A bit more on free will

Don’t bother saying that this issue comes up too often here. First, that’s a violation of the Roolz. Second, I can’t help myself: the genesis of this post was determined by the laws of physics.

And I want to ask one question, similar to one I asked before, but one that’s been reawakened by recent discussion.

Which do you think is more valuable to humanity?

a. Finding ways to tell humans that they have free will despite the incontrovertible fact that their actions are completely dictated by the laws of physics as instantiated in our bodies, brains and environments? That is, engaging in the honored philosophical practice of showing that our notion of “free will” can be compatible with determinism?

or

b. Telling people, based on our scientific knowledge of physics, neurology, and behavior, that our actions are predetermined rather than dictated by some ghost in our brains, and then sussing out the consequences of that conclusion and applying them to society?

Of course my answer is b).

I don’t really give a hoot about the varieties of compatibilism that have been offered by philosophers. They seem to me largely armchair exercises, and, in some cases, seem have been concocted to prevent society from the supposedly dire consequences of thinking that we don’t have libertarian free will.  What has compatibilism done for us lately—or ever? Its only function seems to be to keep philosophers off the streets.

On the other hand, if we truly grasp determinism, then the consequences are profound—and largely good.  We realize that nobody truly “chooses” to be good or bad, and that criminals who are judged simply as “bad people” have no more choice about their actions than those who are treated differently because they’re considered “insane” or “unable to know right from wrong.” That mandates big changes in our criminal justice system: a scientific approach about which punishments are best for deterrence, reform, and keeping criminals from relapsing into crime. It rules out retributive justice, which simply doesn’t make sense. It also makes us think hard about the notion of moral responsibility, which is connected with praise and punishment. In my view, determinism renders the notion of moral responsibility incoherent, but I suppose philosophers can rescue that one, too.

Now we can do both a) and b) if we want, but philosophers tend to concentrate on a) rather than b).  Yet b) seems to me far more important. If the notion of determinism is so important, and compatibilism so trivial, why this disproportionality?

209 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    hmm…

  2. Posted October 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    “It rules out retributive justice, which simply doesn’t make sense.”

    Even if we had a free will, then still retributive justice would not make sense.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Actually, it makes sense in both cases.

      If your daughter is raped and murdered, you’re going to want to see the perpetrator punished regardless of whether or not you think he has freewill. If you don’t see this retribution, your suffering as a result of the rape and murder of your daughter will be enhanced to the detriment of both yourself and your family.

      You may even be tempted to take “justice” into your own hands, not only as regards this particular person but, by association, other perceived wrong doers.

      • darrelle
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        Regardless of whether or not your explanation is accurate, consider that it is from the point of view of the victims, i.e. for the affects on individuals.

        But what about looking at it from a more remote, wider time frame perspective? Is retributive punishment good for society in the long term? Does it help or hinder creating the kind of society most people want to live in?

        I think it is important to understand that the question of what punishments result in the best balance of outcomes, short term & long term, individually and society wide, is the key. A very complex problem.

        But it seems fairly clear to me that retribution in and of itself should never be the reason used to decide to punish, or to decide what punishment to use. That has been tried to varying degrees for pretty much all of history and it seems pretty clear that there is room for improvement. I think anyone who feels the need for retribution should be excluded from the process due to conflict of interest.

        • BillyJoe
          Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

          I was trying to look at this at a more personal level. If YOUR daughter was raped and murdered, would YOU be happy for the perpetrator to be imprisoned but otherwise treated with respect and dignity and to be eventually released when he was considered to be reformed.

          I think we need to give some consideration to the feelings of those harmed by the actions of others, even if we accept that they had no choice because there is no freewill.

          I think the “justice system” needs to take the feelings of those harmed into account when dealing with perpetrators.

          • darrelle
            Posted October 12, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

            I agree that consideration of the victims is necessary for a criminal justice system in a decent ethical society. But, there is a lot more to it than that.

            You seem to be saying that causing a criminal to suffer for the sole purpose of satisfying a victim’s desire for vengence is ethically okay. You also seem to be saying that satisfying a victim’s desire for vengence by causing a criminal to suffer for them i.e., explicitly to satisfy the vicim’s desire, is good for the victim. I don’t agree with either of those views.

            If MY daughter was raped and murdered I would be very unhappy and I wouldn’t be surprised if I tried to kill the person who did it. That has fuck all to do with what I think is the best way for a society I want to be a part of to handle criminal justice. I would like my society’s criminal justice sytem to both make sure that the perpetrator is prevented from causing anyone else any harm ever using methods that are least harmful and with very high probability of success, and to help me heal while preventing me from doing something stupid, like committing murder myself.

            • DiscoveredJoys
              Posted October 13, 2013 at 1:52 am | Permalink

              It is possible to make a good argument that ‘retribution by the state’ reduces the risk of individual victims and families taking private revenge – which can escalate into continuing vendetta between aggrieved parties. Not good for the community.

              • darrelle
                Posted October 13, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

                “I think it is important to understand that the question of what punishments result in the best balance of outcomes, short term & long term, individually and society wide, is the key.”

                Or in other words, we should do what the evidence indicates works to best meet the standards we decide are most important. I don’t know what works best. I think we have a lot of work to do yet. A lot of skills to develop and discoveries to make. I concede it is possible that the concept of retribution may be proved to be worth keeping. But I am not convinced by any arguments or evidence that I’ve heard to date.

                Also, are we all using the same concept of retribution? I’m using it as synonymous with vengeance.

            • BillyJoe
              Posted October 13, 2013 at 2:24 am | Permalink

              Well, I said the justice system needs to take it into account. A victim impact statement should be one of the things to inform the judge’s sentence.

    • Jim Sweeney
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

      Criminology has been wrestling with these issues since forever. There has never been a shortage of reasonable and humane ideas about the treatment of criminal offenders.

      The problem is that voters overwhelming endorse the harshest possible punishment. It’s not a matter of changing a few minds, we need to change an entire culture.

      I’d settle for making the public more aware of the costs of incarceration. They may not care about the futility of lifelong imprisonment, but they’re certainly touchy about taxation.

      • Posted October 13, 2013 at 4:41 am | Permalink

        “I’d settle for making the public more aware of the costs of incarceration. They may not care about the futility of lifelong imprisonment, but they’re certainly touchy about taxation.”

        That would be a good approach. Some people in my country (the Netherlands) try a similar argument about the waste of tax-money, in order to get rid of the monarchy.

  3. Cara
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Subscribe

  4. Diane G.
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure I have enough faith (for lack of a better word) in enough people to think that hearing a) wouldn’t produce better outcomes than b). (Sorry, Sasha, for the “little people” argument.)

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      better word: trust

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:52 am | Permalink

        Thanks!

  5. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m a bit curious about the definition of free will and exactly what it is supposed to be.

    Is it a bodily mechanism that operates independently of the inputs from the surrounding enviroment?

    Or is it the ability to act against the inputs from the surrounding enviroment/ the rest of your body?

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      There is no definition that stands up. That’s the problem. The whole idea of freewill is incoherent. “Decisions” are determined completely by what’s going on in the brain or it involves a coin flip. What other options are there?

      • John
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        Help me understand whether determinism means that events will proceed on the basis of (1) a program (bad term, maybe I mean predetermined) of some kind that predicts all outcomes (2)or whether all events are completely random. I’m somewhat confused about how a person might make a decision to murder someone, yet judge that act as something outside the control of that person. Not pulling for any team(s), just trying to identify the players on the field. Thanks.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 12, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

          Neither really. Basically stuff happens because conditions make it so and given these conditions, nothing else could happen.

          So, there are a lot of things going on – you’re an organism (meat sack) that obeys the laws of physics and have evolved like everyone else. Your brain works in a certain way based on these things (influencing control, cognition, etc.). Also, you have had certain experiences. You are you no matter what. So, you make decisions etc. with these restrictions imposed on you. If you were to roll things back, you’d have no choice, given these variables but to do the same thing again because these variables would not change when you rolled things back.

          What makes it interesting is the idea of chance – quantum indeterminacy which also could affect you so this would change how determinism works.

          I think that’s the gist…as I see it anyway. Of course these variables are hard to predict because there are a lot of them.

          • BillyJoe
            Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

            Good response.

            Yes, it’s either determinism or determinism plus quantum probability (the coin toss I referred to). Where is freewill in this? Where is the mechanism of freewill? Well, it can’t have a mechanism, otherwise it would be deterministic. So how else could it operate? A coin toss? So how is that freewill?

            Where oh where is freewill?

            AS I said, the whole idea of freewill is incoherent.

          • Posted October 13, 2013 at 3:08 am | Permalink

            Thank you Diana, Jerry and everyone who has contributed to this excellent intellectual discourse; this blog–including the linked comments– consoles me greatly, as I can see that I am not alone in my quantum deterministic weltanschauung. In response directly to Diana’s points, I agree with almost everything you wrote except for your point about Quantum Indeterminancy. From Albert Einstein to Carver Mead, we find the best minds in physics railing against the influence of Niels Bohr and the Copenhagen school of thought.

                 As persuasive as we may find the work of Niels Bohr, Alfred Heisenberg, John von Neumann, and Richard Feynman–the big guns of the Copenhagen interpretation–their influence has dragged much of physics and science into the sort of obscurantism that continues to plague it to this day. Quantum Indeterminancy, largely a byproduct of the Heisenberg Uncertaintity Principle emerges as a prime example of a “man-made artifact” demonstrating the limits of our technological and intellectual capacities, not universal truth (t Hooft).

            Carver Mead, easily one of the greatest practical minds ever in the history science, gives an excellent example that expresses the roots of the continued fallacious thinking of the Copenhagen School:

            “As late as 1956, Bohr and Von Neumann, the paragons of quantum theory, arrived at the Columbia laboratories of Charles Townes, who was in the process of describing his invention. With the transistor, the laser is one of the most important inventions of the twentieth century. Designed into every CD player and long distance telephone connection, lasers today are manufactured by the billions. At the heart of laser action is perfect alignment of the crests and troughs of myriad waves of light. Their location and momentum must be theoretically knowable. But this violates the holiest canon of Copenhagen theory: Heisenberg Uncertainty. Bohr and Von Neumann proved to be true believers in Heisenberg’s rule. Both denied that the laser was possible. When Townes showed them one in operation, they retreated artfully” (American Spectator, Sep/Oct2001, Vol. 34 Issue 7, p68 Carver Mead Spectator Interview).

            I believe the laser anectode provides an excellent analogy in general for those–including ardent theologians, lay people, and some Nobel prize winning scientists– who believe that there is some inherent fuzziness in nature that demands that we accept free will because of our limits in showing that quantum determinism is true empirically. As technology improves, it’s proving harder and harder to rely on this lazy approach to thought to explain why we should believe in free will and by extension some moral and or socioeconomic higher order. Yes it can be a scary world once we know the truth, as it was for those who first learned that our earth is round or that our planet revolves around the sun, a star, along the path of least resistance. But can we afford to pretend any more? Perhaps accepting the scientific validity of Hard/quantum Determinism won’t lead to an overhaul of everyone’s world view overnight but it certainly will contribute increasingly to a world of improving possibilities.

            As long as this response is, please bear with this added addendum from an earlier work of mine:

            Quantum Determinism and the Future of Humans with a Hedonistic Focus

              Per the work of Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, PADF, Gerard t’ Hooft et al, everything in Creation is predetermined. From the biological (more middle-ground/empirically sound and more readily accessible for the lay person) perspective, please see the work of David Eagleman of Baylor and John Dylan Haynes (Prof. Dr. rer. nat., Professor (W3) for Theory and Analysis of Large-Scale Brain Signals, Director of Berlin Center for Advanced Neuroimaging (BCAN)Universitätsmedizin Berlin Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience ). For a great summary of the truths (PADFVeritasPADFHarvardPADFBuckleyPADF) of Determinism see Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman of the Science Channel (Season 4, Ep. 9 “Do We Have Free Will?”)

