difference you mention is exactly what is going wrong with this discussion.

              • miko
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

                No, it’s not magic. It’s a novel functional level. It’s not magic that animals with limbs have more modes of locomotion than those without. It’s a higher order of complexity, where new features emerge.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

                Dan, here’s another analogy. Consider two ways of triggering a time-bomb: a burning chemical fuse, and a digital timer.

                Obviously these two trigger mechanisms are both made of atoms, are both physically deterministic, and both have the same ultimate effect (boom!), but I will argue that they achieve it by qualitatively different means.

                The chemical fuse is a raw wave of physical causality propagating down the length of the fuse. It represents time in the crudest possible analog fashion: more atoms equals more time.

                The digital timer also contains a propagating wave of physical causality, but the key word here is “contains”. The timer keeps its wave bottled up inside it for an arbitrary length of time, with time represented symbolically, in digital form. The wave of causation propagating through the timer mechanism is made to perform symbolic calculations, and only when the output of a cycle of calculation matches the preset time value is the wave allowed to escape the timer and set off the bomb.

                In short, the timer computes; the fuse merely burns. Computation — symbolic calculation — is the key difference that sets them apart and endows the timer with a behavioral flexibility far beyond that of the burning fuse.

                It’s this same kind of difference — the ability to reason about consequences — that sets us apart from earthworms and steam governors and gives us behavioral flexibility that they don’t have. It’s not magic, but it is a difference worth talking about.

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

                You keep repeating yourself and I keep saying simply “I disagree.” I don’t think you’ve plumbed the depths of the mystery of the mind and if you had you would have something more interesting to say than: In short, the timer computes; the fuse merely burns.

                I’m done arguing with you both.

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

                …except to say that:

                It’s a higher order of complexity, where new features emerge.

                And similar statements about “emergentism” are, in my opinion, bullshit. If you know how it works say how it works. “Emergent properties” doesn’t tell me anything; “higher order of complexity” doesn’t tell me anything.

              • miko
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

                Dan, If you want to argue that there is no higher level of functional complexity to a nervous system with a billion neurons that builds airplanes than one with a few hundred or thousand, then you’re right, there is no need to discuss this.

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

              we are able to build predictive models in our brains, that these models are used to weigh outcomes and determine choices, and that they are updated by experience.

              Note how loaded this quote is with metaphor. This is exactly why I’m leaning away from compatibilism. You have no idea what you mean by “we…build predictive models in our brains.” It’s very much unlike the way we might build a sandcastle or Ikea furniture. In fact, to me at least, it doesn’t feel like it’s me doing anything at all. You don’t know what it means to “weigh outcomes” or “determine choices.”

              If we had a functional model instead of a bunch of folk-psychological metaphors we might be able to make some progress but we don’t. As it is I’m going to remain skeptical of anyone who claims they know the deep secrets of how the human mind works, k?

              • miko
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

                We do have functional models. There are cortical-hippocampal circuits involved in memory recall and advance planning. Imagine that the outcomes of these simulations result in various levels of dopamine release in subnuclei of the thalamus (let’s just say). Dopamine release activates cross-inhibition and auto-enhancement among these thalamic circuits, and a “winning” decision begins to crystallize.

                I pulled all that out of my ass, but these are the kinds of processes that go on during decision making that systems neuroscience really is starting to identify. Nothing spooky, no ghost in the machine…

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

                If you pulled it out of your ass then it’s not functional.

              • Posted January 31, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

                OK, for real examples, you could check out Kable and Glimcher 2009. If you don’t read the scientific literature, Jonah Leher has written a popular book about the neuroscience of choice. If you still think these FUNCTIONAL MODELS do not have properties that are fundamentally different from those of a thermostat, I’ll happily leave you to your opinion of their functional equivalence.

      • Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

        Key word: most

        • Dan L.
          Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that’s the key word. If most choices don’t involve higher-level reasoning then our concept of choice can’t be dependent only on higher-level reasoning.

          • Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

            Most of the time.

            You missed my point, so I will say it:
            Not all choices don’t involve higher-level reasoning, but some do.
            That is what you said, I just wanted to point that out.

            I also wish to correct your fallacy,
            “most choices don’t involve higher-level reasoning”,
            “therefore, our concept of choice can’t be dependent only on higher-level reasoning”

            So?
            First, if it seems to you that most choices don’t, fine. When I get out of bed, I am very conscious of my decision to do so. I am conscious of willing almost all of my moves, for that matter, for every single move I make, I want to make it; I want it to occur.
            Even if it isn’t the foremost attention my mind is giving, it is completely within the realm of every situation to become acutely aware of my conscious will to move. Your so called unconscious decisions/choices are part of my conscious functioning, just not the most prominent part, most of the time.

            In fact, the only times, basically, that we do make choices, is when we are awake and functioning on a conscious, intentional level. We never make movements completely unconsciously, except maybe in seizures and reflexive movements. Even sleep walking involves the ‘higher’ function of dreaming, or imagery of our surroundings and situation.

            At the least, because even you admit that some of our decisions involve cogitation, it only takes some of our activity to express our will, and it only takes a narrow range of choices to express our will – two will suffice in most situations, if not all.

            Our choices wouldn’t be free if applying deterrents had no use. It is a conscious act to evaluate the consequences of our choices, and if even this adds to the so called state of mind that determines our decision whether or not to pull a heist(jail, violence, guilt), or pick our nose(embarrassment, yelled at, hygiene), we weigh those consequences against our values to make a decision at some point in the process. This is what influences our selections, our values. Our values are formed consciously, most of the time :p

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

              OK, Mr. Wall of Text, I am just going to correct your elementary logical error and leave the rest alone:

              I also wish to correct your fallacy,
              “most choices don’t involve higher-level reasoning”,
              “therefore, our concept of choice can’t be dependent only on higher-level reasoning”

              Not a fallacy. If ANY KIND OF CHOICE does not depend on higher-level reasoning then CHOICE IN GENERAL does not depend on higher-level reasoning. Only particular kinds of choice, not choice in general. That means we’re either dealing with TWO kinds of things (fine with me but no one seems to want to spell out what these different types are) or that the one type of thing does not depend on the thing people are saying it depends on.

              If you can trust miko on earthworms you can trust me on logic.

  31. Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    “Of course [debunking contra-causal free will] matters! It matters in how we think of ourselves (I, for one, have tried to stop fretting about bad “choices” in the past, since I had no alternative); it matters in how we conceive of moral responsibility, reward, and punishment (if it didn’t, why are philosophers engaged in furious debate about the effects of determinism on moral responsibility?); and it matters to religious people, who really do feel that they have a choice about whether to accept Jesus as saviour, or about whether the evils in the world stem from God’s having bequeathed us free will. And it matters because for hundreds of years people thought the soul was separate from the brain, and now we know that such dualism is wrong: the mind, and our choices, reflect, pure and simple, the physical behavior of matter.”

    Yes, many thanks for this. To the extent people believe that they could have done otherwise in actual situations (as opposed to counterfactual) – in my experience a very common belief – then it’s critical to disabuse them of it. Otherwise they will ignore the actual causes of behavior, blame people for supposedly making the wrong (contra-causal) choice, and chalk up their own accomplishments to an uncaused causer (the soul or immaterial mental agent) that gets to take all the credit. All very counter-productive.

    That said, Pollock has it right that choice-making is a perfectly real, albeit fully caused, process. What’s unreal/illusory is the appearance of *contra-causal* choice.

  32. stephen hartman
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m so sad I am so late to the discussion. I nominate Jerry Coyne for one of the most rational people in the U.S., of those who I randomly stumble across. I hail from Ontario, Canada, but except for his competition from PZ Myers, (who one must admit also loves cats although he is constrained to pretend he does’nt from his pro-octoppus position) I must say that Jerry’s to-the-point logical coherence on almost all things science and otherwise, makes me cringe about the alternatives all you sorry folk have to vote for if you, by some predetermined yet nevertheless inexplicable reason, are Republicans.

  33. Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    NEWS FLASH — we are talking about electro-mechanical neuronal circuits here folks….

    this is pretty basic physiology…NOTHING to do with words and even less with philosophy/ideology…

    • Xuuths
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      UPDATED NEWS FLASH — sleeprunning, we are talking about the emergent properties that arise from elector-mechanical neuronal circuits — not pretty basic physiology.

      Please keep up.

      (Again, according to sleeprunning, I had no choice in writing that snarky comment, because of something that happened during the Big Bang.)

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        Also, the typo was determined at the Big Bang.

        (This is just so silly.)

    • miko
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      sleeprunning: read the post and discussion. It is not what you think it’s about.

    • Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Flashier Updated News:

      Sleeprunning, it is hard to take you seriously when you say talking has nothing to do with words
      NEWS FLASH — we are talking (some words)….

      (some more words)…NOTHING to do with words and even less with (more words)…
      ;)

  34. Asura
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I can’t believe his argument was “Yes, we only had one choice, but if circumstances differed, the choice could be different.”

    NO DUH. SO WHAT?
    That changes absolutely nothing, it does not create any sort of compatibility.

    It is so horrendously inane.

  35. Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    So the free will debate is:

    Against: We either do something for a reason or (perhaps) we do it for no reason.

    For: Ah, but if there was a reason to do something else, we would do something else. Thus free will, QED.

    Against: (* facepalm *)

  36. Kharamatha
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    ” In both my and Pollock’s conception of “choice”, there is no freedom in “free will”!”

    Exactly right, damnittohell. Will is will. Hate is hate.
    Will isn’t free. Hatred isn’t kept in your ventricles.

    But I’d imagine judgement and calibration are the main functions of any brain.

  37. Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Jeff Johnson
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Determinism simply does not mean we are incapable of choosing, and incapable of learning, and incapable of experiencing emotions related to our choices. It simply means that when we choose it is based on the state of our brain at that moment, based on all that we have learned and remembered in the past, and that when we choose the result was totally determined by the state of our brain at the time we chose. We felt like we were freely choosing it, but we were actually just doing the computation that our brain could not have done differently at that moment.

    Yes, exactly, like a hostage, we have no choice.

    Do you understand what I just said?

    We have no choice. So quit using the term as if we did.
    Furthermore, why do we need minds and awareness if all that is going on is simplistic, linear, one event/one cause determinism.

    It is fucking easy to explain our behavior mechanistically, Jeff, in fact I wouldn’t doubt that I could out perform you in that endeavor, but I don’t get how our minds can be physical, and cause effects themselves, like thinking about what is important based on our values, and deciding which is most, or even just relatively important in that moment.

    So, if our thoughts can make an evaluatory decision, why couldn’t they mandate when and where the action occurs? They are physical.

    What prevents our minds from evaluating, ruminating, feeling, weighing, and abstract future consequences as part of the process, and then expressing that decision in the form of a directed action?

    You tell me.

    • Steve
      Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Mike,

      It might help (your quest to understand) if you didn’t conflate mind with brain.

    • Tulse
      Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      What prevents our minds from evaluating, ruminating, feeling, weighing, and abstract future consequences as part of the process, and then expressing that decision in the form of a directed action?

      Physics.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted January 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Yes, exactly, like a hostage, we have no choice.

      Even hostages have choices. For example you have the choice to resist or comply with your captors.

      Other choices are less constrained, but still constrained by what we know, what we have learned, what we have felt and experienced, and what the biological computation of our brain is capable of. They are never the radically free choice of a ghost or spirit unlinked from causal forces, they are never what the common ordinary concept of free will is.

      So, if our thoughts can make an evaluatory decision, why couldn’t they mandate when and where the action occurs? They are physical.

      What prevents our minds from evaluating, ruminating, feeling, weighing, and abstract future consequences as part of the process, and then expressing that decision in the form of a directed action?

      You tell me.

      Even the reflex action of the leg when struck by the doctor’s rubber mallet is in a sense a choice: to kick or not to kick. But it is not a choice made by what we consider to be our “self”. It is a choice made by the structure of our nervous system and musculature, a choice made by a long process of evolution. And some people’s bodies choose not to make the “involuntary” reaction of kicking the lower leg outward (because of some malfunction or abnormality). What this obviously is not is a conscious choice, but it remains a selection from among two options, a choice, albeit a physically determined one.

      The choices made via deterministic biological computation in our brains, the choices we consider to be our “self choosing” are more complex than the reflex response, but they are every bit as much biochemical processes. Obviously this is my opinion based on what evidence is available to me. I feel it is the correct opinion in this context, and I’ll try to explain why.

