Two disparate views of free will

Here are two disparate takes on free will by Susan Blackmore and J. P. Moreland.  What they have in common is that both speakers conceive of “free will” in the same way: as dualistic, libertarian free will (Moreland buys it; Blackmore doesn’t). Now that’s the form of free will—the “ghost-in-the-machine” free will—that many readers here either say isn’t widely held, or isn’t the kind of free will we want. I still maintain that libertarian free will is species most people think they have, but that most folks haven’t thought much about it or the implications of determinism. And how many people know about the Libet-type experiments showing that actions precede conscious decisions?

And I maintain, too, that philosophers are better employed telling people that they don’t have libertarian free will, and are ruled by the laws of physics, than by confecting bogus brands of free will that are at odds with how most people conceive it.  To me, that accomplishes very little except engaging in a semantic games. It’s as if, finding the prospect of death unpalatable, philosophers redefined “immortality” to mean “we live forever in the memories of others and through our accomplishments”, and then informed us that we’re really immortal after all—and that that is precisely the kind of immortality worth wanting!  No thank you; I’ll take the conventional kind. As Woody Allen said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my works; I want to achieve it through not dying.”

In the first video, “Free will is an illustion,” Susan Blackmore, author, psychologist, atheist, and debunker of woo, gives an eloquent and energetic refutation of libertarian free will. Note that she takes “free will” as libertarian free will, so, you see, some prominent intellectuals see that as the going definition. Do tell me, compatibilists, why she would waste her time debunking a view of free will that no secular person believes?

J. P. Moreland is a professor of philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology at California’s Biola University, which is of course an evangelical Christian school.  Here he mounts an uncompromising defense of dualistic free will, which is of course the brand held by many religious believers. He’s interviewed by Robert Lawrence Kuhn, identified by Wikipedia as “an international corporate strategist, investment banker, and public intellectual.”

Note that shortly after a minute in, Moreland claims that it is not rational for a scientist to believe in determinism, because all scientific beliefs are simply determined by “irrational atoms in motion”. Therefore, claims Moreland, we can’t choose to advocate determinism because that involves a rational choice—a conclusion based on evidence. And making a “rational decision” is at odds with the motion of irrational atoms that constitute us. He concludes, “And so the claim that all of my beliefs are determined by physical factors by is self-refuting.”

That, of course, is taken directly from the Alvin Plantinga Playbook, for Plantinga also claims that humans can’t find truth unless we’re imbued by God with a sensus divinitatis.  The refutation is, of course, that rationality (i.e., the combining of evidence to reach good decisions) is a product of natural selection, which has ordered those “irrational atoms” into neurological programs that not only promote human rationally, but also help us weigh evidence.

Note, too, Moreland’s argument about why we still have libertarian free will even though God knows in advance exactly what choices we’ll make.

For further viewing, there are nice videos by Steve Pinker and Sam Harris also debunking dualistic free will.  Why do they spend so much time criticizing this, and showing that our behavior is determined by physical processes, if nobody believes in dualism in the first place?

h/t:Robert

227 Comments

  1. Posted July 1, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Do tell me, compatibilists, why she would waste her time debunking a view of free will that no secular person believes?

    I don’t think we compatibilists have ever claimed that no secular person believes in dualistic free will. IMO most of the population and most secular people who have not really thought about it do indeed believe in dualist free will (but do so in a way that is inconsistent with many of the ways they think about “will” in everyday life, since dualist conceptions are incoherent).

    I also agree with you that we should indeed put effort into dispelling notions of dualism.

    Where we might disagree is — supposing that we’d dispelled dualism entirely — what language and way of thinking about things would we then adopt?

    • Posted July 1, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Forgot to add:

      “… confecting bogus brands of free will that are at odds with how most people conceive it. To me, that accomplishes very little …”

      Supposing it were the case (and I’m not claiming that it is, I don’t know), that it is easier to covert people from dualism to determinism/compatibilism than from dualism to determinism/incompatibilism, would that amount to compatibilism accomplishing something?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        I think that goes along the same line of with holding telling people we have no free will in fear of how they will react. It comes across as somewhat paternalistic – it might be more honest to just tell people what you believe is the truth without any hidden agenda as doing anything else would be seen through as manipulation.

        • Posted July 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

          But compatibilists do see compatibilism as the truth. (Contrary to rumour, we don’t adopt it just because we’re afraid of the implications of incompatibilism!)

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

            Yes I realize that but your post suggests its reason to convert someone’s thinking from dualism to compatibilism is it’s easier not that it’s the truth.

      • Vaal
        Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        Dianna,

        I’d like to ask you to take some choice you have made, or that you are going to make soon. One that involves some rational deliberation. Don’t start by thinking of the free will debate. Just start by observing what actual thoughts go on whenever you apprehend you seem to have a choice to make, and then go about deciding what action to take.

        I’m suggesting that the normal course our mind takes is to observe that some set of options seem *possible* for us to take, and we deliberate rationally (or try to) about which action is LIKELY (because we don’t have perfect knowledge of the future) to fulfill our desire. If we are thinking about which actions are most LIKELY to get us what we want, we are automatically thinking in probabilities and if/then scenarios: IF I desire this I can do X, Y or Z to get it, and IF I do X action it might have these undesirable consequences (for instance, I’m hungry but the X action of “eating that cake”, while fulfilling a desire to eat, will have the consequence of breaking our diet. Whereas Y action won’t, so Y action is looking better to me..” Etc.

        And the reason you think any of those actions are possible is because you think yo have the power to take those actions. And the reason you think you have the power to take any of those actions is based on an inference over time of what you’ve been able to do in the past. “This is an option to me because I am capable of doing that action.”
        It’s why you don’t typically think your options include magically making things happen – because you’ve never known yourself to have such powers.

        These are the reasons you think you have choices, the reasons you make certain choices, and the ways both you and anyone else will understand your actions. “I am causally excepted magically from the rest of the universe” is not likely what you are thinking consciously when making any decision. On reflection that might be “how you feel when making a decision.” But it is not WHY you actually apprehend any options as possible and it doesn’t explain whatsoever WHY you ever make any decisions.

        If this is wrong, and you deliberate in some manner far different from what I’ve described, I’d be interested in how that works.

        Vaal

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know how this proves free will at all. I may think of “me” making the decision. This is a loaded sentence since “me” is an illusion and in this way is a placeholder for all the physical constraints and influence that make up that “me” and the actions of making the decision are an observation of processes in the brain. Choosing which one to act on is no proof I had free will.

          • Vaal
            Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

            Diana,

            I’m not claiming that proves you have free will.

            But free will is necessarily the concern we have with whether we “have a choice.” Even if you think that ultimately your having a choice is an illusion, one of the debates concerns whether the choices described by Libertarianism or Compatibilism actually map the ones we THINK we have, intuitively.

            This is why, before concluding it’s an illusion, I’m asking you to reflect on your intuitive behavior when making choices. Ask yourself what are you thinking when you THINK you have a choice in front of you. What are the thought processes.

            Are the ones I’ve described inaccurate? If so, how?

            If they are accurate to the reasons that actually go on when we think we are making free willed choices, then it has consequences for the free will debate.

            Vaal

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think I have super powers when I make my choices. I still don’t see the relevance to free will.

              • Vaal
                Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

                The relevance is that incompatibilists keep asserting that when people are making their choices they are doing so on the basis of an “illusion.” An illusion about the nature of those choices. (You don’t “really” have the choice to do A instead of B, since you are only determined to do B, etc).

                So how we ACTUALLY think and reason when making choices is central to the debate.

                If it turns out that your normal method of thinking about your ability to choose between options arises in the way I have described – inferences about what powers you think you have and from that what options you can take to get what you desire, and using If/Then deliberations, then it is not an “illusion.” You are not deluded about your choices; you have the freedom to choose that you think you do (because you do not, in fact, decide you have options based on “I have magic anti-causal powers,” but instead you think you have options based on normal empirical inferences about yourself).

                So this idea that the free will people assume they have when making decisions is an “illusion” is inaccurate.

                Vaal

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 1, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                So how do you know it isn’t an illusion? If I make a decision before im aware of it, how was I solely responsible for that decision?

              • Vaal
                Posted July 1, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

                There are 3 parts to the incompatibilist objection:

                1. That what compatibiilsts think of as having free willed choices is DIFFERENT than what we normally think we are doing, and the powers we have, when making choices. (This is the “re-defining” objection).

                2. Based on determinism itself: even if there is a “me” trying to make choices, determinism still means that “me” would be deluded about the choices I have in reality.

                and:

                3. Based on how the “self” actually operates: That there is a “me” making the decisions of the type that makes sense of having this free will.

                For the moment I’m dealing with #1 and #2 first.

                #1, the “re-defining” objection is false because I submit that we normally think in terms of if/then counter-factual reasoning, and empirical experience of our powers, to determine what choices we think we have.

                #2 objection is false for similar reasons: it ignores the actual experience of how we reason about our choices, noted above, which still makes sense even given determinism.

                That’s where I’m starting.

                You are raising objection #3. I’m happy to get there, but it makes sense to at least break those first objections – the ones that say “compatibilism doesn’t even describe the very illusions we are under when making decisions.” There are several purported illusions and I think the first two are at least mistaken claims – based on if my description of how you normally reason about your choices is accurate.

                Vaal

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 1, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

                I can’t buy it.

                That what compatibiilsts think of as having free willed choices is DIFFERENT than what we normally think we are doing, and the powers we have, when making choices. (This is the “re-defining” objection).

                Not what we normally think we are doing – what we actually are doing. We can think whatever we want but that doesn’t make it an illusion – that’s why it’s such a powerful illusion.

                Based on determinism itself: even if there is a “me” trying to make choices, determinism still means that “me” would be deluded about the choices I have in reality.

                Not deluded – constrained by physics, experience, genetics, environment.

              • Vaal
                Posted July 1, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

                Diana,

                I don’t understand that last post.

                Do you think if all our choices are determined THAT makes the choices we “think” we have an illusion?

                It’s an “illusion” because we think that both options are actually live possibilities, but in truth, our actual choice was predetermined and the idea we ever would have or could have chosen the alternate option is false, rendering it an “illusion” from our perspective.

                That is a typical incompatibilist assertion, the first one I’m trying to argue against.
                Do you agree that our choices are an illusion on that account?

                Another incompatibilist objection is that the illusion consists in how the self actually operates. We think of “me” as the conscious decider of actions, it’s the part making choices. But if this type of “me” isn’t accurate to how our cognition actually operates – bring in the Libet experiements – then the “I” that I think is making free willed choices isn’t really there. It’s an illusion.

                But that is a DIFFERENT illusion than the one first described above, which is based on logical inferences from determinism. Which one of those do you think makes free willed choices an illusion. The first, the second, both? (I’m talking only of the first, at the moment).

                Vaal

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 1, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

                Both. If I could go back in time, I would have no choice but to make the same choice given that I am who I am at that point in time based on my genetics, my experiences, etc. We think we have options but given who we are, we can’t alter those options.

                The “me” is also an illusion because there is no central I but a combination of neurons firing in a physical brain.

                Add to that the experiments that show us observing our conscious decisions more than making them.

              • Vaal
                Posted July 1, 2013 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

                “If I could go back in time, I would have no choice but to make the same choice given that I am who I am at that point in time based on my genetics, my experiences, etc. We think we have options but given who we are, we can’t alter those options.”

                And that’s the crux of what I’m getting at.
                I suggest the way you are analysing how you make decisions *when discussing the free will debate* is not represeentive of what you are actually thinking when making decisions. The question is what options do you think you have WHEN you are deciding between options and why. Before deciding whether your thinking was somehow deluded, you first have to know what it is you were thinking.

                So, again, just take any decision you have to make and notice how you are actually thinking about it.

                Let’s say you lived in North Carolina and you were deciding between flying or Driving to New York City for a few days. Why would it ever occur to you to do so? Obviously it will come from set of your desires to go. And why would you ever think you had either option? It would be an inference from the abilities you think you actually have and the options open to you, given your abilities. You have the money to fly, but also the physical ability to drive. These are true statements about you and what you can do, and hence true statements about what type of options you have. Otherwise your deliberations would be irrational. Let’s say you hadn’t the ability to drive a car.
                Then you wouldn’t think you had the option to drive. Let’s say you couldn’t afford to fly. Then that wouldn’t be an option.
                You infer your options from things you can actually do.

                And then how do you choose which option? Isn’t the process like: Well, which do I WANT to do more, drive or fly, and why?
                So it’s “I COULD drive IF (notice the conditional) I want to, or I COULD fly IF I want to.” Which shall I choose? Then you start to reason counterfactually: “IF I fly I’ll get there faster and be able to squeeze more work in before I go, but IF I drive I will save money.” Again, there is nothing illusory about this form of reasoning is there? Never is it occurring to you that “I can make this decision based on my being a counterfactual dualistic being.” Because that doesn’t have any bearing whatsoever on the choice you need to make. It compels you in no direction whatsoever. To understand what choice to make, you actually use the counterfactual If/Then scenarios combined with your beliefs about the kind of powers you have should you put them to either
                action – flying or driving.

                And if you chose to fly and are asked later by a friend “could you have driven there instead?” You’d answer “yes.” And the reason you’d answer “yes” is on exactly the same basis as above. You had a car and the ability IF YOU WANTED TO, to have driven to New York. You’d answer “yes” in this way because it is actually true and informative – it tells your friend about what you can do and why you chose one over the other. Your friend would not be asking “Could you have chosen differently if every cause in the universe were precisely the same, including your brain state and your desire to fly?”

                No one THINKS or reasons like that because it’s completely off track to how we normally reason about our choices, and it’s utterly uninformative because the answer will ALWAYS BE NO.

                I suggest it’s only LATER, in the context of trying to make sense of free will philosophically, that you start making mistakes like “Wow, the world is actually totally determined so I MUST have been under an illusion WHEN I was making my choices.”

                No. You weren’t. During the normal course of your deliberating about choices, you are actually considering truths about your powers, thinking of likely outcomes IF you had a somewhat different desire or IF you took a somewhat different course of action. You are thinking in the only rational way possible, the only informative way. It’s not something you have to abandon as an illusion.

                Vaal.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 2, 2013 at 5:12 am | Permalink

                No one THINKS or reasons like that because it’s completely off track to how we normally reason about our choices, and it’s utterly uninformative because the answer will ALWAYS BE NO.

                Agreed, no one thinks like that but that doesn’t prove that we have free will because you can’t objectify that thinking. You are your brain so how would you come to any other conclusion unless you had something objective to tell you otherwise which would be the experiments that do so.

                It is also the reason why you can happily live as if you have free will even though you don’t.

              • Posted July 1, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

                During the normal course of your deliberating about choices, you are actually considering truths about your powers, thinking of likely outcomes IF you had a somewhat different desire or IF you took a somewhat different course of action.

                What you describe is, indeed, what most people are doing when they’re pointing to what they call their “free will.”

                But the thing is, that’s every bit as deterministic a process as any other. You’re no more “free” when you deliberate your choices than a computer program is when it runs simulations of the outcomes of multiple chess moves and picks one based on the final positions of the respective simulations.

                There is no freedom in such contemplation, only will.

                (Well, there’s going to be insignificant amounts of freedom arising from the usual suspects of quantum fluctuation and stray cosmic rays and what-not, but the chess computer is likely even more susceptible to those sorts of things — and it’s clearly not any sort of purposeful freedom, for such is every bit as much of an oxymoron as “free will” itself.)

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted July 1, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

                (Whew, replies are getting complicated…)

                Ben,

                “What you describe is, indeed, what most people are doing when they’re pointing to what they call their “free will.”

                Great. So then people using such counterfactual deliberation: “IF I
                stop taking insulin for my diabetes I’ll probably die but IF I keep taking it I’ll probably live.”

                Then when they are thinking about the choices they have, so long as this counterfactual reasoning is at play, they are dealing in truths, not illusions. That’s what I have been arguing.

                “But the thing is, that’s every bit as deterministic a process as any other.”

                Yes, of course it is. But such truths do not require any exception from determinism, right? So to say they are determined is neither here nor there.

                Presuming you believe all things are determined, you also think something like “Obama could have nuked North Korea if he’d wanted to, and IF he did a lot of people would have died” (Or fill in whatever similar statement you’d think were true).

                So to say this is within the context of determinism is NOT to say such talk is dealing in illusion. It seems we agree.
                Normal deliberations about our options are not illusory because they normally involve some abstraction and counterfactual reasoning.

                That’s the first step.

                Next is: But this doesn’t mean we have freedom! We need to be outside the influence of determinism to have freedom.

                But…if the notion of our freedom to do choose is counterfactual in nature, then, as per above, understood this way we ARE free to choose within a deterministic context. Because to say one is “free to choose” does not involve “being able to do other than what is determined in any particular exact instance.” Rather, it means “What I can do IF certain conditions were jiggled somewhat,” for instance a different desire, etc. It is an informative statement about the attributes I have in similar but never precisely the same situations. (Because you’d never understand the attributes of most things, if you could only consider them stuck in one precise state at one time).

                “I am free to choose A or B” is a similarly counterfactually-based claims “The sky over Ohio can be cloudy or sunny.”
                And both true and informative for the same reasons. Hence, not an “illusory” claim.
                And it’s the basis for our thinking about our freedom to choose, in general. Not an illusion.

                Vaal

              • Vaal
                Posted July 1, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

                ^^ Apologies for the formatting and other errors.

                Vaal

              • Vaal
                Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:34 am | Permalink

                Diana,

                “Agreed, no one thinks like that, (Vaal:

                Exactly.

                So the idea, so often stated around here, that the common thinking during our choice making amounts to an illusion isn’t true.

                “I can choose to put either regular or premium gas in my car” is TRUE in the same way that “My car will run on either regular or premium gas.”

                Both are informative, true statements that rely on conditionals, If/Then. So when you think “I can choose either grade of gas” it’s not an illusion, or a delusion, that must be dispelled somehow.

                “but that doesn’t prove that we have free will because you can’t objectify that thinking.”

                Like I keep saying, I’m not saying that alone “proves free will.” I’m just trying to dispel the first incompatibilist claim that when we think we can do either A or B, that this is an “illusion.” It’s not an illusion.

                As for Free Will, we can use that as it’s normally used, to describe the various scenarios in which our choices occur.
                If you had the option between regular or premium gas and decided to use premium gas, then you did it of your own free will. You were physically capable of either action, and you took the action that fulfilled your will/desire.

                If the gas station refused to activate the regular gas pump for you, then you would not have bee free to take that option. Or if someone were holding a gun on you, coercing you to pump the premium gas, then you did not do it “of your own free will” insofar as that choice reflected the will/desire of the gunman, and he coerced you to do HIS will, not what you desired.

                This is generally how the concept of freedom and free will is applied in most use, and it’s descriptive of real states of affairs, so that we understand the type of circumstances in which certain choices have been made.

                Vaal

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

                Like I keep saying, I’m not saying that alone “proves free will.” I’m just trying to dispel the first incompatibilist claim that when we think we can do either A or B, that this is an “illusion.” It’s not an illusion.

                No one is saying the thoughts are an illusion. The brain is clearly capable of thinking through possibilities and probabilities.

                If you had the option between regular or premium gas and decided to use premium gas, then you did it of your own free will. You were physically capable of either action, and you took the action that fulfilled your will/desire.

                There could be so many things influencing the decision – maybe you are the sort of person who would rather save money than put the premium gas in your sports car. Maybe you are the sort of person who doesn’t believe those engineers are correct in recommending premium gas. Why are you that person? Genetics, experience, environment. How free is your choice? Then add on to it that the brain makes that decision and then observes itself making it later (as the “I”) and really what freedom of will do we have?

              • Vaal
                Posted July 2, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

                Diana,

                It’s become clear from your replies that
                insofar as you can find anything that has influence on our desires, decisions or actions then you will not consider those choices “REALLY free.”

                In other words, it seems the only type of freedom you would accept is the non-existent magic, exempt from causation and influence freedom. The kind that has been shown to be incoherent over and over here.

                And yet, even if you have gone this route there are still real facts about the world to describe – people making choices under varying scenarios.

                A scenario where you are sitting in your kitchen because you desire to be there is different from one in which you are under house arrest. Or in prison.

                A scenario in which you can decide whether to walk to the store or drive is different than if you had desires to do such things, but could not because your legs were paralyzed. You are not confined to a wheelchair, restricted to not having those other options, by “choice.”

                A scenario in which you took money out of a bank machine to pay someone who did good work for you, vs a scenario where someone coerced you at gunpoint to take out money and hand it over to him.

                There are all sorts of pressures on what we normally call our “freedom to choose” and we can not always “do what we desire/will to do” and the will of others can be brought to seriously impede our own will or desires.

                In typical parlance the difference denoted in such scenarios is being in a situation, or making a choice of your own Free Will or not. And BECAUSE free will is typically applied to these scenarios it does not denote something magical. It describes the differences in real world scenarios, like the above. That’s WHY people apply the phrase to those scenarios.

                If you object, then it would seem you take on a burden of altering language, coming up with words or phrases that describe these scenarios.

                If you feel stuck on the exact phrase “free will” you may wish to remove the “will” part or something. But it’s just words for the same phenomena being described, these different scenarios and degrees of freedom in which our choices occur.

                I think I’ll end with that, as I’ve used enough bandwidth in this thread.

                Thanks for your time, and patience, Diana. :-)

                Vaal

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 2, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

                Yes, I suppose I am a staunch determinist. I once thought that it would be interesting to be able to escape a body and observe things outside of physical influences. Then I realized even if that were possible, the “I” doesn’t exist either.

                Thanks for your thoughts though Vaal – I learn so much from these discussions that I sometimes feel physically exhausted and sometimes get migraines after but I like thinking.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted July 2, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

                The kind that has been shown to be incoherent over and over here.

                Of course free will is incoherent.

                Incompatibilists don’t have as a goal, a motive, a quest to try to find some way to make an incoherent concept, “free will”, into something that is in some way coherent.

                The question compatibilists should answer is, what is the importance of that quest? I disagree that it is necessary for humans to be held accountable for their actions. So why else? So that humans can hold on to the historically gratifying self-image of how special and unique we are? I don’t need to be stamped with the label “free will” to have a sense of the value of humans, or to live a satisfying life.

                As I see it, the place compatibilists end up is with a taxonomy of human behaviors that you label with the description “free will”.

                This category of behaviors don’t seem to correspond to any identifiable element of the brain and its processing. They seem to be a network effect of a complex composition of different mechanisms in the brain. So what compatibilists are content to give the name “free will” to seems completely uninteresting and useless to anyone interested in how the brain works. It is not illuminating at that level. It’s a repetition of what we have all known about humans since we were children, but it doesn’t help us to understand it in any new way at all.

                So why not just stop at “free will is incoherent”? I can’t see the importance of placating ourselves with a trophy concept rescued from incoherency by careful and deliberate redefinition of the whole concept. What is the value of doing this? It’s not, as Dennet seems to suspect, that people will turn into a species of Phineas Gages if they learn that their intelligence and their ability to think and act as they need to is deterministic and material, rather than the free will of an ensouled unique uncaused prime mover inside our head.

              • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

                If you object, then it would seem you take on a burden of altering language, coming up with words or phrases that describe these scenarios.

                If it’s a choice between re-engineering much of the entire English language to salvage the religiously-derived philosophical notion of “free will” or simply noting that the term is an oxymoron on the same class as “married bachelor,” I’ll personally go with the latter, thankyouverymuch.

                We can discuss the will, an individual’s desires and the means by which those desires arise and are brought to fruition. And we can discuss freedom, the constraints upon an individual and the scope and context of those constraints. And we can certainly discuss the other definitions of the term, “free will,” especially perfectly valid legal ones that indicate, for example, that nobody had a gun to your head.

                But, in the philosophical context in which we’re having this discussion, “will” and “freedom” must, of necessity, stand as much in conflict with each other as “matrimony” and “monasticism.”

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Stephen Lawrence
              Posted July 1, 2013 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

              Vaal,

              “But free will is necessarily the concern we have with whether we “have a choice.” Even if you think that ultimately your having a choice is an illusion, one of the debates concerns whether the choices described by Libertarianism or Compatibilism actually map the ones we THINK we have, intuitively.”

              People generally believe we make choices that we are ultimately responsible for. We immediately see that is incompatible with determinism.

              • Vaal
                Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

                Sure.

                If you ignore all those pesky arguments for compatibiilsm.

                Vaal.

              • Stephen Lawrence
                Posted July 2, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

                Vaal,

                “Sure.

                If you ignore all those pesky arguments for compatibiilsm.”

                Ultimate responsibility is impossible.

    • Posted July 1, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Excellent questions!!!

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted July 1, 2013 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      If you wanted to dispel dualism, you would be well advised to not adopt language saying we possess a quality called “free will” because that would be self-defeating.

  2. Posted July 1, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    You wonder why philosophers engage in “semantic games”: there’s actually a long tradition (going back to Plato) of philosophers trying to figure out what the nature of some phenomenon or entity is. As other philosophers have noted, people in general sometimes make judgments as compatibilists and sometimes as incompatibilists.

    (Example: Suppose that Smith is an inherently very very good person, such that it is impossible that she would ever willingly, knowingly torture an innocent person. Most of my students still say that her decision not to torture an innocent person can be free.)

    Blackmore mistakenly cites the Libet experiments as if they were relevant to the free will debate. No one has ever successfully defended the principle,

    If we have libertarian free will, then we must be consciously aware of our decisions when or before we make them.

    Until someone defends that principle, I propose a moratorium on bringing up the (irrelevant) Libet experiments.

    • Posted July 1, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Most conceptions of libertarian free-will have the consciousness as the “me” (= soul) that is doing the choosing. Do any dualists conceive it any other way?

      • Posted July 2, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        Hi Coel,

        I would say that all libertarians (dualists and physicalists) must hold that sometimes, we freely make choices such that at that moment, we could have made some other choice. Beyond that, you’re right that many people pre-theoretically think that it is a conscious ‘I’ who is doing the choosing, and so the Libet experiments show us (interestingly) that it is actually an unconscious part that is doing the choosing. But that doesn’t yet tell us anything about, e.g., whether human choices are fully pre-determined.

    • Posted July 2, 2013 at 12:40 am | Permalink

      Dualism supposes that there is a will that is free of physical cause; and it is usually stated in terms of consciousness – it is conscious free will.

      This is particularly so in religious free will, which is after all the context in which Descartes placed his notion of free will.