            … –> excerpts from my work
                The Most Fecund Revolution

            Towards Universal Compassion…Thus, everyone is different but arguably no one is better. I.e. since everything is predetermined, no person is worthier than anyone else; rather, the only reason why one person is a champion F1 racing driver and another person is a supermodel is because nature made them that; thus, nature controls all of us. Mightn’t this naturally translate into/correlate to a massive rearrangement of society and how we treat each other? From my perspective, it certainly should.

          • Dominic
            Posted October 14, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

            “nothing else could happen” – not that for me – it is just that only one outcome is possible so the idea of choice is meaningless.

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    While I agree with b., I think it’s important to challenge b with evidence as it becomes more an more available. Just pursuing a. is tantamount to being a good lawyer and looking for evidence to defend your client; evidence needs to lead us. If it leads us to a conclusion of a (compatibilism) so be it (likewise for a.).

    In other words, there is nothing wrong with thinking about free will as long as the conclusions are evidence based not ideologically based (which has occassionally corrupted a when the reason for selecting compatibilism is that people won’t be able to handle the alternative & will go nuts and do immoral things).

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Oh so many mistakes above. Here, let me fix:

      While I agree with b., I think it’s important to challenge b. with evidence as it becomes more and more available. Just pursuing a. is tantamount to being a good lawyer and looking for evidence to defend your client; evidence needs to lead us. If it leads us to a conclusion of a (compatibilism) so be it (likewise for b.).

      In other words, there is nothing wrong with thinking about free will as long as the conclusions are evidence based not ideologically driven (which has occasionally corrupted a when the reason for selecting compatibilism is that people won’t be able to handle the alternative & will go nuts and do immoral things).

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted October 13, 2013 at 2:01 am | Permalink

        I suspect compatibalism is a ‘useful fiction’. No one can work out all the prior events that have influenced someone’s ‘decision’ so we put a boundary around an agent/person and say that what we see coming ‘over the boundary’ is unpredictable (true) and therefore something ‘extra’ to a naturalistic organism (untrue).

        A moment’s reflection will remind you of times when you got the prediction of someone’s response to a particular event spectacularly wrong. The useful fiction broke down.

  7. Posted October 12, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    As someone who has argued for compatibilism extensively on these threads, I’d answer: b and then (less important) a.

    Though I wouldn’t phrase “a” as done above, I’d phrase “a” as a matter of understanding “b”. (i.e. given “b”, what is happening when a chess-playing computer selects a move; what is happening when we select an ice-cream flavour).

    I also don’t see it as either/or, so I’d go for a and b. But b is the more important.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Yes.

      a is self-consistent in the same way that general relativity is self-consistent. But neither are the last word. If and when we have a more detailed theories of physics and neurobiology we can see how they work like Newton’s gravity approximations – “good enough for NASA work”.

      So a may be useful, but shouldn’t be used to shore up “vengeance”. Because the absence of more fundamental theory in the approximations applies to the criminal justice system too. Since b helps us relate to epidemic (or whatever) statistics that tells us what works there, it is more useful here.

      My take: b is priority, a can be useful.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        But now I remember that Jerry described somewhere how a _never_ is useful, even though it sustains our incessant “rewriting of our history”. I should have bookmarked that.

        [Maybe I did bookmark it, but my "free will" meme is obstinately trying to survive. Maybe I should blame Dawkins. =D]

  8. AK
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I agree with (b) but my response is predetermined as is our criminal justice system.

  9. John J. Fitzgerald
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t the opposite of determinism, simply indeterminism. Determinism holds that there is a causal chain between one event and another. Indeterminism denies this. Human behavior is malleable over time. An infant defecates and urinates in a determinate manner. Toilet training focuses on getting the process under greater control. In time most humans learn to be toilet trained. Interestingly, as they age they lose some of that control and eventually revert back to a diapered existence. Determinism is what enables us to praise and blame different actions. If there was no connection between praise and blame and behavior, we would be living in an unpredictable world. But the world is predictable.

    Psychopaths are immune to praise and blame.

    • Richard Kloostra
      Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      How is the world predictable?
      I have yet to see the same sky twice.
      I have yet to see the weatherman get it right.
      There is absolutely nothing predictable in this world.

      • gbjames
        Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        I’ll bet you always say that.

        • Richard Kloostra
          Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

          Why do you bet. According to your theory you should know it.

          • gbjames
            Posted March 29, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

            I think you miss the point. And I have no idea which of “my” theories you refer to.

      • Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        Grab a baseball and a stopwatch.

        Repeatedly drop the ball from the same height and time how long it takes to reach the ground.

        Do this from various heights. Do it with other objects.

        Analyze your results, and you will soon be able to predict what will happen the next time you perform the experiment, to as much precision and confidence as your experimental setup permits. That is, your prediction will be no more and no less sloppy than your measurement.

        The same pattern of predictability can be observed in all manner of similarly-isolated phenomena, as well as in combination of different phenomena. And in all cases, the quality of the prediction again depends on the quality of the measurements.

        That would be why the weather forecasters generally don’t give absolutes, but rather predict such-and-such a percentage chance of an event. And, within reasonable margins, it actually does rain about half the time they predict a 50% chance of rain.

        We have limits to our abilities to measure things as well as to the complexity we can handle in making the models we use to make predictions. But, in practice, that just means wider error bars are applicable. The forecast high for tomorrow might be, say 80°F ± 3°F instead of ± 0.0001°F. (And, in reality, it should be seen as a probability plot that likely resembles a bell curve, with such-and-such a chance of 79°F, a far less chance of 75°F, and a near-but-not-actually zero chance of 60°F.)

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Richard Kloostra
          Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

          And how do you measure the quality of the measurements?

        • Richard Kloostra
          Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

          One more. Try doing this dropping experiment with a cat. He won’t mind, and might even like it. Noting predictable in those drops.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted March 29, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

            So you chose to ignore Ben’s very good and patient explanation because you are being a troll.

            • Richard Kloostra
              Posted March 30, 2014 at 3:03 am | Permalink

              You did observe Ben’s first retreats in his comment?
              [...while complete predictability is impossible...]
              [...on almost every break...]

              Patience is what you most definitely need to get a hold of the supposedly finite number of variables that all together make up your theory of total pre-determination hence predictability.

              The keyword here ofcourse is supposedly. Once you start to hold on to the idea you can somehow put life into a formula, you are on a wild goose chase after the variables for your formula.
              And what do you know, everytime you think you’ve got it, and put it to the test, you find some new deviation, governed by some freshly found variables. And on you go.

              You will find a ton of seemingly logical explanations, justifying the previous error in your formula, and promising that when your new measuring instrument arrives, you will get that solved too.
              It has to be solved, otherwise you would unprove the idea you started out with.

              Meanwhile you just call persons questioning your certainty trolls, to buy you some more time in the search for the last variable that completes your formula.

          • Posted March 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

            Actually, exactly those studies have been done — and the cat’s behavior is quite predictable. Given the height and the orientation of the cat, one can easily predict how many turns the tail will make as opposed to the body, and so on — as well as whether or not the cat will manage to land on its feet.

            You seem to be groping towards picking a chaotic system as an example. Your best bet for that in common experience would be the breaking of a set of billiard balls. However, even there, while complete predictability is impossible, it is not completely unpredictable; witness the trick billiard players who can somewhat reliably sink the eight ball on almost every break.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Richard Kloostra
              Posted March 30, 2014 at 3:20 am | Permalink

              Hi Ben,

              My point is that every drop is a different one. There is not one drop equal to the other.
              They can seem similar due to our limited capacity of measuring, and because we don’t even know all of the variables involved.
              And even if we did, measuring the drop, changes the drop.
              Only by leaving out factors, we can ‘prove’ the drop was exactly the same as the previous one, and was(?) therefore predictable.

              Unlike Diana seems to think I admire your efforts to find and prove the formula to life, and I do hope you continue to use your free will, -or your embedded coding driving you to do this-, to push on and solve it for all of us.

              According to historical records we have been busy thousands of years trying to figure it out. It is still a mystery.

              greetings,
              R

              • Posted March 30, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

                And yet, millennia ago we thought that the weather was at the mercy of the whim of the gods; that diseases were caused by demonic possession; and the greatest unanswered “scientific” question of the ages was where the Sun went at night.

                You are objecting that the journey is incomplete and we won’t get there in your lifetime, and neglecting the great heights to which we’ve already climbed and the distances we’ve already travelled.

                Worse, you’re even advocating an wholesale retreat back to the comforting vale of ignorance.

                Sorry. It may look like a nice place from where we’re standing, but it’s actually a pretty nasty, smelly swampland with swarms of biting disease-infested bugs and vast tracts of quicksand. You’re welcome to go back there if you really want to, but don’t expect any of the rest of us to follow.

                Cheers,

                b&

  10. Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    The question of the existence of free will has a complex and long philosophical and theological tradition dating back (at least) to the Ancient Greeks and Indo-Aryan cultures. Although the social consequences of a pure deterministic philosophy might appear attractive I’m not so sure what that does for the existence of the soul.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      I’m still trying to figure out if the soul shows up during the zygote’s first cell division, when the embryo implants in the uterine wall, or when the priest chants a magical incantation as he deposits Jesus/holy-ghost water on a kid’s forehead.

      • Dominic
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

        Doctrine used to be 40 days for males & 80 for females!

        • SA Gould
          Posted October 14, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

          My reaction would be “You’ve got to be kidding,” but I know you aren’t. Please explain where they got this ridiculous one from, while I make myself a cup of calming hot chocolate. Thanks…

      • Posted January 15, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        You and me both :)

  11. Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    As far as the criminal justice system goes, it seems burdened far more by non-violent offenders being incarcerated for victimless crimes than by serious instances of retributive sentences…

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      I suspect you have drug offences in mind in the US criminal justice system.

      In this case, I’d argue that it’s reflective of a need to punish what rightly or wrongly is deemed immoral behaviour and can be considered retributive. It seems to me that although one learns that a justice system is not meant as punishment, the reaction from society to those being locked up centres around retribution, which is as far as I know, a basic human behaviour.

      But, I could be wrong….

      • Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        If a psychotic killer kills your family and we lock him up without even the pretense of rehabilitating him, that’s retributive justice, especially if it’s done to ease your feelings about what happened to your family. Obviously, that crime is not victimless.

        However, if someone gets locked up for blasphemy or sodomy or drug use or adultery where the crime really is victimless and the state is acting out of perceived offense to its sensibilities. I don’t see how that’s “retributive” in any real way. It’s just callous, authoritarian, and misguided.

        • Posted October 12, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

          A lot of people would disagree that blaspemy is a victimless crime. Print a cartoon of Mohammad in a newspaper if you want a demonstration.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 12, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

          I’d see the state acting as proxy for the retribution of individuals. We may not agree with those things, many people in the state may not agree with those things, but the guys who run the state do. You’re right in calling them the things you call them but they would probably not see the difference between your two scenarios.

        • Posted October 12, 2013 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

          “If a psychotic killer kills your family and we lock him up without even the pretense of rehabilitating him, that’s retributive justice, especially if it’s done to ease your feelings about what happened to your family.”

          Locking up such psychotic killer is not necessarily retributive, it can be done in order to protect society from future crime by said individual. However, imprisoning people only to ease our feelings would be retribution.

          • Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

            Yes, I said before locking him up without any pretense of rehabilitation is retributive. If it’s done for the protection of society, that’s not necessarily true,

  12. John Witton
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    You can’t be serious??? Are you trying to tell me that the laws of physics totally determine whether I’m going to post this comment or not? Well, I hope you have more than just wishful thinking to support such a ridiculous idea.

    I can’t wait to see the proof…

    • John Taylor
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      The little man in your head did it makes more sense?

      • John Witton
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        What little man? What are you implying? God in my head?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      You may want to read up on determinism before guffawing it so violently.

      Here, let me google that for you as google can answer it faster than I.

      • John Witton
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        It’s a joke isn’t it? I’m a scientist not a philosopher or a novelist? Give me something I can prove!

