Sunday free will: “pseudo-dualism”

I can’t help but write about this again.

Reader Jeff Johnson was one of the participants on the lively “free will” thread that started with my response to a defense of “compatibilism” (the idea that free will is compatible with physical determinism) by Ian Pollock at Rationally Speaking. On that thread Johnson made a comment that I liked a lot (because I agree with it, of course).  He was responding to a comment by “tushcloots” claiming the immense complexity of human behavior as part of “free will,” and went on to say this:

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.

Jeff responded:

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 humanbehavior.

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.

***

I like the term “pseudo-dualism,” which seems to me pretty accurate. Now I don’t agree that every attempt to redefine “free will” in the “nonreligious” sense is meant to preserve some sense of autonomy in humans, but I don’t think that characterization is far off.  Not many compatibilists are dualists anymore, but “pseudo-dualism” often takes the form of criticizing our scientific understanding of the brain, trying to find the elusive free will in the gaps of our understanding about neuropsychology.  In that respect it’s similar to creationists trying to find God in the gaps of our understanding about biology.

Here, for example, are a couple of defenses of compatibilism raised by Massimo Pigliucci in his recent post on Rationally Speaking, “On free will, response to readers” and in his earlier post, “Jerry Coyne on free will”:

  • The concept of causality is unclear:

. . . there is a free use of the concept of causality which, as I pointed out in my original post, is far from being clear at all, and of course is most definitely extra-scientific, meaning that science can only help itself to it, not investigate it empirically.

  • There is an important difference between living creatures and nonliving matter:

. . . it is interesting to see that Matthew cannot conceive of a significant difference between filled polymers and brains, despite the obvious fact that brains, and not filled polymers, are alive, thinking, feeling, etc. Please do not take this as an argument for vitalism, it most definitely isn’t what I mean. But I find that that line of argument is somewhat question-begging: we are trying to figure out how chunks of matter can behave in such drastically different ways from other chunks of matter, so to point out the obvious (that they are all chunks of matter) hardly helps moving the debate forward. And of course, as someone commented in response to Matthew, it is no surprise that postmortem brains are just as inert as polymers. What interests us is what happens before they become postmortem.

But if anything is true, it’s that there’s no important material difference between nonlife and life.  After all, the latter evolved from the former.

  • The claim that we cannot choose freely is untestable and hence unscientific:

. . . my beef with Coyne is that he is the one making the strong claim that free will denial is a scientific proposition. I am not at all making the symmetrical claim that affirmation of free will is demonstrated by science, only the neutral one that science has precious little (okay, pretty much nothing) to say about free will.

I claim again that the onus is on critics of compatibilism to show that our brains are not subject to the same determinism as, say, a billiard ball.  I also claim that there is evidence that our will is “illusory” in the form of many experiments showing that our sense of volition can be completely disconnected (or more strongly connected than warranted) from our actions.

  • We’re not really sure that physical determinism is true, or operates throughout the universe.

And there are very decent philosophical arguments against determinism (and reductionism, which is also implied by this sort of claim). Moreover, what is at issue here is precisely whether “the same causes” are at work. Physics would have to have established causal closure in order to argue that, and it most definitely hasn’t. (Another way to put this is that everything in the universe behaves in a way that has to be compatible with the known laws of physics. This says nothing about whether those laws as we understand them comprise all there is to know about how the universe works.)

Parsimony suggests—and evidence supports the view—that the laws of physics apply throughout the universe, and certainly to our brains.

  • There are irregularities in human behavior.

Of course we do observe departures from regularities, it’s called human behavior! Yes, as I mentioned above, it is predictable to a point, but it is nothing like the movement of planets or the behavior of polymers.

Predictability is not the same thing as determinism.  We’ll likely never have the kind of knowledge we need to completely predict the future of the universe, much less how one person will behave.  But that doesn’t mean that that behavior is somehow subject to laws different from those that govern the movement of atoms and planets.

  • We feel that we make decisions, and that hasn’t been explained.

And there is, of course, the first person experience of making decisions after deliberation. That experience constitutes data (albeit not of the controlled fashion that would make them amenable to straightforward scientific investigation), and that data that needs to be explained, not explained away.

True, we don’t understand where our sense of agency comes from, or how it might have evolved—if it did.  But this is a free-will-of-the-gaps argument. Like consciousness, free will is an epiphenomenon of our complex brains, and a material product of those brains. Which brings me to the final point in Massimo’s second post:

  • Free will is an epiphenomenon, a subjective experience, that may not be reducible to the laws of physics.

My problem with Jerry’s position is that it is a form of eliminativism, a position in philosophy (not science!) of mind made popular by Paul and Patricia Churchland. When the Churchlands provocatively say that pain “just is” the firing of neuronal C-fibers they only begin to explain the subjective experience of pain. Yes, without the C-fibers we wouldn’t feel pain, but there is a huge difference between saying that the C-fibers are necessary for feeling pain (which we could express as: other conditions … > C-fibers >  pain) and saying that firing C-fibers are the same thing as pain (C-fibers = pain). So too with eliminativism about free will: yes, we need the laws of physics to be able to make decisions, nor can we make decisions that violate said laws. But this is not at all the same as saying that therefore decision making is an illusion brought about by physics, no more than pain is an illusion courtesy of C-fiber firing.

True, free will is “real” in the sense that, like consciousness, it’s a phenomenon that we feel we have, but that doesn’t mean that we can choose freely, or that ultimately our sense of agency cannot be understood by studies of the brain.  “Love” is a real phenomenon, too, but will, I think, ultimately be explained by the effects of chemicals on our brain. (Apropos, see Johnson’s comment, in the same thread, about his attempts at a software designer to produce a program that would produce different outputs from the same inputs.)

To me, the important question about whether free will is an “illusion” is not whether it’s an unexplained epiphenomenon, but whether we really can make alternative decisions at any point in time (that is, after all, why it’s called “free” will). Massimo more or less admits that we can’t when he says that “we neeed the laws of physics to be able to make decisions, nor can we make decisions that violate said laws.”  This is an admission that at any point in time we cannot choose freely: the laws of physics dictate that there’s only one decision to be made.  And that is an admission that while we appear to make choices, they aren’t free. The choice you made is the only one you could have made.  Where is the freedom in that?

451 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    (sub)

    • Andrew
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Philosophy of the mind is certainly an interesting topic to explore, but whatever it is, it is not science.

      Coyne is in serious competition with Chopra here. That he’s arguing against Chopra and similar thinkers does not excuse his utter lack of scientific reasoning, or his even more egregious dismissal of scientific understanding.

      There is nothing in physics which precludes free will, and arguing otherwise shows a great lack of respect for both science and scientific reasoning. Doing this puts Coyne in the same company as the religious apologists he frequently lambastes.

      Coyne needs to spend some time reading and summarizing serious researchers and put away his layman’s logic which suffers from all the rational shortcomings he regularly illuminates in various religious thinkers.

      Coyne’s continued assertion that the laws of physics are deterministic is not only false, but upends his illogic quite soundly. Similarly, the “free will is an illusion meme” only begs the question, illusion for whom?

      It is quite certain that consciousness is a natural phenomenon. But that is a very different thing from asserting that free will does not exist.

      • Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        Which serious researchers support free-will?

        By what mechanism is the will free of causes?

        • Andrew
          Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

          I’m not the one making extraordinary claims about the natural world with no scientific support.

          Which serious researches have a significant body of evidence supporting a model where free will does not exist? What you have here Coyne dressing up his pseudo-theism as science despite there being no such scientific conclusion.

          • Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

            “I’m not the one making extraordinary claims about the natural world with no scientific support.”

            It is the people arguing for classical free-will and/or dualism who are doing that.

            • Andrew
              Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

              Given that I haven’t addressed their claims in any way, I’ll pass on defending them. The issue that I’ve brought up is Coyne’s reliance on false assumptions like physical determinism and quantum/macro duality to support his assertions.

              • Piero
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

                @Andrew:

                First, it would be nice if you called Jerry either “Jerry” or “Dr. Coyne”. “Coyne” on its own sounds unnecessarily dismissive and confrontational

                Second, you’ve criticized Dr. Coyne for several sins, but have offered no alternative. “Coyne needs to spend some time reading and summarizing serious researchers” is not an argument, but a rant. I usually call people like you “wankers”, but this time I’m in a good mood, so I’ll just call you an idiot.

          • Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

            “or his even more egregious dismissal of scientific understanding” – What scientific understanding of free-will are you referring to?

            “There is nothing in physics which precludes free will, and arguing otherwise shows a great lack of respect for both science and scientific reasoning.”

            There’s nothing in physics that precludes flying pigs. It’s usual, if making a claim, to be required to provide evidence. Since free-will, by its very name, and by the claims made by dualists and compatibilists alike, suggests there is something free of the causal nature of the universe that science assumes and uses.

            “his pseudo-theism as science”

            No. It’s a philosophical position based on our understanding of causality, free-will is contra-causal. If you want to put it scientifically the lack of free-will is the null hypothesis, because that’s what you’d expect of a causal system. Free-will is the alternative hypothesis.

            • Andrew
              Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

              “It’s usual, if making a claim, to be required to provide evidence.”

              Quite. And as Coyne is the one making claims, his lack of evidence and false dualism speaks volumes about his pseudo-logic.

              • Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

                The claim that we have free-will is one going back centuries, millennia, all based on introspection. This is not sufficient. So, the challenge is to show we have free-will, since free-will, as usually expressed, even by compatibilists, is that the will is somehow free of causality. How?

              • Andrew
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

                @Ron. Coyne isn’t claiming that we have free will. He’s claiming that we don’t. To date, he has presented no evidence of this, and supported his position using by false assumptions and dismissing science.

              • Piero
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

                You seem to be convinced that Dr. Coyne is wrong and we do in fact have free will. Prove it. Make a resoned argument and convice me. If you cannot do it, go to bed and use your time in some more praiseworthy endeavour, like retiring from the thinking world for eight hour or so.

            • Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

              “… the claims made by dualists and compatibilists alike, suggests there is something free of the causal nature of the universe …”

              Sorry, no, *compatibilists* argue for a conception of “will” and “choice” that is totally in accord with normal physical causes and thus is deterministic (or with some quantum-indeterminacy thrown in). That’s what the term “compatibilism” means.

              • Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

                Then in what sense is if ‘free’? I what sense could it be said “I could have done otherwise.”

              • Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                I’d happily drop the word “free” and just talk about “will” and “choice”. But it is “free” in the sense that it is the internal properties of the chooser that is doing the choosing (even if the choice is fully determined by those properties).

              • Steve
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

                Well then it is not completely free.

              • Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:12 am | Permalink

                But it is “free” in the sense that it is the internal properties of the chooser that is doing the choosing (even if the choice is fully determined by those properties).

                Then you mistake yourself for a compatibilist, when in fact you are making the case for free-will being an illusion. Unless, you make this current case for ‘free’. In which case you are a psudo-compatibilist arguing for a pseudo-fre-will, which was the point of Jerry’s post.

              • Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:26 am | Permalink

                “Then you mistake yourself for a compatibilist, when in fact you are making the case for free-will being an illusion.”

                This discussion would go a lot more smoothly if you acquainted yourself with what “compatibilism” means.

                You are right, I’m arguing that classical, libertarian, dualistic “free will” is an illusion, and that choices are actually determined. That is the very *essence* of compatibilism!

      • GBJames
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        That was quite a lot of response for a simple subscription posting! ;)

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:15 am | Permalink

          Exactly what I was thinking! :D

      • Andrew
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        One additional point, which does an excellent job of illustrating the illogic at play here. Coyne himself is the one who’s arguments rest on a non-existent dualism. In Coyne’s irrational thesis, he is allowed to ignore the well established models of quantum physics to argue that the (non-existent) determinism of classical mechanics means that the universe is deterministic.

        This quantum/macro dualism is nothing more than a false claim which Coyne misuses to support his untested thesis. Quantum physics is something that real world engineers use in todays world when building machines which are less complex than humans. To pretend that we can just ignore physics when we feel like it is exactly the sort of think you’d expect from someone selling rubber bands for $60, not from a scientist.

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

          Prof Coyne has addressed quantum indeterminacy before in this series of postings. It is a red-herring from the point of view of free-will: there may be some randomness associated with quantum mechanics, but that is not “will”.

          • Andrew
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

            Yes, Coyne has addressed it by applying a false quantum/macro dualism to conclude that the universe is deterministic, and therefore free will does not exist. That Coyne uses false dualism to address the issue is just a further example of his illogic on this topic.

            • Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

              “Yes, Coyne has addressed it by applying a false quantum/macro dualism to conclude that the universe is deterministic, and therefore free will does not exist.”

              Can you tell us what you mean by “quantum/macro dualism”? Coyne has indeed argued that quantum effects are unlikely to affect decision outcomes of the brain, and that is a valid argument since decision outcomes that were random would be unlikely to be evolutionarily beneficial.

              But Coyne has not *depended* on that argument: he has allowed for quantum indeterminacy, but then argues that randomness is not “will” and thus that quantum indeterminacy does not redeem classical “free will”.

              E.g. (2012/1/18) “And even if such indeterminacies did influence us, those influences would be random and not constitute any basis for free will.”

              • Andrew
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

                “Coyne has indeed argued that quantum effects are unlikely to affect decision outcomes of the brain”

                This is exactly the dualism Coyne has invoked. There is no evidence that quantum physics doesn’t play a role in the physical universe. In fact, given the degree to which today’s engineers have to use quantum physics, it’s beyond credulity to assert that it doesn’t affect the intricate molecular machines that are we.

              • Andrew
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

                Coyne: “And even if such indeterminacies did influence us, those influences would be random and not constitute any basis for free will.”

                This sort of unfounded assertion is exactly the problem with Coyne’s reasoning.

              • Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

                “There is no evidence that quantum physics doesn’t play a role in the physical universe.”

                Quite obviously it does play a role. However, if you are designing a decision-making computer, you could average over quantum indeterminacy to produce an essentially determined outcome. That is exactly how the computer you are typing your posts on is designed.

                And it is quite likely that our brains have evolved that way, since decision-outcomes that are essentially random, from quantum indeterminacy, are unlikely to be favoured by evolution. The whole point of a brain (from the point of view of evolution) is to make decisions that are better than random.

                And, as I said, Coyne also asserts (correctly) that, even if the above is not true (and it many not be fully true), the randomness of quantum indeterminacy is not “will” and so does not rescue “free will”.

                So it seems to me that you are in error in the arguments you are attributing to Prof. Coyne.

              • Andrew
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

                “Quite obviously it does play a role. However, if you are designing a decision-making computer, you could average over quantum indeterminacy to produce an essentially determined outcome.”

                This isn’t relevant. Coyne is not suggesting the entirely reasonable position that free will might not exist. Rather he’s arguing that it emphatically does not exist. Meanwhile, his argument depends entirely on him presenting the universe as deterministic, while the best models of physics models suggest it is not deterministic.

                Coyne needs to discard his reliance on false assumptions when making his case, otherwise he is no better than Chopra.

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

                “Meanwhile, his argument depends entirely on him presenting the universe as deterministic …”

                Sorry, that is simply not true. He has repeatedly noted the well-established role of quantum indeterminacy in physics and the possible role it plays in the brain’s decision-making. And he has addressed both of those as I have described. To claim that he’s ignoring or unaware of the issue is simply false.

                You may be misjudging him if you’ve only read this one post on this topic, but actually it’s about the eighth.

              • Andrew
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                The first sentence of this post stresses physical determinism. If you read every post he’s made on the subject, he consistently argues that free will cannot exist because of causality. This false assumption permeates his rhetoric.

                If you really think his arguments don’t depend on physical determinism, you yourself should review his writing.

              • Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                I’m bored of you now, you’re incorrigible. A google search shows that Coyne has accepted and addressed the possible role of quantum indeterminacy in several previous blog posts.

            • Piero
              Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

              Andrew, please go to sleep, preferably forever. You are contributing nothing at all to the discussion. You have not addressed the point Coelsblog raised about “indeterminacy” not being in any way related to “freedom”.

              You keep blathering about quantum/macro dualism like a first-grade kid. Have you ever seen a statue wave at you? No? Well, that’s because quantum indeterminacies are subject to statistical rules, so in fact the macro world is ruled by deterministic rules to a precision of a few hundred decimal places.

              Your objections are childish and irrelevant. You know nothing about physics, and you are very close to becoming a Chopra clone. Idiot.

          • chemicalscum
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

            I feel I must make an interjection here. I find that the rejection of the position that stochastic behaviour at the quantum level gives rise to free will is short sighted, even Dennett who is a comptabilist rejects it as does the determinist Jerry Coyne. I think they are both wrong. When I was a grad student studying QM, at the same time I was reading Sartre and trying to fit in the ideas of existential radical freedom. In the following decades I have never stopped thinking about this problem. I have come to the following hypotheses:

            1. Stochastic processes emerge in the CNS of complex organisms as a result of quantum indeterminacy in the molecular domain. This has not been proven, but at least it is in principle experimentally testable and consistent with the laws of physics.

            2. This stochastic behaviour arises when the “deterministic” decision making processes in the brain are facing an approximately evenly balanced decisions (Buridan’s ass) giving rise to a pair of counterfactual outcomes. This relates to indeterminacy in the release of neurotransmitters after the production of an action potential in a neurone and the requirement for the recruitment of multiple neurones to bring about a positive action by the organism. I am not a neuroscientist so this may be wildly off.

            3. In human consciousness acting retrospectively, this appears as our choice between two counterfactuals (sometimes one that we may regret). Indeed it really is our choice as we have to live with the consequences of the decision and it becomes part of ourselves. What we are determining is which branch of the wavefunction we are living in. The vast potential of counterfactual outcomes ahead of us in our lives is what constitutes radical freedom.

            4. If, as I do, we accept the Relative State (Many-Worlds) interpretation of QM then this has implications for evolution. It becomes a means for organisms with neural systems to evolutionarily explore Hilbert space and may have been a factor in the original evolution of neural systems.

            This may be a form of compatibilism, but it is most certainly not dualist. There is only one form of stuff in the world and it is quantum stuff.

            By the way some Xians are determinists, in particular the followers of the morally evil doctrine of Calvinism. Many of the dangerous creationist nutbars are followers of this kind of determinist theology.

            • Piero
              Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

              chemicalscum

              “Stochastic processes emerge in the CNS of complex organisms as a result of quantum indeterminacy in the molecular domain. This has not been proven, but at least it is in principle experimentally testable and consistent with the laws of physics.”

              I’m sorry to say this, but your claim is utter bullshit. If organic matter was subjet to significant random quantum fluctuations, evolution could not possibly work. The fact that evolution does work immediately disproves your assertion. So yes, “this has not been proven” is correct, but something of an understatement: reality has actually disproven it.

              The rest of your post is irrelevant, given that the first premise makes no sense.

              • Tim
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

                As I indicated in an earlier thread on free will, if one considers radiation as a significant source of mutations and their effect in both heridity and carcinogenesis – and radiation’s random origins in nuclear decay, you’re incorrect (in fact, Jerry pretty conceded that point). Of course, I don’t see how quantum randomness is somehow the origin of “will” – “free” or otherwise.

              • Piero
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

                Er… no, you are still not making sense. I’m not interested in any point Jerry may have or have not conceded. I’m arguing on my own behalf. OK, so radiation is relevant to mutations and carcinogenesis. Who would have thought!

                Now explain what that has to do with free will. As you said, “I don’t see how quantum randomness is somehow the origin of ‘will'”. Then what’s the point of bringing it up?

              • chemicalscum
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

                Piero

                You have missed the point and are not really understanding QM. We observe the result of stochastic quantum processes in the real world for example when we detect the result of a radioactive decomposition with a Geiger counter. The question here is under what circumstances can quantum fluctuations be amplified by deterministic chaos into the macro world. This is a question Gell-Mann addresses in his popular book “The Quark and the Jaguar”.

                A predominantly causal world (the quasi classical world) that IGUSes (Information Generating and Utilizing Systems) can evolve in emerges from quantum chaos under specific conditions. I suggest you read Hartle and Gell-Mann’s papers on this. Look them up on arXiv, I haven’t got time to dig out the references now.

                Way back back in the 1940’s before DNA was determined to be the genetic material (unless you understood the significance of Avery’s research) genetic information was regarded as being contained in high level structures by most biologists of the time. Schroedinger in his book “What is life” predicted on the basis QM that since mutation could be caused by ionising radiation then the genetic material must be at the molecular level.

                It should be obvious that QM stochastic effects contribute to evolution by generating fresh variation through mutation that natural selection can operate on.

                You wrote “If organic matter was subjet to significant random quantum fluctuations, evolution could not possibly work.” You miss the point that the level random quantum fluctuations that “organic matter is subject to ” is enough to make evolution possible but not sufficiently high as to make the existence of living organisms impossible.

                My statement “This has not been proven, but at least it is in principle experimentally testable and consistent with the laws of physics.” therefore stands and is not “bullshit” and the subsequent hypotheses I list need to be addressed. I will not use the term “bullshit” with regard to your comment but suggest that “it is not even wrong”.

                It is time for workers in biological areas to take on Everett’s exhortation to physicists to “take quantum mechanics seriously”. Judging by some of the recent work on QM effects in photosynthesis some already are.

              • chemicalscum
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

                What is the relevance of QM randomness to free will? I outlined this in my point 3:

                “In human consciousness acting retrospectively, this appears as our choice between two counterfactuals (sometimes one that we may regret). Indeed it really is our choice as we have to live with the consequences of the decision and it becomes part of ourselves. What we are determining is which branch of the wavefunction we are living in. The vast potential of counterfactual outcomes ahead of us in our lives is what constitutes radical freedom.”

              • piero
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

                Chemicalscum:

                I’m sorry, I cannot make any sense of your reply. I’m sure there is some meaning hiding in there somewhere, but I could not find it.

            • Scott near Berkeley
              Posted February 7, 2012 at 12:12 am | Permalink

              You are not a neuroscientist, and yes, you are wildly off.

              I suggest as a beginning read, “101 Theory Drive: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for Memory” by Terry McDermott, about the work and person of Gary Lynch. There is (IMO) enough complexity at the ionic level (e.g. calcium ions, sodium ions) to preclude any necessity of quantum physics.

              Yes, ferric reactions do take place on ship hulls, but do such reactions determine whether an intact, whole ship moves forward or not, at any given time?

              Humans tend to give everything a “local flavor’. We are terrible with huge, huge numbers…all of us.

            • Posted February 11, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

              This is similar to Robert Kane’s position.

              Unfortunately for both of you, the brain is too hot, wet and large for this to work …

      • Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        “Coyne is in serious competition with Chopra here.”

        Oh gosh, I’m sure that’ll worry him. Come on, be serious, **Chopra**?

        • Andrew
          Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

          Coyne’s line of reasoning and rhetorical tricks with respect to his arguments on free will are indistinguishable from those of Chopra’s. Coyne either needs to come up with an evidence based approach, or defer to people who can think about and discuss the topic in a rational manner that isn’t dismissive of science.

          • Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

            If you want to come up with a scenario of classical non-deterministic “free will” based on quantum indeterminacy then go ahead (and be sure to preserve the “will” element). In the absence of such I’d regard it as sensible (and scientific) to discount that avenue as a basis for classical free will.

            • Andrew
              Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

              Coyne’s the one using false assumptions to make his case not me. The idea that Coyne is correct because I haven’t convincingly argued against (or for) his position is a logical fallacy.

              Coyne’s illogic stands or falls on it’s own.

              • BradW
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

                But Coyne often provides independent citations that support his basic position whereas you have not done so and apparently don’t intend to.

                Your posts on this thread are little better than an ad hominem attack on Coyne.

              • Andrew
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

                “But Coyne often provides independent citations that support his basic position whereas you have not done so and apparently don’t intend to.”

                Really? Citations to scientific research which establish a preponderance of evidence that free will does not exist?

                Do tell, which citations are these?

              • Piero
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

                Andrew said:

                “Coyne’s the one using false assumptions to make his case not me. The idea that Coyne is correct because I haven’t convincingly argued against (or for) his position is a logical fallacy.

                Coyne’s illogic stands or falls on it’s own.”

                This is the kind of fallacious reasoning that should have no place in the world at large, let alone in this website.

                When I disagree with someone about the explanation of a given phenomenon, I do not limit myself to shouting “You are wrong, you are wrong! And you mother is ugly! And your sister too!”. I might have done it in kindergarten (I don’t recall having done it, but I might have). I would feel thoroughly ashamed if I resorted threw such childish tantrums. Why you are not ashamed I cannot fathom. But I’ll tell you what the expected adult behaviour is: if I disagreed with someone’s explanation of a given phenomenon, I’d say: “You are wrong. The proper explanation is the following:…” and then proceed to explicate what I consider to be the real explanation.

                So, explain to me the amazing phenomenon of free will in a concise, coherent and convincing manner. If you don’t, I reserve the right to call you an idiot as often as I can.

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

            Lay off, Andrew. Do you have any conception about how not to insult people on their own website? You can make your point without these invidious comparisons. Yes, that is an ad hominem, and you should stop it now.

            • Andrew
              Posted February 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

              It appears that your rhetorical approach to someone who takes issue with your lack of intellectual rigor and offhand dismissal of scientific understanding is to suppress their feedback, dismissing them for incivility as opposed to responding to their rhetoric.

              I’m more than a little surprised to find this out.

              tant pis

              • piero
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

                Interesting reply. I’ll be busy for months pondering its implications…

  2. Chris Granger
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Perhaps I’m projecting my own feelings on the issue to some extent, but I can’t help wondering how much of the opposition to the “no free will” idea comes from the feeling that without free will, we are helpless and at the “mercy” of determinism.

    I agree with your position that the activity within human brains (and thus human behavior) is determined and completely bound by the laws of physics, but I don’t like it.

    I find the idea that it is essentially dumb luck (an accident of birth, genes, environment, things beyond our control) that you and I aren’t serial killers or pedophiles really unpalatable, but isn’t that essentially what an absence of free will boils down to? That we’re all victims of circumstance? Again, I’m not disagreeing with you at all. I’m just trying to straighten this all out in my own mind.

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      When you put pencil to paper and draw a triangle, is it dumb luck that the angles just happen to add up to 180°? Does it bother you that there really isn’t any choice in the matter?

      And I wouldn’t worry overly much that you’re not a monster. Statistically, the odds are vanishingly small you would be, and it makes perfect sense that it should be so. A society in which monsters are common would rip itself to pieces; it would not survive.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Chris Granger
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        No, of course it doesn’t bother me that a triangle’s angles add up to 180°, but geometric shapes don’t suffer. People do, though, so it’s bothersome to me that someone’s suffering may be an inevitable part of their existing, and their ability to overcome said suffering or not is also determined. They can’t freely will themselves to be courageous in dealing with it. They either are or aren’t.

        The specific reason I’m wrestling with this is that my best friend committed suicide, and I’m not sure which idea I like less: that he was a meat robot whose programming and life circumstances led inevitably to this end, or that he did what he did entirely of his own free will.

        As I say, I don’t disagree with the premise of determinism on the basis of disliking the conclusion, but I do dislike the conclusion.

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:19 am | Permalink

          I’m with you, Chris.

        • Kharamatha
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

          I suppose he did what he wanted to do, but that what he wanted to do did not form isolated from the rest of him and the world.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted February 8, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

          It is jarring to our self-image to think about determinism. But it also opens new ways for us to value and respect humanity. We are profoundly integrated with nature in a way that has not been fully appreciated in the history of humanity, and if you see the beauty in nature this really is a kind of ennobling thought.

          It is also humbling, which is not a bad thing. It is a disappointment perhaps, but then I like to think of disappointment in terms of the German word for it, which transliterated back into English carries the sense of “being un-deceived”. This describes perfectly what our knowledge brings, the kind of let down that comes from learning you have been deceived, but then you are back in harmony with truth, so that is a good thing.

          Just like water chooses a path downhill according to a principle of efficiency, so has nature shaped us, just as it determines the simplest sensible properties of a triangle.

          So your feelings, your grief, your friend’s despair and pain that made him feel he must escape it are natural and real, just like a river flowing is natural and real.

          Our pain has a purpose that has contributed to our flourishing as a species, and it occurs usually with an approximation of minimalist efficiency, just as the path chosen by water, enough to do the job and no more.

          Your friend perhaps possessed greater gifts of sensitivity than most, or perhaps for whatever reasons he was subjected to greater stress. Thirty years ago, at age 23, I lost my best friend. The grief is a misery, but it will diminish. It will never go away, but it will become bearable, almost sweet, and it will visit you at times unexpected to remind you of what you loved in your friend, and of your humanity.

          None of your feelings or your friend’s feelings are diminished by understanding their true nature. We can love a river, but it can not love us back, and we can feel grief if a river runs dry. Humans we can value more than a river because they can love us back. We are the same people we have always been; we’ve just added structure and form and clarity to understanding aspects of our nature we used to take for granted, and we explained away with a temporary imaginary model.

    • Steve
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      So far you are correct…. “except for the matrix of my causal determinants there go I”.

      • Gregg Baker
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        Steve, I like that comment you put in quotes. Is that yours or did you find it elsewhere?

        • Julien Rousseau
          Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

          It looks like he modified “There but for the grace of God, go I” except that I think it would work better if closer to the traditional sentence:

          “There but for the matrix of my causal determinants, go I”

          • Gregg Baker
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

            I knew what it was a modification of, I just wondered if he had made that modification himself or heard/read it elsewhere.

          • Steve
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

            Thanks Julien, I am sure I have said it that way before.

        • Steve
          Posted February 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

          I thought I invented it… and I tried to search the archives to see if I had proof… but alas I came up short. Someone else (Carl) might have done it… definitely Dr. Peter Gill can be found to have said, “There but for the difference in our determinants go I.”

          I did coin the term “non-free will” and “non-free willism”… to distinguish a difference between the belief in determinism from the belief that there is no libertarian freedom to the will.

  3. Gregg Baker
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Thanks for continuing to address this topic. I can sometimes be slow on the uptake, and today’s article caused something new click in my mind on this issue. I’d previously been focused on will, but today’s article focused me on the free part of the equation. What are we asking whether will is free of? Presumably, we are asking whether will is free of constraints to the point that it can ignore all causative factors outside itself and act on its own volition. But once one accepts that will is a complex of actions in the brain, like all other mental activity, it becomes obvious (to my deterministically operating brain, anyway) that not only is will not free, but it cannot be free in that sense. I now see more clearly why one would have to posit something akin to a soul or other non-material thing to get to “free will”–otherwise one is saying that the brain, among all physical objects known to man, is the only one that can break the bonds of causality.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:21 am | Permalink

      +1

      I’m at the same level at wrapping my brain around this.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

      Too lightly do you make the notation “complex of actions in the brain.” The basic problem is one of numbers. The brain, with its 100 TRILLION connections, is inconceivably complex. We do not, cannot do it justice by description. And herein lies the problem. The best analogy would be in a fable about Newt Gingrich’s “Moon Colony”. Say two thousand humans lived there, and a vast virus swept the Earth, and all people on Earth died. Gone. Now, a human born on the moon, having never visited Earth, would see that “blue marble” and never be able to fathom what an ‘ocean’ is like. As he beheld a glass of (moon)water in his hand, if would be a stretch that water was ‘blue’, that water could exist miles and miles in depth, with tremendous pressure, and that its surface was such a complex, wave-strewn phenomenon. The same inability applies, 100x, to our understanding of the human brain and its complexities.

      Right now, as you read, your brain is performing, 10 to the twenty-second power, instructions per second! Incredible! indescribable!!

  4. Rudi
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Chris – yes, it is dumb luck that you aren’t a psychopath or a paedophile. People that happen to be those things did not choose to be. This thought is scary to many people, which leads them to take the intellectually-dishonest, theist-like tack of pretending therefore that it can’t be true.

  5. physicalist
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    It’s not clear to me whether this post is supposed to be attacking compatibilism or defending determinism.

    As a compatibilist, I obviously have no problem with determinism, and I agree with you that Pigliucci’s arguments about philosophical difficulties with causation and reduction are irrelevant to the question of freedom and moral responsibility.

    But these considerations are irrelevant to the issue of compatibilism. The compatibilist agrees that our actions are determined (or close enough), that psychology can be reduced to physics (or close enough), and so on. That’s why it’s called compatibilism.

    But the arguments against compatibilism endorsed here just run through the errors that have been corrected over and over again:

    1. “redefine the term “free will”

    No. The common folks notion of freedom is a confused jumble. The compatibilist is picking out the most important aspects of this notion and pointing out that it’s compatible with determinism.

    The incompatibilists focus on an irrelevant aspect of it and freak out when they notice that we don’t have it.

    Either both parties are “redefining” the term, or both are clarifying an incoherent pre-theoretic concept.

    2. “compatibilists squirm uncomfortably

    Not in the least. Compatibilists are perfectly comfortable with determinism (because it’s compatible with everything we care about). We just think people should avoid saying false things.

    And the claim that materialists like Hobbes, Hume, and Dennett are somehow “afraid” of accepting incompatibilism (a) amounts to name-calling rather than argument, and (b) strikes me as absurd on its face. I’d suggest that when most heavy-hitting physicalists think you’re wrong, you might want to consider the possibility that their position isn’t based on some fearful longing for dualism

    3. “there is no need to fear that these facts diminish our ability to voluntarily engage in action”

    Um, yeah. That’s what we’ve been saying. Real voluntary choice (i.e., “free” choice) is compatible with determinism.

    4. “To me, the important question about . . . free will is . . . whether we really can make alternative decisions at any point in time>”

    This depends on what you mean by “can.” If you’re talking about whether a Laplacian demon who knows all the physical laws and the complete physical state will be able to predict what you will do, then it’s obviously the case that you won’t do anything that surprises the demon. This is simply determinism. We all (excluding Pigliucci) agree on this.

    But, if you are instead asking about the sort of actions that an agent can engage in given the sort of person she is (i.e., given her abilities and powers), then there will be lots of things that she can do even though she’ll obviously do one thing and not the other.

    She can drink stand up or remain sitting. She can’t fly to the moon. And this sort of evaluations about what someone can and can’t do in some situation is crucially important for the question of whether someone is responsible for something happening.

    And it’s perfectly compatible with determinism

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      I largely agree with your summary and reply. And I also think that the difference between the compatibilists and Jerry is pure semantics and nothing more.

      To illustrate this it might be revealing to ask Jerry what sort of language he would find acceptable.

      Suppose Jerry offers to buy some kids an ice cream. Would he offer using words such as: “you can choose which flavour you want”? If he would, then he’s a compatibilist through and through! That offer would sum up everything about compatibilism.

      So the kids’ choices are determined; yep, we agree. So what?, they’re still — in a meaningful way — picking the flavour they want.

      • physicalist
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        That’s a good example, and I’d like to hear Jerry respond to it.

        And if later the child was complaining that she hates chocolate ice cream and she wants strawberry instead, would Jerry be willing to say, “Look, you’re the one who chose chocolate! It was your choice; no one but you is responsible for your having chocolate and not strawberry.”

        It seems obvious that this is a perfectly legitimate response to make. (And it’s an importantly different case from the situation where the child was handed chocolate ice cream without being asked what she wanted.)

        I assume Jerry will say that she isn’t making a “real” choice. But then we’re just playing games with the word “real.” (a) There is some sort of important choice that we have. And (b) why should any of us care about the magical physics-violating “choice” that we all agree doesn’t exist?

      • Asura
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        “If he would, then he’s a compatibilist through and through!”

        No, he wouldn’t be.

        That’s like saying if you say “Oh my god” it makes you a theist through and through.

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

          Yes he would be, because compatibilists agree with him that “will” is determined and that there is no physics-violating “free” will.

          But compatibilists consider that (determined) choosing among options is still a meaningful concept. Can you explain how the above conversation with the child would go if you didn’t have that concept?

          • Asura
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

            My past comparison was totally off-base, if you guys are just saying that having the word “choice” in the English language is important, that has nothing to do with free will in the first place.

            Simple machines can go through a variety of choices, and (old-timey or what have you) free will supporters will say it doesn’t have free will.

            What exactly are you making “compatible” here?

            • Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

              “Simple machines can go through a variety of choices, …”

              Indeed.

              “What exactly are you making “compatible” here?”

              We’re making the notion that entirely-determined choice is still meaningful (and that “choice” becomes a progressively more appropriate way of thinking about a system the more complex and choice-making the system gets) compatible with the choice being determined.

              • Asura
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

                Of course it’s meaningful in that it communicates different things.

                If I push a small robot across the room with a broom, or let it run through the choices it has and choose one/some to navigate across the room itself, it got across the room through different means.

                This has nothing to do with free will. I still completely fail to see how this makes anything compatibalist, as you’re not bridging the gap between anything.

              • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:36 am | Permalink

                “This has nothing to do with free will. I still completely fail to see how this makes anything compatibalist, as you’re not bridging the gap between anything.”

                You are right that it has nothing to do with the classical, dualist contra-causa conception of “free will”.

                Compatibilists are NOT trying to “bridge the gap” to that, or to anything else! Compatabilism is a 100% embrace of determinism and the fact that our choices are determined by the prior state of the system. It is amazing how many people don’t get that elementary point about compatibilism!

                But, we are then asking, given that that is how the universe is, what sort of “choice” and “will” is present in our world? Determined ones, sure. But they are still meaningful concepts! As you indeed agreed!

                The point is that compatibilists are in 100% agreement with you in rejecting classical, dualist contra-causa free-will. But compatabilists are now wanting to have the next stage of the conversation! And it seems we’re prevented from having that next stage because people still won’t grasp what compatibilists are saying.

              • Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

                Coelsblog,

                Given all of what you say, it seems like you are the one who has ended up confused about what combatibilists are saying. It is hard as a non-free willist for me to move forward with such a conversation with a person who is so encumbered (with the notion that libertarian free will is compatible with the universe as we know ii).

                One has to first give up this compatibilism non-sense, and then we could talk about life in light of non-free willism.

            • Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

              ” … it seems like you are the one who has ended up confused about what combatibilists are saying.”

              Nope, sorry, you are.

              “… a person who is so encumbered (with the notion that libertarian free will is compatible with the universe as we know ii).”

              I totally and absolutely reject that notion. You will only start understanding compatibilism when you realise that compatibilism starts with a total rejection of classical libertarian free-will and embraces determinism for our choices.

      • Dan L.
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Suppose Jerry offers to buy some kids an ice cream. Would he offer using words such as: “you can choose which flavour you want”? If he would, then he’s a compatibilist through and through! That offer would sum up everything about compatibilism.

        This is really stupid. It’s like a kid saying, “OK, but if you step over THIS line in the sand I’m right and you’re wrong.” Using the “language of free will” — which is to say regular spoken English since English grew up along with a religiously-inspired concept of free will — does not mean anyone automatically concedes a metaphysical argument.

        There’s two problems with this as far as I’m concerned.
        1) Natural language is not readily suited for abstruse metaphysical discussions. So we must allow each other some leeway in awkward or confusing formulations in English of concepts that are new or alien to the mechanics of the language.
        2) Don’t play “gotcha.” The whole idea of, “OK, but if Jerry does THIS he automatically loses the argument,” is immature and asinine. This one’s real easy, just try to understand what people are trying to say to you instead of deciding yourself what they are trying to say to you.

        • Steve
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

          Dan L.,

          Just a word of thanks for saying this.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted February 7, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        Suppose Jerry offers to buy some kids an ice cream. Would he offer using words such as: “you can choose which flavour you want”? If he would, then he’s a compatibilist through and through! That offer would sum up everything about compatibilism.

        So the kids’ choices are determined; yep, we agree. So what?, they’re still — in a meaningful way — picking the flavour they want.

        First of all, of course in this scenario anyone would ask “what flavor do you want?” or say “you can choose any flavor”, including Jerry. That is how you use the English language. And that is how homo sapiens subjective mental experience works.

        This obviously does not mean you are a compatibilist. That is simply wrong. I think Jerry is largely in accord with compatibilists, but as I understand it, to be a compatibilist you must approve of the definition that “free will” describes something possible in a deterministic world.

        Jerry doesn’t know what flavor the kids will choose (and they also might not yet know consciously what they will choose), and thus he must ask. This does not change the fact that once they choose, based on the state of their brain at that moment of they could not have chosen differently.

        Of course if they had a different brain, or if it were in a different state, the choice could have been different, but since I don’t often see people swapping their brains in and out like people change hats, this point is useless. In fact the internal operations of the brain could not have arrived at a different selection.

        So of course the kids choose from options, and there is no external constraint, but internally physical and chemical reactions determine exactly which of the several options will be selected.

        I think Jerry, based on what I’ve read, fully supports this notion of “choice”, and people who say he believes we don’t make choices are simply confused by linguistics. He emphasizes that we don’t make choices in the dualistic sense of having a radical disconnection from physical causality. There is no inflection point in the choosing process used by the brain internally when either A or B are equally probable and one or the other is chosen randomly or in any way without physical causation. This simply does not happen, and I’ll further assert that traditional dualistic free will depends on this kind of internal freedom, which we therefore do not have.

        So I think he is fully in agreement with determinist compatibilists in his notion of choice. I think his only disagreement is one of semantics, and it is a disagreement on what the pair of words “free” and “will”, when combined, mean historically.

        Compatibilists correctly state what is the only possible meaning of “free will” in a deterministic world, and it has to do with the sense of what one “can” do, i.e. is physically capable of, and not externally constrained from or coerced into.

        But when you look at the chooser internally as an object, disregarding for the moment their subjective experience, what they choose is determined by the state of their brain and their brain could not have chosen otherwise.

        When we move away from regarding the internal physical brain state as an object, and consider subjective experience and external conditions, we are on the ground where compatibilists like to play, and they, for reasons I don’t yet understand, like to use “free will” stripped of it’s full historical meaning and reduced down to the only possible meaning in a deterministic world, as I mentioned above.

        I’m suspicious, perhaps unjustly, of what the motives are for continuing to pair the words “free” and “will”. I think it has to do with politeness, delicacy, or even fear with regard to the potential wrath of dualist faith-intoxicated zealots and soft-minded blank-slaters who insist that the world would devolve into chaos without the traditional basis for moral responsibility, which for the common person has been for millennia the notion that internal choice is radically unconstrained by physical determinants. In other words, dualism.

        So why can’t compatibilists drop the pair of words “free will” just as we have dropped “elan vital”? I may be wrong, but I believe this is Jerry’s primary issue with determinist compatibilism. This certainly is my only issue with it.

        It’s easy to wave this off as “just semantics”, but I think if we are to have clear understanding and conceptual integrity semantics really do matter.

        I don’t fear God and I also don’t fear to say explicitly that the reason I would like to do away with the word pair “free will” is because I would like to do away with false beliefs, religious beliefs, based on dualistic notions of the human mind.

        For this reason I think it’s important to say publicly, clearly, unambiguously “we do not have free will”. The compatibilists can then find lots of job security explaining exactly how that is possible when we feel ourselves choosing. They can clarity that what we really have is the ability to choose things we want, control outcomes, and the ability to resist external coercion, but we do these things using a brain that is internally totally physically determined by physics and chemistry.

        Fortunately the brain has such a magnificently complex structure that it possesses the remarkable capability to learn, and to learn very well in a variety of different ways. Because of this, by virtue of having a seemingly infinite variety of reachable states, the brain allows us to simulate and subjectively experience certain limited forms of freedom. I don’t see why this story shouldn’t be fully satisfying to determinist compatibilists.

        We can say we are free in certain ways. And we can say we have will. But please please please can’t we all just stop saying we have “free will”?

        • Another Matt
          Posted February 7, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          Dammit, this is pretty convincing – but again it’s a matter of convenience. What do we call what you say we really have, viz. “the ability to choose things we want, control outcomes, and the ability to resist external coercion, but we do these things using a brain that is internally totally physically determined by physics and chemistry” in a two- or three-word label? I assume you do not like Hitchens’s, Dawkins’s, Dennett’s, and Hoftstadter’s occasional (or sometimes frequent) co-opting of the word “soul” to mean something like “anything we’d call ‘conscious I,’ which has subjective experience, and emerges from the fully materialist processes of a physical body” because there aren’t many better metaphors.

          It’s interesting – in comparison with the “light/ether” pair you see “free will” as corresponding to “ether,” where I see it corresponding to “light.”

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted February 7, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

            Sorry about that! ;)

            I’m glad it is convincing though.

            I think it’s fine to say we have freedom, and that we have will, and that we have intention, and that we have agency, and that we have control, and that we have preferences, that we choose, etc. And we can proceed to explain and clarify what these things mean and how they are possible with determinism.

            But I think, even though it is “just semantics”, it is an important point of conceptual integrity, and epistemologically and pedagogically significant, to avoid using “free will” jointly except in discussions of the history of philosophy or theology.

          • Lyndon
            Posted February 7, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

            Andrew,

            I did not like Hofstadter’s use of “soul” in I Am A Strange Loop, though I liked the book and the conceptions that he laid out there.

            It was not confusing (for the most part), I thought he was fairly careful about laying it out and trying to rid it of other connotations.

            But, for some of the same reasons we have been hashing out here, disentangling and creating a better understanding of the conscious self and of the “I” is a complicated task that we and Hofstadter are still working on. It felt completely unnecessary and problematic to continue to use that term, when it seems like others would have sufficed. I am not sure he gained anything useful by using it and he welcomed trouble both from his self and from his readers in comprehension and emotional and connotative sliding.

    • Tim
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      I also think your summary is on target. I would add that I find the use of the “it seems that” phrase to be bit annoying. It only “seems” that way if you haven’t been paying attention.

      Even if it boilsd down to nothing more than semantics, to hold that “choice” is an illusion because we behave deterministically is to strip everything, even the rest of science, of any worth. Would any PhD advisor sit in a thesis defense and accept the candidate’s response to queries from their committee members that went along the lines of “Well, I needn’t concern myself with the reason why these two differnt catalyst have differnt turnover numbers with respect to this reaction because ultimately their activity is determined by interactions between the fundamental particles that make up molecules of the catalysts and their substrates.” Obviously, this kind of ultrareductionism yields no useful explanations about how anything works beyond the most fundamental level of physics.

      I don’t care whether we call “free will” and “freely made choices” just “will” and “choices” when the context is clear. But we still will need to use somne words to distinguish between contemplative choices and choices made, say, with a gun to our head.

      • Vaal
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        Tim,

        I and others have voiced this issue several times but I’ve yet to see a response.

        I’m looking for evidence that Jerry and other incompatibilists who think Jerry’s arguments are convincing, have really thought their position through.

        “Could have done otherwise” and “could have been otherwise” are essentially the same in terms of the challenge those concepts introduce to our describing anything that changes in the world – be it our decisions or how molecules interact.

        If you infer from determinism that “could have been otherwise” will always be a false claim, a delusion, then you have to explain how exactly this does not undermine not JUST prescriptions of virtually any kind (practical or moral), but also the knowledge claims made scientifically!

        “Is it possible” that the water in this pot could be transformed into ice OR into vapor? Suppose someone stubbornly claims “This water could be transformed from it’s current state ONLY into vapor. ” Say we want to argue: “No, it could be otherwise – for instance it’s possible to transform it into ice by cooling it.”

        How do you make the scientific argument that water COULD OTHERWISE be turned into ice vs vapor IF you simultaneously claim (a la incompatibilism) “Nothing REALLY could be otherwise – there are no actual ‘real’ other possibilities for anything that occurs since there is only one determined future.”

        Obviously, a scientist like Jerry can not afford to drop the concepts of “could be otherwise” as it is vital to understanding virtually anything in his discipline or any other endevour.

        Yet how will he argue that such concepts and language of “other possibilities” and “could be otherwise” sensibly apply to our descriptions of the world? I suggest this will be difficult or impossible to do WITHOUT special pleading, because essentially the same justifications will be used as compatibilism understands them when applied to the determined physics of human choices.

        Still waiting on an answer for this issue.

        Vaal.

        • Asura
          Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

          “How do you make the scientific argument that water COULD OTHERWISE be turned into ice vs vapor IF you simultaneously claim (a la incompatibilism) “Nothing REALLY could be otherwise – there are no actual ‘real’ other possibilities for anything that occurs since there is only one determined future”

          You DO realize we are talking about a specific moment in time under specific conditions, right? It does not sound like it.

          • Vaal
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

            Asura,

            That doesn’t answer the question. In terms of determinism and the issue I’m raising, it doesn’t matter if your description applies to an event in the past, the present, the future…any specific “moment” under specific conditions, etc.

            If you accept determinism, especially as Jerry is espousing it, then for any specific event there is only one possibility, be it a past or future event.

            So whether you are pointing to a puddle on the ground and explaining how it’s “possible” for it to become frozen but also otherwise “possible” for it to heat into water vapor, how do you use this language in the context of determinism? Once you decide that, the next question is to talk about someone choosing to freeze the puddle or boil it into vapor, and then, if you still want to deny the language of possibility in terms of the person making a “choice,” you have to answer why you are not special pleading, allowing yourself to use it in one case but denying it in the other.

            That’s why I’m interested in the incompatibilists here answering these questions.

            As has been pointed out, this idea that compatibilists won’t swallow the hard pill of determinism is to completely misunderstand
            compatibilism: compatibilists swallowed that pill long ago but have moved on to say “Ok, GIVEN determinism, what does this mean for our use of concepts like “choice” and “possibility” and “free” etc. I find the compatibilist answers make much more sense: in fact, I’m trying to get ANY directly relevant answers from an incompatibilist here on this issue. (With apologies if I’ve missed such an answer).

            If you have an answer, I’m certainly happy to see it. How do you, if you follow Jerry’s view of determinism, speak about possibilities, alternatives etc, when describing the world?

            Thanks,

            Vaal.

            • Asura
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:26 am | Permalink

              I don’t know if I subscribe to Jerry’s view exactly as I casually read his blog on and off.

              But saying it’s possible to freeze the puddle or turn it to vapor, or saying there are choices, has nothing to do with the issue of free will.

              I don’t know why you think semantics goes haywire like you do.

              • Vaal
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

                Asura,

                Trying to expose special pleading is integral to examining whether an argument is any good or not (either for compabitilism or incompatibilism).

                If you say “Yes, it is possible for this puddle to EITHER freeze OR turn into vapor” then I’m going to ask “Hold on, what do you mean when you say it is ‘Possible’ for either
                of those things to occur. Determinism says that there is only ONE possibility. Please square what you are saying about the puddle with the concept of Determinism.”

                The problem will be: how will you do this? I’d argue that you won’t be able to come up with a good way to do it EXCEPT via the same type of justification as is used for how compatibilists use such language for human choice-making. And so if you say it’s ok to speak of ALTERNATE possibilities for fully-determined puddles, but then say “But I won’t accept such language for fully determined human physical choices” then you are just special pleading – making an exception without good reason.

                If you do not see the relevance of this, then
                I guess it’s pointless to continue this conversation.

                Vaal.

            • Steve
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:07 am | Permalink

              Vaal,

              Do you realize your use of the term incompatibilist is ambiguous? This thread has incompatibilists on both sides of the issue.

              • Vaal
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

                Steve,

                I don’t mean to confuse anyone, however:

                Compatibilist: Someone who believes the concept of free will is compatible with determinism.

                Incompatibilist: Someone who believes the concept of free will is incompatible with determinism.

                I don’t see the ambiguity. Do you have different definitions?

                Vaal.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

          Vaal:

          If you infer from determinism that “could have been otherwise” will always be a false claim, a delusion, then you have to explain how exactly this does not undermine not JUST prescriptions of virtually any kind (practical or moral), but also the knowledge claims made scientifically!

          It does not undermine prescriptions:
          Just because I can’t do otherwise in one moment does not mean that I can’t do something different in the future. If I smoke without guilt, my body and brain will determine when I reach for a smoke. And I will simply enjoy it without a second thought. Then if I hear a friend say “you ought to quit, that will kill you”, that can stay in my memory. Next time the determined urge arises it will compete with the part of my brain that is interested in self preservation. Even so I may smoke anyway, depending on which competing factor is strongest. I may have a feeling of guilt during the smoke now because of the prescription. In any case the result is determined by the physical state of my brain. Whatever the result, I could not have done otherwise. But over time, changes in my mind, possibly reinforced by other inputs or prescriptive messages, may change the state of my brain so that one day when the physical urge arises that competing part of my mind that advocates self-preservation and health can override the smoking urge with reasoning based on new knowledge of health risks combined with a strengthened resolve to protect my health. Each action was determined by the state of my brain, but the state of my brain changed over time and so my choices and behavior changed over time in reaction to prescriptions.

          It does not undermine scientific knowledge:
          You need to unpack the word “possibility”. It is possible that today it could rain or snow. It is possible that it will not. Whichever it will be is determined by the atmospheric conditions. I can work hard to try to predict which will occur because I know that the weather will determine only one of these. If it were not determined, it would be crazy to try to predict it. It is not possible that today Volkswagens will fall from the clouds. It is not possible that today it will both rain and not rain at the same time and place. But the state of the atmosphere, the weather, will determine what actually happens from among the physically possible options, and it could not have happened any differently.

          I can decide to boil water first, then later I can decide to freeze it. Whatever I decide at each moment was determined by the physical state of my brain, and I could not have acted differently.

          • Vaal
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

            Hi again Jeff,

            “It does not undermine prescriptions:”

            As someone sympathetic to compatibilism, I certainly agree that determinism doesn’t undermine prescriptions. In fact, I think determinism is vital to making sense of prescriptions. It’s just that I think the compatibilist arguments do this better than the incompatibiilst arguments.

            You followed that sentence with an argument that I have replied to in other parts of the thread.
            Again, you keep re-stating that our brains and actions will change with input and experience.
            Of course! None of that answers whether the specific argument of Jerry’s is a good one, because people making false claims, true claims, giving good reasons, giving bad reasons, ALL
            can alter people’s actions and choices.

            In regards to prescriptive language, do you agree that “ought” imply “can?” If so, how do you put this into practice given determinism?

            E.g. the prescription that we OUGHT to re-think our notion of responsibility requires that we CAN do otherwise – that is we could decide NOT to rethink our notion of responsibility. So if you are using “ought” it means we “can do otherwise” and therefore what DO you mean by “can do otherwise?”

            “It is possible that today it could rain or snow. It is possible that it will not.”

            Right. So language that acknowledges “it could be otherwise” (either is possible) makes sense even in the context of determinism. Exactly what compatibilists argue.

            The point is: why do you make this weird, inconsistent objection where you say it’s ok to speak this way about the rest of the physical universe, but not about the physical facts of human decision making?

            It might rain today. But it could be otherwise…there are alternatives…it is possible it will not. Even though determinism says only one future is “really” possible you are ok speaking like this.

            But then I say “I chose a burger today, but could have chosen otherwise if I’d wanted to” which is what I (and I think many people) is described by the term “free will” …and then it’s “HOLD ON, HOLD ON…that’s false, determinism says there never was an alternative, no otherwise, so you shouldn’t use terms if there were!

            ????

            Vaal.

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

              It seems like you are ignoring the consequences of time and state changes. And I’m really confused about you saying there is a better compatibilist argument for prescriptions. Both incompatibilism and compatibilism are determinist, and the only real difference is semantics on what “free will” means. The compatibilist definition is a weakened form that does not imply libertarian free will, but only implies “not externally coerced”. This redefinition of “free will” muddles things and is what incompatibilists object to, since whether we are externally coerced or not is irrelevant to how the brain works internally. The incompatibilist wants to say that “free will” means libertarian free will, as it always has, and that we don’t have it, and it doesn’t make sense to redefine “free will” to be something that does exist within a deterministic model. I don’t think, as you seem to imply, that there are other disagreements between compatibilists and incompatibilists.

              You are saying that Jerry’s formulation, when we make a choice we can’t choose otherwise, somehow makes it impossible to talk about what we ought to do because this only makes sense if we can do otherwise.

              The difference between what you are considering and Jerry’s formulation is that in Jerry’s formulation he is talking about one moment, and the determinism of a choice based on the state of the brain at that moment.

              When we talk about prescriptions we are talking about the person as a process over time. Of course we can change states over time, so what we can do is determined by the possible states that our brain can reach over the period of time in question. But Jerry’s point remains that in each state there is only what that state determines, and no other possible result.

              If we go back to the weather analogy, the state of the atmosphere determines whether it is raining at each instant of time, just as the state of the brain determines our choice at each instant of time.

              Your confusion sounds to me like you are saying this: since Jerry says right now it is not raining (and it could not be otherwise given the state of the atmosphere right now), then somehow he is also saying it can’t rain (be otherwise) in 5 minutes, and thus there is no way to talk about whether it ought to rain or not.

              But of course this is false since the state of the atmosphere can change over that 5 minutes to a state such that rain is inevitably determined. And the same is true of the brain.

              Jerry’s argument is about libertarian free will and determinism. He is saying that whether it is raining right now is not an option the sky can switch arbitrarily and uncaused; it is determined by the physics in the atmosphere. And he is saying our brain is like that too: our choice at a moment is determined by the physics and chemistry in our brain.

              He is not saying it can’t rain soon after, or that we can’t choose otherwise later. The point is that we are not free in the way we think we are, because if we were, at each moment we would be totally free to switch between alternates with equal ease. The fact that our brain changes states over time is what gives the illusion of libertarian free will.

              • Vaal
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

                Just a note: I’m burnt out trying to follow the threads in this comment section. It’s so much more unwieldy trying to keep a focused conversation vs the on-line forums I’m used to, or talking to someone.

                Anyway, I like what you wrote there Jeff and I intend to reply tomorrow. Peace out.

                Vaal.

        • Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

          “If you infer from determinism that “could have been otherwise” will always be a false claim, a delusion, then you have to explain how exactly this does not undermine not JUST prescriptions of virtually any kind (practical or moral), but also the knowledge claims made scientifically!

          “Is it possible” that the water in this pot could be transformed into ice OR into vapor? ”

          You miss the point. The ‘Is is possible’ question that a scientist asks is expressing our epistemological awareness of what will happen, not what will actually happen in each case. What is determined to happen will happen, and then we become aware of it. That we learn to observe and are able predict in a deterministic system, e.g. “This water will boil when it reaches 100 deg C”, is a result of deterministic influences that determine that the water boils, and that our brains have a corresponding recognition of this pattern of behaviour. So, that scientists try to find stuff out is itself a caused phenomenon – if determinism holds.

          • Posted February 11, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

            Or, perhaps one can put the difference like this. When one claims one cannot have done otherwise in the “free will” debate, this seems to appeal to both what one could call laws *and* boundary conditions. By contrast, when one says it is possible for the lake to freeze when it gets cold enough, often one simply means it is *nomologically* possible only, without *too* much attention to the *actual* boundary conditions. Confusingly, and importantly, sometimes one also means with the boundary conditions, and one expresses one’s ignorance of same. For example, if I say “it is possible the lake will freeze tomorrow” what I seem to mean is that given the laws of nature and the “space” of what I take to be the current boundary conditions, some of the outcomes are frozen lake. Since we never know the boundary conditions for such a system precisely, our ignorance often leaves open many of these what are largely *epistemic* possibilia. (See also Bunge’s _Treatise on Basic Philosophy, vol 3 IIRC, on various notions of possibility.)

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

      physicalist:

      The compatibilist is picking out the most important aspects of this notion and pointing out that it’s compatible with determinism.

      The incompatibilists focus on an irrelevant aspect of it and freak out when they notice that we don’t have it.

      I agree with everything you say except for this quote here.

      As I understand this, the compatibilist uses “free will” to mean not externally coerced. And they also emphasize that even though our choices are determined by the state of our brain, we still have control and agency because we experience ourselves watching the decision making process in our subjective mind, and we are able to compare the results of our choices with results and feed that back into a future re-evaluation of the choice. I agree with all of that.

      But I claim that this is not the “most important” aspect of the notion “free will”. It is merely the only aspect that could possibly be salvaged for use in a deterministic model.

      This raises two questions:

      1. What is the most impoortant aspect of the term “free will” in is historic usage in western Christian culture.

      2. Why do compatibilists believe it is important to continue to use this particular compound phrase “free will” rather than just talking about “will” and “volition” and “choice” as behaviors exhibited by a deterministic brain.

      In regard to #1, I think that when people are thinking about their freedom external to themselves regarding society and the government, then they do talk about coercion.

      But the default case is not-coerced when people talk about their internal freedom to make moral choices and even less consequential choices. When someone is thinking “what kind of person am I”, they don’t think usually about a coerced scenario, they think about their internal impulses and nature. This historically relates to a person’s self-conception as sinner, and how their choices relate to their cosmic status in the after-life. This is the major context for free will in the imagination of the common person and in the history of western culture. This context relates only to the contra-causal sense of free will. It is the theological context, and the notions of free-will, sin, virtue, pre-destination, good works, redemption, etc. are all centered on the question of libertarian “free will”.

      This is exactly the reason I would like to abandon the two word combination “free will”. Another commenter in this thread mentioned the distinction between animate and inanimate matter at one time being postulated to be what was called “elan vital”. This was brought up in the context of defending compatibilism by saying that the notion of what it means to be alive was redefined after the concept of elan vital was abandoned. But I think this argument got the important point exactly backward. In this example I equate the words “free will” with the words “elan vital”. We did not redefine the meaning of the phrase “elan vital”, we preserved it for historical discussion with the clear understanding that it was an obsolete abandoned idea. That is exactly what I think we should do with the two word phrase “free will”: abandon it except in reserve for historical discussion where it remains clearly connected to dualism and contra-causal will. Compatibilists are doing the equivalent of redefining “elan vital”, and causing a similar amount of confusion in the general public’s mind by allowing people to avoid dealing with the truth that we do not actually have this traditional theological notion of internal free will. Lots of articles get printed in the New York Times and elsewhere giving the compatibilist point of view that we still have free will, and people don’t feel challenged to think deeply; instead it becomes a moment of “okay, nothing important here, I can safely move along”.

      In regard to #2, I don’t see any important scientific reason to abandon the term “free will”, as long as everybody understands we are all determinists and do not confuse it with a dualist frame.

      The reason to abandon it is more political, because the general public still thinks in a dualist frame and the general public’s understanding of “free will” is connected to dualism. Neuroscience is exploding in the popular media and in the popular imagination these days.

      This is the reason I see compatibilism as a kind of accomodationism with dualism. It seems like it is trying to be polite and avoid offending those who really want to preserve the dualistic religious notion of “free will” as connected to the soul and the after-life.

      I think it is important to be clear and unambiguous on the point of what determinism really means with regard to dualism, and compatibilism seems to obscure that.

      So what are the actual reasons compatibilists are attached to the idea of “free will” as a phrase, when it suffices to talk about will, volition, choice, and freedom (in the sense of non-coerced)? What is the underlying motivation for not agreeing with incompatibilists that we can talk about everything that is important both scientifically and philosophically without ever uttering the confusing and historically loaded compound phrase “free will”, except in the same historical way we can occasionally recall elan vital?

  6. Robert Wrench
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I am most likely not qualified or able to be clear in a response, but I would suggest reading Merlin Donald’s Origins of the Modern Mind written in the early 90s and also his later book from about a decade ago A Mind so Rare. I do think they give some insight to this issue and indirectly support Jeff Johnson’s view.

  7. Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I’m glad to see that people are still interested in this debate.

    I have a few responses to Professor Coyne, I guess on behalf of Professor Pigliucci:

    (I) On compatibilism (and thus a response, I take it, to Jeff):

    (1) One reason people are compatibilists is that this seems to be how ordinary English speakers often use the term ‘free will.’ (This is a point the philosopher W. T. Stace made; he suggested that people often say their decisions are free, even if they were clearly caused, as long as they were caused in the right way.) Indeed, recent experimental philosophy work suggests that sometimes, people think their decisions are free, even if they could be 100% predicted ahead of time.

    (2) Further, philosopher Harry Frankfurt showed that intuitively, freedom does not require the ability to have done otherwise. Suppose you are locked in a room, but you don’t know it’s locked. Suppose you decide for whatever reason to stay in the room. You couldn’t have done otherwise (since the door is locked), but this decision intuitively seems free to many philosophers.

    (II) “I claim again that the onus is on critics of compatibilism to show that our brains are not subject to the same determinism as, say, a billiard ball” (emphasis orig.).

    (1) Billiard balls and minds are extremely different things (and we don’t know whether minds are brains until physicalism is demonstrated), so the induction (if that’s what it is) from billiard balls to brains is very weak.

    (2) We don’t even know whether billiard balls are subject to necessitating determinism, and the claim that they are (i.e. that the billiard ball could have moved some other direction) is non-empirical and thus non-scientific. Observation only ever shows us actualities, not mere possibilities. (Philosopher William James noted this.)

    (III) “I also claim that there is evidence that our will is ‘illusory’ in the form of many experiments showing that our sense of volition can be completely disconnected (or more strongly connected than warranted) from our actions.”

    As a few readers pointed out (if I remember correctly), and other philosophers have pointed out, this assumes the lemma that an action is only free if we are aware of it at the time of deciding to do it. I can’t think of any reason to accept that lemma. Since brain signals travel at finite speed anyway, according to that lemma, in principle no one could ever choose freely, right?

    (IV) “Parsimony suggests—and evidence supports the view—that the laws of physics apply throughout the universe, and certainly to our brains.”

    (1) There’s substantial reason to doubt that philosophical appeals to parsimony can do the work they’re intended to do, as philosopher Michael Huemer has argued.

    (2) Even so, the claim that the laws of physics apply throughout the universe seems to me no more parsimonious than the claim that there are exceptions. Both are equally ontologically complex: they both posit the same number of entity-tokens and entity-types. And both are equally propositionally complex: they both require the same number of conjuncts to be true. For example, ‘the laws of physics apply at point x and point y‘ is no more parsimonious than ‘the laws of physics apply at point x and not at point y.’ Parsimony is not induction, and if you’re trying to appeal to induction, see my point (1) under (II) above.

    (V) “Predictability is not the same thing as determinism.”

    Quite right, which is why empirical observation alone can never provide evidence that necessitating determinism is true. (See my (II.2) above.)

    (VI) “But this is a free-will-of-the-gaps argument.”

    Not at all, unless you think that the fact that something appears a certain way is no evidence that it is that way. But of course that would be special pleading. Indeed, as some philosophers have argued (again, see Huemer), it is rational to take appearances at face value until you have evidence otherwise. It seems very strongly as if we deliberate between live possibilities, just as it seems sometimes as if cats and dogs exist, as if other minds exist, and so on. It would at least be special pleading to discount these seemings without argument.

    (VII) “The choice you made is the only one you could have made. Where is the freedom in that?”

    Again, see Frankfurt and my (I.2) above. The deterministic anti-free will argument seems to depend on something like a Principle of Alternate Possibilities: unless you could have done otherwise, you’re not free. But then the person in the unbeknownst-to-her locked room doesn’t freely choose to stay in there. But that’s implausible. (Suppose, even, that it’s an indeterministic universe.)

    And more intuitively (going back to a version of Stace’s argument), suppose that your character is constituted such that you absolutely have no desire at all to commit mass murder, and a very strong desire not to. Indeed, suppose that a creature that committed mass murder would have to be so different from you as not to be identical to you. Then the proposition that you do not commit mass murder is necessarily true. Yet there’s nothing that intuitively bars your choice not to commit mass murder from being free, is there?

    • physicalist
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      A couple trivial points: (1) The locked room example goes back to Locke; (2) James is wrong that we only observe actualities (but an argument for this would take us far afield).

      • Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        (1) Right, the locked room Locke in his Enquiry; Frankfurt focuses on other sorts of cases and seems more concerned with moral responsibility in his 1969 article. These examples are called “Frankfurt-style examples” in the literature, of course.

        (2) I’d be curious to go a bit afield. When I look around myself, all I ever see are actualities; I’ve never seen a mere possibility. And I don’t think mere possibilities emit particles that scientific instruments can detect.

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

          Er, Locke’s Essay, that is.

        • physicalist
          Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          Well, I’ll gesture at what I have in mind, but (both b/c of time limitations and b/c it’s not really on topic here) it won’t be more than a gesture.

          I agree that “mere possibilities [don’t] emit particles” (although quantum mechanics might complicate this), but it’s worth considering what “observations” in physics are like.

          What particle physicists try to measure is scattering amplitudes – that is, the Hamiltonian, the dynamical law that governs the quantum field. They do this by having a bunch of detectors that register such things as the energy and charge of particles that result from some high-energy collision. Then, if they get enough registrations in a certain window, they might conclude that a Higgs boson must have been among the sources of the particles that were detected.

          Note that if/when the physicists claim that they have observed the Higgs that this claim epistemically rests on their knowledge of the dynamical laws (which is a specification of what is possible) and that in turn rests on a bunch of dynamical properties (mass, energy, charge) which are also essentially nomic in character (charge tells you what something can do).

          Now you might say that what the physicists “really observe” is the computer output from their various instruments, but going down that road will land in the swamp of claiming that the “actuality” we “really observe” is just sense data, or what have you.

          Perhaps I should say that I’m inclined to say that facts about what is possible are themselves part of the actual world. I’m suggesting that the distinction between the actual and the possible (or between the categorical and the dispositional) is not metaphysically robust. So you shouldn’t read me as thinking that there’s some robust “mere possibility” that’s completely “non-actual” that we observe.

          • Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

            physicalist,

            Okay, this is interesting.

            (1) As for physical measurements, I guess it seems to me that modal premises don’t need to appear in the justifications for physicists’ beliefs. Instead, aren’t they just saying, ‘As a matter of fact, all actual particles explode in such-and-such a way?’ Or appealing to probabilistic laws?

            If they’re actually appealing to alethic necessities, I would suggest that they’re appealing to non-empirical premises somewhere. That’s perfectly fine for rationalists such as me, but still supports the point that observation /alone/ doesn’t confirm determinism. (For example, if they’re using an induction, the Humean problem shows that they need a non-empirical premise.)

            (2) As for facts about the possible being part of the actual, I think there’s a sense in which that’s true. Perhaps, for example, merely possible worlds are actual entities. (They are, I think, if they’re maximal consistent sets, or Lewisianly concrete.) And possibilists would say that there really “are” mere possibilia.

            But at the very least, I take it, you think there’s a distinction between the actual and the non-actual. That’s part, then, of the distinction between the actual and the merely possible. The rest of it is to say that some of those non-actual things could have existed. You agree to that, too, right? Is there anything more to the concept of the merely possible than the non-actual but possible?

            • Physicalist
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

              aren’t they just saying, ‘As a matter of fact, all actual particles explode in such-and-such a way?’

              Well, metaphysical commitments will vary (even within a single researcher, depending on context), but I’d say that the explanatory robustness of laws speaks against deflationary accounts.

              I would suggest that they’re appealing to non-empirical premises somewhere?

              Of course they are. The point is that mere observation (or “pure empiricism,” if you like) gets you nothing but phenomenal solipsism.

              If you want to buy into the common-sense notion that we observe stars and cells, and that physicists observe muons and quarks, then your going to need to countenance some strong modal facts. And in so doing, it’s going to be just as legitimate to say “I’ve observed that this is possible and this isn’t” as it is to say “I’ve observed a quark.”

              And a similar point will apply to Hume. If you consistently apply his standards of justification, you don’t just end up with a problem of induction, you end up with total skepticism. Hume is presumably OK with that, but we’ll be misled if we think that it’s only induction that lands us in Hume’s pickle.

              “there’s a distinction between the actual and the non-actual.

              Of course there is. My point is that we sometimes observe “nomic” or “dispositional” facts just as much as we observe so-called “categorical” facts. But seeing that something is possible is not the same thing as seeing that it is actual. I might feel that the glass is fragile, but that doesn’t mean that it’s actually broken.

              • Posted February 11, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

                Right. Bunge calls Berkeley the “most consistent empiricist” for a reason …

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      (I2) The ‘could have done otherwise’ is the attempt to do otherwise. I ‘choose’ to stay in the room, but ‘I could have chosen to attempt to leave’ is the issue here.

      Under determinism you couldn’t choose to do otherwise. Under indeterminism you might have done otherwise, but not be free-will.

      • Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        Ron,

        I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying here. The “locked room” example is supposed to show you don’t need alternative possibilities in order to be intuitively free. So it’s supposed to show that even if you couldn’t possibly have chosen to attempt to leave, you might still be free.

        Suppose that a scientist implants a chip in your brain such that if you’re ever about to choose to leave, it changes your choice. But you never even begin to choose to leave, so the chip never activates. Intuitively your choice to remain is still free.

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

          The locked room does not show you are free to choose at all. You are already assuming you have free-will:

          http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/sunday-free-will-pseudo-dualism/#comment-181081

          • Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

            Ron,

            What we’re trying to do here (in the debate between compatibilism and incompatibilism) is, in large part, to investigate whether the /content/ of the widely used concept of ‘free will’ (if it exists) requires the Principle of Alternative Possibilities.

            So the example is not /assuming/ that you have free will; the example is intended to /elicit an intuition/ that the choice to remain in the room is free. If many people have that intuition, then this is evidence that their conception of ‘free will’ is compatibilistic. After all, what else can we do to figure out what ‘free will’ means other than see what people think the concept contains?

            Here’s a version of the argument itself:
            (1) If incompatibilism is true, then freedom requires alternative possibilities.
            (2) But freedom does not require alternative possibilities.
            (3) So compatibilism is true.

            Strictly speaking, (1) is false, but it gestures at the main argument for incompatibilism. And (2) is not assumed; it is supported by intuition about the content of the concept of free will. (Again, how else other than intuition do you propose to figure out what ‘free will’ really means?)

            • Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

              the example is intended to /elicit an intuition/ that the choice to remain in the room is free. If many people have that intuition, then this is evidence that their conception of ‘free will’ is compatibilistic

              Compatible with each other’s view; compatible with free-will being an illusion. Not compatible with causality.

              Illiciting an intuition is no good. Introspection is no good.

              Your argument is nonsense. That is not the issue. The issue is very simply that there is no evidence for free-will; and since causality is assumed, and free-will is contra-causal, what mechanism is there available for free-will to be free?

              • Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

                Ron,

                I don’t think you’re arguing against compatibilism anymore. Compatibilism is about the meaning of the term ‘free will.’ You said, “free-will is contra-causal,” which is just asserting the denial of compatibilism, not arguing for it.

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      (II1) Billiard balls are made of stuff from the same table of elements as brains. What else is there? And see other response below on null/alternative hypothesis. You are assuming free-will and insisting on evidence against it. Wrong assumption:

      http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/sunday-free-will-pseudo-dualism/#comment-181081

      (II2) Any problem for billard balls is also a problem for free-will.

      (IV1) Let’s go to your blog and discuss Michael Huemer. He’s wrong.

      (IV2) Yes, we only know for with confidence what we have tested. That’s often referred to as the problem of induction. Same for free-will. If I think I have free-will, perhaps I’m the only one. You are a zombie. See, the argument cuts both ways. No rescue for free-will.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Tom wrote:

      (2) Further, philosopher Harry Frankfurt showed that intuitively, freedom does not require the ability to have done otherwise. Suppose you are locked in a room, but you don’t know it’s locked. Suppose you decide for whatever reason to stay in the room. You couldn’t have done otherwise (since the door is locked), but this decision intuitively seems free to many philosophers.

      This completely misunderstands what is meant by “could not have done otherwise”.

      “Could not have done otherwise” does not depend on the state of the door unless I actually test the door and know whether it is locked or not.

      Perhaps it is clearer to rephrase it “could not have chosen to do otherwise”.

      If I’m in the room and don’t try to leave, there was nothing in my brain and body that prompted me to leave. I decided to stay without any dependence on the state of the door, and I could not have done otherwise.