      It makes no sense to their concept of ‘evil’ if their free will arises unconsciously from prior brain causes. To get around that problem they then have start supposing that the unconscious is part of the will, so that they can account for these events that are prior to consciousness. But that starts to dilute their original notion of a conscious will that is free of these brain events. Their free will then has to be some non-physical thing that initiates brain events, including these unconscious ones, and then eventually rises into consciousness. They push back free will the way they have to push back God in the face of evidence that contradicts their simpler notions.

      • Posted July 2, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        Hi Ron Murphy,

        I agree that our theologian (e.g.) should say that the unconscious is also part of the will.

        If the dualist is an epiphenomenalist (brain events cause mind events but not vice-versa), then the Libet experiments still seem to be no problem in themselves for free will; the unconscious decision to act causes the conscious awareness in the mind, as well as the brain event of reporting that one is aware of the decision.

        If the dualist is an interactionist, however (brain events cause mind events and vice-versa), I guess she should say that there is an unconscious part of the nonphysical mind as well. But I’m not sure why this would be a prohibitive concession.

        • Posted July 2, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          I agree that Libet doesn’t rule out free will, but merely, and once more, makes the dualist shift the goal post. Those dualists that think free will is an aspect of a free floating dualist mind that somehow makes brain events happen that in turn (through motor neurons) makes body events happen, they are the ones specifically challenged by Libet.

          Sure it is easy to dream up some other dualist free will that goes on somewhere as yet unelplained, and that effects unconscious and body events and then lands in the conscious mind. But it’s easy to dream up fairies and gods. Where’s the evidence to support any of these ideas?

          The only evidence we ever had of free will was that it felt like we had it. But now we know more about the world and its apparent material nature, and also knowing of how the brain fools itself in many other ways, it seems more likely that free will is an illusion.

  3. Posted July 1, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I’m a compatibilist in the sense that I see free will (or some much needed replacement term) as a malleable construct representing our perceived sense of autonomy.

    The sense is clearly (to me) not the same thing as the libertarian dualist sense of idealized freedom of conscious will.

    It just represents some form of volition that an individual is capable of constructing to varying degrees as a result of development and learning by virtue of being able to represent and juggle goals and navigate environments accordingly.

    Precise details of how awareness of volition arises and relates to action are honestly beyond me, and I suspect may possibly be beyond any of us at this point.

    Still it seems clear that there is a real gap between our perception of volition and the libertarian dualist conception of free will.

    I think at this point I tend to agree that given the long history of its use and its popular acceptance in those terms, we perhaps should just talk about free will in traditional libertarian terms and use another term for what most compatibilists actually mean.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I could be wrong, but from my experience people either believe in a dualistic libertarian free will or are deterministic compatiblists. People seem to really want a free will to exist and I’m in a minority being an incompatibilist (which actually surprised me when I started asking people about this).

    I’m glad Susan Blackmore disputed the idea that the world would fall a part if people accepted that they do not have free will as I find that scenario not only highly unlikely but also incredibly condescending and even moot (shouldn’t people know the truth – who decides to hold back the truth?).

    • Posted July 2, 2013 at 2:51 am | Permalink

      I find it misleading to call Determinists “incompatibilists”. In this debate, compatibilists are those who think that you can have an interesting notion of free will that’s compatible with determinism, while incompatibilists are those who think that you can’t. Both Libertarians and Determinists are incompatibilists; the former say that the two can’t be compatible, but we clearly have choice, so too bad for determinism, while the latter agree that the two aren’t compatible, but the world is clearly deterministic, so too bad for choice and free will.

      • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:36 am | Permalink

        Quite wrong. See http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/two-disparate-views-of-free-will/#comment-461623

        Physicalism is the position that everything is physical, material, causally connected. This is ‘incompatible’ with dualist free will, hence the term ‘incmpatibilist’.

        What is ‘compatibilism’ about, with regard to free will?

        • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:59 am | Permalink

          Um, libertarians — those who accept dualistic free will — ALSO claim that determinism (note: physicalism is too broad a term to use here) and free will are incompatible. Compatibilists say they are (if we properly understand what free will is). Why call those who accept the deterministic side of that incompatibility “incompatibilists” instead of what they are, determinists?

          Both determinists and libertarians object to the compatibilist position for the same reasons: that they assert that we can make meaningful choices even if things are truly determined. Once you understand that, then you can understand what the compatibilist position is.

          • Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:26 am | Permalink

            “if we properly understand what free will is”

            That’s your problem. The word ‘free’ qualifies ‘will’. What is the will free of? Dualists say it is free of physical causes. Physicalists say this dualist free will is incompatible with physicalism, determinism, materialism (whichever you like).

            You misunderstand the use of ‘determinism’. The correct way to think about it is this:

            All evidence suggests there is only the material world, the physical world. Physicalism is this same view, but in the context of ideas about the brain/mind – that the brain is a physical system and that the mind is some aspect or emergent behaviour of such a system.

            Such physicalists appeal to the deterministic nature of the universe that is implied by the material evidence – the models we build of reality, the ‘laws of physics’, are sufficiently ‘deterministic’ to allow us to successfully predict outcomes. This is not the full story, There appears to be inherent indeterminism in the universe too. And even if the universe were entirely deterministic, it is so complex that it would be indeterminate to us anyway. So ‘determinism’ when used in this debate does not imply we who use it are strict determinists. But it is a sufficient notion to dispel the notion of dualist free will.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted July 2, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

            Why call those who accept the deterministic side of that incompatibility “incompatibilists” instead of what they are, determinists?

            For the simple reason that “determinists” would also include compatibilists.

            My understanding is that the term “incompatibilist” originated to describe those who accept determinism, but say that free will is incompatible with it.

            Why bother to be concerned if someone who doesn’t even accept determinism as a reality should think it isn’t compatible with free will? If they don’t accept determinism’s reality, its incompatibility with free will is pretty inconsequential then.

            • Posted July 3, 2013 at 4:48 am | Permalink

              For the simple reason that “determinists” would also include compatibilists.

              As would “libertarians”. Compatiblism is the intermediate position between the two, recall. You criticism is like saying that we shouldn’t call materialists “materialists” because dualists accept that most things are material as well.

              My understanding is that the term “incompatibilist” originated to describe those who accept determinism, but say that free will is incompatible with it.

              No, the term for that was “determinists”, since before compatiblism took off there was no need for such a term. And note that this is a bad term because libertarians also think that determinism and free will are incompatible, which is why they reject determinism.

              Why bother to be concerned if someone who doesn’t even accept determinism as a reality should think it isn’t compatible with free will? If they don’t accept determinism’s reality, its incompatibility with free will is pretty inconsequential then.

              Because in this debate the libertarians reject determinism BECAUSE it is incompatible with free will and they think we have free will?

  5. Posted July 1, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    The fact that free will might just be an illusion scares most, because it implies we don’t have any real control over our existence, meaning an accomplished individual was determined to be one, as much as anybody else in a different situation, and that efforts we think we make or those we fail to carry out are just part of a reality that is very hard to accept. No merit and no fault. We all like to think we have some control over our lives.

    • Posted July 1, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Yes, of course it scares many. But so does death, and we come to terms with that. Accepting that there’s no little “me” inside my head directing my actions may cause a bit of distress, but once people accept that, they can move on and act as if they can make decisions. The real consequence of accepting determinism is not in one’s personal life, but in how one treats others, particularly through the legal system. In light of the absence of libertarian free will, one can conceive of many beneficial and efficacious changes in how we punish offenders, and this is all to the good.

      I don’t think philosophers should be in the business of helping scared people avoid facing the truth. That’s what theologians do!

      • Posted July 1, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        Thing is, all too often, I have a hard time telling the philosophers from the theologians. Neither group tends to be big on rational empiricism, and the only useful and coherent stuff we get out of either comes when they’re strictly rationally empirical.

        b&

        • Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

          Hi Ben,

          I understand why you associate theologians with irrationality and with a rejection of empiricism.

          As for philosophers, you might be happy to know that the plurality of philosophers are empiricists, and you probably already know that the vast majority are atheists. Also, a strong majority are physicalists about the mind.

          In addition, a plurality identifies with naturalism: the view that philosophy and science should work together, and that all phenomena are natural phenomena, in principle open to scientific investigation.1.

          So I would say that in general, the philosophers and the theologians are very easy to tell apart.

          • Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

            Tom,

            The problem is that a mere plurality is awfully weak sauce in such matters.

            Science has long had well-identified methods of verification. Granted, there are still side debates here and there, but there’s no question but that repeatable, independently-verifiable empirical observations are all that really matter when the rubber meets the road.

            Neither philosophy nor theology are grounded in any such way.

            What you’re seeing in philosophy is more and more philosophers abandon philosophy for science, which is a good thing. The problem is that they should have done so ages ago.

            When philosophers take an entirely scientific and empirical rational approach, such as when ethicists conduct research into patient outcomes and satisfaction, we get good results. When philosophers engage in philosophizing, we get bullshit like the Trolly Car “experiments.”

            Exactly as with theology, it’s all one-sided. Science can turn philosophy into a productive enterprise, but philosophy can do nothing but distract and derail science.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted July 2, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

              Hi Ben,

              As usual, this is a much larger debate, one we can’t resolve here. I’m sure each of us is very confident in his position. And as usual, I would, of course, like to see the scientific journal article reporting the empirical observations that demonstrated that

              repeatable, independently-verifiable empirical observations are all that really matter when the rubber meets the road.

              This is just the familiar problem that strict empiricism is self-defeating, since empirical observation never reveals normative facts, such as facts about which beliefs or epistemological principles are justified and which are unjustified.

              • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

                Tom, the only possible justification for any such endeavor must be its utility.

                How good a job does empiricism do at accurately and usefully explaining the universe as we experience it? How well do philosophy and religion do?

                It should come as no surprise that empiricism, grounded in the feedback loop of comparing observation to explanation and evolutionarily revising the explanation so as to better fit observation, does a much better job of aligning explanations with observations than the other methods, both of which privilege Deep Proclamation™ of one form or another over observations.

                If you want journal references demonstrating the importance of repeatable, independently-verifiable empirical observations…well, you might not find very many articles on the subject, but you’ll certainly find that as the first requirement in every respectable journal’s publication guidelines. Can you imagine the rejection letter you’d get from any scientific journal if your paper lacked repeatable, independently-verifiable empirical observations?

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Posted July 2, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

              You might want to borrow Bunge’s “ratioempiricism”, it is a bit less clunky than “empirical rational”.

              Incidentally, I’m not sure about the figures quoted, unfortunately. Big names from elite schools are likely as described, but given that tere are hundreds of philosophers in small places and so on, I have my doubts …

      • Posted July 1, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        This is not about helping scared people, is about understanding the reality of why people believe what they believe, It would be the only way to get through someone else’s, head.

      • Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        “Accepting that there’s no little ‘me’ inside my head directing my actions may cause a bit of distress, but once people accept that, they can move on and act as if they can make decisions.”

        Not sure why you think we don’t really make decisions, which is what the brain does. Impaired brains don’t make as good decisions. I’m wondering what on your view a *real* decision would consist of and why it would be worth wanting.

        That said, I agree we should be in the business of debunking libertarian free will and pointing out the implications, for instance for criminal justice and social and economic inequality. Compatibilists like Dennett and others discussed in Bruce Waller’s Against Moral Responsibility routinely downplay determinism and the impact it can have on beliefs and attitudes that affect policy.

  6. Kevin
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Religious people believe in dualistic free will. About the same proportion, I would suspect, that believe the Earth is 6000 years old and all animals were poofed into existence whole and entire by magic words. In other words, a substantial proportion of the population.

    So, why are philosophers discussing it? For the same reason you discuss fundamentalist challenges to the theory of evolution.

    Because a lot of people believe in it.

    I don’t.

    I believe in garden-variety everyday free will. No ghost in the machine. It’s you doing the deciding. But you’re free to change your mind.

    Frankly, I think you demonstrate a dualistic mindset when you argue that the Libet experiments provide evidence for determinism.

    Again, the brain is making the decision everywhere and all the time. There is a difference, however, between the decision-making part of the brain and the reporting of that decision-making to the consciousness. And the consciousness part of the brain is like a check-sum — it can override a sub/unconscious decision.

    The brain is the brain is the brain. But there are many facets to the brain. One facet — autonomic control. Another facet — unconscious or sub-conscious decision-making. Still another — reporting of that decision to a conscious part of the brain which then also can contribute to the decision-making process and change the decision.

    AKA, non-dualistic free will. There’s no ghost in the machine. The machine has machines inside the machine, some of which provide back-up systems and emergency overrides. None of which violates any law of physics.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Oddly I’ve found non religious people believing in a libertarian free will as well. It could be they haven’t thought through this very well or they are just deceiving themselves. It would be nice if there was a study on this that could be correlated with religiosity – I’d find that very interesting.

      I even had a Catholic friend tell me there is no free will. I need to question her further on this because I know she is a believer (though I think she does not like the Catholic church and stays out of tradition) so I need to question her about what she means by this as not having free will seems to contradict being a Christian.

      • Kevin
        Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Good thing she didn’t express those opinions 200 years ago — she could have expected a visit from the Inquisition.

        I love a good heresy in the morning (and in the afternoon).

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

          Yeah, along with my atheist ass. :)

    • Vaal
      Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Kevin,

      “Religious people believe in dualistic free will. “

      I have to admit I was going on a similar assumption for quite a while. But I’ve been re-visiting the concept of Free Will as argued about within Christianity over tne centuries and I’ve been surprised to find out this is not so. I already knew that within Christianity there were schools of incompatibilism (or close to), compatibiism and libertarian free will. But I’ve been surprised at how much Christian thought falls into compatibilism, if anything it seems to be a majority view from what I can tell.

      Many Christian thinkers actually have not ignored that we are creatures of this world, influenced by it, that our desires are influenced by the world, and that our decisions seemed to arise almost irrevocably from our desires. Their solution was/is often enough a compatibilist line of thought.
      And they argue AGAINST Libertarian type free will. Google it and you’ll find quite a bit of Christian commentary pronouncing the type of libertarian free will discussed here as being incoherent…not to mention of course, “not biblical.”

      Vaal.

      • Stephen Lawrence
        Posted July 2, 2013 at 12:05 am | Permalink

        Vaal,

        “But I’ve been surprised at how much Christian thought falls into compatibilism, if anything it seems to be a majority view from what I can tell.”

        But it’s an incoherent version of compatibilism. So it’s compatibilism accompanied with the view that it can make sense for God to judge us for what we have done.

        What God would see is we are merely unlucky to have the distant past that leads to our bad behaviour, or visa versa.

      • Posted July 2, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        So that’s Christian thought. What about Jewish thought? What’s the Talmud say?

    • Posted July 1, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      … reporting of that decision-making to the consciousness.

      Agree with you so far.

      And the consciousness part of the brain is like a check-sum — it can override a sub/unconscious decision.

      Is there any evidence for this consciousness part doing any over-riding?

      • Posted July 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        For what the brain processes associated with conscious experience do, see Dehaene & Changeux 2011 Experimental and Theoretical Approaches to Conscious Processing, http://www.unicog.org/publications/DehaeneChangeux_ReviewConsciousness_Neuron2011.pdf

      • Posted July 2, 2013 at 1:49 am | Permalink

        There should be no problem with this.

        Under physicalism there is no reason the conscious brain cannot feed back into the unconscious brain in complex feedback relationships. And none of it remains ‘free’ of any other part. They are simply complex causal relationships between many parts of the brain, and some of those brain events, or that brain activity, is experienced as conscious thought. Why and how that happens remains a puzzle, but we need not abandon physicalism simply because we can’t explain it yet.

        • Posted July 2, 2013 at 2:35 am | Permalink

          I agree, there is no particular reason why a “consciousness” module of a brain could not be a decision-maker overriding non-conscious modules of the brain, but that’s different from saying that we know it does do so.

  7. Posted July 1, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I’m squarely in the camp of “free will” as a self-contained contradiction. If decisions are free, they cannot be willed; if willed, there is no freedom. Free will is the pre-programmed random throw of the dice that married bachelors decide their dart throws on north of the North Pole.

    That writ, when people claim to be exercising their free wills, there is a very real phenomenon they’re pointing to, though it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything commonly under discussion. When making decisions, we typically construct multiple virtual realities in our imaginations where we envision the outcomes of various possible decisions, mentally re-winding the tape each time and choosing a different possibility to explore. Then, back in the real world outside our heads, we base our actual actions on the results of that analysis. It’s an entirely deterministic process (with the usual negligible random and chaotic inputs), and it has nothing to do with free will…except that that’s what people are pointing to when they (most confusingly) use the words, “free will.”

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Kevin
      Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      As a baseball fan, I have long thought the “checked swing” is the clearest evidence we have of free will.

      Baseball players have to train themselves to not think about the pitch that’s coming their way. The decision of ‘swing-no swing’ is trained to be an unconscious reaction.

      Except when the batter checks his swing. Then, the unconscious ‘decider’ has said “swing at that fastball”, but the conscious says “No, you dope. It’s a slider.”

      The fact that the brain has redundancies and check-sums and override mechanisms (heck, we can consciously override autonomic functions) doesn’t mean that we’re merely a collection bioelectrical impulses with only one pathway possible.

      Sure, we’re bioelectrical impulses — but with multiple pathways possible all in the same program.

      We’re way more complex and subtle things than merely deterministic bags of bioelectrical goo.

      • Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        Sorry, but I don’t buy it. A checked swing is no more evidence for multiple “choice” points than a completed swing. All one needs posit is that if you see a ball do something at the last minute that means you aren’t likely to hit it, you don’t swing. That’s built into your neurons the same way a swing is. Surely you don’t think that a checked swing is evidence for some kind of libertarian free will! Or that a batter has a choice and could have freely swung or not swung in exactly the same situation?

        When you say “multiple pathways” are possible, it implies to me that you really do think that actions aren’t determined by physical circumstances; i.e., you’re flirting with dualism.

      • Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        When the batter checks his swing, is he doing so according to some set of heuristics or rules or what-not? If so, then he is willfully checking his swing, but he has no freedom in the matter: he’s following the rules.

        Or is he doing so on a random whim? If so, his decision is free, but it’s not willful.

        It matters not how aware he is of his decision-making process. Either his decisions are meaningful and predictable, or they’re unconstrained and irrelevant.

        The same applies to the dualistic varieties of free will; positing a ghost in the machine just obfuscates the question. Does the soul act according to a set of rules, or is it just tossing phantasmagorical coins?

        This is why “free will” is incoherent, and why we really need to use it in the exact same way we do “married bachelor.”

        Now, might the decision-making process be very complex and comprised of many layers, not all of which are readily available for introspection? Absolutely! But that just means that the rules are very complex, perhaps too complex for humans to consciously comprehend. It doesn’t mean that the rules are somehow simultaneously deterministic and random or somehow some special something that’s neither.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted July 2, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

          Very nice. I like the formulation that what is willed can not be free, and what is free can not be willed, and how you tie that with deterministic vs. random.

          Also I like the statement that what is willed is meaningful and predictible. This is why those suffering from the illusion of design see meaning where there is none. They believe the natural world is willed.

          Meaning seems to be something created in the human mind. Certainly other kinds of meaning can be created in other kinds of minds. Another thing the human mind does is to project its subjectivity onto the objective world. Those captivated by the religious mentality seem completely unable to notice that they are doing this.

          • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

            Thanks!

            Not only is meaning something created in a mind, it is dependent upon context.

            In one context, the bugle call, “Taps,” simply means, “lights out; bedtime.” In another, it’s a mournful remembrance of the fallen.

            This is very well established in information theory in the form of the cryptographic one-time pad. Any and all possible decryptions are perfectly and equally valid of a message encrypted with a one-time pad; that’s why that form of encryption is truly unbreakable. The “correct” decryption is dependent upon the previously-agreed-upon secret key. But you can trivially construct some other key that decrypts the message to whatever you want and declare that to be the real key.

            And that’s not restricted to cryptography; it applies equally well to any form of communication. It would be little more than an academic exercise to take this here post and come up with an alternative to the standard ASCII digital encoding that rendered the exact same sequence of ones and zeroes instead as the lyrics to the latest teen heartthrob song.

            Cheers,

            b&

      • Posted July 1, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        Then, the unconscious ‘decider’ has said “swing at that fastball”, but the conscious says “No, you dope. It’s a slider.”

        What is your evidence that the latter is being done by the “consciousness” as oppose to the override being merely reported to the consciousness?

        (heck, we can consciously override autonomic functions)

        Ditto same question.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted July 2, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        I think the only thing the checked swing is evidence of is that we can take in new information and feed that back into revised choices at a faster rate than we can step into a pitch, bring our hands forward and turn our torso.

        The batter needs to provisionally step into a pitch at the pitcher’s initial release because the ball comes so quickly. While starting to bring the hands forward the batter continues to watch the ball and reassess the situation. If the latest possible visual input triggers the batter’s trained sense of what an unhittable pitch looks like, there is still time to halt the swing. But the choice to halt the swing is still totally deterministic. What is it “free” of? Why is it “free will” as opposed to a skilled deterministic intelligence pursuing a goal to the best of its ability?

        I think rather than conscious and unconscious, you want two different kinds of conscious thought, like Kahnemans’ thinking fast and thinking slow dichotomy.

        Sports people, musicians, dancers, and any skilled person can talk about “muscle memory”, which is conscious action but does not require deliberative decision making for each movement or step. It is so well learned that the movements are memorized as complex composites of many smaller units of movement. The recall of these movements involves lots of unconcious activity, but the overall process of activating and continuing such learned sequences of movements is still monitored by the consciuos mind in a way that the heartbeat, the breath, or the sensory processing is not. So it’s not purely unconscious, but a complicated dynamic interplay between the conscious and unconscious, as virtually everything the brain does seems to be. New visual or auditory input can still trigger a decision to halt such movements. So you can’t divide the decision to swing and the decision to hold back cleanly between conscious and unconscious.

        Such skills are also exhibited by lots of predators in nature, whether they are hunting or at play. Also anti-ballistic missiles form provisional targets that are constantly revised and updated by new input.

        Being deterministic doesn’t mean there is a pathway that we are committed to in advance regardless of how our environment changes. The single determined pathway is dynamically changing every few milliseconds as new input arrives, but it’s still deterministic. There is still one path, the one we follow.

        It’s hard to see a special human thing called free will here. Skill, yes. Dennet uses the term competence. I like that usage. Humans have goals, skills, competence and much more. There is just no need to invoke the words “free will” to describe any of this, and it’s not clear that anything is gained by doing so.

        • Posted July 2, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

          Agreed. This reminds me of Libet’s experiment. He didn’t expect to find action potentials and predictability in the brain BEFORE a conscious “decision” was made. When he found that, he then decided that there wasn’t really free will, but there was “free won’t”; that is, somebody could “choose” to negate a deterministically-made decision. He later rejected this, I think, because there’s no difference between doing something and deciding later not to do it. Both are deterministic decisions made, as Ben said, by taking in new information.

  8. Wolfkiller
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand how religious people can argue we have free will when it doesn’t make sense with all their claims about god. How can we choose anything when god knows EVERYTHING, including our future actions and how this whole experiment is going to turn out? Isn’t my name already written in some kind of cosmic e-book that says which after party I will be attending?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Yes, god would seem to be quite the saddist in this respect.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      NO! And YES!

      You ask too many questions.

      Now, sing along . . . If you’re happy and you know it say AMEN! . . .

  9. PascalsSpaceGhost
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Here are two very very common examples of free will in everyday situations:

    1) “Did you sign that contract of your own free will”
    2) “You dragged me to this party against my will”

    Both these common everyday phrases imply that some decision are freely willed and some decisions are not.

    Libertarian free will DOES NOT allow that to happen – EVERY decision is freely willed. So clearly, surely, you can see that libertarian free will is not the ‘correct’ definition of free will.

    Theologians and religious demagogues need their flocks to think that the libertarian free will that solves the problem of evil is the same as the everyday free will they take for granted and having atheists doing their dirty work for them is beyond frustrating.

  10. Vaal
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Susan Blackmore, whom I respect very much, seems to me to be muddling the issues in exactly the way some of us have argued about in many posts.

    Disabusing dualism or even certain intuitions about The Self are not the same thing as disabusing the concept of Free Will.
    This is essentially confusing an explanation for “How Something Works” with the “Something” itself you are explaining. Like saying, “Well if living creatures are not animated by dualistic, vitalistic powers, then living creatures do not go about “living” and “doing things.” Actually, they do the things you are trying to explain, it’s just that the vitalism explanation is wrong. The phenomena being explained doesn’t go away when you point out one explanation is wrong.

    Free Will revolves around a set of questions about our choice-making: I seem to have options available to me and I REALLY CAN choose either one. The option I choose is the one I want, and it’s REALLY UP TO ME
    what I choose and I’M RESPONSIBLE for the choice.

    The freedom involved is the freedom to choose, to be able to do as you want. To the degree someone feels they don’t have this, they feel they don’t have the freedom they desire. (Note that if you look into the idea of freedom and free will even within Christian thinking, you’ll actually see lots of compatibilist conclusions about free will – even if God knows the future we are still choice-making creations who have real options and responsibility for our choices, for pretty much the same reasons secular compatibiists give).

    If all that is true one is not “re-defining” the free will most of us think we have; that IS how most of us think, intuitively, about our choices. That IS what generally matters to us and makes “free will” have any significance at all. If some metaphysical or other explanation for how this works, even a widely held one, happens to be wrong, the freedom we think we have and which we think is important doesn’t go away: our bad explanation goes away. And if there is a good explanation for how we could have the options we generally think we do, then free will does not go away.

    Vaal

    • Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Exactly what do you mean by saying “I REALLY CAN choose either one”? Does that mean that at the moment of choice you could have done otherwise or that that only seems to be the situation? The paragraph in capslock doesn’t convince me that you have free will, except in the sense that you THINK you can choose. What is the “freedom to choose” if your “choice” is already determined.

      And this baffles me. If our explanation for what is going on in our heads is wrong, and an illusion, why on earth do you still think you have that “freedom.” The bad explanation IS the freedom and when it goes away, so does your freedom.

      The good explanation is that our choices are determined by the physical combination of our genes and environment. If you think that is “free will”, then you’re playing a language game. It’s like saying when someone dies, they’re not really dead–you just redefine “death.”

      In your case, the “how something works” is, historically, ineluctably connected with the something. Just ask religious people like Moreland.

      • Vaal
        Posted July 1, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        Prof. Coyne,

        When you teach your students about Fruit Flies, I presume you say things like: “IF we subject this fruit to A then B will result but IF we subject this fruit fly to C then D will result…” But what if a student objected and said “Prof. Coyne, why are you talking like that? That fruit fly has only ever been determined to end up in ONE of those states, so it’s just a delusion to speak as you are, as if what you are saying about different possible outcomes are true. I can ignore what you are trying to say, because it is false.”