      We can observe ourselves making choices. We know it is different from the reflex response, and different from the simple model of billiard balls bouncing. We know that in our brains we can do all the evaluation and abstracting and deciding that you are talking about. And I don’t pretend to know how exactly to construct such a computational model capable of consciousness. I can only infer that it must be biological computation from how we observe the brain at work with fMRI, and how we observe changes in human behavior and brain function based on changes in brain structure, such as from disease or injury or from mind altering substances.

      We have some idea how the complex networks of neurons make choices and evaluate inputs by looking at the crude and simplistic computerized models. Various sub-networks produce weighted outputs based on the strength of various input signals, and those outputs can be fed back as inputs to other networks that can evaluate those weighted inputs and make a “choice”, an output based on averaging the ranges and strengths of a large number of input signals cascading through a complex network or graph.

      This kind of crude model is obviously more complex and harder to predict than the direct reactions of bouncing billiard balls, but it is essentially behavior that emerges indirectly from the complex cascading aggregate of an enormous number of chemical (or electronic) “billiard balls” obeying the laws of physics.

      This kind of crude model is also obviously much less complex than what our brain does. In the same way that we cannot build a computer to simulate the entire universe, because its complexity would have to exceed that of the entire universe, our brains may never be able to fully grasp every detail of how our brains work. But we may some day have the computational sophistication to approach accurate simulation of our brains.

      If you have ever experienced drug addiction, or quit smoking, or struggled to go on a diet, you have glimpsed the extent to which decisions can be biologically determined by contributions resulting from biochemically induced cravings. This happens even though we struggle to be “good” and resist the urges. Our brains also have nodes or modules that reason and predict future outcomes. These are based on past experience, learning, and memory, not so much on present sensory inputs, but they are structured according to past sensory inputs we have experienced. And these modules organized to compute self-interest, predict outcomes of various behaviors and choices, and anticipate the thoughts and feelings of our friends, family, and community, also contribute signals to a decision making process. What we experience as wavering and waffling and making up our minds is really just differently structured nodes in our brain competing for control by producing signals, competing to produce the “best” outcome. Sometimes we feel we can’t choose when these competing nodes are too balanced. But these signals change over time based on further inputs. Eventually we can make a choice, and that triggers actions and behaviors. And when we choose, it is all based on biochemical causation, and could not have been other than what we chose.

      This complex biological computation is more plastic and flexible than the direct association between input and reaction that we see in a reflex action. It gives us the ability to see the result of a choice, and to store that information so that it can provide a new contribution to our determined choice next time we are faced with a situation we judge to be similar. In such a future situation we may choose differently because the past results are factored in. But that choice will also be determined by the present state of our brain and body. This plasticity and flexibility is what gives us adaptability. And it is what makes human decision making and experience so much richer and more remarkable than simplified robotic computation and deciding.

      To understand that it all emerges from an incredibly complex meat-based computation does not reduce one bit the beauty of human joy, creativity, reasoning, learning, language, responsibility, love, affection, or any other human quality we experience or exhibit. In my opinion, it makes it more wonderful and awe-inspiring than the coldly simple hypothesis that everything good about humans arises from an unknowable ghostly cloud. It only serves to elevate this truly special and valuable creation of biological evolution that is our brain.

  38. Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    if anyone wants to move beyond silly self-serving chit chat on this issue and wrestle with the real science here is an example of the kind of stuff you need to engage with:

    The Role of Basal Ganglia Circuits in Vocal Learning in the Songbird: A Hypothesis

    Sensitivity to temporal sequence is a striking and nearly universal aspect of brain function – not only at a sensory level, but also at a motor and cognitive level. The ability of the brain to step rapidly through a learned sequence of states underlies not only the performance of complex motor tasks such as speech, but perhaps our ability to think and plan as well. Despite the fundamental significance of temporal ordering in animal behavior, little is known about the biophysical and circuit mechanisms underlying the generation, learning and detection of complex sequences in the brain.

    Animal vocalizations provide a marvelous example of these phenomena, and Dr. Fee’s lab is using the songbird as an experimental system to explore detailed models of neural sequence generation. Most songbirds, such as the zebra finch, produce a stereotyped pattern of acoustic signals with structure and modulation over a wide range of time-scales, from milliseconds to several seconds. Another remarkable aspect of this behavior is that the specific acoustic pattern produced by a songbird is learned, rather than being innately controlled: Vocalizations are learned from the parents through a series of well-defined stages. Moreover, avian brain areas involved in song learning are closely homologous to mammalian brain areas involved in motor learning. Thus, the song control system may have a great deal to teach us about general principles of sequence generation and learning in the vertebrate brain.

    http://videocast.nih.gov/Summary.asp?File=17081

    • Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      So? What does that have to do with will? Curiously, I posted MY video :) before I saw this, LOL.

      See, unless the one mine shows is a hoax, it is possible for thoughts to be wrung out and evaluated, then ‘remotely’ acted upon. Sort of like wheelchairs and keyboards for quadriplegics.

      It doesn’t prove anything one way or another, but it does add powerfully to the so called illusion of conscious direction.

      • Posted January 31, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        this is how behavior is driven from the brain stem, no need for “higher” functions at all….

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted January 31, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      sleeprunning,
      It is probably just a sign of me being a happy-talking chit-chatter, but I’m very happy to see you make this substantive and positive contribution. This is in fact interesting and informative.

      • Posted January 31, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        this is about ideas not ppl…this is all easily available on google….

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted January 31, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          True. But strangely enough ideas tend to depend on people to have them, communicate them, and understand them.

          • Posted January 31, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

            why? no body understands anything….regardless…understanding is really a group process…

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted January 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

              A group of what?

              • Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

                people, knowledge resides in groups not individuals, another delusion, actually it is a principal of biology that the group/population is all that matters, individuals are trivial…as are we…

                any individual brain is way too limited and restricted in the information is receives to have knowledge of much of anything that’s predictive…

                of course, that goes against all ideology, but the goal of ideology is power over others and sales..lying is the most efficient tool for that…

                science is immensely productive and predictive but almost impossibly inefficient to communicate to anyone….takes way too much brain effort to comprehend…

                ideology is all about easy to digest and transmit lies that sooth emotions, mainly fear…ho hum

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

                A perfect description of why most Republicans mistrust and reject science.

                But some ideology is designed to excite fear, not soothe it, for reasons you mentioned: to exercise power over others.

              • Posted January 31, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

                right ideology can’t stand facts…too confusing…

              • Posted January 31, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

                actually, it looks like ideologies just express existing fears and ideas that trigger fear responses: fight, flight ore freeze…so when Repubs make reference to terrorists/OBama being black/etc, they are just responding to tropes that generate reactive behavior…fear is the easiest to trigger and generate behavior, that’s why the media is forced to use it so much…we pay the media to feed us what our brains crave…

                the Nazis didn’t invent demonizing Slaves, etc outgroup demonizing had worked in Europe for centuries and Bismark stumbled across it as a tactic in “unifying” Germany, etc….

  39. Posted January 31, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    If a video gadget can read a monkey’s will (not sure if it a minkey operating this or not, that’s what I was told), even if it is a person willing the display, I suppose if free will is an illusion, we can just build some of the thingamajigs to read our brains, and then push a button when we want it to execute.

    http://bcove.me/xtlx60t2

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted January 31, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      We could do that, but it would not be us choosing. It would be replaying a one-time fixed recording of what our brain was choosing based on it’s state at that moment in time.

      Later we might want to do something differently based on further inputs. The button/replay mechanism would be obsolete with respect to who we are. When we experience the deterministic process of choosing, that is us making a choice. What we experience as our self is that deterministic process.

      Just because we are not free to choose otherwise, and our will is not free, it does not mean we have no will or no choice. We make a choice according to our will; our will and our decision is a process determined by biology, chemistry, and physics.

      We just like to think it is freely determined without respect to conscious and unconscious brain processes.

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 31, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        Jeff Johnson, do you read your posts prior to posting them?

        Just because we are not free to choose otherwise, and our will is not free, it does not mean we have no will or no choice.

        Don’t you see that as a contradiction? I do.

        I mean, if you are not free to choose otherwise, even to choose NOT to choose, then we really don’t have a choice — unless you have some bizarre definition of “choice.”

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

          It is absolutely not a contradiction. We choose and we will, but not free of physical causation. When we will, we could not will otherwise, and when we choose, we could not choose otherwise.

          We experience will and choice subjectively as if they were free of causation. We don’t see our brains creating our minds. We have a will in that there are things that we want, but what we want is caused by the state of our brains and bodies. We choose things, but not in the free sense of being disconnected from causality. When we experience ourselves choosing that is a biological computation following the laws of physics and chemistry.

          There is no contradiction. You only see a contradiction because you don’t understand will that is not free of causation, and choice that is not free of causation.

          Again, we see the result of our brains causing will and choice, but we don’t see how our brains do it, which is via a deterministic biochemical computational process.

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        Just because we are unable to move doesn’t mean we’re immobile.

        Just because we are unable to see doesn’t mean we’re blind.

        Do you detect a pattern here?

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          Let me correct that.

          Just because we are not free to move in ways other than our body’s limited repertoire, in ways that defy the limitations of physics, it does not mean we are immobile.

          Just because we are not free to have unlimited sight of all physical phenomena, in a way independent of the limited biochemical processes used by our visual systems and visual cortex, it does not mean we are blind.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

            Here is another metaphor to help illustrate how, in my view, determinism does not eliminate will, choice, and human agency or “personhood” (whatever that means exactly). I’m perfectly happy to base my sense of personhood on the fact that I’m a biological organism with full membership in the species homo sapiens of the mammalian class.

            You draw from the premise of determinism conclusions such as: our will or choice is an illusion, our personhood is an illusion, honesty and sincerity are impossible, we operate on tracks like a toy train, etc.

            In your view, determinism implies we are like a small craft helpless in the middle of the sea that is tossed about by the wind, the waves, the currents, and that has no option but to surrender entirely to the directions determined by the environmental forces.

            But we have metabolism. We convert energy into action. We have a motor to propel ourselves and a computer to select the “best” direction to go. When we think and act is it not independent of our past, our environment, and who we are.

            We have accumulated in our brain an enormous amount of knowledge and memory based on our history of experience. That is “who we are” and it is completely biological. This accumulated knowledge and experience, this “who we are” is what decides our action, what direction to go in, but it does this intelligently, based on a vast array of inputs. It is not a simple action-reaction. It is a complex calculation. And this calculation is the result of an entirely deterministic biochemical process that is unique to each of us. This deterministic biochemical calculation is parameterized by our unique genetics and histories of experience.

            Importantly, as we make our determined decisions we get feedback from the environment which changes “who we are” incrementally, and allows us to adjust those decisions from moment to moment. So our biochemically determined actions change over time according to our will to succeed, which is also a biochemically determined aspect of our intelligence.

            We can learn from trial and error, because experience has endowed us with a model in our brains of what outcomes we want, and a way to theorize what actions have a good chance of achieving those outcomes. And nothing in that description requires freedom from biochemical determinism.

            We experience ourselves over time, so when we make a choice we see how a memory from 10 years earlier might affect the choice. Still we could not have chosen otherwise. But it doesn’t matter because the choice is uniquely ours.

            We couldn’t have chosen differently, but another person could have. And even though we could not have chosen differently at a particular moment, we do choose what we want. Our sense of what we want is not derived from a momentary radical freedom, it is derived from the history of learning and memory that has made us uniquely who we are, namely a very capable biological organism acting according to the laws of nature.

            It is because we experience ourselves as this cumulative history that we don’t feel forced by determinism. It is because we experience ourselves as a process unfolding over time that we can have intentions, desires, will, sincerity, honesty, and all the lovely and less lovely aspects of humanity, even though each moment our choices are determined.

            It is because of this continual interaction between our cumulative biological self and our environment that our brains become repositories of “who we are”. Even though our choices are biochemically determined by the contents of that repository, we are still choosing “what we want” based on “who we are”. We simply could not be someone else at the moment, and hence we could not have chosen differently.

            • Xuuths
              Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

              Jeff Johnson . . . oh, so close. You’re almost there.

              Your long paragraph really boils down to you somehow thinking that biological mechanisms trump “laws of physics and chemistry” determinism and allows you to make “choices.”

              Wrong. Contradictory. I don’t see why you don’t see the error.