      If I try to leave (because the physical state of my brain determines that choice) and I discover the door is locked, I also could not have done otherwise than attempting to leave (and failing).

      Whether or not I have the physical capability of exiting the room is completely irrelevant to the discussion.

      The important question to ask is what is the point of formulating new and subtle definitions of free will that some philosophers may be able to convince themselves are intuitive?

      The point is what does the population at large believe, influenced as they are by religious culture for century after century? I would like to see some evidence for the claim that ordinary English speakers mean the restricted subtle compatibilist deterministic notion of free will when they use the words. I seriously doubt this is true. Why? Because I grew up speaking english and I never encountered anything like the compatibilist sophistry until well into my fifth decade of life. And it wasn’t from an ordinary English speaker, it was from a philosopher.

      • Another Matt
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

        Yaey, I was hoping someone would eventually use “sophistry.”

        Ordinary English speakers use the words “momentum,” “charge,” and “energy” in much less than the precise terms required for their use in physics – they use these terms “metaphorically,” as it were, even if they don’t realize they’re creating science-language->ordinary-language metaphors. If some philosophers and scientists can get together and clarify an issue in the opposite direction by making ordinary-language->science-language analogies, I don’t see the problem. But sure, if you want, let’s call the compatibilist version “Wee Frill” so that nobody gets confused.

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        Well, I suggest you start beating down the doors of the sophists in mathematics (“information”) and physics (“energy”, “work”, etc). Most people have never encountered the technical (sophist) definitions of these terms either, and they are arguably much more central to our daily lives that the metaphysics of choice.

        Again, I don’t know why this usage specifically brings out the pedantic language cop in every incompatibilist. For my money, any definition of “free will” that doesn’t require an explanation involving dualism, time machines, and impossible thought experiments wins over one that does any day.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          None of those other words ever achieved household currency in the service of a massive historical cultural delusion.

          To me the reason it is important to have this argument is not that I don’t think language can change, or that experts aren’t smart enough to know what they are talking about when they use a standard English word and give it enhanced precision for academic usage.

          Look at the Creationism/Evolution non-controversy that the religious continually plague real scientists and innocent children with. Continuing to use “free will” is simply handing ammunition to a Discovery Institute clone.

          Do you want another endlessly annoying confrontation with the Life-After-Death Institute confusing the world by claiming that cognitive scientists and philosophers and psychologists and biologists still really believe in free will, hence they believe in the soul. Just look at how they talk; QED.

          When I talk about confusion, I mean that, not confusion among those who know what they are talking about.

          • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

            I don’t think it matters if people who can’t (or won’t, or don’t care to) distinguish between the metaphysical and compatibilist versions of free will recognize a difference any more than I think it matters if people think Pluto is planet. I don’t see how it differentially affects people’s sense of responsibility for their actions or choices. I don’t see how it differentially affects our moral competence when judging others.

            I do think ID/creationism is dangerous. It knowingly makes wildly false claims about a huge range of empirical science. It undermines education. It advances an overtly religious political agenda.

            Not only do I see no similar dangers with free will, as with “information” and “life” I do not think there is any general public debate or discourse that depends on this. There is some discussion of neuroscience’s impact on the law, but it is mainly among experts.

          • Another Matt
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

            Yep, that’s right. But those people also say “cognitive scientists and philosophers and psychologists and biologists still really love their spouses, hence they believe in the soul. Just look at how they talk.” It’s the same kind of total confusion, but again, nobody would suggest we replace the metaphysical “real love that requires a soul” with some other word besides “love.” Even people like Dawkins, Dennett, Hofstadter, have been keen on using the word “soul” – not to denote a metaphysical ghost that inhabits matter, but as a shorthand for the the way some matter is organized, such that I have a “bigger soul” than my dog, who has a “bigger soul” than her friends the spiders.

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

              Okay, these are good points. But we don’t need to say “I freely love my spouse” to indicate that I wasn’t externally coerced into loving her. We can say “I love my spouse”. Traditionally people expect that to mean their internal emotional attachment to their spouse was freely chosen, but that is NOT compatible with determinism.

              We can also say I “will”, “want”, “choose”, “resist coercion”, “avoid constraint”, “desire”, “detest”, “intend”, “expect”, without qualifying them with “free”, and in fact they are not free in the traditional sense, which refers to the subjective status of the feeling or idea. They can only be free in the much weaker sense of not externally coerced. And most of the time we assume the default case is that we are thinking and acting without coercion.

              What is the practical reason for insistence on the word “free” when talking about will? Why can’t we agree that there is never a time when using “free will” makes sense? Do you claim there is one?

              After all, even when someone holds a gun to my head, it does not change my internal will from free to unfree. What I “will” and how I will it won’t be affected by external coercion. The operation of my brain, and my character are not fundamentally altered by the gun. The coercion will only constrain the external parameters, and hence the range of options that my deterministic internal will can logically choose from.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Tom and Physicalist,
      A very fascinating discussion. Thanks.

      I just want to point out a couple of things.

      Philosophers (and mathematicians) have very different standards and attitudes toward possibilities than physicists, chemists, and biologists (and other scientists or engineers).

      The people that make sure things can be built and that they work, so that you have a comfortable environment to philosophize in and so that you have tools to communicate with, and transport to conferences, and otherwise what you need to do your work, have somewhat more respect for what has been verified as actual than for the possible. The theoreticians are a bit less attached to the actual, but their whole desire is still focused on the hope that their possibilities will turn out someday to be actualities.

      For example, with respect to determinism, predictability, and billiard balls, the philosopher (as Tom has demonstrated by citing William James) after a million iterations in which two uniformly spherical balls collide, such that the momentum vectors, the coefficients of elasticity and friction, and the radius of the balls can be measured to an arbitrary degree of precision (well, up to the limits of the uncertainty principle), and the momentum vectors of the balls after the collision can be predicted to an arbitrary degree of precision (ditto on Heisenberg), can still doubt there is sufficient proof to believe that there is any determinism involved, and can argue that the unobserved possibilities deserve equal consideration to the exhaustively observed actualities.

      The physicist tries hard not to snicker faced with this kind of reasoning. So too chemists and biologists. Yes it is interesting but it seems far from relevant to their actual work.

      Scientists are concerned with possibility in that it helps them imagine new experiments and new theories to explain phenomena observed but not understood, or to predict actualities not yet observed. But they are also anxious to eliminate possibilities that will not be borne out by experiment and observation. They consider such possibilities to be false tracks, even though they can still have value to philosophers and mathematicians. The scientist wants to make the world comprehensible with theory as simple as possible and no simpler, so non-actual possibility is like noise to be filtered out.

      In practice scientists ignore possibility that doesn’t show a lot of promise of being actuality. Yet they do hold their minds open to the potential for surprise if the next time a billiard ball collision is observed, or an apple falls from a tree, it behaves differently than has always been observed in the past. Such an occurrence would occasion lots of excitement and the need for lots of unexpected work. So they do account for possibility in their own way, but it has a status similar to that of the yeti and the Loch Ness monster.

      It seems the philosophical perspective has a lot useful to say in analyzing the logical structure of the subjective experience of the mind, and also in analyzing the external behavior of the human as an object interacting with other human subjects or objects.

      But I don’t think it has much to contribute when considering internally how the brain works, and whether or not its internal operation involves determinism or not.

      Tom, you’ve made some impressive observations, but it seems to me a considerable amount of effort was made to both create doubt about the possibility of determinism, and also effort to rescue some notion of freedom. Neither of these persuaded me based on my scientific experience, though you did provide logical justification. I don’t get excited about logical justification if it seems, based on experience, to have about a .00000000001 probability of ever making that transition from possibility to actuality.

      The biologists and cognitive neuro-scientists and others should be able to do quite well discovering the actual nature of the internal functioning of the brain and how it constructs consciousness and subjectivity with complete disregard of the points you made. That kind of practical work is the way to eliminate doubts, reduce uncertainties, and filter the noise of mere possibility from the real signs of actuality.

      This is not to say that the logical imaginings of mathematicians and philosophers can not be useful; they most certainly are; but they only really become interesting to scientists if they have a good chance of illuminating actuality.

      • Posted February 11, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

        I think you (and James) are too empiricist for your own good. The best established theories of the world at the scale relevant are “determinist” in the sense required (and barring some recent work on testing idealizations which is interesting but also irrelevant). *This* is the evidence, not just that we haven’t ever seen billiard balls turn green and become a slice of grass coloured tofu steak when colliding, that classical mechanics (say) is pretty close to being true (for the most part).

  8. Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Jerry,

    “Predictability is not the same thing as determinism. We’ll likely never have the kind of knowledge we need to completely predict the future of the universe, much less how one person will behave.”

    Ignoring indeterminism for now…

    Predictability is possible in principle, but requires some external predicting system to do the actual prediction – e.g. Leplace’s demon. Determinism doesn’t actually require that anyone, or any demon, actually does the predicting to determine one state from another.

    And, any sub-set (e.g. the whole of human science at any point in the future) of a system (e.g. the universe) cannot, in principle, do the predicting. It has to be something outside.

    Any internal sub-set of the universe needs the capacity to store and process (calculate) all the detail of the universe. How could a sub-set of the universe contain all the detail of the universe?

    We are limited to predicting the behaviour of limited parts of the universe, with some degree of error – as is the case.

    • Neil Schipper
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:43 am | Permalink

      Ron Murphy said pretty much what I was gonna say, so I’ll only say:

      1) We’ll likely never have the kind of knowledge we need to completely predict the future of the universe, much less how one person will behave.

      I hope this is an innocent goof on Jerry’s part, otherwise a UniverseIsMostComplexism vs. PersonIsMostComplexism debate is warranted.

      2) The unpredictability (by any human agent, with or without help from any computing machine) of what a person, and all people, will do (and I believe it’s a provable unpredictability) ought to be given more attention in these discussions; that we never freely decide things, and that our futures are “determined”, are spooky, and unpredictability helps assuage the associated anxiety (an anxiety which is surely related to the anxiety of godlessness).

  9. Asura
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    If the universe isn’t (all) deterministic, what do you have then, randomness?

    Random will isn’t free either.

  10. Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    “Why do compatibilists want to redefine the term “free will”?”

    The same reason non-vitalists wanted to redefine “life.” That Newton redefined “force.” That Shannon redefined “information.”

    Compatibilists want to redefine free will precisely because it is incoherent in its current usage — incompatibilists are insisting on a kind of historical/folk purism in definition. And because it is useful.

    “Why not just admit that “free will” is an illusion?”

    The subjective experience of metaphysical free will IS an illusion. However, there are useful differences that allow us to categorize some choices (e.g. what to have for breakfast) as less “free” than others (he had a gun to my head / I was on acid). We use different concepts (e.g. game theory) for describing the actions of rational agents than we do for carbon atoms because it’s useful.

    If you have a problem with the use of “free”, watch your mouth next time you’re at a sporting event.

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      My last sentence is vague. I mean that none of us has a problem of saying “free throw” or “free kick,” because the usage makes sense in the context of the game’s rules. Our “game” is being intentional agents in the context of materialism and determinism. In this game, are there conditions under which it is useful to categorize behavior as more or less “free”?

  11. DV
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Instead of the backward-looking definition of free will (as the ability to choose a different action if we could rewind the tape), why not use the more practical forward-looking definition of free will that Dennet uses, which is, to paraphrase, the ability to choose a different outcome than expected.

    Compare:

    What will the outcome be if you change the direction of the light source shining on a sunflower?

    What will the outcome be if you give a person the choice of meuslix or oatmeal for breakfast?

    What if you put a gun to the person’s head and tell him to choose oatmeal?

    Clearly in the second scenario, you have less predictable outcome. Even if you know the person’s preference, he can always change his choice if just to prove that he can make a different outcome than your expectation.

    So in this sense we can say the person has free will – the ability to make uncoerced choices.

    • DV
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      This is a more testable and useful definition, rather than looking at the person’s choice of breakfast yesterday and futilely wondering if he could have chosen otherwise. Of course, once we have made enough forward-looking free will tests, we can extrapolate. An agent that shows ability to choose a different future outcome than expected, must have had that ability in making his past choices as well (as long as there was no gun pointed to his head at the time).

    • Barbara Knox
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      There must be a lot more to it than unpredictability.

      Regarding unpredictability as the key test, by this criterion a flipped coin has free will.

      Regarding unpredictability of the behaviour of a person as the key test, by this criterion someone who was (unbeknownst to the observer) given a post-hypnotic suggestion to choose oatmeal next Tuesday could appear to by making a free choice then (if the observer guesses wrongly).

      • DV
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        What, you weren’t watching the Superbowl at 8:59pm?

        Come on, do you really need to be spelled out the criteria so you don’t mistake a coin as having free will?

  12. Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    “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.”

    I’m sorry, this is totally bananas! It is compatibilists that insist that we should ignore metaphysical free will entirely because it makes no sense. Incompatibilists INSIST that free will can only mean something incoherent and impossible. Who is having a hard time rejecting dualism here? Is Dennett really someone you think is uncomfortable with materialism?

    • Piero
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

      Dennett woukd certainly not be uncomfortable with materialism. But I thing his take on fee will is misguided: he has “solved” the problem by equating free will with the subjective exprience of free will. That’s cheating, in my opinion, and does not contribute to clarifying the issue under discussion.

      Let’s suppose we are trying to define what “pain” is. Would it help to define “pain” as “the subjective sensation of pain”? Not at all. With that line of reasoning, we would never have discovered anesthesia or painkillers.

      The problem of free will, just as the problem of pain, must be posed in neurological terms, not philosophical ones. The rational, scientific path is the only possibility we have to augment our knowledge. Philosophers have been discussing free will for millennia, yet here we are discussing it again, because reasoning in a vacuum cannot possibly yield truths about reality.

      • Another Matt
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

        Dennett woukd certainly not be uncomfortable with materialism. But I thing his take on fee will is misguided: he has “solved” the problem by equating free will with the subjective exprience of free will.

        This is not how I understand Dennett’s take. If I’m not misunderstanding him, his stance is that our brains model the world, that we have free will relative to the model of the world in our brains — which isn’t nothing! Our models can only work by focusing on relevant analogies between a current situation and past situations we’ve experienced, or heard about, or a situation that we’ve reasoned “could” come to pass, which means that in language we sometimes use the phrase “identical situation” to mean “sufficiently similar to another situation in the relevant details.”

        None of this should be controversial, and I think compatibilists and incompatibilists can agree more or less on the above points. As far as I can tell in the discussions, incompatibilists say “but none of that changes the fact that whatever happens is determined to have happened by physics, including our choices” and compatibilists say “agree, but even if it’s a deterministic world, it’s still meaningful to talk about the differences in behavior between humans and slugs – humans have a leg up because of their ability to generalize and extrapolate across experience.”

        There’s much to say about consciousness, too, but this post would be too long.

        • Piero
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:49 am | Permalink

          Fair enough. But what determines the way we construct our analogies of reality? Do we freely construct them, or is their construction dependent upon physical events? Dennett has just kicked the problem one step further back.

          Don’t get me wrong. I like Dennett very much, and most of his writing has been extremely illuminating to me. I just think in this case he is trying too hard to be “nice” and leave an escape door open for compatibilists. I think his position could be summarized as follows: “If you believe you have free will, then you have free will.” Not a very satisfying stance, in my opinion.

          • Steve
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

            “If you believe you have free will, then you have free will.” Not a very satisfying stance, in my opinion.

            I nominate this for an understatement of the year award.

            • piero
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

              Thank you. I would very much like to be the winner.

          • Posted February 7, 2012 at 2:12 am | Permalink

            “Dennett has just kicked the problem one step further back.”

            Yes. It seems to me as thought compatibilists are side-stepping the real issue of free-will in the brain by resorting to the psychological behaviour of entities that have the illusion of having free-will. The notion of “Let’s talk about what’s important to human life, wellbeing, …” Strawson does this. And it all comes out fo the fear for what will happen to moral responsibility.

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:04 am | Permalink

        Perhaps defining everything as ‘the subjective experience’ would clear a few things up for you, as in ‘the subject experience of logic’, or ‘the subjective experience of evaluating reality’, or ‘the subjective experience of being hit by a train’, for instance.
        How about ‘the subjective experience of recognizing an emotion and behavior in another that correlates to your behavior when subjectively experiencing subjective physical discomfort’ and using the ‘subjective experience of abstract thinking’ to apply meaning to a sound that, therefore, defines the word ‘pain’ to convey a meaning based on subjective observations of similar experience and description in each other.

        What neurological, physical knowledge would convey the experience of pain, Mary?
        (It’s am allusion to a room)

        • Piero
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:51 am | Permalink

          What?

          • Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:45 am | Permalink

            Let’s suppose we are trying to define what “pain” is. Would it help to define “pain” as “the subjective sensation of pain”? Not at all. With that line of reasoning, we would never have discovered anesthesia or painkillers.

            What?

            You see, everything we experience is subjective. How can you define pain, but based on subjective reports of experiences. Our understanding the meaning of anything, is subjective.

            In any event, WTF does ‘define pain as the subjective sensation of pain’ mean? We can only describe and experience our own pain subjectively in the first place.

            The point is that a physical description of the brain could not convey the experience, hence meaning, of pain to anyone. That is what Mary’s Room is about, that there is no way to objectively describe what we experience.

            Sometimes I just get bored with pointing the same old shite out, over and over, so I lapse into parody, sarcasm, satire, and faulty typing – which renders my already problematic syntax indecipherable.

            I was just wondering, how can you tell that there are words and they are coming from other people and are real?

            Because you perceive them, and through a process known as ‘reality checking’ you are able to correlate your subjective perceptions against corresponding situations in your environment!
            Because your perceptions so closely line up with past experience, and your fine tuned expectation of what should happen next, that you know that what you perceive and sense correlates with what does happen almost 100% of the time. Say a train is coming (it seems, anyways) and you are crossing the tracks. If your perception and judgement, and decisions to move based on those things(perception and judgement), are not consistently accurate and trustworthy, you will not survive long enough to check reality very much longer.

            Safe to say, your perceptions are almost always very, very accurate.

            Your witness.

            • Steve
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

              Safe to say, your perceptions are almost always very, very accurate.

              But your will is never free. “Almost always very, very accurate” only counts in hand grenades and atomic bombs.

  13. Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Jerry:

    Another great post on scientific philosophy, which cannot advance without ridding itself of the freewill illusion.

    BTW: We just selected your blog as the first to be recognized with a link on our website under the heading “Outstanding Blogs Demonstrating Scientific Philosophy”:

    http://www.scientificphilosophy.com/links.html

    Congratulations!

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Looking at the site, I don’t think it’s really an honor, and request that my link be removed.

    • Chris Granger
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Did you seriously just congratulate Dr. Coyne for your decision to place a link to his website from yours? Wow, that is hilariously pompous.

      • DV
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        +1 on hilariously pompous

  14. GBJames
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if which side of this discussion this observation supports, but I find myself in complete agreement with Jerry’s comments. Except that the counter arguments keep convincing me I was wrong. I’m trying to make up my mind. I want to choose one side or the other but find I am unable to. I’m entirely subject to the to-and-fro of arguments that are beyond my control.

  15. Another Matt
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    From Jeff Johnson’s reply:

    …by clearly understanding this distinction between libertarian free choice and algorithmically determined choice we truly discover our actual humanity…

    If I understand correctly, this is exactly the compatibilist project. It seems this has largely been reduced to a semantics game surrounding words like “I”, “free”, “can”, “merely”, “real”, and the like.

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Exactly… compatibilists like Dennett have moved on to discussing what choice DOES mean in the context of determinism, while incompatibilists are for some reason stuck tilting at the windmill of metaphysical free.

      The latter sounds more like pseudo-dualism to me.

      • Asura
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

        Selecting a choice out of a multitude doesn’t have anything to do with “free”.

        You’re apparently trying to make a distinction of some outside force putting an influence on you as you make the decision, versus the decision being made via all the past influences that have sculptured you into the individual you are today.

        For example, when a person has a gun to their head versus when they don’t. One is under excruciating circumstances. But it isn’t somehow “less free”, as somebody has said in a comment somewhere.

        • Steve
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

          But it isn’t somehow “less free”, as somebody has said in a comment somewhere.

          That could have been me about a dozen times or so over the past month.

          But Miko is DETERMINED to just ignore such observations.

        • Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

          “Selecting a choice out of a multitude doesn’t have anything to do with “free”.”

          That depends entirely on how you define “free”. If you define “free” as “deterministically selecting a choice out of a multitude” then that does have something to do with “free”.

          “For example, when a person has a gun to their head versus when they don’t. One is under excruciating circumstances. But it isn’t somehow “less free” ….”

          Yes it is, in a very real sense that does matter to us in our lives. (And yes, we do know that this isn’t the same thing as classical dualistic “free will”! Honest, we really really do know that!)

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

            Yes, but that loss of freedom has nothing to do with the way the brain operates to produce choices. The gun is an external input to the brain’s decision process, and does not change it’s internal choosing capacity. It simply narrows the range of options and increases the urgency of the choice.

            This is what I meant by subject/object confusion. The issue is how the brain works inside, not what it does when faced with various external situations. Yes the latter is obviously important and interesting, but it is the false belief in internal freedom and life-after-death that is at stake in this argument over the words “free will”.

            Given understanding of how the brain works, it is also interesting to study the implications for people placed in various situations. Once we understand that internal to the brain the concept of free will is an illusion, it is still interesting to identify those facets of human behavior that are deterministic yet still radically distinguish us from bouncing billiard balls.

            But what is the motivation when compatibilists examine the non-free subjective algorithms we call wanting, willing, desiring, intending, etc. then turn around and call them “free” when considering their external consequences? What is more important: making the true nature of the biological neurological basis of human intelligence and behavior explicit, or avoiding discomfort for people unwilling to let go of their attachment to the traditional idea of human internal mental freedom?

            I’m still unable to shake the feeling that compatibilism is a compromise to placate human sensibilities at the cost of obscuring the actual basis of human intelligence and behavior.

            We are still free to seek to avoid external coercion and constraint, outside the subject/object boundary. Even so we do this using a brain that has no internal freedom, but is actually an adaptive learning biological deterministic computer with nothing like freedom from physical constraints involved. Why bury this important distinction by confusing everyone with a redefinition of the words “free will” that for millennia have symbolized an invitation to heaven if properly applied?

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

              “Why bury this important distinction by confusing everyone with a redefinition of the words “free will” that for millennia have symbolized an invitation to heaven if properly applied?”

              We do it all the time. I don’t believe that many people here are genuinely confused by or incapable of understanding compatibilist free will. I think there are several disingenuous people who pretend to be confused or persist in misrepresenting compatibilism, but that’s a separate issue.

              I’ll bring up vitalism one more time. We did not stop thinking there is a difference between alive and dead when we stopped believing in the elan vital. We redefined it. By getting ridding of the flimsy, magical thinking definition of life, we got a concept that is much harder but also much more thought-provoking and ultimately useful.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

                We did not redefine elan vital. Imagine how confusing that would be. We refined or corrected the meaning of alive.

                It seems to me that the particular compound “free will” has so much meaning and connotation that trying to redefine it is as foolish as trying to redefine elan vital, especially since we don’t need to.

                So lets refine the meaning of “free” to indicate not coerced, and our volitional capacity can be called our “will”, which we will all keep in mind is determined and therefore not free.

                And we need never utter the phrase “free will” unless we are talking about theological history, just as today we reserve the obsolete compound elan vital for historical discussion.

  16. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I see Dennett’s name has been mentioned a couple of time already, so I’ll just add that anybody who thinks he’s squirming uncomfortably, clinging to pseudo-dualism, or desperately defending a rear-guard free-will-of-the-gaps simply hasn’t understood his work. In Freedom Evolves, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and Consciousness Explained he demonstrates an eagerness to construct a complete and detailed theory of mind and agency as a fully natural outcome of neurology and evolution, and is utterly remorseless in eradicating any hint of dualistic thinking from his model.

    Whether he gets it right is of course an open question. But to say he’s doing it out of fear of naturalism and its implications is not just wrong; it borders on slander.

    • Another Matt
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      And if you don’t have time for the books, this video will give you a good taste:

      • DV
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        +1

      • DV
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        Dan’s slide at 1:06:22

        “I’m writing a book on magic,” I explain, and I’m asked, “Real magic?” By real magic people mean miracles, thaumaturgical acts, and supernatural powers. “No,” I answer: “Conjuring tricks, not real magic.”
        Real magic, in other words, refers to the magic that is not real, while the magic that is real, that can actually be done, is not real magic.

        This is the debate about free will in a nutshell. Incompatibilists are hung up on “Free will” that is not real.

        • Asura
          Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

          By real magic people mean miracles, thaumaturgical acts, and supernatural powers.

          I would rather have them specify as you did here than call it “real magic”.

          Or you guys can take up the label “fake free will”, because the context when people actually DISCUSS free will is nowhere as clear as that when people discuss magic tricks versus impossible human feats.

          • Steve
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:03 am | Permalink

            Well said.

          • Peter
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

            In the contexts where people actually discuss free will, contra-causality is almost never relevant to what they’re talking about.

            • DV
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

              Both compatibilists and incompatibilists agree that contra-causal free will doesn’t exist. The difference is that incompatibilists won’t accept the only kind of free will that is actuall available to us. They are hung up on denying the kind of free will that is not real – denying this even to the absurd conclusion that we don’t have choice and we don’t have responsibilities.

              • Peter
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

                I think some compatibilists in this discussion are becoming too quick to concede that they only have a *semantic* disagreement with Jerry and the other incompatibilists. There are a lot of places that free-will comes up in explaining or justifying values, and in almost none of those cases is contra-causality important. The only exception I know of is in the realm of justice meted out by an omnipotent, omniscient god. But that’s not a context that any atheists care about, anyway.

                In particular, Jerry has expressed some existential distress that he doesn’t have contra-causal free will. A compatibilists should be arguing that the type of free will we actually have should be good enough that the Jerry’s existential distress is unwarranted. Also, also claimed that lack of contra-causal free will means we ought to give up retributive punishment. I agree that it’s a bad idea, but disagree that contra-causality has anything to do with that. It would be a bad idea even if we had contra-causal free will, for mostly the same reasons it’s a bad idea without contra-causal free will.

                On the other hand, I suppose that the merely semantic argument over the meaning of the words “can”, “could”, “ought”, “possible”, “free” and so on is maybe a little bit worthwhile. It’s pretty obnoxious that there are people around arguing as if these words mean only and precisely what a Platonic dictionary would say they mean, instead of meaning what the people who actually use them have always meant.

              • Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

                Both compatibilists and incompatibilists agree that contra-causal free will doesn’t exist.

                There are incompatibilists that believe free will does exist.

                Please quit calling non-free willists, incompatibilists.

              • Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

                DV,

                The difference is that incompatibilists won’t accept the only kind of free will that is actuall available to us.

                That’s because that which you refer to doesn’t contain freedom. Non-free willists are very accepting of the notion of not being externally coerced. We just reject the idea of calling that limited state, “free will”.

                They are hung up on denying the kind of free will that is not real – denying this even to the absurd conclusion that we don’t have choice and we don’t have responsibilities.

                DV, listen to yourself… you are complaining because non-free willists say that free will is not real… and then you refer to that as the kind of free will that is not real. Of course the thing that we say is an illusion is un-real… we hardly be valid in claiming free will to be an illusion if it were real.

                As for the second part… non-free willist aren’t saying we don’t make choices, we are saying the choices we make are fully determined: that at the moment when we choose we can only choose the one thing that we choose. As for responsibilities, non-free willists say that in light of non-free willism the notions of responsibility that were spawned under the illusion/presumption of libertarian free will need to be re-evaluated.

              • DV
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

                me: we have free will
                steve: no we don’t
                me: but i can choose what to have for breakfast tomorrow if nobody puts a gun to my head
                steve: that’s not really free will
                me: what is real free will?
                steve: real free will is the ability to choose contra-causally
                me: but that doesn’t exist
                steve: i agree it doesn’t exist
                me: so you’re saying “real” free will is the free will that doesn’t exist.

                QED

              • Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                DV,

                Back when I was under the free will illusion, I might have told you to not to be so blatantly inane, but I know you are giving us the very best you have to offer.

                Let me propose a more accurate transcript of the dialog so far:

                steve: free will is a myth, the experience of free will is only an illusion
                DV: we have free will
                steve: do you mean libertarian free will or contra-causal free will?
                DV: no, that doesn’t exist. I mean like when you say you are signing this contract of your own free will. You know, nobody has a gun to your head.
                me: That’s nice, but that is not what I am talking about.
                DV: Well if you are talking about free will, then that IS what you are talking about.
                me: No, really, that is not what I am talking about, I am talking about libertarian free will.
                DV: You mean the free will that doesn’t exist?
                me: Riiiight, the kind that is an illusion, that people think they have, but really don’t.
                DV: But that free will doesn’t exist, so why are you saying it is an illusion. Hee, hee, you’re saying a non-existent thing doesn’t exist.
                me: Right.. free will doesn’t exist.
                DV: “But i can choose what to have for breakfast tomorrow if nobody puts a gun to my head.
                me: that’s not the issue at hand.
                DV: But it is the issue that I want to be at hand. I want to shift the focus away from what you are talking about, to what I would rather have you talk about, and I’ll do it by acting like I have no idea what-so-ever about what I am doing.

              • Dan L.
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

                What a weird thing to say. I’m an incompatibilist. That means I think “free will” is a stupid, meaningless phrase just like “caloric” turned out to be.

                Caloric and free will both could have turned out to have been something real. Caloric did not. Being an incompatibilist just means that I’m betting free will is going the same way that caloric did.

                Now what you’re saying is that you have secret option C and that you’re RENAMING this thing “free will.” That’s great but I don’t see this as any different from making the definition: “Caloric is hereby defined as the mean molecular velocity of a substance, so caloric really is real and explains heat. Na na na na boo boo.” Free will as traditionally understood is not real but that doesn’t mean our experiences aren’t real — it just means that “free will” is a failed theory to explain those experiences.

                I’m rejecting the concept of free will. This does not prevent me from accepting useful concepts that do help to explain the mind. I suggest that maybe the compatibilists are just hung up on the phrase “free will”; if you described your ideas without using that phrase incompatiblists would just critique the ideas on their own merits. Why we need to accept your semantics too is beyond me.

              • Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

                I know why… because DV says we should.

                Oh, wait because the phrase “own free will” has been used and is uncontroversially understood to mean, “without a gun put to ones head”, so therefore we can also use “free will” to mean the same thing, and there is 100% no chance in the world that anyone would be confused…

                Oh, and this has nothing to do with trying to give people who want to believe they have a free will something to cling to. (‘Cause of all the imagined horrors that might lead to.)

    • Vaal
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. We keep mentioning this.

      As I’ve pointed out before, someone who “believes in free will” can make the same cheap shots.

      When theists psychologize about atheists and say “Atheists aren’t driven to atheism by their reason; it’s obviously due to an unease about having to be responsible to a higher power and that REALLY explains why they reject theism”….we atheist laugh at how utterly this gets our motivation wrong.
      No..we really hold to atheism because our reason tells us that makes the most sense.

      On Free Will, the theist or the free willist can (and some will) claim:

      Jerry is driven to incompatibilism by an underlying unease with the moral responsibility that is entailed by accepting free will.

      Jerry will instantly recognize how empty and wrong this analysis would be for why he has arrived at his position. Jerry isn’t motivated out of “fear” or “unease.”
      He’s honestly following where his reason seems to lead him.

      It’s just too bad that Jerry, and others who continue this false psychologizing about compabilists have so much trouble acknowledging that maybe…JUST LIKE THE INCOMPATIBILISTS…the compatibilists actually believe as they do because the concept makes the most sense.

      Vaal

  17. Phosphorus99
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Our anatomy and physiology are achieved by information processing (programs).

    Is it possible that the brain does not generate the mind but is the hardware in which a “mind program” is embedded much like MAC OS or windows are in computers?

    How would we detect such a program ?

    • Piero
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

      And just how is that “program” emebdded in our brains? At what stage of embrionic development? By whom, or by what mechanism? Does the placenta hold a copy of the program and uploads it into the fetus’s brain via the umbilical cord? Is it God who uploads the program into our brains through the Holy Spirit or one of his henchm… I mean, archangels?

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

        I suppose the same way the DNA program is embedded in our cells?

        • piero
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

          No, the DNA program is not embedded in our cells. It’s the DNA molecules that are physically embedded in our cells. Our minds can interpret the DNA code as a program, but he DNA molecules themselves are not conceptual objects: they are physical objects.

          There is no equivalent physical object embedded in our brains.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:05 am | Permalink

      It’s important to understand the difference between digital and analog computers. The brain is an analog computer. To have software you need a digital computer that can fetch sequences of discrete instructions. An analog computer is circuitry that directly simulates logic. The only notion that could resemble software is embedded directly in the graphical or spatial structure of the circuits and networks of neurons.

      I think it is still a bit interesting to think about the software/hardware paradigm in the context of our brains though, as long as we don’t fall into the trap of making the simple analogy.

      For example, if we were to ask “what is the brain’s software and hardware?” one might be tempted to think that emotions are software because they are somehow “soft” and logic is “hard”. This is exactly backwards: it makes more sense to consider emotions, reflexes, sensory perception, unconscious and autonomic processes as hardware, and our reasoning and memory and the higher cerebral cortex functions as like software. This is because in a digital computer the hardware is “wired” to particular functions. The things that a computer can do really fast are embedded in hardware. Software on the other hand is plastic and adaptable and much slower. When we are struggling to learn something new we are sorting it out in slow software mode. Over time as we learn it by rote, it becomes embedded in new neural circuitry and becomes more like hardware: fast, automatic, requiring little or no thought to perform.

      But there is little chance that it could ever be possible to load new software into the brain, the way we do with computers. The algorithms and processes of the brain essentially are it’s physical structure; there is nothing to replace or plug in without fundamentally changing the brain itself.

  18. Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Scenario 1: We have free-will, in that we can choose to do otherwise. I believe we have free-will. I argue I have free-will.

    Scenario 2: Determinism: no free-will. I believe we have free-will. It is determined that I act as if I have and that I believe I have, and that I argue I have.

    Scenario 3: We have free-will, in that we can choose to do otherwise. I believe we have no free-will. I argue that case, though of my own free-will, as influenced by persuasive arguments.

    Scenario 4: Determinism: no free-will. I believe we have no free-will, and argue that case. I could not have done otherwise.

    How does a compatibilist tell the difference between (1) and (2)?

    How does an incompatibilist tell the difference between (3) and (4)?

    What think we might have done differently is irrelevant. We cannot, using our introspective view of our ‘apparent’ free-will, to tell whether or not we have free-will.

    So, we are left with, as Jerry puts it, an argument from parsimony: without evidence to the contrary we should assume our brains work like all other matter in this material world.

    Though we have discovered some oddities, none of them say anything about consciousness and free-will.

    • Vaal
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      Ron,

      “How does a compatibilist tell the difference between (1) and (2)?”

      By the use of reason. First by starting with what we could sensibly mean by the term “Free Will.”

      Exactly the same way we would determine between other statements, such as these two statements:

      Australia is SOUTH of the equator.
      Australia is NORTH of the equator.

      We can ask “What do you mean by terms like “North, South and equator?” Once it’s established what we mean by those terms, then reason and evidence can be brought into deciding which statement is true. Given what we mean by “SOUTH” of the equator, we can through reason and evidence conclude the first statement about Australia is true, the second one false.

      Given what a compatibilist says we could mean with the term “free will,” your example 1 is true (We have free will, in the sense I can choose to have either pizza or a burger in similar circumstances, depending on what I want) and your example 2 is false (starts with the proposition we have no free will).

      This is not begging the question because the question IS what we mean by Free Will – and the answer to that question is how one tells the difference between your 1 and e.

      What do you think determinism have to do with establishing the truth of a proposition?


      So, we are left with, as Jerry puts it, an argument from parsimony: without evidence to the contrary we should assume our brains work like all other matter in this material world.

      Sure. That’s why I ride a banana to work instead of a car, and why we can treat human beings the way we treat rocks. All matter “works the same.”

      But of course that isn’t really what you would have wanted your phrase to mean. Sure, all things CAN be described as “acting the same” in ONE SENSE (all obeying the same physical laws) but there are very important distinctions in how certain material forms act vs others (cars and bananas, rocks and people). Compatibilism STARTS with determinism and all things obeying “the same” physical laws. It is obviously in those differences that the argument for compatibilism, choice and free will lies. So why you or Jerry, and others, keep characterizing the issue of compitibilism as if compatilibism implies our brains don’t obey physical laws, or as if compatibilism has some collision with parsimony is just baffling.

      I’m wondering just how many times this has to be pointed out about compatibilism until it sticks…

      ????

      Vaal.

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:36 am | Permalink

        Compatibilism STARTS with determinism and all things obeying “the same” physical laws. It is obviously in those differences that the argument for compatibilism, choice and free will lies.

        Free of what? Free of being caused by other internal brain states?

        If all prior brain states are governed by physical laws, then at the time you ‘feel’ you are making a choice, in what sense is that choice ‘free’ of those prior states. I’m not sure how you think you could distinguish between (1) and (2). After all, there are experiments where subjects are driven to a particular decision and they still think they made the choice ‘freely’. We do not have the introspective capacity to distinguish between (1) and (2), or between (3) and (4).

        • Vaal
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

          Ron,

          Free of what? Free of being caused by other internal brain states?

          “Free” in the sense we normally tend to apply that word to people and things.

          The water flowed “freely” down the drain is to describe the physical fact that the water flowed unimpeded down the drain (drain was not blocked).

          I freely chose the hamburger over the pizza on the menu is to describe the physical fact that my will – my desire/intention – was expressed unimpeded.

          To say of this particular example “I could have chosen otherwise” is to say I could have chosen otherwise in similar but not entirely exact, situations. Since to want to “choose otherwise” in precisely exact physical situations makes no sense.