        But it’s not false: your If/Then talk about the fruit fly conveys knowledge, truth about the fruit fly. So I can’t see the objection to making truth claims about our choices on the same logic.

        “Exactly what do you mean by saying “I REALLY CAN choose either one”?

        It means: the IF I am faced with a choice, I have the physical ability to take the action that I desire (or that will fulfill my desire).

        Tomorrow I can either drive my car to work, or I can choose to ride my bike. I “really can” choose either one in the sense that IF I desire to ride my bike, I have that ability. If I didn’t have the physical power to ride my bike (e.g. didn’t have legs, or didn’t even have access to a bike) it wouldn’t occur to me that I had such a choice. So thinking I have a “real choice” is based on the options I have to fulfill a desire, or the options I can take depending on which desire arises, given my powers in such a situation (If X desire arises, I have the power and hence freedom to fulfill that desire).

        It involves if/then thinking, but it seems to me this is pretty much how everyone thinks when faced with decisions. It’s how we understand and predict the world, describing truths about real empirical phenomena.

        “If our explanation for what is going on in our heads is wrong, and an illusion, why on earth do you still think you have that “freedom.”

        Because it’s not tied to a completely specific explanation for what is going on in our heads. There just has to be a “me” who comprises “my” beliefs, “my” desires and who goes through “my” rational deliberations about which course of action will get me what I want, or which actions are not possible. (Our reasoning involves our being able to not only have reasons for doing something, but we can think about those reasons themselves, to see if we have good reasons for doing things).

        So long as we have these things, the apparatus is in place for the type of truth-talk about our options that I’m describing.

        And the reasons why we typically think we have an option, or don’t have an option, don’t arise from dualist metaphysics; they arise from inference from our empirical experience – and our thinking there is necessarily based on understanding our powers over time in various situations, NOT in frozen-at-one-point-in-history inferences. That makes the most sense of why people think they have the choices they do, so it’s not “re-defining” how we think about our choices, it’s explaining them better. (Or, so I think…)

        Vaal

        • Vaal
          Posted July 1, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          Whoops, I forgot to add:

          None of this has to do with rejecting science. If it’s the case that the “me” is not a ghost-in-the-machine, or is not the centralized observer-type “me” that it may feel like, that does not get rid of “me.” It’s just the case that certain intuitions about how my consciousness works could be wrong. For instance, let’s say it turned out consciousness is subsequent to the initiation of action, hence I’ve got the phenomenon backwards as far as my explanation of how it works.

          That doesn’t make the “me” disappear who is responsible for the free willed actions that I describe.

          The “me” I’m talking about just has to be a specific individual with the cognitive power to have beliefs, desires, the ability to understand and rationalise about which actions are most likely to fulfill the desires, and the ability to take those actions. These characteristics are ones we DO believe we have, they are the assumptions that make sense of our ever thinking we have options we care about in the first place, they are not washed away by libet-type experiments.

          If people are not in fact explicable and predictable by understanding their beliefs, desires, rationalized connections between those two things, and by observing what powers they have or have not to act to fulfill their desires…then someone please explain Susan Blackmore’s, or anyone else’s, behavior and identity to me in other, more fruitful terms.

          Vaal

          • Wolfkiller
            Posted July 1, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

            Someone else can probably chime in better than I (sometimes the language of these concepts can go over my head slightly), but I will give it a try. The problem I see with your explanation is that you base your freedom of choice of whatever desrie you are currently feeling. If I’m getting this right, the lack of free will comes from having no control over those desires. You can say “I chose to eat chicken instead of beef for dinner because I desired chicken” but you didn’t choose the desire in the first place. It just popped in your head, you didn’t will it there or choose to feel like being in the mood for chicken. (Can anyone else tell I’m currently starving?)

            • Posted July 1, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

              More accurately, your desires themselves are a (theoretically but perhaps not practically) predictable deterministic result of the interaction of your environment, senses, and brain.

              b&

            • Vaal
              Posted July 1, 2013 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

              Wolfkiller,

              First, it’s not the case we have no control over our desires, or no way to decide in advance what desire we want to have in the future. But that’s another conversation and actually doesn’t matter per se. It’s not really the point.

              Discussing what we can or can’t do, or could have done, always involves some level of abstraction, and counterfactuals, relevant to the exact scenario at hand. It’s always basically “Do I, generally speaking, have the type of power to have done X action over Y action.”

              So I ate pizza instead of sandwich today. Could I have chosen to eat the sandwich? Yes, because I’ve eaten many sandwiches for lunch. It’s a power I know I have in such conditions. So if I had desired to, I could have (had the physical power to) made a sandwich to eat instead. So long as I was not physically restricted or under another person’s coercion, I was free to do as I willed (desired).

              But…you want to say…your desire wasn’t up to you, so you COULDN’T have had a different desire!

              Well, actually, yes I could have. I could have had a different desire on EXACTLY the same reasoning I had the physical power to
              make a sandwich or eat the pizza. I know I’m a person capable of “having the desire to eat a sandwich” because that is a desire I’ve experienced many times before. Just as I have experienced myself making and eating a sandwich.*

              Am I saying “I could have had a desire to eat the sandwich…IF you took only the state of mind I had while I desired the pizza?” Of course not. How would that make sense? That’s not how we think. If THAT were the actual question being asked whenever we ask “could it have been different” the answer will always, every time, be NO. And we’d never learn anything or pass on information about the things we can do. We require a level of abstraction and counterfactual reasoning to understand anything about the world, including our actions.

              Vaal

              * (I have various abilities and powers that I did not “choose to have” per se, e.g. the ability to ingest food. It just came with my body as it were. But it’s still true to say I have the ability to do this. Similarly, even if I didn’t *choose* any particular desire, it’s still true to observe I am a being capable of experiencing a variety of desires. It’s empirically true from my history. So these variety of desires are factored into my counterfactual reasoning about “If I had X desire I could have done Y…”)

              ** As Ben points out, our desires are as determined and hence in principle as predictable as the rest of the physical universe. For reasons above, this has no bearing on the type of abstract, counter factual deliberations we use for deciding between options.

      • Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        What is the “freedom to choose” if your “choice” is already determined.

        Your will, your desired choice, is indeed determined. However, that will might well be affected by other humans.

        Constructs of “free will” and “moral responsibility” are all about social interactions. If another human is going to be angry at our actions we don’t have “free” will, we have constrained will, because we then need to take that reaction into account.

        In other words the “freedom” in “free will” is the tension between “this would be my will if no other humans are around and affected” versus “this is my will taking into account the reaction of other humans”.

        If you look up usages of “free will” in everyday English (ignoring philosophy/theology) the meanings are all of this sort.

        E.g. “I wish that Sally would choose to do it of her own accord. I’ll have to order her to do it because she won’t do it of her own free will.”

        Or: “You took on the responsibility of your own free will.” Etc.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Diabusing dualist free will is the low-hanging fruit.

      As I said upthread, it’s like Young Earth Creationism.

      A lot of people believe in both without justification. And both are fairly easy to dispense with — at least to rational audiences.

    • Posted July 1, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Vaal, do you think the law that every effect has a cause applies to human beings as well or do you think that our actions are independent of causes?
      My understanding of free will is that a person in a given situation can act one way or the other but this is determined by the underlying motive, for which is usually hidden to the self, that is, the person acting.

      • Vaal
        Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        makagutu,

        I see no reason to think human beings are specially excepted from the rest of physical causation.

        In fact I don’t see how our choices would make rational sense if we were excepted from causation. I want my beliefs to be influenced, caused, by the real world in which I must act. I want my desires causally connected to my beliefs, and my deliberations causally connected to my desires and beliefs. I don’t see how to break this chain and still make sense of humans making choices.

        I would talk of “free” in terms of describing situations in which my choices occur: whether and what kind of constraints there are on my ability to do as I desire.

        Vaal

    • Stephen Lawrence
      Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      “If some metaphysical or other explanation for how this works, even a widely held one, happens to be wrong, the freedom we think we have and which we think is important doesn’t go away: our bad explanation goes away. And if there is a good explanation for how we could have the options we generally think we do, then free will does not go away.”

      You’re missing the point that ultimate responsibility does go away.

      You might do something terrible tomorrow and you might not. Let’s hope you don’t. Whether you do or not depends upon your distant past, which, obviously, is out of your control.

      What people believe is we have a freedom which negates that, you believe it, I think.

      We don’t have that freedom, that freedom does go away.

  11. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    I can see how, in principle, determinism can generate and support the *feeling* of free will with all the deterministic processes ‘hidden’ from conscious prediction by complexity.

    The illusion of free will could be a ‘useful fiction’. It doesn’t have to be true or even exist, but if free will (the story we tell ourselves) promotes survival then it will persist through cultural and/or genetic evolution.

  12. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I still maintain that libertarian free will is species most people think they have, but that most folks haven’t thought much about it or the implications of determinism. And how many people know about the Libet-type experiments showing that actions precede conscious decisions?

    Since “[free] will” is an effective theory, it has the same relationship to biology as Newton gravity has to gravitation – you can guide humans (spaceships) with it, but it breaks when studying neuroscience (orbits close to the Sun).

    Oh, I guess that if you are adamant against it, you can portray the folk science as analogous to deism, not necessarily failing up front. But I think a) it is incorrect since it is likely a pre-religious idea, and b) it is much more effective to point to the elephant in the room – combining causality thinking with magic thinking.

    The reason why I like “will” but not necessarily is wedded to it is that it works akin to using your vision despite the presence of hallucinations. It is a useful simplification for modeling a complex organism’s behavior (me), and it may take careful comparison to entangle the failures. I’m not bothered by the time delay, it is akin to how astronomers use a local reference frame.*

    * Again, if you are really adamant against it, you can note that astronomers do so to maximize total information due to relativity (observing historical data), while “will” is minimizing total information (a construed delay et cetera). Different objectives.

    • Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      But a theory needs to be coherent, no? That’s what I’m missing from “free will” right from the get-go.

      If it’s just “will,” the process by which we make and implement decisions, that’s fine — but it’s nothing surprising. Of course we have a process by which we make decisions!

      It’s when that weasel word, “free,” gets added into the mix. “Free” from what? Unless it’s a legalistic freedom from coercion (i.e., nobody’s holding a gun to your head), the “freedom” can only be from the will itself, from the rational decision-making process. And that very freedom destroys any sense of “will”!

      b&

      • Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        It’s when that weasel word, “free,” gets added into the mix. “Free” from what? Unless it’s a legalistic freedom from coercion …

        Can you give examples of the use of “free will” or “of his own fee will” or similar in everyday language (ignoring philosophy/theology etc) that are *not* about coercion by other humans?

        • Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

          Whether I can or not, of what relevance is it? The context here is philosophy / theology, and human coercion is irrelevant in that sphere.

          In a discussion about biological natural selection, observing that “natural” in music means a symbol indicating the following note should be played as if in C Major is just as irrelevant.

          b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

            Agreed. Our language is dualistic so it is clunky in this respect. Try to talk about the mind without using dualistic language – it’s hard.

          • Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

            The context here is philosophy / theology, and human coercion is irrelevant in that sphere.

            I beg to differ. Philosophy and theology are commentaries about human nature, but the human nature is primary, what we are actually trying to understand. Thus the everyday-use use is entirely relevant.

            Psychologists tell us that we are often bad at understanding ourselves, and thus that the superficial commentaries we construct about ourselves (“we have dualistic free will” or “morals are absolute”) are often faulty.

            • Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

              But the thing is, philosophy and theology are, by design if not even by definition, generally quite removed from the everyday world. They’re mostly concerned with ultimate deep truths.

              The fact that a philosopher or a theologian would argue that the question of free will applies equally well in situations without human interaction — such as which fork in the path you take on your solitary hike — demonstrates that your attempt to shoehorn the legalistic definition into the philosophical one is doomed.

              Now, can you dismiss the philosophical and theological musings as the pure bullshit they so obviously are, and note that there still remains a very useful application of the term in legal and similar matters? Of course. I do something similar when I point out that the multiple imagined simulations model of decision-making is what people point to when they say they’re exercising their “free will.”

              But please don’t therefore try to equate the meanings; all that does is muddy the waters, as much as if I tried to define “natural selection” as “neither sharp nor flat selection” or “C diatonic / Ionian selection.”

              b&

              • Posted July 1, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

                philosophy and theology are … mostly concerned with ultimate deep truths.

                Is this the same Ben Goren that we all know and love who is usually very disparaging about both philosophy and theology???

                Let the philosophers and theologians to their prattle, let’s try and understand humans and why we think and talk as we do. Thus I’m sticking with giving primacy to what humans say and think when they go about their everyday lives, not what they say on the occasions when they try philosophizing.

              • Posted July 1, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

                I obviously needed more snark surrounding “deep” and “truths.”

                But my point is that, if you’re not even going to engage the philosophers on their own ground, make plain that that’s what you’re doing. Come right out and reject anything and everything they might have to say on the matter.

                After that, if you want to note that there are still other definitions of the term that are useful, sure, go for it.

                But what I’m getting from your posts is that you think that the legalistic definition of “free will” is what the philosophers are discussing, and that just prompts a whole lot of head scratching about what you’re smoking.

                I might, for example, suggest that we drop “natural” from “natural selection” because it’s redundant; there’s no such thing as unnatural or supernatural selection, and there could only even hypothetically be natural selection. (Humans are part of nature, and we’re simply a powerful factor in the environments of those organisms whose evolution we have helped shape.)

                But if, instead, I simply went off on a tangent about how natural it is to use “natural” in music theory, nobody would have a clue what I was on about.

                b&

              • Posted July 2, 2013 at 1:27 am | Permalink

                But what I’m getting from your posts is that you think that the legalistic definition of “free will” is what the philosophers are discussing …

                No, I think that that definition of “free will” is what everyday folk mean in everyday talk (any time that they’re not asked to stand back and think philosophically, at which point they’ll then switch to a muddled and incoherent dualism).

          • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:21 am | Permalink

            No, it isn’t. The philosophical approach is TRYING to explain and understand the concept normally expressed in those cases. So understanding that free will SEEMS to mean “Uninfluenced by overriding external circumstances” is quite inportant, and forms the heart of the compatibilist position: as long as the main factors in the decision are our own internal decision making processes, then we can say the choice was “free” in the proper sense. All incompatibilist positions — Libertarian and Determinist — point out that if determinism is true it seems that that isn’t the case: the internal decision making processes are themselves completely determined by external factors, and so all of our choices are not actually choices. However, this so strongly violates our choosing experience that we seem to have no reason to accept it, and science has yet to understand choosing enough to make it just a fact that we don’t really ever choose anything.

            If you accept that we have “will”, a decision-making process, then you accept that we have “free will” as compatibilists define it.

            • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:41 am | Permalink

              Nonsense. What is this will ‘free’ of? Physicalism is ‘incompatible’ with ‘free will’. The word ‘free’ qualifies the word ‘will’. What is the will free of? According to dualists it is free of physical causes. This is the context of the discussion of free will. Compatibilism is a mixed up mess that confuses these two, accepting physicalism yet trying to rescue the notion of free will.

              You will see the physicalist materialist view is quite consistent throughout these discussions, while the compatibilists are all over the place, and often contradict each other, or have variations on the theme reminiscent of the variations within a religion.

              • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:52 am | Permalink

                To ask the question “What is it free of?” is to quibble over the name when the compatibilists — and philosophers — are trying to talk about the concept. It is true that the compatibilists don’t all have consistent notions of how to reconcile determinism and choice, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the right position, just that they haven’t worked out all of the details yet. And both libertarians and physicalists have their own issues. For example, does Jerry Coyne believe that we have responsibilty for our choices? If he does, and it seems that he does, then he’s more compatibilist leaning than, say, you seem to be. But then he has to explain how we have that responsibility.

              • Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:18 am | Permalink

                verbosestoic,

                “For example, does Jerry Coyne believe that we have responsibilty for our choices?”

                Responsibility is easy under incompatibilism – as Blackmore explained.

                The freedom that compatibilists express is better described by the notion from physics and mechanics of ‘degrees of freedom’. It is an entirely mechanistic concept that is quite different from the notion of ‘free will’. It describes the possiblity of different outcomes from complex systems. In that context the compatibilist “I could have chosen to do otherwise” is merely the expression of the complexity of a mechanistic system with many degrees of freedom. It is not about ‘free will’.

                Compatibilists claim they agree that dualist free will is not viable. They are essentially physicalists. So they must agree that diualist free will is oncompatible with their own physicalist view. But what then is their ‘free will’ compatible with? If they maintain their free will is compatible with their physicalism, then they have an odd notion of the term ‘free will’ and would better change their terms to ‘degrees of freedom’, in that mechanistic sense. That is the sense that describes all the compatibilist explanations I’ve seen.

                So, on responsibility: If a mechanistic system has some degree of autonomy, some degrees of freedom, that allow it to make complex decisions based on a wide range of data collected over long periods of time, then we can say that such a system has a degree of responsibility. It is the most focused point of the causes of its behaviour. All the external inputs have been aggregated to cause some output behaviour that is peculiar to that system. The system ‘could have done otherwise’ in that slightly different inputs, or slightly different internal feedback operations (e.g. deliberations in human terms) could have caused a different outcome.

                But all this can apply to systems we take to be entirely mechanistic. If wear and tear on a car brake system causes the car brakes to fail, such that the car ‘refuses’ to stop when the driver asks it to (presses on the brake), then that particular car is ‘responsible’ for any accident. And not some other car in the accident. This is the nature of responsibility: the focus of causal events due to the way a systems responds to degrees of freedom.

                We take faulty cars off the road, and we take faulty (i.e. crminal) people off the streets.

                Of course in the car we atrribute other causes, other responsibilities – such as the responsibility of the owner to maintain the car. We can also attribute other responsibilities to the actions of criminals – all the contributors of their past, and their brain biology, they are all causing the criminal to act. But for both the car and the criminal we have no trouble attributing responsibility, assigning most focused and recent causal sources.

              • Posted July 2, 2013 at 5:51 am | Permalink

                1) “Free will” is a two word singular technical term. Dividing that up like that is in fact quibbling over the name. No one seriously discussing these issues quibbles over what we are “free from” because it is just a blanket term, any more than biologists care about why there are still apes if we evolved from “apes”. It’s a bit confusing, but the only other alternative would be to drop the term entirely and invent a new one … which would only confuse things more.

                2) When you talk about “freedom” and “responsibility”, you are importing terms from other areas that don’t map at all to what we mean when we use the terms. So you can’t use them to preserve those notions without doing exactly what you accuse the compatiblists of doing: redefining terms to preserve notions you want to preserve despite the fact that you look at them completely differently now. No one considers “freedom” in terms of “the number of independent parameters that define its configuration”. And in terms of responsibility, the sort of responsibility that the brake cable has is not what we need for any kind of responsibility for our actions. If that person, for example, didn’t maintain the car properly, then it’s just because they didn’t have the right environment or upbringing. It makes no sense to say that they are “faulty”, as they are working precisely as designed. And to say that you are taking “faulty” people off the streets is also horribly misleading, since you are merely reacting to your environment based on your upbringing as well; this is again not something that you can consciously do, anymore than they can.

                So, your notions of “responsibilty” and “freedom” have no relation to what we think of in these cases, meaning that you redefine the terms in a far worse manner than the compatibilists do, as one of their main goals is to preserve what’s important about the terms while clarifying the misconceptions.

            • Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

              [A]s long as the main factors in the decision are our own internal decision making processes, then we can say the choice was “free” in the proper sense.

              Except it’s impossible, even in principle, to draw such a box around internal deliberation.

              Our brains are information processing devices. They take in input from our senses and generate outputs in the form of motor actions. Without inputs — which are decidedly external — there’s nothing to process. And, it’s exactly those externalities that determine what outputs the brain will generate.

              Methinks you need to brush up on your Turing; this is all Computation 101.

              b&

              • Posted July 3, 2013 at 3:55 am | Permalink

                That was why I said “main factors” instead of “completely” or something like that. What you’ve described is exactly what I was talking about, except that you left out any processing that might happen inside the brain … and it is that processing that I claim should be the main factor. Essentially, the decision that is made should depend more on the processing done internally than on the specifics of the input, meaning that if the internal processing was different, the decision would be as well even if it had all the same inputs.

            • Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

              “Free will” is a two word singular technical term. Dividing that up like that is in fact quibbling over the name. No one seriously discussing these issues quibbles over what we are “free from” because it is just a blanket

              Quite wrong. There are many who see that this term must be a statement of the will being free of physical causes. What do you think Moreland is claiming?

              Listen to Moreland’s explanation of compatibilsm. He calls it pseudo-freedom. Quite right. So here we have a real ‘free will’ proponent, taking free will to have this two part meaning, of a will that is free. And his assessment of compatibilism, for which I agree pseudo-freedom is a good term.

              So, he has the illusion that he has free will, and your free will is a pseudo freedom. And incompatibilists are saying it all boils down to materialist mechanism, because materialism is incompatible with free will.

              I would agree that a better term than ‘responsibility’ would be helpful, and I’d be quite happy to use one. But I don’t see any difference, in that both traditional responsibility and my use of it are about the focus of caused events – what is the most focused location of the cause of event X – well ‘it’ is (pointing to a car) or ‘he’ is (pointing to a person) depending on how we attribute cause.

              In the judicial system it seems fine to say something like, “Yes, we know you were abused as a child, and that your brain is predisposed to sociopathic behaviour, and that you didn’t freely choose these pre-conditions; but nevertheless, those conditions caused you to kill, and they will likely cause you to kill again. They may be the prior causes, but the most current focus of those prior causes is the potential outcome that you will kill again. In that context, you the person, or you the physically caused entity, are ‘responsible’ for the murder that happened. So, we’re going to lock you up until we can figure out a better way that stops you killing.”

              This acknowledges that it was not a matter of free will, because there is no free will, but it accepts the reality that this entity, this person, was the most focused cause of a death and would likely be the cause of others.

              But again, consider our different positions. I’m saying we CAN use the language of free will, and that in fact we seem compelled to do so, while intellectually thinking we don’t have it. Compatibilists are actually saying we have free will, but fudging the language to make it fit. It’s no good you keep pointing out how we both use the language of free will and yet claim we don’t have it. That’s accounted for in the nature of how our brains work.

              So I don’t have a problem using the language of free will, or terms like responsibility. I am not re-defining them, as compatibilists are. I agree we feel like we have free will, but that it’s an illusion, so we don’t really have it. I agree that we can use terms like responsibility, which don’t need the dualist notion of free will – responsibility is just an attribution of the degree of cause. And all notions of compatibilist free will are nothing more than expressions of degrees of freedom.

              “No one considers “freedom” in terms of “the number of independent parameters that define its configuration”.”

              I agree they many don’t. Because they use the illusory notion of free will. But that is what compatibilists are actually saying, but by using common language terms. That is all their phrases amount to: degrees of freedom. That’s all decision machines are – systems with degrees of freedom that respond to inputs that through internal machinations makes them ‘decide’ on one outcome or another. This is machinery, not free will. We are biological machinery.

              • Posted July 3, 2013 at 4:44 am | Permalink

                Quite wrong. There are many who see that this term must be a statement of the will being free of physical causes. What do you think Moreland is claiming?

                Yes, some people shake out the two word singular term “free will” to mean that it is free of physical causes. They do not do that because the term has to include “free” and that’s what “free” has to mean, but for other reasons. And an argument like parsing the term and asking what the will is “free” of is just the sort of analysis that compatiblists argue is causing the problem in the first place; we think that free will and determinism are incompatible because we analyze in terms for freedom and imply a lack of constraint, and determinism seems to be too constraining.

                So, again, that sort of analysis is far too shallow. Fortunately, the philosophical analysis of the debate has gone much deeper.

                In the judicial system it seems fine to say something like, “Yes, we know you were abused as a child, and that your brain is predisposed to sociopathic behaviour, and that you didn’t freely choose these pre-conditions; but nevertheless, those conditions caused you to kill, and they will likely cause you to kill again. They may be the prior causes, but the most current focus of those prior causes is the potential outcome that you will kill again. In that context, you the person, or you the physically caused entity, are ‘responsible’ for the murder that happened. So, we’re going to lock you up until we can figure out a better way that stops you killing.”

                No, not in how we normally talk about things in the judicial system. You want to CHANGE how we talk about things but seem to be pretending that you are using the language of free will. You aren’t. You’re equivocating, substituting in terms from other areas and pretending to be talking about the same thing and having solved the probems.

                As you describe it, we would not imprison the offender, but would instead assign them to a mental hospital. We claim that the person is responsible because we don’t claim that those factors DETERMINED their actions; even with that upbringing it was possible for them to not commit that murder, even if those factors influenced their decision. And that is how we say that they are responsible for their actions, and so can be punished. You are, like most hard determinists — and like Jerry Coyne himself — advocating for a different take on things like responsibility and justice and everything else. That is, like it or not, redefining it … except that in your case the difference between you and the compatiblists is that they admit to doing it and argue that the whole problem has been that we have the wrong definition for the term, but in your case you seem to be implying that you somehow aren’t even though you are, which is why I accused you of equivocation.

                But that is what compatibilists are actually saying, but by using common language terms. That is all their phrases amount to: degrees of freedom.

                The compatiblists would, quite rightly, disagree. There are things that have those sorts of degrees of freedom that don’t seem to make decisions at all, in the normal sense, and they are trying to preserve the normal sense.

    • Posted July 1, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Do you mean the experiments that rely on the
      Bereitschaft Potential. An impulse precedes the though that precedes the action.

  13. Allautin@gmail.com
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Just like takes a fraction of the second or so to feel That you touched something burning hot. This is in concept similar to the readiness potential.

    The central nervous system needs a few million seconds to process unconsciously Before one feels pain. The central nervous system needs of few milliseconds to process (of processing time )before you feel nsciousness.

  14. Allautin@gmail.com
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    My example above had to do with a so-called free will decision making situation.

    Obviously if you are conscious of feeling unwell, ill the body/brain has already had the time to generate that (unwanted) state of consciousness.

  15. Allautin@gmail.com
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    The conscience sense and its allied free will sense is no different from the canonical five senses.

    You touch something scalding hit but the extreme pain only occurs (can only occur) after trafficking and processing in the CNS and this takes a millisecond or soba d then you act and then you remove your finger and then you say that thing was frigging scalding hot.