              Yes “we have metabolism.” But it is entirely deterministic — no choices there. We can’t prevent the metabolic processes from happening (without acting on them with outside force, thereby merely adding a deterministic force to the mix).

              “We convert energy into action.” Nope, that happens by itself, no “we” doing it.

              I agree that ‘who we are’ is the accumulation of all our past experiences, knowledge, etc. But that doesn’t matter in a deterministic universe.

              You tellingly write: “It is not a simple action-reaction.” Yes it is. If you believe in determinism, that is all it is or can be. That is the definition of determinism. Terribly difficult to calculate or pre-calculate, but not impossible.

              We are not making choices/decisions any more than a ball bouncing down the stairs “chooses/decides” which stair to hit on the way. That is completely determined by gravity and other forces — not the ball. You claim that we are like the ball, but yet we’re somehow deciding which stair to hit. That is internally inconsistent.

              In your stance, there is only the illusion of choice, the illusion of experience, the illusion of personhood — you contradict yourself by writing: “… even though each moment our choices are determined.” If they are determined, they are not chosen.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

                It seems like you must have to make a great effort to avoid getting this.

                If you re-read your post you start with the assumption that in a deterministic model, choice is impossible. You can’t begin from the premise you want to demonstrate.

                That is in accord with my boat analogy (or your ball analogy). In your ball analogy, the ball is inert. I doesn’t have a brain, so of course it doesn’t make choices. The boat analogy fits all of your descriptions of determinism: that it is entirely determined by factors EXTERNAL to the boat, in the environment. This is your mistake when you apply the same reasoning to the human brain.

                Determinism is not what is preventing the ball from choosing. What is preventing the ball from choosing is that it has no brain.

                If you sincerely want to get this, try reading my post again carefully, but set aside your pre-conceived notion of what determinism and choice mean. Your fixed assumptions about choice and determinism seem to prevent you from understanding.

                Yes “we have metabolism.” But it is entirely deterministic — no choices there.

                I didn’t say metabolism provides non-determinism, or wiggle room for the magic freedom you are seeking. I only meant it to distinguish us from an inert boat entirely at the mercy of environmental forces. Metabolism means we can expend energy, and thus can have agency.

                “We convert energy into action.” Nope, that happens by itself, no “we” doing it.

                I merely meant it happens in our bodies. By “we” I meant humans. All of us, each and every human being, converts energy into action. You are looking for some kind of magic spirit in your interpretation of “we”.

                You tellingly write: “It is not a simple action-reaction.” Yes it is.

                No it absolutely is not. You are misunderstanding.

                When I decide what car I want to buy there is a lot happening, and it is much more complex than a collision of billard balls or an interaction between two molecules. There are millions of steps that involve complex networks generating signals that compete for control over the choice. Sure that process consists of billions and billions of physical biochemical interactions and events. This is why we say it is deterministic. But the “emergent” structure of an individual’s brain is unique to that person, and that structure is what does the choosing based the who that person is: the accumulated modifications of that brain over a life’s experience.

                When you go through such a choice you experience yourself evaluating and you sense what you want, and you feel yourself choosing. That is all determined by who you are, which is determined by how genetics and experience have structured your brain. And when you choose, you could not have chosen otherwise. It would require a different person to choose otherwise.

  40. Asura
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    You are a product of your environment. Your genes came from the gene-environment interactions of your parents, and then your genes were expressed through further gene-environment interactions of your own.

    Your mind is the product of gene-environment interactions.

    There is no free.

    End of story.

    • Steve
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

      Asura,

      You are right.

      Free willists of both stripes (incompatibilists and compatibilists) have been caused to believe that it is possible to transcend one’s matrix of determinants and in doing so achieve libertarian freedom. Some even go so far as to postulate that without free will, it is not possible to have personhood.

      My subtle point being that the end of one story would seem to be the beginning of another.

  41. Posted February 1, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Jerry, thanks for the response! I will link to it from my post, but otherwise, I’ll let sleeping dogs lie – as you say, I suspect everybody’s free willed out. Several commenters here raised exactly the points I should have wanted to.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      we’re not FW out, what are the limits on debunking harmful ideology and delusions?

      every generation will have to take up the same challenges….

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      we’re not FW out, what are the limits on debunking harmful ideology and delusions?

      every generation will have to take up the same challenges….

      what tiresome are the rhetorical gymnastics and loop-de-loops the weak minded/philosophers use to avoid engaging with the science…if you avoid and deny the data you end up going in circles…

      “Strong people welcome new ideas and make them their own. Weak people run from new ideas,”

      Trivers, Robert (2011-10-25). The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life (p. 315). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

  42. piero
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    I, for one, am not free-willed out. I find this one of the most exciting topics ever, and the more we discuss it, the more interesting I find it. It branches out into every meaningful issue ever addressed by philosophy.

    I must say I’m amazed at the genius of Spinoza, who saw with crystal clarity the exact nature of the problem almost four centuries ago. Spinoza rules! Plato? Aristotle? Descartes? Hegel? Heidegger? Tchah! As Deep Thought said, molest me not with that pocket calculator stuff.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      and like how much peer-reviewed data did those dudes have? zilch…

  43. Posted February 1, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    In a fully determinate universe, choice making processes would arguably not have evolved. And yet in this universe, we are not free from the requirement to think.
    Even if our choices are deflected by accident, we had to make them. So some argue that means our choices are nevertheless compelled by circumstances, even if we include the vagaries of
    luck.
    Yes, but we must be free to react to the unpredicted unpredictability of luck.
    In the slightest of an indeterminate universe, we must be “free” to choose. And we don’t need to be conscious of our thinking process to be aware of the qualia that set up the assessment of our options, etc. Consciously is not therefor (as some say) willfully. Awareness is necessary for all willfulness, although willfulness is not necessary for all awareness.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      exactly, there is no time to weigh options on every decision…do any of us weigh every word we say or write?

      animal nervous systems are non stop statistical calculators…and the sample of past events is a good enough approximation of current options, until it’s not…

      if consciousness and language were so valuable, nature would have evolved it long ago…..it’s not…

    • Asura
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      That was utter inanity.

      • Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        I’d be disappointed if you didn’t think so.

  44. chance
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    “Free-willed” out?… *reads up* Guess not. :)

    There have been some very thoughtful comments here. I know my understanding of the concept has grown since the beginning of this internet free-will explosion.

    It looks like we have been making sure progress.

  45. Posted February 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    “Incompatibilists insist on the metaphysical, dualist definition of free will, which means that if you went back to the exact same point in time, with the entire universe (including your brain) in precisely same configuration, you could have done something different than what you did.”
    Free will doesn’t mean that at all. Precisely because you can’t go back in time and do anything over. The implications of that sequentially are apparently too hard for most determinists to think about.

    • piero
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      Could you expand on that? I did not quite follow it.

      • Posted February 2, 2012 at 1:54 am | Permalink

        This do-over concept is like offering an untestable thought experiment as proof of what is actually an illogical hypothesis. If you could do something over exactly as before then of course you would do it exactly as before. Except that if you couldn’t do it over in reality, who cares.

        • piero
          Posted February 2, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

          But it is intended as a thought experiment to clarify the issues involved. We cannot ride a beam of light either, but that didn’t stop Einstein form considering the idea and deduce special relativity.

          • Posted February 2, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

            Einstein’s experiment was logically possible and physically testable. And even he felt capable of error. No Einsteins in this forum, unfortunately.

            • piero
              Posted February 2, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

              No Einsteins in this forum, unfortunately. But rememeber that includes you.

              I think you fail to see the usefulness of the thought experiment. IF we could go back in time, would we make the SAME choices?

              There are two possible answers: YES, if the universe is deterministic; NO, if it isn’t. If the answer is YES, then obviously free will does not exist; but if the answer is NO, you still have all your work ahead of you. What rationally comprehensible mechanism would explain the different choice? Unless you are prepared to claim that our minds control the flow of events in the universe (a sure sign of mental illness, in my opinion), then you have no basis to claim that the possibility of having made a different choice implies free will. The possibility of having made a different choice could be just as much beyond our will as the compulsion to have made the same choice.

              • Posted February 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

                I must still point out that since we can’t go back sequentially in time, the experiment is meaningless. Because if we could go back in time, the universe would be deterministic, and all our going backs would have been predetermined.

                And you don’t have to be Einstein to be logical, although it couldn’t hurt.

              • piero
                Posted February 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

                @ roy:
                “Because if we could go back in time, the universe would be deterministic”

                Of course. But since we cannot go bak in time, the point is moot. What matters here is whether our mind plays any role at all in the universe’s indeterminacy (assuming determinism is false). Unless a plausible mechanism is proposed, it does not matter in the least whether the universe is deterministic or not: being subject to unpredictable fluctuations is not the same as having free will.

              • Posted February 2, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

                “being subject to unpredictable fluctuations is not the same as having free will.”

                Although not that relevant to my initial argument, one would make some degree of freedom not only possible but probable.

              • Posted February 2, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

                Let me repeat: Even if our choices are deflected by accident, we had to make them. So some argue that means our choices are nevertheless compelled by circumstances, even if we include the vagaries of
                luck.
                Yes, but we must be free to react to the unpredicted unpredictability of luck.
                In the slightest of an indeterminate universe, we must be “free” to choose.

              • Posted February 2, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

                By the way, once you commit to full determinism, you’re not free to argue that you chose that commitment freely.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 2, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

                By the way, once you commit to full determinism, you’re not free to argue that you chose that commitment freely.

                It depends (of course) on what you mean by “chose…freely”.

                By definition if it was deterministic there was no classically free choice, as in dualism, as in a ghost-in-the-machine radically free of causation by virtue of being disconnected from causality and physicality.

                But if you mean “choose freely” in the ordinary sense that we normally experience it every day, of course you are wrong.

                But it doesn’t mean that I felt compelled to choose. I participate in the choice, I see the alternatives, consider them in relation to one another, and voluntarily decide on what seems correct based on nothing but the structure of my brain and the biochemical reactions. So it is the choice I want to make, the choice I feel is right, on a subject that interests me, even though I could not have chosen otherwise (unless I had wanted to). That is the kind of freedom we experience.

                What is it that determines our choices? It is not, generally, overwhelming and irresistible external forces we are compelled to obey, as if we were drifting in a swirling river rapid, or as if we were a falling rock, or a bouncing ball.

                It is also not a foreign infiltrator inside our heads bullying and ordering us about against our will.

                When our environment presents us with information about options, opportunities, and other choices, we evaluate them according to a very complex and diverse internal labyrinth of neural circuits that implement a highly parallel process of competing interests vying for control of the outcome. This internal labyrinth is “who we are”, it is our life’s accumulated wisdom, memory, values, expertise based on experience, experimentation, and exposure to consequences of various choices made or witnessed in the past.

                From the biochemical perspective, given a set of inputs and the state of our brain at any given moment, the result is determined. Our choice is inevitable. But we do make a choice.

                From the standpoint of our subjective experience it is the accumulated structuring of our brain, the unique set of human qualities that represents us, which wills certain outcomes, predicts the consequences of various actions, and arrives at a preferred choice from among the alternatives. This process and the resulting choice is unique to us. We engage in it voluntarily by our reckoning because we witness (some of) the details of the (deterministic) decision to volunteer (and that voluntary engagement is determined by the structure of our brain).

                It just so happens that we could not have willed otherwise, could not have predicted otherwise, and could not have chosen otherwise unless we were in fact a different person, having accumulated a differently structured brain over our lifetime prior to the event in consideration.

                Each moment our choices and actions produce feedback in terms of consequences and other new information that can change our choice next time we are faced with a similar situation. At a given moment we could not choose otherwise than we do; over a time interval, viewing ourselves as a closed system distinct from the environment, we do experience a sense of freedom to direct our interactions with our environment, a freedom based on memory of previous choices and the ability to recognize how our choices change over time based on feedback.

                Even though it’s all deterministic, we experience the separation between our interior self and the exterior world, and the continuity of past with present, and based on this we feel freedom to change, freedom to decide, freedom to act in ways that change the external world.

                None of this means we were free of causation. None of it means we were forced involuntarily. None of it means our choice was an illusion. We are caused but we experience ourselves voluntarily arriving at what we consider to be an intelligent choice (even though at a later time we may recognize it as stupid). But while at any given moment I must choose to believe or not in determinism, or perhaps remain neutral, over time I experience the freedom to change my choice based on how I learn and process information.