          This is the same way we think about “free” and “possibility” and “could be otherwise” when applied to scientific descriptions of REAL THINGS about the world. For instance, to talk of how a puddle of water “could” freeze or “could otherwise evaporate” is to talk about how they would behave IF the physical states were different. Even though, per determinism, there will ultimately only be one determined states of affairs. Without allowing ourselves this language, we’d be lost at making sense of the world.

          The problem is why would you be inconsistent and allow such language and speak of “could be otherwise” and “possibilities” to the rest of the physical world, but not to the physics of human choice.

          It is not the compatibilist who is being inconsistent here.

          Cheers,

          Vaal.

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

        “That’s why I ride a banana to work instead of a car, and why we can treat human beings the way we treat rocks.”

        If determinism holds then there would be no choice in the matter. And further, if determinism holds, there would be causal consequences. You wouldn’t get to work, and you would a nasty causal response from other human beings that couldn’t help but respond causally to being treated like rocks.

        I’m not sure what you don’t get about determinism. It means determined. You don’t get to choose how you treat people. Even when I have argued elsewhere about how the illusory free-will position allows us the re-think the notion of ‘responsibility’ then the words I use are those of someone who feels that I have a choice in how I view responsibility, but under determinism I don’t have that choice, I just ‘do’.

        If determinism holds then it appears that I am still an evolved human that is being caused to think and feel in terms of free-will. It also appears that you don’t go to work in a banana, because you don’t – you are not caused to. If you were to say to yourself, “Right. I’ll show him. I’m going to choose to go to work in a banana!”, and you actually get a banana and try to enact your wish, then that attempt is caused too. As is your failure to get to work.

        There are many causal constraints to you going to work in a banana. There are no causal constraints to humans feeling they have free-will (except perhaps for some brain conditions that cause problems for identity). But, if determinism holds, then there is no causal room for the will to be free (except in the trivial sense that some comments here suggest).

        • Vaal
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

          ronmurp,

          “I’m not sure what you don’t get about determinism. It means determined. ”

          It’s not that I don’t get determinism. I AM a determinist. We agree on determinism.

          The dispute is over the issue: GIVEN DETERMINISM, what type of language makes sense applied to human choice and the issues that attend human choice (e.g. morality etc).

          It’s not that I don’t think we can make sense of these things like “possibility” and “making choices” and describing various properties of the world, GIVEN DETERMINISM. Obviously I think we can.

          It’s just that I see the incompatibilists doing the poorer job of it, and the compatibilists doing the better, more coherent job.

          For instance, you wrote:

          “Even when I have argued elsewhere about how the illusory free-will position allows us the re-think the notion of ‘responsibility’ then the words I use are those of someone who feels that I have a choice in how I view responsibility, but under determinism I don’t have that choice, I just ‘do’.”

          So I presume that you argue that “Given free will is illusory” this OUGHT to make us re-think the notion of ‘responsibility.’

          Yes? No?

          If yes…then there’s that coherency problem again. Because “ought” implies “can” (that we have an actual choice) but then you have concluded: “but under determinism I don’t have that choice, I just ‘do’.”

          So if you tell me under determinism we actually don’t have a choice, we just ‘do,’ then it makes no sense for you to tell me I “ought” to re-think responsibility because such a prescription relies on there being a “choice” to make any sense.

          This is a LOGICAL INCOHERENCY in the flow of argument and it is NOT solved by pointing to the fact that your prescriptive argument can physically affect another person’s actions, because bad arguments are as physically causative as good arguments.

          If, when I ask you to present a coherent argument from “Everything is determined, there is no real choice” to “therefore we ought to re-think notions of responsibility” and all you have in reply is “Well, in my view I’m just determined to say that and it’s how I feel”…

          …then all I can conclude is you don’t actually have a good argument.

          Vaal.

          • Posted February 7, 2012 at 1:24 am | Permalink

            Vaal,

            “So I presume that you argue that “Given free will is illusory” this OUGHT to make us re-think the notion of ‘responsibility.’ Yes? No?”

            Depends on your ‘ought’.

            If you mean ‘ought’ in the moral sense, then no. We think about ‘responsibility’ when we are caused to by events that trigger the notion in out brains.

            The only sense in which a moral ‘ought’ causes anything is the extent to which it is significant in a particular brain. A brain that spends a lot of time on a flight deck will be caused to consider responsibility a lot, while the brain of a heavy drug user will not.

          • Posted February 7, 2012 at 1:37 am | Permalink

            ‘ought’ does not imply ‘can’ as a matter of logic.

            We need to start from the point that there is no objective ‘ought’. Any ‘ought’ in morals is what one human wants a human to do or not do (including himself). The feeling of ‘ought’, our whole moral system, is driven by biological and sociological causes.

            So, ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ is simply a psychological persuasive recommendation in the following ways.

            If I say a fireman ‘ought’ to put out a fire, then I am piling on my persuasive feeling that I want him too. I feel this because he has taken on that role. But if I lock him in a room, then in that sense he cannot, so my protestations that he ‘ought’ are wasted. In that sense ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ is merely an expression of that futility.

            In a more common scenario you often find sales managers at work, or sports coaches, coming out with nonsense such as “I won’t accept failure. Failure is not an option. It is your duty, you responsibility, to your colleagues to succeed. You ‘ought’ to succeed.” Well, if the customer doesn’t bite or the other team is better then those motivational speeches mean nothing.

            That is as far as ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ goes. It’s only use is to dissuade idiots demanding the impossible. It’s used in financial circles quite a lot I believe.

          • Posted February 7, 2012 at 1:42 am | Permalink

            “…then it makes no sense for you to tell me I “ought” to re-think responsibility because such a prescription relies on there being a “choice” to make any sense.”

            But I don’t think you ‘ought’ to re-think responsibility. You either will or won’t according to whether you brain is caused to. Mine has been caused to, and now it is being caused to express this to you. If this causes your brain to re-think responsibility then it will, and if it doesn’t it won’t. That is precisely what determinism means. You have no choice under determinism. That we both might use the language of free-will is a psychological effect, itself determined by causes in our brains.

            All of course contingent on determinism.

          • Posted February 7, 2012 at 1:46 am | Permalink

            “This is a LOGICAL INCOHERENCY in the flow of argument …”

            No. What’s happening is that several people call themseleves compatibilists, claiming they agree with determinism (in principle), and claiming this is compatible with notions of free-will.

            I agree in one respect it is compatible: in that we are caused to have the illusion that the will is free so that we have ‘choice’. Feeling we have choice looks like a condition of the brain dealing with epistemological indetermininacy. Many compatibilists don’t have a problem with this regarding machine automata, and even simpler forms of biological automata, but find it difficult to go the extra mile with human automata.

          • Posted February 7, 2012 at 2:00 am | Permalink

            “bad arguments are as physically causative as good arguments”

            Yes. But this observation isn’t telling us about which argument is bad. Arguing from effect to cause is a bad argument. So, here are some bad arguments.

            A) Libertarian free-will:
            1) Determinism implies no moral objectivity
            2) I want moral objectivity
            3) Therefore I reject determinism

            B) Compatibilists (some)
            1) Determinism is true
            2) Determinism implies no moral objectivity
            3) I want moral objectivity
            4) Therefore I will ignore (2), just talk about human ‘choice’ and stuff, claim I don’t believe in traditional free-will, and hope nobody (including myself) notices.

            C) A good argument:
            1) Determinism is true
            2) Determinism implies no moral objectivity
            3) There is no moral objectivity QED

            D) Another:
            1) Determinism is true
            2) free-will (I could have done otherwise) is incompatible with determinism
            3) No free-will QED

            E) Another:
            1) E => No free-will
            2) Humans feel they have free-will
            3) Therefore the feeling is mistaken (we can use the phrase ‘it’s an illusion’)

          • Posted February 7, 2012 at 2:07 am | Permalink

            “…then all I can conclude is you don’t actually have a good argument”

            Then I conclude you don’t get the depth of determinism. You are side-stepping it. You are immersing yourself in the illusion.

            The last is fine. We all do, most of the time. I have no problem with discussing morality, but I start from the basis that it too is a human construction in human brains. I am caused to get into those discussions, caused to feel aggrieved and morally indignat when I hear about, for example, female genital mutilation, or that the biggoted Church of England won’t allow women or gay bishops even thought in my opinion I don’t think there should be any bishops. Our brains are full of conflicting influences (a safe word for causes).

  19. Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    And, for the anti-reductionists, this is precisely the kind of problem where you need reductionism to look for more basic explanations.

    You cannot use the phenomemon itself to explain the phneomenon, as compatibilisists, seem to do.

    Take this explanation of the error, from Skeptic’s Dictionary:

    “While many errors in deduction are due to making unjustified inferences from premises [i.e. validity], the vast majority of unsound deductive arguments are probably due to premises that are questionable or false. For example, many researchers on psi have found statistical anomalies and have inferred from this data that they have found evidence for psi. The error, however, is one of assumption, not inference. The researchers assume that psi is the best explanation for the statistical anomaly. If one makes this assumption, then one’s inference from the data is justified. However, the assumption is questionable and the arguments based on it are unsound. Similar unsound reasoning occurs in the arguments that intercessory prayer heals and that psychics get messages from the dead.”

    This is the kind of error that compatibilists are making: assuming we have free-will, without investigating that assumption to explain what it is in the first place.

    The imcompatibilists is suggesting, based on parsimony of causal explanations, that it is an illusion, and that the ‘will’ (the causal features of the conscious brain, if you like) is not free of causes itself.

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      “This is the kind of error that compatibilists are making: assuming we have free-will, without investigating that assumption to explain what it is in the first place.”

      You are almost exactly wrong about what compatibilists are saying.

      • Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        Almost, or exactly?

        So, do compatibilists say that free-will is an illusion? Do compatibilists say “I could have done otherwise”?

        • Another Matt
          Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

          A compatibilist thinks of situations in which “choices” are made in rather the same way we think of controlled experiments. When a scientist runs the “same experiment” several times, the word “same” applies only to the circumstances that seem relevant, worth controlling for, and possible to control for.

          For each run of the experiment, the result for that run was determined (or if you want, it follows the laws of physics), and “could not have been otherwise” in that sense. But the reason we run the experiment several times is because it “could have been otherwise” in a sense of “could” relative to the things that make it sufficiently similar enough to call it “the same experiment” – i.e. the things the scientist controls. This sense of “could” is much more important to science, and it allows us to extrapolate from results to see what the consequences of a set of controls were.

          It has everything to do with the sense of “could” and the sense of “same situation.” If needed I can explain the analogy further, but this should do for now.

          • Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:04 am | Permalink

            A coin is on the floor. Two earth tremors occur, strong enough to flip the coin. First it lands heads, then next time it lands tales.

            Sufficiently similar situations.

            Does the coin have free-will?

            Your description of subsequent, similar, “For each run of the experiment, the result for that run was determined (or if you want, it follows the laws of physics), and “could not have been otherwise” in that sense.”

            • Another Matt
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

              OK, no. But we might start to suspect something was up if the coin started counting prime numbers in binary. :)

              • Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

                So, a computer has free-will?

              • Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

                The problem is that what you offered as a compatibilist understanding of free-will, based on separate events over time that had some superficial similarity, isn’t enough to distinguish such cases from inanimate matter or other automata.

                Similar events at different times are in fact actually different events, with different prior causes. That is not the essence of ‘could have done otherwise’

              • Another Matt
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

                The problem is that what you offered as a compatibilist understanding of free-will, based on separate events over time that had some superficial similarity, isn’t enough to distinguish such cases from inanimate matter or other automata.

                You’re letting “superficial,” “inanimate” and “automata” take your argument in a direction I don’t think you want it to: you’re starting to sound like a dualist. I’d disagree and go yet a step further in the opposite direction – it is enough to distinguish among the different behaviors of different chunks of matter with different organization, and in fact this kind of generalization from similar (but not identical) circumstances is in fact the only way we have of learning anything about the world in the first place.

                Similar events at different times are in fact actually different events, with different prior causes. That is not the essence of ‘could have done otherwise’

                And now “essences”… there is no “essence” of “could have done otherwise,” just different senses of “could” based on different baseline comparisons between circumstances – you might say these two senses bear a Wittgensteinian “family resemblance”, but both senses are understandable.

                This semantic game is getting tiresome. I tell you “a fruit fly can have red or white yes” and you pull out a matchbox with a fruit fly in it and say “so you’re saying the fly in here could have either red or white eyes? That can’t be true – its genetics must have determined what color its eyes are” and I say “yeah but nothing about it’s being a fruit fly precludes one or the other colors” and then we open the box to look at it and it has red eyes and you say “see, its genetics determined it would have red eyes; I win.”

          • Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:30 am | Permalink

            Your description of ‘compatibilism’ seems to match that of ‘incompatibilism’ and also seems incompatible with many compatibilists.

            “the result for that run was determined (or if you want, it follows the laws of physics), and “could not have been otherwise” in that sense.”

            This is just what incompatibilists are saying is the case under determinism.

            • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:48 am | Permalink

              “Your description of ‘compatibilism’ seems to match that of ‘incompatibilism’ … This is just what incompatibilists are saying is the case under determinism.”

              Yes! Exactly! Compatibilists and incompatibilists are disagreeing only on semantics! Both compatibilists and incompatibilists are 100% agreed that the choices are determined.

              But “determined will” and “determined choice” are still real and meaningful properties of the behaviour of complex goal-seeking systems such as people.

              The dispute here (as stated above) is akin to disputing whether the word “magic” is properly used for stage conjuring tricks, or can only mean supernatural magic.

              The compatibilists are merely pointing out that, since determined will and determined choice are the only things that actually exist, why not use the words we have for them? Afterall, we can’t do without those concepts in dealing with people.

              Another analogy from this thread: the non-vitalists didn’t abandon the concept of “life”, they just reinterpreted it in a non-vitalist way. Compatibilists are reinterpreting “free will” in a 100% deterministic way.

              • Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

                Compatibilists are reinterpreting “free will” in a 100% deterministic way.

                But to do so only confuses the conversation at large… oh and there is no freedom in that “will”, so there is no validity in calling it “free”.

              • Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

                “oh and there is no freedom in that “will”, so there is no validity in calling it “free”.”

                Please Steve, please please please. Please can I get you to pause for a moment and consider that this is a dispute solely about *definitions*. That’s all!

                As *you* have defined “freedom” there is indeed no “freedom” in that “will”.

                However, as *compatibilists* define and use the term “freedom” there *is* “freedom” in that entirely-determined will!! Please re-read that sentence until you realise that that is how the compatibilists are usiing the words!

                You cannot use *your* definitions of words as a refutation of how *compatibilists* use the words!

                Because the whole point of compatibilism is that compatibilists are using the term “free will” in a way that is totally different from and totally incompatible with classical libertarian “free will”!

                They are using the term in a 100% determined situation! That is what the term “compatibilism” *means*!

                And yes, it is not how *you* use the terms, we know that!

        • Steve
          Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          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.

          • Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

            “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.”

            That assertion depends entirely on how one defines “free will”. Compatibilists do not believe in “free will” in the classical sense of dualism.

            They do believe that there are some senses of the word “free” in which people can be meaningfully described as having “free will”.

            • Steve
              Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

              Nope… compatiblists believe that libertarian free will is compatible with determinism.

              Surely you aren’t saying that the compatibilist is only about seeking some clever redefinition of the classic term “free will’?

              • Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

                Steve,

                Libertarianism is contrary to compatibilism. This is the way every party to the debate defines the positions, plus Wikipedia, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and so on.

                The compatibilist does have a view of the meaning of ‘free will,’ but it’s not clear that it’s a redefinition. See for example:

                Nahmias, E. & D. Murray (2010), “Experimental Philosophy on Free Will: An Error Theory for Incompatibilist Intuitions,” in J. Aquilar et al. (eds.), New Waves in Philosophy of Action (Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan), 189-216.

              • Steve
                Posted February 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

                Tom,

                Oh yes,combatibists are redefining “free will”,
                here is one admitting as much,

                They set about redefining and using the concept of free will to talk about the kinds of influences that determine outcomes of choices for rational actors.

              • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:51 am | Permalink

                “Nope… compatiblists believe that libertarian free will is compatible with determinism.”

                Flat out WRONG! No. They. Do. Not.

                “Surely you aren’t saying that the compatibilist is only about seeking some clever redefinition of the classic term “free will’?”

                Yes! Yes! Yes! That is ***exactly*** what compatabilism is about! Is that really not clear yet, after it has been stated 100 times on these threads??

          • Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

            Steve, it is impossible to assess your statement because you do not say what you mean by free will, and that is the difference between the two sides.

            If you insist, as many incompatibilists do, that free will means the metaphysical “given identical conditions of all matter in the universe, by some magical mentalistic force I could have caused a different outcome” than compatibilists are NOT free willists. No one here thinks that kind of free will exists.

            I find it hard to believe we’re still at the stage where you think compatibilists believe in magical free will.

            • Steve
              Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

              It’s not just me, Miko…

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          Almost exactly. It would have been exactly wrong if you had said “metaphysical free will.”

          I find it hard to believe that people on this thread are making pronouncements about compatibilism when they clearly haven’t bothered to google the term or look at wikipedia, let alone read Dennett. You would not need to ask either of those questions had you done so.

          • Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

            posted in wrong thread, sorry

    • Another Matt
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Interesting. I always thought of the incompatibilist position as insufficiently reductionist, as it seems to get a lot of mileage from some notion of a “real self” that is coerced to do what it is physically determined to do.

      This is maybe the first time on Jerry’s site when I’ve seen so many incompatibilists making the same arguments as compatibilists and each drawing conclusions for their own side. I think it’s a welcome development, actually.

      • Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        Try Raymond Tallis.

        http://www.raymondtallis.com/

        Humanist atheist. Insists we have free-will, rejects reductionism of science that tries to investigate free-will because he thinks it can’t be done. More to the point is that he doesn’t want it to be done because he fears the dehumaism, the nihilism that illusory free-will suggests. He also refers to ‘darwinitis’ the notion that we are animals in the sense of being ‘just’ animals.

        Try Bill Klemm.

        http://brainblogger.com/2010/10/25/free-will-is-not-an-illusion/

        He claims free will is not an illusion. He is a compatibilists who has religious beliefs that appear to persuade him.

        The point of compatibilism is that there’s an acceptence of science generally. Except, we have free-will. The claim is that these two positions are compatible. But there’s never and explanation as to how they can be.

        Other compatibilsist make the same kind of noises. Oh yes we accept science fully. But we have free-will.

        These next questions have been asked countless times, but no answer from compatibilisist: free of what? fee of a cause? An un-caused will? What exactly?

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          “These next questions have been asked countless times, but no answer from compatibilisist: free of what? fee of a cause? An un-caused will? What exactly?”

          I bet you could find that answered about 20 or 30 times on the many previous posts on this blog on this issue. And Dennett wrote a whole book “Freedom evolves” explaining it (and it’s well worth reading if you want to understand a compatibilist stance).

          But, to repeat my answer from up-thread, it is “free” in the sense that it is the internal properties of the chooser that is doing the choosing (even if the choice is fully determined by those properties).

          You could of course object that that isn’t “freedom”, but then that’s the only sense in which “freedom” exists.

          • Steve
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

            Exactly… it is not really freedom.

            • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:54 am | Permalink

              It is the only freedom that actually exists. “Real freedom” as you call it doesn’t exist. So either abandon the word from the English language or use it as compatibilists do.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

                I have no problem with the word freedom.

                It is only when you re-use the ancient theological pair of words “free will” that I object because they are too fully packed with connotations of contra-causal dualist baggage.

                I think their is a strong case for compatibilists and incompatibilists to agree that there is little point in trying to wiggle and squeeze to get the words “free will” into the deterministic frame when there is no need. The words “freedom”, “will”, “volition”, “choice”, “agency”, “unconstrained”, “unlimited”, “voluntary”, and many others are all still available. I would even agree with “freedom to will” or “freedom to dissent” meaning that it is purely an internal operation without external constraint or coercion (except for natural physical limitations). But “free will” is too loaded.

                Please give one good reason why compatibilists can’t do all the work they currently do without resorting to pairing “free” and “will” as a single compound concept. And I’ll preemptively stipulate that saying it’s because it’s fun to dis incompatibilists as reductionist fools does not suffice, first because it’s childish, and second because it isn’t even true.

                The good reason to relegate the words “free” and “will” as a pair to discussions of philosophical and theological history is because they are too closely associated with the theological ideas relating to good works, redemption, and freely accepting Christ (even though you were free to choose evil).

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

          “The point of compatibilism is that there’s an acceptence of science generally. Except, we have free-will. The claim is that these two positions are compatible. But there’s never and explanation as to how they can be.”

          That is NOT what compatibilism is. Read Dennett, or at least Wikipedia.

          • Posted February 7, 2012 at 2:23 am | Permalink

            read this.

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/

            There are different versions of compatibilism. In some there is the claim “I could have done otherwise” which is expressly not the case under determinism. All other compatibilists merely ignore the problem of how the will is free to the extent that ‘choice’ means anything (outside the psychological domain of organisms that think they have free-will).

          • Steve
            Posted February 7, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

            This from the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

            Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism.

            (And by free will they mean libertarian free will, not some manufactured redefinition made up by compatibilists to fulfill their own assertion.)

  20. Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    There is a recent article on http://www.richarddawkins.net about how statistics is a better predictor of future success/behaviour than expert opinion.

    I commented that given enough data, and a suitable analysis, at some point in the near future a computer would be able to predict a person’s behaviour (choices to various decisions) precisely. If/when this becomes possible, it would effectively deal the death blow to the idea of free will. If a computer can predict someone’s choices precisely, then it cannot be argued that they could have chosen differently, but rather their choices were due to physics and previous experience.

    If a god existed, then it’s predictive ability should be better than our computers, and again the idea that god would know exactly how we would respond to life’s choices and be rewarding/punishing us for things we had no real choice in.

    • DV
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      If you tell me what the computer’s prediction was, I can always make it wrong, unless there are other forcing constraints (like limited time).

      • Chris Granger
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        If you were told what the prediction was, the computer would have to recalculate, given that telling you what the first prediction was would be new stimulus input.

        • DV
          Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          1) That’s what I meant by limited time as a forcing constraint. You’d have to allow the computer to make its prediction when it is already too late for me to make it wrong. Our choices are not outside the chain of causation so naturally it is possible to have a computer “read” the choice after it is already effectively chosen by me (the whole of conscious and unconscious processing of my brain). The idea of dualistic free will is the idea of free will that a perfect predictive computer will demolish. Compatibilism is not about dualistic “free will”, but rather about the common everyday idea of free will as the ability to make uncoerced (free) choices.

          2) Now compare the above with: You tell me what the computer’s prediction is and then put a gun to my head. Or you tell a dog or worm (if you can) the computer’s prediction of what its action will be. You can make the prediction 10 days in advance and the outcome most likely will still match your expectation even when the agents were told the prediction. This is what absence of free will means.

          • Chris Granger
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

            We’re in agreement regarding the time constraint. I think what Michael means is that given enough data, not just about your brain but about the universe, this god/computer could never be surprised by or incorrect about your action in the very next instant (whatever that means, Planck time, whatever).

            • Another Matt
              Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

              You’d have to go a step further, if we’re assuming that the data takes a certain finite amount of time to collect, and the calculations another certain finite amount of time. I think what you’re saying is that its calculations would be correct for the point just after it stopped collecting relevant data, but it might actually have to deliver that prediction after the subject’s “choice” was made.

              The “real-time” nature of this is misleading – it would be more meaningful to say that if you could collect all the relevant brain data for a given event, you could feed that computer whatever continuous chunk of data from the beginning of the event up to a given point, and it would be able reliably to say what happened directly afterward. It would prove the same point without needing to be predictive in real time. Eventually it would become a question both of what data was relevant and what amount of residual error we’d be comfortable living with and still call such a computer an accurate predictor of a subject’s decisions.

          • Steve
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

            Compatibilism is not about dualistic “free will”, but rather about the common everyday idea of free will as the ability to make uncoerced (free) choices.

            Then compatibilism is irrelevant to this discussion. Your “uncoerced (free) choices” is not what non-free willism is denying.

            • DV
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

              It is relevant. Because incompatibilism, at least the flavor that Jerry espouses, denies choice and responsibility as a consequence of denying “free will”. Compatibilism is the answer to this. It presents an understanding of free will that is compatible with determinism and that actually makes sense with our intuition regarding us having choices and responsibilities.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

                I don’t really feel that incompatibilism denies responsibility, though it may be that some incompatibilists have argued this. I suspect though that many more compatibilists have argued this way about incompatibilism.

                We just have to realize that responsibility isn’t what we think it is, and that it doesn’t have the moral implications that we think it does.

                If an i/o controller board is installed in a computer system, it has responsibilities, it has a role to perform. When all it’s components function at levels above certain threshold tolerances, the device will perform as expected: it may for example control all access to a hard disk according to prescribed algorithms and will conform to bus protocols to fulfill it’s responsibility to cooperate with the rest of the system.

                If some part of the controller fails after many hours of operation due to a manufacturing or material defect for example, we don’t blame the board for it’s immorality, we simply acknowledge the fact that it can’t do what we expect of it. We then look for solutions: we try to repair it if possible, or as a last resort, when no other options exist to restore the board to expected levels of performance, we may replace it.

                If I’m a school bus driver and I fall asleep at the wheel and kill 30 children in the resulting accident, am I responsible if my falling asleep was determined biochemically? Not in the sense that I’m evil and should be judged and heaped with scorn for being immoral. Should I be beaten or imprisoned? That might indirectly help “repair” me, because it will reinforce the consequences in my mind of irresponsible behavior, i.e. failing to live up to what is expected of me, something that a normal non-defective human mind is capable of grasping without requiring free will.

                In the future, when faced with the choice of going to bed or going out to the bar the night before I must work, the memory of that punishment will amplify that independent algorithmic component of my brain that competes to determine the outcome of my non-free choice.

                But if we drop the moral judgement we can look for ways to determine if either I do not have the innate capabilities to meet the responsibilities of bus driver, or whether there is some kind of direct “repair” or education that can refurbish or enhance my brain with the knowledge and set of behaviors that do meet the job requirements. These approaches are superior to the moral judgement and punishment approach because they can actually be applied preemptively in advance of a major failure such as a tragic fatal accident.

                The Vohs-Schooler experiment suggests that believing in free will discourages cheating. But I think the fears generated by this result are overblown. I think what this experiment shows is that people with an inadequate understanding of responsibility will cheat if they believe they are off the hook because free will is gone.

                But if they were educated in a non-religious context where the stupidity of moral castigation were factored out, and instead the importance and value of cooperation and social harmony were emphasized as the basis for being responsible to live up to expectations, the individual becomes refigured as an important team player with a satisfying role to play, rather than the subject of a tyrannical regime of moral judgement and moral punishment.

                Note that I used the word “controller” earlier, which was not accidental, but intended to refer to Dennet’s “control” as a kind of free will worth having.

                I really don’t see any daylight between incompatibilism and compatibilism as Dennet describes it, except for the usage of the words “free will”. The incompatibilist insistence on abandoning the words “free will”, which represent a subjective illusion that props up a concept that is central to an obsolete system of moral judgement and punishment, is based on maintaining fidelity to measurable objective reality and on the confidence that utilitarian ethical principles can achieve any of the social or individual benefits of moral judgement and punishment.

                In light of these considerations, the compatibilist hand-ringing over the consequences of abandoning the words “free will” remind me of the medieval church worrying about controlling access to the Vulgate. The punishment of Martin Luther and John Wycliffe and William Tyndale were all symptoms of this elite concern that the people could not be trusted with knowledge of the truth, a deeply religious concept that goes back to the Garden of Eden and the forbidden fruit.

              • Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

                Jeff,

                Ironically their fears were well founded, people couldn’t be trusted with the truth…

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

                Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink
                Jeff,

                Ironically their fears were well founded, people couldn’t be trusted with the truth…

                I assume you are being ironic as well, by saying that allowing people to actually read the Bible enabled the intelligent among them to see the truth, which is that the Bible doesn’t deserve the authority typically granted it.

                It’s really quite funny and sad at the same time.

              • Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

                You are correct.

              • DV
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

                As I’ve said many times, the everyday common person usage of “free will” is very clear – it means ability to make uncoerced choice.

                Example usage: “When you sign a contract, it is valid, if you sign it of your own free will.”

                >>The incompatibilist insistence on abandoning the words “free will”, which represent a subjective illusion that props up a concept that is central to an obsolete system of moral judgement and punishment, is based on maintaining fidelity to measurable objective reality<<

                To me incompatibilism is bad reductionism, and getting hung up on a definition of "real free will" as the kind that ironically doesn't really exist. Incompatibilists are basically arguing that a free will that is not based on dualism doesn't deserve to be called "free will".

                Exactly what do you envision a replacement for the "obsolete system of moral judgment and punishment" would be?

                I really wish a lot of the people here would watch Dan Dennett's lecture (link in a post above). His idea of the Evolution of Evitability is very illuminating. Dan is very good at explaining how Evolution is a very powerful process that created Mind from No Mind, Design from Chaos. Not sure if Dan actually said it like this, but I would think that if we understood Free Will as also product of Evolution, that would clear up a lot of confusion.

              • Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

                Not sure if Dan actually said it like this, but I would think that if we understood Free Will as also product of Evolution, that would clear up a lot of confusion.

                DV,

                Did you mean to imply that Dan Dennett is remarking on this thread?

                But anyway, calling our evolved non-free will, free will, would not clear up one single iota of confusion. What would clear up confusion would be to state plainly that libertarian free will is an illusion, and that everybody does exactly as they are caused to do by forces that are ultimately beyond their control.

              • Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

                DV,

                Instead of, …a definition of “real free will” as the kind that ironically doesn’t really exist. try saying it like it has been put to you by the non-free willists, …a real definition of “free will” as the kind that as it turns out doesn’t really exist. Which is the original claim: free will is an illusion.

              • DV
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

                i mean somebody posted a link to Dan’s youtube lecture. you should watch it.

              • Another Matt
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

                What would clear up confusion would be to state plainly that libertarian free will is an illusion, and that everybody does exactly as they are caused to do by forces that are ultimately beyond their control.

                Here’s an example of the back-door dualism I’ve been talking about. It sounds like you’re positing a separate “everybody” being coerced by physical causation into doing things beyond “their” control. You have to take the next step and say what you mean by “their control” – it requires that you reduce “they” and “control” to the same physical causality. When you do, you become a lot more comfortable saying that “whatever happens inside my brain is controlled by the organization of my brain, including all ‘I’-production and all ‘choice’-making.” Nothing at all that is not proscribed a-priori is possible for me to do; “me” is a shorthand for “all the processes inside my brain and other organs.” Whatever happens is what will have happened, and my brain organization will still exert “control” over its sphere of influence on the world. You have to be “willing” to reduce all the way in order to even start a proper level analysis.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

                DV:

                Incompatibilists are basically arguing that a free will that is not based on dualism doesn’t deserve to be called “free will”.

                I wouldn’t say it doesn’t deserve it; I’d rather say that the historical load on the term free will makes it very hard for the majority of humans to grasp how we can still have free will (refigured as control and choice) in the context of a deterministic understanding of human behavior and thought. Working hard to rescue the cherished concept runs the natural risk of confusion because of the historical meaning and importance of free will. This is what incompatibilism argues, not as you suggest that humans no longer deserve the dignity we accord them in our best impulses. Making a clean break with the past clarifies the need to pay attention and learn something new, rather than simply blurring distinctions by importing the full weight of a misguided history into a more modern conception of the human being.

                When we understood how to do heart transplants, did this reduce the dignity of transplant recipients? A compatibilist analysis of heart transplants might include such concerns as thinking that a person whose heart is known to simply be a muscle that pumps blood, which can be cut out and replaced, will now lose dignity or no longer deserve to be considered a person with heartfelt emotions because we have dispelled the illusion that the emotions are located in the heart.

                I understand Dennet’s arguments, and he does grasp how the valuable ideas of control and agency are preserved in a deterministic scenario. But it is not easy and natural for the majority of humans, and it really seems that part of the priority in the compatibilist project is concern for avoiding emotional damage to people who are attached to the idea of free will. There seems to me to be underlying the compatibilist arguments a worry that people just can’t handle the unvarnished truth.

                Exactly what do you envision a replacement for the “obsolete system of moral judgment and punishment” would be?

                I think if you read my bus driver example thoroughly it answers this question. I don’t believe we should do away with punishment altogether, but I think we should use it less than we do. Part of punishment is to achieve a utilitarian result, and part of it has to do with moral vengeance.

                I think we need to do away with the moral vengeance aspect. We should not morally judge the bus driver any more than we should morally judge an electronic I/O controller in a computer system.

                As we learn more and more about the human mind we can find better ways to train, screen, and monitor bus drivers to reduce the chance of tragic failures preemptively with knowledge and understanding rather than with the threat of punishment. (I’m ignoring for the sake of the example that busses are likely to be driven exclusively under computer control someday).

                This is a more compassionate path of utilitarian ethics combined with improved knowledge of human neurobiology and cognition that can render obsolete moral judgement and moral vengeance. In some sense it is analogous to the transition from Old Testament to New Testament morality, but done based on reason and science, without the supernatural baggage. It is based on a compassionate evaluation of the subjective human, not based on the angry external judgement of the human as object.

              • Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

                Steve:

                “What would clear up confusion would be to state plainly that libertarian free will is an illusion, and that everybody does exactly as they are caused to do by forces that are ultimately beyond their control.”

                OK, on behalf of all compatibilists everywhere: libertarian free will is an illusion, it doesn’t exist, and everybody does exactly as they are caused to do by forces that are ultimately beyond their control.

                Happy now? Good.

                Now, at this point — with that all settled — can we now proceed to a discussion about the sort of will-like behaviour and choice-making behaviour displayed by humans, and what words are most appropriate to describe it?

              • DV
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                >>and it really seems that part of the priority in the compatibilist project is concern for avoiding emotional damage to people who are attached to the idea of free will<<

                Not at all.
                Compatibilism is about squaring determinism with subjective experience in a way that doesn't devolve into incoherence.

                The worst thing about the incompatibilist position is not that it causes emotional damage, but that it is incoherent! Jerry says we don't have choices and responsibilities. He's talking about some meaning of choice and responsibility that is alien to our experience. Some people who like to agree with Jerry, nevetheless say we actually have choices and responsibilities, but they have to contort into in very painful semantics to say this (we have choices but we could have chosen only one choice; we don't have moral responsibilites but we have a responsibility to be moral; everybody does exactly as they are caused to do by forces that are ultimately beyond their control — say what???).

              • DV
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                “into in very painful semantics to say this *”

                *and still be able to claim agreement with Jerry

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

                DV:

                Because incompatibilism, at least the flavor that Jerry espouses, denies choice and responsibility as a consequence of denying “free will”.

                I’m not sure if this is a true statement. I can recall for example that Jerry has said when we go for an ice cream, we choose between vanilla and chocolate. We just couldn’t have chosen otherwise because the internal state of our brain determined the outcome of that choice.

                If you think this means we can’t make choices you are not understanding something. The only extra freedom beyond that would require libertarian free will.

                I think Jerry argues in favor of a reduced sense of responsibility. I gave a more elaborate take just below this on what I think remains of responsibility in an incompatibilist view.

                There is responsibility in the sense that something is expected of us: I’m responsible for feeding the dog everyday. There is responsibility in the sense of accepting the consequences of your actions. I don’t think Jerry would argue against these. I think he would argue against moral responsibility: the man killed his wife because he is immoral and evil and given the freedom to do otherwise he still chose to kill her. I think that Jerry objects to this sense of responsibility. So do I.

                I don’t think that means murderers should not face consequences. But I don’t think those consequences should be calculated to placate angry moralizing punishing Old Testament vengeance. They should be calculated to deter people from murdering, and to protect society from those who can’t be deterred.

                The murderer chose as he did because the emotional impulses of rage overpowered the internal mechanisms of self-control. Traditionally we know only one way of trying to strengthen that internal self-control mechanism: punishment, which will hopefully reform the murderer because the memory of that loss of freedom will be strong enough in the future to arrest a moment of impulsive raging violence. As we learn more about the brain we may learn alternative ways to strengthen the internal mechanisms of restraint. We may even learn to detect them in advance of a tragedy and to preemptively treat or heal those imbalances.

                Our evolved mechanism of retributive justice, which sometimes even expresses itself as extreme sadistic violence, can give way to more humane, effective, compassionate ways of punishing and/or treating those whose brains are out of whack in some way that makes them dangerous.

          • Barbara Knox
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

            Compatibilism is not about
            dualistic “free will”, but rather about the common everyday idea of free will as the ability to make uncoerced (free) choices.

            I fully agree with Jerry (and many other incompatibilists) that unfortunately “the common everyday idea of free will” is strongly dualistic. If one rejects dualism, and accepts this common idea of free will, then necessarily free will does not exist.

            But, just as “life” can be understood without vitalism, “free will” can be understood without dualism. The phenomenon (call it an illusion if you prefer) of apparent free will clearly does exist, and relates as you say to non-obviously-coerced conscious choice.

            Subjective conscious experience in general (and not just the experience of conscious choosing) seems so vastly different in kind from the objective content of the sciences that one is almost forced into some flavour of dualism, however disguised.

            As far as I can tell, the only solution to this is to develop a scientific understanding of conscious experience. Vitalism only withered away when the detailed scientific understanding of life made it unnecessary. Similarly, a detailed scientific understanding of “conscious experience”, “I”, and other currently dualism-laden notions will be necessary and sufficient for the withering away of dualism. I hope that this scientific understanding occurs within my lifetime, but I doubt that it will.

            • DV
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

              Read or watch Dan Dennett.