    The conscience sense is of this same physiology –— IT HAS TO BE. A lot of trafficking in the CNS (and in the arena of consciousness and decision making (will tip our hat to Dennett) and say this involves some higher cortical mechanics, memory (lall done (ALL DONE) as it has to be before you say ouch that’s hot, or ouch that must hurt that other conscious being. Stop doing that or ouch that feels good, continue doing that.

    Ouch that hurts to apprehend free will that way

  16. Posted July 1, 2013 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    “Just because an apple isn’t a really really good apple, it doesn’t make it an orange.” -J.P.

    Agreed. So how is this an answer to the questioner’s problem that a probabilistic prediction is not the same thing as predestined certainty? Of course they are different categories, but what J.P. doesn’t understand is that he NEEDS to argue that these two apples (a probabilistic apple and a certain apple) ARE the same thing in terms of the veridicality of their claims, or bible prophecy is just guesswork. I don’t get it.

  17. Posted July 1, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    1) I don’t see how dualism, if it were true, explains how there is free will. Supposing there is an immaterial soul, there’s still the issue: are it’s choices random (or probabilistic), or are they predetermined? If they are neither, then how DO they work, how ARE they made? Merely positing a dualistic soul doesn’t solve the free will issue; and theologically, a good many theologians have been determinists!
    2) Those who claim that determinism is self-defeating have a worthwhile point: id determinism is true, then all the comments above were predetermined to be made just as they were – not because they are (or aren’t) correct – if you say what you are predetermined to say then you have no basis for deciding whether you are predetermined to say what is true or what is false, you just say what you are predetermined to say and that’s all there is to it, and indeterminism is just as unsatisfactory. The dualists don’t see that this problem applies as much to their dualism as to materialism.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted July 2, 2013 at 12:35 am | Permalink

      I think there is a distinction to be made between determined (as in the result of preceding determined causes) and predetermined (as in the predicted outcome of future events). One is a posteriori and the other a priori.

      Now to an intelligence that can ‘see’ all time and events, the two terms are equivalent (not that I think there is such a thing); but for the rest of us past events are cloudy or hidden and future events are weedy guesses. And that’s why we tell ourselves that we have ‘free will’ – to ‘explain’ why we do the things we do.

    • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:05 am | Permalink

      With regard to (2). As a physicalist I see evidence only for materialism, and that we are material animals caused to perform empirical investigations into reality – or so it feels to us. If those investigations persuade us that we are in a deterministic universe, then yes, all our outcomes are determined. That is the intellectual conclusion we are left with. If those investigations persuade us we are in a quantum world with all sorts of weirdness going on that still has no relation to free will, then that is the intellectual position we reach.

      If all of this leaves us effectively with no choice in what we say or do then so be it. If we are determined to say “I freely choose to raise my arm. See, I have free will.” then no amount of contemplation on that will actually turn it into a free willed event. If it is determined, by prior causal events in my brain, that I say, “Free will is an illusion, so we should all choose to accept that.” then I too am caused to say it.

      If we come to the intellectual conclusion that we don’t have free will and that our behaviours are determined by physical causes, then we were caused to do so.

      I would like to know how, in such a universe, that someone who then claims they have free will is able to demonstrate it. All their protestations, all their attempts, are precisely the determined outcomes that such a universe could cause. They have no free will but are caused to claim they have free will. And if their minds are changed, so that they become convinced free will is an illusion, then their brains were so caused to be changed. They did not freely choose to change their minds.

      Some may see this as a nihilistic dead end, where there is no value to human life. They may choose to say, “Well, I might as well give up and do nothing.” But if they did they would be so caused to do that. So next, my response would be, “‘Choose’ to go on as you are, because you don’t have a choice in the matter.” This would be one causal sub-system (me) responding, causally, to another, based on all the pre-causes that made me make that utterance.

      The outcome is that we can’t successfully second guess a causal universe if we are part of it. We just react, as components of a causal chain. And no matter how much we feel our reactions are free makes not one jot of difference. And if some of us ‘choose’ to give up and die, then they were caused to do so. We can’t get out of this. It’s just the way it is.

      I won’t be losing sleep over it. I am caused this way.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:39 am | Permalink

      You are correct that dualism is flawed because the immaterial source of freedom has all the same issues as the material it controls. It really is just pushing all the problems to the next level without solving any of them. It is deferring to some unexplained magic, which explains nothing.

      It’s ironic to mention theologians being determinists in this context, because positing God has the same problems as dualism: it just defers all the questions to a new level and explains nothing. It’s an appeal to magic, which is an act of desperation that only temporarily sweeps questions under the carpet. It’s like a child reaching an impasse and appealing to a parent to do what is beyond its imagining or ability. To the child the parent seems heroic, but the parent can only do things the child itself can do given enough time and experience. This is why the idea of God is such a childish idea. It’s just an empty container where you stuff your questions and where they remain unanswered.

      Then you have to make stuff up like a prime mover, an uncaused causer, and pretend that is an answer. The truth is we just have to say we don’t know, and more answers are forthcoming as we gain more knowledge and experience. But we can feel pretty confident from experience that the answers to questions we don’t yet know are unlikely to be encompassed by the desperate solution of the child’s mind: a big daddy takes care of everything that is beyond us. That would be a most surprising and unlikely answer to a mature and thoughtful mind, though theologians and billions of faithful continue to resort to exactly this kind of desperate childish comfort.

  18. AndrewF
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Free will posits given a domain of choices, I can make any choice without bias. Every choice we make is preconditioned and dependent on every previous choice we make, in other words our experience. If I like something over something else, that will be my default option, unless I exert a lot of energy to the contrary. Some choices are easier to make (conditioned) than others. This conditioning informs intuition, which we apply spontaneously, without thought. Addiction is an extreme example, addicts have no choice; their brain chemistry has them locked in a recursive loop. We have limited ability to choose, based on past experience (conditioning) and perhaps inheritance. I doubt the big bang has any influence, or the laws of physics, beyond the biochemistry of our brains, programmed by previous experience, not to mention quantum mechanics, which I doubt has all that much influence at the macro level. As for brain scans, perhaps the subjects knowledge of being tested, pre-activates the brain at the subconscious level in anticipation of any test being conducted on them, the mind ( brain function) being in the continuous process of sampling the environment.

    • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:11 am | Permalink

      “I doubt the big bang has any influence”

      Well, without it I doubt you’d be here making these statements. That seems like a big influence to me.

      “or the laws of physics, beyond the biochemistry of our brains”

      The term ‘laws of physics’ can mean two things. One is that they are the models we invent, as representations of some reality we are trying to understand. The other is that it is an expression meant to stand in for the underlying reality.

      Going for the latter, then our brain biology IS a consequence of the laws of physics as played out be every atom, every molecule, every cell that contains molecules and atoms.

      It has every influence on the macro level. It is what the macro levels consists of. the macro level is only our perception of all this low level reality happening. There is no separate macro level that is in any way independent of or uncaused by the ‘laws of physics’

      • AndrewF
        Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

        I realize the big bang got it all started and we are indeed recycled elements. What I am saying is aside from any genetic predisposition I do not believe the big bang has much influence, present day, on our choices. I believe the domain of choice is confined to our life time.
        I am not a physicist, but I am willing to wager that at the cellular level things are pretty stable, subject primarily to electromotive forces, through biochemical and ion interactions. There is current speculation that consciousness is due to some quantum effect, but no evidence supports it, yet.
        I say all this to say that I believe free will is an illusion. We have the ability to choose (volition) but all of our choices are preconditioned and dependent on contingency and past experience. Most choices are made before we are consciously aware of them (preconditioned) and depending on circumstances can be overruled with effort.

        • Kevin Henderson
          Posted July 3, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

          Events that transformed the earth billions of years ago have a direct influence on every part of our existence. We could be shaped more like polar bears if evolution had proceeded differently. You would likely be making different choices based on a set of different preferences. However if we were sentient beings we might still be asking the same questions or maybe not.

          The answer to free will is metaphysical. At present we cannot show that we have it or do not, but it is most likely an illusion.

  19. Mark Joseph
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been unable to follow the free will discussion on this website (simply too voluminous for me); my view is “I can decide tonight what I want for breakfast tomorrow, and then either have that, or change my mind.” I believe this is what Kevin (#6 above) expressed: “I believe in garden-variety everyday free will. No ghost in the machine. It’s you doing the deciding. But you’re free to change your mind.” Which is not to say that I deny the interesting scientific findings on the relative timing of choice and action; I don’t.

    My comment is thus tangential. J. P. Moreland (who teaches at one of my alma maters :-() edited an early book of essays pushing the ID hypothesis; the title of the book was “The Creation Hypothesis,” which I now find hysterically funny in light of the Discovery Institute’s insistence that ID is not creationism. This is almost as good as the Wedge document, or Dembski’s famous quote that “ID theory is just the Logos of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

  20. Allautin@gmail.com
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    The reason is, we can do what we will but we cannot will what we will.

    That’s why the argument persists.

    I have tried to say this in three comments but I have not gotten this right.

    This the fourth and final try.

    If one touches a very hot object, It takes a few millinseconds of neuronal processing (spinothalamic tract to thalamus . . . ) Before we screech this friggin hot pot and withdraw our hand. The conscience sense of pain required a few milli seconds of neural processing of which we are not and could not be aware of.

    The sense of free will works the same way. Consciousness of which free will is a part of, is in every respect just like the other iconic five senses – like the pain sense just described.

    We are faced with a “moral” situation just like the very hot coffee pot – it takes a few milliseconds of neural processing of which we are and cannot be aware. Then and only then after this (neural procedural time lag) we become aware of the friggin hot coffee pot – BUT for coffee pot read a “so called” decision most/tree. Our awareness of this “decisional situation” has come after the processing – That is to say one route is more painful then another. The decision-making and the value attached has already been made. Withdraw from one situation over another because it has already been determined one path is too painful, Move away from that pathway (Call it a free move that you made if you wish). But!! it is no different in the neural processing and the valuations that took place in the miiliseconds it took, before you volitionally withdrew your hand from the hot coffee pot. The value and motive behind all the decisions we make is predetermined in the neural nexus. To see how these neural processes work and the valuations that they create, And the “free will” decisions that we appearvtonmake HOLD YOU BREATH FOR 30 SECONDS.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted July 2, 2013 at 5:29 am | Permalink

      I’ve been trying to make out your points. You seem to know what you want to say but have difficulty saying it, for reasons I can only imagine.

      What I can glean is that you are saying the overwhelming compulsions that drive us to pull away when we burn our hand, or force us to breath after trying to hold our breath for some time, are evidence of the underlying neuronal processing that we are unaware of and don’t control. Call it the unconscious mind.

      We catch a glimpse if this unconscious when we see optical illusions as well; they are traces of the brain at work making us see. The delays and limitations of brain processing, which we ordinarily pretend don’t exist, are suddenly revealed.

      The same kind of invisible brain work, with its delays and limits, is involved when we make moral choices. We are only able to pretend our conscious thought process has “free will” by pretending that this underlying neuronal processing doesn’t exist.

      Our sense of free will allows us to think we are capable of such discrimination and discernment when we choose our food, that we can become connoisseurs. But in theory we could take a gourmand and diminish his grandeur by implanting some neural pathways from a dung beetle so that he would suddenly claim that dog shit is the most delectable delicacy. (Some easily influenced people might then force themselves to eat it as a sign of status). Our free will to choose what tastes good to us is determined by a bunch of processing we don’t control that converts chemicals touching our tongue into the sensations of taste. Rewire that and our choices change completely. This fairly clearly demonstrates how unfree our choices are.

    • Posted July 2, 2013 at 5:35 am | Permalink

      “we are free to do what we will, but not to will what we will”

      This isn’t as old as the notion of dualistic free will, and is a terrible fudge anyway. It is precisely the type of expression that conforms with the ‘degrees of freedom’ notion. If we are not free to will what we want then we are not free to do what we want but what our determined will drives us to do – or at least to attempt to do, and this is part of the problem. Compatibilists can see that we are constrained from doing things where larger scale more obvious constraints act on us, but this notion expressed by the above quote is confused.

      We are clearly not free to do what we will. No amount of willing will make us us fly unaided. And we are not free to will what we happen to will. The ‘will’ is no more than internal caused brain activity – caused by many influences, including previous brain states.

  21. Jeff Johnson
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    making a “rational decision” is at odds with the motion of irrational atoms that constitute us

    This just makes me laugh. It’s hard to believe that anyone who wants to be taken seriously would argue like this. This is the really stupid kind of reductionism.

    Moreland is stuck on the billiard ball model of determinism, and doesn’t have the ability to visualize truly complex systems.

    An analogous argument might be to say computers can’t possibly stream multimedia presentations around the globe or play expert level Jeopardy because they only contain ones and zeros.

    He is looking at two extremes, atoms and rational thought, and he can’t imagine they are connected because he completely ignores the thousands of layers of increasingly complex aggregations of systems nested within systems that build up progressively richer sets of behaviors and properties.

    To think that atoms would need to be capable of rational thought in order for a complex system constructed of atoms to be capable of rational thought, is an incredibly simplistic association fallacy.

    • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:36 am | Permalink

      The comment is, it seems to me, more of a “content” question than simple association. Atoms — and neurons and bricks and all other things like hat — don’t seem to be capable of analyzing the content of a proposition or experience and making a decision based on that. But a critical part, at least, in making any kind of rational decision is evaluating the content of propositions and experiences and making decisions on the basis of their content. But if the things that determine our choices cannot evaluate that content, then it can’t be rational. And so a strict determinism cannot be a rational belief.

      The ways out are to argue that the thing making the choices really can evaluate it for content, and so isn’t just the “material” things (the libertarian route) or that the aggregate of all the processes involved in this CAN evaluate it for content, which is the compatibilist — and your — route. But both have issues.

      • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:53 am | Permalink

        Your position seems to be preloaded with Rationalist conceptions of making rational decisions. We seem to be very complex mechanism. Mechanisms make decisions – and making decisions is no more than arriving at some causal outcome that depends on inputs, in some causal chain. Our brain causal chains are very complex with lots of feedback that is as yet difficult to fathom out. But there is nothing known to science that would suggest the need for anything other than physical events causing human behaviour.

        The ‘way out’ is to stop thinking in terms of ‘mind’ as some independent rational entity. What we perceive as the mind, the mind model, is a simplistic perception of a very complex machine. It is entirely material.

        If you want to say “isn’t just the “material” things”, what is non-material about it?

        “the aggregate of all the processes involved in this CAN evaluate it for content”

        You have some unexplained notion of ‘for content’ here. What does that mean?

        Again, there is a need to understand incompatibilism first, before attributing ‘the aggregate of all the processes’ to compatibilism: Se comments 23, 24

        • Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:10 am | Permalink

          The important thing here is the issue of “for content”, which loosely translates to “based on the meaning”. So, the idea being that if you look at a proposition “Determinism is true”, you base it on the content of proposition, based on the meanings of the terms and their details. Neurons themselves don’t seem to have that. The brain as an entire system MIGHT, but it’s unclear how it can if it does have that. So, again, almost all of the material things we have experience with don’t seem to have that.

          The exception are computers. But there’s debate over this as well. If a system can analyze for content, then computers can do it as well and so we then have an example of material things that can do it. That is the compatibilist answer. If they can’t, if they are just seen as going through the motions where the content isn’t really determining the action (but instead the mere forms are), then we still need an answer if we want to select for content.

          If you want to argue that you can make rational decisions without regard for the actual content or meaning of the propositions and choices you are evaluating, you are free to do so but I don’t think it will work out all that well.

          • Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:34 am | Permalink

            “That is the compatibilist answer.”

            That’s not an answer to anything that I can see. It certainly doesn’t address what compatibilism means – what is compatible with what.

            Regarding ‘content’ and ‘meaning’, well that’s another debate that I don’t see having anything to do with free will.

            • Posted July 2, 2013 at 5:38 am | Permalink

              The compatiblist position is, most basically, this:

              Determinism is compatible with meaningful decision-making and choice.

              A more detailed answer would be:

              Our decisions are decided by our decision-making processes, and not simply by environment and upbringing. We have processes that make choices, that take in inputs and produce choices as products.

              This, then, is where content and meaning come in. To have meaningful choices, ones that we can consider rational, the choices must be made on the basis of the contents of the propositions, not just the form. The semantics, not just the syntax. So it’s important because once we have compatiblists, the definition of “meaningful choice” become really important.

          • Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:14 am | Permalink

            “Determinism is compatible with meaningful decision-making and choice.”

            Where is ‘free will’ in this statement? That’s the problem with compatibilism. It’s a game of worlds. You have cut out the very important words ‘free will’. Compatibilism is supposed to be showing the compatibility of ‘free will’ with determinism (or materialism).

            All you’ve done there is change ‘free will’ to ‘meaningful decision-making and choice’, which is a very vague notion in itself. What does ‘meaningful’ mean in this context. A flowery term.

            “Our decisions are decided by our decision-making processes, and not simply by environment and upbringing.”

            But that isn’t compatible with ‘free will’. That is already the position of the incompatibilist. This is really showing how bogus ‘compatibilism’ is.

            Try this:

            “Our decisions are decided by our decision-making mechanisms, as well as by environment and upbringing.”

            There is no significant difference between this and yours. And yet this is clearly not compatible with free will. Again, in free will, what is the will free of? Not the internal decision making mechanisms. Not the environment and upbringing. Not of anything it seems. The will is not free at all.

            Of course that still leaves the term ‘will’ not clearly defined by compatibilists. The will is no more than the conscious intention of a ‘mind’, and so it too is already unclear once you start to look for the difference between the conscious and unconscious aspects of a real brain. The boundary isn’t clear. Do I possess a ‘will’ to breath? Or a will that my heart beats? Or a will that I feel hungry? Or a will that I want ice cream? Or a will that I am persuaded by untold internal events that I will choose vanilla?

            Free will is fraught with old philosophical notions that simply do not stand up in current science. Free will is a dualist concept, and it is inappropriately clung to by compatibilists. And that is easy to see when compatibilists start being more careful in the words they use. Hence your dropping of ‘free will’ from your explanation of compatibilism.

            Your expression of meaningful choices, while ok in itself, has nothing to do with free will. Any mechanism that has degrees of freedom can make meaningful choices without anyone attributing free will to it.

            This is a problem for compatibilism. It you take their meaning of free will seriously then we have to attribute free will to rocks rolling down a hill, because there is no principled difference in the causal mechanisms, only in complexity. In the case of incompatibilists we are saying that yes, everything, from rocks rolling down hill to humans making decisions are all part of the same dynamic material world, and that there is no sense in which there is a ‘will’ that is ‘free’ of this. The behaviour that we humans call ‘free will’ is physical, and it is an illusion that it is a will that is free of this physical reality.

            • Vaal
              Posted July 2, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

              Ron Murphy,
              Try this:
              “Our decisions are decided by our decision-making mechanisms, as well as by environment and upbringing.”

              No that doesn’t work because “the environment” is not a “decision-making mechanism” of the type verbosestoic has described, so your example would be completely missing the point.
              My environment plays a role in influencing my decisions, but that does not mean it makes sense to treat the environment the same as we treat my decision-making apparatus. If our ability to attribute cause and effect were so bizarrely mushy and open-ended, we’d never understand anything about the nature of any particular thing in the world.

              My house catches fire. This influences me to run to my front door, unlock the door, and flee the house. The fire certainly played a causal role in the door becoming unlocked, but it would be ridiculous to say “The fire DECIDED to unlock the door.” Because obviously fire is not the type of entity that can make such decisions. Rather, I have the cognition necessary to make sense of
              a decision having been made, so you look to ME as the decider, not the “environment” or the “fire.”

              “This is a problem for compatibilism. It you take their meaning of free will seriously then we have to attribute free will to rocks rolling down a hill, because there is no principled difference in the causal mechanisms, only in complexity.”

              That is absolutely bizarre logic, Ron. It’s the same weird logic that theists propound about materialism, including J.P. Moreland in the video above. “There’s no difference between a-rational atoms and us, it’s only a degree of complexity.” Or, if we are just matter and energy “there’s no principled l difference between us and a can of coke, it’s only in our complexity.”

              But of course, what that misses is that the difference that ARISE from the specific complexity involved. “More complex” is hardly the only thing to note about the difference between rocks and humans. We are more complex in very specific, very significant ways: our complexity allows us to have beliefs, desires, methods of apprehending various possible actions, methods of reasoning about which actions are most likely to fulfill our desires, ways of representing our very reasons to ourselves and one another so that we can actually decide when we have “good reasons” for things vs bad reasons, etc.

              There could hardly be more significant differences, and those differences are significant in exactly the manner described by verbose stoic: We become the type of beings who can “make decisions” for “good and bad reasons” to get what we want, and with a rich space of opportunity for various ways of getting what we want, due to understanding various routes to getting what we want.
              None that makes sense applied to rocks.
              Seriously, it’s very strange to encounter from a fellow atheist the type of arguments you are making here against verbosestoic’s position.

              “Free will is a dualist concept, and it is inappropriately clung to by compatibilists.”

              No. That is just the type of statement that is under dispute, so you can’t just go declaring it true. Look at the actual way in which people use the term “free will” in daily life. It has to do with whether we are physically able to make certain choices or not, and/or whether our will (our desires) are being overridden by what someone else wants (by their desires). E.g. “He is not in his house day and night of his own free will; he’s under house arrest.” Or take two scenarios: 1. Fred gave his son his old car. Did Fred give it of his own free will? Yes. He desired to do so, had the ability to do so, and was not coerced to do it. 2. Fred handed the keys to his car to Charlie. Did Fred do it of his own free will? No. Charlie was threatening to shoot Fred with a gun unless Charlie did AS FRED WILLED, and gave him the car.
              This is normally how “free will” is applied and understood to the realities of life. The reason people would apply the concept of “free will” to scenario 1 and not to 2 has to do with labeling the real-world differences in terms of the different scenarios under which the car transaction is taking place. It’s not an appeal to “magic” or “dualism” that makes the difference.

              Your claim that free will IS dualistic isn’t a claim that one ought to accept as some given. Looking at the circumstances in which people use the term, I think you’ve got it wrong, myself.

              Vaal

            • Posted July 3, 2013 at 3:52 am | Permalink

              Where is ‘free will’ in this statement? That’s the problem with compatibilism. It’s a game of worlds. You have cut out the very important words ‘free will’. Compatibilism is supposed to be showing the compatibility of ‘free will’ with determinism (or materialism).

              Yes, but recall that the heart of the compatiblist positions is that we only think that they are incompatible because we have a screwy idea of what the term “free will ” means. And when we look at the debate, it seems clear that people who don’t want to lose free will don’t want to lose the ability to make meaningful choices. And when we look at what it means to make a meaningful choice, that’s a choice based on the content of the propositions and experiences as opposed to a choice just made “mechanically”, like through a look-up table, or as a simple conditioned response. So it seems to me that the compatiblists have the heart of the debate right, and their major weakness is that they can’t really show how to pull that off and still accept determinism.

              As for your restatement of my position:

              “Our decisions are decided by our decision-making mechanisms, as well as by environment and upbringing.”

              There is no significant difference between this and yours.

              Of course there isn’t, because it IS mine. You are making the mistake of assuming that free will must mean “uninfluenced by any external factors”, but even the strictest libertarians don’t think that. The rough and ready compatiblist answer is that if our decisions are determined primarily by our internal processes and processing and not by external factors, even though those processes take in the external factors and use them to make decisions.

              Your expression of meaningful choices, while ok in itself, has nothing to do with free will. Any mechanism that has degrees of freedom can make meaningful choices without anyone attributing free will to it.

              No, because not all things that have degrees of freedom can decide based on the semantics as opposed to the syntax … or, in fact, even decide based on the syntax. Rocks do not decide to or how to roll downhill.

              This is a problem for compatibilism. It you take their meaning of free will seriously then we have to attribute free will to rocks rolling down a hill, because there is no principled difference in the causal mechanisms, only in complexity. In the case of incompatibilists we are saying that yes, everything, from rocks rolling down hill to humans making decisions are all part of the same dynamic material world, and that there is no sense in which there is a ‘will’ that is ‘free’ of this.

              Yes, compatiblists do have a problem separating out decision-making processes from things like rocks rolling downhill. But that’s because they ACCEPT determinism, and if you accept determinsm than just as you say there is no difference. Compatiblists want to take the causal mechanisms that all of these things have just as determinists do, and carve out decision-making as a separate process as libertarians do, to avoid the ridiculous conclusion that rocks have free will and make decisions.

              So, the issue is this:

              Liberatarians take decision-making processes seriously and claim they do exactly like the look like they do … but it seems that you can’t find that into the normal causalities we know about.

              Determinsts accept our normal causalities, but the consequence of that is having no way to differentiate making decisions from a rock rolling downhill, even though they clearly are different processes.

              Compatiblists try to bridge the gap … but because they try to do that, their answers don’t seem that plausible a lot of the time.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:34 am | Permalink

        I’m no compatibilist, except that I agree with them in the very daring hypothesis that human behavior, as we observe it, is possible and compatible with nature. Not so daring, actually.

        To me it seems touchingly quixotic and very sentimental to then try to massage our language in order to preserve some kind of sensible meaning for the term “free will”. I’ll have none of that. Free will is an illusion born of human ignorance, and also born of natural human inclinations that are quite understandable. By now we know enough to dispel that particular illusion. I’m with Susan Blackmore all the way. Moreland appears to me to be completely lost trying desperately to justify a set of a priori assumptions with no founding evidence. He is completely unaware of the contradictions that riddle his arguments.

        Meanwhile, reality is not waiting for philosophers to find an explanatory pathway that is confined to pure reason. It proceeds on its own terms. We observe people and ourselves evaluating things all the time. We also have an enormous body of observations that indicate the mind is entirely dependent upon material and physical processes in the brain. Only by ignoring all of these observations can one pretend there is still hope for an immaterial explanation. Just a reminder: I think many people neglect to include energy in their conception of what “material” or “physical” means.

        Once scientists have answered all the questions, or at least the most basic ones about consciousness and reason, i.e. how it works, then philosophers will come along to tidy up and retrospectively invent the explanations and analysese that they can’t possibly deduce without scientific findings as a guide.

  22. TJR
    Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    It seems that all the regulars here agree that dualist free will is empirically false and possibly even incoherent.

    Opinions clearly differ on compatibilist free will, but its not quite clear exactly where the disagreement falls.

    When incompatibilists disagree with compatibilist free will, its not always clear whether they are disagreeing with the definition used or with the factual claims being made. In other words do you mean:

    a) I do not accept your definition of compatibilist free will as being a sensible use of the term free will.

    b) Even if I accept your definition of compatibilist free will, I still think that we don’t have it.

    c) I think the definition is wrong, and that we don’t have it anyway.

    • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:45 am | Permalink

      See comments 23, 24. It is compatibilists that are causing confusion by trying to retain the notion of free will. There is no clear compatibilist defintion. There is a clear dualist definition, and it’s the physicalist claim that dualist free will is incompatible with physicalism, materialism. So, in that context, compatibilism seems to be the messy case of denying dualist free will while trying to retain some dodgy notion of free will.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      Aside from the fact the compatibilists seem to have no consistent formal definition of free will, b) is definitely NOT the case for me. The case is a) and possibly c), though I’m not quite sure of the difference between a & c. Regarding b), I agree humans have the behaviors compatibilists describe, and they are worth having, as Dennet has said. Our quality of life is not marred by determinism.

      Your A, B, & C depend on compatibilists actually having a clear definition of free will, and I don’t see that they have one. What they do instead is to generate a nebulous category by citing a taxonomy of behaviors. So “free will” for them is no longer an element of how the brain works, and it is no longer a source that generates freedom and will. It is merely a descriptive label attached to a set of macro-behaviors. There is nothing left of an explanatory nature in this compatibilist idea of free will. It’s just a librarian’s classification. Possibly useful to some, but useless to science.

      Nobody can deny that humans behave as we observe them to behave. But compatibilism offers nothing to help explain how that behavior arises from neurons. At best compatibilism is comforting and reassuring to dualists and libertarians who may be suffering withdrawal shock when they sincerely face the reality of materialism and determinism for the first time. Eventually people get used to thinking in a way that is consistent with nature, and the crutches can be dispensed with.

  23. Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    Incompatibilist Physicalists

    Physicalism: we are acting causally; we are caused to act; by so many complex factors; and as individuals (as individual thinking brains) we cannot see all those causes. Furthermore, our limited conscious awareness of these causal events makes it feel like we are acting freely, willing acts that are free of physical cause.

    The nature of the illusion is that we feel we are acting freely when we are not. It is the feeling of having dualist free will that is illusory. So, we don’t have it. In “Free Will”, the term ‘free’ is an adjective qualifying the noun ‘will’. So, what is the ‘will’ actually ‘free’ of? According to dualists: physical causes.

    So, physicalism is ‘incompatibe’ with dualistic free will. This is where the meaning of ‘incompatibilism’ come from. It is in this context we have to ask what a ‘compatibilism’ is – see next comment.

    These are the two opposing stances of the dualist free will proponent and the physicalists.

    The dualist needs some evidence to show that the will is free of physical cause. Religious dualists think it is related to some God given gift. Well, they need to bring evidence of God to the table before that even gets off the ground. Other believers in dualist free will also need evidence that there is some ghostly will that is acting freely of physical causes.

    The physicalist on the other hand has all of science that shows no evidence of anything so spooky; and so the sensible inference is that the feeling that we have free will must be an illusion. We know of many other illusions that fool us, and this seems like just one more.

    But the dualists of various sorts seem to have other agendas that won’t let them give it up in the face of the lack of evidence for, and the seemingly unavoidable evidence against.

    • Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:43 am | Permalink

      The problem you have here is that the fight is actually over whether we make choices at all. The libertarian says that we have to have some way of being free of a strictly determined — by external forces — choice or else we don’t make any choices at all and don’t have any responsibility at all, and can’t even decide to be determinist or not, all of which are incredibly strange and problematic. Determinists, on the other hand, accept all of that and say “But that’s the way the world is”.

      So the “agenda” is simply trying to make sense of the experiences we actually have, in light of the fact that the unavoidable evidence against is not strong enough to overturn all of our conscious experience. The idea that conscious experience and decision-making has no impact on our behaviour — which is what the Libet experiments would show if they were sufficiently deep and free of confounds — is the extraordinary claim … and determinists do not yet have the extraordinary evidence.

      • Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:02 am | Permalink

        “The idea that conscious experience and decision-making has no impact on our behaviour … is the extraordinary claim…”

        Who claims that? Not the incompatibilist.

        There is no reason whatsoever why the conscious part of the brain cannot feed back into the unconscious, or why it cannot cause of inhibit motor action. The point is that the brain is a complex causal system, and that the conscious part is just one aspect of it. It is still all caused, deterministically, or indeterminately deeper down – depending on what level we examine the physics.

        It is the dualist notion of free will that lacks evidence for how the will can be free of physical causes. Compatibilism adds nothing but confusion. It adds nothing useful, but introduces silly ideas like “I was free to do otherwise”

        • Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:13 am | Permalink

          If you hold this stance, you are a compatibilist. The determinist position holds that all of that conscious experience and decision-making is just going through pre-determined steps that were determined from conditions outside of you. Again, compatibilists ACCEPT that all actions are determined in the physicalist sense, but argue that our decision-making process are real decision-making processes whose products are decisions and choices. This is clear in Dennett and Carroll, who are clearly compatibilists.

          • Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:59 am | Permalink

            “If you hold this stance, you are a compatibilist.”

            Nonsense. What I stated above, about the causal physical nature of the brain, is incompatible with dualist free will. That’s how incompatiblism.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incompatibilism

            “Compatibilists maintain free will by defining it as more of a ‘freedom to act’ – a move that has been met with some criticism.”

            Not surprising, because the term ‘freedom to act’ is essentially the mechanistic notion of ‘degrees of freedom’ and is not the same as ‘free will’.

            Dennett is a self-proclaimed compatibilist, but I don’t think it’s at all clear that Carroll is. Can you give quotes?

            • Posted July 2, 2013 at 5:30 am | Permalink

              The first thing to point out here is that from your own source, both libertarians and determinists are incompatibilists (which you seemed to argue against).

              Second, here’s the sort of issue with hard determinism, again from your own source:

              Note, however, that hard determinists often have some sort of ‘moral system’ that relies explicitly on determinism. A Determinist’s moral system simply bears in mind that every agent’s actions in a given situation are, in theory, predicted by the interplay of environment and upbringing. For instance, the Determinist may still punish undesirable behaviours for reasons of behaviour modification or deterrence.

              This is what I’ll call the “behaviourist” answer. It denies, as per Skinner, that we really make decisions at all, and that the internals are not important at all in determining actions (as they are also all determined by the external environment and “upbringing”, which means “history”). But at its core, it denies that we really make decisions at all. Again, the experiences you have are, in fact, pre-determined by environment — which is external to you — and by upbringing, which is the result of a lot of previous external to you causes. You do nothing more than going through the motions in everything you do.

              So, yes, you can punish in the hopes of changing behaviour, but you are no more “free” to do that than they are. If your environment and your upbringing are such that you will do that, then you will, regardless of what your conscious decision-making processes would do, because those processes are, again, the PRODUCT of those external factors.

              Okay, sure, saying that you are a compatibilist with that view might be going a bit far, but if you aren’t taking their line on it it becomes even more implausible that you can save any reasonable notion of choice.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted July 2, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

                This is what I’ll call the “behaviourist” answer. It denies, as per Skinner, that we really make decisions at all, and that the internals are not important at all in determining actions (as they are also all determined by the external environment and “upbringing”, which means “history”)

                I think you are off track here. Perhaps there is some linguistic confusion.

                How could punishing someone change their behavior if you are denying that we make decisions? That makes no sense. Assuming we’re talking about a human intelligence here, it can both anticipate and remember punishment. And it can factor this into future decisions. Of course this will change it’s behavior if it doesn’t like punishment. This has nothing to do with Skinner. Skinner’s mistake was not in viewing organisms as deterministic systems. It was in way oversimplifying how the brain works. Hard determinists don’t view people the way Skinner did.

                And second, it doesn’t say that internals are not important. Internals are essential. The behavior of the brain totally depends on its internal state.

                It seems you are setting up a straw man here.

              • Posted July 3, 2013 at 4:54 am | Permalink

                How could punishing someone change their behavior if you are denying that we make decisions?

                Both simple and operant conditioning apply punishment — negative stimuli — to change behaviour, but in things that don’t make decisions at all, or even anticipate and remember punishment. You presume that we actually make decisions and then ask how we can deny that we make decisions, but my counter is that the behaviourist response doesn’t allow for that in terms of punishment and reward. And it’s hard to find a hard determinist position that allows for more choosing that isn’t just a compatiblist position.

                And second, it doesn’t say that internals are not important. Internals are essential. The behavior of the brain totally depends on its internal state.

                But the internal state of the brain is determined by the current environment and the history of the organism. All of which is external.

                Note: This is a clear behaviourist answer to the problem, and behaviourists like Skinner are hard determinists. If you have a better way of working out these issues, you can present it in full, because even by what you’re saying here it isn’t clear.

                Note also that Coyne’s view is very similar Skinner’s in a lot of ways, which I’ve commented on before. If someone talks about changing someone’s environment to change behaviour, the link to Skinner is pretty clear.

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

              Here is Sean Carrol on Free Will from a few years ago: http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/07/13/free-will-is-as-real-as-baseball/

              I don’t know if he’s changed his position on free will since then, but it’s not clear from this article that he’s a compatibilist.

              He says that at some level of explanation compatibilism makes sense. I’ve said the same myself many times. It makes sense if you view the human as a black box, and don’t think too hard about how the brain inside is doing its job.

              Carrol refers to levels of description in his article. When we talk about a car, there is a level of description in which it makes sense to say you get in, turn on the key, and it goes. Just press the gas and turn the wheel, oh and don’t forget the brakes. To a mechanic of course this isn’t very useful. This is the point I often have made about compatibilism. It doesn’t really have much use or relevence in neuroscience. It probably is relevent for some aspects of psychology. Just like an automobile driver doesn’t think in terms of the fundamental nature of the car, but rather in terms of its usefulness to humans, compatibilists don’t really address the fundamentals of how the brain works, but rather stay at a level of linguistic expressions that people find useful in everyday life.

              Carrol kind of sits on the fence between compatibilism and incompatibilism: “None of this quite settles the question of whether “free will” is actually a crucial ingredient in the best theory of human beings we can imagine developing. I suspect it is, but I’m willing to change my mind as we learn more.”

          • Posted July 2, 2013 at 5:56 am | Permalink

            The confusion comes from the use of ‘libertarian’. It is an entirely useless term in this debate. I don’t use it or address it. Only dualist free will is relevant when it comes to physicalism, because it is ‘incompatible’ with physicalism.

            So I certainly don’t “argue against” determinists being incompatibilists. They have to be, because determinism is incompatible with dualist free will. But you don’t need to be a determinist to be an incompatibilist. Free will is still incompatible with indeterminism.

            As it turns we have only science to go by, and currently it shows a mix of determinism and indeterminism, depending on how you model reality. But nowhere in that is it compatible with dualist free will.

            “Note, however, that hard determinists often have some sort of ‘moral system’ that …”

            That seems fine. What’s the problem? As a non-hard determinist I can still hold to the same general understanding of morality: as the consequence of material systems interacting. Except I’d frame it in terms of evolutionary tendencies with the addition of culturally determined norms of behaviour.

            “It denies, as per Skinner, that we really make decisions at all…”

            No it does not. You again misunderstand what ‘decisions’ are in a complex material system. They are merely outcomes of complex events. A hard determinist may well insist that all outcomes are rep-determined, so that the notion of ‘decision’ itself has little meaning. There are similar problems if you question notions like ‘time’ and ‘causality’. There’s a lot we don’t understand about reality.

            But given the convenient time ordered causal model of reality it seems fine to explain human behaviour in terms of decisions, just as we do for computers. Just as we could for a rock rolling down a hill – does it ‘decide’ to go to the left or right of a tree? It depends on the physical causes that make it go one way or the other. So too human ‘decisions’ are made based on physical causes that lead up to the event we are calling a ‘decision’. In human brains it may involve lots of complex inputs that we can’t assess ourselves, so our decisions appear to be freely willed, when in fact they are caused.

            Saving “any reasonable notion of choice” is only a matter of which model you choose. As I’ve said elsewhere we are humans that are used to working with, speaking in the frame of, the free will model. There’s no reason to stop doing that while accepting it’s illusory and that our decisions are actually causal outcomes of a complex system. We already know from experiments that subjects can be made to make a particular choice, by priming them, but that they feel it was their freely willed choice.

            We live with lots of illusions. I don’t see a problem with acknowledging that we suffer them. I’m not in any existential fear every time I see the rotating mask illusion. I don’t have a problem accepting that when I think I make a decision, when I feel it is ‘out of the blue’ or ‘freely willed’, that many causal events unknown to me made me make that decision.

            • Posted July 3, 2013 at 3:28 am | Permalink

              Ah, I see the problem now: you’re having a completely different debate than everyone else. You’re trying to fight the “physcalism/dualism” debate, while the argument here is over whether or not we have any sort of free will. To say that you find the term “libertarian” useless is to completely disconnect from the debate, because the libertarian position is:

              Free will and determinism are incompatible, but we have free will, so too bad for determinism.

              This is a critical position in the free will debate. SOME libertarians solve the issue of free will by positing a dualistic free will, convinced that physicalism entails determinism (it doesn’t, since we already have some physical processes that are not deterministic). And sure, dualistic free will is incompatible with physicalism, but not because it posits free will, but merely because it is dualistic and dualism is incompatible with physicalism. That doesn’t settle the free will debate.

              No wonder you can’t figure out where to place compatiblism if you try to cast it in this light …

              Now, the problem with you claiming to be a non-hard determinist is that no one has any idea what you mean by that. Compatiblists are non-hard determinists by definition, and you seem to disagree that your view is compatiblist. Remember, that was my charge that started this sub-thread. So, on the one hand, you seem to be unable to accept or understand what compatiblism means, and on the other hand you seem to hold similar views. This is, you understand, a bit confusing [grin].

              So, let’s take a look at your “hill’ example. You claim that we can look at a rock rolling down a hill as making a decision to go left or right, but this is a completely different use of the word “decision”. And we can demonstrate this by looking at ourselves in those sorts of cases. If I am rolling out of control down a hill, in no way would I consider that I made a decision to go to the left or right of that tree. I was simply rolling. However, if I saw the tree coming and decided to take a physical action to shift myself to roll to the left or the right, that is definitely a decision, and one that I can act on. It’s also one that might fail, so deciding isn’t just what happens either.

              So, what we have are experienced processes that differ from each other, and we call some decisions and some not decisions. Reflex actions, again, are not considered decisions. To just say that all of these actions are really the same thing is to completely avoid explaining these different types of processes. It would be like saying that liquids and solids and gasses are just material things like any other and so we don’t need to explain or describe their differences in behaviour.

              Compatiblists argue that the decision-making processes are all real physical processes, as determined as any other, and yet are not just simple processes that do nothing more than react to stimuli. They are processes that take in inputs and produce decisions. Thus, the differences between the rock and our decisions don’t have to be illusory. They can be real and important differences. This solves the problem hard determinism has: ignoring the real differences to try to make the determinist story work out consistently.

  24. Posted July 2, 2013 at 3:32 am | Permalink

    Compatibilists are muddying the waters in trying to rescue the term free will. There are varieties of compatibilists, but they generally make some or all of the following mistakes.

    They insist we have free will, while denying dualist free will, and yet never explain what they mean by free will without introducing dodgy introspective concepts, limiting their investigations to notions of “I”, as in “I decide…”. They will deny free will is an illusion – but of course they mean their nebulous free will is not an illusion. They falsely take the phrase ‘illusory free will’ and suppose it is applied to their understanding of free will – they must do if they are saying their free will is not illusory.

    But again, the two real opposing positions are: (a) dualist free will, and (b) physicalism, which is incompatible with dualist free will. It is in this context that we ask what ‘compatibilism’ means.

    Here’s Todd: “I’m a compatibilist in the sense that I see free will (or some much needed replacement term) as a malleable construct representing our perceived sense of autonomy.” – Our ‘perceived sense’. It is an illusion. It is the perceived sense we all have of having dualist free will that is the illusion. And what on earth is a ‘malleable construct’ in this context. Sounds like some incoherent attempt to justify a ‘free will worth having’.

    “I think at this point I tend to agree that given the long history of its use and its popular acceptance in those terms, we perhaps should just talk about free will in traditional libertarian terms and use another term for what most compatibilists actually mean.” – Good idea. Already done: illusory free will.

    But then what on earth does ‘compatible’ mean in this sense? What is compatible with what? ‘Free will’ clearly isn’t compatible with physicalism – the original frame of reference in which dualism and physicalism are not compatible.

    It seems that compatibilists are denying dualist free will, inventing some other rather slippery free will that isn’t compatible with dualist free will and yet is compatible with physicalism, while at the same time making free will a ‘free will worth having’ and, and one in which ‘I could have done otherwise’. It’s all such a load of nonsense. It’s dancing around the subject.

    Kevin: “I believe in garden-variety everyday free will. No ghost in the machine. It’s you doing the deciding. But you’re free to change your mind.” – How exactly are you free to change your mind? Free of what? Try asking what is causing your mind to change – and if you say “Me” then you really don’t get the nature of the problem, you’re not going deep enough.

    Kevin again: “As a baseball fan, I have long thought the “checked swing” is the clearest evidence we have of free will.” – See the comments that follow that.

    Vaal: “The freedom involved is the freedom to choose, to be able to do as you want.” – Who or what possesses this freedom, and what is it free of?

    Then Vaal again: “I don’t see how to break this [causal] chain and still make sense of humans making choices. I would talk of “free” in terms of describing situations in which my choices occur: whether and what kind of constraints there are on my ability to do as I desire.” – But what is driving your desires? To what does the term ‘free’ apply? What is free of what? This is no more than the freedom of a marble falling down a marble cascade. It is not ‘free’ in the sense meant by ‘free will’, but merely has ‘degrees of freedom’, in the entirely mechanistic sense.

    There is some serious intrusion of the “I” going on here that supposes that the decision making is not just more interaction of complex causal systems. It’s as if the compatibilist brain latches on to this “I” and sees it making decisions, without asking what is causing this “I” to do the decision making. What is this “I”; how does it come about; what does it consist of? Compatibilists seem unable to get beyond this “I” and are instead left floundering around with all sorts of obsequious determination to rescue free will.

    Compatibilist Coel: “Your will, your desired choice, is indeed determined. However, that will might well be affected by other humans. … Constructs of “free will” and “moral responsibility” are all about social interactions.”

    Yes. But that’s all presented in a dualist free will framework. Social interactions that impact on what an individual ‘decides’ to do are simply more inputs to the physical causal mechanism that is that individuals brain, and they all have physical causal effects. There is nothing that this individual is free to do other than to react, as a complex mechanism. In the short term of his brain contemplating the inputs and making a decision it appears to us, and to him, as if he has freely willed his final decision. But it seems that way because we all suffer the same illusion. Coel’s explanation here is a superficial one slapped on top of the complex causal system that is reacting.

    “In other words the “freedom” in “free will” is the tension between “this would be my will if no other humans are around and affected” versus “this is my will taking into account the reaction of other humans”.” – Or, it is the tension between many causes and effects that result in some deterministic outcome that is not free in any way of all the complex causal events. There is only a varying degree to which some events contribute to the outcome. So, I might be caused to ‘choose’ vanilla over chocolate, because I prefer it – my biology, at this moment, drives me to desire vanilla. But if my loved one really wants the vanilla I might forego it and take the chocolate. I am then caused to choose chocolate because other desires: to see my loved one enjoy vanilla, or because I want to win relationship brownie points. This social ‘tension’ is not the free will of the dualist, but a complex causal relationship.

    The compatibilist is succumbing to the feeling of free will, as we all do; but is also succumbing to the intellectual attraction of free will and is perversely trying to make it ‘compatible’ with physicalism, and failing.

    The misunderstanding of the language of free will is expressed more forcefully by silly comments like this:

    “He [Jerry Coyne] starts by asserting that we have no free will. And then Coyne asks his readers which of two options they would choose.

    Then Coyne goes ahead and exercises his own free will, by choosing the first of those options. Some of the commenters do likewise. Other commenters exercise their free will to point out that the whole idea of making a choice is contrary to free will.

    I guess I still have that quaint old fashioned idea that scientists are supposed to go by evidence. And the evidence is that people spend much of their time making choices.”

    This is typical of someone not getting physicalism and its implications; and not getting how pervasive the illusion of dualist free will is. First, Jerry has no free will in making that statement. His brain is being caused to say it. His brain is even being caused to succumb to the illusion of free will, by using that language. Yes, it seems odd that a scientist would apparently make such a contradictory statement like that; until you fully understand the consequences of what’s being said, rather than taking the superficial presentational language at face value.

    Compatibilists are so stuck in the free will frame of mind themselves, even while denying dualism, that their position remains so conflicted. The above language is not a problem for a physicalist.

    It really is that simple. Focus on the nature of physicalism, and then try to think how that could cause the behaviours we observe, including the behaviour of using the language of free will in discourse about how illusory free will is.

    It makes for very stilted language that becomes harder to understand if you drop all natural language. A similar problem arises when talking about evolution. Many good evolution texts are full of teleological language, regarding ‘selfish genes’, and how evolution ‘designs’ features. But this is just natural language being used to make the subject readable. It is metaphor and not a literal exposition on the will of genes. Similarly here we often use expressive language of free will to explain that we don’t really have it.

    We all suffer the illusion of free will; even those of us that claim free will is an illusion. There is nothing contradictory or conflicted about this. It is no more a problem than succumbing to the illusion of the rotating mask that appears convex when we know it to be concave. Subjectively, personally, we succumb to the illusion and feel we are making free willed decisions; and we find it difficult to shake off that language. But intellectually there is no evidence to support it, and plenty of evidence from which to infer we don’t have it. That’s the top and bottom of the matter. Compatibilism is the muddy mess somewhere in between.

    • Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:20 am | Permalink

      I’m surprised that some people consistently find all forms of the notion of physicalist free will so incoherent. Slippery, yes perhaps, it seems to be an unsolved puzzle in its details.

      That suggests to me that they either think they have a complete and satisfactory model of mental causation or else that the don’t think pain is what causes them to go to the dentist but rather some underlying set of physical forces. That is, they think there is no mind at all in any meaningful sense. I wonder if they are actually arguing in a sense that minds are an illusion, and not just free will?

      • Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:48 am | Permalink

        It’s important to distinguish between the experience that the physical system is having and what that experience seems to be implying, to the system that is having that experience.

        Pain is a physical event, but is experienced by the brain as the pain we talk about. Pain can even be measured to some extent: the frequency of action potentials in a nerve is related to the extent of the pain. The trouble is that this is variable in brains. But there is no sense in which it is not physical.

        The mind is an illusion, of the same kind as free will. But before you jump the gun it is important to understand what is being said is the illusion here. The illusion is that we have a free floating mind that hovers somewhere in the skull behind the eyes. It’s an illusion in that it feels to be disconnected from the physical brain. But there is no evidence for such a mind.

        So the mind seems to be how the brain experiences itself, all the time giving itself the impression that the mind is separate from the brain.

        This needn’t be particularly controversial. We already accept that the concept of ‘self’, ‘I’, is rather dodgy. Our brain-body systems replenish themselves over time so that there is a real material sense in which I am not the ‘I’ I was some years ago. Yet the patterns that are maintained by my changing physical components give the impression of a physical continuity that simply is false.

        It is for those that suppose the mind is not the brain to explain what they mean and to provide evidence to support their case. The physicalist perspective is simply based on the evidence of what we do find, the material world, and the lack of anything additional that might be considered a mind.

        What remains tricky here is the question as to what causes a physical system to experience itself at all. While this is an interesting puzzle it does not imply we should therefore go for a mind of the gaps any more than a God of the gaps explains other puzzles.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:58 am | Permalink

          +1

          • Posted July 2, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

            Ron, I agree with most of that and you seem to be putting a lot of work into arguing with me against a position I don’t hold for some reason so I must have been unclear. Part of the frustration eope have with this issue is trying to fit modern thinking into an archaic dialectic. But thst was the starting point. So let me try to zero in on the reason I responded to your criticism of my original post.

            Your claim seems to be that my description of compatibilist “free will” is incoherent and you generalize that to everyone who claims that the term might mean something within a physical world. I don’t find the word usage worth arguing about, I’m going to focus on the spirit of what we are trying to say.

            I think people who consider themselves compatibilists often use the term to refer somewhat confusingly to the (presumably physical) causal model for making decisions ss opposed to or in addition to the experience of autonomy. However while they consider the experience deceiving, they do imagine, I believe, that it has meaning in one sense. We do have experiences, and those experiences arise within a physical world.

            The difficulty is explaining the physical causal model for how the experience, whatever its underlying physical substrate, can play a role in subsequent choices. Yes, it is presumably physical and yes it is complex. I suspect it is “incoherent” though because we don’t know what it is yet, not because people do not have experiences that have causal force in some sense back into actions.

            There are probably many causal chains of varying complexity leading to thought and action. I feel that arguing against compatibilism so strongly and consistently in all forms and expressions seems to imply that you think they are all equally easy to reduce to physical models, that we have no question at this point about how downward causation of experience can feed back to action. I suspect there is a remaining puzzle to solve there, AND that this is enough in my thinking to invoke at least some sense of “freedom of will” because it represents the experience of what is going on in our thoughts ultimately affecting the physical world. So it relates to a limited sense in which our experience of choosing actually is causal.

            So I’m not really arguing with you for the most part, rather I’m trying to express my perspective, which you felt was incoherent. Is this still incoherent? Thanks very much for the response.

            • Posted July 2, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

              p.s. I realize fully that some people disagree that “experiences” can be causal in any sense. I’m not asking for agreement, I’m asking whether the position seems coherent.

              • Posted July 2, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

                Can “experiences” can be causal?

                The ‘experience’, I think not. But the brain that is having the experience, in having it, will consist of neurons doing stuff, and they CAN have causal effects, which will result in motor action if they cause changes to the motor neurons.

                The experience is an ‘epiphenomenon’ in philosophical terms and has no ontology independent of the neurons ‘having’ the experience – the problem for now being that we don’t know which neurons are having the experience or what makes them have it. This aspect of the hard problem isn’t really a problem for free will, in that it doesn’t stop us inferring free will is an illusion. The hard problem is only one of explaining how the brain has its conscious experience. It seems reasonable to say that no matter how it does that, it’s still all physical in nature.

        • Posted July 2, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

          Todd,

          OK, I may have taken your points out of context, so I’ll clarify my thoughts here too.

          I do not doubt that the human brain has an ‘experience’ in regard to free will. It is an experience that feels like there is an unattached mind somewhere behind the eyes that is making decisions, choosing, free of physical causes. The experience is a real experience, but the reality of the unattached consciousness making free decisions is false. In that context the experience is an illusion of a false reality.