              • Posted February 2, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

                So as a determinist you have just argued that you chose, but not freely.
                It always amuses me that determinists think they can rationalize from an indeterminate world, but cannot live in one.

              • Posted February 2, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

                Unless you are not, as I had specified, a full determinist?

              • Posted February 2, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

                If the choice was yours to make, then you are free to make it – it’s that simple.

              • Steve
                Posted February 3, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

                But not free in making it, so not really free to make it or to not make it.

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted February 3, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

              Roy wrote:

              So as a determinist you have just argued that you chose, but not freely.
              It always amuses me that determinists think they can rationalize from an indeterminate world, but cannot live in one.

              Yes, I choose but not freely in the sense of being radically disconnected from causation and physical material.

              You may be able to amuse yourself, but you are the one rationalizing from a position of pseudo-dualism because you are too attached to the idea of the human as something elevated above nature in some special way.

              What you need to do instead is to elevate nature to grasp it’s power to manifest human qualities such as intentionality, desire, pleasure, longing, will, prediction, curiosity, reason, and all the other wonderful aspects that are habitually assumed to require some special dispensation from the laws of physics, but are actually the product of an immensely complex biological system.

              There is no rationalization in my descriptions of choosing in a deterministic world. It is simply the way the brain works. It is the way we all live, and we have no choice to live otherwise; we cannot escape the laws of nature.

              When we choose we are not powerless and compelled by external forces to passively surrender.

              This is the trap that compatibilists fall into when struggling to salvage a shred of dualistic free will even while flattering themselves that they are modern enough to understand our world scientifically and intelligent enough to see through the mythologies of spirit and soul.

              This is the trap that can’t be escaped by those who can not view a deterministic causal system as anything more complex than a stone falling or billiard balls colliding.

              When we choose, we are not compelled but rather the energy of our metabolism drives the functions of an active machine of exquisite complexity that has the capability to resist, to consent to, or to modify the external world.

              These choices are provided not by a momentary freedom to evade physical determinism, but rather they are derived from a lifetime of accumulated knowledge and wisdom encoded into our neural circuitry.

              When we choose we could not choose otherwise, but our choice is the product of a physical system that takes into account an extraordinary range of factors and nuanced criteria before arriving at it’s result. This includes taking into account our past choices and their consequences. When we make our deterministic choice, we could have made no other, but only we in our uniqueness could have chosen exactly as we do. The choice is determined by “who we are” which is essentially the structure of our brains.

              • Posted February 3, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

                What you need to do instead is to elevate nature to grasp it’s power to manifest human qualities such as intentionality, desire, pleasure, longing, will, prediction, curiosity, reason, and all the other wonderful aspects that are habitually assumed to require some special dispensation from the laws of physics, but are actually the product of an immensely complex biological system

                That is what we mean by free will, Jeff. We are not dualists, no one here is. That is what I don’t understand, it seems to me we are saying the same thing, except you say we don’t have free will, and those of us that do are somehow dualists and incompatabilists.

                Nobody is assuming anything is dispensed, or not tied to, the laws of physics!

                I, at the very least, think the exact same things you state here about who we are and what we do!! We’re brothers!!

                Catch ya, bro :)

                I might not have internet access for a few weeks, I have to try and hit libraries and hotspots, so if I’m not around, I’m not avoiding, I am being compelled by my choices to miss this place, haha!

              • Steve
                Posted February 3, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

                Well, Mike, then you’re a non-free willist, bro.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 3, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

                tushcloots:

                That is what we mean by free will, Jeff. We are not dualists, no one here is.

                Okay, but perhaps pseudo-dualists…let me explain.

                Why do compatibilists want to redefine the term “free will”? This has long been a basis of theological speculation and used as a foundation of moral reasoning. The traditional view of “free will” is that some non-physical “I” decides freely of any constraint or limitation. What’s more this traditional view of “free will” has always been considered to be a unique attribute of humans, it has long been advertised as an invitation to choose and accept God, and it has long been presented as a gift from God. It is that thing that makes us special and raises us above the level of mere animals.

                It should be clear why incompatibilists want to abandon it: because it truly does not exist, it stems from an illusion in our minds, and it confuses people into thinking that maybe God does exist after all.

                Why not just admit that “free will” is an illusion? We can will, want, and decide, but not freely in this traditional sense.

                It seems that compatibilists squirm uncomfortably when faced with the reality of a material deterministic world because they fear that if our choices and our will is not “free” in this traditional way that somehow we lose some or even all of our humanity.

                They don’t seem to grasp that our choice at any moment can be algorithmic and determined by the state of our brain and body, and that we could not have chosen otherwise, yet we still have all the human things like loving and feeling and the seemingly non-deterministic things like reasoning and intending and sincerity and honesty. It seems that compatibilists fret over the worry that these human qualities are somehow impossible in a fully material and deterministic world.

                The compatibilist position feels like a fearful straddle of God world and real world because they just aren’t quite able to grasp that how we observe people to be actually is the product of an entirely materialist deterministic world.

                Perhaps that we can not (at least for now) build a conscious machine worries them. Or even scarier, the possibility that someday we really may build a conscious machine worries them more. And these worries cause them to waffle about in the middle hoping some third way will appear to save their cherished notion of humans somehow elevated above the level of being products of pure biochemistry.

                Just like the optical illusions created by our mental processing of the perception of color values on boundaries between contrasting colors, the feeling that our will is “free” and unconstrained by the physical computational structure of our brain at any moment is an illusion.

                And there is no need to fear that these facts diminish our ability to voluntarily engage in action or resist external coercion. Those are natural human behaviors that are products of our deterministic brain, and their existence is abundantly evidenced by everyday human behavior.

                So what is the need to nervously cling to insistence on some special reduced concept of “free will” out of fear that without it we somehow lose our humanity? I’m calling this pseudo-dualism. Instead, by clearly understanding this distinction between libertarian free choice and algorithmically determined choice we truly discover our actual humanity, and it is every bit as beautiful and satisfying as any vague dualist or compatibilist pseudo-dualist conception of humanity ever was.

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

                Steve says, “But not free in making it, so not really free to make it or to not make it.”
                That misses the point that all freedom is limited to circumstantial causes, but is in itself a circumstance of cause. We must choose, because, as proactive causative choice makers, we must be free to select from an array of options. Which would not be possible as a logical necessity in a fully determinative world.
                Not to say, as I’ve been irrationally accused of assuming, that there are no other entities in the universe capable of making proactive choices. There undoubtedly are and have been reactive and proactive choice makers from the metaphorical start.

              • Steve
                Posted February 3, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

                Beats the hell out of me what you’re saying here.

                I am not missing the point that freedom is limited to circumstantial causes, I am saying that freedom is so limited by circumstantial causes as to be completely eliminated.

                Which would not be possible as a logical necessity in a fully determinative world.

                It’s not even possible as a logical necessity in a less than fully determinative world. Heck interdeterminacy could be at a 50% level and it wouldn’t deliver on iota of freedom to human will.

              • Posted February 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

                Humans, as I’ve said elsewhere, are not elevated above nature. We are proactive choice makers that are undoubtedly an essential part of the evolution of the cosmos according to whatever purposes have been acquired over the unlimited progress of its time.

                And Jeff, this is the king’s motto of your rationalistic half deterministic empire:
                “When we make our deterministic choice, we could have made no other, but only we in our uniqueness could have chosen exactly as we do.”

                Dream freely on.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 3, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

                And Jeff, this is the king’s motto of your rationalistic half deterministic empire:
                “When we make our deterministic choice, we could have made no other, but only we in our uniqueness could have chosen exactly as we do.”

                Dream freely on.

                Answer this question: suppose I could exactly replicate the structure of my brain and the inputs at some point in time, so that two identical brains were faced with the same decision;

                could one brain come up with a different choice than the other?

                If so, why?

              • Posted February 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

                Jeff, you can’t exactly replicate the brain structure and inputs at the same point in time without also having them at essentially separate locations, such as side by side or sequentially entwined. So that, at least in my indeterminate universe, a bird might unexpectedly drop something on one and miss the other. Changing at the very least one input.

                In your determinate universe, the same thing might happen, but of course the brains would react differently because they had no other choice.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 3, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

                So that, at least in my indeterminate universe, a bird might unexpectedly drop something on one and miss the other. Changing at the very least one input.

                Nice try at avoiding answering the question and changing the premise. This is a thought experiment. So in this experiment there are no birds and no other environmental interruptions or differences in inputs to the brains. They can be side by side in a vacuum covered with a glass bell jar with identical inputs feeding into the brain stem. They are also shielded by a Faraday cage so no electromagnetic waves impinge upon them. I mean strictly identical inputs.

                In this admittedly idealized yet useful to consider scenario, could the two identical brains arrive at different decisions when presented with the same list of options?

                If so, why do you think so?

              • Posted February 3, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

                I have not avoided answering the question at all – you’re just trying to avoid the most logical answer. But then I’m assuming logic might prevail in either universe when of course it likely won’t.
                And as to the premise that this is a thought experiment, I’m prompted to repeat that I don’t find such untestable efforts to be proof of anything. And in particular not this one. As even in a Faraday cage, you won’t find a perfect vacuum – and after all the brains are in there and can’t help, if alive, to be inputting some form of feedback to each other. Or should I not be thinking that particular thought in this experiment?
                In any case the experiment is not relevant to the real world (or worlds) we live in.
                Since even if you can manufacture one instance where a choice is forced, you haven’t discovered anything but a reaction with no other choice, regardless of the presence of a list of unattainable options.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 3, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

                from Roy:

                I have not avoided answering the question at all – you’re just trying to avoid the most logical answer. But then I’m assuming logic might prevail in either universe when of course it likely won’t…

                Pure sophistry. Game over. You lose.

                Try again someday after you develop a little intellectual courage. Apparently you are not yet able to muster an argument for why the two brains might reach a different result. I don’t blame you. I think it would be an impossible case to make without appealing to dualism.

              • Posted February 3, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

                You mean logic must prevail in a universe where no choices need be made?
                Who knew.
                In any case I thought you were attempting to prove that under the same circumstances, identical brains would choose alike, and I’ve shown that even if they did, it would prove nothing, because the identical circumstance scenario can’t exist.

                In your though experiment, the two brains likely wouldn’t need to think at all. But if they did or could, they’d inevitably encounter differing circumstances that would produce different reactions, active, proactive, etc.
                But go ahead and pronounce yourself a winner. You seem to have have no other option.

              • Posted February 3, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

                Excuse the accidental typos.

              • Posted February 3, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

                How about this, Jeff. Set up everything as specific as you like, everything identical out to a planet or solar system sized radius, I usually figure it might as well be the whole universe, just to be safe. To make sure everything is the same, make an exact mirror image universe at the exact same time to within one Planck interval, the smallest interval of time(oh, did you know reductionism doesn’t hold there? Oh well).

                Will an exact mirror image evolve in each universe to each other, eg. will a person make the same choice, just everything symmetrically reversed?

                That’s why it isn’t even theoretically possible to go back in time, by the way, it cannot even make sense.

                It is just the same as asking if I could make a different decision right now. We are back in the same position with everything exactly identical, because in twenty minutes, I am going to imagine if I could have made a different right now, but I can actually ask myself, live and in person! Hey, look, I’m back in time, everbody! I want to make a decision, hmmm, what should I do. Well I could push the x key or the y key, or turn on the telly, or a virtually infinite number of things!
                Oh, I moved my leg. There, could I have done different?
                Everybody knows this, it is obvious, you said it yourself.[citation needed]
                [citation, mofo]“We can will, want, and decide..”

                Yes, I had a choice, and I freely picked one. I wanted to move(not really, but whatever), I decided what moves I could possibly choose, I decided upon one, and I willed it.

                Okay, I didn’t freely pick it, but I voluntarily picked it. I was free to do so.

                This is what, loop number twenty-odd-something in this circle, now?

                I want you to show us one single instance any one of us has tried to define free will in your traditional sense, and one instance, one little quote, of where we claim we got our idea of free will from religion.

                No one ever told me anything about free will, or taught me religion, but when I was five years old, you could have aksed me if I could make myself move over here or over there if In chose to, and I would have said yes. You might even have gotten an affirmative if you just straight out aksed me if I had free will, I wouldn’t doubt it.
                And if you aksed me where it came from, I would have aksed you if you are stupid, or what?, because it obviously came from me, my head, or whatever.