  21. Vaal
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to ask this question yet again, for Jerry or someone who may want to answer in Jerry’s place:

    How do you square your conclusion about determinism and free will WITH your follow-up prescriptions for our behavior (“We should do X…”)?

    Jerry first concludes that free will doesn’t exist, and this on the basis that determinism must mean “We could not ever have done otherwise.” This is true of any past or future human action “There is no alternate possibility, one could not choose to do otherwise.”

    And then, Jerry goes on to claim this conclusion will entail prescriptions for our behavior! Here:

    “But we should continue to mete out punishments because those are environmental factors that can influence the brains of not only the criminal himself, but of other people as well. Seeing someone put in jail, or being put in jail yourself, can change you in a way that makes it less likely you’ll behave badly in the future. Even without free will then, we can still use punishment to deter bad behavior, protect society from criminals, and figure out better ways to rehabilitate them. What is not justified is revenge or retribution — the idea of punishing criminals for making the “wrong choice.” And we should continue to reward good behavior, for that changes brains in a way that promotes more good behavior.?

    …but how can this be coherent if Jerry
    starts from concluding “we could not chose otherwise?”

    As they say, prescriptions – “should” “ought” – implies “can.”

    Anyone would recognize it as nonsense for Jerry to recommend that I should defy the law of gravity and use a force-field to redistribute fresh water throughout the world, because it is not possible for me to do so. He’d be making an incoherent recommendation given these conditions.

    For the same reason, it is nonsense to say one “ought” or “should” do something that they have NO CHOICE but to do: for instance, if Jerry recommended that I obey the law of gravity, it would be obvious nonsense since there is no choice for me but to act via the laws of physics.

    And yet, this is what Jerry seems stuck doing at this point: Jerry is first telling me he denies that we “really can make alternative decisions at any point in time.”

    And yet, he goes on to recommend alternative choices to how I should act toward good behavior and criminal behavior.

    If I could not in fact “choose to do otherwise” then Jerry’s recommendations for what I should do (if determinism is true) are as nonsensical as Jerry recommending that I “Obey the law of gravity.”

    Can Jerry, or someone here, please address this apparent problem?

    Thanks,

    Vaal

    (So we don’t waste time: It is no answer to say “Jerry was determined to make his argument” or “Even given determinism, Jerry’s argument still has a causal effect on other people’s behavior.” None of those retorts address whether Jerry’s arguments about determinism and the prescriptions that he says follow, taken together, are valid, sound, coherent…which is what I’m asking)

    • Callum James Hackett
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      My response to that (not that this is my position; I’m just giving an example) would be that the unconscious mechanisms that drive our choices and give us the illusion of choice are highly plastic in childhood, and perhaps retain a degree of plasticity in adulthood.

      So the argument is not that we can elaborate upon morals that others can then freely choose between, deliberately and fully consciously, but rather that we can push certain moral-memes into others’ minds in the hope that their behaviour is later driven by an unconscious rulebook we would like them to be driven by.

      • Vaal
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        Thank you Callum James Hackett…

        Unfortunately your response completely misses the question, or at least does not answer it.

        First, your answer uses the word “can” but what does “can” mean in the context of Jerry’s deterministic conclusions that there is no “otherwise” and no “real” choice?

        More important: your answer doesn’t address the problem of prescriptive language. You say we “can” push certain moral-memes into other’s minds, but..ought we do so? (It’s implied by your answer that, indeed, we ought to do so). But saying we should or ought to do something only makes sense if there are options involved. That there is the option of choosing NOT to do this.

        But what can such a prescription mean if you start from the premise that “we can never have chosen otherwise?”

        See the problem?

        Cheers,

        Vaal

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

          I won’t address the issue of what we ought to do. But strictly examining your first post I think Callum really did answer you.

          At a moment we can not choose otherwise, but in the future we can choose differently. We can learn (plasticity). We can see the consequences of our actions and compare them with a goal that we had prior to our action, and then we can decide if our non-free choice was effective or not. And next time that memory resides in our brain and will influence a hopefully “better” non-free choice. In this way over time we appear to have free-will, even though each discrete choice is non-free.

          All of this can be achieved via a deterministic algorithm that involves competition between many different mind modules with different subjective properties, such as having a goal, estimating the effects of various actions, and comparing those expected consequences with our intended goal. Thus a choice is made, but the actual outcome of that decision process was already determined at the outset of the decision making process because of the material structure of our brain.

          The feedback of results of our actions through our senses and into our memory influences future non-free choices by amplifying the influence of selected modules involved, which given the same or effectively similar macroscopic circumstances enables us to choose differently than we did previously, even though previously we could not have chosen differently that we did, and in this new iteration we can not choose differently than we are going to.

          • Steve
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

            Vaal,

            This also undoes your complaint that if we really believed in non-free willism then we would not engage in argument on the subject of non-free willism.

          • Vaal
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

            Jeff,

            I won’t address the issue of what we ought to do.

            But the move from Jerry’s “is” statements (determinism means “we can not have chosen otherwise”) to his “ought” statements (prescriptions for our behavior) is precisely the issue under dispute. Can I presume you are familiar with the is/ought dilemma? (I’m no expert in philosophy myself, but have decent acquaintance with many of the main issues).

            What you followed with are a bunch of “is” statements that re-capitulate the that don’t solve Jerry’s “ought” problem. Yes learning and memory influence our future behavior. So can bad arguments. Pointing out that “X has a physical influence” simply does answer whether
            Jerry’s argument is good or not.

            Further, you are helping yourself to the word “can” in a way that begs the question, since all the issues I bring up reside in words like “can,” “possible” and phrases like “could do otherwise.”

            Take this:

            <b?Jeff: At a moment we can not choose otherwise, but in the future we can choose differently.

            Take your two moments:

            1. “some moment” (this moment?) in which we can not choose otherwise. Say for example when I decided to eat a whole bucket of KFC and lived to regret it. For some reason, at this moment you want to say “I could not have chosen otherwise.”

            But then…you talk of:

            2. A future moment in which we CAN choose otherwise. So now 10 years later, faced with being able to choose to buy a whole bucket of KFC or stick with the snack pack…NOW I can “choose otherwise?”

            How so? Determinism (as Jerry explicates it) tells us that at ANY moment at which we make a choice, we could “not have chosen otherwise.” Adding more experience does not change this problematical fact. Even with my memory and past experience for choice moment #2, there is still only ONE choice outcome and no “real other possibility.”

            And as you say yourself, both situations have determined outcomes, so all you are doing is describing the fact that our brains do different things If the physics change (e.g. later physical circumstances)…the very point that is mocked as empty when compatibilists make that point.

            So here’s the problem for your “future” moment of choice #2. You say: before you couldn’t choose otherwise. NOW you CAN choose otherwise. You can choose not to buy the full bucket of chicken instead of making a different choice.

            I say: What do you mean? Determinism tells me that’s simply not true: there is only one future, and the proposition that I can “choose to do otherwise” is not true.

            So I’m choosing to buy the full bucket of KFC again, because I can’t REALLY choose to do otherwise.

            How will you respond? If you say “you are right, you can”t really choose otherwise” then it is incoherent to follow that with “But you OUGHT to choose otherwise”…since “ought” implies
            a possibility that you already have denied.

            But if you DO want to convince me that, actually, I CAN choose otherwise, how will you do this? I suggest that to the extent you CAN give me good reasons why I can choose otherwise, you will end up resorting to essentially the justifications used for compatibilism.

            So, again, talking of how experience and memory have physical influences on our actions does not GIVE THE REASONS per se for any prescriptive statements.

            Cheers,

            Vaal.

        • Callum James Hackett
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          The problem of using “can” is really just a metaphor. My use of the word doesn’t mean that there is room for free choice; it’s just a short-hand in the same way that we describe certain inanimate processes, such as evolution, in terms of movement, direction, purpose etc.

          What that “can” really means is that we, ourselves, when pushing moral-memes to drive others are just being driven by our own unconscious memes, their very purpose being to spread to others. Within all this is a degree for plasticity and meme change, varying with age, but there’s really no free choice – only the relative power of different memes – and so the “can” stands as a metaphor.

          Jeff Johnson did a very good job of elaborating on my point, so you read that.

    • Steve
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      Vaal,

      I’ll answer your question, but first you will have to concede that free will is an illusion.

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

        There is no logical reason whatsoever I need to declare free will an illusion for you to address the logical issues raised in my post.

        I’ve said numerous times that the concept of free will explicated by Jerry does not seem to “exist.” It’s been explained many times exactly why a compatibilist would agree, and yet still hold that we can have a more coherent “free will.”

        But if that is not good enough and you want me to “concede” that free will in any sense does not exist, then I’ll wait for more serious replies, thanks.

        Vaal

        • Steve
          Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          Vaal,

          OK.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

          How about this fictitious statement:

          There is no logical reason that I should concede that the earth is round rather than flat before I try to understand your absurd claim that we can reach the East by sailing west.

          We have rolled balls along the ground, and can simply look around us and observe it is all flat! So when will you stop with this non-sense about sailing west?

          To break out of that mental trap you need to pay closer attention to the apparent gradual sinking of the masts of ships sailing far into the horizon.

          The illusion of flatness is analogous to the illusion of free will, and to maintain conceptual integrity and avoid fallacies and errors we need to dispel illusions.

          • Vaal
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            Can you make a coherent argument for the roundness of the earth? Yep.

            That does not tell me whether you can make Jerry’s argument coherent.

            Unfortunately, I’m still waiting on that…
            :-)

            Vaal.

      • Another Matt
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        I’ll bite – “free will is an illusion.” What next?

        • Piero
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:18 am | Permalink

          I’ll explain how I understand Jerry’s position on ethics. If I’m wrong, he’ll no doubt correct me.

          The fact that our choices depend on a physical object (our brain) implies that they are determined by physical events. Thus, free will is an incoherent concept.

          Does this mean we are automata? Yes and no. We surely are not wind-up toys which follow a pre-determined path from cradle to grave. We respond to external stimuli, and although these stimuli are also determined by natural laws, they are so numerous and complex as to be unpredictable in practice.

          The possibilty of building a computer which can predict the state of the universe at time T2 from the information gathered at time T1 is also incoherent, because the computer itself is part of the reality it is trying to analyse. Hence, infinite regression prevents that possibilty.

          My choices are not free, but I’m also incapable of predicting which inputs will shape them. If I have bought a ticket to fly to China with a certain airline, and that airline has nine disastrous plane crashes in the month preceding my trip, I would probably decide not to travel. Similarly, if I know that killing my neighbour’s dog could earn me a stiff fine or even imprisonment, I will probably refrain from killing the bastard, even though he keeps me awake with its incessant barking.

          Thus, we are certainly subject to the laws of physics, but the laws of physics apply also to the way our brains acquire new knowledge. Being subject to the laws of physics does not mean we are immutable: it means that owhatever changes our minds undergo must be explainable in terms of the laws of physics.

          The use of words like “should”, “ought to” and so on is not therefore inconsistent: if I tell a heavy smoker that he ought to quit, my advice constitutes a new input which will contribute to shape his decision. Ultimately, his decision will be determined by thousads of inputs, and my advice will be one of them.

          Similarly, it is not pointless to punish antisocial behaviour, because that punishment constitutes a new input that will contribute to shape the culprit’s future decisions. It will also act as an input to others who might be contemplating a similar course of action. If I see that robbers are usually caught and imprisoned, I’d probably be reluctant to attempt a robbery myself. What I see around me is part of the physical environment that shapes my decisions.

          In summary: we cannot help but doing what we do. But we can modify the evironment that determines what other people do.

          • Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:06 am | Permalink

            In summary: we cannot help but doing what we do. But we can modify the evironment that determines what other people do.

            Can modify it how, exactly? By modifying our behavior? Oh, wait, someone modifies ours, first. Then we modify the environment, andit modifies their behavior.
            Uh, who started the modification? Oh, yeah, 10 to the minus 11 sec. when matter condensed from radiation…

            (transitive) If you modify something, you change it, often only in small ways, and often because you want to use it in a different situation.

            Both penalties and rewards can be used to modify children’s behaviour.
            It is also possible to modify the original by adding or removing parts.
            We found some new problems and modified the program accordingly.

            Synonyms

            adapt
            adjust
            alter
            revise
            transform
            vary

            Either modify means to change from a predetermined state/outcome, or it has no meaning.

            Modifying is just an illusion if any semblance of voluntary action, or free will, is.

            Note to self: it is just am illusion that these peoples understand english. Quite obviously they think free will only happens when two or more people get together, but it only comes into effect on others, not our own self. This thread is already deja vuing like it never has before, do you really think you can modify what they believe using sensible language? It is fun, though; sure sharpens the old bullshit detector. Whatever possessed Carl Sagan to make me learn that?

            Does your source of ‘information’…

            1 — make a big deal about being ‘scientific’? (For example, repeatedly saying things such as “research proves”, “scientists have found”, “laboratory tests show”, etc.)
            Check

            2 — lack any self-critical elements or qualification of claims? (For example, never using phrases such as “sometimes”, “could”, “may be”, etc.)
            Check

            3 — stand to gain financially by your acceptance of the claims? (For example, by the sale of a book or some other product.)
            Pride – check

            4– base claims on a conspiracy theory? (For example, the Medical Establishment doesn’t really want you to get well, the government is hiding alien bodies in Arizona, the scientific community is persecuting an heretical genius, etc.)
            (They are afraid, en masse, to confront their delusions)
            Check (I added the last bit. tushcloots)

            5– appeal to emotions and ‘common sense’, flattering one’s intelligence without challenging it? (For example, by saying things like “any fool can see”, while never presenting anything that requires serious intellectual effort to understand, such as closely reasoned arguments or mathematical analyses).

            You mean like how materialism supports the unecessary existence of qualia?
            (Yes, good example)
            Check

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:39 am | Permalink

            Yes, Piero, you pretty much have it right. With the proviso, of course, that our statements about what people “ought to” do are themselves conditioned by physical inputs into our own physical brain.

            • Piero
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

              Exactly! We cannot change what we are, but what we are will determine what kind of “ought” statements we can formulate.

          • Vaal
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

            Piero (and Jerry):

            That was the response already anticipated at the end of my original comment, and it doesn’t answer the problem I raised, for reasons I’ve argued numerous times in these comment sections.

            Again: I’m pointing out a fundamental incoherence in Jerry’s argument, in which Jerry’s prescriptions do not follow coherently from his initial deterministic premise.

            All you’ve told me in reply is:

            1. We can’t predict the future. Which is a non-sequitur in terms of my question. A fully predictable future could show many arguments are sound and many unsound, so it doesn’t answer the direct question of whether Jerry’s argument is any good. And it seems to me to not be a good argument.

            2. Arguments still amount to physical input and thus have effects on people’s behaviour.

            Which I already anticipated and flagged as a non-answer (and I’ve argued why in these comment sections). But, again, to see why:

            Piero, take your smoking example, which no doubt would be: If you desire good health, you ought to quit smoking because smoking is bad for your health – a prescription that does indeed hold up when the argument is examined. Indeed, you are right that this acts as one physical input that can have consequences on people’s behaviour. In fact, we see upon encountering this argument people DO (or can) alter their beliefs and smoking behaviour.

            Now, replace it with a theistic prescription: You ought not practice homosexual acts because God disapproves of homosexuality. Guess what? This prescription/argument ALSO is a physical input and it ALSO alters people’s behaviour and attitudes (see conservative Christians). But so what? Surely we agree it’s a bad argument!

            So when I point out what seems to be an incoherence in Jerry’s argument, to reply that “arguments act as physical causes” simply doesn’t answer whether Jerry’s argument is a good one or not. Again, the problem seems to be:

            Jerry starts with the general premise (from determinism) that “We can not do otherwise” and moves from there to “therefore we OUGHT to do X, Y, Z (e.g. continue to reward good behaviour). But since “ought” requires we could do otherwise (e.g. there is an option to NOT do X, Y or Z), the very act of Jerry prescribing logically contradicts his starting premise, and hence his argument makes no sense.

            “But…arguments can produce physical effects on behaviour” simply doesn’t address whether Jerry’s argument has this problem or not.

            Lurking in here is the infamous “is/ought” issue, of course. The proviso offered by Jerry (hi Jerry!) in his comment here does not help either, for reasons given. (It’s an “is” statement and doesn’t answer whether Jerry is coherently setting up his “ought” statements).

            Thanks,

            Vaal.

            • Peter
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

              I assume/hope that part of Vaal’s argument here is that when Jerry expresses what he think’s we ought to do, he’s assuming a very natural, familiar, and useful sense of what we *can* do that is much less restrictive than the usage of “*can* only because that’s how the universe will/did actually evolve,” which he uses when he’s refuting free-will.

            • Piero
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

              I don’t see what your problem is. An argument may be bad, and if it so recognized by the receiver it will have a negligible effect on his/her behaviour. If the receiver is not too bright, the same bad argument can have a large effect on his/her behaviour. But this has nothing at all to do with free will. If anything, it has to do with IQ.

              • Peter
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

                Your reply is confusing. I think you mean something like this:

                All smart people who realize there is no free will will wisely ignore all impossible “ought” prescriptions, since they know determinism means we can only do what we actually do. If they are bad, it’s because they couldn’t be otherwise.

                But that doesn’t mean Jerry is wrong to try to trick the rubes with his “ought” language.

              • piero
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

                I’ll try to make it clearer:

                When I say “I can only do what I do” I do not mean that I’m impervious to my environment. On the contrary, I mean I can only do what I do GIVEN my brain structure AND the inputs it gathers from the environment.

                My brains ability to process information depends both on my genetic make-up and on the inputs I’ve gathered from my environment. If my brain is not very good at processing information, then someone’s “ought” statement might carry a lot of weight, even if the statement is less than cogent. On the other hand, if my brain is exceedingly good at processing information, THAT VERY SAME statement will carry little weight, and will be dismissed out of hand, because a capable brain has learned to take shortcuts and quickly realize which “ought” statement are ill-founded and lead to a dead end.

                For a good example of what I mean, you can watch this video:

                To William Lane Craig, the Kalam cosmological argument is a trump card. To Martin Wagner and Russel Glasser it is not. When W.L.Craig first read the Kalam argument, his brain was in such a state as to make it permeable to the argument. When Wagner and Glasser came across the every same agument, their brains were in such as state as to make them impermeable to it.

                Where I think you go wrong is in assuming that considering any argument at all is a waste of time, because we are committed to doing what we do. We are committed to doing what we do because of deterministic laws which TAKE INTO ACCOUNT ALL RELEVANT INPUTS, including arguments proffered by someone else.

                Bertrabd Russell reportedly had once a flash of insight and deemed the ontological argument to be valid. Let’s call this time T1. Later on, he realized where he’d gone wrong. Let’s call this time T2. Form this we must deduce that his brain at T1 was different from his brain at T2. In the intervening time, his brain had acquired a different configuration WHICH WAS DETERMINED BY INPUTS, NOT BY RUSSELL’S VOLITION.

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:30 am | Permalink

        I can’t make up my mind! I’ll get back to you about what I’ll concede.

  22. Callum James Hackett
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    In all of this discussion, is there actually an accepted definition of “free will” that people are using? It has the potential to be a very slippery term, and for people to therefore talk at cross-purposes without realising.

    I can think of at least three different kinds of free will. There’s the kind that suggests that our consciousness is completely separate from our corporeal being, and that we can make choices detached from our physical functioning. If that’s what’s up for debate, it’s demonstrably false in a few minutes.

    But what about more subtle definitions of free will? Perhaps it’s suggested that while our consciousness and our actions are firmly rooted in the mechanisms of our body, the sum is nevertheless greater than the parts, which allows for a degree of freedom, just not as much as of the kind of free will described above?

    Alternatively, what if free will is taken to be an inconsistent and inconstant feature of our existence, such that, in many or most circumstances, our bodies pre-determine the choices that we make, but in our complex societies and cultures divorced from our evolutionary heritage, free will occasionally enters when a choice we have to make is without precedence or analogue in our natural history, and so our unconscious body plays no part in pre-determining our choice?

    I’ve only just come to this ongoing debate today, so if there is a definition that has been agreed upon which you could refer me to, that would be great. If, however, we are all taking the term “free will” with a degree of personal nuance, this discussion will be largely fruitless, because it is not a term with an immutable definition.

    • Steve
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Callum,

      There has been an understanding of free will for millennium… libertarian free will is its full name, shortened to free will.

      Free will is what non-free willists argue against, saying simply that there is no freedom to the human will.

      And as some of the compatibilists here have said, compatibilists seek to redefine “free will” to mean something nobody denies we have and in doing so, shut down the non-free willist message that nobody has any freedom of will.

      • Callum James Hackett
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

        That doesn’t really address my question because, as I stated, the definition of free will is not static. You can bluntly assert that it has meant the same for a millennium, but the fact of the matter is that our idea of free will necessarily changes the more we learn about the brain, and neuroscience has progressed a great deal since the 11th century.

        So, once again I state that the debate as it is appears a little aimless because there is no proper foundation.

        • Steve
          Posted February 5, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

          Your’re right our idea of free will has changed, from believing it was a real thing to seeing that it is only an illusion.

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, you got it. Look at the ongoing confusion between historical determinism and predestination. Not going anywhere.

  23. Vaal
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Ugh: “…but how can this be coherent if Jerry
    starts from concluding “we could not choose otherwise?””

    It was also brought up earlier that Jerry’s determinist conclusions does not seem problematic only for prescriptive language, but also for descriptive language of the sort used in any science or description of how the world works.

    Vaal.

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Choosing is something that happens. When you pick a card, 51 out of 52 options were eliminated. It was determined by the physical state of the matter involved, including my brain. So what? Oops.. I said “my” brain. Am I dualist? Or is everyone a grown up and able to see why the dualism embedded in language need not confuse us?

      Our use of the word “choice” evokes dualistic folk understandings of free will. Again, so what? Most of our language about behavior does. Compatibilists do not consider dualism or metaphysical free will. At all. They set about redefining and using the concept of free will to talk about the kinds of influences that determine outcomes of choices for rational actors.

      Incompatibilists are the ones who need to get over dualism. Stop wringing your hands over counterfactuals and time machines. Who are you trying to convince? The quantum nuts? People who think Jesus cares who wins football games? There are a couple of nuts around, but basically no one here believes in magic or metaphysical free will, and know one is impressed by your superior rationality or cleverness if you don’t. But determinism doesn’t mean we have to stop discussing decision making, or that we can’t redefine terms to be useful instead of vacant.

      • Asura
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

        “but basically no one here believes in magic or metaphysical free will”

        On this blog? Most likely. But out and about in the world (or at least the U.S.)?

        Hell no. Most people DO believe in magical free will.

  24. Chris Granger
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that incompatibilists are saying, “no, we don’t have oranges,” and compatibilists retort by saying, “yes, we do have apples.”

    In the most important details about whether or not brains must obey the laws of physics and remain “stuck” in a causal chain of events, I think almost everyone (who isn’t a theist) on both sides is in agreement.

    Without a strict, specific, agreed-upon definition of free will, an argument about whether or not one has it will go in circles.

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      This is right. However, Dennett’s operational approach is instructive. Metaphysical free will is hopeless… but there is something here we need to be able to discuss. I will not rehearse Dennett’s conception (again), anyone who can Google can find out his purpose and meaning when he (re)defines free will.

      Incompatibilists rightly accuse compatibilists of “merely” redefining freedom to be compatible with determinism. Well, why shouldn’t? It is a useful concept. We constantly have to assess our own behavior and that of others in terms of the constraints and coercive forces that affected the outcome. Why not call these various degrees of freedom? I’ve never heard a statistician complain that a data set is not “really” free.

      Redefinition has an illustrious history. I keep making the same examples over and over again, but terms we’ve had to redefine to make coherent with new knowledge include life, information, gene, force, matter, energy, work. All of these have common and historical usages that mean something else. Everyone seems cool with it.

      • Steve
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Well, why shouldn’t?

        Because it only serves to obfuscate the question as to whether man as freedom of will or not.

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

          No, it doesn’t, unless you do it on purpose. Do you get confused when there is a free throw in basketball? Are all other shots determined, but free throws are unconstrained by physics? Or is the definition of “free” context depedent?

          I recognize some things as alive and some things not. I am not a vitalist.

          When Carl Sagan talked about the beauty of the heavens, I did not for a split second think he meant the afterlife.

          When a colleague told me they were inspired by a scientific talk, I do not think they felt moved by a spirit.

          If you think what Dennett is doing is obfuscating rather than clarifying, you have truly missed the boat.

          • Steve
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

            Whether compatibilists do it “on purpose” or not does not change what it does, it obfuscates the issue at hand.

            Look at you, talking about basketball free throws, as if that has anything to do with the topic at hand.

            And Sagan was not a compatibilist when it came to the afterlife… he never opposed those that said there was no life after death by trying to redefine “afterlife” with some mamby pamby “we have an afterlife, it comes from others remembering us after we’re dead, and that’s an afterlife worth having…..” blah.

            • Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

              Steve: no, it doesn’t. If anyone on this thread is confused and thinks that compatibilists are arguing in favor of metaphysical, dualist notions of free will, it is entirely through self-imposed ignorance. It is not the fault of compatibilists.

              My point about “free throws” and “heavens” is that word usage is context-dependent. Incompatibilists of course know this, everyone does. But they become bizarrely pedantic about what “free” means with regard to choice, insisting that only folk/historic/time machine metaphysical understandings are admissible for some reason. Bollocks. We change word usages to fit reality all the time.

              Look at you, completely missing the point.

              • Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

                You aren’t by chance related to Bill Clinton?

                (Sorry, Miko, I couldn’t help myself.)

  25. Another Matt
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Superbowl analogy:

    What are the possible final scores for tonight’s game? 21-1 is precluded by the rules, 943-940 is precluded by the limits of the human body. 75-3 is very unlikely for a superbowl, and something like 21-20 seems fairly likely given the past matchups of the two teams.

    I think a compatibilist would say that all these probabilities and interaction of different kinds of relevant constraints on the final score are meaningful and worth talking about, even if we know that the game will end with one final score or another.

    An incompatibilist would say “there is only one possible score for tonight’s game – the score that will have been final by the time the game is over.” – with any of the other possibilites being meaningless and unworthy of discussion.
    :D

    • Asura
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

      I think you think wrong.

      • Another Matt
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, turns out 21-17 was FAR more likely than 21-20. My bad.

  26. Posted February 5, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, my argument is that: our *cognition and qualia and weighing alternatives and finally making a choice, is not based on complexity, it is based on the reality of all of the above.

    My reasoning is:
    1.Physical brain -> qualia+all of the above
    therefore our qualia+ are an effect.
    2. This effect, our minds, are part of the causal sequence, they are real.
    3. If they are part of the causal sequence, ie. cause and effect, then they can also be a cause.
    4. The result of the mind process(in this example) is a decision.
    5. Decision -> action/behavior.

    Therefore, the mind is a real, physical cause of behavior.

    Our minds can follow our wishes, and our minds use abstract concept to plan futures based on evaluation of the consequences if we take various actions, or think various thoughts, eg. we decide to have a positive, cheerful attitude – say one of optimism.

    Our thinking influences our thinking. And, our thinking influences our behaviors.

    I only point to complexity because we cannot understand what is going on; our brain functioning is so complex that it is a sufficiently advanced technology that appears as ‘magic’ (See Artheu C. Clark).
    It produces a physical effect, qualia etc., that we can not account for.

    If this ‘mind’ thing cannot be understood or explained in physical terms, then our understanding of physics is insufficient to explain our minds, and if our understanding of physics is insufficient, then you cannot claim your explanation is sufficient to rule out voluntary, self determined, action.

    —–

    Steve

    Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Well then it is not completely free.

    We have spent two long threads going over this, Steve and Jeff, and Jerry.
    I have given you multiple explanations stating what free will means, and you insist on only taking free to mean ‘completely unencumbered by anything and totally unconstrained.’

    I am getting choked that you refuse to accept that by free I mean voluntary and volitional, and not that anything ‘goes.’

    Furthermore, Jeff(and Jerry), you have said yourself that we make choices and act on them, that we choose the direction our lives take, yet you keep calling your definition ‘determined’, and mine ‘free’, yet they mean the same effin thing. You are disengenuous. Period.

    • Posted February 5, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      Not you, Jerry, I meant Jeff.

      Plus, I forgot to sign my name and check the subscribe to follow ups :)

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        The whole point of the disagreement is about you wanting to redefine what free means to something other than what it traditionally has meant for more than a thousand years. The problem is how the idea of free will is embedded in culture, and especially in religious culture. If you don’t believe this, then you are observing a different world than I do.

        Maybe we really need to go out and poll people. I’ve repeatedly seen compatibilists insist that most human beings already understand free will to be like the very subtle compatibilist redefinition, rather than the very obvious religious tradition.

        I simply do not believe that is true of the entire population of the planet. The vast majority have long believed and still believe in a soul, life after death, and that their choices, personality, and character are connected to the soul that will be rewarded or punished after death.

        This is what incompatibilists are fighting against, and what it seems compatibilists are trying to finesse by blurring the issues with an entirely new definition of free will. The compatibilists seem afraid to abandon the traditional trappings associated with free will in the name of human dignity. I think this is unnecessary and misguided and confusing.

        The definition of “new free will” as Dennet explains it has merit and I can agree with. I simply don’t agree that we should redefine free will, we should insist that free will is what most people think it is, what most people have thought it is for umpteen generations, which is the traditional concept from religious culture.

        Why do you want to redefine free will rather than say it is only an illusion that does not really exist? What is the need for the attachment to the words “free will”?

        • Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

          “The whole point of the disagreement is about you wanting to redefine what free means to something other than what it traditionally has meant for more than a thousand years.”

          Yes, that IS exactly the point. Why incompatibilist cling to and insist on the incoherence of metaphysical free will is beyond me. Compatibilists have redefined it to be meaningful and useful, just as we have redefined life, force, mass, information, energy, work, etc, etc.

          We have an interest both personally and socially in gauging the conditions, constraints and coercive forces that act on others and ourselves when making choices. We have deep, evolutionarily-derived and culturally reinforced intuitions about how this relates to responsibility that are an important part of our moral competence. The historical understanding of free will, in these contexts, although conceptually wrong, maps fairly well on to what we mean by “free” in a compatibilist sense. That is why it is useful to continue using the term.

          If you would rather it be a different term, go for it. Make one up and convince people to use it, see if it catches on. Language is dynamic. The real magic / fake magic example comes to mind. I have a hard time believing that anyone really confuses the two.

          • Steve
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

            Why incompatibilist cling to and insist on the incoherence of metaphysical free will is beyond me.

            I’ll take you at your word, it really is beyond you to understand that it is not us non-free willists that are clinging to anything. Instead of clinging to and insisting on metaphysical free will we are rejecting libertarian free will saying that there is no such thing. It’s the free willists that are clinging to and insisting on metaphysical free will (which non-free willists point out is an incoherent concept).

            • Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

              Incompatibilists insist on metaphysical free will in order to dismiss it. Compatibilists redefine free will in order to make it compatible with materialism and determinism. Incompatibilists think this is a cop out. Compatibilists like myself find the incompatibilists insistence on an incoherent definition baffling, because the history of language/science/culture is filled the redefining of terms to fit new understanding of reality (life, energy, etc etc). That’s it.

          • Steve
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

            We have deep, evolutionarily-derived and culturally reinforced intuitions about how this relates to responsibility that are an important part of our moral competence.

            Please elaborate on this.

            I suspect that it is these “culturally reinforced intuitions” (code for retributive behaviors) that you seek to preserve. But in light of the reality of non-free willism, retributive behaviors can no longer be thought valid… ego, non-free willism must be obfuscated.

            The historical understanding of free will, in these contexts, although conceptually wrong, maps fairly well on to what we mean by “free” in a compatibilist sense. That is why it is useful to continue using the term.

            Ah the compatibilist sense of “we still get to blame wrong doers, and take pride in our superiority to others.” What else can you mean, for surely the historical libertarian sense of free will in no way else maps to the “I don’t have a gun to my head” compatibilist touted sense of the shared label “free will”.

            Sure there is deliberateness to the battle to own the phrase “free will”.

            How about if the compatibilist take your own advice? Don’t confuse the term free will, “make one up and convince people to use it, see if it catches on. Language is dynamic.”

            • Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

              Of course we still get to “blame wrongdoers.” All social mammals do. Under what circumstances do you imagine that we would not?

              • Steve
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

                Not sure how you establish that all social mammals “blame”.

  27. Posted February 5, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Jerry said:

    Like consciousness, free will is an epiphenomenon of our complex brains, and a material product of those brains.

    See? I agree, but it is, in my very humble opinion, just an phenomenon. If it is material, it can cause stuff!

  28. Neil
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Compatibilists maybe a little loosey goosey with the meaning of the words “free will”, but incompatibilists are a more so with the meaning of the word “illusion”.

    Free will is a subjective experience. By what criteria can one say whether it is an illusion or not? If I say I hear voices and no one else can hear them, then you can say it is an illusion. If I say I believe I can make choices, and several billion people on this planet say the same thing, then you’ve got no basis for saying it is an illusion.

    State precisely what is meant by free will being an illusion.

    • Another Matt
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      This is where subjective experience comes in. Under materialism, all qualia are “illusions” – the sensation of red, the sound of a voice, the sensation of pain, emotions, the experience of free will, selfhood; all of it is ineluctable “illusion.” However, there are reasons to be uneasy with such language because it can imply a back-door dualism by implying that a disembodied intelligence could “see beyond the illusion directly to what is real.” In some ways, though, that is actually how we describe science.

      I find it a lot more productive to regard compatibilist “free will” not as an illusion, but as a useful and meaningful shorthand, in the same way that “competitive advantage” is a useful and meaningful shorthand in evolutionary biology.

      We are used to watching debates between theists and atheists (which usually means between dualists and materialists), and the theist says something like, “if everything is merely matter in motion, for what reason should I distinguish between this group of atoms that makes a bowl of jello and that riot of atoms over there that makes up our moderator?” Incompatibilists seem to be saying “quite so – we’re all merely matter: deal with it.” Compatibilists are saying “yes, we’re made of matter, but your word ‘merely’ is doing far too much work, as though ‘made of matter’ were the only meaningful thing that can be said about one or another groups of atoms.”

      Apologies for the long post.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted February 9, 2012 at 12:25 am | Permalink

        And further, using the word “mere” to describe matter is an ancient prejudice rooted in the religious conception of the duality between elevated spirit and the mundane flesh.

        How can matter be “mere” if its fundamental properties enable it to evolve life and intelligence? In fact, matter is the one thing that any of us has ever seen that truly is miraculous, in the original meaning from Latin, which means simply “object of wonder”.

        It might be helpful to detoxify their minds if the religious could grasp what Einstein meant by God, which was a kind of Spinozan pantheistic reverence for nature itself, and that his reverence for matter, space, time, and energy, resembled the awe and reverence the religious have for God and spirit, except that Einstein didn’t suffer their confusion about what is real and what is imaginary.

        The religious have been trained to despise matter as base, vile, illusory, corruptible, temporary, and perishable.

        We should work to elevate the status of matter because, you know, it’s all we’ve got, and it’s pretty damn incredible.

        This is just another example of how religion has poisoned our minds over the centuries.

        • Posted February 11, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

          IOW, the “endless forms most beautiful” phrase applies outside the living world. Seems correct to me.

  29. Posted February 5, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Steve
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Callum,

    There has been an understanding of free will for millennium… libertarian free will is its full name, shortened to free will.

    Free will is what non-free willists argue against, saying simply that there is no freedom to the human will.

    You just redefined free will. How many times have I told you what I mean, how many times have others, and myself, linked to, and explained, what is meant by the term ‘free will.’

    I have linked to dictionary definitions, Steve, and you know that. Yet you refuse to consider anything than your own, selfish(intentional) definition. You are disingenuous and insulting, you don’t even acknowledge all the valid meanings of free will, including the common, everyday usage of the term.

    Perhaps a definition from Webster, that explicitly states the meaning as free from fate or god:

    free will
    noun
    Definition of FREE WILL
    1
    : voluntary choice or decision

    Student Dictionary

    One entry found for free will.
    Main Entry: free will
    Pronunciation: primarystressfremacron-primarystresswil
    Function: noun
    : one’s own choice or decision

    free will noun
    [noncount] 1 : the ability to choose how to act
    ▪ I do this of my own free will. [=I do this because I want to do it; no one is forcing me to do this]
    2 : the ability to make choices that are not controlled by fate or God
    ▪ He argues that all humans have free will.

    From meriam-webster

    Okay? Huh, what? I have also linked to various papers from neuro-surgeons, neuro-biologist, all manner of neuro-science, here is yet another it took me about ten seconds to find on google:
    Abstract

    The question whether human beings have free will has been debated by philosophers and theologians for thousands of years. More recently, neuroscientists have applied novel concepts and tools in neuroscience to address this question. We submit that human beings do have free will and the physiological substrate for its exercise is contained within neural networks. We discuss the potential neurobiology of free will by exploring volitionally initiated motor activity and the behavioural-response to a stimulus-response paradigm. We also submit that the exercise of free will can be affected in patients with the certain neurological disorders such as the behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia. Clinicopathological correlation in patients with this disorder provides an opportunity to further elucidate the neural substrate for this fundamental human attribute. We also discuss the clinical correlates of the loss of free will in this population, which is a source of significant distress to patients, significant others and care givers.
    Keywords: Behavioural variant, Free will, Freedom of choice, Frontotemporal dementia, Volitional movement, Frontotemporal lobar degeneration, FTLD, BVFTLD

    All bolding mine.

    What about it, Steve, you still gonna insist on ‘traditionally’?

    • Steve
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      Call it what you will… my stance is unchanged. Mike, everything you do is a function of a matrix of determinants coming from your heredity and your environmental inputs. Mike, this view puts me at odds with the billions and billions of free willists that currently inhabit the Earth. This view makes me a non-free willist, whose message is that free will is an myth, the experience of free will is an illusion.

      • Piero
        Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

        I agree. After several hundred posts on this issue, I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone would consider even the possibility of the existence of free will.

        It is obviously an incoherent concept. Yet some people are willing to throw away everything we know about reality just to defend themselves against the merest suggestion that they might actually be robots, and not the transcendent, spiritual, free and dignified souls they’d like to be.

        Honestly, some people are just… too full of themselves, I guess. Apparently, knowing that we share a common ancestor with chimps is not enough to foster a measure of humility.

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

          What are qualia, abstract thinking, etc.

          If you ever put forth an argument using logic and fact, I have never seen it.

          You use nothing but, YOU USE NOTHING BUT AD HOMINUM AND ASSUMPIOTS.

          You are such an arrogant fool that you fabricate an impenetrable wall of denial, to the point of explicit hypocrisy, that I doubt you are in touch with reality enough communicate rationally with anyone that doesn’t agree with you to a degree approaching 100%.

          You sure fancy yourself as an inerrant mind reader.

          Tell me, are you a happy medium? (You will never understand that comment, it’s a shot at your extremeism)

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

          ASSUMPTIONS! I must have blended assumption with idiot, which is not a bad idea for a word, actually

          • Piero
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

            Tushcloots:

            You also mixed AD HOMINEM with… oh, I don’t know: CurriculUM? AddendUM? MemorandUM? Who knows.

            Anyway, I don’t see what point you are trying to make. OK, let’s say I’m an arrogant, hypocritical, despicable medium. Now, can we talk about free will, please? Have you any argument that positively demonstrates the existence of free will? Becasue I have a logical argument to refute its existence:

            1. We have no evidence whatsoever of any event being its own cause. Sure, some quantum phenomena appear to be uncaused, but that’s nor the same as being their own cause.

            2. Free will implies that our decisions are caused by our decisions. That’s incoherent, circular and downright silly.

            Now, rebut this argument.

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

          I already told people that if I was a meat robot, I wouldn’t argue, i would just say, “That does not compute” over and over.

          • Piero
            Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

            You have a very poor concept of meat robots. Maybe you watched too many episodes of “Lost in Space”, and cannot discard the notion of a robot as an arm-waving microwave oven.

            I’d recommend you to read “Non Serviam,” a short story by Stanislaw Lem. It would help you a lot to see more clearly the issues involved.

      • Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

        See? That’s exactly what I mean. I just got shite from Jerry Coyne(not really, he just informed me via e-mail) for making comments that are too long, more like essays, and I clearly delineated my position and understanding of what goes on in the brain, and I link to neurologists that clearly submit to pure physicalism, all the while stating that they, along with me, and many others here, argue that we have free-will, or no where near the evidence to disprove it.

        So where do you get off stating matter of factly that our(physicalists) reasons automatically lead to the conclusion that there is no free will?

        You’re whole opinion is founded on non-sequitor!
        You said, “everything you do is a function of a matrix of determinants coming from your heredity and your environmental inputs
        and
        This view makes me a non-free willist, whose message is that free will is an myth, the experience of free will is an illusion
        as if this is the only valid conclusion!

        It is not, and the fact that you state it that way is presumptuous.

        Everywhere else, I always agree with your thinking, so this puzzles me, much!

        I even showed you how I see things, and agreed that we could not have free will in the reductionist view!

        But the reductionist view does not, nor can not, explain our minds, therefore it is insufficient to warrant a conclusion one way or the other!

        Saying we have no free will is unjustified, and I do not see one thing wrong with my logic here.

        You are the one that says our minds are illusory in nature. WTF is ‘illusory’ supposed to mean? Our minds are real things, I am the one that is a physicalist, you are an incompatablist by saying there are two phenomena here, one real, and one ‘illusory’, or do you claim that our minds don’t exist??

        • Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

          incompatablist
          dualist.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

            I think you need to look up the definition of incompatibilist. It means the belief that free will and determinism are incompatible.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      tushcloots:

      2 : the ability to make choices that are not controlled by fate or God

      Doesn’t this definition kind of shoot yourself in the foot?

      What is the traditional meaning of fate? Doesn’t it mean that people are pre-destined, and have no choice, but what will happen is destined to happen?

      And so being “not controlled by fate” sounds a lot to me like libertarian free will. And the importance of libertarian free will has always been so that people had the absolute responsibility when they chose God or Satan. The idea for the common person has always been (except among academic philosophers) about the choice between good or evil, and the whole idea of religious judgement depended upon the person having absolute freedom to choose with no restraint or coercion or pre-determination.

      The reason it has always been this way among the majority of people is because the illusion of libertarian free will that our brain creates is so powerful and persuasive. It’s very hard for someone to believe an alternate theory, unless they think God is directing everything. And the illusion that we have a soul is an obvious one as well based on witnessing death.
      The distinction between an animated being and a lifeless pile of flesh is stark, and would lead anyone without detailed biological and scientific knowledge to conclude that some important force has left the body.

      These illusions are what forms the idea of free will for most people, and it’s as natural as believing that the earth is flat. It requires some learning and deep thought to overcome the illusions, more than most people have.

      I suppose to truly answer this we’d need to go back to philosophers and theologians of the last couple of millennia. What do Augustine and Aquinas say about it? Who was the first philosopher to discuss an alternate concept of free will?

      And there needs to be a questionnaire of the average person on the street. Because I would be very surprised if you could find more than 5% of the population who would recognize a definition of free will that was not libertarian free will. It is based on the idea that our choices are made by our soul, and that the fate of our soul after death rests upon the responsibility we take for those choices. The majority of people would not ever have considered the question of whether something physical in their brain “caused” their choice rather then “they” deciding it “for themselves”.

      • Steve
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        Right, right & right!

  30. Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Did all you hard deterministis reducio ad absurio reductionists read this above, the one I took seconds to find, one of many of the same type and authority?

    Your so called claim that us free-willists have no proof?

    Read and weep, mofo.errssssssss:
    Abstract

    The question whether human beings have free will has been debated by philosophers and theologians for thousands of years. More recently, neuroscientists have applied novel concepts and tools in neuroscience to address this question. We submit that human beings do have free will and the physiological substrate for its exercise is contained within neural networks. We discuss the potential neurobiology of free will by exploring volitionally initiated motor activity and the behavioural-response to a stimulus-response paradigm. We also submit that the exercise of free will can be affected in patients with the certain neurological disorders such as the behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia. Clinicopathological correlation in patients with this disorder provides an opportunity to further elucidate the neural substrate for this fundamental human attribute. We also discuss the clinical correlates of the loss of free will in this population, which is a source of significant distress to patients, significant others and care givers.

    Volitionally initiated motor activity..

    What have I been saying for three weeks?
    Answer: That our minds, our thoughts, are part of the process, physically.

    We discuss the potential neurobiology of free will by exploring volitionally initiated motor activity and the behavioural-response to a stimulus-response paradigm. We also submit that the exercise of free will can be affected in patients with the certain neurological disorders such as the behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia. Clinicopathological correlation in patients with this disorder provides an opportunity to further elucidate the neural substrate for this fundamental human attribute.

    • Piero
      Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

      A mountain of jargon, a molehill of evidence. What is “volition”? It’s not defined, of course, because the replacement of free will by “volition” is a bare-faced attempt to hide their circular reasoning. Nor is a reasonable mechanism suggested for “volition” (whatever that means) to be able to initiate motor activity.

      This is an appallingly bad article. Checking the firing of some neurons before motor activity begins has nothing at all to do with free will. Where was it published? In the “Annals of Brainfarts”?

      • Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

        I said thoughts cause other thoughts.
        How the ef you think I said anything like #2, I have no idea. One down.
        Our thoughts, like deciding to plan a trip to the movies, leads to a decision about which movie to attend. The second thought process, would not arise independently of the first.

        Tushcloots 1, Piero 0

        You, nor anyone, has rebutted my argument.
        You cannot explain the nature of qualia.

        Rebut this argument.

        Tushcloots 2, Piero, 0

        Oh, don’t forget Piero suddenly refraining from name calling and mind reading.

        Tushcloots 3, Piero 0.

        Almost forgot:
        “Becasue I have a logical argument to refute its existence”
        Peter says
        a tiny amount of actual data trumps all the logic in the world. Logic is a great tool, but it’s only useful to the extent that it’s applied to reality.

        jamessweet says
        Leaving aside the dishonest of it, even taken at face value I do not entirely agree with this statement. Logical arguments are better than emotional arguments, of course, but empirical arguments are even better. In fact, if one makes an apparently sound logical argument that contradicts empirical observation, one can be fairly certain there is an as-yet-uncovered flaw in the logical argument

        Where is the logic that leads to the conclusion: therefore, qualia?

        Tushcloots et al 4, Piero 0

        Are you capable of making the presence of our minds, logical, Piero?
        Because, they are real. That is empirical.

        em·pir·i·cal
        [em-pir-i-kuhl] Show IPA
        adjective
        1.
        derived from or guided by experience or experiment.
        2.
        depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory, especially as in medicine.
        3.
        provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.

        Not one experiment has ever disproved free will. Never.

        Tushcloots et al >4, Piero <0

        Even my insults are better than yours
        Tushcloots et al +1

        You have a very poor concept of meat robots. Maybe you watched too many episodes of “Lost in Space”, and cannot discard the notion of a robot as an arm-waving microwave oven.

        See? You don’t even get my sarcasm, LMAO!
        I was showing the absurdity of claiming our actions are so strictly determined as to make us meat robots, a term coined by non-free willists.

        vo·li·tion
        [voh-lish-uhn, vuh-] Show IPA
        noun
        1.
        the act of willing, choosing, or resolving; exercise of willing: She left of her own volition.
        2.
        a choice or decision made by the will.
        3.
        the power of willing; will.

        I swear, half of you mouth farts mustn’t know how to use a dictionary.

        This is an appallingly bad article. Checking the firing of some neurons before motor activity begins has nothing at all to do with free will. Where was it published? In the “Annals of Brainfarts”?

        Uh, yeah, Libet.
        It is a research ‘paper’, not an ‘article’, by neurologists at the Mayo Clinic.
        It is on the site PubMed, which clearly links to the journal Mens Sana Monographs:

        MSM is an open access peer reviewed journal [ISSN 0973-1229; eISSN 1994-4014] whose every volume is also published as a book, with a separate ISBN number. All its articles are full text free access at http://www.msmonographs.org . It has an international scope of authorship and readership.

        Any other stupid questions? Oh, excuse me, questions aren’t stupid.

        Tushcloots: ad infinitum, Piero: dull

        • Piero
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

          Er… yes, of course. Whatever.

      • Sigmund
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

        Their definition of free will is illustrated by an example of Peter and Paul walking across a bridge. If Peter pushes Paul over the edge then that was free will.
        If the wind pushes Paul over the edge then that was not free will.
        ??
        They seem to be mixing up “free will” with the question of volition – making a conscious decision to do something (not whether the physical state of the universe at that moment in time makes that decision inevitable.)

  31. John Weiss
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    “Love” is a real phenomenon, too, but will, I think, ultimately be explained by the effects of chemicals on our brain.

    No doubt. However, let me tell you how I met my wife.

    In a crowded room, really crowded, our eyes met. Both of us, as an aside, had had not-so-great experiences with marriage/partnership relations: none of them lasted. We both thought that we were through with that shit.

    Six weeks later, we ran off to Mexico to spend a blissful couple of weeks. That was thirty years ago.

    So if the effect of ‘true’ love is brain chemistry, explain me this: there were dozens of folk between us. No words were spoken. The air was, of course, filled with pheromones (everyone there was young and juicy).

    So, as a science sorta guy, I cannot explain this. Neither can she who also is a science sorta gal.

    Do you suppose that this was a case of ‘those lips, those eyes’?

    I’d like to think that scientific thinking could explain everything. Maybe not.

    • Piero
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:41 am | Permalink

      You are confusing science with our capacity to predict events. A meteorologist can predict that tomorrow winds will reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. He cannot predict the exact movement of every single blade of grass in my lawn.

      That we are as yet incapable of explaining what triggers mutual sexual attraction does not mean it is impossible to analyze scientifically. Wait a couple of decades, and I’m fairly confident that couple-matching software will be successfully matching couples with a 70% success rate or higher. Of course, it will be more sophisticated than current ones: for a start, it should take into account variables such as the frequency of blinking, the pitch of your voice, the chemical composition of your sweat, the distance between your pupils, your IQ, how much you care about your prospective partner’s IQ, etc.

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

        I think you have hit upon the problem underlying this whole dispute. People want to argue about whether or not a something is an emergent property or an epi-phenomenon without resolving whether or not they think emergent properties even exist. It seems many do not. Skipping that point does not allow an adequate understanding of the opposing viewpoint and the discussion goes nowhere.

  32. Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    Jerry writes:

    “I don’t agree that every attempt to redefine ‘free will’ in the ‘nonreligious’ sense is meant to preserve some sense of autonomy in humans, but I don’t think that characterization is far off.”

    When we say in ordinary discourse that I did it of my own free will, of my own volition, then we’re adverting to a perfectly real sort of autonomy: we’re acting on the basis of our own desires instead of being coerced or compelled by other agents or factors beyond our control. So when you point out that we don’t have contra-causal freedom (an extremely important thing to do, thanks!), we shouldn’t misinterpret this to mean that we don’t act autonomously, at least a good deal of the time. See Bruce Waller’s book The Natural Selection of Autonomy, reviewed at http://www.naturalism.org/reviews.htm#Waller

    • Steve
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Tom,

      What should we do with the fact that our own desires ultimately are compelled by factors beyond our control? (Namely the matrix of our causal determinants.)

      Your post would seem to confirm just what Jerry is getting at. (Your post serves primarily to try to preserve some sense of autonomy in humans.)

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        I agree that our desires and the rest of who we are are ultimately caused by factors beyond our control, but that doesn’t obviate or render unreal the control *we* exert as identifiable agents on our own behalf. That we act on our own behalf, on the basis of our own desires, using our own internal behavior control resources, counts as a robust, naturalized form of autonomy.

        It seems to me that Jerry routinely ignores this autonomy when he says, following Sam Harris, that we’re mere puppets driven by physical laws (see for instance his USA Today piece on free will). It’s important that people understand we’re not puppets, hence my frequently reiterated reminder concerning our autonomy. In doing this, I’m not recommending that we use the term free will in the way compatibilists use it.

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

          Tom,

          I have not read Waller’s new book, but I am sure it is good, and I certainly recommend his other books.

          But Waller in his other books, or at least in Freedom without Responsibility, did use “free will” in the compatibilist sense and had it closely linked to many of his points on “autonomy.” I am not saying that those points are entirely wrong, that there is a freedom (from constraint) worth wanting, so to speak, but I think even Waller was a little-washy on clearing up the connotations of “free will,” namely by re-framing and then re-using it, in a way that will ultimately be problematic.

          Mainly because the key issue here is overcoming our bare phenomenology of choosing (the “I” constantly choosing without perceiving a great deal of determinants or even the lack of perception that my brain is involved and not just my “thoughts”/mind, unless hooked up to fMRI); which is why there is such problematics about re-using the term “free will” in the first place. But it is also why being uncritical and uncareful in our uses of the terms “choice” and “autonomy” are going to run into similar problems as well; as I think it does for Waller.

        • Lyndon
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          I also wanted to say that I felt that Waller made a key mistake in that when humans did something that they wished to do (autonomously) so to speak and it was benign or socially beneficial, then Waller would smile and say we should protect the value of those autonomous choices at all costs.

          When an individual did something wrong but also “autonomously,” then Waller would launch into and dissect all of the causes underlying the behavior. That is, he would strip that action from the ignorance of its causes, highlighting the genetic or environmental causes (and thus stripping it of its “freedom,” so to speak). Which is how he removes “responsibility” from the world, which is noble.

          For behaviors that the agent was proud of and that did not negatively affect others, he allowed the gloriousness of the autonomy to stand and simply did not dissect why the agent made those choices, and that feels like a bit sleight-handed to me.

          He would also, if I remember correctly, separate out bad choices with some being more directly influenced from genes and environment, whereas others were more deeply reasoned and had more “agency” behind them, though even with these he still maintained they were not “free” in the desert-entailing way.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted February 9, 2012 at 1:01 am | Permalink

          I think the idea that renders humans as puppets most forcefully, if not obviously, is dualism. The body is a puppet to a parasitic “human soul”.

          If you take away the soul, we really are an autonomous biological life form that now receives full credit for it’s magnificent capabilities.

          To claim that “free will”, which used to refer to the choices of the parasitic soul, now simply means that the subjects being referred to aren’t handcuffed to their chairs isn’t really very important or meaningful. Not handcuffed to the chair is our default position, it is the natural assumption when thinking about people.

          So why cling to words that once glorified an imaginary parasite in order to indicate explicitly the common default state of human existence? Any person you choose to talk to will know they aren’t handcuffed to the chair, so why attach an old and confusing label to this?

          I still can’t avoid my suspicions, even if compatibilists won’t admit it, that the unspoken reason for clinging to and identifying one’s self and work and ideas to the phrase “free-will” is because it enables a kind of comfort and an avoidance of hurt feelings and an evasion of potential conflict with the layman.

          There are obviously important ethical considerations resulting from the realization that we don’t have libertarian free-will, and these must be debated and addressed for a long time, and many of these lessons may permeate and reform our methods of educating people and dealing with criminals.

          But pretending that determinism doesn’t really necessitate any break with human cultural traditions simply because we can find a way to rationalize using the incantation “free-will” while maintaining scientific credibility is unnecessary.

          Compatibilists have made good and useful arguments that help reconcile determinism with important human ethical concerns. But there is no good reason I can see to maintain the divide between compatibilism and incompatibilism based on an attachment to the words “free-will”.

          The only real controversy is determinists vs non-determinists.

  33. Kharamatha
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Aha! This is finally going in the direction I want.

    Separate those freedoms and wills! Woo!

  34. PB
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    One thing that bothers me most of Jerry’s position is his statement that since material world is deterministic, and our brain definitely part of material world, then our brain must be deterministic.

    How about weather systems, stock market movements, and all other complexity issues? All are definitely deterministic in its components, but what about the system? Is it deterministic? Only in philosophical way.

    So, Jerry statements, while not-wrong (as agreed by all non-theistic non-dualist people in here) is clearly lacking, and unconvincing.
    There is something much more in complex system than just ‘either you’re deterministic or dualist’ — which for me is a bit shallow, and chopra-like.

    The big question is then, if not Jerry’s then what? Yea, there may be no hard free-will like what dualist says (please stop accusing those who are not coynist as dualist), but there is a kind-of-will, not free but also non-deterministic just like the weather system phenomena, an emergent product of the complexity of brain world.

    What to call this not-free-will?
    NQF? not-quite-free?

    • Steve
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      PB,

      Are you suggesting that weather functions via a free will? (Or what you want to call NQF not-quite-free?) Weather has a not-quite-free will, is your view of things?

      How about weather has no freedom what so ever?

    • Steve
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      PB,

      To be fair, I’d say the non-free willists have almost pleaded with those who have postulated a non-dualistic contra-causal free will to tell just how this thing they imagine imbues the will with freedom. Also, to be fair, some who are not “coynist” (as you say) are indeed dualists.

  35. PB
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    The distinction is that these (most likely there are more than one) emergent-phenom agencies in our deterministic brain – which are not under our conscious self (there might be a jungle of evolutionary field there inside our brain).

    Probably these agencies (plus direct perception from outside / our senses) are competing each other for a temporary rein or majority vote for our hardware brain, probably the winner(s) have a very short term in office anyway, a few mili seconds.

    And our Self recognizes these result quite late – as measured in the fMRI tests), in the same way a house-speaker got a feel of the floor later.

    These are not free – dualist type free – will, but it is not ‘determinisitic because the physical world is deterministic’. It might be another level of darwinian evolutionary struggles for those groups of neurons measured in micro-mili seconds.

  36. Kevin
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Sigh….

    The traditional view of “free will” is that some non-physical “I” decides freely of any constraint or limitation.

    Sorry, no. That’s not the definition of free will. From there, only mischief occurs.

    The entire rest of this post is based on that faulty dualistic premise.

    Sorry I’m late to this party, but I couldn’t let that go uncommented upon.

    Free will operates within the constraints of physics, chemistry, biology, neurobiology, culture, the time-space continuum, and on and on. Free will is nothing more than nothing less than the ability of a human being to make a decision that he/she might not make again given the exact same set of circumstances.

    I went to a restaurant, with the intention to have the shrimp. I decided to have the prime rib sandwich instead. Free will.

    I got into a heated argument with a perfect stranger, which if faced with the same circumstances, I would have merely sighed and moved on. Free will (if only to demonstrate that free will does not absolve one of emotional responses and decisions that one later regrets).

    The fact that there is a lag time between the subconscious decision-making process and the conscious awareness of the decision does not make the neurobiology spooky or dualistic; nor does it mean that we are destined to follow one narrow path until our light blinks out. It means that the reporting mechanism of our brain (which is making the decision — it’s not “other”, it’s “me”) has of necessity a lag time. First decision, then report. That doesn’t mean the decision was made in a deterministic manner. It means the self-reporting of the decision from the sub-conscious to the consciousness was made in a temporally straight-line.

    Honestly, this talk of determinism is wearisome.

    • Steve
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Free will is nothing more than nothing less than the ability of a human being to make a decision that he/she might not make again given the exact same set of circumstances.

      Thanks, Kevin… we’ve been told by a few compatibilists posting here that people like you don’t exist… and that there is really no need to address your views. They say that it’s not true that your view of free will is not the common view of free will.

      That doesn’t mean the decision was made in a deterministic manner.

      You tell ‘em, Kevin.

    • Another Matt
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Free will is nothing more than nothing less than the ability of a human being to make a decision that he/she might not make again given the exact same set of circumstances.

      This is it – the whole argument in one sentence. Your phrase “exact same set of circumstances” does not actually mean that, because by even invoking a “next time” and “last time” there is enough difference between the two sets of circumstances that they will never be “exactly the same.” But they can be sufficiently similar enough that we can generalize and learn, and do different things in similar enough circumstances – this is the compatibilist argument.

      I play a game of chess today and find we have played to exactly the same board as a match I lost in 2007 against a different opponent, but “could” have won had I played a different move. These circumstances are “exactly the same” with regard to the chess board and the presence of the physical process called “I.” But a huge section of the circumstances is totally different: the contents of “I” have changed – and most relevantly I have analyzed this board before; I have a different opponent; a different president is in power; I ate a banana instead of an orange as part of my balanced breakfast, etc. Some of these differences are more relevant to the matter at hand (viz. “what move will I play?”) than others. All of this still works in a deterministic universe, but it is meaningful to talk about the differences in “choice” now vs. 2007 – what could I do differently this time? “Could” can be relative both to the deterministic background, and to the list of things that are the same between then and now, like the static rules of chess; in the first sense it’s a kind of falsehood, but in the second sense it carries a great deal of meaning as a shorthand.

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      “That doesn’t mean the decision was made in a deterministic manner. [...] Honestly, this talk of determinism is wearisome.”

      So what is it then if not deterministic?

  37. Dan L.
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    As I mentioned in a comment upthread, the compatibilist/incompatibilist disagreement seems to me to go something like this:

    acaloricist: “I don’t believe the word ‘caloric’ described an actual substance. There is no evidence for such a substance and I think we need to entertain new explanations for a theory of heat.”

    caloric compatibilist: “Acaloricists are so stupid. They refuse to believe in the the phenomenon of heat just because we haven’t identified caloric yet.”

    Compatibilists, just because we suspect the phrase “free will” is a reified fiction and probably more misleading than helpful does not mean we deny that human beings make “choices” or that they can “will” themselves, for example, to hold their hands in uncomfortably cold water (a mainstay of cognitive science experiments on will). Perhaps we just want to entertain more varied and more unorthodox explanations than that there is one capacity that explains all these things and that we can call that thing “free will.”

    Consider the notion that the cluster of capacities we include under the umbrella of “free will” is actually the result of several different systems interacting in complex ways, similar to how heat is actually a statistical average of the uncoordinated motion of trillions of molecules. In this case, looking for one thing that we can then redefine “free will” to mean is actually a pretty bad strategy. It won’t ever get us a useful explanation any more than “caloric” did.

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Exactly, and it is the incompatibilists that insist that there can only be this one essential thing — metaphysical freedom to act against determinism — that can be “free will.”

      I really wish the incompatibilists would spend 20 minutes reading or listening to Dennett so that they could disabuse themselves of misunderstandings of what compatibilism is instead of endlessly rehearsing their misconceptions on this thread.

      • Dan L.
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        Exactly, and it is the incompatibilists that insist that there can only be this one essential thing — metaphysical freedom to act against determinism — that can be “free will.”

        Dude, did you even read what I wrote? I’ve listened to Dennett, I’ve read Dennett, and I still just don’t think “free will” is a useful term or concept. Maybe there is one thing that is “free will,” maybe there isn’t, but the phrase “free will” isn’t some magical incantation that automatically clarifies anything. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite.

        Why is this such a big deal? Why is it not enough for people to consider compatibilist arguments, they also have to sign on to the semantics of compatibilism? Why can’t you guys let people use language they feel comfortable using?

        • Steve
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

          It seems as if from the get-go compatibilists were of the point-of-view that determinism was compatible with libertarian free will. So from square one they started off by saying that free will exists in an otherwise deterministic universe.

          As of late they are trying to achieve this alchemy by redefining what “free will” means. No holds bared when it comes to the mental gymnastics required of others to adopt their view.

          • Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

            “It seems as if from the get-go compatibilists were of the point-of-view that determinism was compatible with libertarian free will”

            That is wrong. Seriously, does your computer not have wikipedia?

          • Peter
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

            Hrm, I know that Steve has been corrected many many many times, and so he must know that compatibilists reject libertarian free will, and in fact don’t think there’s anything particularly worth wanting about libertarian free will. But he still repeats this absurd claim.

    • Peter
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      Erm, have you been following this discussion long? Jerry DOES EXPLICITLY DENY THAT WE MAKE CHOICES! He, at least, attaches much more significance to the specific mechanism of contra-causality than compatibilists think it deserves. The compatibilists’ main argument is that contra-causality is not important, and isn’t useful for propping up anything worth valuing, so that giving it up doesn’t have much to do with how we live our lives, or punish people, or etc. That’s not a mere semantic disagreement.

      If semantics really is all that’s at stake, then wow, what huge waste of everyone’s time.

      • Dan L.
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        Jerry DOES EXPLICITLY DENY THAT WE MAKE CHOICES!

        That’s weird, because on almost every free will post he’s done I’ve seen him admit that we make choices. So apparently I have a different interpretation than you do.

        So far the only thing I’ve actually been trying to interject into the conversation is: “Compatibilists, you can stop calling incompatibilists stupid now. Not everyone likes your pet word and it’s not really a big deal.”

        • Peter
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          To him, they aren’t “real” choices. We only appear to make choices. He attaches quite a bit of significance to the distinction. He’s not shy about it. It is weird that you haven’t noticed it.

          • Dan L.
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

            It depends on what you mean by “choices.” When Jerry adopts that phrasing I take it to mean “contra-causal choices” which both incompatibilists and compatibilists agree don’t exist. It’s very clear from context when he’s using the word in this sense, or at least it is clear in my opinion.

            This is a big part of the problem; compatibilists aren’t clear what they mean by “choices” so it’s pretty much impossible for incompatibilists to avoid falling into one of their snares. “Oh, oh, you said choice! You said choice! You admit there’s free will after all!”

            I don’t see how this isn’t just a lame game of “gotcha” where you intentionally misinterpret someone’s position to make the person look like an idiot instead of making the honest effort to understand what that person is trying to say.

            • Dan L.
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

              If you insist that the word “choice” is crucial here and that we need to interpret it naively as a basic concept, I’m going to ask that you solve this little riddle for me:

              I spend most of my time breathing. While I’m doing so am I continually choosing not to hold my breath? Intermittently choosing not to hold my breath? Simply not choosing to hold my breath? Is not choosing a type of choice as Neil Pert suggested it might be?

              The ontology of “choice” is rather hopelessly muddled because like pretty much every word in every natural language it was adopted and pressed into common usage before we had any framework to help us understand what it was being used to signify. Once again, you may just need to accept that English is not ideally suited to metaphysical analysis and as a result you might have to actually try to understand what other people are talking about instead of insisting that everyone adopt your personal semantics.

              • Another Matt
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

                I spend most of my time breathing. While I’m doing so am I continually choosing not to hold my breath? Intermittently choosing not to hold my breath? Simply not choosing to hold my breath?

                How far are you willing to extend what “I” means in this? Does “I” include your brainstem and lungs in the first sentence but not in the subsequent ones?

              • Dan L.
                Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

                Why would you assume that? The first sentence is a (true, I can assure you) statement and the rest are questions about how the word “choice” applies to that statement.

                For me, “I” includes every part of the body (and mind) except in those cases where neural damage has caused some kind of dissociation from particularly body parts or mental functions (yes, this happens).

            • Peter
              Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

              Of course it’s clear when Jerry is talking about “contra-causal” choice: he describes it as “real” choice. You don’t really need context to decipher it, just passing familiarity with that idiom of his.

              Anyway, “making an honest effort” to understand someone does not mean twisting what someone is clearly saying into a form that you most agree with. Jerry really, really does think that the types of choices we get to make are impoverished compared to what they could be, or what we’ve always imagined them to be, if only they had that contra-causal mechanism behind them.

              And hey, speaking of misrepresenting, I’m pretty sure I was clear, but brief, when I said what my beef with Jerry’s position is, and I said for my part, it’s nothing to do with semantics. So I get accused of being hung up on semantics and word choice. Whoopee!

              • Dan L.
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

                Anyway, “making an honest effort” to understand someone does not mean twisting what someone is clearly saying into a form that you most agree with. Jerry really, really does think that the types of choices we get to make are impoverished compared to what they could be, or what we’ve always imagined them to be, if only they had that contra-causal mechanism behind them.

                Right. The semantics of what we mean by “choice.” Maybe you were some kind of Spock-like super-logical baby that believed in determinism since you learned the word “mama” but most of us grew up in a cultural environment where your characterization of Jerry’s characterization of choice is actually what people think “choice” is.

                Your word “impoverished” is obviously an attempt to throw a hint of emotional affect into the argument and it’s pretty infuriating. It’s obviously a hook for the “free will worth wanting” construct — which is ironically the thing that makes the compatibilists’ redefinition game completely transparent.

                Compatibilists are the one redefining the words “choice” and “free will.” Sorry to be the one to break the news to you.

              • Peter
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

                Am I Spock-like or unfairly emotional?
                Anyway, I didn’t bring emotion or values into this: way back in (as I recall) Jerry’s first free will post, he described the realization that there is no libertarian free will as troubling, and sort of said he’d be paralyzed if he let himself take the realization too seriously. Or something to that effect. And he insists contra-causality (or the lack thereof) has important implications for how humanely we treat criminals, for instance. And he’s been accusing compatibilists of desperately clinging to fake free will, like Linus to his blanket. But maybe I’m not making an honest enough effort to understand what he really means.

                Also, I seriously doubt that people’s everyday concept of “choice” is very tightly bound up in obscure metaphysical notions of how physically determined the universe is. Sure, plenty of religious people really are concerned about libertarian choice in some context, but the libertarian part of that isn’t important to them outside of theology.

  38. Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    The camps as I see them in the various comments. For the purposes of this I’m assuming determinism where it is claimed. Indeterminism, or even non-causality altogether, has additional issues that only make this more complicated.

    There may be some overlap.

    1) Dualists:
    – Let’s say no more.

    2) Incompatibilist free-willies:
    – There is free-will, and it’s incompatible with determinism, but…
    – There’s no evidence of determinism (or some other denial of it).
    – There is evidence of free-will (e.g. introspection)
    – Therefore determinism is not true
    This camp seems to include atheist libertarian free-willies and others. Some, such as Raymond Tallis, seem to let the fear of loss of free-will persuade them we actually have it. Some, like Bill Klemm, seem to have been persuaded by their religious beliefs.

    3) Compatibilist free-willies
    – There is free-will, and it’s compatible with determinism.
    – There is determinism
    This camp seems to want to claim “I could have done otherwise”. They may also argue from ‘responsibility’, and fear the moral consequences of not having free-will. I’m not really sure why

    4) Compatibilist non-free-willies
    – There is determinism
    – There is no free-will really
    – What we call free-will is compatible with determinism.
    This camp doesn’t seem to explain what the will is ‘free’ from, and makes noises that sound so close to (3) with regard to ‘choice’, ‘autonomy’ etc., but declare ‘could have done otherwise’ only applies in similar but actually different situations.

    5) Incompatibilist non-free-willies
    – There is determinism (everything is caused)
    – There is no free-will really
    – We have the illusion that we have free-will
    – We can’t help, as humans, think in terms of free-will
    – We can still acknowledge we don’t have it and that it is an illusion.
    I include myself in this camp.
    We feel we have free-will, maybe because evolution has determined we have the illusion, and maybe because it’s an efficient way of looking at a deterministic world when you can’t actually do any determination type stuff beyond some localised error prone limits. This doesn’t stop us acknowledging the illusion.

    If you read this fully you will see these variants.

    Only (5) is claiming outright that free-will is an illusion. Other camps seem to be trying to rescue free-will to some degree or other, for some reason.

    Personally I can see how (2) and (3) can be pseudo-dualists – though with (2) I’m not sure how they avoid dualism, or how they account for the will being ‘free’. I’m not sure what to think about (4). Perhaps some self-labelled (4) can explain what I’m missing and why you don’t see free-will as an illusion as expressed in (5).

    Any other observations aimed at clarification would be appreciated.

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      #3 is not compatibilism. I think I skip most of these comments, seem like confused dualists to me.

      #4. is compatibilism. How it is “free” has been described in vast detail by, among others, Dennett. It has to do with the constraints, conditions, and coercion that affected the outcome of a decision. A bird in a cage is not free, a bird in a tree is. This is not illusory, this is relatively free-ness according to the context. “Degrees of freedom” in a statistical model maybe is a good analogy.

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        “Some compatibilists have argued against the first premise of the Consequence Argument by attempting to show that a person can act in such a way that the past would be different.”

        From http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/

        That sounds like #3 to me.

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        “A bird in a cage is not free, a bird in a tree is.”

        Free in a trivial sense in that the constraints on the bird in the tree are less than on a bird in a cage. This does not address free-will as a function of the brain. That’s what free-will debate is about, not using other notions of the extent of freedom of motion.

        • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

          I think you are mistaken to try to locate free will as “a function of the brain.” Free will (in the compatibilist sense) is about the relative constraints on the ability to make choices (which is a function of the brain).

          In that sense, compatibilist free will is indeed “trivial.” Which I will take over “magical” any day. It is not a function or property, it is about the freedom from constraint available to a rational agent.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted February 7, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

            I think you are mistaken to try to locate free will as “a function of the brain.”

            Incompatibilists fully agree with this remark.

            That is why we insist that free-will is an illusion. Free-will as a function of the brain is the traditional theological meaning. Theologically free-will is a matter of conscience, soul, and heart, what kind of person you are, which determines how sinful you are and whether you can find favor with God.

            The present day usage of “free-will” among compatibilists would not be recognized by Christian theologians except as a minor obvious and inconsequential meaning. They would say “Duh, of course you can’t go outside if you are locked up in jail. Are you an idiot? What we are concerned about is the internal choices you make, your conscience, your soul.”

            And this theological jetsam is what I believe we need to jettison. And we largely have done so in terms of how incompatibilists and compatibilists think, and what they mean when they talk. But the usage of the phrase “free will”, whether intentionally or not, holds onto the last string of that dangling theological legacy, and we should really simply let go of it so it can recede into history.

    • Peter
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      “This camp doesn’t seem to explain what the will is ‘free’ from”

      Is it that mysterious? The plain fact is that everyone uses the word “free”* in several ways all the time, even in rigorous contexts like science, and never, ever, do they mean “free from all physical causes,” or whatever. But then a discussion of “free-will” starts up, and half the people in the discussion claim to be confused.

      *same goes for “can,” “could,” “ought,” “possible,” and so on

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Yes, there is a lot of confusion. Some confuse the debate about free-will with the debate about the constraints of motion. Some are confused about the notion of “could have done otherwise” with regard to determinism, thinking them compatible.

        • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          I think you mean me: I am not confused about constraint in motion vs. free will. I am trying to demonstrate that “free” is always a context dependent term, and need not have the metaphysical meaning that incompatibilists pedantically insist upon.

          • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

            OK. Can you explain where you stand on “I could have done otherwise”?

            • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

              No, obviously not. I do not believe conscious thought is magical. That entire set of time-travelling / tape winding thought experiments has nothing to do with compatibilist definitions of free will, which take determinism as a given; these thought experiments inhabit only the imaginations of incompatibilists and dualists.

              • Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

                “That entire set of time-travelling / tape winding thought experiments has nothing to do with compatibilist definitions of free will”

                Try 5.1 here:

                http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/

                I don’t think you account for all compatibilists:
                “Some compatibilists have argued against the first premise of the Consequence Argument by attempting to show that a person can act in such a way that the past would be different.”

        • Peter
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

          Derp, this is so tedious. Obviously “could have done otherwise” is compatible with determinism, since otherwise “could have done otherwise” has never meant anything: all anyone could ever have done is what they actually did, and that’s just not an interesting thing to talk about. Every time we wonder about “could”, we are wondering about what we’d need to change to bring about an alternative result. If all that would need to change is some attitudes or a small bit of knowledge or trained impulses of some person in question, then we might reasonably, without confusion, say that indeed they could have done otherwise. If they could have done otherwise, if only they had a team of 500 experts and a $20,000,000 of specialized equipment at their disposal, then maybe they really couldn’t have done otherwise. This is not confusing, you are not confused, I call shenanigans, please stop it.

    • Another Matt
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      I’m a (4), and in one of my comments above I suggested that calling something an “illusion” is on some dangerous ground because it suggests the possibility of some “disillusioned” being with regard to all the other “illusions” that make up experience, like the smell of lilacs, the sound of a triad, etc. – some being that could experience these things “as they really are” and “without illusion.”

      It’s pointless because all these illusions are unavoidable, so we need language that sidesteps the “illusion” issue completely. I’m much more comfortable replacing “free-will is an illusion” with “free-will is a shorthand” – a shorthand for the kinds of behavior that can be described by analyzing levels of organization (which are also shorthand).

      You get nowhere by saying “the pain you feel isn’t ‘real’ pain – it’s just an illusion” because you’re implicitly positing a being that could in fact feel “real” pain, whatever that would mean. Instead, you need to explain, level by level, how matter is organized, what the physiological processes that carry out nociception are, and eventually what the brain-processes are – all of it predicated on physics, but with hierarchical levels of shorthand that make it cognitively possible for a human to understand.

      Then what makes the pain you feel “real” is its very instantiation in matter and energy – it’s “real” because it’s physical. Then we can discard the metaphysical notion of “real pain” (you know, the kind that doesn’t depend on unfeeling neurons) altogether as nonsense. We’re left with a very technical, but valid definition of pain that is a huge shorthand for billions of processes and maybe the history of its evolution, but nobody says we shouldn’t use the word “pain” anymore once we redefine it by tying it to the function of cells.

      I’m proposing we take the same approach with free will – discard the metaphysical “real free will” that accompanies your (4) and (5) altogether, and search for a technical account of it that ties it to our biology (as a complex shorthand for physics). You can see all of the comments above or Dennett’s talk to see what such a project might have to look like to get off the ground.

      Good gravy, sorry for the umpteenth long-ass post in the umpteenth long-ass free-will thread, everyone.

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        Exactly.

        But WHAT ABOUT TIME MACHINES????

        Just kidding.

      • Another Matt
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        The metaphysics of this is so ingrained – I’m imagining a (5) saying to a biologist, “that’s not a tendon really. It looks to you like a tendon but that’s just an illusion – it’s made of atoms, didn’t you know?” As though a “real” tendon would be made of “tendon-essence” all the way down.

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        “calling something an “illusion” is on some dangerous ground”

        If determinism is the case, and free-will is an illusion, is the fact that some consider it reason to deny it? Sounds like a poor reason.

        “It’s pointless because all these illusions are unavoidable…”

        If determinism is the case, and free-will is an illusion, and if it’s an unavoidable one, then by all means use it where convenient. But is that reason to deny it?

        “You get nowhere by saying “the pain you feel isn’t ‘real’ pain – it’s just an illusion”…”

        But neuroscience tells us that pain is caused by the relative frequency of action potentials. We don’t experience them directly. That doesn’t seem to be problem for people expressing the feeling of pain, and it’s very useful in research into pain. What’s the problem with sustaining two different models?

        I’ve never suggested we stop using the notion of free-will. I think we would find it very difficult to give it up. Why should that prevent me acknowledging it is an illusion?

        “search for a technical account of it that ties it to our biology”

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        This is a good point about the many illusions we experience.

        What distinguishes “free will” is our theological history. There never was a movement of several billion people claiming that the sound of a triad or the taste of coconut was the essential key to paradise when used according to an infallible instruction manual.

  39. Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Freedom is a term people have learned to hold in highest regard. Our ability to make self-determinations (in beliefs, actions and spoken word) is often seen as sacred. To have this taken away (which is exactly what happens when we recognize that every “free” choice is more accurately defined as a complex weighing of fixed factors and possible outcomes) it can feel like losing a romanticized, even cherished, ideal. But that’s all it is folks! Lets, instead, learn to enjoy what’s real.

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      “Freedom is a term people have learned to hold in highest regard. Our ability to make self-determinations”

      Sounds like you’re suing what you want to be the case in order to argue about what is the case.

  40. Callum James Hackett
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Thinking about all this once again, it seems that the analogy with love is a useful one, both in terms of underlying function and also the value we assign to these phenomena.

    Concerning love then, let’s first assume that it is wholly explicable in scientific terms. I don’t think that’s an assumption most of us would have a problem with. We certainly can’t describe it now, and the complexities of it might allow it to always evade accurate prediction, but it is essentially a phenomena completely rooted in our biology, and our biology is explicable scientifically. If you don’t make this assumption already, you’re not invited to the discussion!

    Next, how does this assumption affect our valuing of love? Knowing that it is explicable scientifically, do we therefore think it is not ‘real’? Do we therefore behave as though it is not important? Do we begin to ignore our instincts and inner drives because we are consciously aware that they are illusions fostered by our evolutionary history?

    Of course not. We accept that love is not mysterious, but we take full advantage of the way it makes us feel anyway, and we do not go about our lives treating it coldly and methodically at every turn. For all worldly intents and purposes, love is *not* an illusion, except when we’re in the lab and want to speak accurately avoiding metaphor.

    So can we apply this to free will? I think so. I think our sense of choice, like love, is an illusion created via a complex interaction of many facets of our biology that we cannot (yet?) explain. But, accepting this, are we to therefore begin behaving as though we have no control of ourselves? Are we to abdicate responsibility for our actions? Are we to hereby behave as though free will is not ‘real’?

    Of course not. For all worldly intents and purposes – for all of our human experience and our navigation of our lives and the world – free will is *not* an illusion, EXCEPT when we’re in the lab and want to speak accurately avoiding metaphor.

    • Lyndon
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      I treat love coldly. I do not believe we should be naive to how our social structures, institutions, and behaviors are being tugged by such things. Though you were probably talking about “love” between two consenting adults, that is trickier but I think this probably holds there as well, but my concept of “love” explores the simple parent-child emotion:

      Let’s say two parents have a five year old child that is naturally theirs and they adopt a 4 year old that is not related to them at all. According to our evolutionary theories these parents will feel a natural attachment to their own child (“love”) and less towards the other. But as moral beings, I believe such parents have the duty to say, “Look, this child deserves to be raised as well as any other child, and to feel as loved as any other child; and there may be internal mechanisms that will encourage us not to do so. We must recognize how such emotions of “love” will fit into our parenting and do the best to overcome them.”

      In that sense, evolutionary psychology is a tool for us to wield in shaping the world around us (by helping to understand our emotional structures) and not post hoc justification for the world we find.

      Coming to terms with what such emotions as “love” are, gives us more control of behaviors and institutions and selves; it helps us be more reflective of our selves, and yes does de-romanticize things to a certain extent.

      That does not mean we should not enjoy such emotions and seek them out or re-create them where possible, but I do think we can do so more responsibly to society.

      • Callum James Hackett
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think this is an adequate approach because of the fundamental problem that you equate love (at least in the context of a family) with differing degrees of kin selection.

        The illusion of love is in fact far more complex than that, and involves gene replication desires as well as many other complex psychological factors, all of which would come into play whether we are aware of the illusion or not.

        This is actually the fault of evolutionary psychology. It doesn’t highlight our evolutionary predispositions so that we can subvert them; it obfuscates our actual evolutionary predispositions, presenting an over-simplified version of reality based on a poor understanding of evolution.

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure there is any claim by anyone suggestion free-will is an illusion under determinism that we suddenly stop using it?

      “For all worldly intents and purposes – for all of our human experience and our navigation of our lives and the world – free will is *not* an illusion, EXCEPT when we’re in the lab and want to speak accurately avoiding metaphor.”

      Precisely. This is why I don’t have a problem with the argument that if determinism holds then free-will is an illusion. Acknowledging it as an illusion is not a proclamation that we stop thinking in the illusion. I wouldn’t know how to.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        We can’t prevent ourselves from experiencing the illusion of free will when we make choices.

        But we should stop uttering the words “free will” unless we are talking about theological history, just as now we only talk about elan vital as a historical concept.

        We still have “free” (not externally coerced) and “will” (our internal deterministic volition).

        • Asura
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          Exactly!

          It’s silly to think you can’t say “free throws” in basketball if you’re not a compatibalist.

        • Kharamatha
          Posted February 7, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

          And even though we have both “ice-cream” and “chocolate-chip”, not all wafer cones are filled with “chocolate-chip ice-cream”.

      • Callum James Hackett
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        But if they’re arguing that free will doesn’t exist, then surely they’re saying that there’s nothing about you that you would have to stop using. ;)

        Indeed, whether it’s an illusion or not doesn’t really matter when we’re talking practically. The dodgy area with saying that free will doesn’t exist is that it may seem to follow that we shouldn’t incarcerate criminals (as an example) because their actions were pre-determined beyond their control. I think the counter-intuitive response to that is: “free will is an illusion, but they could still have chosen to not commit the crime.”

        • Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

          Not quite. Free-will does not exist (if determinism holds). But the illusion does. We don’t, for example, have trouble understanding that some people believe in gods that don’t exist. The ontological matter of there being free-will is separate from humans feeling they have free-will. I feel I have it. I can’t help that. But logically, if determinism holds, then I can’t see how I can have it.

          It’s like being a film critic or a regular film enthusiast. The critic sees through the illusion when required in order to critique the acting perhaps. But the enthusiast will emerge themselves into the film, as if it is real.

          In our lived lives it’s like we’re perpetually living the experience of the film, not seeing the screen, projector, the 2D (or 3D) projection. We are so deeply immersed that we can’t see that we are just flowing through time, being caused in every minute detail. The complexity of our brains hides the detail.

          We’re also so immersed in the feeling of free-will that we’ll even attribute it to other objects – even ones that on reflection we know it doesn’t apply.

          We just seem reluctant to accept the consequence of determinism (if determinism holds).

          • Xuuths
            Posted February 7, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

            ronmurp wrote:

            But logically, if determinism holds, then I can’t see how I can have it.

            But logically, if mathematics holds — and we’re all pretty sure it does — then you can’t ever reach any destination you attempt to reach (see Zeno’s paradox).

            Yet you do. All the time, almost continuously throughout the day. Every time you type a character in every post. Yet it clearly violates the laws of mathematics — and not super-duper complicated parts.

            And you didn’t have to do anything spiritual in the process.

            • Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

              Zeno’s paradox is an error in mathematics. It requires the gullible not to notice the infinite regress into ever smaller infinitesimal periods of time.

              ” Yet it clearly violates the laws of mathematics”

              No it does not.

              “And you didn’t have to do anything spiritual in the process.”

              No, you just have to be gullible.

              • Xuuths
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

                Wow, if you were right (but alas, you are not), you could get the Nobel Prize for Math!!!

                The portion of Zeno’s paradox I was specifically referring to does not refer to time at all, but distance.

                Your snarky “gullible” comment is duly noted as an example of arrogance from inaccuracy. Dunning-Kruger perhaps?

              • Peter
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

                Zeno’s paradox is resolved by noticing that lim n -> infinity SUM(1 / 2^n) = 1. Math really doesn’t say it’ll take forever for an arrow to travel a finite distance.

            • Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

              It is time too – as in he never (a time reference) reaches the overtaking point. This is not a distance problem but a velocity problem: both distance and time measure in ever smaller increments.

              Wiki:

              “Aristotle (384 BC−322 BC) remarked that as the distance decreases, the time needed to cover those distances also decreases, so that the time needed also becomes increasingly small.”

              The decreasing infinitesimal periods of time just means that not only does the distance get shorter but the time over which it is measured is getting shorter. It’s trivial.

              So, sadly Aristotle would have beaten me to the Nobel prize – but they don’t give them for spotting gullibility.

              • Xuuths
                Posted February 8, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

                Peter and Ron Murphy, you are both incorrect. Zeno’s paradox has not been resolved. (And you both make the presumption that this is about time — If every motion segment took a year to cover the distance, there would be no “infinitesimal periods of time.” Pointing out the obvious that this is a limit does not resolve the paradox.)

                Either of you could, of course, just provide the evidence that it has been resolved. There have been proposed resolutions, but they are merely that. Even David Burton’s A History of Mathematics only says that the convergent infinite series gives a satisfactory explanation, but does not actually resolve the paradox.

        • Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

          “The dodgy area with saying that free will doesn’t exist is that it may seem to follow that we shouldn’t incarcerate criminals (as an example) because their actions were pre-determined beyond their control. ”

          This is not the case. This really is a red herring.

          In the physics of what happens the criminal is caused to do his bad deeds. If determinism is the case then this is unavoidably true.

          But, there is a sense that even in a causal system something, some entity, some object, is ‘responsible’ to the extent that it is the most localised cause of some particular events.

          Suppose there is a machine A that has a trigger plate that if triggered causes the the machine to fire out bullets that kill passers by. A passing bird (not knowing the above details) lands on the plate and triggers it. People die. A few days later a nearby tree loses a branch which falls, triggers the plate. People die. Next day, a passing child playing with a bouncing ball accidentally bounces the ball onto the plate. The child dies.

          In all these cases there are causes of the plate triggering. But any rational person would say the the main cause of the deaths is machine A. Machine A is the most localised accumulation of causal events that leads to it being the most localised cause of deaths. Remove the damned machine!

          This is the way to think of criminals, as localised causes of bed deeds, even though they have many and varied causes that cause their criminality. We know a psychopathic serial killer cannot help is lack of empathy, and may have strong causal determinants of his behaviour, such as an abused childhood – but we lock him up because he is the most localised cause of the deaths of the people his kills.

          So, are we choosing to lock him up? In the language of our illusion, yes – that is we feel as though we are choosing to lock him up. But in actuality, if determinsm holds, no – we too are caused to lock him up.

          • Callum James Hackett
            Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

            I don’t know if you think you’re disagreeing with me, or if you’re disagreeing with the arguments that I mentioned only in anticipation of disagreeing with them myself, but your last two posts aren’t at odds with my position!

    • Kharamatha
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      I have in the past used the same analogy – of love – differently.

      In my analogy, “love” is the equivalent of “will”, but “free” is the equivalent of “is produced by the heart muscle”.

  41. Diane G.
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Oh, please, may these cumulative inputs conspire to prevent me from ever subscribing to a free will post again…

  42. Steve
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    “Ought” ought not imply “can”.

    Some in an attempt to disprove determinism, have tried to establish that “ought” implies “can”. The claim begins slyly enough with, it is not reasonable to expect someone to do something they can’t do. From this springboard they end up declaring, therefore determinism is not true. The band lets loose with a fanfare, and they take a bow.

    Well this is sheer silliness, and here is why.
    Turns out that “ought” does not imply “can”.

    We can say that people ought not murder. But what does this imply? Does this imply that people can not murder? At first blush it might seem as if it does. But what of the case of a delusional deranged hallucinating psychopathic madman? Such a person very well might not be able to keep from murdering. And yet, would we be in error if we were to insist that even this individual ought not murder? Of course we wouldn’t; we’d be perfectly o.k. to continue to believe that people ought not murder. QED: Ought does not always imply can.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Hume’s Law goes in both directions; is does not imply ought, and ought obviously does not imply is.

      Can really just means “is possible”, “is able to”, or “is an option”. So there is no way ought implies can. But it only makes sense to include in prescriptions what really can be done. In light of this “can not do otherwise” sounds very scary.

      I think, based on some evidence in this thread, that people who get stuck on this are confused between what the brain can do when it is in one particular state, and what the brain can do over time when viewed as a sequence of reachable states.

      • Peter
        Posted February 7, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        “what the brain can do over time when viewed as a sequence of reach*able* states”

        Of course, the only states that a brain is able to reach are those that it does reach. Or does “able” mean something different from and less restrictive than “can”. And if so, then maybe “can” actually means what “able” means.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted February 7, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          Obviously one definition of can is able. That is how the English language works.

          I don’t really get your point, unless you are making my point for me by exemplifying what I was talking about.

          First I would disagree that the only states the brain can reach are the ones it does reach. I have to point out that there are states it has not reached yet, but will in the future. These are also states the brain can reach, and can only reach in the future because they are enabled by what we have learned and remembered up to the present moment.

          But my main point is that I have seen several who believe they are determinists and yet who find something wrong with the formulation that when we choose something we could not have chosen differently. These people are getting confused between brain capabilities that can be caused by one state transition (such as the last transition that completes a non-free choice), and more complex capabilities that require many many state changes, which resemble freedom in various ways and are the things compatibilists like to pretend that only they can understand and recognize, and that incompatibilists are too blind and ignorant to see.

          This discrepancy seems to be to be caused by a failure to recognize varying contexts. These contexts are: 1) the purely biochemical interior of the physical brain without consideration of subjective experience, 2) subjective experience, and 3) interaction and behavior in the external objective world.

          A lot of the confusion I see seems to be based on confusing the different properties and aspects of these different contexts of analysis. What I’m talking about, and what I believe Jerry emphasizes, is context #1.

          Of course I’m playing fast and loose here by failing to specify what a brain state is, and what constitutes a transition to another state. That is a whole other complicated subject.

          Still it makes sense to consider the brain as a computational model that changes over time, and that the complex behaviors we observe everyday that make determinism hard to accept wholly depend on this model changing over time and the fact that it can accumulate new knowledge, memory, and structure as a result of the experience represented by these state changes.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted February 7, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

            As a footnote, there are states that the brain can reach but will never reach in each individual because they will never have the required experience and environmental input to reach those states. So these states are reachable by brains that exist, but not every brain will reach them. There are probably states that no brain has ever reached to date that some brains will reach in the future.

            I would say that most of us have brains in states today that no brain had ever reached 50 or a hundred years ago.

            • Peter
              Posted February 7, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

              Ah, here’s the confusion: compatibilists claim that we could have done otherwise, and that is consistent with determinism. Incompatibilists insist that no, that formulation makes no sense (clearly disingenuously, since no-one ever needs obscure metaphysical notions to ground their normal uses of “can,” “free,” etc). But here you are saying, we can do otherwise than what we actually do. Hence you acknowledge a meaning of “can” that is not, uhm, deterministic, even while recognizing that the universe is deterministic*. So why do you get to claim we can do other than we actually do, but when compatibilists do it, we’re abusing the language, or trying to leave wiggle room for magical free will, or being pseudo-dualists?

              Regardless, I think all this semantic argument over what “can” means is an irrelevant distraction. The important distinction between compatibilists and Jerry et al is what importance they put on contra-causality. Compatibilists (when they aren’t distracted by semantics) argue that it’s never made sense, and never been worth wanting, and giving it up shouldn’t particularly upset our other intuitions. Jerry, on the other hand, thinks contra-causality has always been important to how we think about the world, and it’s potentially very upsetting to find out that it’s false. In particular, it’s supposed to be so upsetting that compatibilists try to make up for its absence by clinging to an impoverished redefinition of “free will” in place of the free will we all really wish we had.

              *well, quantum mechanics and all that, but lets all agree that that’s not what we’re talking about

              • Xuuths
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

                Because when “they” do it, they really mean it’s an illusion . . .

                It couldn’t possibly be becuase they are being inconsistent, or just not thinking through the ramifications of their standpoint.

                Also, it’s because “we” are so emotionally and desperately clinging to the “pseudo-spirituality” that we can’t see the truth right before our eyes.

                Or something like that.

                (Sorry if that sounds snarky, but a cluster of particles just after the Big Bang collided in a particular way that caused an ongoing uncontrolled chain reaction resulting in my writing those words — I didn’t choose to write them, and could not have chosen any action other than what I did.)

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

                You are exhibiting the kinds of category confusions I pointed out in my post, so you either haven’t read it carefully, or you didn’t understand it.

                Just one example: the meaning of the English word “can” is clearly not determinstic. It has many meanings depending on the context and the intent of the speaker.

                But what the human can do at any moment is determined by the state of the brain.

                Yet it still makes sense for compatiblists to talk about being able to make choices and behave otherwise in the future as long as they are careful to constrain the domain of applicability of such notions to a future time period (not a moment) and to linguistic references to subjective experience and/or external behavior, but not to the internal biochemistry that actually makes the brain work, because your ideas don’t apply in that domain.

              • Peter
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

                Compatibilists aren’t making the mistake over what “can” means. Neither are you. Fine.

                Regardless, semantics. Not interesting.

              • Peter
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

                Oh, and *what* category confusion am I making? Or is it just that when we’re talking about free will, the only sense of “can” that is interesting is a) only what is physically determined, or b) whatever way you choose to use it?

                Nevermind. Sounds like semantics. I believe you accused compatibilists of “pseudo-dualism” for rejecting that notions of contra-causality ever added any value to our other intuitions. I’m not fully understanding why you describe that as “pseudo-dualism.” Shouldn’t the “pseudo-dualists” be the ones who actually think contra-causality would be nice if only it were true?

          • Another Matt
            Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

            So I guess we need to be more careful about whether we’re discussing “can” with regard to “the brain” as a class of objects and “a [specific] brain”; it’s a point of ambiguity in your descriptions that I’m not sure how to clear up. Anyway…

            ==================
            I’m currently writing a music-theory paper that requires I learn some number theory I have not yet learned. I have little doubt that I’ll be able to, because I’ve always been able to learn the math I’ve needed, and I know that other brains have learned the math I need to learn. So clearly my brain “can” learn this number theory – it’s a reachable brain state.

            However, it may come to pass that tonight when I am picking my wife up from work I will be hit by a garbage truck and killed (by the way the word “may” under determinism is necessarily epistemic rather than physical – it expresses that I don’t know whether or not this will happen, not that there is some open physical possibility about what will actually happen). If I will have been killed before I learn the number theory I need to write the paper, then clearly my brain “can’t” learn it (because it will not have had time to do so before it was snuffed) – it will have been an unreachable state for my particular brain.

            This example sums up the difference between the two senses of “can,” maybe one of which is epistemic (the former) and one of which is physical or ontological (someone will have to help me with the philosophy). Perhaps it would be helpful to have two words to distinguish these two senses of “can” and “able.”

            (Also, maybe it’s interesting that expressing determinism with regard to future events almost certainly requires using future perfect tense, i.e. “whatever will have happened.”)

    • Vaal
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Steve,

      No one is trying to hoodwink the audience, as your tone implies (“slyly” and “taking a bow” etc). We are all simply presenting the reasons why we believe propositions. Can we stop this game of portraying the other side as involved in some disingenuous pursuit?

      Further, I don’t see any excuse, after all this discussion, to be so sloppy with characterizations such as this:

      The claim begins slyly enough with, it is not reasonable to expect someone to do something they can’t do. From this springboard they end up declaring, therefore determinism is not true.

      Those arguing for compatibilism here have pointed out over, and over, and over, and over that the compatibilist accepts that determinism is true, and in fact starts with that fact. That’s why it’s called “compatibilism.” You seem to be referencing an argument I’ve been making, and I have been explicit about this.

      As to your psychopathic murderer, no it does not undermine the reasonableness of “ought implies can.”

      Next up: Your rejection of “Ought Implies Can.”

      Vaal.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        Vaal,
        Ought implies can just is not true. At least in the way I’m interpreting the statement.

        Example: You ought to slam dunk tonight in the basketball game.

        or

        You ought to sing the role of Tosca next week.

        or even:

        You ought to make yourself invisible and eavesdrop on their conversation undetected.

        What I think you mean is something like “the only meaningful prescriptions are ones that include true propositions involving can.”

        I’m sure a philosopher or logician can express this in a more compact form. But it isn’t “ought implies can” as far as I can tell.

        • Peter
          Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

          That’s about right. But for the incompatibilist, there’s an apparent inconsistency: one *can* only do what one does. So if one doesn’t, one couldn’t, therefore one oughtn’t.

          Of course that’s absurd. That’s the point. Incompatibilists won’t let compatibilits say that we actually “could have done otherwise,” because that’s too close to acknowledging that we do have freedom in a meaningful and worthwhile sense. But they feel free, in the same discussion, to make “ought” claims, smuggling in a perfectly reasonable sense of “can” that they deny to the compatibilists. Hopefully that helps clear this up.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

            You still are making category confusions, and if you go back and carefully read my post where I outlined three different contexts that are relevant, it may help you.

            You seem to be unable to recognize that 1) the biochemical analog computer we call the brain can have different properties than the 2) subjective experience of the human it gives rise to, and also different than the 3) objective external behavior of the human it controls.

            Your objections (and confusions) are all based on being conceptually stuck in the latter two categories, and the failure to understand the properties of the first category, which is the category Jerry’s usage of “can” addresses.

            Jerry has never made a statement like “If Peter does not go to the store at 1:00, then he could not have gone.” Nor does he say “If Peter goes to the store at 1:00, then he could not have gone elsewhere.”

            He also does not say “Peter can’t imagine going someplace that he actually does not go.” And he doesn’t say “Peter can not decide where he wants to go.”

            What he says is more like “If Peter’s brain causes him to go to the store at 1:00, then Peter could not have acted differently.” This may seem trivial, but it is a fundamental consequence of determinism, and of materialism. Jerry emphasizes this to express that we really do not have actual “free will” as it has traditionally been understood (dualism) and so that using a modified definition of free will confuses the understanding of how the brain works and the fundamentally material nature of the human being. What you write indicates that you still don’t get this. The compatibilist restricted notion of free will and choice in a deterministic frame is about illumination what subjective thinking is like, and how humans behave as viewed objectively by other human beings. It is not oriented toward what are the biochemical mechanisms that create the subjective mind, and it seems to reflect little understanding of how might we build a brain? or how might we simulate the human brain?

            There are two different uses of can/could here. In the cases you are thinking about it means “is/would be able”. In the cases Jerry discusses it means “is/would be an actual possibility” (as opposed to a hypothetical possibility).

            • Peter
              Posted February 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

              I’m not making a category error. I’m saying the one of those senses of “can” is not one that is ever interesting to anyone, and yet you are trying to hang a great deal of rhetorical significance on it for the purposes of the free-will debate. Why am I the only one here who is being accused of not reading carefully??? That’s just rude.

              Regardless, contra-causality, what’s the big deal?

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

                Peter wrote:

                Why am I the only one here who is being accused of not reading carefully???

                I’m sorry. Honestly it appears to me you either are not reading carefully or for some reason are repeatedly misunderstanding in very basic ways. I don’t know why this is. One of us is very confused. I guess we each would like to think it is the other.

                One thing I was wondering: are you coming purely from a philosophical standpoint, or do you have a scientific background? Because that might be the disconnect. We might be making different assumptions or using language differently on that basis.

                I’m saying the one of those senses of “can” is not one that is ever interesting to anyone,

                Speak for yourself. It is interesting if you are interested in the following, which I repeat from my previous post:

                The compatibilist restricted notion of free will and choice in a deterministic frame is about illuminating what subjective thinking is like, and how humans behave as viewed objectively by other human beings. It is not oriented toward what are the biochemical mechanisms that create the subjective mind, and it seems to reflect little understanding of how might we build a brain? or how might we simulate the human brain?

                Regardless, contra-causality, what’s the big deal?

                I don’t think I could explain it better than this comment does. If you really want the answer to that question, read the following comment:

                http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/sunday-free-will-pseudo-dualism/#comment-181848

              • Peter
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

                Well, skimmed it. Didn’t explain why anyone should be troubled by finding out that contra-causality is bogus. Jerry has expressed discomfort at our lack of contra-causality. He also thinks that lack of contra-causality has important consequences for how we view criminal justice,* for example. Others, including you, have seem to think compatibilists are misunderstanding how important contra-causality (or the notion of it) really is to how we see the world, or our place in it; or else that we get it, and are so afraid to give it up that we make up a fake substitute and call that free will.

                I’m really not attached to the term “free-will,” I tend to agree with others who say it’s a useless concept. But the point is, many of the contexts where free-will does come up are interesting, and as a compatibilist, I don’t think that fact that we are or aren’t contra-causal agents is particularly important to how we think about those contexts (might be important in some edge cases, but nothing that should upset anyone); and I think that it’s generally less confusing to say we do have free will than to say we don’t, and then to clarify that all our values normally associated with free will shouldn’t be thrown out. Also, I think what Jerry and some others really mean by denying free will is to deny that we have *immaterial souls*, and if that’s really his point, it’s probably more straightforward to just say that.

                And last, do you really mean to claim that the “interesting” part of the free-will question is: what can it tell us about how to build an AI? And that compatibilists are making the error of not necessarily being interested in the question for that reason? And that Jerry’s, for instance, rejection of compatibilism is justified by his interest in the question for that reason?

                Whatever you meant, I’m pretty sure there’s nothing about compatibilism that makes it particularly wrong for thinking about AI and how brains work. Are you sure that’s not a non-sequitur?

                *I’m not defending our criminal justice system: I think retribution is terrible, too. But I don’t think contra-causality has anything to do with that, nor do I think that the everyday notion of free-will that some might use to support retribution falls apart just by pointing out that our behavior is physically determined.

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted February 7, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

              Peter wrote:

              Well, skimmed it. Didn’t explain why anyone should be troubled by finding out that contra-causality is bogus. Jerry has expressed discomfort at our lack of contra-causality.

              You’ve managed to get a bunch of stuff wrong again. It almost seems willful. Maybe it’s because you only skim things.

              I think you’re completely wrong that Jerry is troubled that humans do not have contra-causal free will. It may be that he mentioned it once in passing (though I haven’t seen this), the way people are sometimes temporarily troubled when they first realize that God doesn’t exist. I was troubled for a while about 15 years ago when I first came to grips with the idea of determinism and a fully material basis for our mind.

              But that passes, and if you’ve been reading Jerry’s comments on free will thoroughly with true comprehension you could not think that he is troubled about it.

              Also, I think what Jerry and some others really mean by denying free will is to deny that we have *immaterial souls*, and if that’s really his point, it’s probably more straightforward to just say that.

              There are two things really. One is that this is an important issue for the reason you mention here: the point is to dispel the common illusion that we have an immaterial soul. The other reason to deny that we have free will (as traditionally understood, and as most people understand it, except for compatibilists) is because it is true: we do not actually have it.

              He also thinks that lack of contra-causality has important consequences for how we view criminal justice,*

              Actually, it’s hard to find anyone who does not believe that lack of free-will has important consequences for this. You seem to be unique in feeling it’s not important or consequential. This is non-controversial. Only someone who has fully absorbed the compatibilist arguments for why we can still act as if we have free-will, even though we don’t have the traditional common form (dualist, contra-causal), can feel comfortable that we can still hold people responsible.

              do you really mean to claim that the “interesting” part of the free-will question is: what can it tell us about how to build an AI? And that compatibilists are making the error of not necessarily being interested in the question for that reason?

              No and no. First of all, AI is an interesting question, not the interesting part. Second, it is also very interesting to try to understand how the physical biochemical structure of the brain works to produce consciousness and intelligence and everything else it does.

              And I’m not saying compatibilists are not interested in this, though you don’t seem like you are. I’ve been saying that arguments like you have made against incompatibilist points, and against Jerry’s points in particular, seem to show little or no understanding of the fact that underlying subjective experience and human behavior are material biological processes that make it all work. This seems clear from the kinds of arguments you have made in many posts. You totally disregard this dimension.

              As an analogy, imagine someone who knew all about cars, the models, their behaviors, how much power they had, the prices, their features, what colors were available in what model years, and every imaginable piece of information that matters to a car driver or purchaser, but didn’t understand the first thing about thermodynamics, electronics, computer firmware, torque, gears, didn’t understand what a cylinder, piston, ring, or crankshaft were or how they worked, in other words didn’t seem to have the slightest idea of what made it go and how it worked.

              This reminds me of how you discuss this: you know a lot about human subjectivity and external behavior, the visible and practical features, but little or nothing about the biological and chemical basis that makes it all work. And it doesn’t seem to interest you.

              Well it just so happens that the material basis for consciousness is an extremely interesting question for me, and it seems interesting for Jerry and most of the incompatibilists.

              And one aspect of this is that the brain, being a material biological deterministic analog computer appears to work such that when it causes our subjective consciousness to go through a decision making process and make a choice, it does it in such a way that physically no other possible choice could have been made, even though it appears to our subjective conscious mind as if we could have chosen differently. This is what is meant by the illusion of free will.

              And another important aspect of this is that we do not have contra-causal free will. And compatibilists seem to understand this and have developed good arguments for why it doesn’t matter in many respects. But compatibilists confuse the general public about whether or not we have free will. I believe that the full impact of having no free will (which is that theology is basically founded on a false conception of human consciousness and intelligence) should be widely publicized and widely absorbed by the general public because it is in fact very very significant historically in how we view humans. You seem to have forgotten that because you appear to be too deeply steeped in compatibilist thinking to appreciate the point of how this might be understood by an average human being.

              You casually dismiss the importance of us not having contra-causal free will as if it matters little. But I believe that is kind of like being a physicist in 1910 steeped in special relativity and shrugging off as silly the notion that E=mc2 could ever have any impact on the public’s imagination.

              • Peter
                Posted February 7, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

                Really, what is with the slurs? I mean, I stick some barbs in, sure, but really: I’m getting a lot of stuff wrong (actually, it seems I got it mostly right: the stuff you elaborated on doesn’t seem like the type of things I should be expected to take for granted). I’m willfully misreading you. I am ignorant and uninterested in the biology of the brain and mind (of course, not my area of expertise, but it seems pretty arbitrary to hold that against me…otherwise I’ve been fairly interested and well read for a layman).

                You are mostly reading things into what I have written, or what I haven’t written, that just aren’t there. Maybe you’re confusing me with…some of the other compatibilits? I don’t know.

                Anyway, the two points that I actually have talked about, and that you are expressing disagreement with:

                “it’s hard to find anyone who does not believe that lack of free-will has important consequences for this.”

                I didn’t say that people don’t think *free-will* is important, I said I don’t think *contra-causality* is important, and I don’t think laymen particularly do, either. A sense of free-will rooted in the everyday sense of “can”–not the metaphysical, only-what’s-physically-determined sense–is sufficient to support most people’s intuitions about secular justice. I’m not sure if you dropped the “contra-causal” out of sloppiness, or because you thought it could be taken for granted, or because you decided that you can’t really support the idea that contra-causality is important to such notions, either. Is it one of those, or am I completely just completely off base again?

                “I think you’re completely wrong that Jerry is troubled that humans do not have contra-causal free will”

                I understand that he’s come to terms with it, but he claims to come to terms with it by trying to ignore it. He pretty clearly thinks that compatibilism is also a cheap coping mechanism used by people who aren’t willing to face up to it. You coined “pseudo-dualist” to describe us, didn’t you (granted that was in response to tooshcloots or whatever that clown’s name is)? Am I intentionally misreading “pseudo-dualist” as a criticism, when what you really meant by it was something along the lines of “compatibilists…have developed good arguments for why [contra-causality] doesn’t matter in many respects.” Actually, come to think of it, if that’s what you meant to convey by “pseudo-dualist,” then the problem probably isn’t bad faith or poor reading comprehension on my part.

                “you know a lot about human subjectivity and external behavior, the visible and practical features, but little or nothing about the biological and chemical basis that makes it all work. And it doesn’t seem to interest you.”

                This part doesn’t seem to be about me, or what I’ve written, at all. I will concede that, for the purposes of this discussion, I’m not interested in neurology, biochemistry, biological basis of psychology, etc. Maybe more to the point, I figure I’ve just implicitly conceded that all our behavior is rooted in the physical functioning of our brain, and the particular details are beyond the scope of this discussion. That doesn’t seem to be a crime.

                “which is that theology is basically founded on a false conception of human consciousness and intelligence”

                I think that why people believe in god, or practice theology, is mostly out of scope. But theology is the only place I can think of where contra-causality is actually doing any useful work in any arguments: it’s very difficult to justify an omnipotent, omniscient god punishing people, unless you suppose people do have contra-causal free will.

      • Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        Steve is hopeless. He refuses to find out what compatibilism says — here or anywhere — and natters on as if it’s about dualism or determinism.

      • Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        Ought does not imply can as a logical implication. It’s only a practical recommendation.

        http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/sunday-free-will-pseudo-dualism/#comment-181768

        • Peter
          Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

          Well, certainly it’s not a law of the universe or a mathematical principle. But it is part of the common usage of “ought.”

          Flashbacks to that weirdo in that previous thread who was trying to derive facts of the the universe from the fact that he thought there were things we “ought” to do.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted February 7, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

            Flashbacks to that weirdo in that previous thread who was trying to derive facts of the the universe from the fact that he thought there were things we “ought” to do.

            Oh, you mean someone under the influence of religion?

            • Peter
              Posted February 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

              I think so, but I’m not entirely sure what his deal was.

        • Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          Common sense is a psychological faculty that has to be treated with some scepticism. I’m told by Jehovah’s Witness visitors that someone must have designed the world – it’s common sense. I treat their common sense view with scepticism too.

    • Vaal
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Steve,

      As to your denying the principle of ought implies can. It is going to quite amazing lengths to deny this incredibly widely accepted (in society in general, not to mention in moral philosophy) principle, in order to save Jerry’s argument.

      Your psychopathic murderer example doesn’t do anywhere near the work necessary if you REALLY want to deny the pertinence of the principle, you have a lot more work to do. Remember, “ought” involves prescriptions for actions. You are willing to say it is reasonable to prescribe that someone perform an action even in the case where it is impossible for them to do so. Let’s see how well this holds up:

      For instance:

      Take 2 scenarios:

      1. In a public candidate debate, Mitt Romney declares that President Obama should veto a controversial bill, and if he doesn’t he deserves our censure.

      2. In a public debate, Mitt Romney declares that Obama should cure cancer, Aids and world hunger by the end of this week. And if he doesn’t he deserves our censure.

      You know that in scenario 2 everyone (including yourself) would think Romney is utterly unreasonable – in fact, bat-shit crazy. What is the difference between 1 and 2? In the case of one, it is within Obama’s power to do so – he “can” do so. In the case of 2, no one would think it was within Obama’s, or anyone else’s power to do so – it is not the case Obama “can” act on that prescription.

      If the profound difference here does not turn on the fact Obama “can” do #1 but “Can Not” do #2…you’ll have to explain what the difference really is.

      Scenario 2, no one else around, this happens:

      1. Perfectly healthy adult, Fred, who can swim, stands at the edge of a pool watching his son, a toddler, drowning, and does nothing. People would of course say Fred OUGHT to have saved the toddler.

      2. Fred is a quadriplegic whose wheelchair is parked by the pool. Fred watches helplessly as his toddler son drowns. What would we think of a person who rails against Fred, saying Fred “ought” to have saved his son by jumping into the water and dragging his child to safety…when this was utterly impossible? You know very well: our attitude toward what Fred “ought” to have done utterly changes between these scenarios.

      Same thing: What is the relevant difference here, if not the substitution for “can” in #1 for “Can not” in #2?

      Scenario 3:

      1. You are in a hurry to get to an important meeting. You ask me for the best way to get to the meeting. In one case I describe a route you CAN take with your car.
      In the other, instead I say “Given you are in such a hurry, I would say you OUGHT to
      teleport yourself to the meeting instantly, rather than drive.”

      Now, the second recommendation is unreasonable. It’s nuts. Why? If it is NOT made unreasonable because you CAN’T possibly teleport yourself, please explain what actually makes it unreasonable.

      (Cont’d…sorry…)

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        Vaal,
        What you are saying makes sense, but it seems to have absolutely nothing to do with Jerry’s argument, other than the fact that both contain the word “can”.

        You are confusing things like

        1. “Obama has Constitutional authority to do X” with

        2. “Obama’s brain is structured in a state such that it will cause him to do X”.

        Jerry’s argument is all about the second type of sentence, not the first type of sentence that you seem to be concerned with.

      • Steve
        Posted February 7, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        Vaal,

        You are willing to say it is reasonable to prescribe that someone perform an action even in the case where it is impossible for them to do so.

        I gave a completely reasonable example where one might prescribe something that was impossible for someone to comply with the ought… that’s all I need to do. You can sit there all day long and make up hypothetical cases that support your assertion, but it only takes one case to deny your claim that ought implies can. I gave you a black swan, so you can quit claiming all swans are white.

        But this is so strange because you seem to be saying that you agree with non-free willism anyway…. so way did you bring up this false “ought implies can” argument in the first place? (Other than the fact that you had no choice but bring it up… that much we already know.)?

    • Vaal
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      Steve,

      As to your murderer-who-can’t-help himself scenario. Go back to the Obama or quadriplegic examples. Certainly we think cancer, aids and world hunger are bad things that we ought to do what we can about. But our prescriptions have to match what we can ACTUALLY, possibly do, which is why calling on Obama or a quadriplegic to do the impossible makes no sense. This is obvious stuff that you no doubt agree with every day. You’d think a doctor was nuts if he prescribed that a paraplegic “ought to just start walking.” Or for a schizophrenic to “just stop hearing those voices.”

      Same goes for your murder-who-can’t-stop-himself. Yes, murder is a bad thing. But if this hypothetical murderer is TRULY no more capable of stopping his own act of murdering as a quadriplegic is not capable of saving a drowning child, then it is just as unreasonable to prescribe that the murderer stop murdering as it is to prescribe that the quadriplegic save drowning toddlers. It is left to those of us who CAN do something about it to stop the murderer from killing others, but ridiculous to think that offering the prescription to the murderer is in any way efficacious or a reasonable approach to stopping him. Why would we think completely impotent prescriptions would be sensible in ANY case?

      The same goes for Jerry’s prescription: If Jerry holds that we in fact CAN NOT ever “do or choose otherwise” then it’s as unreasonable to prescribe that we “do otherwise” as it is for Jerry to prescribe that a quadriplegic ought to save a drowning toddler.

      You have a looooong way to go before you undermine this principle and the objection to Jerry’s argument.

      Cheers,

      Vaal.

      • Steve
        Posted February 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        Vaal,

        This means we can say to everyone except delusional deranged hallucinating psychopathic madmen that they ought not murder.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted February 8, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

        Your principle is not an objection to Jerry’s argument.

        Your principle is sound, that a prescription is only valid or sensible if it involves recommendations that are actually feasible, that “can” actually be done. Since it is sound and it does not raise an objection to Jerry’s argument, I won’t waste even one second trying to refute it.

        What I’ve said several times in several different ways is that it simply does not refer to Jerry’s claim about “we can not choose otherwise”.

        I’ll repeat the most recent example:

        You are confusing things like

        1. “Obama has Constitutional authority to do X” with

        2. “Obama’s brain is structured in a state such that it will cause him to do X”.

        Jerry’s argument is all about the second type of sentence, not the first type of sentence that you seem to be concerned with.

        Your discussion is concerned with what people do, not how people work. I’ve made several other posts trying to clear up this confusion, but it just doesn’t seem to click, so I’ll try a concrete example.

        Imagine for example a computer system that is in charge of controlling a turnstile at the entrance of a stadium. It has a video camera (or perhaps several), some facial recognition software, a database of e-ticket holders and their facial image data. It also has a list of people excluded from automatic admission because they may be a security risk, and they need to be questioned and perhaps searched before entry.

        As groups of people line up to enter the stadium, most people have e-tickets, but some don’t. And some are on the special security screening list. The computer will scan the facial images presented by the video cameras, and it will search for matches in it’s facial database and make sure they are e-ticket holders. It will CHOOSE who may enter, and who may not enter. It will CHOOSE who must be interviewed by a security officer before they are allowed entry. It controls the turnstile, that is it CHOOSES when to release the turnstile based on the facial recognition and the ticket holder status of the person standing immediately before it.

        Now along comes Jerry Coyne, who (for the sake of this argument) is a computer expert with deep knowledge of computer and software architecture and design. He tells you that in each case when this system makes a CHOICE from among the available options (what it CAN do), IT CAN NOT CHOOSE OTHERWISE.

        And you keep shaking your head and saying “no way. Impossible”.

        The system has FREEDOM to act within the range of CHOICES and actions that it CAN perform. But it does not have libertarian free-will. It is a deterministic system. And it only has freedom in the very limited scope of the term as re-defined by compatibilists. And frankly, it’s kind of silly to say it has free-will. But you’re a compatibilist, so you talk about that system’s freedom, and insist that “free-will” is compatible with this deterministic system. And this may make sense for people who use and interact with the system. They can view it like a black box. But it doesn’t make sense to the people who must program or repair the system.

        The system does not have freedom in the way human beings have traditionally thought of themselves as having freedom, which was based on dualism, and based on the subjective feeling (or illusion) of being able to choose absolutely without constraint, and based on the notion that the inner workings of the mind were disconnected from physical causal limitations.

        That is the basis for saying that compatibilism is pseudo-dualism. It is rationalizing within a deterministic framework to preserve useful notions of freedom and choice that were always in human history based on an assumption of dualism.

        And pseudo-dualism has usefulness to people, because it can help them make decisions and policies about how we treat one another given our new understanding of what determinism really is, and what it really implies about humans. But the continued usage of “free-will” no longer refers to a meta-physical truth, as it once did. It is merely a convenient definition within a conceptual framework used to analyze the deterministic behavior of some very sophisticated biological computers.

        The turnstile control computer doesn’t have the freedom that you feel you have. It can not for example make an exception and adjust it’s programmed policies for a friend or family member (or cheat). But then you can not (probably) find the prime factors of an arbitrary 60 digit number in your head. There are only certain things you can do. And they are much much much more complex and varied and interesting than what this computer system can do. But unless you accept the idea that when you do choose to do something, you COULD NOT HAVE CHOSEN DIFFERENTLY, based on the inner biochemical workings of your brain, then you really are not a determinist, and hence not a compatibilist in the way I understand the definition.

        Jerry’s argument is not about what we feel like we do in our subjective conscious experience. And it’s not about how we observe one another behaving, like when you watch Jerry buy ice cream or something.

        Jerry’s argument is about the deterministic biological computer in our heads called the brain. He is observing that it is deterministic and it really doesn’t have free-will in the way Aquinas, or your grandmother, or a bus driver understands free-will. It has the appearance of free-will, and since the capabilities and complexities of this deterministic computer system are so rich and varied, there is enough of an appearance of free-will so that compatibilists can talk about willing, control, responsibility, etc.

        The concepts you apply depend on the domain of expertise you are operating in, and you and Jerry seem to be in different domains here.

        Some people know how to use machines, and can make observations about what they appear to do when they are performing within the range of their physical capabilities, and they can delineate what the capabilities are and they can analyze the performance of those capabilities.

        There are other people who know how machines work and who can devise means to repair them when they are broken, or figure out new ways to enhance their range of capabilities.

        I think the gap between these domains of expertise is what causes a lot of the confusion I’ve seen in this thread.

        • Another Matt
          Posted February 8, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

          So maybe the problem we’re having is just linguistic.

          The bomb squad disarms and destroys a bomb. I say, “I heard on the news that it could have taken out a half city-block!” and you say “No, didn’t you hear they disarmed and destroyed it? Exploding was not one of the things it could ever have done!” We need a way to say that the bomb could have exploded, AND that it never was going to explode because the bomb squad got there in time.

          I’m afraid that by insisting that the latter sense of the word “could” is the only relevant sense, there’s little reason to distinguish between a bomb that is incapable of exploding because poor wiring will scuttle a detonation attempt, and a bomb that is incapable of exploding due to its being disassembled in its deterministic future. That’s all the compatibilists here are complaining about – it’s a very “flat” view of physics to feel queasy about saying that there’s a difference between the two because it might bring ghosts and essences into the description.

          It’s not “pseudo-dualism” to acknowledge that there relevant levels of organization in the world, as long as you don’t treat any of the levels in an essentialist fashion – they’re still meaningful to use and talk about as a shorthand for “physical process.” We just need a way to say that “capability” is “real,” whether it actually manifests and whether it remains “only potential.”

          • Steve
            Posted February 8, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

            AM,

            I appreciate your efforts, but there’s a hick-up with using this bomb as a substitute for a human being… that being that nobody has historically claimed that bombs detonate via free will. So there wouldn’t be any NFWist queasiness about bringing ghosts and essences into the description.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted February 8, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

            I see a few confusions here.

            First, I’m not saying that only one form of could is relevant to humans and life. I’m saying that only one form is relevant to the question of determinism and the limits to choice that Jerry talks about when he says “could not have done otherwise”.

            Of course the first meaning of could is relevant to the way humans subjectively value objects like cities. Sartre said something like humans destroy cities via earthquakes. It sounds paradoxical, but it shows two ways of looking at reality: one in the frame of human utility derived from buildings configured in certain geometries, the other in terms of what matter is physically present and the information encoded in its state. The latter sense is neutral with respect to human utility. In the latter view nothing was destroyed, it was merely rearranged. The whole conceptual frame pivots on how you interpret “destroy” and your conception of utility to humans. For many life forms the earthquake might have constructed a new highly suitable living environment. It was only in the human subjective mind that we experience the appearance that the city is destroyed. But we are so used to projecting this onto our physical surroundings it’s quite difficult for us to temporarily see around that projection of subjectivity.

            Second, you are conflating what the bomb “can” do considering its possible states, with what the bomb “can” do in it’s actual state. The bomb is passive. It has no intelligence. It does not choose, but it has possible behaviors: exploding or not exploding. But which behavior is not a choice, it is determined by the state of the bomb. In the first sense of could, of course it could have done either (but you can only say this as far as you know nothing about it’s internal state). But looking at this in the way that is relevant to our discussion of deterministic choice, we absolutely must consider its internal state. Before the bomb was disarmed (assuming it was properly functional) it could have done nothing other than explode. It did not have a choice. After the bomb was disarmed (which the bomb itself had nothing to do with) it could only have not-exploded, and it could not do differently (unless something changed it’s state again).

            But intelligent systems, unlike the bomb, can “arm” or “disarm” themselves; if it is not a learning system, it can not change the range of possible actions it is capable of; but it can change it’s state to the extent that a different instance of the class of possible actions is determined according to physical laws. But “disarming itself” would be in reaction to some cause, depending on the sensing capabilities, it might be something such as the temperature or whether it “feels” the sunset is “pretty”.

            And intelligent systems that can learn and remember can even change the space of possible choices and actions they are capable of. But still they always have only one physical state at any time and that will determine what choice from among the possible range of actions it will arrive at; the process is algorithmic and deterministic, even though the algorithm is unimaginably complex and when viewed from the human subjective perspective, and from the external objective perspective, looks for all the world like real freedom and choice.

            I agree that all the things compatibilists think are important to talk about, choice, freedom, control, are in fact important and useful. But these things are largely things that people in general once believed depended on dualism and contra-causal free-will. So compatibilists have found a way to re-conceptualize the range of human possibilities (a much more complex expansion of the options can explode or not) so that useful concepts that were once founded on dualism are now founded upon determinism.

            But none of this eliminates determinism, so it is still physically true that either the bomb can explode, or not explode, and whichever it is depends on the state of the bomb, and it has no choice but to do what is determined by its physical state.

            What compatibilists do is generally explore the conceptual space of human subjectivity, and how such subjective conscious beings interact on the subject/object boundary. But they say vary little about actual physical determinism, since they’ve found a conceptual frame that allows them to largely ignore it. They think about all the old important human ideas we once thought depended on dualism and contra-causal free will in a new way that makes the distinction between determinism and dualism effectively irrelevant.

            So this truly is a kind of pseudo-dualism, even though you understandably don’t want to admit it because dualism has pejorative connotations. Compatibilism allows us to consider that we have all the freedom and choice and responsibility and control we once thought we had, but it is no longer founded upon the same free-will we once thought it was; it is now founded upon the subjectivity of a very complex learning and symbolically thinking biological computer that TRULY IS DETERMINISTIC, even though subjective appearances allow us to pretend it is not.

            In a way, the step compatibilists have taken is similar to this: suppose an entire culture of people that didn’t know the first thing about earthquakes operated under the false assumption that they were causing the earthquake and destroying their own cities. And they are very attached to their city destroying identities. They called it free-destruction, and it allowed them the chance periodically to enjoy renewal and renovation. But then they discover that earthquakes are really causing this, and that they had nothing to do with it. This instigates a crisis of identity for these poor people. But in come the compatibilists to save the day, and discover that we can still pretend we are destroying the cities, because the whole idea of destruction was really only in subjective symbolic conceptual evaluation in the human mind of the physical event that caused the ground to rumble and buildings to fall.

            So what I’m saying, and what I think Jerry is also saying, is that the new compatibilist frame is concealing from the world in general the fact that it is really the earthquake that is causing all this shaking and rearrangement of matter. And the people have no choice when it occurs.

            I agree with everything the compatibilists say, but the compatibilists have a tendency to downplay determinism because they can effectively ignore it in the space where they operate. And they also downplay the extent to which the idea “free-will” was originally founded upon dualism. And they’ve managed to preserve all the important concepts that were founded upon dualism by founding them instead on the freedom that can be found in human subjectivity, not on the imaginary ultimate freedom of dualism. Since the compatibilists can mostly pretend that determinism isn’t there, they are able to enjoy all the rights and privileges of dualist libertarian free-willers, except for the fact that they substitute subjectivity for dualism and hide the determinism in a back room. This really is a pseudo-dualism.

            And there is nothing wrong with any of this. The only one objection is please lets free the determinism from the back room. Let’s make it explicit that dualism and free-will really are gone, and what we still have is subjective will and physical freedom, not dualistic free-will.

            And compatibilists only need to make a tiny change: just avoid using “free” and “will” together because it has strong false connotations based on history, just as “elan vital” has strong false connotations. And these false connotations that we still have “free-will” allow people in general (not compatibilists) to still believe in a false frame, i.e. dualism.

            Let’s finally drop the last vestige of dualism that plagues us and agree to retire the word combination “free-will” as describing something that humans actually have.

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted February 8, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

              The one thing I really care about is the denial that “free-will” is traditionally founded upon dualism, and the failure of compatibilists to recognize that they aren’t founding their ideas on determinism. I just think we should retire the word combination “free-will” and all will be well.

              They don’t even seem to really grasp determinism. They have just found a way to re-interpret human goals and interests based on the freedom of human subjectivity rather than on the freedom of metaphysical dualism.

              And it is true that this is “compatible” with determinism, but only because the determinism of the human brain creates the subjectivity that all of human thought and belief was always actually founded upon, even though people falsely thought was founded upon meta-physical dualism.

              So keeping the historical phrase “free-will” has something about it that feels sneaky and dishonest to me at worst, and at best it is a misrepresentation of the consequences of determinism to the extent that the general public are enabled to enjoy the false security that they still have free-will based on metaphysical dualism.

              And the only reason compatibilists can get away with this is because their reliance on the rich field of human subjectivity allows them to almost entirely, if not entirely, ignore the real implications and consequences of determinism.

        • Peter
          Posted February 8, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

          “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.”
          -Jeff Johnson

          “That is the basis for saying that compatibilism is pseudo-dualism. It is rationalizing within a deterministic framework to preserve useful notions of freedom and choice that were always in human history based on an assumption of dualism.”
          -Jeff Johnson

          I don’t think these two positions are compatible.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted February 8, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            Then you don’t understand them.

            God World == assumption of dualism
            fearful straddle == denying that we we are without “free-will”, even though we are without “free-will” as people have always thought of it: contra-causal.

            aren’t quite able to grasp that how we observe people to be actually is the product of an entirely materialist deterministic world == rationalizing within a deterministic framework to preserve useful notions of freedom and choice (and thinking that this is “free-will”).

            Read my reply to Another Matt:

            http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/sunday-free-will-pseudo-dualism/#comment-182227

            • Peter
              Posted February 8, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

              That’s very strained. I’m starting to think you expect too much from people trying to “understand” you.

        • Lyndon
          Posted February 8, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

          Well put, well framed . . . and I liked the highlighting of “choice” in the turnstyle (machine) example.

          One problem for me, and it has nothing with how you have laid out the whole issue, is that many (philosophically credentialed and recognized) compatibilist are never that straight forward with their position and language.

          I would start off with Massimo, and I think Jerry’s response to Massimo is a bit hectic, but that’s because Massimo’s position is tangled and he refuses to lay out clearly his positions; in a way that, for instance, Pollock did (to a certain degree), which allowed for a more fruitful exchange and understanding.

          But Massimo is not seen as a reputable defender of Compatibilism or free will, in that it is not his area of expertise. But I have trouble following the arguments and the reiteration of the reality of “free will” by those compatibilists who are mainstays within these academic arguments, and who would probably call your assessment and Jerry’s childlish and simple, or something of the sorts. With that said, given the nature of philosophy, there are many different “compatibilists” out there who take varying lines on some of the points you laid out, which makes conversation and desctription even more cumbersome.

  43. Xuuths
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne wrote:

    The choice you made is the only one you could have made. Where is the freedom in that?

    Where is the “choice” in that?

    If you’re on a rollercoaster, you do not “choose” to do a roll or left turn — the tracks do that. No choice. You can pretend you’re choosing, but you are not.

    There are, in your stance but which you keep refusing to admit, no possible choices or actions (or successes or failures or guilt or innocence or . . .) — only uncontrolled reactions based on previous uncontrolled reactions in an unbroken chain going back to the Big Bang.

    If you really believe that, you should use language that reflects that. I submit that your language demonstrates you do not actually believe what you are espousing.

    • piero
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

      You are nitpicking. The fact is we subjectively feel we have free will, and human language has developed accordingly.

      Male-chauvinism has shaped our language in such a way that it is almost always easier to use “he” rather than using clumsy devices such as “s/he”. Analogously, it is always easier to refer to “choices” rather than “observable behaviour caused by the current brain state and the current environmental inputs”.

      “…only uncontrolled reactions based on previous uncontrolled reactions in an unbroken chain going back to the Big Bang.”

      That’s a pretty good description. Except I would replace “uncontrolled” with “involuntary.”

      • Xuuths
        Posted February 8, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        piero, while “it is almost always easier” to use incorrect words, there are many who do not use them.

        The term is “inclusive language” and has been used by many groups for years. It demonstrates that one doesn’t have to perpetuate male-chauvinistic language.

        The problem with using “choices” rather than “observable behaviour caused by the current brain state and the current environmental inputs” is that they communicate completely different things — one you would agree with, the other you would not agree with. Don’t you see a problem with that? Doesn’t it bother you to be so inaccurate in conveying your position?

        It is hardly nitpicking to devote multiple threads to the idea that no one can make choices, and then continue to use words/phrases indicating that the author clearly believes they do make choices.

        “Involuntary” presumes the possiblity of “voluntary” (which you believe is not possible) — and likewise my use of “uncontrolled” presumes the possibility of “controlled”, so I’ll start using “uncontrollable” instead.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted February 8, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          the idea that no one can make choices

          Who argues that we don’t make choices? If I choose, I can’t choose otherwise, but I’m still making a choice. I made the choice using my deterministic algorithmic computer I call my brain. The brain evaluated the options and placed a vote for the one that best satisfied the criteria for ranking options by their desirability. This choice could not have been otherwise because only one option maximized the degree to which the choosing criteria were satisfied by the known qualities of the items being considered (chocolate and vanilla). This deterministic computer is the thing that compatibilists generally ignore and don’t understand.

          And they keep incorrectly arguing that if it is determined, and if it couldn’t be otherwise, then it wasn’t a choice.

          Okay, lets replace the deterministic computer known as the brain with something that really can choose the way you would like it to choose; we will replace the brain with a nairb, a new chooser that really can choose otherwise when it chooses. When it chooses vanilla ice cream, it really could have chosen chocolate if it had wanted to, because it was free to select without cause from any of the full range of possibilities (chocolate and vanilla in this case).

          Guess what? You have eliminated determinism and replaced it with a model that has a physical mechanism that controls the body and receives sensory input, and is driven by some other non-deterministic thing that truly isn’t caused by anything to make the choices that it does, and thus it always could have chosen differently.

          Welcome back to dualism.

          • piero
            Posted February 8, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

            Well, that was quite brilliant.

          • Another Matt
            Posted February 8, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

            And they keep incorrectly arguing that if it is determined, and if it couldn’t be otherwise, then it wasn’t a choice.

            I guess it has come full circle when we start accusing each other of doing the same thing for the same reasons! I’ve always seen your sentence here as the main compatibilist argument against incompatibilism.

            I’m satisfied with everything you said here, except I would say that “this deterministic computer is the thing that compatibilists have stressed over and over” – the important thing is that it can do the computation, and different deterministic computers have different ranges of capability and therefore some have a wider array of options to choose from [deterministically] in some situations than others.

            There have been others in this and other threads, though, who (if I am reading them right) have denied that the word “option” ever applies except as an “illusion” or something else, on the grounds one thing will eventually happen, and so whatever happens will have been the only “option.” I agree that “I could have done differently” is an illusion, but I disagree that “there were other options that my brain didn’t end up choosing” is also an illusion.

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted February 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

              To be fair to compatibilists, I might be incorrectly assuming some arguments I’ve seen posted in this thread are compatibilist positions because they contain an objection to Jerry’s formulation “couldn’t choose otherwise”. But some of these might be making their own errors that aren’t proper compatibilism.

              I agree that “I could have done differently” is an illusion, but I disagree that “there were other options that my brain didn’t end up choosing” is also an illusion.

              I agree with you here. I would say that “there were other options” means there are reachable or possible brain states that could have caused the subjective “me” to choose any one of those options if the properties of those options had maximized the the satisfaction of criteria used to make the choice (but they didn’t so “I” chose the option that won the competition, and “I” couldn’t have chosen differently). So that is fully deterministic and my brain made a choice from among options, and neither my brain nor the subjective “I” could have chosen differently but subjectively it felt as if “I” could have.

              Perhaps there are some incompatibilists that exaggerate the position of determinism, as you suggest, to say that the other options weren’t “real options” or something like that. There also seem to be some who claim the mantle of compatibilism who exaggerate the idea of choice by saying that if you couldn’t choose otherwise, it wasn’t a “real choice”. People getting emotional in turf wars sometimes tend to intensify their positions to levels they themselves can really no longer defend.

              I think that fundamentally I can agree with compatibilists that believe in determinism and who are willing to admit two things:

              1. Free-will has traditionally been associated with dualism, and that most people when considering their internal freedom to choose believe it is libertarian free will, though they might describe it in other words. This is only natural because of the subjective illusion of uncaused choice.

              2. We don’t have free-will; what we have is subjective will and physical freedom to exercise that will, but that will is deterministic, not free. I would like the phrase “free-will” to be an historical relic that will always be associated only with dualism and theology.

              It really does just boil down to semantic interpretation of “free-will”. But I think it is a good thing for the general public to understand that we do not have “free-will”, and thus the soul is not a real thing but only a poetic metaphor. The compatibilists could do a good job explaining why we still have responsibility even though we don’t have “free-will”.

              • Posted February 9, 2012 at 1:09 am | Permalink

                “There are other options…” sounds like the garden of forking paths, or alternative possibilities, both of which are not compatible with determinism:

                http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/#2.1

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted February 9, 2012 at 2:12 am | Permalink

                That’s not what I was talking about. What I described is deterministic.

                To make it more concrete: the options are chocolate and vanilla. There are possible states in the brain that result in the choice of vanilla, and possible states the result in the choice of chocolate. Which of these states I reach will depend on the initial state and the inputs.

                When the brain is presented with the choice, it has criteria that will be used to select either of the two options. It chooses the option deterministically based on some algorithm that maximizes the satisfaction of the subjective criteria for “what will taste best right now” or something like that.

                The choice is made from the two options, it was done using a deterministic algorithm, and the choice could not have been otherwise given the initial state of the brain.

                This description emphasizes the incompatibilist view, which is based on materialism and physical laws of determinism.

                Here is an additional way to look at the situation that emphasizes what I think compatibilists often try to point out, which connects determinism with some notion of human subjective freedom:

                Imagine I were to enter an empty room with a chair and a table and two bowls of ice cream, one chocolate and one vanilla, and I were told to sit down and wait until I hear a command on a speaker telling me to pick up and eat the bowl I want.

                After time t1 I hear the command and I choose chocolate. I could not have chosen otherwise because the state of my brain determined it. (But interestingly the state of my brain can change while waiting, so if the command had come at time t2 I might really have chosen differently than I did at time t1).

                Now I leave the room, and the set up is restored to the original state, and I re-enter the room and repeat the experiment.

                This time after t2 I choose vanilla. This is a deterministic choice that could not have been otherwise.

                It is still important to people that on the second iteration I really could choose something different than I chose on the first iteration.

                So on each choice I could not have chosen differently, but in the whole process involving two iterations of the experiment, I really could choose differently between t1 and t2. This is consistent with determinism because the brain changes states between t1 and t2. It is this flexibility of the brain to learn, remember, and readjust priorities for making selections that allows it to choose differently when faced with two different but highly similar situation. This is the basis for compatibilist freedom, which clearly is not dualistic free-will, and is clearly consistent with determinism.

                None of this changes the importance for compatibilist to drop the phrase “free-will” and to realize they really are incompatibilists who emphasize human subjective experience and human subject/object interactions.

                I think that incompatibilists seem to emphasize the actual physical structure and operation of the brain over how that plays out in every day human contexts.

                Both are determinists, and both should avoid using the obsolute formulation “free-will”.

              • Posted February 9, 2012 at 3:56 am | Permalink

                Jeff,

                OK. Just wanted to clarify the point.

  44. Another Matt
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m looking forward to having a kid who, after I say “give me those scissors – you could have hurt yourself, running like that!” tells me, “No dad – as you see I am just fine, and obviously it couldn’t have been any different.” I’ll probably respond, “it sure looks like you’re determined to annoy me.” and then something like “let’s have waffles” or whatever it is families do.

    • Posted February 9, 2012 at 1:16 am | Permalink

      It would be more correct if it was determined that you say the following: “it appears it was determined you didn’t hurt yourself this time. Since neither of us is Leplace’s demon we can’t predict the future. Next time it might be determined you do hurt yourself. I hope this determined expression of my worry causes you to not do it again. It now seems it is determined we attempt to have waffles. Let’s see it that pans out.”

      But this is the stilted language of a causal entity acknowledging and expressing the extent to which it is caused to act. Obviously it’s more efficient if you are caused to say what you suggested.

  45. tushcloots
    Posted February 9, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Jeff Johnson
    Posted February 9, 2012 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    That’s not what I was talking about. What I described is deterministic.

    To make it more concrete: the options are chocolate and vanilla. There are possible states in the brain that result in the choice of vanilla, and possible states the result in the choice of chocolate. Which of these states I reach will depend on the initial state and the inputs.
    What initial state do you mean, exactly? You must be very precise; is it 5 minutes before, 5 secdonds, what?
    When the brain is presented with the choice, it has criteria that will be used to select either of the two options. It chooses the option deterministically based on some algorithm that maximizes the satisfaction of the subjective criteria for “what will taste best right now” or something like that.
    Or something like that? How would you know what it is like? I also see that you have included ‘subjective criteria’
    FAIL!
    FAIL!

    You just undermined your whole argument, because you cannot decide which of your subjective values are most important, will produce the most appropriate emotional response, until you think about it.

    YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT YOUR POSSIBLE SELECTIONS AND GAUGE WHAT MAKES YOU MOST HAPPY OR LIKELY TO SATISFY YOUR NEED, OR WANT, TO SELECT SOMETHING IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    Then you make your decision to speak, “Choco chip, my man,” or “I would prefer the vanilla iced cream, ya peasant. Snnnnnffff!”

    You select the words which will convey your selection most appropriately, and trhis also entails cogitation and weighing possibilities emotionaly before you speak.

    That’s what you said.

    FAIL

    The choice is made from the two options, it was done using a deterministic algorithm, and the choice could not have been otherwise given the initial state of the brain.

    What deterministic algorithm? Pray, tell.
    You just said,
    “algorithm that maximizes the satisfaction of the subjective criteria for “what will taste best'”
    How is this supposed to work, exactly, seeing you know it is an algorithm, what type of algorithm? In fact, I specifically am refering to NON DETERMINISTIC algorithms, from wikipedia:
    Starting from an initial state and initial input (perhaps empty),[4] the instructions describe a computation that, when executed, will proceed through a finite [5] number of well-defined successive states, eventually producing “output”[6] and terminating at a final ending state. The transition from one state to the next is not necessarily deterministic; some algorithms, known as randomized algorithms, incorporate random input.
    FAIL!

    This description emphasizes the incompatibilist view, which is based on materialism and physical laws of determinism.
    No, the compatibilist view is materialist and physical, incompatablists say that the free will is not compatable with physical laws of determinism + material.
    [Not batting 1.000, are you?]

    Here is an additional way to look at the situation that emphasizes what I think compatibilists often try to point out, which connects determinism with some notion of human subjective freedom:
    You do realize that including subjectivity in the equation nullifies it as deterministic, don’t you?

    Subjective = thinking about it.
    FAIL
    Imagine I were to enter an empty room with a chair and a table and two bowls of ice cream, one chocolate and one vanilla, and I were told to sit down and wait until I hear a command on a speaker telling me to pick up and eat the bowl I want.

    After time t1 I hear the command yes? and I choose chocolate. That’s you. I might still be unsure, and withing fractions of a second I can consider both and then pick one. It might not be the best decision, in hindsight, but then I could just choose to take a little longer and then choose.
    Most obviously, however, I have already thought is through in the ample time before ‘the command’ is issued.
    FAIL
    Your scenario is already meaningless, and you have only just described one possible instance of it!!

    I could not have chosen otherwise because the state of my brain determined it. (But interestingly the state of my brain can change while waiting, so if the command had come at time t2 I might really have chosen differently than I did at time t1).
    WTF?!? So what!!??!! no one in thier right mind, or in the real world, let’s someone else tell them, ahead of time no less, that they must make a final decision at a specific, but arbitrary, instant. It is bizarre to use this as representative of anything do to with our real life behavior. It is so far removed from the situations in which we DO make selections as to become inconsiswtent with any realistic scenario whatsoever. Fail

    Now I leave the room, and the set up is restored to the original state, and I re-enter the room and repeat the experiment.

    This time after t2 I choose vanilla. This is a deterministic choice that could not have been otherwise.
    NON SEQUITOR DELUXE. Sorry, big time fail, again.

    It is still important to people that on the second iteration I really could choose something different than I chose on the first iteration.
    It is evenj more important that you can pick your own time to issue the command to make a selection, so in actuality, you could pick either t1 or t2 in the same situation, and you really could choose different at the same ‘time’, say the time dfference being 2 milliseconds, or 300, it is absolutely bizarre that because we can only MAKE one choice at any specific instant, we can voluntarily wait for .3 seconds, or whatever time frame you fancy, .00001 picosecond if you desire, the two situations are different physically, and the decision WHEN to decide is your own – subjectively, based on reaching some subjectively, consciously chosen and relative to the other available choices (not an absolute) threshold of emotional response.

    Fail, this like shooting fish in a barrel, Jeff, I am not the slightest bit impressed

    So on each choice I could not have chosen differently, but in the whole process involving two iterations of the experiment, I really could choose differently between t1 and t2. This is consistent with determinism because the brain changes states between t1 and t2. It is this flexibility of the brain to learn, remember, and readjust priorities for making selections that allows it to choose differently when faced with two different but highly similar situation.
    Seperated by milliseconds This is the basis for compatibilist freedom, which clearly is not dualistic free-will, and is clearly consistent with determinism.
    You nailed it. That is free will in a nutshell. The instant you include subjectivity, you include conscious evaluation, and that conscious evaluation is free will. It is not an ‘illusion’, that is what happens, you just described it to a ‘T’
    You are a free-willist, a deterministic, materialistic, compatabilist free will believer
    (According to the definition I have been using all along, and so how you could bring ‘traditional, millenia old basic concepts’ into your opinion of how we form our explanation for free will is even further beyond my understanding of why you don’t call what you described as free will.
    Now do you understand what is meant by ‘voluntary’? We, subjectively, inside our heads, inside our imaginations, at our own subjective discretion, decide when to terminate the process and pick. Of course we only pick the only one possible, because we select the time when the only one possible matches our desire.
    Furthermore, we might suddenly decide that we want Black Cherry, now that we think about it, and walk out and over to the Ice Milk Emporium in the Student Unionh building across the quad. Not only ‘when,’ but even ‘if’ we make a decision is subject to our conscious evaluation of the predetermined situation.

    None of this changes the importance for compatibilist to drop the phrase “free-will” and to realize they really are incompatibilists who emphasize human subjective experience and human subject/object interactions.
    Wa – WHAT? SAY AGAIN???
    Jeff, that is such a huge non sequitor and use of unfounded assumption that I don’t know where to start.
    You just said, “None of this changes the importance for compatibilist to drop the phrase “free-will” ”
    How would you have a clue what anyone is thinking, let alone a specific person, or subjectively biased class of people you create?

    None of this changes… for the … is a pronouncement of something you can not know, but just so you ‘officially’ know, I will tell you my thoughts, and yes, when you get right down to it, none of this changes my ‘importance’ on dropping the term, for it is zero to begin with, and it is still zero, because you don’t have a valid point or argument anywhere in that wreck of an argument for dropping the term in the first place.
    I interpret your usage of “none of this changes the importance of the people who are now proven to be wrong, using my flawless deployment of nano-sharp logic so clinicaly, so obviously they are being obstinant.
    That is what is seems to me you are implying.

    I think that incompatibilists seem to emphasize the actual physical structure and operation of the brain over how that plays out in every day human contexts.
    That’s nice ;p
    Actually, I do appreciate you including the “I think” predicate(?) for I think it should automatically be stated before every single thing we say, in order render truthfulness of our statements, and keep things in perspective. I really do appreciate what you said, the way you said it here.

    Both are determinists, and both should avoid using the obsolute formulation “free-will”.
    I think it isn’t obsolete, in any sense of the word, except that you seem to imply that it is obvious that free will doesn’t mean what we all, or mostly all, agree what it means.
    Using the term ‘gay’ when describing someone as happy and carefree(lol, ‘free’) is obsolete, because we all agree that the primary meaning of the word has changed.

    I don’t think there is really any doubt what most people mean when they say “free will’, it means “free to decide among any possible alternatives available at this time, say, in the next 3 weeks, or perhaps three seconds, or perhaps I won’t decide anything after all because no one can make me!

    Your turn, I’m sure I have interpreted things incorrectly, it is highly probable(for me) at some point, anyways LMAO! ;)

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 9, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      You guys are dominating this thread now, which seems to have become largely a dialogue, with tushcloot’s comments being essays rather than comments. I think it’s time for both of you to take this conversation offline, either on your own websites, if you have them, or via private email.

      Thanks.

      • Posted February 9, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

        Absolutely, Jerry, you have been more than fair with, and attentive to, me.
        I appreciate your honesty. And, I ordered your book yesterday, they were sold out!

        I’ve continued things here windaelicker.wordpress.com

        Thanks again,
        Mike Laing

    • Steve
      Posted February 9, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT YOUR POSSIBLE SELECTIONS AND GAUGE WHAT MAKES YOU MOST HAPPY OR LIKELY TO SATISFY YOUR NEED, OR WANT, TO SELECT SOMETHING IN THE FIRST PLACE.

      Yes, but nothing says he has to use conscious thought to think about it. So this does not necessitate consciousness as the seat of control.

      • Posted February 9, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        I agree! Entirely.

        Everything I write can be explain by …
        continued at this blog, windaelicker.wordpress.com

        I’ll turn off moderation, and I have only sporadic access to the internet, but if you want to continue a bit, I’d be thrilled and honored, Jeff especially, more especially Jerry…
        That’s it! I’m starting to hallucinate, see you later, here for sure, on another thread where I agree with you two on everything!


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] blog post is at Why Evolution Is True, called Sunday free will: “pseudo-dualism” I got there late, and made this reply, so far: tushcloots Posted February 5, 2012 at 6:53 pm | [...]

  2. [...] And I replied: “James is wrong that we only observe actualities.”  I never quite got back to explaining how wrong James is about determinism (another time perhaps), but I did go on to explain: [...]

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