          I think the debate over words is important here because I really think the compatibilist use of the term ‘free will’, and claiming it is compatible with determinism, is quite wrong. It’s an abuse of the term, and confuses the issue. And all the explanations of it seem to be no more than variations on ‘degrees of freedom’, which is entirely materialistic and mechanistic.

          “I feel that arguing against compatibilism so strongly and consistently in all forms and expressions seems to imply that you think they are all equally easy to reduce to physical models”

          But the compatibilists reduce them to physical models too. They simply retain the term ‘free will’, and notions like ‘I could have done otherwise’. Well yes, a very physical computer ‘could have done otherwise’ if its inputs changed, or if its internal electronics were as complex and contrary as the biology of a human brain.

          Perhaps it’s worth clarifying the following. I don’t particularly have a problem with what some compatibilists explain about how the brain works, when it comes to decision making. The brain makes decisions. But this then requires us to say what decisions are; and in a deterministic universe they are just outcomes of a causal chain. It is ‘decided’ at the point of one possibility being followed instead of another, and as observers that’s where we see the ‘choice’, the decision. But causally there may be no choice at all, in that in a given prior state of the universe the actual output would have always been the output, and the non-taken other possibilities were never ever actually possible because the precursor causal events never allowed them. The ‘possibilities’ were only ever nominal, and would never have been actual. This is the deterministic view of course, and an indeterminate universe complicates this. But in no sense relating to free will could the decision ever have been ‘otherwise’. We might call these events ‘decisions’, in our time ordered causal model of the universe, but that is not ‘free will’ at work.

          My beef is that those explanations are not explanations of ‘free will’, but are explanations of material brains. I cannot see why they insist on claiming their explanations constitute free will. I cannot see why they don’t see that dualist free will is an illusion. Perhaps they do. But then they reject the notion that free will is an illusion because that then implies their explanation of free will isn’t describing the illusory free will, which in turn would bring into question their use of the term free will. It looks from the outside that they are in a bit of a bind, all because they insist on clinging to the term ‘free will’. Some compatibilists eventually get this, and then make noises about terms not really being important, or that they would be happy to drop the term ‘free will’. Which again makes you wonder why they might still consider themselves compatibilists, because then their compatibilism is claiming nothing to be compatible with anything in particular.

          It’s far clearer to keep the dualist notion of free will, and simply say it’s incompatible with materialism (deterministic or not). But we all accept we have the feeling of having free will. So then, barring any evidence for this dualist free will, and with all the evidence that everything we know of follows materialist ‘deterministic’ laws, then there is a case to say free will is an illusion. End of story.

          • Posted July 2, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

            Ron, thank for you very much for the detailed clairification, it was very helpful. I think I understand your epiphenomenalist perspective and find it coherent and I appreciate you expanding on it. I think you also answered the question of whether you find other physicalist positions coherent but wrong. Am I correct in assuming that find epiphenomenalism the only coherent physicalist perspective? I would disagree with that, perhaps because I would stretch physicalism just a bit with regard to “emergent” properties from the dynamics of brain activity. Other than that I think I agree with most of what you’ve written and your intent vis a vis “free will” disabuse. Thanks again!

      • Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

        That suggests to me that they either think they have a complete and satisfactory model of mental causation

        Such a complete model is nowhere near required.

        A dozen centuries before Europeans had migrated to the New World in noticeable numbers, Eratosthenes had figured out the Earth is a sphere with a circumference of 252,000 stadia — an error of only about 1.6%. And we had the outlines of the continents and the major waterways mapped long before we had the interiors mapped.

        While there has been plenty of room for reasonable speculation in the past couple millennia, we’ve known for at least that long that there’s no danger of falling off of the edge — even if there may be spots like the Grand Canyon where it can seem like you might.

        It’s the same with the brain. We know remarkable amounts about it, even if there’re still large blank spots on the map. Our map is more than complete enough, however, to know that there’s no room for anything other than Turing-complete computation, even if we may never figure out some of the algorithms.

        Cheers,

        b&

      • Posted July 2, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        Todd,

        If we take epiphenomenalism to mean that consciousness is an epiphenomenon that has no ontology of its own – no mass, no dimension, but merely some ‘view’ of a brain at work? Yes. I suppose the question then is, what is having or experiencing that view?

        Paraphrasing Nagel, what does it feel like for a complex system that monitors its own processes, so that is self-aware in some sense? Well, it feels like ‘this’, it feels like I do. I am self-aware. I sense my own thinking processes, and yet don’t get to detect the physical nature of them – I don’t sense my individual neurons ‘thinking’. Or perhaps I do. Perhaps this is just what it feels like when a bunch of neurons are self-aware as some collective system, feeling themselves at work. This expresses the nature of the hard problem.

        But none of this adds anything measurably new. If we examine the brain with tools, we will always only see firing neurons and other biological stuff.

        We might come to understand how consciousness comes about – what combination of bits and pieces is minimally required to make a conscious entity. But such an entity will always be the parts only and not more than the sum of the parts.

        In a brain that is doing a lot of ‘computing’ (clever thinking, building a business, making a mint on the markets, inventing the latest wiz gadgets) there is really not much else going on physically than in the brain of a couch potato. There is more going on, of course, but the low power levels of the signals in brains, and their consumption of food to provide oxygen and other requirements, belies the external effects a brain can have. Maybe a very active brain consumes 21W and a couch potato 19W – I’m guessing here, but bear in mind that the whole human consumes about 100W, so it’s not like some ‘hi-powered’ brain is going to be buzzing along astral planning out to the stars on 100GW or anything (the nonsense of some transcendentalists, eh?).

        Consider a control computer. A computer has two outputs, A and B. A links to a control system that lifts a ten ton weight. B links to a control system that lifts a one gram weight. Coming out of the computer both signals are of exactly the same power, and all the internal ‘thinking’ is the same. All the differences in external world effect come from the environment.

        So too with brains. When a couch potato has a genus idea, but can’t get of his rear to do anything about it, then it has little effect. The same idea in the right head at the right time might persuade a whole industry of action and POP! The iPhone. But there is little difference going on in the brains, when compared to the external world effects.

        This notion of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts defies the second law of thermodynamics, if taken too literally. Only in how it interacts with the world can a brain have a knock-on effect, recruiting ever more sources of energy to make the big thing happen.

        So it is with our ‘experiences’. They can be nothing more than the physical brain bits in action. Anything else claimed requires an explanation of how this defeats the second law.

        It is not that the brain is greater than the sum of its parts, but that the brain, by virtue only of its parts, recruits additional stuff to have an effect greater than the brain alone.

        • Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

          I would personally expect the smart brain to use less energy per task than the dumb one. Probably significantly less.

          Thus, the smart and dumb brains may well be generating heat at the exact same wattage, but the smart brain will do more thinking per watt than the dumb one — as well as more thinking per second.

          Pick a field you’re an expert in but that most people aren’t. How long does it take you to solve a typical problem, and how hard is it for you to do so? Very likely, the answer is “not long and not very.” But what’s the answer for somebody who’s a novice? Presumably, “a long time, and rather.”

          I know that’s personally the case for both my own areas of expertise and inexpertise.

          b&

    • Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      +1

      b&

    • Kevin Henderson
      Posted July 2, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Determinism is probably true. However, at is also very likely any deterministic event cannot be predicted by humans with arbitrary precision for any particle or field; determinism, i.e., any physical event, is very likely unpredictable by humans. If humans can not predict the future of simple events, let alone complex ones, then the future is indistinguishable from a future that permits free will, a future where choices appear freely chosen.

      • Posted July 2, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        I don’t know that determinism is probably true or not. I agree we couldn’t easily tell whether it is or not. We have only inference from scientific experiments to inform us.

        Humans can predict. We do it very well with out models, out laws of physics. We just accept that they are large scale approximations to a lot of detail we haven’t got to the bottom of yet.

        I agree that we could not tell that “I will raise my arm. See, I did it.” means that free will was enjoyed, or that many causal events caused all three events: a brain intention to raise the arm, and expression of that intention, the actual raising. It might be all caused and not the act of a free willed agent.

        That means those declaring we have free will need to come up with some way of convincing us.

        • Kevin Henderson
          Posted July 2, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

          Determinism is almost certainly empirically true. Even if it were not, it is not relevant for prediction. You claim that humans are good at predicting, but not those events which make free will important.

          I cannot predict my own thoughts, not even a moment in the future. There is no chance I could predict anyone else’s, let alone know their thoughts at any time. I cannot predict my own actions, not even in a moment of future. Because of this persistent epistemological condition it is as though I live with free will. My choices are my own because I cannot predict them. If I could predict them, then I would feel as though I had no free will.

          Someone or something (maybe a smart computer) may one day predict my actions, but if those predictions are not made available to me, my actions still appear to manifestly my own. I content, and believe, that nature is fundamentally unpredictable and that no computer could be made to predict complex systems under any condition; the whole of the universe would have to be simulated from start to finish.

    • Vaal
      Posted July 2, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Ron Murphy,
      “But what is driving your desires? To what does the term ‘free’ apply? What is free of what?”

      The answer has been given to you numerous times, including my post *right below* the one you just quoted. And it is elaborated upon, continually, throughout the whole thread.

      I’m not sure what the point is of answering such questions if the arguments are simply ignored only to be asked the same question again. But…

      As per a previous example: My car can run on premium OR regular gas. That is a normal, non-controversial empirical claim about the attributes of my car when it comes to “putting gas in the car.” To say “I can choose to put either premium OR I can choose to put premium gas in my car” is a statement of exactly the same kind. A regular old statement of my attributes – my ability to physically choose either option in circumstances where I’m filling up my car. To say “I chose premium but I COULD HAVE chosen regular instead” is the same type of empirical statement about my attributes and my car’s attributes, in similar situations.

      I was “free” to choose either premium or regular gas indicates that I both options were physically available, I was physically capable of choosing either type, and I could choose as I desired, also without being strongly coerced by someone else’s desire that would conflict with my own (e.g. if someone who did not want me to put gas in my car held a gun on me, threatening to kill me if I fulfilled my desire of gassing up my car).
      There are real, honest to goodness differences in the scenarios under which we make decisions, and it is common to describe them in terms of “degrees of freedom” under which our decisions do, or do not occur. The idea that people’s everyday use of “freedom” and “free will” automatically is about magic a-causal events just doesn’t hold up. That would not account for how most of us actually employ the term – it’s pretty much always predicated on describing differences in the real world, under which choices are being made. So it’s not “re-defining” free.

      And, again, treading the ground we’ve been over a zillion times, you may want to say “well you don’t have a REAL choice, or you couldn’t REALLY have chosen regular gas over premium, because physicalism determined you would choose premium.” Then I suggest you just aren’t accounting for the level of abstraction and counterfactual if/then reasoning that is normally involved in claims about everything, including whether we could or couldn’t have taken another path. Knowledge itself about the world relies making inferences about how X behaves when you alter certain parameters, because the attributes that X has is INFERRED from the behavior of X over time, in various circumstances. So this idea that it is invalid to say “I could have done Y or Z” is false on the grounds that at a completely frozen, specific moment and state of affairs it couldn’t have done otherwise is simply a non-starter. You can’t make rational inferences about how a thing is that way, and we DON’T make our inferences, and our empirical claims about “what we can do” on such grounds.

      When I say “I could have chosen regular gas instead” I normally mean “that’s an ability I have in such situations.” And the reason I think I have that ability is an inference from my having done so in similar situations, over time.
      If you think this method of talking is invalid or illusory, then you’ve made hash of every other empirical insight you want to bring to the table. Until I see someone here actually address these arguments, rather than repeat “free from what? What kind of freedom is THAT?” then I see no reason to abandon this position.

      Finally, for incompatibilists always accusing compatibilists of the sin of “re-defining” free will, I wish you would own up to the fact that if you are REALLY disabusing the populace of an illusion they associate with their ability to make choices, or choose to do otherwise, then you have to re-define “choice” in a way it’s not normally understood by the population. A choice were you “don’t really have the freedom to choose” would hardly what most people mean when they think of having a “choice.”
      So, pot, kettle black and all that.

      Vaal

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        As per a previous example: My car can run on premium OR regular gas. That is a normal, non-controversial empirical claim about the attributes of my car when it comes to “putting gas in the car.” To say “I can choose to put either premium OR I can choose to put premium gas in my car” is a statement of exactly the same kind. A regular old statement of my attributes – my ability to physically choose either option in circumstances where I’m filling up my car. To say “I chose premium but I COULD HAVE chosen regular instead” is the same type of empirical statement about my attributes and my car’s attributes, in similar situations.

        Being able to say you could have chosen differently does not mean you really could have chosen differently.

        If I fill the tank up with regular, then say “my tank could have premium in it”, my statement has meaning but it doesn’t change what’s in my tank. It is purely hypothetical.

        So this line of argumentation says absolutely nothing about whether you really could have chosen a different grade of gas, and it says absolutely nothing about the existence of free will. It only says that humans have the mental ability to imagine and the language to talk about hypothetical situations.

        I can just as easily say that whatever gas you put in your car, you could not have actually put the other one in your car (even though you can imagine hypothetically doing so) unless you were in an alternate universe in which you had a different idea in your mind about what gas is best for your car, or in which the station suddenly discounted premium, or some other difference that deterministically caused you to decide differently. But in this universe, the one we live in, you did the one thing that circumstances and the state of your brain determined to happen, the only thing you could have done.

        But it is an important point that you put the gas you wanted in your car, based on your knowledge and your reasoning ability and your goals for how you want to maintain your car, and your budget, etc.

        It is also an important point that it isn’t necessarily desireable that we “could have done differently”. Why should we want that? That is what libertarians think is important. What we do is deterministically arrive at the choice that best fits who and what we are at the time of choosing. There is only one such best fit. It wouldn’t help us if some random glitch in our head, or some divine spark had enabled a different decision to be made.

        So lack of free will and the fact that “we could not do differently” does not destroy our quality of life. We still make intelligent choices that best suit our needs, that best serve our interests, that meet our goals to the best of our abilities.

        • Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

          Darwin, brother!

          b&

        • Vaal
          Posted July 2, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

          Jeff,

          As to this:

          “It is purely hypothetical.

          So this line of argumentation says absolutely nothing about whether you really could have chosen a different grade of gas, “

          Well of course it’s hypothetical – in the sense of what *would have* happened IF I’d desired differently. It’s typical, empirical, If/Then reasoning which we apply both to the past and to predicting the future. And we make empirical claims we consider “true” on exactly this reasoning.

          That something did not happen one way, or has not happened yet, does not mean we are therefore not making true claims about reality. Because the claim is not TRYING to say what DID happen but what WOULD HAVE happened or what WILL HAPPEN if you do A vs if you do B.

          I’m telling you that the reason I know I could have chosen otherwise, had I desired to, is that I’ve essentially “done the experiment” many times in the past, having been able to choose either or when at the gas station.

          Imagine you walk into NASA and ask why they plan on using rocket fuel to launch their next rocket/satellite into orbit. They tell you about the qualities rocket fuel has for creating thrust in a rocket engine, and reference all the past successes to explain their confidence that rocket fuel will once again help cause the launch of a rocket.

          Now, it hasn’t happened yet so there is no “reality about what happened” to which the rocket scientists can appeal. But does this mean you’d say “But that is purely hypothetical. This line of argumentation says absolutely nothing about whether you really can use rocket fuel to get rockets into orbit.”

          Surely that strikes you as being ridiculous.

          And the NASA boys can be confident that IF they use X rocket fuel THEN the rocket will lift. And they can be just as confident on the same logic to past events: that IF they had filled their rocket engines with sand instead the rockets would not have lifted off.

          So why would you say that my hypothetical claims about what I “could have done” are “not really” telling you anything about the choices I COULD HAVE made for my car? What other type of statements COULD inform you about the things I can and can’t do, and what how my car can and can’t operate?

          If you absolutely demand that I must try to make informative statements about myself and other objects ONLY by reference to the non-hypothetical, non-counterfactual, with no possible abstraction involved, I’ll be able to tell you nothing informative…and the same goes for you trying to inform anyone else.

          Vaal

          • Posted July 2, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

            Vaal,

            What you describe in this post is, indeed, exactly what people do when they, as you, claim they are exercising their “free will.” You are constructing a series of mental models of alternate possible realities that might result from various options before you, and then you pick but one of those options to actually act upon.

            The point is that, when you’re performing that exercise, you’re “merely” following a deterministic set of heuristics that, given that exact set of inputs, will always (subject to insignificant meaningless randomness) cause you to pick the exact same answer.

            Note well! The next time you perform a similar such exercise, both the inputs and your heuristic algorithm are different, so you may well come to a different conclusion.

            But a brain of exactly the same physical configuration in an environment exactly alike will perform the exact same analysis and reach the exact same conclusion.

            We know this to be so because that’s the way that everything else we observe in the Universe works, and because any other option would be as radical a departure from scientific expectations as a rabbit in the Precambrian or the Sun rising in the West.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Vaal
              Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

              Ben

              “What you describe in this post is, indeed, exactly what people do when they, as you, claim they are exercising their “free will.” You are constructing a series of mental models of alternate possible realities that might result from various options before you, and then you pick but one of those options to actually act upon.”

              Thanks. That’s a good place of agreement to build upon.

              “The point is that, when you’re performing that exercise, you’re “merely” following a deterministic set of heuristics that, given that exact set of inputs, will always (subject to insignificant meaningless randomness) cause you to pick the exact same answer.”

              Agreed, that’s the only way rationality could work, it seems to me. But since we agree on the causation/determination nature of the system, that isn’t what’s under dispute: what’s under dispute is the *content* of the statements we make. Given all the above, is it not still the case that humans make both true and false statements about reality? I’m sure you agree we can.

              So…given determinism, what type of true statements can we make about reality? Wouldn’t you agree we can make true statements about: What could have happened and what will happen?

              The type where we say “I know what kind of thing this is, I know it’s attributes, and I can tell you how it will behave in the future, especially if you apply X, Y or Z conditions.” It’s talking about how this would have been, or will be, or could be, assuming some of the conditions are jiggled. That IS one way we know reality, right? It’s the basis of almost every plan we ever make, scientifically based especially.

              So, what I’m saying is that I’m using this method of reasoning – inference based, hypothetical, counter-factual if/then reasoning – when I tell you I “can choose to put either regular or premium gas in the car” or “I COULD HAVE put regular gas in the car instead of the premium.” The hypotheticals involved jiggle the conditions, for instance “if I’d desired regular instead of premium.”
              It’s an empirical claim in the same mode as when a scientist tells you a IF a body of sufficient mass hits the earth THEN this will occur, or IF a body of sufficient mass HAD hit the earth, THAT would have happened.

              The relevance of this is that pointing out that there are deterministic heuristics involved says nothing about whether we can make true claims about reality, including about ourselves and what could happen or could have happened. And if, reasoning hypothetically, it is TRUE to say “I could have chosen the regular gas instead of the premium to fill my car” then all this “but is it REALLY TRUE you could have done differently” stuff I get from incompatibilists is moot, it doesn’t make sense. Yes it is REALLY TRUE that I could have done otherwise because my claim is a counterfactual/hypothetical claim about my abilities when I’m faced with that type of choice. And to understand what I can and can’t do, or could and couldn’t have done, naturally entails this hypothetical If/Then knowledge, where some relevant condition, for instance a change in my desire, is assumed.

              Vaal

              (The other discussion concerns whether the reasoning I’m describing is used not just by me, but by most of us when thinking about what we can do or could have done. I keep arguing that this hypothetical reasoning IS the basis. Hence we “really do” have the options are weighing and it’s not an illusion – we are conjuring counterfactual truths and weighing them).

              • Posted July 2, 2013 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

                Vaal, an astrophysicist writing precisely will not use “if” language but rather “when” language.

                When a body of such-and-such mass and composition impacts a body of such-and-such mass and composition at a this-and-that relative velocity and so-and-so angle, an explosive release of so much energy results and, when the dust settles, a crater of these particular characteristics remains at the impact site.

                She will provide you with various error bars representing either uncertainties in measurement of the properties and trajectories of the bodies (and, if necessary, uncertainties in our own understanding of the physics).

                But what she absolutely will not no way no how do, is tell you that the result might be an explosion and crater or, if the asteroid is feeling differently that day, a rainbow and flying unicorns. Or even an explosion and crater in a different location than the site of the impact, or an explosion of a different magnitude outside of the error bars, or whatever.

                Hypotheticals can be very useful tools for building mental models of reality on which to base our decisions, but they are not actually reality.

                In your earlier hypothetical of which gas you put in the tank is either best described as the asteroid creating an explosion on the other side of the planet, or of the precise location of the impact falling at one or two points inside the range of uncertainty of the available measurements at the time the prediction was made.

                But, make no mistrake: your actual decisions in the real world — not those you play out in your imagination — are as fixed in their outcomes as the orbits of the planets themselves. If you wish to describe your choices as “free will,” then Comet Shoemaker-Levy had free will when it was perturbed from its orbit in the Oort cloud and launched on a collision course with Jupiter.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted July 2, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

                Ben
                That is the proverbial distinction without a difference.

                The “when” language you attribute to the “careful” scientist is functionally equivalent to “if.” After all, imagine your scientist says to Susan: “When the rabies virus enters your bloodstream the symptoms that result are…”
                And Susan says “Whoa, hold on, what do you mean by”when” this happens? Do you mean it’s GOING to happen to me?”
                The scientist would have to point out “no, no, I’m not using “when” in the sense of assuming it’s going to happen, I’m using when in the sense of “IF” it were to happen.”

                That is the sense in which “when” would be used in scientific conditional statements. And it’s actually more careful and clear to use “if” when talking about predicting possible consequences: IF an asteroid of sufficient mass hit the earth it would likely kill everyone on earth” vs “When an asteroid of sufficient mass hits the earth it kills everyone on earth.” The latter is very odd language, which is why scientists also us “if/then” language.

                But that’s just a distraction really.

                “But what she absolutely will not no way no how do, is tell you that the result might be an explosion and crater or, if the asteroid is feeling differently that day, a rainbow and flying unicorns.”

                Well, of course not. Asteroids aren’t the type of thing that can “feel differently” like we can. So what relevance is that comment? You do agree we are capable of a variety of feelings, and different desires, right? So, when juggling conditionals based on our nature, jiggling the types of desires we know we can experience is just as valid as discussing the different ways in which an asteroid can behave, jiggling the parameters relevant to “what asteroids can do.”

                “Hypotheticals can be very useful tools for building mental models of reality on which to base our decisions, but they are not actually reality.”

                Disagree. We speak truths about reality via hypotheticals. It’s how we understand the nature of reality. It’s how we have predictive “knowledge” of reality – understanding the nature of something so you can predict how it will behave in various conditions. You can’t have this “knowledge” if it isn’t true and about reality.

                Again, the way you are speaking would be crazy talk in any scientific situation: “Ok, guys, all these empirical inferences you’ve made from past experiments, giving you all this confidence that rocket fuel would be any better than, say, orange juice, for getting a rocket into orbit. It’s JUST HYPOTHETICAL. You guys aren’t really dealing in truth and realty here.”
                No, so long as scientists, and folks like me and you, have made reasonable empirical inferences about the nature of a phenomena, we can say they have “knowledge” and can make true statements about reality, when talking of how things will behave tomorrow, or would have behaved yesterday IF some conditions were altered.

                It’s fascinating how you seem forced to take the legs out of even conventionally accepted statements of empirical knowledge, in order to avoid
                the agreeing with me that hypothetical statements about possible choices are true and valid descriptions of reality.

                Vaal

              • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

                Vaal, you’re seriously contorting the plain meaning of my words.

                When it comes right down to it, my position is that brains are meat computers, and exactly as deterministic in the exact same way for the exact same reasons. They are decision-making engines, yes, but they have no choice but to arrive at the exact decisions they make. You were no more somehow “free” to choose premium gas over unleaded than your calculator is to reply, “2,” when you ask it what it thinks 1 + 1 should be.

                The computations are much more complex and sophisticated with multiple layers of abstraction and asynchronous inputs and probably even some random inputs, but the principle is the same: people make decisions, yes, but they have no choice in what decisions they make.

                If that doesn’t make it clear, I’m not sure that there’s anything further to add at this point.

                Cheers,

                b&

      • Vaal
        Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        Jeff,

        “Being able to say you could have chosen differently does not mean you really could have chosen differently.”

        Yes it does when you understand what is *meant* by “I could have chosen differently.” If you keep thinking it equates to “I am capable of a-causal choices” you will continue to misunderstand what I mean by “I could have chosen differently.” And, I submit, you’ll misunderstand what most people mean to say when they make such claims.

        “If I fill the tank up with regular, then say “my tank could have premium in it”, my statement has meaning but it doesn’t change what’s in my tank. It is purely hypothetical.”

        That’s just mangling the logic involved.
        To say “I could have put premium instead of regular gas in my car” doesn’t assume “while the tank is already filled with premium gas!” Who would think that? Obviously it means “Under the circumstances in which my car’s tank needs to be filled, and if both are available, I could have chosen the regular gas instead.”

        It’s like you think compatibilists are suddenly getting all weird and spooky when it’s the furthest thing from what is going on. It’s really just an extension of every day rationality, everyday language, looking at the conditions under which we use our terms and noting that they still make sense in many situations. (None of which involves any rejecting of science, physicalism or materialism).

        Vaal.

        • Posted July 2, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

          Obviously it means “Under the circumstances in which my car’s tank needs to be filled, and if both are available, I could have chosen the regular gas instead.”

          Except you couldn’t have, and that’s the whole point.

          You can construct an hypothetical alternate reality that’s consistent with everything we understand about the basic principles by which the Universe operates in which you would have chosen regular gas…but, in that universe, it would have been impossible for you to have chosen anything other than regular gas.

          Whatever the mechanism by which your choice was distilled down to the selection of premium gas, either that selection was the result of an orderly and rational and therefore predictable sequence of prior events, or it was the result of some meaningless random fluctuation. (In reality, of course, it’s a blended combination of the two, with randomness not playing all that much of a factor.)

          In neither situation did you really have any choice in the matter; the computer that is your brain, in the configuration it was at the time you made the decision, given the inputs, is guaranteed to produce that particular output.

          Might the experience of choosing premium gas act as an input to a later decision in a similar situation such that you come to a different choice? Of course. But now we’re talking about different inputs and presumably a different brain configuration, so of course the results might be different. But they’ll still be dependent solely on the inputs and initial configuration.