                So, argue all you effin want against your supposed traditional and supposedly historical account of free will, it has nothing to do with anything here, or anything I have ever seen any atheist or agnostic claim about their will.

                There is something fundamentally wrong with your ability to understand what we are saying here, something very fucking wrong with your perception of reality, I mean it, in the kindest way, of course.

                Unless you cite references and show examples to back up your assertions from now on, I probably won’t reply to you.

                This is the only thread, except for Canadian atheist, and Pharyngula, and these three are the only philisophically topicced(is that a word? My goodness) websites that I have ever seen this strange concept you keep insisting on.
                It isn’t at Stanford, any of the many science sites, any neuro-psychiatric or neuro-biology sites, no where do I recall ever anyone claiming that anyone but theists argue from, or for, the one you consistently, and wrongly, claim we hold.

                Your straw man gets burned down every other hour, it seems, and yet every time I turn around, you are talking to it again!

                We are over here, we are made of matter/energy only, and for myself at least, the very idea of a ‘spiritual’ essence or entity is one of the stupidist things I have heard in my life, rivaled only by dolts that insist they are reincarnated and can remember when they were Helen of Troy, and how unbearable you found the heat last Friday, When daddy had Zeus made her play outside and she went for drinks and dancing with Paris.

                I am not the slightest, approaching infinitely small, bit of a dualist, not a micro, not a pico, not a quasi, semi, inverted, perverted(get your mind out of the gutter, that’s not what it means), reverted, dress shirted, dress up, dressed as, mistaken for, accidental, theoretically, dualist.

                I insist with my dying breath, that my first to my last thought or qualia(yuk yuk), and every one in between, is physically manifest.

                I don’t talk like a vitalist, I don’t smell like a spiritist, I don’t dress like a dualist, and I am the anti-particle of a theist.

                Yet you will insist that I am one. It is hard wired into your brain, you cannot conceive, even in a theoretical parallel world, of any manifestation of a human, cat, or Sasquatch, that could even accidentally mean anything other than what you say free means.

                End of story, that’s all she wrote, and all she wrote was short stories.

                And I’m just getting started, LMAO ;)

              • Steve
                Posted February 3, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

                Mike,

                Don’t blame us non-free willists for the claim that humans have libertarian free will.

                (We are only pointing out that the libertarian free will that is asserted by FWists is an illusion.)

              • Posted February 3, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

                CPT symmetry, BTW. Not gonna happen.

              • Posted February 3, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

                (We are only pointing out that the libertarian free will that is asserted by FWists is an illusion.)

                Now I’m confused. Our history and biology constrains and strongly determines many of our choices, sometimes more so, sometimes less. They always influence our choices, you can’t be free from that.
                Yet, I believe that we can choose whether to take, or not take, lot’s of actions, also, and we can choose between alternatives based on weighing preferences and potential consequences.
                This has nothing to do with disconnect from physical constraint or determinism whatsoever.
                That’s not libertarian, I wouldn’t think?

              • Steve
                Posted February 3, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

                Mike,

                Our history and biology constrains and strongly determines many of our choices, sometimes more so, sometimes less.

                Yeah… strongly as in 100% determines.
                But never more, never less.

                Your right it’s not libertarian, and if it’s not libertarian then in what way is there any freedom in it? There is none… zip, bo freedom at all.

  46. Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    I posted this on another thread but meant to put it here:

    You, sleeprunning, are the one saying that we are just computers processing input, all you guys, Jeff and Steve, are saying we are just mechanically processing input.

    Yet we are different from computers.

    Not according to you guys. Oh, yes, you SAY we are human, we have emotions, blah blah BSblah.

    I asked you to explain what part our minds play, and both Jeff and Steve have been honest enough to even address that once, each.

    They both said that no, they can’t explain it mechanically, ….

    You people want it both ways, you are the dualists. You are claiming that we work mechanically like computers, yet you admit we are different because we have minds and feel emotions and give meaning to life.

    It is transparent bullshit that you claim one thing, that we are mechanically computing and arriving at the only one output that we can, because it is predetermined by linear cause and effect, then in the next breath you claim that we are aware.

    WE ARE AWARE, AND THAT IS DIFFERENT. WE HAVE QUALIA, AND THOSE QUALIA CANNOT BE EXPLAINED YET THEY ARE A CAUSE OF OUR BEHAVIOR!!

    You say that choice is being made even though only one possible flow of events are possible. In your world, somehow that excludes rocks falling, oh no, they are not choosing between falling and floating, they can only follow the laws of physics.
    But when a computer, or our brains only follow the laws of physics to the only one possible outcome, like the rock falling, now you introduce the concept of choice, even though there is no conceptual difference between what is inevitable.

    A rock falling has no meaning, no purpose, it does only what it can inevitably do, mindlessly obey the laws of physics.

    BTW, I was going to go into theoretical physics, but I was better at chemistry, so I enrolled in Honors Chem at U of A. I flunked out because I chose to drink and play soccer and sports instead of homework, but I still got passing marks in my labs even though I didn’t go. I almost intuitively understand physics and chemistry and just went to lab tests and finals, and passed. I didn’t have enough hours, though, so I didn’t get credits.
    Funny, my verbal IQ is higher than my other subscores, though, and I better at language, in aptitude, than math!!!

    I know perfectly well that this is all bullshit, it has zero worth in determining my real understanding and deployment of information and physical concepts and mechanisms, except that one corporation they accused me of cheating on the mechanical and verbal aptitude tests because they didn’t believe it when I got the highest scores they had seen, so it remains for me to explain my ideas in a coherent way to others, just as that applies to everyone.

    And yes, sleeprunning, it is the idea, only, that has merit, for that is what discussion is, but an exchange and evaluation of ideas, which are further ideas.

    This is what I value most in reality. Ideas. This is the premier importance to making us human, who we are, our individuality is but an expression of our ideas(which I include emotions as part of abstract concepts in the idea theatre).

    And the only way we can express our ideas is if they are different from a rock in freefall, or they are exactly as meaningless. It does not matter how complex and convoluted the path of flight is, it is still just the only event possible.

    How do you people, sleeprunning, Jeff, Steve, the other anti-FW’s, somehow introduce the concept of choosing between alternatives when no alternatives exist?
    You are the ones that unmovabley obstinate about there being only one possible outcome when presented with a set of stimuli, you are the ones that insist that there are no conceivable scenarios that are different from the only one dictated by physics, you plead with us to understand that this is not amenable – you say there is one, and only one event allowable, even in concept

    Now, I told you that I could come up with more complete mechanistic explanations for our actions, so, Jeff et al, believe my when I say I get it, I understand what you are saying, I get it better than you do(appeal to my authority, yuk yuk!).

    So, now I want to deal with a couple of points.
    1 – your insistence of calling inevitable outcomes choices, and,
    2 – your insistence that you understand completely, all the pertinent processes necessary for our behavior and functioning.

    In both cases you employ A DUALITY OF INCOMPATIBLE CONCEPTS.

    1. This is not open to debate, as afr as I can see. A rock falls. A plinko chip falls, and even though the ultimate path(outcome) is unpredictable, it is determinate. A flipping coin lands on one side of two possible, but the coin itself is not choosing anything.
    Now, electrons passing through a gate or being stopped there, is not their decision. If their passage is determined by the state of the gate(lol) which is determined by the output from other gates, there is no decision, or choice, at any gate, or in fact, in any circuit in any computer. Beside random indeterminancy, the computer only has one possible output.

    In fact, I know you agree, and more importantly, you also agree that our brains only process electro-chemically with one possible output. No choice is introduced merely by adding steps to a series of one way, pre-determined outcomes, each operation being dependent on the next, and vise versa.

    A rock that falls on another rock, which falls, then, into another number of rocks, and they all fall in the only possible path, behaving, let’s say, as what we define as an avalanche, comes to rest in the only possible pile/arrangement possible to those rocks. They do not choose where they ultimately lie, which even may be on another precariously balance pile of still more rocks on the side of a mountain.
    This resulting pile will only fall more if conditions, such as wind or erosion, dictate that they become subject to motion in a gravitational field.
    At no point do they decide to fall or not fall, they just exist in an environment described by two way cause/effect forces. There is no meaning to the behavior, they do not choose their paths, the only reason we might say they ‘choose’ one gully over another is because, to us, we don’t know which one will be prescribed by the laws of physics. There only ever was one possible outcome, no selecting between alternatives was made.
    The same with a computer, the same with our behavior, it is only ‘falling’ in one possible path with only one possible resultant outcome.
    The same is therefore true with our behavior, for you guys(people) say that there exists, at the outset, however arbitrarily you assign it, only one possible outcome, which is defined as an action, and even many of these actions, defined as behavior, is still, the only series of events possible.
    You people say so. Outside of random indeterminacy, you claim exactly this. And you are correct, there is only one possible outcome, I agree with you 100% that that is a valid conclusion.
    Where we do disagree, however, is whether or not to call this a process of choosing; for you do, indeed, introduce the concept of choice in your descriptions of these purely ‘pre-determined to follow one path to one pre-determined(by the laws of physics) outcome.’

    So, no, we do not choose anything, we don’t choose our feelings, our actions, our thoughts derived from our feelings, our actions and behaviors derived from our thoughts and emotions, nothing, nothing is chosen. It is entirely analogous to an avalanche, there is no meaning inherent in any of it.
    Not only that, ‘meaning’ can not somehow magically appear at some mysterious point in the process, just as ‘choice’ cannot, either.

    Now, in light of this understanding, I want you people to explain where you get the principles of choice and meaning from any process in nature!
    Even your thoughts that there is meaning are meaningless, logically and, in reality, for these judgements of meaning are not judgements, but the only possible outcome of a pre-determined set of circumstances, and therefore, there is no meaning that way, and in the fact that by definition, meaning could only possibly exist in a state of alternativesd, of which none exist!

    (Shite, I don’t even know if the formatting, or anything, really!, is sensical at this point – we need a preview option, and I need to shut up)

    And, finally (whew):
    2. None of the above, nor nonFWist concept, contains one iota of a shred of explanation for our awareness and qualia, except to say that no explanation is necessary and is therefore moot.

    But, I retort, it is part of the causal chain.

    So what?, say them, it is a result of known physical laws, and is therefore a combination of matter/energy and physical forces and can only be inevitable, given the physical arrangement of our brains and bodies, and behaves no different than any other system that can be conceived.

    Well, I reply, then our minds must be the same as all other matter/energy, and explainable in concepts we already understand.

    Yes, they say, that is correct.

    But, and now I play dirty(because I won’t let them keep up their evasions), our minds/thoughts/qualia/values/abstract concepts are not apparently physically in the same manner as all the other instances of matter and energy we have ever investigated!

    It doesn’t matter(lol), they say.

    I then conclude that they are silly and illogical, for they cannot ignore the impact of the most important entity in the universe! Surely they cannot say that they understand how something they don’t understand, or can equate in any known or conceivable way to any other state of matter/energy in the known universe, works and interacts with known solid matter. They just said they don’t understand how it acts! Yet they understand how it interacts!!!

    I’ll say it again. You cannot say that the mind is unimportant, is secondary, and most of all, illusory, and then claim, by using the same organ you describe, that what you know is in fact, not illusory, when you are using that very organ in a way that you cannot explain or conceive of why and how it does what it does, or even what it is capable of doing, FFS!!

    You do not know if our minds can function using unknown, and at this point inconceivable, methods that fit in line with our perceptions of experience.

    You can not know what effect our qualia have on our physical actions, because you do not know how qualia interact and process data.

    Because you cannot understand qualia and perception as a consequence of physical processes, it necessarily follows that the process of generating our thinking, perceptions, and intentions is completely unkown.

    If this process of generation of a phenomena is completely unknown and un nonsensical, then the reverse, the interaction of our qualia with the generator, our physical brains and bodies, is also unknown and nonsensical.

    What is going on in our heads is important for our survival and functioning(did I put that in the right order? lol).

    The presence of our awarenesses does not make physical, or resourceful sense. The only way that our minds make sense, is if they act in the manner that appear to, that they fulfill the functions that make sense ie. making decisions.

    You say that the making of decisions are illusory, and therefore not decisions or choices. So, what are our aware minds doing there in the first place?

    First you claim that our minds are inconsequential, then you claim that yes they are consequential, they somehow give our lives value, even though value is a selective decision between possible alternatives. (Remember, in lesson 1, we learned that nothing is a choice or has value if it isn’t comparable to any alternative, and there are no possible alternatives in the reductionist minds.)

    I, and my buddies(you know what I mean), if I may be so bold as to speak for others and assume they agree with me, haha, explain our minds in the only way that makes logical sense.

    You can claim we don’t make decisions or conscious selections all you bloody well want, but your claims are illogical, overall.
    If we don’t need our minds, why do we have them?

    And, Steve, stay away from the strawman you always erect because this is not about ‘libertarian’ or ‘contra-causal’ free will, AND IT NEVER HAS BEEN.

    If we don’t need our minds, why do we have them?

    • Steve
      Posted February 2, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

      Tushloots/Mikmik/Mike

      …then in the next breath you claim that we are aware.

      These are not mutually exclusive assertions.

      1) What we do is caused by forces that ultimately are 100% outside of our control.

      2) We have awareness.

      In order for your complaint to make sense you would have to show that 2) is somehow impossible due to 1), or show that because of 2), 1) is not true.

      As you continue to fail to do either of these your complaint remains invalid.

      • Posted February 2, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        Y’know, you the the exact opposite of what I was saying and asking.

        1 is true, I agree, no doubts, 100%, I believe that everything in nature follows cause/effect determinism.
        We don’t need to use the fact that we have awareness to model our behavior, I agree already.

        Do you understand? I am a determinist, 100%, no questions asked.

        If you are a determinist, you have to admit that either we don’t need our awareness, our qualia, to explain our behavior, in the model you use.

        Do you agree?

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted February 2, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

          tushcloots

          If you are a determinist, you have to admit that either we don’t need our awareness, our qualia, to explain our behavior, in the model you use.

          Either we don’t need awareness and qualia or what?

          I believe we don’t strictly need them for everything we do, but there are things we do for which we do need them. I think qualia have a purpose and enhance our capacities.

          Certainly we don’t need them for unconscious automatic processes and reflexes. We don’t need them to keep our heart beating. We don’t need them for flinch reflexes or fight or flight. We don’t even need them to perform an action like playing the piano. Machines can be programmed or taught to play the piano.

          But it seems consciousness helps us to learn and modify our reactions, behaviors, and capabilities over time. We have seen machine learning, but what such a machine can learn is limited to what it has been programmed to learn. We haven’t seen machines that can learn to learn something it wasn’t initially structured to learn.

          It seems our qualia give us something like a meta-learning capacity to learn how to learn. To decide on new goals, to adjust our relationship with our environment in very complex ways that enhance our sense of meaning, purpose, joy, pleasure, satisfaction, etc. So obviously qualia are very important and distinguish the human mind from a mere machine.

          But that does not change in my mind that a machine can choose. And it doesn’t change my belief that the operation of our minds are purely physical and deterministic.

          It is simply because we have such complex mechanisms (qualia) for experiencing our environment and formulating goals and predicting outcomes and consequences of actions that when we make a determined choice (fully caused by the state of our brain), it feels uncaused. It feels this way because the choice was instigated by a goal, which led us to want an outcome, which led us to project what action would produce that outcome, which led us to consider options, and to evaluate the options, and to arrive at the best match between the options and our desired outcome. But we could not have chosen differently because it was all based on physical causation. And a stone or a ball could not perform these choosing operations because it does not have a brain.

          I think consciousness and qualia give us decided advantages, and they complement the faster and automatic unconscious processes. This seems obvious when you consider learning to play the piano for example. Our qualia are involved first of all in simply forming the intention to want to learn an instrument, and in deciding which instrument to play. All of this is of course determined; it is simply an extremely complex process so that the parts of our brain that are able to detect and infer causation are no longer able to perceive and understand the causation naturally.

          When you start learning to play you must consciously (and slowly, ploddingly even) think to map the note on the page to the key on the piano, and to formulate the intention to move your hand to place your finger on a particular key. You play haltingly and it requires lots of practice before you get the correct rhythms and sequences of keys. Once you know how to play (once you have practiced enough and developed the needed neural connections) you simply move naturally with all the correct sequences and timings to effortlessly and almost entirely unconsciously produce a complex piece of music.

          The role of consciousness during the activity of playing a piece “by heart” is minimal, limited to something like maintaining the intention to play the piece to the end, but not being involved directly in the movements of arms, hands, and fingers. Your conscious mind is needed to focus the energy and resources on the task perhaps, because if someone speaks to you and your focused attention wanders you can suddenly make errors you would not ordinarily make.

          It feels as if the body just “knows” what to do, i.e. it is unconscious movement (even though you are aware of it happening). You can do it with your eyes closed or while looking away from the keyboard and without thinking about what you are doing because you feel what the right movements are. You have effectively reprogrammed your mind and body. But you have also learned to learn piano music. In the future you learn new pieces more quickly and more easily as you increase your repertoire.

          I agree with you that we don’t need consciousness for everything we do, but there are some things for which we do need consciousness. And I think there are many examples that demonstrate why we would have evolved it, why it would give us adaptive advantages.

          What we haven’t evolved, and what we don’t need for any human behavior or experience is to be disconnected from causality. What we are is many many many many layers of complex neural relationships removed from the simple action reaction of a stone reacting to a force. But we are not removed from causality altogether.

      • Posted February 2, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        I am Mike Laing, I always went by mikmik as an anonymous pseudonym. I also started a wordpress blog(windaelicker) when I was being goofy, and I was pretending to be a goofy Scotsman named tooshcloots.

        But, damn it ;) , Pharyngula went to FTB, and I also have Dev FireFox, so several times I had problems signing in there, sometimes I could use google(mikeLaing, or something), sometimes I had to use WP (although that wouldn’t work and in fact I still can’t sign in using wordpress!, for a while I couldn’t log in), and I had some problems here in that FF or something auto logged me in as mikmik at times, and spontaneously started the tushcloot thing a few weeks back with no input from myself.

        I am sorry, if anything has free will, it is FTB and here because esp. FTB makes me use different log-ins on different blogs, for some effing strange reason.

        I apologize, I usually use MikeL when I remember to sign my comments, which is problematic, to say the least!

        LOL, I’m glad I got that off my chest!

        BTW, if you knew what tushcloots and windaelicker mean, you would see that, all appearances in my tone to the contrary, I don’t really take myself very seriously most of the time, and I do indeed, have to constantly refrain myself from being silly and stupid, and I really feel, I don’t know, respected or something, whenever anyone replies to me – especially because I cringe when I read a lot of my ‘attempts’ at being concise(lol) and rational because half the time I DON’T make sense, linguistically(yikes!). I am trying to improve my impulsivity when hitting the submit before I proofread.

        I respect you guys a lot, there are some smart cookies here, everyone, really, but this is a very great discussion going on with you and everyone, and I have to think hard, maaaaaaan! You challenge me.

        Now, never repeat this to anyone, ever, again!!

        Oh..MikeL

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted February 2, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

          Thanks Mike. I’m very happy to hear you are not angry. Sometimes your words convey a sense of frustration and impatience that seems to border on real anger. How do I get this feeling? I don’t really know; it’s part of my Internet mirror neurons and theory of mind.

          Anyway, good to know it’s all sincere passion to learn and understand.

    • Steve
      Posted February 2, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      And, Steve, stay away from the strawman you always erect because this is not about ‘libertarian’ or ‘contra-causal’ free will, AND IT NEVER HAS BEEN.

      Wrong. This is and always has been about libertarian free will, or contra-causal free will, or free will (LFW, CCFW, FW). This has always been about the issue of freedom of the human will. This has always been about the position that what people experience as having a free will or making free will choices is actually an illusion, and that those CHOICES are actually devoid of any freedom. This has always been about the position that when people assert that humans have freedom of will, this is mythology.

      Your attempt to wave me off with a bogus claim that LFW is a straw man is rejected.

      • Posted February 2, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        But, I don’t mean contra-causal, or unrestrained. I mean that we have limited choices, and many times we are strongly limited and constrained by heredity+environment, especially emotionally(chemically mediated many times) and physically(brain function+hard wiring).

        I mean what Xuuths said, somewhere here yesterday.

        Ya! I found this yesterday, DETERMINISM AND FREEDOM PHILOSOPHY — ITS TERMINOLOGY, nd it is how I define things. “Voluntary” That’s almost perfect, although I think we initiate also, and is not contra-causal …

        The term ‘free will’ can be used in at least two ways. In my own preferred usage, it means the same as ‘origination’. Thus it is not synonymous with ‘freedom’. Freedom, rather, is a genus or family of things that includes a number of species or members.

        It has to be said, however, that ‘free will’ is pretty commonly used in philosophy so as to be synonymous with ‘freedom’. Thus it covers not only origination, which if it exists is something inconsistent with determinism. But ‘free will’ in this wide sense also covers voluntariness, that kind of freedom which at bottom is absence of compulsion or constraint. Presumably it also covers other sorts of freedom — one where being free is akin to being righteous.

        Compatibilism is the doctrine that determinism is logically compatible or consistent with what is said to be a single idea of freedom that really concerns us and with a related kind of moral responsibility — the freedom in question being voluntariness.

        Incompatibilism is the doctrine that determinism is logically incompatible with what is said to be the single idea of freedom that concerns us and with another kind of moral responsibility — the freedom in question being origination or origination as well as voluntariness.

        Other things that may be taken to be compatible or incompatible with determinism are life-hopes, such personal feelings as gratitude and resentment, claims to knowledge, attitudes having to do with moral responsibility and the like, and social punishment and reward.

        Strictly speaking, Compatibilism does not assert the truth of determinism, but only the consistency of this doctrine with our idea of freedom and moral responsibility. What is called ‘soft determinism’, in contrast, does take determinism to be true, and take our actual freedom to consist in no more than what is consistent with it — voluntariness. What is called ‘hard determinism’ also takes determinism to be true, but takes freedom to consist in what is incompatible with it and cannot exist with it — origination as well as voluntariness.

        Strictly speaking, Incompatibilism does not claim the reality of either determinism or the freedom with which it is concerned. As just remarked, some Incompatibilists take determinism to be a fact and hence draw the conclusion we are unfree. The common breed, however, take their freedom to be a fact, and hence draw the conclusion that determinism is false. These Incompatibilists have been known as Libertarians .

        Man, I have to go. This(my) response is incomplete.

        I am not libertarian, and neither are the others. Please, do not imply that because determinism is true, that necessarily rules out a definition of free will that is not ‘magical’ or ‘spiritist’.

        I don’t know if you saw my post, somewhere, that I use A C Clarke’s words that our brain uses a (biologically evolved) technology sufficiently advanced that it appears magical.

        I assure you that I believe, even *know*, that our brains are technological. I am not a dualist, nor incompatablist. I am compatablist meaning – our minds and partially free will(better?) are compatible with determinism.

        Shite, I’m late………..

    • Steve
      Posted February 2, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      I am going to go out on a limb, and state that to me it seems like you don’t believe in libertarian free will. I think you recognize that everything you do, you must do, due to the forces of your own personal matrix of causal determinants. Intellectually you agree with non-free willism.

      Your current problem is one of linguistics: why should we say computers make choices, and humans make choices, and yet we don’t say rocks (falling or otherwise) don’t make choices?

      Somehow you are conflating the word choice (and its various derivative forms) to be fused inextricably with the concept of libertarian freedom. Thus you arrive with the idea that an unfree choice is no choice at all… it is a ___________ (blank).

      Oh, look at that… we don’t have a word to use for choice when the choice was not a libertarianly free choice. Curious, don’t you think? Do you want to ponder why this is, or how this came to be?

      • Posted February 2, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        Jeff Johnson
        Posted February 2, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

        Of course we need our minds. You seem too angry to think clearly. You should breathe deeply, turn off the bold face and caps lock, and calm down.

        Noted. Whether I am thinking clearly is not based on the assumption, or truth, of my emotional state, and even so, anger is not the best description. There are lot’s of reasons I get excited and/or I use language for effect, sometimes. We can discuss this seperately if you want, but the only relevance to my writing, is if it holds, logically.

        Steve, we says choices as I explained above. It is because we don’t know exactly how streams, rocks, computers are going to, or do do(LMAO) what they do, and result in what is an inevitable result, precisely because that is what we do, choose. It is a simile, and you are the one, I mean, I used the dictionary,FFS!

        You conflate and confuse (bait and switch) the implicit meaning of choice by incorrectly relating to the context of use.

        Really, effin late, bye;.;

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted February 2, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      Of course we need our minds. You seem too angry to think clearly. You should breathe deeply, turn off the bold face and caps lock, and calm down.

      The reason I believe a computer chooses but a rock falling does not choose is that the rock is absolutely passive. It is 100% driven by forces external to it.

      A computer can be programmed with a neural network that maps a host of inputs, assigns weights to those input values, and based on the geometric configuration of a graph can transform that set of inputs into an output. Let’s say a value between 0 and 1. The inputs could for example be based on temperature sensors. The output could be controlling the output level of a heater. The value of the output could determine whether the heater is turned up or down, and by how much. The network can be configured to try to maintain a certain temperature. As the sensors repeatedly feed temperature readings into the neural network, the output will change depending on the temperature. As the room heats, the computer will turn the heater down. As the room cools, the computer will turn the heater up. Here choices are being made based on logical alternatives. It is all causally determined by the laws of physics, but the configuration of the system of physical causation actually creates a logically reactive mechanism that decides how to control the heater based on the current temperature.

      There exist machines that can balance an inverted pendulum. It uses fuzzy logic to feedback parameters into neural networks. Here is one example. The device in the video is deciding how to move in order to maintain the balance based on environmental feedback from sensors:

      This is fundamentally different from a rock falling. You need to update your notion of what deterministic systems can do.

      Because we cannot prove how qualia are produced by the biochemistry in our brain today does not mean we can’t do it in the future. So your point about qualia is really a doubt in your mind, not a proof of anything.

      The kind of “choice” you would like to exist is a choice that is independent of any physical influence. You want it to be free of all causation. Then in your point of view it becomes “real” rather than “illusory”. The fact that causation is involved means that the “choice” never happened, as you see it. For example if there is a system that can make a selection from A, B, or C, and B is selected, for you it is not a choice because the physical state of the system already determined B would be the result, so that A and C were never real options. The problem with this limited view is that you only consider a single iteration.

      We can make machines that have goals or conditions they want to satisfy, and such that their deterministic selection on one iteration has a consequence that can be measured and fed back into the system for comparison with how well the choice met the desired goal. The machine can then successively refine it’s choices to optimize the outcome. This kind of system really is deciding and choosing, and it really is entirely deterministic.

      If you really closely examine how your own mind makes choices you can catch glimpses of it doing this kind of thing, engaging in trial and error, learning, and modifying actions to improve outcomes.

      Now going back to your view of choice: you want it to be truly free of physical causation before you are willing to call it a choice. But you introduce a huge new set of problems by doing this. You must hypothesize that there is some kind of non-physical will or intelligence that makes this radically free choice. Here is where you invite paradox: your newly hypothesized deciding entity (which by the way resembles soul or spirit) becomes a cause of action when it chooses something. And in fact it’s choice must have been caused by something else non-physical in it’s realm (of spirit, for example). By hypothesizing some kind of non-physical selector independent of physical causation, you simply trade one system of causation for another one.

  47. Posted February 2, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    It seems this whole argument comes down to whether or not you think Laplace’s demon could exist. Knowing what we know about sensitivity to initial conditions and the lack of entirely discrete interactions at a basic level, the demon seems doomed,unless you cheat by removing time from the rules.
    This does not invalidate the “rewind” thought experiment. There is a difference, in principle, between the two. To deny that difference is to adopt an exclusively reductionist view, which is to say process may be disregarded, which is to say time may be disregarded. If you take this position, you’re going to have a hard time arguing against the irreducible complexity/CSI guys, because you’re granting them their premise. A big part of their..whatever it is, depends on the assumption that real biological systems are basically static and strictly constrained – a version of the old ‘you can’t get across the room because you have to go halfway first, but first you must go half that distance, and half that distance, etc.’. You may be allowing that sort of argument if you drift into an exclusively reductionist position.

  48. Steve
    Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Yes, but we must be free to react to the unpredicted unpredictability of luck.

    No, unpredicted unpredictability doesn’t bring any freedom to the human will.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted February 3, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Chaos, unpredictability, and quantum indeterminacy are the hail-Mary passes of compatibilists.

      Without any clear argument for how these things explain or enable free will, they merely sense some wiggle room that they desperately scramble toward with hope and faith that it will somehow preserve the precious notions of pseudo-spirituality they long for.

  49. Jeff Johnson
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I’ve re-read the Ian Pollack article in light of some of the discussion that has been happening here.

    Here is the core of the argument: we are driving and suddenly are struck by the idea that if we wanted to we could drive into oncoming traffic, but we don’t. Is it right to ask if we “could” have done it? Mr. Pollack answers yes and no, based on the following two propositions:

    Proposition #1: “No, the state of the universe was such that it was physically impossible for you to have steered into oncoming traffic.”

    Proposition #2: “Yes, you could have steered into oncoming traffic (if you had wanted to).”

    Pollack says that the “essence of compatibilism” comes from the fact that he sees both propositions as true. But this itself is an enormous equivocation revealed when he says that it is important to note “that wanting to corresponds to a different physical state than not wanting to.” If wanting is a consequence of the physical state, #2 becomes a trivial corollary to #1:

    Proposition #2: “Yes, you could have steered into oncoming traffic (if the state of the universe differed from #1, such that you wanted to).”

    The incompatibilist can now readily agree that both #1 and #2 are true. Proposition #2 says nothing new about determinism and volition, and so apparently the essence of compatibilism is nothing, or at least as Ian Pollack describes it, there is no discernible difference from incompatibilism.

    What is the use of saying we could choose differently if the universe were different than it is? Having imagination is a wonderful quality, and a big part of what makes it interesting and satisfying to be a human being. But it does not give us free will; we only live in one universe.

    • Steve
      Posted February 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Jeff,

      Regarding compatiblists a couple of points can be stated:

      1)They are free willists. Meaning they assert the existence of free will, and refute non-free willism.

      2)Their motivations may come from a desire to cling to free willism for the same reasons that incompatiblist free willists resist non-free willism. Additionally they may be motivated by a belief that widespread acceptance of non-free willism may be “too much” for the average person to cope with, and thus want to reassure FWists that FWism does in fact exist by saying that it does.

      Here’s the score: compatibilists believe that determinism is true, sure enough, and that free will is also true, without a doubt. Determinism is compatible with free will. How they explain this world view is where things get interesting.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted February 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        For a while I thought that because of the complexity of the brain, and because of the extraordinary difference between consciousness and qualia, and what we know of the electronic digital computers we are familiar with, that maybe there is some kind of yet undiscovered and not yet understood principle utilized by the brain that could disconnect it from causality.

        But I have gradually abandoned this belief, and I’ve noticed that their is something similar in this transition to abandoning the belief in God and spirit. To believe that the brain can somehow uncouple itself from causality, by whatever “magic” or trickery you care to consider, be it quantum indeterminacy or the unpredictable chaos of dynamical systems, or anything else, the best you can come up with is unpredictability, but never an escape from causality and determinism. The search for this seems to me kind of like the search for something non-physical, i.e. dualism.

        I have undergraduate level physics and math training, and then a 30 year career as a software designer. I’ve done a lot of work with multi-threaded software, and you can actually observe apparent indeterminacy in multi-threaded software systems: the software will behave differently and unpredictably given the same set of inputs when there is a bug in the system known as a race condition. But that really only is unpredictability, not indeterminacy: when the threads have race conditions, unpredicted external events like device interrupts with varying timings can cause varying patterns of processor utilization that change the order in which threads are scheduled, which gives rise to an “apparent” indeterministic behavior.

        But for some time I tried to imagine algorithms with several parallel fuzzy-neural networks that might actually produce “free” choices, i.e. different outputs that vary according to some probability distribution when repeated trials under identical conditions were run. I can’t prove this is impossible, but I also can’t see how it could work.

        But it’s not so hard to imagine how our internal decision processes can be represented by such a system if we concede that the result is inevitable before we start choosing, and that our experience of “freedom” is really just our conscious mind observing traces of the decision making algorithm in progress. We feel like we control it because the brain is comparing outputs from independent modules that have such subjective properties as wanting an outcome, fearing a consequence, assessing likelihood of success, estimating effort required, etc. These modules impress themselves on our conscious mind and the relative signal strengths of these independent modules are determined by the physical state of our brain, including our memories and our current environment. The ultimate choice is really just the “winner” from this competition of independent modules. A sophisticated enough simulation of our brain that could really “read” the state at one point should be able to predict the result.

        What is too hard to do is imagine how the brain can produce consciousness and qualia. Being able to figure this out would really clinch it all. But even without knowing this, one must suppose that it is either entirely material and deterministic, or duality creeps back in.

        I think optical illusions are really good examples to see that the qualia are produced by subconscious processing algorithms. This one is on the Wikipedia Optical Illusions page.

        When you first view the spinning dancer it will appear to be going clockwise or counter clockwise. For me it was clockwise. By concentrating you can make it reverse direction, but it wasn’t easy for me to do that. I found I could do this by telling myself that the leg in the air was the right leg rather than the left leg, and thinking of it passing in front rather than behind the planted leg. Eventually it will reverse direction.

        What I think this tells us is that the state of the brain will automatically determine whether we see clockwise or counterclockwise rotation. And it shows us how “real” an illusion produced by our brain can seem. One part of our brain can form the intention to modify the results of the visual cortex by changing the expectation of what we are seeing. You can watch this happen in your own mind. But this intention is caused by our desire to learn and understand, which is caused by our memories of the pleasure of learning and understanding in the past, and our curiosity to learn and know new things, which is caused by the structure of our brain, which is caused by our genes and our environment over a lifetime of development and incremental modification of our brain structures. At this moment, given the brain we have, we could not have wanted or done something different, but how we wanted and what we did was so complex that we experienced the illusion of deciding freely.

        At this point it is impossible for me to believe in both determinism and free will. It’s easy to see why the compatibilists believe in free will. It is what our brains want us to believe, and it’s as natural as believing that the sun orbits the earth. It’s also equally illusory.

        I think the compatibilists either misunderstand determinism, or they don’t really believe in it (which makes them pseudo-dualists). I think we see some of both of these problems. Either people oversimplify determinism with models that involve passive objects being acted upon and confusion of subject/object boundaries, or else they can’t imagine and thus can’t believe that our human subjective experiences of willing and deciding and feeling could be caused by deterministic algorithms produced purely by material structures.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted February 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

          I tried to imbed the spinning dancer image in that last post, but the HTML didn’t work.

          Here is a link, which can also be found in the wikipedia article.

  50. Jeff Johnson
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    tushcloots said:

    There is something fundamentally wrong with your ability to understand what we are saying here, something very fucking wrong with your perception of reality, I mean it, in the kindest way, of course.

    I’m taking this as a very kind compliment, thank you.

    If I were basing my assessment of whether or not we have free will strictly on my perception of reality, I might be as confused as a compatibilist about the existence of free will.

    My perceptions lead me to conclude, for example, that the Sun is apparently orbiting the earth. But I use other knowledge to form my opinion on the matter. I know that is only an illusion, regardless of how immediately obvious it appears to be. I know that the rotation of the earth is causing that appearance.

    tushcloots:

    There, could I have done different?
    Everybody knows this, it is obvious, you said it yourself.[citation needed]
    [citation, mofo]“We can will, want, and decide..”

    Yes, I had a choice, and I freely picked one. I wanted to move(not really, but whatever), I decided what moves I could possibly choose, I decided upon one, and I willed it.

    Okay, I didn’t freely pick it, but I voluntarily picked it. I was free to do so.

    It is very difficult for me to pick out what points you are making here. In my view, we are determined by material causality, so while our computing mechanism can make a choice between alternatives, that choice could not have been otherwise.

    To avoid the confusion of Ian Pollack about the word could, let me clearly say I don’t mean “if the physical state of the universe were different”. I mean in the one actual universe, at the moment I became aware of the choice, even before I’m aware of “my” final decision, the state of my brain and any inputs has already determined the result. The choice is not in any way “free”. I only experience to be free. Given who I am (my body and brain structure) and the situation I was in (my environment) there never was a possibility of the choice being a different one.

    Are you having trouble with the fact that a fully material and deterministic set of algorithms implemented by our neural connections is able to create conscious subjectivity?

    Because there is no contradiction between me saying that we can will, want, and decide, but that we are not free, where by free I mean disconnected from causality, and I mean when we choose the result is determined fully by the state of our brain, not by a subjective eeny meeny miny moe that is able to momentarily leap outside of causal determinism to choose without regard to the deterministic biochemical reactions that drive the brain’s activity.

    I’m saying quite simply you are either a materialist and a determinist, or you believe in some other kind of libertarian free will or dualistic influence on the brain. There is no wiggle room in the middle no matter how hard you try. And I claim that your apparent belief in this wiggle room is entirely based on your inability to recognize how our subjective experience of the world creates the illusion of free will.

    If you still claim there is “freedom” in a deterministic world, simply noting behaviors of humans from an objective viewpoint won’t cut it, and simply noting human behaviors from a subjective viewpoint won’t cut it, in the same way that tracing the arc of the sun across the sky everyday will not suffice to show that the sun orbits the earth.

    We see robots exhibit choosing behaviors, so you could imagine that they are free also, but they are not. We feel ourselves choosing, but I claim that is only because we can not observe everything happening inside of our brain (most of it is unconscious). What we experience as freedom, while it may have many practical adaptive qualities that help us thrive, it is only the appearance of freedom, not actual freedom in the sense of our wants and choices being disconnected from causal determinism.

    So do you believe in determinism? Are you a dualist? If you answer Yes and No to these questions, then you have a lot of explaining to do if you still want to claim that we have free will.

  51. tushcloots
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    When I get to a computer, I will explain, just like I have many times already, FFS.

    Fuck your arrogant attitude,
    I am sick of you evading my points and questions with long winded, technical appearing bullshit with nothing new to offer.

    Make no mistake about it, Jeff, you haven’t made a case for anything except to claim your are a determinist and that we give life meaning with the choices we make, and influence other people and the direction sosciety takes.

    You ARE a dualist, plain and simple. I am goung to use something Jerry said to repeat what I have been explaing over and over to you.

    Do me a favor snd read some basic psychology about the Black Box, for that is the nature of your understanding of what I am saying, and that is wrong. It is close, but I have ezplained the fucking software you people insist upon. Better read up on IBM’s neural computing while you are catching up to me.

    You are the ones claiming our minds are just cosmetics, mofo, so you are the the one that has a fuck of a lot of explaining to do.

    Hurry the eff up, why do we have our minds if they are inconsequential?
    I asked you from the very begining!! And I asked you how our collective thinking can somehow morph into a reasoned selection and the direction society takes.

    Don’t bother with verbal diahrea, either, by trying to explain physical processes as I alteady showed my superior use of that and told you that that rules out will, and I also pointed out that I agree with it!

    Do your explaining NOW, please. I am not letting you get away with twdry evasions anymore .

    • Posted February 7, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      This post is intemperate and obscene. I won’t have this kind of stuff on my site. You’re banned here until you apologize publicly to the person you insulted.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      I don’t take any of this personally. But tushcloots, you can’t possibly have read and understood what I’ve written if you think I’m a dualist, if you think I consider our mind to be cosmetic, or if you think I consider the mind to be inconsequential. Somehow you are projecting these ideas onto what I’ve written, and I hope it’s not because my use of language is too unclear or ambiguous.

      I’ve never said anything like what you claim, and in fact I express respect and awe for the human mind. I also think it’s very important as an adaptation for evolutionary success.

      I have done a ton of explaining here already, and until you actually carefully read it and then include references to which remarks of mine you are talking about, there is no way for me to engage with you at all.

      • tushcloots
        Posted February 9, 2012 at 4:37 am | Permalink

        I understand, Jerry Coyne, and you too, Jeff.

        I was wrong to address you in this manner, Jeff, and it is wrong for me to act like an impudent child in this civilized, mature, type of environment.

        I have, since the time of this comment of mine this morning, replied to other posts you have made, Jeff, in which I tell you how much I RESPECT and VALUE your contributions, and that I feel frustration that we are inhibited from properly understanding each other. (Yeah, it sounds good when I tell it!)

        I apologize to everyone that reads this blog – I certainly do not represent, nor portray, the class and intelligence of most participants here, or what Jerry Coyne rightfully finds acceptable.

        You guys do have class, which I intentionally tried to offend, and that was wrong, I agree fully.

        I may not deserve it, but I would feel fortunate and grateful to be able to continue to contribute to these discussions, in a constructive and appropriately respectful manner, please.

        Thanks for the chance to apologize to Jeff, Jerry. This is a very good blog; I am proud to be able to participate!

      • tushcloots
        Posted February 9, 2012 at 4:39 am | Permalink

        Of course, I apologize to you as well, Jerry Coyne, I wasn’t specific about that, above.

        Thanks for this opportunity, again.

      • tushcloots
        Posted February 9, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

        if you think I consider our mind to be cosmetic, or if you think I consider the mind to be inconsequential.
        How is our mind of any use if it isn’t used to make reasoned and alternate decisions?
        It must give a greater survival advantage to the organism, so how does being conscious do this?

        It is inconsequential if it doesn’t improve upon choices made through pure determinism, because all the results of our behavior could be reproduced, all the processing of sensory inputs and instincts and feelings don’t require a conscious mind.

        It is all chemical and stimulated electro-chemical firing with one predetermined outcome, or resultant behavior. If our consciousness doesn’t improve upon this description of how we make ‘decisions,’ then what objective purpose does it serve?

        I call you a dualist because you seem to claim that our consciousness gives meaning to our life, or something, yet doesn’t affect our behavior.

        I don’t see any meaning in our lives if they are predetermined anyways, if it is decided, already, how we will respond in any given situation, for then our behavior is not ours to choose, but is done for us purely by the unfeeling laws of physics.

        In what way do you consider our minds important, if they are not important for our survival? And how can you get meaning out of life if you consciously can’t influence anything?

        Let’s start with this.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted February 9, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

          tushcloots:
          Thanks for the apology. Accepted of course, and I’m glad you came back. These are some hard issues and it can be frustrating, I understand.

          I don’t have much time right now but I’ll try my best. First, I think that whether what is happening in human history right now was completely determined a trillionth of a trillionth of a nano-second after the big bang is a different question than whether a human reaction to it’s environment is determined. I haven’t thought so much about the first proposition, but I’m inclined toward a little doubt on that one, but even if it is all determined it doesn’t bother me so much.

          Think of a wave crashing against a cliff. The energy wells up from far out at see until it arrives at the shore, and in a spectacular “explosion” of water a complex profusion of foamy jewel-like droplets sparkling in the sun and forming an endless variety of shapes. It is all deterministic, but there is endless variation due probably to the chaos of dynamical systems.

          If you run time fast-forward on life on earth over the last billion years, and you think of the biosphere as a kind of medium or sea of organic chemicals, the evolution of life is kind of like those waves splashing, it is energy sloshing around and splashing on a different time scale, giving rise to species and individuals in a wild profusion of variation, not terribly unlike the productive power of shapes formed by splashing waves, but in a different medium and working according to the forces of selection and biochemical properties rather than according to just gravity and the properties of water.

          Thinking this way says two things to me: one is that in the entire unfolding of the universe and all live over such enormous time spans there is potentially more room for randomness or quantum indeterminacy to somehow play a role. But even if it doesn’t even if our entire universe from the big bang is a big deterministic splash, and each one of us and our lives are totally determined it can still all be beautiful.

          Now having said that, our behavior and our ability to control our lives and our environment is greatly enhanced by our brain and it’s abilities to learn. It is a very important distinction between saying 1) at one instant of time, the brain works such that my decision or action at that moment is entirely determined by the state of my brain, and it could not have been otherwise, or saying 2) between time t1 and time t2 the state of my brain changes, learns, remembers, and so I may act differently at t2 than I did at t1.

          We are constantly interacting with and learning from our environment, and that is what allows our brain to learn and change and thus experience control and freedom: not at one instant of time, but over a time period. There is a distinction between the boundaries of our bodies, which is how we define what “we” are, and the entire universe, so we can experience “us” changing and learning and deciding with respect to the external environment we find ourselves.

          The brain is important, and without it we would not be able to do what we do culturally.

          I’ve got to run now, but here are some other posts to read that might help.

          http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/sunday-free-will-pseudo-dualism/#comment-182456

          http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/sunday-free-will-pseudo-dualism/#comment-182227

          http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/sunday-free-will-pseudo-dualism/#comment-182473

        • Steve
          Posted February 9, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

          Mike,

          Here’s a few of my answers/musings to the questions you pose.

          How is our mind of any use if it isn’t used to make reasoned and alternate decisions?

          When you say mind, I translate this and think “brain”. I do this because I think it is best to only think of mind as a metaphoric reference to the phenomena produced by the functioning brain.

          So to me, it is really the case of the brain making reasoned and (I don’t know what to make of the modifier “alternate”) decisions. And really that is one of the main purposes of the brain in a human: making reasoned decisions. To the degree that our brains make reasoned decisions, we make them. To the degree that they can’t make them, other animals, don’t make them. Reasoned decision making has evolved as life evolved on the planet. From our vantage point, it would seem as if our reasoning brain has served our species well. (Or not… only history will eventually tell.)

          It must give a greater survival advantage to the organism, so how does being conscious do this?

          Before I try to address this question I have a couple of questions for you to ponder first.

          1) At what stage in evolution, do you think life developed consciousness?
          2) How do you know any other life forms have consciousness at all? Tied in question: How can consciousness even be tested for?
          3) How do you know for sure if other humans have consciousness? You might be able to apply tests to see if a person is awake, but beyond that, how do you know that they have consciousness? Tied in question: Again how can consciousness even be tested for in humans?

          What if consciousness is merely a “display” type function… what if organisms can get along just fine without consciousness, and it’s just a optional thing?

          What if the brain, can do everything it does, taking in sensory input from the outside world, making decisions, activating motor commands, all without the “display” function of the consciousness?

          It would seem obvious that the initial forms of life had no consciousness… so where in the whole evolutionary path can we say at this point consciousness is a necessary element?

          If our consciousness doesn’t improve upon this description of how we make ‘decisions,’ then what objective purpose does it serve?

          This presupposes that consciousness has an objective purpose…. How do we validate such a presupposition? Maybe consciousness just happened as a fluke? Why five fingers instead of four or six? What is the objective purpose of five digits? I’m not the expert on evolution, maybe someone can shed some light on the validity of assuming there must be an objective purpose for consciousness?

          Forgive me, Mike, I am trying the best that I can.

          I don’t see any meaning in our lives if they are predetermined anyways, if it is decided, already, how we will respond in any given situation, for then our behavior is not ours to choose, but is done for us purely by the unfeeling laws of physics.

          Again, this presupposes that life is suppose to have a meaning. Is this a valid assumption? What if life just IS? No meaning, just existence. So if there is no meaning then there is no conflict between a fully caused life, and the implication of no meaning.

          I can’t speak for other non-free willists, but I personally don’t claim that consciousness gives meaning to our life… that is not one of my claims.

          In what way do you consider our minds important, if they are not important for our survival?

          Again, for me it is not a matter of minds…. it is a matter of brains. Brains are important, the phenomena of the mind, not important. And brains are important because of all the things they do.

          And how can you get meaning out of life if you consciously can’t influence anything?

          I am not so troubled by learning that consciousness is not a controlling thing, but a displaying thing.

          Mainly the fact that there is no libertarian free will is so irrefutable, that I have to give up whatever aspirations I might have ever had in influencing anything, as you say.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Jerry Coyne and Massimo Pigliucci (and recently Ian Pollock on Massimo’s site) have been arguing about free will. One interesting thing about the argument is that each almost perfectly embodies the compatibilist and incompatibilist debate on free will; as far as I can tell, neither has added any personal nuance or addition to these positions. The interesting thing about this debate is that, as far as I can tell, it is almost entirely about how one chooses to define free will. Incompatibilists insist on the metaphysical, dualist definition of free will, which means that if you went back to the exact same point in time, with the entire universe (including your brain) in precisely same configuration, you could have done something different than what you did. If one accepts materialism and determinism, this is clearly impossible. Therefore, they say, “free will” is a bankrupt concept. [...]

  2. [...] Free will redux (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) Shpadoinkle:Like this:LikeOne blogger likes this post. [...]

  3. [...] talking to some people myself (hat tips: Aurko Roy, Parul Singh). In fact, Jerry Coyne has been writing about this for a long time now, as have several other people including Daniel Dennett and, now, Sam Harris. It [...]

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