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

          Sounds like you’re relatively new to the discussion here about free will. I’d suggest you search for and read some previous posts which should at least answer some of your questions, though you may not like the answers. (You wouldn’t be the only one.) It’s always hard to come in in the middle of the discussion, especially one which has been hashed and rehashed so many times; thus the terse answers you’re likely to get at this point.

          • Richard Olson
            Posted October 12, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

            The more reading I do about free will, the more certain I am that two millennia of evolving concepts and definitions is not going to be easily condensed into a relatively straightforward, universally agreed upon, and accurate problem-solution paradigm statement any time soon.

            Suppose the entire facet of “free will” consideration that is comprised of god/good vs evil/soul is omitted because the concept of divinity never emerged on our planet; would that make resolution of this issue any easier? Perhaps. But if so, I think not by much. I know that particular bit seldom occurs to me when I read or hear someone claims free will is an illusory concept. Other things occur to me.

            Where my mind jumps instead is, on this micro level example for instance, to choices I made with my time over several weeks that resulted in failure to meet a scheduled project deadline. They total in the tens, hundreds, maybe over a thousand. Is each attributable to either determinism or compatibitabilism (sp)?

            Or on a more macro scale, I wonder about determinism and compatiblism (sp?) and devious schemes hatched behind closed doors at Wall Street banks, schemes designed to circumvent finance law in order to literally steal money from both the public and from private citizens, over and over and over, year after not prosecuted year.

            And how is this to be dealt with in courts, should that (increasingly remote) ever come to pass? I vote for significant retribution mixed in with rehabilitation, I guarantee you.

            And I wonder about the thought processes of elected officials who make a series of decisions over long periods of time not to advocate for the sort of criminal proceedings necessary to curb rapacious Wall Street theft, but instead to facilitate conditions that lead to ever more egregious financial abuse, conditions that de facto marginalize and drive off Wall Street actors who would prefer to behave with legal and ethical impeccability? I want their asses kicked, too, the fuckers.

            What I don’t want is a society where punishment is disproportionate to the specific offense, where rehabilitation is not central to sentencing guidelines (for societal long-term benefit), where either minority status or economic/social influence play a role in the dispensation of justice, or in the allocation of any other goods or services.

            The link below is to a brief entry at plato.stanford.edu that seems to me an excellent summation of the reasons why this issue has been, and remains, so damned difficult to discuss:

            Web Link: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/

            • Richard Olson
              Posted October 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

              Sorry for such a long emotional post. It started as a short reply following Diane G’s comment, not to her, and only to offer the link to the Stanford entry. What I finished with does not belong here, but should be its own entry below at the next place in the queue.

        • John Harshman
          Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

          Wait — you’re a scientist? The evidence of that post would suggest not, or you wouldn’t be asking for proof. Science doesn’t do proof.

    • Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Your post is rude. And yes, I think it is totally determined that you were going to post that comment, just as it was determined that you would be rude. What else is there ruling your behavior except the laws of physics, which are deterministic on a macro level? That’s the proof I have for you.

      Now apologize for your rudeness to the host.

      • Posted October 12, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        “What else is there ruling your behavior except the laws of physics, which are deterministic on a macro level?”

        Well, there are higher level laws of biology and particularly psychology that are more perspicacious and efficient predictors of behavior than the laws of physics. We can often predict what people will do based on their expressed or imputed reasons, so reasons are arguably causes. Determinism operates at many levels, even in our being rational creatures, not just the micro-physical.

        • BillyJoe
          Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

          I think Jerry means…
          physics -> chemistry -> biology -> psychology
          Determinism all the way.

      • Kevin
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

        The comment was written rudely, however the fact that everything is determined does not imply that it can be predicted. It can be proven that the arrangement of atoms in a human body at one instance in time can not be reproduced, let alone predicted, at any point in the future, even though everything is deterministic. In short, what we know about the physical world makes determinism irrelevant. Physycists delimit their knowledge with what is predictable. And anyone who has spent time as a physicist knows how limited we are able to predict anything with arbitrary precision.

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 13, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

          I think this point confuses a lot of people, and is part of what fuels incredulity even in people who don’t have a religious stake in the question.

          The chess playing program Deep Blue is provably deterministic, yet even the programmers couldn’t tell you what move it was going to make in response to a move by Kasparov. Or rather, they only means they had to answer that question was to actually run the program and see what it’s response was. The outcome of an algorithm need not be explainable by anything more compact, in time or space, than actually running the algorithm. A great many comparatively simple things are completely beyond our computational capacity to predict, even though they are fully deterministic. A complex self-referential algorithm is all the more so.

  13. Andrew B.
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Couldn’t agree more. I find that thinking about my problems/feelings in a deterministic way allows me to operate in a more dispassionate manner. Living with depression and constantly thinking A) my feelings are all my fault B) I should just be able to “snap out of it” and that C) my family just should have shown me more affection and understanding have all made the solution so much more difficult to find.

    Determinism, I think, renders these issues meaningless and allows me to think in a more rational manner. Instead of being filled with resentment, I can focus instead on what I am feeling, what is missing from my life and how can I fix it. I can treat the problem just as impersonally as fixing a broken appliance or pulling weeds.

    Getting angry with people for their behavior becomes as silly as yelling at the television for having bad reception.

    Determinism undercuts the intellectual justification for fault, blame, culpability, resentment, regret. These feelings don’t go away immediately, but without any legitimate reasons reinforcing them, they become less powerful.

    • harrietbicksler
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      I found your comments very helpful. Thank you!

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      I understand and empathise.

      But how would you feel if a psychopath captured you, removed your eyeballs and set you free?

      • Andrew B.
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

        I would be seriously traumatized, of course, but given that I had been the victim of his crime, neither I, nor my family or friends should have any role in determining his guilt or his sentencing. There’s a reason why those personally affected by a crime cannot participate in the trial; they aren’t considered to be objective observer. There’s more to justice than effecting personal vengeance.

        I can’t say, however, that I wouldn’t want to inflict real pain on my tormentor, of course, because it seems the urge for retribution is so strong that it would overpower a clear recognition of the facts which, to an impartial observer, might negate it. But I suspect this desire would be significantly tempered once I understood the reasons behind this person’s action (the mentioned psychopathy which is out of the person’s control).

        I think that when constructing laws regarding punishment, we have to recognize that there are wide-reaching consequences to how criminals are treated. Discussions like this reminds me of long-term conflicts like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Think of how less volatile the situation could be if revenge were no longer part of the equation. There are other factors contributing to the hostilities, but I don’t think one can deny that vengeance plays a major role.

        • BillyJoe
          Posted October 13, 2013 at 2:32 am | Permalink

          I agree with a lot of what you say.

          Interestingly, there is a real life example of the eye gouging though I can’t remember the details. The victim decided not to have the perpetrator eyes gouged out. She decided that he’d suffered enough imagining what was going to happen to him in the months between the sentence and her decision not to have it carried out. And she decided that it would not help her to have him blinded.

    • Andrew Platt
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 5:48 am | Permalink

      Determinism leads Andrew B to believe that getting angry with people for their behaviour is silly. Obviously he has bad behaviour in mind when he says this. Does it not also mean, though, that being pleased with people for their good and generous behaviour is equally silly? In a deterministic universe is not ALL emotion silly? If we are truly robots, let us act like robots.

      Not that we have any control over emotion if determinism is correct, of course.

      It makes me glad I live in an indeterministic universe (I think!).

  14. Pirate
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, if you haven’t read him already, you may be interested in the work of the philosopher Derk Pereboom, particularly his book “Living without Free Will”. He’s a hard incompatibilist, like you, and much of his work is devoted to figuring out the consequences of this view for how we live our lives.

  15. Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see that it’s possible to argue against b). Just as evolution can’t be denied. Perhaps it’s because I’m a schizoid- but math is math. A certain combination of numbers will lead to (just) one result. Why is that strange for some people?

  16. Richard Olson
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I’ll sign on for another voyage.

  17. SA Gould
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I vote for “c” : finding a way of explaining all this in terms of *what would this mean* for the average person, how should they live their lives?

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      ^^ *Like a lot*

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      You should live it AS IF you have freewill. The illusion of freewill is so good that it is as if you have it anyway, so why not go along with it?

      But you can take satisfaction in achieving the understanding of why it is that you don’t have freewill, which is better than most are able to do.

  18. Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I’d actually go with:

    c) Free will is an incoherent self-contained oxymoron. A will can no more be free than a bachelor can be married, and the sooner we stop framing the discussion in such terms the better.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      I’ll sign up for some of that too.

    • AdamK
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      “Free will” is one of those vague, sorta-kinda-defined terms, like “soul”, “spirit” or “god” that engender endless useless discussion. At the heart of most philosophy (and all theology) is a failure to define terms.

      Because it turns out that if you define such terms, everything you’ve used them for comes into focus as nonsense.

      Proof of “god”? What’s a “god”? Evidence of “free will’? Define “free” (free of what? empowered to do what?) Define “will”? (What’s doing the “willing”? Where does it start? What does it control?)

      Turns out it’s all a load of nonsense.

      • BillyJoe
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I think the first thing to ask a person who believes in freewill is to define freewill.
        That’ll just about kill the argument.

        • Andrew Platt
          Posted October 14, 2013 at 5:53 am | Permalink

          How about just asking whether we live in a deterministic or indeterministic universe, for that is surely what it all boils down to?

          Everything I think I know – which might be wrong of course – leads me to believe the latter.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      I’m usually happy to say freewill is “incoherent” but, hey, “incoherent self-contained oxymoron” sounds about right.

    • Kevin
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

      I agree with c), in the sense that the concept of free will is a metaphysical concept.

    • Dominic
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      That chimes with my views way down below…

  19. Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I’d say b) is more important. But, it is with the caveat that people actually understand b) and all that it entails. At present, many people seem to be ignorant of even simple scientific concepts (I read this post just before the present thread: http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1467&utm_source=feedly )and until scientific literacy has increased and people (if ever?) are open-minded enough to assess the evidence for and against determinism, I don’t think b) (or a), for that matter!) will get us very far. There are far more pressing concerns that need to be dealt with.

    Besides, even if b) was magically understood overnight by the general populace, I don’t think it’d make much difference; as you say, the entire criminal justice system would need to be re-done and re-evaluated. And as they say, Rome was not built in one day — especially not these days when nothing seems simple and straight-forward any more.

    That being said, there are of course more benefits to b) than to a). Looking at public understanding of mental illness, for example, since the mind-is-brain connection has become more and more disseminated, people’s perception of mental illness has improved and stigmatisation has decreased. It’s not at breakneck pace, but it shows promise: given the right information (and presented in the right way) it is possible for an understanding of materialism and determinism to increase people’s attitudes for the better.

    In closing, it is interesting to consider the difference between people’s perception of determinism in regards to free will and their perception towards materialism in mental illness. Whilst the latter increases understanding of the condition and reduces stigmatisation, the former seems to induce knee-jerk reactions in many, as if the implications are too severe — as if it’s OK for mentally ill people to be the victims of materialistic determinism, but not one oneself.

  20. Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    In my view, determinism renders the notion of moral responsibility incoherent.

    Jerry, why think that determinism makes all the difference? Given determinism, Obama is no more responsible, morally, for any of his decisions than someone who’s whacked out on PCP or driven by a brain lesion? But if future science ends up finding that determinism is false, suddenly there’s room to distinguish those two cases?

    • Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      Obama is responsible for his decisions because he makes them, and if he makes bad ones he should be held accountable. But he’s not MORALLY responsible.

      Science almost certainly won’t find out that determinism is false–of that I’m confident (barring, of course the pure indeterminism of quantum mechanics). But if it does, then one has to show that the new form of indeterminism affects behavior. And if that’s shown, then I’ll reconsider my position.

      • Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        If determinism is true, then it’s 100% probable that you’ll do X tomorrow, for some X. According to you, you can’t be morally responsible for doing X.

        But suppose determinism is false, and it’s only 99% probable that you’ll do X tomorrow. All else equal, now you might be responsible for doing X? 1% makes the difference?

        • Posted October 12, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

          Jerry’s point seems to be that types of indeterminism might be richer and more varied than we are currently able to conceive of. This is one reasons there are both frequentist and Bayesian approaches to probability theory. Your reliance upon a well-defined “99%” probability in a nondeterministic universe to make your point illustrates your confusion. Jerry’s just waiting to see what kind of indeterminate universe we inhabit before doing away with the scientific vindication of determinism.

          • Posted October 12, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

            I await Jerry’s reply. But as I understand it, quantum mechanics gives us extremely well-defined probabilities (other than 0 and 1) in a universe that it describes as indeterministic. Do quantum physicists thereby share my “confusion”?

            My earlier point was this: If determinism (100% probability) is the threat to moral responsibility, then indeterminism (only 99% probability) might offer the cure. But I take it nobody thinks that 1% could make the difference.

            • Posted October 12, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

              Of course quantum physicists share your confusion. There are a dozen different interpretations of quantum mechanical theory. You’re correct that the theory is mathematically vindicated, but it’s still unclear exactly what those equations mean. In a similar same way, frequentist theory tends to define probabilities as only having meaning in precisely defined experimental ways, whereas bayesians are comfortable stating that probabilities exist independently of experimental parameters.

              Also, 1 percent makes a huge difference in many circumstances. Why are you so keen to opine it has no difference in a discussion about moral responsibility?

              • Posted October 12, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

                Quantum physicists say that there can be well-defined probabilities in an indeterministic universe. My argument comports with what they say. Your critique wars with what they say. I’m comfortable with that situation.

                Now, to your question. If 1% makes the difference between moral responsibility and its absence, then I can be morally responsible for something that prior conditions made me 99% likely to do, as long as they didn’t make me 100% likely to do it. That’s a very small space into which to squeeze my entire moral responsibility. If it doesn’t seem small, I can make it smaller: 0.1%, 0.01%, etc. You get the point: the difference between moral responsibility and its absence can’t be the difference between (a) 100% and (b) less than 100%.

        • Kevin
          Posted October 12, 2013 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

          Determinism is very likely true…it is the best game in town. However, determined or not, no one or no simulation can predict with 100% probability that you would do X at any point in the future.

          • Posted October 13, 2013 at 4:54 am | Permalink

            As I understand it, Jerry’s argument against moral responsibility doesn’t care if we can’t predict with 100% accuracy what you’ll do. Instead, it’s the 100% objective probability of your action itself — the inevitability of your action given prior conditions — that precludes moral responsibility. But I’ve been arguing that 100% can’t be what precludes moral responsibility unless 99% could be what permits moral responsibility. And it couldn’t be: surely moral responsibility doesn’t go from totally absent to suddenly present because of a 1% difference in probability (or a 0.1% difference, etc.).

            • Posted October 13, 2013 at 5:36 am | Permalink

              “surely moral responsibility doesn’t go from totally absent to suddenly present because of a 1% difference in probability (or a 0.1% difference, etc.).”

              First off, I don’t see why this is sure. A human women shares more than 99% of your DNA; your not being a woman seems to hinge on that 1%. Why, when we’re discussing much murkier questions about moral responsibility, are you casually assuming single percentage points must matter in moral questions?

              Secondly, I would offer the following conundrum to challenge your point in principle.

              1. I take out a gun and shoot someone. Jerry says I’m not morally responsible because determinism is true and I was predestined to shoot that someone

              2. I take out a gun and a coin, I flip it and I pull a two-face: I shoot someone if it comes heads and don’t shoot someone if it comes tails. Jerry says I’m not morally responsible. You say since probability variation must matter, I’m only half as
              responsible as I was in 1.

              3. I drive my car to work in the morning.
              Studies suggested there’s a 1% chance I drive and kill someone during my commute. I get in an accident and kill someone. Jerry says I’m not morally responsible. You say the probability of me killing someone while commuting was sufficiently low that I can’t be held responsible.

              Question: exactly at what probability constitutes culpability?

              • Posted October 13, 2013 at 5:59 am | Permalink

                I’m afraid you’ve confused my position with Jerry’s. You wrote that I’m “assuming single percentage points must matter in moral questions,” and “You say since probability variation must matter, I’m only half as responsible as I was in 1.”

                No. My point is that according to Jerry’s argument a single percentage point must matter, because he says that 100% probability (i.e., inevitability given prior conditions) is what precludes moral responsibility. If 100% probability is what precludes moral responsibility, then we allow for moral responsibility by reducing the probability to any value less than 100%, such as 99.999%. But it’s silly to think that moral responsibility could go from totally absent to suddenly present with such a small change.

                You asked, “Exactly at what probability constitutes culpability?” My point is that it’s not a simple question of probabilities. But it would be a simple question of probabilities if Jerry’s position were correct: If 100% is what precludes moral responsibility, then less than 100% is what permits moral responsibility. But, again, that’s silly. Doesn’t this show that 100% — and therefore determinism — isn’t what’s relevant to moral responsibility?

              • Posted October 13, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

                I’m pretty sure I’ve not confused your positions. Your claim seems to be that if Jerry is correct and determinism is true, moral culpability boils down to quibbling about probabilities. That’s incorrect by definition: in a truly deterministic situation, appeal to probabilities has no place at all.

                If on the other hand (and I think you’re being evasive), we weren’t assuming Jerry is correct and we’re assuming indeterminism and probabilities can be relevant tools to discuss moral theory, you’re entering deep water: people who flip coins and decide to kill people depending on the result are less culpable than people who kill people without flipping coins and people who drive a car and endanger others with nonzero probability can be considered culpable actors.

      • Lianne Byram
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

        I agree with your position on determinism but I have a really hard time understanding the difference between being held accountable because you did something, but not being considered morally responsible at the same time. If you aren’t morally responsible, why should you be held accountable? Your behaviour must be addressed and its’ consequences dealt with by you and others who are affected by it. This is what happens when someone is found not criminally responsible for a crime due to mental disorder. They aren’t really held accountable the way that someone in control of one’s behaviour would be (and rightly so).
        Perhaps I’m getting hung up on semantics.

      • Posted October 13, 2013 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

        Jerry wrote: “Obama is responsible for his decisions because he makes them, and if he makes bad ones he should be held accountable.”

        I’m not sure I’d phrase it that way. Wouldn’t it be better to say: “Obama had no choice but to make the decisions he did. However, if he made bad decisions, then a good way to modify his future behavior (decisions) is to give him negative feedback for bad decisions he’s already made – just as if he had free will. He is not held accountable in a moral sense but for practical reasons.”

        It doesn’t matter at what level indeterminism occurs – micro or macro. What matters is: Can we control this indeterminism? At the micro level we already know the answer: No. Thus it offers no loophole for free will to exist. It would be interesting to see how we could control indeterminism if it occurred on a macro level.

        • Andrew Platt
          Posted October 14, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

          “At the micro level we already know the answer: No. Thus it offers no loophole for free will to exist.”

          I am a newcomer to this discussion so apologies if this has been dealt with before, but surely indeterminism at the micro level is precisely what enables free will to exist.

          When you ask ” Can we control this indeterminism?”, who is “we”? It sounds like you are looking for a ghost in the machine. Aren’t “we” simply a part of the machine, which operates according to the indeterministic laws of quantum machanics?

          • Posted October 15, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

            Except that changes you from a clock to a roulette wheel. Which do you prefer?

    • Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Given determinism, Obama is no more responsible, morally, for any of his decisions than someone who’s whacked out on PCP or driven by a brain lesion?

      Yes he is more morally responsible. *Morally* responsible means responsibility that can be affected by other people’s opinions and attitudes. (Acts caused by a brain lesion would not be.)

      That’s what morals are, attitudes programmed into us by evolution about how we interact with each other.

      [And I respectfully disagree with Jerry's stance that "morality" must refer to non-existent god-given will, and thus that we should ditch the concept. You really are not going to convince the population that morals don't exist, because they blatantly do, as human attitudes and feelings.]

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        *Like* again.

  21. Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    The truth, as they say, shall set you free.
    So I’m all for option (b) as it’s a better fit with the facts than (a).
    Perhaps we’ll come with with something even better someday. But till then, b works for me.

  22. eric
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    That mandates big changes in our criminal justice system: a scientific approach about which punishments are best for deterrence, reform, and keeping criminals from relapsing into crime. It rules out retributive justice, which simply doesn’t make sense.

    What if retributive justice is best for deterrence, reform, and preventing relapse? What if we do spectacularly good social science, only to find that non-punitive treatments aren’t as effective as punishment?

    I fail to see how the ‘no free will’ position supports liberal social policy. We are robots, ergo non-punitive treatment will work better on us? There is no logical connection there between premise and conclusion.

    I am actually supportive of liberal criminal justice policies. But I don’t see any support for them in the ‘no free will’ position. That position is orthogonal/agnostic/irrelevant to the question of what criminal social policies will work best.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      What if retributive justice is best for deterrence, reform, and preventing relapse? What if we do spectacularly good social science, only to find that non-punitive treatments aren’t as effective as punishment?

      Perhaps the answer is really in intent. People would still be locked up for deterrence and the safety of the population. This could look like retribution but that is not the intent.

  23. Kevin Anthoney
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    c) cat stuff.

  24. RFW
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I’m not very happy with either of those propositions. (I know this rejection will cause regulars on WEIT to shed tears of sadness, but tough noogies.)

    The standard understanding of free will, I assert (no back talk, now!), is that I decide to do this or to do that. It posits, perhaps only implicitly, some kind of ego-entity. But then the question arises, how does the ego-entity make up its mind? With another ego-entity encapsulated within? What is this “I” that makes up its mind and how does it do it? This leads to a Russian doll model of consciousness with infinite regress. Not very satisfactory, and qualifying as argle-bargle.

    Thus we dispense with (a).

    But to call the process deterministic, as in (b) presents its own problems. True, careful research has shown that “we” decide to do this or that a brief while before being conscious of the decision, so at least the latter stages of making up one’s mind appears to be deterministic. But in fact we can’t predict anyone’s actions more than a split second ahead of time.

    So much for (b)

    Let’s try this: there is no free will in the usual sense. Our decision making is a random, indeterministic process at its deepest level (perhaps involving quantum indeterminacy), strongly conditioned by prior experience and thought, but as a decision (to pet the cat or feed her?) emerges from the depths it becomes more and more macro-deterministic.

    Argle-bargle? Bullshit? Only the devil knows, and he’s not saying, but I’m sure the erudite commenteriat at WEIT will soon pronounce its verdict.

    To summarize: a lot of the discussion of free will is tainted by failure to define our terms with any degree of precision. Until we can do that, at every stage of the analysis, we’re doomed to perpetual argle-bargle-ism.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      I will save everyone else the trouble.

      Just because something is so complex that it is not predictable in practice does not mean that it is not determined.

      So give us back (b).

      • Kevin
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

        The universe is 100% deterministic, but it is not 100% predictable, or analogously simulatable, I.e., capable of being modeled with arbitrary precision.

  25. Kelton Barnsley
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Belief in free will, like the notion of sin and the philosophies of dualism and vitalism, is the enemy of compassion. I think these beliefs are even more harmful than a belief in God. God is posited to be an external being, but free will, sin, the soul, etc. tell people that there is inherent evil in other human beings that cannot be cured except by the noose (or, in our time, the injection or the chair). These beliefs are responsible for the stigmatization of having or trying to treat mental illness, and for the government-sponsored killing of human beings in captivity. They are also a continuous source of mental anguish when people blame themselves for their own shortcomings and failures instead of moving on.

  26. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Don’t bother saying that this issue comes up too often here. First, that’s a violation of the Roolz.

    Loolz. Cat-22:

    It teh Roolz comes up 2 often, it be vioalshun ov teh Roolz 2 say so.

  27. Siegfried Gust
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Good food for thought, keep it coming.

  28. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    This is a bit off topic but I came across this and wondered what your thoughts might be on it.

    http://www.atheismuk.com/2013/10/04/religion/you-cant-swim-without-water/

    • Cliff Melick
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      I hope Jerry reads this and gives a reply to your post. I don’t think this article is the least bit tangential to the current discussion. Thanks for the link.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 4:03 am | Permalink

      It’s just the usual compatibilist’s nonsense. The freewill you have when you don’t have freewill. In other words, re-defining freewill so that it doesn’t mean freewill.

  29. Chukar
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    To paraphrase Voltaire: “As free will does not exist, it was necessary to invent it.” If it doesn’t exist (and I lean towards B with caveats), why does it feel like it does? A necessary illusion, the result of evolutionary ‘tinkering’ rather than ‘engineering’?

    If we have no free will, then rather than citing ‘retribution’ as a reason for locking up ax-murderers, shouldn’t we cite ‘sequestration’? The effect on the ax-murderer is the same (incarceration), only the label has changed. But then wasn’t the emotional reaction of ‘retribution – he must pay for his crime’ itself a necessary invention, one necessary for highly imperfect, highly emotional and highly social animals to protect themselves from their most imperfect group members?

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      ” If [freewill] doesn’t exist…why does it feel like it does?”

      For the same reason that the squares on the checker board illusion really do look like they are different colours when in fact they are the same colour.

      In other words, it’s an illusion.
      An illusion is something that seems to be other than what it really is.

  30. Mel
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Quantum indeterminacy would not support free will. Unpredictability doesn’t conflict with behavioral determinism. It would only mean, for example, that, for no reason known to us or anyone else, we might just pick up a gun and shoot someone. Random behavior would not count as free will directed behavior, even without such gross results.

    It’s absurd to speak of a deterministic decision before consciousness of the decision. Determinism would mean that there is no “decision.” The concept of “decision” presupposes the concept “choice.” It’s important not to use concepts and ignore their conceptual base. In this deterministic theory of behavior, “decision” would, at best, be just a metaphor for the brain’s programmed result.

    “Free thought” would also have its problems. Determinism implies that we think what we’re forced to think and conduct our cognitive processes the way we’re forced to conduct them. It means biases all he way.

    Justice comes down to being determined to inhibit or punish behavior that we’re determined not to approve of. When it comes to determined disagreements about what behavior to inhibit, it will be decided by the social system or lack thereof that we’re determined to implement. Some would inhibit abortion, doctor assisted suicide, blasphemy, GMO, stem cell research, and pot, while I wouldn’t want to inhibit those things.

    • Kevin
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

      Unpredictability is indistinguishable from random behavior and functionally the same as if humans had free will.

      Quantum indeterminacy, even if it were proven not to be true is not relevant for or against free will.

      • Mel
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

        Free will means choosing freely and consciously among alternatives and would not be the same as random physically controlled behavior of consciousness. A physical organism generating random behavior is quite the opposite of free will. Quantum indeterminacy, no matter what interpretation is used, is, so far as it would impact the free will issue, just another form of determinism, and, I agree, doesn’t impact the issue of determinism vs. free will at all. Conclusion: Free will can’t be defended with quantum mechanics.

        I also think that predictability is an issue of what can be known and has nothing at all to do with free will. Either way, it’s not fundamental. Even a person with free will could be consistent and predictable in many issues.

        • Kevin
          Posted October 13, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

          Epistemology trumps everything, for me. I do not know what will happen to me tomorrow with 100% certainty. That lack of knowledge makes free will irrelevant. I believe and only have evidence for the fact that everything is determined, but I do not know the future. If I did know, the illusion of free will would vanish for me.

          A grasshooper or a water molecule do not have knowledge of the future, nor do these things care they have free will. Some humans care about free will, others do not, but no one knows the future with 100% certainty. The illusion of free will, if believed, can not be refuted so long as people cannot predict the future with 100% certainty.

  31. Posted October 12, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think that retributive justice and deterministic behavior are mutually exclusive: if a person knows that punishment is more likely for a certain action, a part of the brain that generates a fear impulse can become more active than the part that generates endorphines in anticipation of the positive outcome of the activity. So essentially, while brain chemistry will determine whether the person undertakes said action, the fear of punishment can affect the brain chemistry. It’s sort of like a Pavlovian reflex, and it’s probably not too hard to check this in a study.

    • Mel
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      I believe the philosophical premise that it’s not moral to punish someone for behavior they can’t help (had no choice) is being implicitly brought into play. The idea is based on the validity of the concept “choice.”

      • Posted October 12, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

        It doesn’t have to do anything with morality. If the crime is not a “moral choice” but a predetermined behavior, the punishment isn’t about morality either, but about affecting the deterministic outcome. (I’m lumping in rehabilitation and re-education with actual punishment, since no one will see it as a reward)

        • Mel
          Posted October 12, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

          I only intended to make an epistemological point about the claim that justice should not include the motive of punishment.

          • Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

            I understand. But just because we don’t call it “punishment” and don’t punish them, but try to readjust, educate, or rehabilitate someone, it would still be involuntary and come as a result of (predetermined) action, so effectively it is punishment.

            • Mel
              Posted October 12, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

              If someone is genuinely crazy and is institutionalized, we don’t think of it as punishment just because that’s not the intent. With that small quibble, I agree with your view “it’s punishment.” In the context of Jerry’s post, I don’t think he’s seen the full implications of his position; I think that you have.

      • eric
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

        Morality itself takes a big hit under the no-free-will model. Now the punisher doesn’t have a choice in what they do, either, so you can’t call their enforcement of some punishment immoral.

        At the risk of repeating myself, no-free-will is a wash in terms of social policies. It doesn’t support liberal or conservative ones more than the other.

        • Mel
          Posted October 13, 2013 at 12:09 am | Permalink

          Agree.

        • Vaal
          Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

          Yes this has been an incoherency pointed out numerous times when this topic comes up.

          It’s first asserted that criminals “didn’t really have a choice” not to do what they did, and then it’s asserted:

          THEREFORE we OUGHT to choose X course of action (e.g. greater compassion, non-retributive justice system,etc).

          As if, suddenly, we the enforcers have a choice and the criminals don’t.

          If I were for a retributive justice system and Jerry recommends that I choose otherwise, what if I say “But I can’t choose otherwise, it seems I’m determined to have this view.”

          It seems to me Jerry is left either agreeing “that’s right” which makes his recommendation
          incoherent.

          Or he says “No, actually you CAN choose to alter your view.”

          In which case his recommendation for me to do so makes sense. But then, he would have just admitted people can choose otherwise, which undermines the original assertion that
          we need to treat criminals as if they “didn’t have a choice.”

          I can never find coherency in this view.
          And the reply “but my recommendations can affect your actions” is no reply because, as I’ve argued before, that simply avoids the actual question. All sorts of non-nonsensical recommendations can affect people’s behavior so we are still left asking whether this particular form of recommendation makes internal sense, given the assumptions behind it.

          You can’t just open up the door and expect traffic to flow only the way you hope. If you are telling your audience criminals have no choice you are telling your audience THEY have no choice, which makes the ensuing discussion of which direction to choose bizarre.

          And, you don’t need to be a determinist-incompatibilist to see the problems of retributive justice. What type of justice system promotes the better part of ourselves?
          It certainly does not seem one built on “revenge.” And what type of justice system
          is most workable, and conducive to society, especially one in which we’d want to promote compassion, wisdom, etc? It’s not clear at all to me that a revenge-based or retributive concept of treating criminals does this at all.

          Vaal

          • Vaal
            Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

            *and btw, this is not some attempt at some philosophical a “gotcha” or something. It’s that I really can’t make sense of the position espoused by Jerry and others on this issue. And I guess if I did find the sense in it, I’d be more inclined toward that view.

            Vaal

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

      I agree.

      If you know that if you gouge out a person’s eyes, you will be punished by having your own eyes gouged out, saved only by a pardon by the person whose eyes you gouged out, that would deterministically increase the chances that the output of your brain will be not gouge out that persons eyes.

      It also feels more like justice to the person whose eyes were gouged out.

  32. ladyatheist
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Biology is not destiny

    • Mel
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      ladyatheist,

      I agree, but I don’t have the philosophical chops to defend it. Maybe the emergence of consciousness in organisms gives rise to the capability of being conscious of alternatives and examining those alternatives before making a decision–again, in consciousness. At the same time, I don’t believe in any form of “ghost in the machine,” i.e., any state or action of consciousness that doesn’t have a concomitant bio activity. We are material objects. I also agree with the existence of a vast subconscious (which I don’t think anyone disagrees with). How does our consciousness interact with our subconscious store of data? I don’t know.

      • BillyJoe
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

        That is still determinism, not freewill.
        I’s just cause and effect playing out in your brain/mind/consciousness

      • ladyatheist
        Posted October 12, 2013 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        Mental illness runs in my family, and I don’t blame the victims in the least – that’s destiny. It’s not all biological destiny, though. Personal psychological history determines the way the disease plays out, and I think that has more influence over whether the sick person takes medicine, trusts doctors, hears God’s voice in hallucinations or Stephen Spielberg’s, etc. And whether the person seeks or accepts help is sometimes determined by the social skills of the helpers. Once they’ve recovered to the point they can set their alarm for their medication schedule, I do think there’s some will power involved.

    • Kevin
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

      I agree. But one of the many tangible arguments I use against ‘god as designer’ proponents is that I have to wear glasses, my tendons are prone to fatigue, I get skin cancer, I have crappy lungs, I am dyslexic, etc. Biology is a constraint, but only in the sense that tomorrow I will be constrained by what tea to have in the afternoon….umm earl gray, Wuyi oolong, silver needle white, sencha, Ceylon black, my library of Darjeelings, dragonwell, etc., etc. My biology is an adventure that will only stop with death.

  33. Posted October 12, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I do not really care about what philosophers are doing with their time. Let them do what they want.

    Still those two questions are terribly loaded. How about this:

    Which do you think is more valuable to humanity?

    a. Telling people over and over again that their decisions are predetermined and they should not use the terrible f-word although that knowledge and the dropping of the f-word cannot possibly make any difference whatsoever for their practical decision-making unless they are supposed to use it as an excuse for their own misbehavior, and although there is good empirical evidence that most humans are compatibilist determinists by nature anyway?

    or

    b. Accepting that most people are compatibilist determinists anyway, accepting that the words “free” and “choice” have many commonsensical and scientific meanings that have nothing whatsoever to do with dualism, and accepting that even if everybody were an incompatibilist determinist they could still easily rationalize that into a religious dogma, as has of course been done (see Calvinism etc), and thus realizing that this whole controversy would be futile even if the incompatibilists “won”?

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

      This is called killing the argument by spreading definitions so broadly that the words lose all meaning.

      In other words, if you spread your definitions broadly enough, no argument is possible and everyone wins.

      But it’s just BS to castrate argument in this way, because every argument you can think of can be neutered in the same way.

      • Posted October 13, 2013 at 2:02 am | Permalink

        I can only assume that what you are referring to is where I pointed out that “free” and “choice” have non-dualist definitions. The point of what I wrote was really that this is *not* spreading definitions or castrating arguments because that would not have been necessary.

        The definitions come pre-spread and the argument had been castrated before it was made!

        • BillyJoe
          Posted October 13, 2013 at 2:40 am | Permalink

          But religious folk are pretty narrow about what they mean by freewill, so there’s an argument whether you like it or not.

          • Posted October 13, 2013 at 6:05 am | Permalink

            The question is whether a word such as free should be considered contaminated just because some cranks abuse it. There are a good many people who call something scientific, rational, progressive, sustainable, etc etc for things that really are not any of that.

            But does one scrap those terms every time it happens? Of course not. So why should we do it here? Degrees of freedom in mechanics, free-floating, free will, at least to me none of them imply anything about contra-causality, at least not necessarily. And I would argue I am not alone.