          It must be so, or else everything we understand about cognition and computation is not only horribly worng but all our actions are without even the possibility of meaning — for they would therefore be adrift in a sea of infinite meaning with no context to drive the sails.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Vaal
            Posted July 2, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

            Ben,

            Hypotheticals are used to describe the nature of THIS universe. It’s a true description of water IN THIS UNIVERSE to say IF you apply heat it will vaporize or IF you cool it enough it will freeze solid.

            If that weren’t the case, all knowledge you’d like to impart to someone about how something will behave in this universe, and scientific knowledge about how anything will behave is invalidated.

            Do you really want to do that?
            Then why keep on this “hypotheticals don’t describe the real world” stuff?

            Vaal

          • Posted July 3, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

            Except you couldn’t have, and that’s the whole point.

            This is an article of faith that I don’t notice anyone in this discussion debating. However, my understanding is that quantum physics has definitely proven that physical determinism is not the case.

            Instead, indeterminacy and probability of different possibilities is built into our reality at the quantum scale. Experimentally been proven true at the micro scale.

            So if “Except you couldn’t have, and that’s the whole point” is an article of faith that contradicts our best scientific understanding of how reality functions, why should I concede it as a premise in an argument regarding free will?

            • Posted July 3, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

              Unless you take very careful pains to amplify quantum indeterminism, it’s simple overwhelmingly swamped out at classical scales. And, even when you design systems to exploit quantum indeterminism, it only manifests itself as a (potentially very good) source of randomness. And other “spooky” quantum effects are (effectively) deterministic; that’s how we can exploit them for quantum computing and quantum cryptography.

              Almost without doubt, the brain is effectively engineered to minimize quantum chaos. But, even if it somehow exploits it — and we have no evidence that it does — then all that amounts to is the exact logical equivalent of a hardware-based random number generator that you can get in certain sophisticated computers. And, in computer science terms, the output of that random number generator is simply another input to the algorithm; it’s not part of the algorithm itself.

              None of this is even remotely close to an article of faith. I don’t think anybody would disagree with me that it’s a perfectly accurate description of how digital computers function, and we have overwhelming evidence in favor of the position that brains are meat computers and zero evidence to the contrary.

              Indeed, if brains aren’t meat computers, then Church-Turing doesn’t hold, and that would almost certainly mean we could significantly violate conservation — build perpetual motion machines, in other words.

              Given the evidence for, the lack of evidence against, and the staggering implications if incorrect, I can’t imagine how anybody could possibly come to any conclusion other than the computationally deterministic one except through ignorance or inexperience.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted July 3, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

                I can’t imagine how anybody could possibly come to any conclusion other than the computationally deterministic one except through ignorance or inexperience.

                I take it imagination is not your forte.

                I come to that conclusion because that is what my understanding of what science – i.e. quantum theory – tells me about reality. It is NOT deterministic.

                Given that determinism is not correct, this implies that given a particular point in spacetime when a thinking being acts upon a conscious decision, a different action could have been taken given all previous inputs exactly the same.

                The common human experience is one of passing through time with the past unchangeable while the future is not yet determined. While this may not be the case, it seems to me that if we are to take what the quantum theorists tell us seriously, we would conclude that we are mistaken about the past being unchangeable rather than the other way round as you seem to be advocating.

                Further, when I look at reality on the macro scale, it’s clear that strict computational determinism only occurs within the ideal realm of mathematics.

                This all constitutes evidence against the premise that we are deterministic computing machines. To me, this completely undermines the argument that because we are deterministic computing machines and therefor free will is an illusion. The premise that we are deterministic computing machines appears to be an article of faith to me.

                Now, this does leave open the question of whether or not ‘free will’ exists in a meaningful way in our non-deterministic world. Randomness does not imply meaningful. But then you would have to define what ‘meaningful free will’ as opposed to random yet stochastically predictable choices.

              • Posted July 3, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

                Beth, I thought I covered all that, and in quite some detail.

                The executive summary: quantum indeterminacy is generally immeasurable to begin with, typically controlled for with error correction when detrimental, and logically no different from any other random input when exploited.

                Further, if, as you claim, we are somehow more than deterministic meat computers, we would, of necessity, be capable of violating conservation.

                If you can demonstrate actual violations of conservation, or if you can provide any actual observations of significant quantum effects at play in a human nervous system (hint: there’ve been more than ample opportunities for such but nothing ever reported in a peer-reviewed journal); or a theoretical basis by which quantum effects would result in something different in brains from their thoroughly-understood effects in silicon chips, then we’ve got room for further discussion.

                But, lacking any of that, I’m afraid your objections distill down to nothing more than Chopra-style quantum woo deepities.

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Posted July 4, 2013 at 1:36 am | Permalink

              Beth,

              Björn Brembs was going to look into the possibility of a QM source of free will.

              I’m not convinced that (a) QM rules out determinism as an ontology (what causes, ‘determines’, QM events? (b) that even if determinism is false, that on macro scales there is enough determinism (F = ma seems to have worked out quite well; my pendulum clock works OK, etc.) (c) that QM has any relevance to free will at all.

              For a discussion on that with Björn see http://ronmurp.net/2011/10/12/a-scientific-free-will-in-oppostion-to-deterministic-free-will/

              I’ve not followed that up to see how he’s doing with that.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted July 2, 2013 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

          I wasn’t thinking about the impossibility of filling up with a second fuel when already full with the first.

          I meant that if I have one kind of fuel in the tank, and I say it could be the other kind, nothing changes. I still have the same fuel in my tank that I actually put in there. The point was that hypotheticals aren’t reality.

          I do understand what people mean when they say I’m going to fuel up, and I have to decide on regular or premium. I know they have a decision to think about. My point is that what people don’t know is that their thought processes will be determined by so many factors they are unaware of and have no control over, that it hardly justifies calling it a choice. What they say is based on only their limited subjective view of the conscious part of their mind. So it’s not the whole story. But it is a choice in the sense that multiple alternatives existed, and they select one of them and put it in their tank. Even though it is a physical possibility to put the other grade in the tank, nothing is going to cause them to do that. So it is possible in the sense of “is within the physical capabilities of”, but it is not possible in the sense of “really could have happened given the state of the world”.

          • Vaal
            Posted July 3, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

            Jeff,

            Ok, thanks I can see your point more clearly now.

            Hypothetical statements aren’t *trying* to describe what happened so it’s no demerit against them. If that is the only reality talk you allow, then on that criteria hypothetical talk is never “really real.”

            Still, this is the difference I’ve been getting at: There isn’t only one way to talk about reality. We can talk about reality in terms of what has happened, and we can also talk about the *nature* of reality, our accurate descriptions of *what this reality is like* and hence if we are correct in our understanding about any particular part of reality, we know how it will behave.

            You can be wrong or right in either mode of description. You might make a claim about “what happened” and that claim might be true or false. You can make a claim about “what will or is likely to happen” and that too can be true or false – as in you could be mistaken about the nature of the thing you are describing.

            It’s part of our system of knowledge to include our descriptions of how nature is and acts, so it becomes very, very strange to have to make the move of saying “Well, we aren’t really talking about reality” when we characterize and predict nature. That pulls the rug out of science, among other things.

            And if you really want to put your stake in the ground and say only “what happened” is the “really real” then you are very vulnerable to just the type of epistemological nit-picking you want to make about hypotheticals. Even saying “brains operate in X manner involves quite a lot of “gimmes” in terms of abstraction. “Wait, you have a thing in your head you are calling a ‘brain,’ but what’s in my head isn’t what is in your head, so why should I think it’s the same thing? In fact, isn’t the thing in your head different in some ways than it was yesterday? So why keep calling it the same thing if it’s different?
            What IS this thing you are calling a ‘brain.’

            You’ll have to start explaining how, yeah, yeah, actually “brain” is a convenient abstraction, a label you are using to cover sets of observations over times of *distinct* things that seem to have very similar characteristics so you are going to group them together and just call them all “brains” or “my brain.”

            But then the pedant can say “Ok, but let’s be clear here, this ‘brain’ thing is an abstraction of your making. It’s taking a whole bunch of things that *aren’t really the same thing* and calling them *the same thing.* It’s certainly useful, but it’s not really reality.

            But…nonetheless, the abstraction involved in identity, and trying to ascertain the nature-of-a-thing it IS how we describe, understand and predict reality.

            So it’s pedantic, and ultimately self-defeating to try to say only one mode of talk is capable of describing reality.
            We are always using abstractions to describe reality.

            We just have to recognize that one form of abstraction involves describing observations that concern *what happened*
            and others concern *understanding the nature of a thing; it’s attributes and how it will behave the next time we encounter it*

            Both are ways of discussing reality. You can make untrue or true statements about reality in either mode. And in the hypothetical mode, we assign confidence to the truth of a statement based on the level of empirical support – I can cure cancer by wishing it away has no empirical history supporting that inference. I can choose either regular or premium gas at the station has plenty of empirical history in support of that inference.
            So it’s a normal, uncontroversial claim, and is not based on woo-woo nor is it a claim about what *did* happen, so dismissing it as “not an accurate account of reality* misses the type of knowledge claim being made.

            Vaal

  25. kelskye
    Posted July 2, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    “Why do they spend so much time criticizing this, and showing that our behavior is determined by physical processes, if nobody believes in dualism in the first place?”
    I think the difference is between libertarian being a conception of free will and libertarian being the conception of free will. When a large majority of philosophers are compatibilists, it’s unfair to say that compatibilists aren’t conceiving free will properly and to accuse them of moving the goal posts.

    I don’t anyone is actually saying no-one believes in a libertarian notion of free will. What they are saying, rather, is that a libertarian notion of free will isn’t the only notion of free will on the table.

  26. Jeff Johnson
    Posted July 2, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I think this post by economist Noah Smith perfectly captures Moreland’s attempt to salvage god and libertarian free will.

    Smith uses Bayesian terminology to define the term “derp”, which Smith defines well as “the constant, repetitive reiteration of strong priors”.

    Moreland’s arguments are laden with derpitude.

    • Posted July 2, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, I think Moreland’s arguments amount to at least nine flerps of derp — quite the accomplishment! I would have thought that critical mass was in the region of seven or eight flerps, but clearly that’s not the case.

      Cheers,

      b&

  27. Jeff Johnson
    Posted July 2, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    This is a reply to Vaal at this post.

    It is incredibly useful to imagine and discuss hypotheticals. I’m not at all suggesting anyone restrict their speech.

    Lots of statements can have meaning and still not be true. I understand the meaning of the statement “I could have put the other gas in my tank”. I just don’t think it is true that “free will” could have enabled a different choice. What could have enabled a different choice would be if it were a physically different universe: if I were a different person, if the prices were adjusted, or if any set of circumstances converged to convince me I needed to try the other fuel grade. But the universe is not different than it is. It is the universe we live in. So I make the only choice that can happen in this universe, and no other.

    I’m not sure we get each other’s main concerns in this scenario. I’ll try to explain mine.

    For me it is important to identify what actually can happen in reality, which is independent of and not influenced by any set of hypothetical alternatives you can imagine.

    Also it is important to try to understand what happens in the brain when a choice is made. By this I don’t mean what do we observe a person doing, or what does the person observe themselves to think subjectively. At a layer below that are interesting questions about what must happen in the brain to enable a person to have the conscious experience of making a choice? How do the words have meaning, how does the idea “gas” have meaning, how does a person know it’s important to put it in the car, how do we assign value to “regular”, and “premium”, and most importantly, what kind of process can lead us to pick one fuel grade over the other? The analogy to computers would be to think about how a program is written, or how the processor works, rather than looking at how the user interacts with the application.

    One model I use to think about choice is that of a competition, where networks of networks of neurons are in parallel pulsing with cascades of billions of simultaneous signals. The various alternatives under consideration in the choice are being evaluated by a process of drawing the links to associated ideas, feelings, memories, that are relevent to constructing the meaning and value of each alternative option. As these associations accumulate, each candidate for selection acquires stronger or weaker signals on nerve endings, so that the stronger candidates trigger a feeling of being more strongly preferred, and they evoke ideas such as “A just feels right”, or “B has advantages X, Y, and Z”, or “C is what I always pick and I trust it”. These preference signals are in competition in some way, and eventually one dominates and becomes our choice. It’s kind of like picking the fastest horse or the longest stick. If we compare sticks of all different lengths side by side, the longest just jumps out at us, and there is no ambiguity. Likewise with a horse race, we let them run side by side, possibly narrating the progress as it goes, but only one horse crosses the finish line first. Or if there is a “photo finish”, that’s what we call indecision. There is no ambiguity. The self-aware “we” don’t make the horses run, we just watch them. We don’t freely pick which one we like best. Rather, there are desires and goals motivating our evaluation of the options, and the values and meanings of the options are not arbitrarily assigned by us, but they are derived from how our brain reacts to them, which is a result of our life-long development, similarly to how we react to and value music, colors, flavors, ideas, clothing, places, activities, etc. So the alternatives end up with different strength signals that were unconsciously produced (though our conscious mind may announce “I like that one because…” or “That dish would really hit the spot” as this all unfolds), and we compare the relative strengths and pick the strongest one, which our subjective conscious seat of self-awareness tells us is the one “we” like the best.

    Another model is to think of a state space with billions of dimensions, where each axis represents some cluster of neurons and their possible states. I don’t know how to construct such a space, but I can imagine it exists reasonably enough. At any moment there is a point in this space that represents the current neuronal state of the brain. As the neurons fire during a decision process this point jumps around in the state space fairly chaotically, but it is always represented by a single vector, and it traces a single wild path through the space. I find it impossible to imagine that at some point on this trajectory we can look forward to possible future states and identify alternate paths to either “regular” or “unleaded” such that our brain state could take either of these paths. What would cause this branching, and what would decide which path were followed? It would have to be some random event, or a force outside of and independent of this system would have to reach in and alter the course. These two cases basically amount to indeterminacy or dualism. What is really happening is every neuron is firing in response to how it’s neighbors are firing, and each incremental step through the state space is completely determined by the neurons firing or not firing, and it follows a single course. When it arrives at its result, our choice, it is the only one that could have been arrived at.

    So for me the hypothetical in the past is something that really could not have happened. The past is stable. And if we look to the future, we can imagine hypotheticals, but we can’t honestly say “any one of these could happen”. We can say “I don’t know which one will happen, but I know that one and only one of them will happen”. If we are choosing, we will choose the one and only one that wins the competition in our head based on how we evaluate things and what we know and remember of the options. And there is nothing that suggests the idea of “freedom” is involved in this process, unless you refer to the feelings in the subjective conscious self-awareness during this process. That feeling of freedom does not mean that the process itself was free in any way. Yes it was very complex. Yes it accounted for a huge number of possibilities and a diverse range of factors. Yes, it was unpredictable in practice. But it’s not subject to arbitrary uncaused changes. It can be diverted if new external inputs arrive, and those are definitely not things we will. They are things we perceive, incorporate, and react to because that’s what the brain does, not because we will it.

    • Vaal
      Posted July 2, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

      Jeff,

      “It is incredibly useful to imagine and discuss hypotheticals.”

      Yes but the issue is why they would ever be “useful.” Hypotheticals could only be useful insofar as they track reality, tell us what is true about reality.
      If hypotheticals did not carry these truths (or were not capable of doing so) then what use could they be in using them to navigate reality, and how is it we could ever have appealed to hypothetical understandings of things to reliably PREDICT reality?

      So you have to admit that it’s not just a case of being “useful,” but insofar as we can have confidence we know anything about reality, hypotheticals portray TRUTHS about reality. We are “talking about the real world” using them.
      This is important to acknowledge from your end because the incompatibilists keep saying “Ok, but when you are talking in hypotheticals about what you could have done, or could do, it’s not what you REALLY could have done. That’s not describing REALITY.”

      Yes, it is describing reality, in the same way any scientist describes reality via the same methods.

      Among the ways of knowing reality are: 1. understanding what has happened in reality and 2. understanding the nature of reality. #1 simply is about documenting, observing what has happened. #2, forms the basis of our empirical descriptions and predictions of reality: it’s making all those inferences from what has happened to understand the nature of real phenomena, and understanding how it will behave under various conditions in the future. It under-girds science itself. To gain this type of knowledge about reality you can’t be stuck in mode #1. Which seems to be the only mode you accept as “actually concerning reality.”

      But mode #2, necessarily involving If/Then hypothetical inferences, MUST be carrying truths about reality or we would never be able to predict the behavior of anything.

      And hypothetical truths are not only forward looking; they are backward looking as well. When we talk of how a car will run when we put gas in it, we aren’t referring to a state of affairs that has happened. It’s predicted to happen, but it assuming we have this hypothetical knowledge, it’s TRUE that it will happen. Same goes for the past. When we say “IF I had put more gas in the car we would have made it to Ohio without having to fill up” the state of affairs referred to in the hypothetical knowledge doesn’t have to have happened. It just has to be a TRUE description about the *nature* of the things being described, that X would occur given Y condition. The knowledge of what would have happened IF is just the flip side of the knowledge that will happen IF…

      “So for me the hypothetical in the past is something that really could not have happened. The past is stable.”

      But hypotheticals, of the type we are discussing, involve IF statements.
      You seem to be just dismissing the conditional logic humans have used to understand and predict reality. So the next time the chess teacher tries to educate his student by explaining “IF you had moved your queen in this manner, you would not have been checkmated.” Is the student now supposed to respond “Stop talking nonsense teacher, that really could not have happened, the past is stable.”

      How do you expect to learn from the past how something will happen in the future? In normal empirical reasoning, you observe how a thing behaves over time in a variety of conditions – e.g. water in various temperatures. And this translates into the type of “If/Then” hypothetical concepts you use to understand the attributes of water as a whole, and predict how water will behave.

      It just seems to me that in going this incompatibilst route and rejecting the reasoning used in the compatibilist account, you are willing to pull the rug out of much more than you realize, without giving anything of substance to replace our understanding of the world.

      Vaal

      • Vaal
        Posted July 2, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

        In other words when you keep adducing facts from science about how the brain works that I’m supposed to accept as true, these facts rest on the same hypothetical/empirical/scientific method of inference that I am using. And yet when I employ them in describing myself, I’m not “really” talking about reality. If that were the case, any facts you bring me about how my brain is likely to operate isn’t serious talk about reality either. It’s cutting off the branch you are sitting on.

        But…if you accept that I can actually be making statements about the real world using hypotheticals, then it seems to me we could move on.

        Cheers,

        Vaal

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted July 4, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        It just seems to me that in going this incompatibilst route and rejecting the reasoning used in the compatibilist account

        As far as how humans live and think, I don’t reject compatibilist accounts. That is, I say we make choices (determined ones), and we have the intelligence to act in ways that provide a satisfying life worth having. We can do what we want, resist coercion, and set goals and strive to reach them. Empirically, this is a trivial point that any child can observe. I enjoy beauty and pleasure and love and lots of other great human things. But thinking about and understanding the deterministic nature of humans, I’m not pulling out any rugs or undermining anything. When considering a particular question, it pays to temporarily set aside subjective distractions and try to focus on what is real and true about the question at hand.

        I do reject the idea that human behavior in some way depends on “free will”. And you reject it too, because when I say “free will” I mean the ability for the human consciousness to be an uncaused causer. This is what people feel that they can do in their minds, but they are wrong. And an implication of the deterministic nature of the brain is that when I’m faced with a choice, I choose what is determined, and could not choose otherwise. This is true, independently of what I feel I’m doing or believe I’m doing. I do not magically transform the universe with a special human power of creativity that originates some new alternative, some new course, some alteration of history other than the particular actions that are completely determined by the deterministic structure of my brain and its deterministic interactions with its environment. What I do is to participate in the deterministic universe using human competence. So the argument really is whether it’s appropriate to designate some aspect of human ability as being “free will”.

        One narrow example that has often been discussed is whether a person making a choice could actually have chosen differently. In Dennet’s most recent book he even acknowledges we can’t choose differently than we do. But he turns that into a challenge to indeterminists, not incompatibilists, by asking why should we want to choose differently? Why is libertarian free will even desirable? Because it seems to me that arguing that we could choose differently than we do is what libertarians do. For this reason it surprises me that a compatibilist should expend effort trying to refute the point that we can’t choose differently than we do. Yes, we intelligently sort through the options and pick the best one, where “best” can mean many different things in different contexts. Yes this is done with a very rich set of goals and criteria being applied, and using very sophisticated powers of abstraction, reasoning power, and using the ability to anticipate future outcomes based on past experiences. This is the nature of intelligence operating in a deterministic environment using deterministic rules, not “free will” providing liberation from an oppressive determinism. Determinism is our friend, not our enemy.

        In previous remarks on that topic, if I restricted the applicability of my remarks, it’s because I was trying to pinpoint something that was true about that particular question. It’s not that I was denying that in general hypotheticals can reflect truth. But I deny that the truth content of a hypothetical is relevant to the particular question at hand, which is about the biochemical mechanisms used by the brain to think and make choices, not about the logical nature of hypothetical statements or their relationship to truth and reality. The fact that a deterministic brain can generate concepts semantically related in a hypothetical linguistic statement does not change the deterministic nature of that brain one bit. The fact that we can use hypotheticals while making a decision only means that we can make a better choice, but the usage of hypotheticals was itself determined by the structure and accumulated knowledge of our brain, and is itself part of the deterministic process that ends up making the only possible choice. The other “possibilities” were already destined to be rejected before the decision process was complete. The only way another choice could have resulted would be because of random error, or unforeseen outside influence, but not because of anything worth calling “free will”.

        Hypotheticals would be impossible without determinism. It is only because of deterministic physical laws that we can take empirical observations from the past and use them to attempt predictions of the future. And in many cases we can predict what people will do, roughly, in certain situations, especially if they are well known to us. We can only do that if people are behaving deterministically. The only thing that stops us from predicting them perfectly is the lack of knowledge and computing power. It is only ignorance that allows us to pretend that people are in some way “free”.

        We can also pretend that dice are random. This is because of ignorance. If somebody made a super powerful portable computer allied with Google Glass, in principle they could game the craps table by predicting the outcome of each roll once it leaves the rollers hand. We only have the illusion of randomness.

        With people we only have the illusion that they are free. In fact, the choices they make, they have to make, but they don’t know that and we can’t know what they will choose in advance (because of ignorance and lack of computing power).

        This is the reality of determinism, which I’m assuming you, as a compatibilist, accept.

        If I’m a person faced with a choice, and I consider hypothetical projections into the future to try to predict results and anticipate consequences because I want to make the very best choice to meet my goals and desires, do I change the world because of these deliberations? I say no, the deliberations are just part of the deterministic human process of decision making. I don’t change the world from me making choice A to me making choice B by injecting human creativity into the system. I’m already a part of that unfolding system and I make the only choice I can possibly make, and because I’m me, a human, I do that in the human way of thinking about counterfactuals and arriving at what is best for me. And like the dice, because of their complexity, are able to create the illusion of randomness, I the human, because of my even far greater complexity, am able to create the illusion of freedom. This illusion does not apply to the choice I make. The choice is real and physically determined. The illusion is created because of the ignorance of observers, and because of the subjective feelings I experience while going through the hypotheticals that are part of my human deterministic process. Yes it feels like “free will”, just as my vision feels like it really directly sees what is in the room with me. But my vision is an internal representation created by my brain as a representation of what my surroundings are, and thus it is inherently different from my surroundings. We catch glimpses of this when we see optical illusions.

        But actually what we call “optical illusions” are really glitches in the illusion of vision. The so-called “optical illusions” are really “optical reveals”. They clue us in to the illusion of sight. Yes we really see, but what we see is not exactly what’s really there. That’s practically the definition of illusion, like a mirage, what we see is not what’s really there. It is close enough that it’s very useful.

        I think there is a near perfect analogy to “free will” here. The illusion of “free will” is that our uniquely gifted will allows us to change the determined course of events. The glitches, the “reveals”, analogous to so-called “optical illusions”, are sneezes, impulsive behaviors, overwhelming emotions triggered by events that we can’t control, and mindless habits or addictions, among others. These things allow us to see holes in the illusion. The illusion is such that we feel our conscious brain activity can change the course of events from being path A to being path B. In fact we are deeply and totally immersed in the causal chain of events, and we participate in that causal chain in a very complex way that is good for us. Of course we change them compared to a scenario in which we were not present, or we were a physically different person. Our presence, our thoughts, and our actions matter. But once the causal chain is unfolding and all the players are on stage, ourselves included, we don’t have the freedom to decide to change a sequence of events, A, that is determined by the environment and by the physical structure of our brain. The sequence of events A includes all of our reasoning and desiring, and that is why A is what occurs, because we do the only things we can do as a result of who we are. But there is no power in us to arrest A and freely will to make that set of events B instead. We would have to be able to step outside the chain of events A and somehow reach into the deterministic system to alter the course of events with a willful energetic intervention of some sort. In other words, we would have to be pseudo-Gods to have “free will”.

        Now, just as our vision is close enough to our external environment that it is functional and useful, our intelligence, our ability to evaluate our context and make choices deterministically in our own best interest within the deterministic flow of events, quite closely approximates or simulates what we feel we would decide if we did have the free willing power of pseudo-Gods. In other words, our own perception of our deterministic thought processes allows us to feel we have the freedom to will events from course A to course B, or from course B to course C.

        If using some magic materializing technology from outer space, you were to replace me suddenly with wood, that would dramatically change this dynamic deterministic system we call earth. Or if you replaced a stone statue with a real person, that would be a dramatic change in the unfolding deterministic events. Relative to stone or wood, humans make a big difference because of the information and energy of the intelligent complex configuration of matter that humans are. But we don’t make a difference relative to ourselves because of hypotheticals. The hypotheticals are simply as native to a human in a given situation as inertness is native to a stone in the same situation. This doesn’t mean the human hypotheticals are a switch that because of freedom makes it a mystery as to whether course A or course B will be selected. Only ignorance and lack of computing power makes that choice a mystery, and it is because of the complexity of the human, and the inability to predict, that we have the illusion, as with rolling dice, that there is free play in the outcome.

        Why would exchanging a stone statue with a human change events? Is it because the human has “freedom”? I say no, the human is as predictable as the stone given enough data and computing power. But the human, due to the physical nature of its complex intelligence and its ability to metabolize food into energy is capable of a vast range of behaviors that the stone is not capable of. I like Dennet’s term competence here. I just don’t like the idea of saying the competence comes from freedom, or that competence is freedom. Humans clearly have way more competence than stone.

        The competence comes from complexity, intelligence, and determinism, not from freedom.

        A pair of dice do not have the freedom to decide to roll a total of 25. That is outside of their competence or capability. That is one sense of “could not do” that often clouds the issue. Let’s put that aside and only think of acts within the range of competence.