  34. Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    I’d go with (b), 100%, but with a caveat that I think there is often a confusion of vocabularies in this issue which muddies the water and leads to pseudo-reductionist claims. I’m absolutely with you that there is no such thing, ontologically, as free will. That the world is fully determined by the laws of physics, and that there is no such thing as this non-corporeal agent that likes to float around somewhere in the vicinity of human brains (and nowhere else), causing the way their neurons fire to be independent of those laws.
    But where I get cautious is the presumption that that means that we can therefore be reductionist in our approach to morality: that having shown free will doesn’t exist, we can declare it, and corresponding concepts such as agency, to be untalkable-about. The “my neurons made me do it” school. As far as I am concerned, concepts such as “consciousness,” “free will,” “moral agency,” and so forth, though they have no real existence of their own, form important parts of our mental experience. That mental experience is, of course, totally determined by the neuro-chemical state of our brains. But a complete, deterministic explanation of how that mental experience works will not stop it from being the primary way we interact with each other. (Or, rather, the very domain at which such concepts as “me” and “you” and “interacting” have any sense is the same domain in which I would argue for the use of “free will.”)
    Morality is, essentially, a framework of concepts and language which we use to coerce individuals into behaving in a way which is considered maximally beneficial to society (well, regrettably, it’s rather closer to maximally beneficial to those members of society who got to lay down the framework, usually 2000+ years ago; that bit needs some serious work). Just as there is, ontologically, no such thing as a “table” or the “computer” which I am writing this on, but it is enormously convenient to speak of them, so “free will” and “moral agency” are enormously useful concepts to use when we discuss moral behaviour.
    If you are going to strike out free will from the domain of moral discussion on the grounds of its non-existence then, unfortunately, I cannot see why you should not also strike out “me,” “you,” “good,” “bad,” “pain,” and “pleasure.” In other words, the entire vocabulary of morality.
    The weakness of my position is that I totally accept that, where someone’s brain is simply functioning in a non-standard way, a schizophrenic or a Phineas Gage, then a modern understanding of how their neurology limits or aggravates certain behaviours absolutely must inform how we judge those of their actions which violate our moral norms. So I’m not dogmatically asserting that morality must be wholly independent of our scientific awareness; I am simply rather cautious that at the moment our moral language has agency and free will as integral parts of its vocabulary and, if you want to write them out, you’re going to have to propose an entirely new framework for behavioural coercion; not just simply say “I’ve done away with free will, no back to work as usual.”

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      That the long version.

      Here is the short version:

      There is no freewill.
      But there is an illusion-of-freewill
      This means that we act AS IF we have freewill.

  35. dc
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Free will (Or I should say, belief in free will) is necessary to assign personal responsibility. If you think of how often we are admonished to take responsibility for our actions and how we only achieve merit because of belief in free will, you will appreciate the importance, not of having free will, but thinking you have free will. Without the belief that you can shape your destiny, that you (in W.E. Henley’s words) “[are] the captain of your ship, and the master of your soul” you become mired in despair. Plus all religion goes out the window – not that that would necessarily be bad!

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      I would have agreed if only you had said “illusion of freewill” instead of “freewill”.

  36. Lianne Byram
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    This is a fascinating subject. I definitely choose option b. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to try to protect ourselves from reality. How can we make the best possible decisions for society if the variables we use in our deliberations don’t reflect our true situation?

  37. Jim Sweeney
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been waiting for the subject to come up ever since the first post on free will and the suggestion that it would bear on crime and punishment.

    It makes no difference whatsoever, because an overwhelming majority of voters want vengeance, the harshest punishment available. There is a long history of penal reform, with different theories of how best to treat offenders, but as far as I know these efforts, at least in the U.S., have come to naught. The public demands retribution.

    Part of the problem is that rehabilitation is expensive and the public is unwilling to bear the cost. Of course, locking up people for life is also exorbitantly expensive, yet the electorate clamors for ever longer sentences.

    There’s some reason for hope; Europe has abolished the death sentence, and California is reforming its three-strikes laws. At some point the antipathy to taxes balances the appetite for blood.

    Elite opinion has long been opposed to the popularity of punishment. The problem is the politics of crime.

  38. Posted October 12, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure you’ve already come across it, but Sam Harris’ work on this is perfect. I can’t help but believe I have free will; that’s good enough for me. Still gonna experience it, still gonna feel it, just gonna know that, ultimately, I’m a product of, and a puppet to, nature – no more, no less. Meh.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      It seems to me that you don’t BELIEVE you have freewill, but that you have the FEELING that you have freewill. Having the feeling that you have freewill when you don’t is called the “illusion of freewill”. You can certainly believe in the “illusion of freewill”.

      • Posted October 12, 2013 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        Read the comment (that one specific sentence) with an accent of irony. All shall make beautiful sense.

        • BillyJoe
          Posted October 13, 2013 at 2:44 am | Permalink

          If the irony was any less obvious I would be inclined to think it was post hoc. (;

  39. Posted October 12, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Revenge only makes sense as a motivator to catch a perpetrator. After that the only things that make sense are protection (incarceration) and rehabilitation (if possible). To the extent that punishment will help to rehabilitate someone, then it is justified. To the extent it embitters someone and makes him a worse criminal, it’s not justified.

  40. Posted October 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    The very definition of indeterminism means we can’t determine it – thus we can’t control it. Therefore it offers no avenue for free will. And once that indeterminate event offers, it determines the next event, even if we couldn’t have predicted it.

  41. Posted October 12, 2013 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Something New on Free-Will
    Posted on June 17, 2013 by cgosling
    There is no such thing as free-will?

    For the last few years I have reluctantly agreed with popular scientific opinion that there is not such thing as free-will. I read the literature and was convinced it was true. But, it was still hard to accept the fact that I could not make a conscious decision and I was not the creative person who I prided myself to be. Many skeptics still refuse to accept the contention there is no such thing as free-will, but I was not one of them. It’s best to accept science until it is proven wrong.

    But, I was bothered by the question, if I don’t make decisions, who or what does? Who decided to go to college? Who decided to enlist in the army? Who decided to marry my wife? I thought I did all these things, but I guess not. Those decisions were madein my unconscious mind before I knew what I was going to do. Unconscious workings of my brain weighed the evidence for me and made the decision for me. It’s like one of those little magic 8 balls that you shake and the answer comes up without you doing anything except the shaking.

    Who am I to question the experts? Neural testing indicates that our brains make a decision a fraction of a second before we are aware it has made a decision. Facts are facts. How can I contest scientific evidence? I finally had to admit, humans probably don’t have free will or original thoughts. Instead, our neurons swap and evaluate electrochemical messages and make decisions for us. For example, we wake up in the morning with a solution to a problem we were unable to solve the previous day, like remembering a name, or discovering a good ending to a fictional story. Our brains did the work for us without direction from us. It sounded believable?

    Recently, I was pleased to find out that the matter is not totally settled. Even the most cherished and long held scientific beliefs and theories remain on the reviewing block. It’s the scientific way, and is as it should be.

    So now, here are a few arguments (not mine) on the side of free will and original thought.

    Before I report on some relatively new developments in the field of free will, I need to review some old truths. I had almost forgotten about the concept of “body-brain”. Our brains and their neural attachments from toe to finger to gonads all combine together and become a “body-brain”. The brain by itself is useless without its neural sensory/feedback hook up to the rest of our body.

    That being said, I would now like to summarize a New Scientist Magazine article, “Free Will Unleashed” by cognitive neuroscientist, Peter Uric Tse. Basically, he claims that individual neurons and their networks don’t have dogmatic marching orders and don’t cannot make decisions for us without our direction. They do not operate independently of conscious input. Instead they continually change their functions and networking as they are stimulated or directed by us. They join and resign from millions of neural networks like I switch TV channels. The same neurons are members of many networks and perform many functions. If we think of an object such as a banana, its data sheet in not stored in one file somewhere in our brains. Banana information comes from multiple areas of the brain. The millions of neurons may play a role in millions of networks that tell us about a banana’s color, its shape, its taste, its feel, its smell, etc. Neurons are versatile little buggers. The brain (mind) appears to be even larger and more complicated than I thought. It is like a tree-dimensional movie marquee with multiple light bulbs. The same light bulb lights up for every different picture or word but in different sequences and combinations. But, this marquee needs directions fed into it. It needs a program or a criterion to direct it.

    As Tse explains it: the brain works on its own but needs direction. An architect can type in the data but the computer puts it together, makes sense of it and prints out the blue print. If we are planning what to serve at a dinner party, we must first set criteria, one of which might be, “All guests should enjoy the meal.” But, if one guest is vegetarian, then we consciously decide we cannot serve steak. A new criterion must be formulated that excludes meat. Spinach lasagna comes to mind because it will satisfy all dinner guests and has no meat. Our brain searches its memory banks and by pure luck, finds spinach lasagna (if we did the search again we might have come up with spaghetti and veggie meatballs). However, if we knew one of our guests did not like spinach, we would have to set up another criterion excluding both meat and spinach. Tse claims, “Your brain fully willed the outcome of spinach by setting up specific criteria in advance, then playing things out. The internal deliberation of setting up a criterion is where the free will action is, not in the resulting and repetitive or automated motor acts.” “This means our thoughts and actions are neither utterly random nor predetermined, and counters arguments that free will is an illusion.” So says Tse.

    Tse’s arguments seem believable, at least possible in my humble opinion. After all is said, we may not be zombies acting without free will. All things may not have been predetermined when the life first appeared on earth. Free will may have had a role in guiding our decisions and even evolution. Humans, and perhaps other animals, might have evolved differently by chance mutations or by the volition if that animal had an advanced body-brain trying to make the best choices in order to survive. Some animals make good decisions and survive; some make bad decisions and become extinct. Our body-brain set up the criterion; it plays out events internally; it chooses what seems to be the best option at that time; it then acts upon that option and presto, we get a flash of realization. Tse concludes, “And it could have turned out otherwise.”

    So, It appears nothing is written in stone. If we consciously set criteria, and then allow our neural networks to search out the answers like a search on a computer, we are in essence, exercising our free-will; we are directing our computer brains to come up with original thoughts and conclusions. We play a major role in decision making after all, and just maybe, we really do have original thoughts… at least I think we do.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 3:09 am | Permalink

      The first half of your comment:

      It’s worse than that. Not only is there no freewill, there is also no self. There is, however, the illusion of freewill and the illusion of self.

      The second half of your comment:

      I have no idea why you find Tse convincing.
      It’s just a version of the homunculus in the brain which entails an infinite regress of homunculi. It’s a just an ill thought out just so story. There is no explanation of how freewill can be neither determined nor a coin flip but still exist.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      I am ok with free will as an illusion. It’s still this entity that I delusional call “me” making the decisions, whether the conscious part of me is aware or not. There are all kinds of things going on with our meat sacks that we don’t know – we outsource all that to parts of the brain that keep that information to itself so we can use the conscious part to do things like contemplate free will.

      The whole body thing has some merit I think. If you think about that whole second brain in the gut that does what it has to do and of course the brain is just part of the rest of the squishy body parts.

      And as BillyJoe says, the self – that “I” and “me” thing is just a delusion as well. There is no centralized self deciding things, it’s the illusion that is brought about by things going on in the brain all over the place. Somehow I find this exciting and interesting!

  42. Posted October 13, 2013 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    I must say that I really favour do accept a form of free will “a” for reasons arising from computational theory and the subject of computability.. points which I have argued in previous threads on free will, but I’ll not bore anyone by restating these arguments once again.
    On the other hand I find “b” very attractive on an EMOTIONAL basis. In my younger days I must admit that I treated some of my girlfriends in a totally shabby manner, and with time I’ve felt a lot of guilt and regret over my past behaviour. With “b” I find that I could not have behaved any differently.. that I was a “cad” for deterministic reasons. I am absolved of my guilt. I must say that this new scientifically based understanding of free will has all the benefits of absolution in the Catholic Church without any need for any penance, and with none of the requirement to accept any of the rest of the nonsense in church teachings.

    • Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      “Deinde ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Jerry Coyne, et Sam Harris, et Patrick Haggard. Amen”

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 13, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        Funny, reading that absolution sentence, I’m struck by the use of “ego” since Latin rarely uses the “I” since it’s built into the verb ending. The use of that “ego” shows the priest has quite the ego! :)

        • Posted October 13, 2013 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

          The use of that “ego” shows the priest has quite the ego!”
          What can I say Diana? With all my predetermined talents and accomplishments it was predestined that I should have such a high opinion of myself. But wait!…..I don’t deserve any credit at all for what I’ve done or am….so I shouldn’t be so bloody vain about it. Hold on…my vanity really is inevitable anyway, not much I can do about it! I must say, I’m having a great deal of difficulty in navigating my way thru the newthink world of option b.

  43. Posted October 13, 2013 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    Thank you Diana, Jerry and everyone who has contributed to this excellent intellectual discourse; this blog–including the linked comments– consoles me greatly, as I can see that I am not alone in my quantum deterministic weltanschauung. In response directly to Diana’s points, I agree with almost everything you wrote except for your point about Quantum Indeterminancy. From Albert Einstein to Carver Mead, we find the best minds in physics railing against the influence of Niels Bohr and the Copenhagen school of thought.

         As persuasive as we may find the work of Niels Bohr, Alfred Heisenberg, John von Neumann, and Richard Feynman–the big guns of the Copenhagen interpretation–their influence has dragged much of physics and science into the sort of obscurantism that continues to plague it to this day. Quantum Indeterminancy, largely a byproduct of the Heisenberg Uncertaintity Principle emerges as a prime example of a “man-made artifact” demonstrating the limits of our technological and intellectual capacities, not universal truth (t Hooft).

    Carver Mead, easily one of the greatest practical minds ever in the history science, gives an excellent example that expresses the roots of the continued fallacious thinking of the Copenhagen School:

    “As late as 1956, Bohr and Von Neumann, the paragons of quantum theory, arrived at the Columbia laboratories of Charles Townes, who was in the process of describing his invention. With the transistor, the laser is one of the most important inventions of the twentieth century. Designed into every CD player and long distance telephone connection, lasers today are manufactured by the billions. At the heart of laser action is perfect alignment of the crests and troughs of myriad waves of light. Their location and momentum must be theoretically knowable. But this violates the holiest canon of Copenhagen theory: Heisenberg Uncertainty. Bohr and Von Neumann proved to be true believers in Heisenberg’s rule. Both denied that the laser was possible. When Townes showed them one in operation, they retreated artfully” (American Spectator, Sep/Oct2001, Vol. 34 Issue 7, p68 Carver Mead Spectator Interview).

    I believe the laser anectode provides an excellent analogy in general for those–including ardent theologians, lay people, and some Nobel prize winning scientists– who believe that there is some inherent fuzziness in nature that demands that we accept free will because of our limits in showing that quantum determinism is true empirically. As technology improves, it’s proving harder and harder to rely on this lazy approach to thought to explain why we should believe in free will and by extension some moral and or socioeconomic higher order. Yes it can be a scary world once we know the truth, as it was for those who first learned that our earth is round or that our planet revolves around the sun, a star, along the path of least resistance. But can we afford to pretend any more? Perhaps accepting the scientific validity of Hard/quantum Determinism won’t lead to an overhaul of everyone’s world view overnight but it certainly will contribute increasingly to a world of improving possibilities.

    As long as this response is, please bear with this added addendum from an earlier work of mine:

    Quantum Determinism and the Future of Humans with a Hedonistic Focus

      Per the work of Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, PADF, Gerard t’ Hooft et al, everything in Creation is predetermined. From the biological (more middle-ground/empirically sound and more readily accessible for the lay person) perspective, please see the work of David Eagleman of Baylor and John Dylan Haynes (Prof. Dr. rer. nat., Professor (W3) for Theory and Analysis of Large-Scale Brain Signals, Director of Berlin Center for Advanced Neuroimaging (BCAN)Universitätsmedizin Berlin Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience ). For a great summary of the truths (PADFVeritasPADFHarvardPADFBuckleyPADF) of Determinism see Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman of the Science Channel (Season 4, Ep. 9 “Do We Have Free Will?”)

    … –> excerpts from my work
        The Most Fecund Revolution

    Towards Universal Compassion…Thus, everyone is different but arguably no one is better. I.e. since everything is predetermined, no person is worthier than anyone else; rather, the only reason why one person is a champion F1 racing driver and another person is a supermodel is because nature made them that; thus, nature controls all of us. Mightn’t this naturally translate into/correlate to a massive rearrangement of society and how we treat each other? From my perspective, it certainly should.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 3:23 am | Permalink

      I have no idea what you are trying to say, but I accept that may be because of my own limitations.

      On the other hand, someone who cannot express his ideas clearly to an intelligent non-expert, probably doesn’t understand his own argument.

      If you are saying that quantum events are deterministic, how do you explain radioactive decay?

      • Graham Lyons
        Posted October 13, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        Random particles impinging on unstable nuclei.

        • Graham Lyons
          Posted October 13, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          Better: particles impinging on unstable nuclei in a random manner.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      I’m not completely sure about what your position is vis à vis quantum indeterminacy. I saw it functioning in the same way as the hidden variables I mention. We don’t know if quantum indeterminacy influences the brain but I think there has been some evidence to suggest it does and either way, quantum or classical, these influences are part of the natural world and we are constrained by them as we are any other laws of nature. My thoughts were if we were to roll back the tape and could account for all the variables, we should in theory make the same decisions however perhaps these decisions would not unfold as predicted (assuming we know all the variables) because of this quantum influence.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        It’s a tricky question.

        Theoretically we should be able to predict the outcome if we knew exactly all the variables( including the quantum mechanisms ) up until that point.

        But we’re entering the land of brand new definitions where our usual terms aren’t necessarily applicable. In other words; What ( if anything ) lies behind and causes quantum mechanics?

  44. Marcel Volker
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    “Don’t bother saying that this issue comes up too often here.”

    Yes but surely the people that say so, have no choice but to say so? Can’t hardly blame them if they don’t have a choice…

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 4:01 am | Permalink

      Jerry is hoping that him saying so will have the effect that those inclined to say so will change their minds and refrain from saying so.

      Cause and effect in action.

  45. Barney
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    On the other hand, if we truly grasp determinism, then the consequences are profound—and largely good. We realize that nobody truly “chooses” to be good or bad, and that criminals who are “insane” have no more choice about their actions than those who are judged simply as “bad people.”

    You’ve got that the wrong way round. Everyone recognises that criminals judged ‘insane’ didn’t have ‘free will’ about their crime, and so they do not receive retributive justice. It’s those who are held to be consciously ‘bad’ who may get retributive justice. So you ought to say ‘we realize that nobody truly “chooses” to be good or bad, and that criminals who are judged simply as “bad people” have no more choice about their actions than those who are “insane.”’

    • Posted October 13, 2013 at 6:29 am | Permalink

      Yeah, that was an obvious mistake on my part, and I’ve corrected it. Thanks for pointing it out.

  46. Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Love this discussion! But, how can you rehabilitate someone who had nothing to do with their own actions? Does that involve education? But,with no free will, they will do what they will do, whether they have been subjected to rehabilitation or not, no?

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      Can you define free will?

      Without free will( depending on how we define it ) rehabilitation still makes sense because people’s actions towards the culprit can have a big impact on his or hers behaviour from that point on.

      Now you can argue that the people responsible for the rehabilitation can do no other thing than trying to rehabilitate because they have no free will to choose another line of work. But I see that as an infinite regress argument that usually ends up with the somewhat ambivalent conclusion that the universe with its laws of physics is responsible for how we behave as individuals.

      As far as we know, it is, but not in the usual sense of the word “responsible”. Responsibility in the usual sense of the word is a human construct that implies concious decision making behind it, and this cannot be applied to the universe and the laws of physics.

      Thus we are still to be held accountable for our own actions simply because, as far as we know, there is no great decider of things.

      We decide what to do based on our previous experiences, but this does not exempt us from guilt. It leaves us with the responsibilty to make our own decisions based on what we have learned.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Free will does not absolve you of responsibility, just moral responsibility. Depending on who “you” are (I put scare quotes because of the whole self and determinism thing) you may be the sort that is influenced by methods of rehabilitation (if you are not injured like say a sociopath – maybe one day we can fix them too).

      I like how Sam Harris puts it in his book Free Will (this is about crime but it’s the same idea):

      If, after weeks of deliberation, library research, and debate with your friends, you still decide to kill the king – well, then killing the king reflects the sort of person you really are. The point is not that you are the ultimate and independent cause of your actions; the point is that, for whatever reason, you have the mind of a regicide.

  47. michieux
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    I am a billiard ball.

    • Dominic
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      That is a cue for a joke!

  48. Richard Olson
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Free will, determinism, compatibility … a brief, incomplete list of the terms/words/concepts employed in this topic, each with its own sublist of definitions. Comparing and contrasting opposing viewpoints I am led in circles and circles, arriving nowhere that I am able to identify as an explanatory conclusion.

    From evidence which establishes that neuroimaging processes confirm areas of the brain indicate electrochemical activity occurs immediately prior (less than one second, if I understand correctly) to recognizable conscious input resulting in an individual’s decision output, from this it is posited this process within the gray cells results non-conscious, electrochemical, inevitable outcomes. Do I have this right?

    If so, does this posited process not suggest that every human so-called “decision” traces in an infinite regression back to some original, origin-yet-to-be-accounted-for, action which resulted in the initial, very first of its kind, neuronal impulse followed by carbon life entity activity?

    It will be a good thing if I am shown to be wrong about all this. Maybe then I will finally understand something regarding this free will issue, because I am presently way in the dark. Also, I do not include references to godofbiblefreewill, or any other ghost in the machine notions, because that is a theological argument I am not interested in. I’m trying to understand this from a strictly reality perspective.

    post hoc ergo proctor hoc

    • Richard Olson
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      I didn’t notice the latin phrase lingering there at the bottom where it doesn’t belong. It should conclude paragraph two.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      If so, does this posited process not suggest that every human so-called “decision” traces in an infinite regression back to some original, origin-yet-to-be-accounted-for, action which resulted in the initial, very first of its kind, neuronal impulse followed by carbon life entity activity?

      Depends on how life on this planet arose and how we define life, doesn’t it?

      I think you can follow this infinite regression all the way back to the big bang if you want. It’s a butterfly effect question.

  49. Posted October 13, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Well, please excuse me if I didn’t express my thoughts in a more easily understood fashion; I thought I had actually done a fairly good job of avoiding excessive scientific jargon. Quite simply, I believe that everything is predetermined since the Big Bang; I do not believe there is any viable scientific proof for quantum indeterminacy or any other argument for free will.

    Moreover, if you take the time to read my post and access one of the many lay resources, including Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman of the Science Channel (Season 4, Ep. 9 “Do We Have Free Will?”) which actually features the work of Gerard ‘t Hooft — a fellow Determinist and Nobel Prize winner of the Nederlands — you will see how clear a picture of a completely Determinist Universe the best minds in physics have made clear to us.

    Finally, I too am aware of how utterly absurd it is to try to convince someone of anything if one, like myself, actually believes that everything is predetermined. In other words, Nature has already marked out what you, I andor anyone else is going to believe, think or feel-as far as I have come to know–so it’s arguably a logical absurdity to believe that this writing or anything else for that matter is causing anything. However, I do have to express some concern at the continued logical absurdity that I find, including somewhat in Diana’s argument vis a vis the quote about regicide, coming from many people who believe that the physical universe’s deterministic principles somehow do not allow moral ambiguity.

    Quite frankly, as far as we know it and continue to experience it, the Universe(s)–including our Earth and world–have always and will always be ultimately amoral, with a competing balance between what we (mere mortals) refer to as pain/pleasure or evil/good, at best. This is why the only viable approach to metaphysics and ethics from my perspective is nihilism and perhaps Daoism.

    In other words, like David Eagleman of Baylor, I do not believe we can truly blame anyone for committing any crime; on the flip side I don’t believe anyone deserves any special accolades for doing what we refer to as good andor exemplary things. This is why I think largely egalitarian hunter gather societies, such as the Ciboneys of my native Caribbean, were arguably far more in tune with the laws of Nature than our modern, overly stratified rat-race world. But once again it’s all predetermined, so who am I or anyone to judge?

    Whatever Nature wills will be.

    • Chukar
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      “Finally, I too am aware of how utterly absurd it is to try to convince someone of anything if one, like myself, actually believes that everything is predetermined…”

      If humans are determined & lacking free will, it should be noted that the number of inputs into any individual human which have potential to be involved in the determination of their current & future behavior, is enormous. Is it the sheer number of such inputs and the impossibility of predicting their (probably ever-changing) interactions which produces the illusion of free will?

      A human is not a closed system. Continual additional inputs – information, experience, etc. – is a fundamental necessity. Thus, while perhaps ‘determined’, we are not ‘fixed’. We can, and do, change all the time, often the result of new informational inputs. [E.g. add some 'english' to that cue-ball and when the target ball hits the rail, it's rebound will be different.]

      So…do not despair of changing someone’s mind. Just don’t expect to see it happen before your eyes. People tend to retreat while changing their mind.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 4:23 am | Permalink

      You are fundamentally misunderstanding this.

      “Finally, I too am aware of how utterly absurd it is to try to convince someone of anything if one, like myself, actually believes that everything is predetermined”

      If you trying to convince someone of something is part of what is predetermined, then that’s exactly what you’ll do and it will contribute the the ongoing deterministic playing out of the universe (doesn’t that make you feel important?). If not then you won’t. If my pointing this out changes your mind about convincing someone of something than that was also part of what is predetermined. If not, ditto.
      See how it works?

      “it’s arguably a logical absurdity to believe that this writing or anything else for that matter is causing anything.”

      Don’t you understand how illogical your above statement is? For a start it caused me to write this post asking you to consider how illogical your statement is?

      • BillyJoe
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 4:25 am | Permalink

        Sorry for the typos.

      • Posted October 19, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

        In the course of promoting greater enlightenment—which I consider a highly important correlational effect of my consciousness (note I use the word correlational and not causational, as this points to the following elucidations of my world view concerning time, in particular the truths of Time-Symmetry)—it is necessary to share information in the best way. Regarding time and the fallacious, but highly popular/pedestrian, belief in the flow of time from past present future, please read: “Time on the Brain: How You Are Always Living in the Past, And Other Quirks of Perception” and Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point. Also, please do a web search for : Time-Symmetry.

        In particular, here are some excellent quotes of/concerning said works:
        We also build our physics on a recognition of the limits of perception. The whole point of theories such as relativity is to separate objective features of the world from artifacts of our perspective. One of the most important books of the past two decades on the physics and philosophy of time, Huw Price’s Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point, argues that concepts of cause and effect derive from our experience as agents in the world and may not be a fundamental feature of reality. (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2011/09/15/time-on-the-brain-how-you-are-always-living-in-the-past-and-other-quirks-of-perception/)

        Price shows that, for over a century, most physicists have thought about these problems the wrong way. Misled by the human perspective from within time, which distorts and exaggerates the differences between past and future, they have fallen victim to what Price calls the “double standard fallacy”: proposed explanations of the difference between the past and the future turn out to rely on a difference which has been slipped in at the beginning, when the physicists themselves treat the past and future in different ways. To avoid this fallacy, Price argues, we need to overcome our natural tendency to think about the past and the future differently. We need to imagine a point outside time — an Archimedean “view from nowhen” — from which to observe time in an unbiased way.
        Offering a lively criticism of many major modern physicists, including Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking, Price shows that this fallacy remains common in physics today — for example, when contemporary cosmologists theorize about the eventual fate of the universe. The “big bang” theory normally assumes that the beginning and end of the universe will be very different. But if we are to avoid the double standard fallacy, we need to consider time symmetrically, and take seriously the possibility that the arrow of time may reverse when the universe recollapses into a “big crunch.” (http://books.google.com/books?id=WxQ4QIxNuD4C&q=)

        Once again to avoid confusion, let me make it clear in very simple terms what I am saying. It is understandable, given the standard Western European / so-called developed world paradigm(s) of thought, that BillieJoe and most people take it for granted that A in the past causes B in the present. However, as the truths of physics and mathematics prove, our macroscopic, human point of view is highly anthropocentric and fallacious when one compares it to science on the microscopic and/or subatomic levels. In other words, like the theme of the The Matrix, we are living in an illusion. This is not to say this is inherently bad; I have already stated in an earlier post that Nature is amoral and has produced (a) universe(s) which operate according to laws beyond our human limitations. In fact, I’m sure Nature has some very important reason why the standard human brain perceives things in ways incongruent with the greater truths of Creation. Maybe she knows that we/most of us “can’t handle the truth” (Yes that is a reference to A Few Good Men).

  50. Posted October 14, 2013 at 3:43 am | Permalink

    I have to think about this BUT I think I tend to agree with b/.

    Yet there are qualifications because I am not altogether sure that either idea is necessary. I may have said this before at WEIT, but I think as follows:
    There are only aternatives as ideas – real alternatives do not exist as there can be only one outcome & we cannot re-run the situation to see what might have happened (UNLESS you postulate a series of universes where everything that CAN happen happens as universes split whenever there is an alternative path be it for molecule or galaxy. A multiplicity of universes all descended from one, like a family).
    This means altough we make a choice, it is not really a choice.

    Does this make sense?

  51. Posted October 19, 2013 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    Correction: In the course of promoting greater enlightenment—which I consider a highly important correlation to my consciousness [not effect as previously stated, since per Time-Symmetry there is no such thing as cause and effect--contrary to the traditional asymmetric time point of view]. Also from a common sense perspective, if only from the time-lag effect that David Eagleman and others have proven in neuroscience experiments, our minds are not in immediate control of anything; i.e. they are always 80 milliseconds behind actual events. Going further, if one imagines/calculates the accumulation of these lags over the course of an average entire adult human life, the hours that we are actually lagging behind actual events is significant–so even if you still want to believe in free will, it seems virtually impossible biologically. Finally, the experiments/research of John Dylan Haynes show even more dramatically–up to 10 seconds if I remember correctly in terms of when our unconscious minds make decisions for our conscious minds–how much our conscious minds are at best tools of our unconscious and by extension nature / determinism on the whole.

    As childish as this may seem, it’s clear that we, Determinists, are the winners in this debate.

  52. Richard Kloostra
    Posted March 29, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    The other day I looked at a spider building a web as I had this epiphany. It is completely logical that the spider has free will. Without his creative free will he would not have been able to evolve into having a body that can produce silk sticky wires, mount these wires into a nearly invisible web, with the goal to catch these flying beings and have lunch. I have yet to see my laptop clean itself, or grow a larger batterypack. The free will we are all looking for is called life.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted March 29, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Epiphanies are fun. Chopra should be taking notes.

      • Richard Kloostra
        Posted March 29, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        Trying to understand my own epiphany my rational conscious self understands only its own helplessness. I observe a papercut in my hand heal itself in a couple of days. Yet I did not cal 911, or gave any (conscious) order to my body to repair the problem. But I know it was me, doing the repairs.

        Similarly I just know the spider has to have free will. And I just know that my laptop has not.
        How I came to know this, and why this is so, I have no explanations for.
        The difference between the laptop and the spider though I can see and understand; the spider is alive; the laptop is not.

        We should start there, to get a grasp on our existence.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted March 29, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          Sure thing.

          Being alive is a pretty good start when trying to understand your own existence.

        • gbjames
          Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

          I just know that you are wrong about the spider. Where does that leave us?

          • Richard Kloostra
            Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

            The spider is already so much more sophisticated and evolved than humans are.
            Our unhandy attempts to make machines produce silk. He is amused about our efforts to imitate what he can produce with his own body.
            But he does not mind that we are trying, and wishes us all the luck in learning to use our free will to evolve our body into producing silk, or honey, or whatever we want our body to produce. It might take some generations, and we could even try to accelerate it with genetic manipulation. But if we keep on believing that everything is predetermined, we will be stuck with a lot of unhandy and unnecessary machinery.
            Yes I agree, we humans are hopelessly running behind.

            • gbjames
              Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

              I hadn’t realized spiders had such well developed senses of humor!

              • Richard Kloostra
                Posted March 30, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

                Hi gbjames,

                I tried to post this above in response to our above exchange, but it didn’t stick there. So I try here now:

                You are right ofcourse. Sorry.
                Let me ask you then:
                Do you feel more for the ‘everything-is-predetermined’ theory or for the ‘I-think-I-feel-therefore-I-am’ theory?
                In my opinion neither one has been proven conclusively. At best we have hints of evidence, but to complicate things, supporting both theories.
                I go for the latter one.
                I know that I am alive, I know that I make all my decisions, influenced by, but not determined by, other living and non-living things.
                But I do agree that it could be possible that I am a program, predetermined to say this here and today, and just not know that I am a program.
                In either case I would be excerting my free will as I know it.

                greetings,
                Richard

              • gbjames
                Posted March 30, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                Maybe I’m starting to understand.

                Are you a spider?

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 30, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

                I was thinking the same thing! :D

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 29, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Spidey is most likely working on instinct Funny, i had an epiphany that supported our lack of free will. I was listening to a radio` show while driving into work. Sadly, it was about a person who had severe mental illness had killed himself. He had OCD where he had intrusive thoughts. I’ve experienced this myself and it is really awful. He had this so badly that just prior to his suicide, he had told his parents that he felt he was being raped by his thoughts. What a perfect description of what he was going through! Anyway, it occurred to me that thoughts in regular minds spring up and our brains let us believe we consciously caused them when we probably didn’t, we just become aware of them. The difference here is that because this person had OCD, his thoughts were unwelcome and disturbing.

      • Richard Kloostra
        Posted March 29, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        So where did these rapist thoughts come from?
        Was his unconscious self tormenting his conscious self?
        And how does this prove or disprove free will?
        Can free will only be free will if it is concsious?
        In our dreams are we conscious or unconscious?
        Do we feel constrained by anything when dreaming?
        Is it maybe our conscious mind who is the constrained one, looking with surprise, awe and respect at the freedom of our unconscious self?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

          His thoughts sprung up without him doing anything. Generated by his brain without input from his conscious mind or desire to have them. In other words, he didn’t will them into existence.

          • Richard Kloostra
            Posted March 30, 2014 at 3:31 am | Permalink

            Hi Diana,

            How do you conclude that it was without input
            from his conscious mind?
            Is that because of your assumption that the conscious mind could only do that through (measurable) electrical signals?
            Back to the drawing board.

            greetings,
            Richard

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted March 30, 2014 at 8:07 am | Permalink

              Because he didn’t want those thoughts. With OCD, horrible violent thoughts enter the mind uninvited. This is why suffered develop little routines that appear as ticks. The OCD sufferer knows the routines are irrational because they logically won’t affect the outcome, but they are compelled to do them thinking if they do, the violence presented by their thoughts will not occur.

              • Richard Kloostra
                Posted March 30, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

                So who is the ‘he’ that didn’t ‘want’ those thoughts. Seems to me you are disproving your own assumption. To want something is as close as it gets to free will.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 30, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

                Just because the self is an illusion doesn’t mean the organism is one. You also prove my point. He didn’t want these thoughts and it is an example of how he didn’t will them.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Planteada por Jerry Coyne: […]

  2. […] It may have something to do with the laws of motion, but I find I simply cannot forbear responding to Jerry Coyne’s recent reflections on free will. I am going to put the whole post (it’s a short one) here, so that we have it before us as we discuss, but it is, of course, on his blog (sorry, ‘website’), here. […]

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