        On a given roll the dice leave the hand that propels them at some point, and before they finish tumbling they are determined to arrive at one and only one numeric combination. Let’s say in a particular case it is 6 and 1, a total of 7. We know the dice could not have chosen to make it any other combination. But we can pretend that it was a random selection from among 36 possible combinations. We can make this pretense only because of ignorance and lack of computing power. Ultimately, if you truly account for the reality of determinism, you know that it was not random at all, and you know that the dice could not have arrived at another value.

        It really is the same with humans, but the complexity is magnified exponentially. Since humans are not passive like dice, but apply energy and intelligence, we don’t confuse their actions for randomness as we do with the dice. We confuse their actions with freedom. But in fact they are engaging in very complex deterministic competence. To call it freedom is not factually accurate. It is only a human social convention, just as we have the convention of calling dice random. This social convention is based on the historic illusion that the difference between a dead human and a live human must be some invisible power of animation that leaves the body upon death. And this illusion contributes to the illusion that human action, thought, and behavior is powered by this invisible animating power, including our will power and our apparent ability to “freely will” our choices. So the difference between the incompatibilist position and the compatibilist position is that incompatibilists prefer technical accuracy in the description of natural reality, and the compatibilists prefer human social convention and linguistic tradition in their description of natural reality. I can’t really say it’s wrong to make the emphasis that compatibilists make. I enjoy my loving relationship with my wife even though I know that the feelings are biochemically induced. That doesn’t bother me. Just as we are able to function consistently pretending that dice are random, and functionally they are close enough, the richness and complexity of our intelligence, and our own internal perceptions of our subjective mind, are functionally close enough in appearance to how “free willed” beings might behave that we an consistently pretend that we have “free will”. But this is technically not accurate, just as it is technically not accurate that our vision is an exactly accurate replica of our environment, and just as it is not technically accurate that dice are random. So compatibilist “freedom” is good enough for some people, but that does not change the fact that a deeper analysis shows it is false, and that it provides no insight or illumination into how the brain works that can help cognitive science, except that as a symptom of how our brain works, the illusion of free will provides some clues about the brain. This is analogous to how the illusion that our imperfect internal visual model of the world exactly represents our environment also provides clues as to how the brain works.

        • Vaal
          Posted July 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

          Jeff,

          I became too busy (work) to reply. Sorry.
          I did read your very interesting, well considered post. There’s just so much in there and I don’t have the time to comment so I’ll just leave it there for now.

          Thanks, (and also, thanks Ben, etc).

          Cheerio,

          Vaal

  28. Posted July 3, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I apologize that I can’t kep up with this remarkably active and vigorous discussion. I wish I could, it sounds like a lot of useful points are being made from various angles.

    From what I’ve been able to keep up with, there seems to be a lot of agreement here that the traditional notion of free will is incompatible with both determinism and physicalism.

    I see some people (myself included) arguing in addition that human beings possess hat psychologists call an internal locus of control, that they develop to varying degrees a capacity to self-regulate by juggling goals and priorities and using attntion strategically.

    This becomes relevant because some claim this is a form of free will as opposed to form of deterministic model.

    Peronally I think it can be viewed either way, because I suspect it is compatible with both an indeterminstic and deterministic world. Also, I think it is observably true, so the issue becomes how to explain it, not whether it is possible if the world is truly deterministic.

    kind regards,

    Todd

  29. Posted July 3, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Sarvodaya.

  30. Stephen Lawrence
    Posted July 4, 2013 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    The problem with determinism for free will is not that we couldn’t have done otherwise, we could. It’s that if we had, the initial conditions of the universe would have been different.

    In other words for us to have done otherwise something out of our control would have had to be different.

    So it’s sheer luck whether we did one thing or another.

    What people generally believes is that we have some power that overcomes this luck and it’s this which gets referred to as free will.

    It’s not the only thing people think of as free will. People also talk about the difference between a couple getting married of their own free will and a forced marriage or a ‘shot gun wedding’ and this is compatible with determinism.

    I think It’s misleading to say free will is or isn’t compatible with determinism because it just depends upon which version is being discussed.

  31. Posted July 4, 2013 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    When people say they are getting married of their own free will they are just co-opting the dualist notion of free will without thinking about it too much.

    This is especially true in the religious context of marriage, since religion requires free will to make sense of sin.

    Legal systems that use the notion of free will also don’t need to think too deeply about it, and since most legal systems evolved along side other human ideas about the world, like religion, it’s not surprising the law too has made do with a similar notion. They don’t have to get all philosophical about it. They just need to use the notion of free will as if humans simply have ideas pop into their heads, and presto, they have freely willed something.

    Sure, the law acknowledges factors, like self defence, diminished responsibility and so on. But when these don’t stand out as obvious excuses for a person’s action the default is to fall back on the notion of free will.

    And it seems compatibilists do this too. Their ‘could have done otherwise’ simply doesn’t account for the fact that they never actually do otherwise. They always do what they end up doing, and the idea that they could have done otherwise is just a rationalisation.

    Whenever they predict that they intend to do one thing, but then do another, it feels to them as if they have made a different choice, freely. But that’s just how it feels, and nothing more. They have no way of showing they would ever have stuck with the original intention. It’s always hypothetical.

    • Stephen Lawrence
      Posted July 5, 2013 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      Ron,

      “When people say they are getting married of their own free will they are just co-opting the dualist notion of free will without thinking about it too much.”

      I’m not convinced because it seems that what matters in these examples is the reasons for the marriage.

      I do think insisting free will is one thing or another is making things very unclear. Better to be clear about the free will we don’t have (and do have).

      On the free will we don’t have people are generally unclear and this gives the compatibilists the chance to dismiss it as incoherent and move on.

      Jerry Coyne is generally unclear about it although he recognises the significance for moral responsibility and the benefits of not believing in it. On the videos it wasn’t clear either.

      Free will (the type we need to deny) can be put like this: Some people will commit murder tomorrow. If the initial conditions of the universe was in a particular state it will be me. (assuming determinism)

      It’s 100% out of my control whether the universe was in that state or not so it’s 100% out of my control (in this sense) whether I commit murder or not tomorrow. It’s sheer luck as far as I’m concerned how the universe started out.

      What people generally believe is we have control that negates this and that is called Free Will.

  32. Posted July 4, 2013 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    In reponse to:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/two-disparate-views-of-free-will/#comment-462559

    The executive summary: quantum indeterminacy is generally immeasurable to begin with, typically controlled for with error correction when detrimental, and logically no different from any other random input when exploited.

    Yes. None of this invalidates my contention that we are not deterministic meat computers.

    Effects we are unable to measure do not preclude measurably different results.

    Controlling for with error correction only means the prevalence and impact of errors is reduced. Errors are not eliminated.

    As for being logically no different from other random inputs, what other random inputs are you talking about? How do you reconcile random inputs with a deterministic rather than stochastic outcome?

    Further, if, as you claim, we are somehow more than deterministic meat computers, we would, of necessity, be capable of violating conservation.

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘more than deterministic’. I am claiming we do not live in a deterministic reality and thus, the assumption that we are deterministic computing machines is incorrect. This is based on my understand of Q.M.

    Even the metal computers we build are deterministic only in their theoretical programming, not in the physical world we inhabit. Accepting this indeterminacy about our reality does not require either meat or metal computers to be capable of violating conservation.

    Why do you believe we are deterministic meat machines? You have to ignore what science – i.e. quantum theory – says about the reality we lie in in order to believe that.

    • Posted July 4, 2013 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      Sorry about the formatting errors.
      I only meant to bold the single word ‘deterministic’.

    • Posted July 4, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      Beth, the Church-Turing thesis (not formally proven, but on ground as solid as it gets) holds that anything that can be computed can, in theory, be computed by a Turing Machine.

      In this discussion, that means that everything a human brain does could be perfectly simulated by any other mechanical computing device. For this purpose, we’ll assume that it’s an actual Turing Machine, infinite tape and all.

      Your error is in suggesting that the quantum weirdness would directly change either the state register or the table. But that’s not how Turing machines work — and, remember, a Turing Machine is a logical construction and not a physical one.

      Instead, the quantum weirdness would be represented as input on the tape.

      When properly envisioned like this, it becomes clear that if you input different patterns of quantum weirdness on the tape on successive runs of the program, you may (or may not) see a different terminal output on the tape. However, it should be instantly obvious that, when you input the exact same quantum weirdness on the tape, the output will always be identical.

      And, indeed, this is exactly how hardware computers work with respect to quantum weirdness. Mostly, engineers take great pains to design physical structures not prone to quantum indeterminacy, and I’ll bet you more than a cup of coffee that logically equivalent similarities exist in brains.

      But, sometimes — especially in cryptography — it is desirable to have a source of randomness, and quantum indeterminacy is the gold standard. And, sure enough, computer chips that generate random numbers are available, with the best ones having some sort of a quantum pump driving them. But, logically, the computer simply reads from that chip as if it was a disk or network device or the like, and it’s no different from you tossing a coin a bunch of times to decide where you want to get that cup of coffee.

      It really should be apparent by now that, whatever randomness exists in our brains as a result of quantum (or other) effects, it has nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of will. It’s just yet another external factor that gets added to the decision-making matrix.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted July 4, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        Your error is in suggesting that the quantum weirdness would directly change either the state register or the table.

        I haven’t suggested any such thing. That is how you are representing my suggestion that Q.M. could impact whether or not meat computers (as you so elegantly describe us)
        are deterministic.

        In order to make your Turing Machine analogy work, you have to actually program the specific quantum result as part of the set of inputs. To me, this indicates that determinism based on this argument doesn’t apply to actual physical machines.

        Your point about Turing Machines is that theoretically, with the same input we get the same output. Check.

        My point is that with quantum weirdness, we can get randomness leading to stochastic, not deterministic physical computing machines.

        You even acknowledge that “engineers take great pains to design physical structures not prone to quantum indeterminacy”. Of course they do. The fact that they do is evidence that physical computing machines are actually stochastic, not deterministic. Determinism applies only to the theoretical outcomes of the software, not the physical machine.

        I’ll bet you more than a cup of coffee that logically equivalent similarities exist in brains.

        This assumption is quite reasonable but doesn’t invalidate my point. Such similarities, if they exist, are in order increase the probability of a consistent outcome to near certainty. That means the physical machine isn’t deterministic, it’s stochastic.

        It really should be apparent by now that, whatever randomness exists in our brains as a result of quantum (or other) effects, it has nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of will.

        Well, actually, no. It’s not obvious. Why should we assume that this would have no bearing on any sort of will?

        We know that physical computing machines can be programmed to provide stochastic rather than deterministic outputs when it’s useful to have them. We can model a human brain as a stochastic, not deterministic, computing machine. The assumption that quantum effects could be used to provide an internal random number generator for the meat machine is no more absurd that the assumption you made earlier that meat machines can control for quantum effects when they are not desirable.

        Altogether, it seems to me the evidence is against your premise that a human will always give the exact same response to the exact same inputs. That, IMO, makes it an article of faith if I were to accept it as a premise.

        Without that premise, do you have any other basis for arguing that we should reject the evidence of our senses and observations that make it appear that the past is unchangeable while different futures are possible depending on what actions we choose to take?

        • Posted July 4, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          Your error is in suggesting that the quantum weirdness would directly change either the state register or the table.

          I haven’t suggested any such thing. That is how you are representing my suggestion that Q.M. could impact whether or not meat computers (as you so elegantly describe us)
          are deterministic.

          Yet that is exactly what you do with statements such as this:

          My point is that with quantum weirdness, we can get randomness leading to stochastic, not deterministic physical computing machines.

          Turing Machines, according to everything we know about how the universe works, perfect logical models for brains.

          And the table in a Turing Machine is immutable, and the state register only changes through interaction between the table and the tape.

          Your error, as I’ve repeatedly tried to point out, is in claiming that quantum woo modifies the table or directly alters the register.

          Let’s take a different approach.

          You can build a physical model of a Turing Machine, with the caveat that you can’t actually construct an infinite tape.

          You could also build a physical model that superficially resembled a Turing machine except that quantum fluctuations could alter the table or directly modify the register. But this would not be a Turing Machine.

          Further, you could still construct a real Turing Machine that was the perfect logical equivalent of your Quantum Non-Turing Machine. This real Machine would function properly, and it would properly incorporate the quantum inputs as part of the tape.

          Even if you actually built both machines and they functioned identically — something you could certainly do, at least in theory and with all the usual caveats — the one is a Turing Machine and the other isn’t.

          When you understand why this is so, and when you understand the importance of Turing Machines and the Church-Turing Thesis to questions of computation and cognition, then you’ll understand why “quantum” anything is just so much obfuscation.

          The short version is that the processing is deterministic; that all variation comes from the inputs; and any and all quantum weirdness is (logically) part of the input and not part of the processing. Even if the actual processor is a jumbled mess with the same physical structures doing all sorts of weird shit all at once.

          Cheers,

          b&

  33. Jeff Johnson
    Posted July 4, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    I am claiming we do not live in a deterministic reality and thus, the assumption that we are deterministic computing machines is incorrect. This is based on my understand of Q.M.

    A distinction needs to be made between “living in a deterministic world”, and “the human brain working in a deterministic fashion”. The former is a much larger question, and I’m inclined to agree that quantum mechanics is likely to imply that the unfolding of all of history from the Big Bang could not be predicted by Pascal’s Demon. But since around 3-20 minutes after the big bang, the nucleosynthesis phase of the Photon Epoch, it seems the bulk of physics, especially that physics which affects our lives, occurs at temperatures and scales at which deterministic laws rule.

    The latter question of how the brain works deals with a smaller and more isolated system. In fact our digital computers exhibit remarkeably stable determinism, and if they didn’t they would not be nearly as useful and reliable as they are. In fact, all of biology is based on deterministic physics. So even if our world as a whole is not entirely deterministic, determinism seems to be the ordering principle that actually enables complex organisms to evolve and function, to metabolize and reproduce, to make energetic exertions that locally resist the decay of entropy and advance survival and flourishing in nature.

    Your idea that QM may be a factor in the operation of the brain is not a new one, and lots of people have worked to find ways to work quantum theory into congnitive science, and have largely failed. A notable example is Roger Penrose, with his idea of quantum gravity in microtubules. This idea has been pretty thoroughly debunked. In fact, the major consensus among cognitive scientists seems to be that the brain’s behavior is a result of deterministic physics and biochemistry we understand well at the level of neurons, synapses, ganglia, and glial cells. What we don’t understand so well is how the roughly 80 billion neurons and several trillion connections add up to the behavior we see. There seems to be little opportunity for quantum physics to enter into the mix, but as a wild long shot it could be possible in some way we don’t yet understand.

    But an important question to ask is, what if quantum mechanics did have an important role in the brain? How does that help? First off we could say this eliminates the idea that the brain is deterministic, but how does that explain human behavior and mental abilities?

    Either you need to hypothesize that quantum indeterminacy is random, but it’s hard to see how randomness could be the basis of intelligence, which is anything but random, or else you need to hypothesize that the indeterminacy in quantum phenomena is somehow the result of a conscious “free willed” decision making force of some kind, and that the aggregate effect of this force or energy leads to consciousness and intelligence. Oddly though, it only seems to create this phenomena in the brain’s peculiar anatomy. We don’t witness intelligent tables or rocks, which presumably also ought to be able to take advantage of this hypothetical “free will” energy that decides quantum events.

    As far as I can tell, from our detailed knowledge of the anatomy of the brain, the structure seems entirely devoted to organizing the electro-chemical actions of nuerons, and their interactions with one another. This is all based on very well understood chemistry that is known to follow deterministic laws of physics.

    So there seems to be little room for hope that quantum mechanics has an important role, or that the brain is anything other than deterministic.

    The best one can muster is to say “we don’t understand how chemistry can account for what goes on in our minds”. Therefore there is mystery, and thus maybe there is some new QM thing or other physics we don’t know yet that is responsible. However, this mystery also does not preclude the possibility that the prevalent idea is correct, that brain chemistry and complex networks of networks of neurons really are solely responsible for the mind.

    To say that “the universe is not deterministic because of QM, therefore the brain can not be deterministic” is a very large and questionable deduction. The indeterminacy of the entire universe does not preclude the existence of deterministic subsystems, which we have amply observed, and have used deterministic models to engineer and control. So that right there shoots down the simple deduction. Determinism can exist in a non-deterministic universe. You can’t assume the brain is non-deterministic merely from the fact that the universe is non-deterministic. You need to offer more direct and more detailed reasoning for why the brain might not be deterministic.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted July 4, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      This post #33 was meant as a direct reply to Beth in #32.

    • Posted July 4, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Excellent points, all.

      I would just add — and somebody like Torbjörn may be better suited to further clarify — that physics at human scales is completely understood.

      By that, I mean that anything even hypothetically imaginable that would be theoretically capable of influencing humans has either been mapped out and understood or demonstrated to be inconsistent with overwhelming amounts of observation.

      Anything quantum going on in brains is, as you note, unevidenced though long since sought after. But, even if it’s still somehow there, we know without a fact that it’ll manifest itself as a perfect equivalent to any other form of quantum computation. And, though there’s some quite exciting research and development going on in the field of quantum computation, we know exactly the classes of things you can do…and none of it is anything you can’t simulate, given sufficient resources, with a Turing-equivalent machine.

      Quantum computing is (theoretically — and we’re a long ways from realizing the potential) a much faster and more efficient way of performing certain calculations. Especially, as it so happens, calculations of interest to cryptographers. But anything you can do with a theorized future quantum computer that you can’t with a modern classical one is a matter of budget and engineering and the like, not of any fundamental logical difference in the way the different devices function.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Posted July 4, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      “the universe is not deterministic because of QM, therefore the brain can not be deterministic” is a very large and questionable deduction. The indeterminacy of the entire universe does not preclude the existence of deterministic subsystems, which we have amply observed, and have used deterministic models to engineer and control.

      I agree that subsystems of our universe can be deterministic for a short periods of time. I just don’t think the human brain has been established as one of those deterministic subsystems. By my observations of the human brain, my own and others, they don’t appear to be.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted July 4, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        By my observations of the human brain, my own and others, they don’t appear to be.

        Okay. But I think “appear” is a very key word in this statement. Would you care to share your arguments and observations of your own brain and others that lead you to perceive the appearance that the brain is not deterministic?

        Also, subsystems can be deterministic for a very long time as well. Just look at the movements of the planets or the flow of any river. How about a radio, a television, and automobile, or a computer? Where do you see indeterminism in their operation?

      • Posted July 4, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        I agree that subsystems of our universe can be deterministic for a short periods of time. I just don’t think the human brain has been established as one of those deterministic subsystems.

        As I have separately tried to make clear, even a purely quantum computer is still a Turing-equivalent device; your deficient understanding of information theory is what’s causing you to misunderstand the nature of input, processing, and output.

        But, that aside, we can know with overwhelming certainty that quantum weirdness is as negligible in human cognition as it is in any other human-scale phenomenon. The structures in the brain are far too large for the quantum domain, short of doing very specific and deliberate things to amplify quantum effects. We know what that sort of amplification looks like, and there’s nothing that could even vaguely resemble it in any brain structure.

        That’s not to absolutely rule out the possibility of something very, very subtle going on, but we can know for certain that there’s nothing that has any bearing on the level of decisions as to what you’ll drink for breakfast. Rather, it’ll be at the level of some nano-scale signaling pathway being faster or more energy efficient because of quantum tunneling. And, even then, we have no reason to think that any such is going on in such nervous chemistry that isn’t similarly going on in any other type of chemistry.

        That’s actually another good way to look at it.

        Quantum weirdness happens at and close to the atomic scale. By the time you get to the molecular scale, there’s very little room left for quantum weirdness; Brownian Motion is orders of magnitude more significant than quantum indeterminacy. Once you get to the biological scale, the scale of inter-cellular structures, you’re at and possibly already beyond the limits of what can even hypothetically exist — and you most emphatically don’t need quantum mechanics to do anything we’ve yet encountered in biology, with the possible exception of maybe some quantum efficiencies in some forms of chlorophyll reactions.

        Cheers,

        b&

  34. Stephen Lawrence
    Posted July 4, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Beth,

    “Given that determinism is not correct, this implies that given a particular point in spacetime when a thinking being acts upon a conscious decision, a different action could have been taken given all previous inputs exactly the same.”

    A different action could have taken place but it wouldn’t have been a chosen action.

    For it to be a chosen action you’d have to evaluate that option over the other and that would take some difference in the previous inputs.

    • Posted July 4, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      “For it to be a chosen action you’d have to evaluate that option over the other and that would take some difference in the previous inputs.”

      Why does it require some difference in the previous inputs? The point I’m trying to get across is that with stochastic rather than deterministic systems, it DOESN’T require a different input to have a different output.

      For example, a stochastic thinking machine might choose coffee 90% of time and tea 10% of the time given the exact same inputs. It seems reasonable to conclude the thinking machine has a strong preference for coffee in that situation.

      • Posted July 4, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        Why does it require some difference in the previous inputs? The point I’m trying to get across is that with stochastic rather than deterministic systems, it DOESN’T require a different input to have a different output.

        Again, you’re mangling the meaning of the information theory term, input.

        Even if the source is physically located within the confines of the skull, the stochastic source is an input — something on the tape — not a part of the table. And even if it directly alters the physical parts normally used in the logical equivalent of the register, it’s still logically functioning as part of the tape.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted July 4, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

          If a computing machine makes use of quantum effects to create a self-generated random input to a processing loop that combines the random input with all other inputs to arrive at one of multiple outputs using a stochastic probability function then you have a computing machine that cannot be deterministically replicated by a Turing machine. Not even theoretically, as I understand it.

          Nothing you’ve said indicates this isn’t the case or that I have misunderstood this aspect of the theory.

          So why should I assume the human brain is deterministic?

          I guess a more general way to phrase the question is: Why should I consider the result of a computation which may include a self-generated random input to be deterministic rather than stochastic?

          • Posted July 4, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

            Again, you continue to misunderstand basic information theory.

            The physical configuration of the machine does not determine whether some aspect of its functioning is input or processing or storage or output. The machine can have inputs that are integrated onto the same silicon die as the CPU itself, and the storage and processing could be on opposite sides of the planet.

            What determines the logical function of the different parts of the machine is their actual logical function, not the shape of the hardware.

            Your “self-generated random input” is still input that, on the Turing Machine that you would theoretically construct to mimic the device in question, would be fed to the machine by way of the tape. That the machine has physical optimizations or obfuscations to enhance or obscure performance that blur the physical implementation of those lines is irrelevant. Logically, it’s still exactly equivalent to a particular Turing Machine, and the functioning of said Machine is very precisely defined and entirely deterministic.

            All your objections logically amount to, “You can’t predict which question I’m going to ask you, so you can’t therefore predict what answer you’ll give.” That’s trivially true but not only highly uninteresting but also very misleading in the way you’re formulating the challenge.

            The real point, the one you’re trying hard not to acknowledge, is that, given the same inputs — and, make no mistrake, the imagined quantum weirdness (which almost assuredly doesn’t actually exist) is one source of input — you’ll get the same output every time.

            Cheers,

            b&

  35. Stephen Lawrence
    Posted July 4, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Beth,

    “For example, a stochastic thinking machine might choose coffee 90% of time and tea 10% of the time given the exact same inputs. It seems reasonable to conclude the thinking machine has a strong preference for coffee in that situation.”

    Valuing coffee over tea and taking the action of drinking coffee as a result is a choice.

    Valuing coffee over tea and taking the action of drinking tea isn’t a choice.

    There is no connection between the evaluation and the action.

    First it makes a nonsense of selection and second you really wouldn’t want choices to be like that.

    You want a connection between your actions and the evaluation of the options or your in lots of trouble.

    • Posted July 4, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      “Valuing coffee over tea and taking the action of drinking coffee as a result is a choice.

      Valuing coffee over tea and taking the action of drinking tea isn’t a choice.”

      I don’t understand how one action can be considered the result of a choice while other is not. Can you clarify what you mean by choice in this example?

      • Stephen Lawrence
        Posted July 4, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        “I don’t understand how one action can be considered the result of a choice while other is not. Can you clarify what you mean by choice in this example?”

        Choice is valuing one option over the others.

        In your example on the first run the computer selects coffee and by definition of choice that is because it values coffee over tea.

        Since there is no difference on the runs in which the computer ‘selects’ tea, it doesn’t select tea at all because in fact it values coffee over tea.

  36. Stephen Lawrence
    Posted July 4, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Beth,

    “By my observations of the human brain, my own and others, they don’t appear to be.”

    This is very telling. What you have seen is people doing different things in similar circumstances.

    You can’t get any evidence of indeterminism from that but you can get evidence of the sorts of alternative possibilities we are really interested in.

    • Posted July 4, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      “What you have seen is people doing different things in similar circumstances.”

      I also have the internal observations of my own brain.

      “You can’t get any evidence of indeterminism from that but you can get evidence of the sorts of alternative possibilities we are really interested in.”

      It it behavior that is, at least, more consistent with indeterminism than determinism. I could be mistaken about concluding indeterminism from that evidence but that is why I don’t hold indeterminism as a firm conclusion, but a tentative one.

      At any rate, I think it is sufficient evidence to question the premise that the human brain is a deterministic rather than stochastic computing machine.

  37. Stephen Lawrence
    Posted July 4, 2013 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Beth,

    “Without that premise, do you have any other basis for arguing that we should reject the evidence of our senses and observations that make it appear that the past is unchangeable while different futures are possible depending on what actions we choose to take?”

    Different futures are possible depending upon what actions we choose to take.

    That’s the essence of determinism, the effect depends upon the cause.

  38. Stephen Lawrence
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I think the following is handy

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-luck/

    “Causal luck. Finally, there is causal luck, or luck in “how one is determined by antecedent circumstances” (Nagel 1979, 60). Nagel points out that the appearance of causal moral luck is essentially the classic problem of free will. The problem of free will to which Nagel refers arises because it seems that our actions—and even the “stripped-down acts of the will”—are consequences of what is not in our control. If this is so, then neither our actions nor our willing are free. And since freedom is often thought to be necessary for moral responsibility, we cannot be morally responsible even for our willings. Sometimes the problem is thought to arise only if determinism is true, but this is not the case. Even if it turns out that determinism is false, but events are still caused by prior events according to probabilistic laws, the way that one is caused to act by antecedent circumstances would seem to be equally outside of one’s control (e.g., Pereboom 2002, 41–54, Watson 1982, 9).”

    When someone asks “do we he free will” usually they mean do we have a power that overcomes this luck. Of course the correct answer to that question is “no”.


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] Two disparate views of free will (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) […]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28,384 other followers

%d bloggers like this: