Questions for compatibilists

A long time ago, everyone thought bachelors were unmarried and that it was wrong for a married man, but not a bachelor, to have sex with multiple people.  Then a philosopher got the bright idea of redefining “bachelor” to include “those married men who didn’t have much sex with their wives.”  That redefinition allowed some married men to think of themselves as free to pursue other women. They were happier.

Although it’s a stretch, something like this seems to me to parallel what has happened with the rise of “compatibilism.” That is the notion that although the universe may be deterministic in a physical way—so that our actions and thoughts are not only determined by the laws of physics, but also predictable if we had enough foreknowledge—we nevertheless have “free will.”  What philosophers did was redefine the meaning of “free will” away from its historical and religious sense, so that “free”, instead of meaning “independent of the strictures of your bodily makeup and environmental influences”, now meant a variety of other things, like, “your decision isn’t being made with a gun to your head.”

There is no one form of compatibilism: various philosophers have suggested various tweaks that allow us to say we have “free will.”

To me, the important aspect of this debate came not from philosophy but from science: we realized that our brains, like all physical objects, are subject to the laws of physics, and there was no way that some nonmaterial spook in one’s head could make “free decisions”. That was something new.

The idea of a deterministic universe, we all agree, was an important one, and so we can conceive of humans as immensely complicated and evolved machines.  That does not mean, of course, that we know exactly how they will behave, for determinism does not equal predictability—unless we have perfect knowledge.

So determinism, and its view that the mind is what the brain does, was a tremendous advance in science. And it completely dispelled the notion of dualistic free will. Here are the questions, then, that I have for compatibilists.

What kind of comparable advance was achieved by redefining “free will” so that the only thing “free” about it was its freedom to accept determinism?

Has compatibilism had an important (or might have a potentially important) influence on humanity or its behavior?

Is compatibilism anything more than a semantic gesture?

How has compatibilism helped us understand the human brain or human behavior?

I see compatibilism as a branch of philosophy, and determinism as something that is largely scientific but has philosophical implications. And—I won’t pull any punches here—I don’t think compatibilism is of any importance to humanity.

Now when I say that “compatibilism was confected to allow humans to have free will and avoid the notion that we’re automatons,” I’m pretty serious. In response, people tell me that “compatibilism has a long and distinguished history,” and was not a response to determinism.

I’m not convinced about that, because determinism itself has a long and distinguished history.  Here are two examples:

Spinoza (in Ethics): ″the infant believes that it is by free will that it seeks the breast; the angry boy believes that by free will he wishes vengeance; the timid man thinks it is with free will he seeks flight; the drunkard believes that by a free command of his mind he speaks the things which when sober he wishes he had left unsaid. … All believe that they speak by a free command of the mind, whilst, in truth, they have no power to restrain the impulse which they have to speak.″

Laplace: “We ought to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the state that is to follow. An intelligence knowing all the forces acting in nature at a given instant, as well as the momentary positions of all things in the universe, would be able to comprehend in one single formula the motions of the largest bodies as well as the lightest atoms in the world, provided that its intellect were sufficiently powerful to subject all data to analysis; to it nothing would be uncertain, the future as well as the past would be present to its eyes. The perfection that the human mind has been able to give to astronomy affords but a feeble outline of such an intelligence.”

Since determinism has been around for a long time, it’s not inconceivable that compatibilism did arise to counteract determinism, and make us feel that we really did have free agency.

But, ignoring that, I still want to know why compatibilism is considered a serious achievement in philosophy. Contrary to determinism, which does have serious implications for how we live our lives and run our societies, compatibilism is an arcane backwater of philosophy. It is not a philosophical achievement on the order of, say, Singer’s arguments for animal rights, which have real practical consequences, or Rawls’s musings on justice, which makes us rethink how we conceive of fairness and people’s rights.  I see no practical consequences of compatibilism save soothing the distress of people who, upon finally grasping determinism, get distressed that they are puppets on the strings of physical laws.

Which is pretty much how it is.

439 Comments

  1. Cara
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Subscribe.

    • gbjames
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      sub

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        3

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Sub

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      This time I will click the check boxes.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

        Worry not, there’s no way you could have ticked them the first time around ;)

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:15 am | Permalink

          :)

  3. JimV
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I think that one can accept some form of determinism (in mine, creatures which have a complex nervous system are in principle capable of acting unpredictably even if the predictors had perfect knowledge of the universe up to the moment of the decision to act) and still not consider humans to be automatons, depending on your definition of automaton.

    Which (automaton) to me would be a non-self-programming entity which could not change its mind or otherwise overcome hard-wired behavior. Which would mean no creationist would ever become convinced of evolution’s validity and no theist would ever become an atheist; and there would be no science. Granted, such behavior is rare.

    So in my view, humans are biological machines with brains analogous to self-programming computers – but not automatons.

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      I find this a confusing story. We know that human preferences are to large degree depended on either genetics and upbringing. So to a large degree, we can say that humans are preprogrammed. Even if we can change our preferences by absorbing new information, then still the processing and its outcomes are shaped by the pre-existing programming.

      • JimV
        Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        Which is why a self-programmed entity can still be deterministic, albeit not an automaton. I’m not sure where your confusion lies. I’m saying that if I understand the word “automaton” (with some support from my dictionary), no one need fear that determinism necessarily means that people are automatons.

        I would have to understand exactly what people mean by “free will” or the lack thereof to decide whether I believe in it or not (probably not, though), but I believe people can change their minds. Reluctantly.

    • JBlilie
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      in mine, creatures which have a complex nervous system are in principle capable of acting unpredictably even if the predictors had perfect knowledge of the universe up to the moment of the decision to act

      This is not determinism.

      • JimV
        Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        I’m relying on quantum mechanics for my unpredictability which according to the physicists whom I read is still a deterministic theory even though it has a random component.

        • Leigh Jackson
          Posted October 26, 2013 at 4:27 am | Permalink

          The wave equation evolves deterministically. Predictions in QM are probabilistic, but the probabilities are 100% precise. We know the odds that are being offered by God for what we will observe. (Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen.) Decoherence renders the world of common experience deterministic. Free will is supposed to be a matter of common experience. The question is where does QM fit in to decision making, if at all? Other stochastic processes go on in the brain. Relevant or not?

    • ppnl
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Self programming makes predictions more complex but in the end determinism is still determinism.

      It appears that the universe itself is not fully deterministic but it remains to be shown how this creates anything worthy of the title “free will”.

    • Posted October 29, 2013 at 4:38 am | Permalink

      Try: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automaton#Etymology

      Why are we not automatons?

  4. Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Compatibilism is not a “serious achievement” in philiosophy or anything like it. It’s the next step after you’ve moved to determinism.

    So, one can proclaim determinism and the death of classical contra-causal free will again and again and again. And anyone doing that is entirely right to do so.

    But, eventually, you’ll get round to asking questions such as: Why do we use the word “choice” for things like a chess computer picking a move or a child picking an ice-cream flavour? What do we mean by “choice” in such circumstances (given deteminism)? What are, for example, aircraft auto-pilots doing that a house brick is not?

    We’ll then arrive at the concept that some entities have “goals” or “desires” (even when deterministic), and such entities (children, chess computers, autopilots) may make a deterministic picking from options in order to attain such goals.

    And we can ask to what extent they are “free” or “constrained” to make that “choice”. E.g. the autopilot may not have the option of adjusting the rudder beyond a certain angle, even if it “wants” to.

    When you start asking these questions about a deterministic world, then the answers you give are what is described as “compatibilism”.

    • eric
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      The game-playing computer is an interesting case, as it may be beneficial for the computer to ‘roll the dice’ on occasion. Put another way: in a competitive game, the strategic benefit gained from being occasionally unpredictable may outweigh the tactical benefit of always choosing the optimal move.

      While being programmed to let some choices be pseudo-random might not be JAC or anyone else’s definition of free will, it certainly does make for a much more interesting robot, with different layers of determinism. The robot may have some some deterministic strategic goal,which occasionally forces the robot to perform nondeterministic (but still not “chosen”) behavior as the best way to reach it.

      • BillyJoe
        Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:09 am | Permalink

        Actually, the roll of the dice occurs often, otherwise the program would run forever.

  5. Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I agree wholeheartedly with your points about compatibilism. In fact, the specious nature of compatibilism has irked me for quite a while; perhaps more importantly, however, I’ve continued to wonder why society, especially of academia, (and Nature in general) not only allows but seems to encourage such a trite realm of thought / discourse to thrive, as evidenced by the large number of tenurial professors who espouse its questionable tenets. Going further, even though I am a Determinist and a Daoist and regularly appreciate that the workings of our predetermined universe(s) are beyond the reach of criticism ultimately–in other words no matter how much we think about or question things, they are blamelessly part of Nature’s Quantum Deterministic ways and our best bet is probably just accepting them–I still can’t help wondering why Nature has produced a universe, especially in our human realm, that allows for such bizarre idiosyncrasies as evidenced in the daily absurdities of human existence. Even though Albert Camus believed in free will, I have to forgive him for that oversight and he remains one of my favorite writers and thinkers if only for capturing the essence of the inevitably absurd condition of human existence. So perhaps even for Determinists, it’s best to–like Camus–accept our world for what it is, full of confusion and noise including of compatibilist academics–and almost inevitably absurd.

    • Frank Williams
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      C’mon now – you’re just saying what you’re predetermined to say, regardless of whether it’s true or false; how could predetermined beings possibly know whether they speak truly or falsely?

      • Posted October 29, 2013 at 5:02 am | Permalink

        It depends on what you mean by ‘knowing’.

        But predetrmined beings could be in a state whereby their brains are convinced they have free will, free of the predetermined causes. As such, that free will would be an illusion.

        Even actual dualist free will, if it were the case, would still be a problem. If such freely willed beings could tell where their willed decisions came from, they might either invent ‘soul’ or ‘mind’, or might presume, through correlation, that their will was caused deterministically by the physical brain.

        So, with no reasoned proof either way, all we are left with, as usualm is evidence. The claim that free will is real in some sense has no evidence. All the evidence of causation as we understand it suggests natural non-teleological physics. There is no evidence that we have free will.

    • Vaal
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Opinion noted.

      Though, I’d be more interested if you had an actual argument against compatibilism.
      (One that is not, for instance, question-begging, inconsistent or based on a straw-man, as so often seems the case from people ridiculing compatibilism).

      I could swayed towards incompatibilsm if you had such an argument.

      Cheers,

      Vaal

  6. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    According to Daniel Dennett, free will is a concept we live with and bring to service in our behavior, morality, law, etc. Just because deep down it is apparently predictable (if we had enough data points) it doesn’t mean it is less real in our world. For example, nothing is really solid, but solidity is real to us. Also, there is no such thing as color, but it is certainly real to us.

    • Stephen Lumini
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      I really like the solid/insoluble comparision. Energy and Matter are different but the hammer still smashes my thumb.

      As a matter of progression, I would reorder the two middle questions that Jerry posted:
      Is compatibilism anything more than a semantic gesture? No – not really
      ..important influence..? Yes – precisely because of the perception. “it’s not inconceivable that compatibilism did arise to counteract determinism, and make us feel that we really did have free agency.” I agree, but the importance of the difference is best summed up by pointing to the placebo effect. What we believe can have more impact on us than what is objective.

    • Kevin
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      Dennett’s concept of free will is a pragmatic one. We all act as if we have free will, even if we do not. Free will is as real to us as consciousness is. Yet the consciousness comes from the brain, wholly determined by particles and fields.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      It seems to me to boil down to Schopenhauer’s assertion “Man can do what he wills but not will what he wills”.
      We are to some degree in the grip of our will which in turn is in some sense blind, giving us a sense of purpose, but the purpose itself is purposeless.

    • Posted October 29, 2013 at 5:05 am | Permalink

      Yes. We live with the illusion. Free will is an illusion. Deep down our choices are caused (as far as we can tell).

      It may ‘feel’ real to us, to the extent that you might be tempted to say “it is real to us”, but that does not make it real, as a feature of the universe.

  7. Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Place a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, pour in a tablespoon or two of coconut oil and immediately add about a quarter cup per person of popcorn kernels. Put the lid on the pan and shake constantly while keeping the pan over the heat source. When popping slows, dump the popcorn into a bowl. Melt a tablespoon or two of butter in the pan using the residual heat. Drizzle over the popcorn, sprinkle about a quarter teaspoon of salt per person over the popcorn, toss, and serve immediately. Best results are obtained from a Whirley Pop popper; if using one, melt the butter by some other means, such as in a metal measuring cup over low heat on another burner.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • darrelle
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      Can I get some parmesan cheese on mine?

      • Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        Certainly! There’s a block of Reggiano in the butter compartment in the ‘fridge, and a grater in the bottom cupboard to the right of the stove.

        b&

      • darrelle
        Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:35 am | Permalink

        Holy Crap! I check out for a day and this thing blossoms to 220 comments!

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:38 am | Permalink

          You snooze, you lose. :-)

          • darrelle
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:41 am | Permalink

            So right. At least I have some entertainment for today.

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

              Ditto. I’m going through the thread to see if I missed something. I need coffee! :-)

        • lisa parker
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          Really! When I logged on this afternoon, I had 7 pages of e-mail!

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

            :-D

    • JBlilie
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Whirly-pops rock!

      • Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        Amen!

        I’ve never cared overly much for microwaved popcorn. Whatever the greasy stuff is in there, it’s not butter, and there’s always too much salt. I always used to make popcorn in a saucepan. Once I got the Whirley Pop, I can no longer even imagine using a microwave.

        b&

        • JBlilie
          Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

          I’ve finally de-converted my wife away from the microwave and back to the Whirly! REAL popcorn! With REAL butter!

          Some in my household (not naming names) think that the occassional movement of the crank on the Whirly suffices for wellmade popcorn. I have continued to display the graven tablets that clearly state that only continuous actuation of the crank produces a properly made bowl of popcorn. Skeptics remain …

          • Diane G.
            Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

            For those who are still unconverted:

            http://nowiknow.com/orville-redenbachers-worst-nightmare/

            • Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

              Ugh. Now I know. Thanks for moving me from the “don’t care for microwaved popcorn” straight to the “will not eat microwaved popcorn” camp!

              b&

          • Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

            Absolutely right.

            I’ve also found, contrary to what I remember of the instructions, that you get better results with faster initial churning, and then slowing down as the pot begins to fill to avoid breaking the kernels.

            But, yes. From the instant the kernels hit the pot, the crank should start turning and not stop until the heavenly manna contained therein has been emptied into a warm bowl.

            Mmmm…I know what’s for dessert tonight!

            b&

  8. Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    To me, your third question is the most important. It seems to me that the only real difference between compatibilists and non-compatibilists is their definitions of “free will.” It is a semantic argument. We agree on the physics, chemistry, and biology. My understanding is this (correct me if I’m wrong…I’m looking at you, Vaal) Compatibilists are basically saying, “if the phrase free will is to have any meaning at all, it applies to our perceived ability to make decisions in our everyday life, and therefore, we have it.” Ben Goren would say, “the phrase free will has no meaning at all.” Most of the rest of us here would say, “to use free will in the way compatibilists do is misleading. It implies that our decisions and actions are not constrained by a deterministic universe. It’s neither accurate, nor helpful, to use it that way.”

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      That’s my understanding as well. Compatibilists and non – compatibilists agree on everything except the definition.

    • Posted October 29, 2013 at 5:10 am | Permalink

      “Compatibilists are basically saying, “if the phrase free will is to have any meaning at all, it applies to our perceived ability to make decisions in our everyday life, and therefore, we have it.””

      Which is why I diagree with them too. It has a perfectly coherent meaning, as dualist free will. As either philosophical dualism of the free non-material ‘mind’ or the free and sinful ‘soul’ of the theist, these are very clear uses of the term, to which both incompatibilists and compatibilists are opposed. Why confuse the argument by using the term to mean what it does not mean.

  9. Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    “Compatibilism” used to confuse me until I actually did the course I have alluded to.

    There it was pretty clear what the terminology is on about: it isn’t “free will” per se that is “compatible” with determinism, but the related question of moral responsibility for action (or maybe, moral responsibility period, sometimes). These are connected, because it is traditionally (e.g., in Christian theology) held that moral responsibility requires free will in some nebulous and “non-naturalistic” sense.

    This actually was the main point of the course; it was scheduled as a graduate class in moral philosophy, not in metaphysics or the like.

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      If a car crashes because the brake line springs a leak, the brake line is said to be responsible. If a car crashes because it skidded on the ice, the ice is said to be responsible. Responsibility obtains in deterministic systems. In fact, how could we say we assign responsibility in non-deterministic systems? Kim’s pairing problem. The moral problem does not lie in our conception of responsibility; it lies in our concept of justice. Does it make sense for us to try to rectify what should have been if that saying is incoherent? Or should we do our best to reconcile what is (restorative justice, or at least some version of it)?

      • eric
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        how could we say we assign responsibility in non-deterministic systems?

        In such a case, you ask: did the people take reasonable actions to prevent going into a non-deterministic system, or not? If they took reasonable precautions against it, they aren’t responsible. If they didn’t, they are.

        So, if my car passenger flips a coin, tells me to suddenly swerve left or right depending on the toss, and I do it, I’m responsible for the resulting accident. If my passenger flips the coin tells me to swerve, I respond “hell no,” and they grab the wheel and force me to swerve, I’m not responsible – they are. I took a reasonable precaution against going into a non-deterministic system.

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

          Thanks for agreeing with me. The problem is just with what makes coin-flip a method of problem resolution for the driver. I’m assuming that you think there is some causal explanation, even if that explanation can be summarized as “he’s bat-sh*t crazy”. Isn’t that the case unless he flipped a coin to decide whether or not to flip a coin to decide whether or not to flip a coin to decide whether or not to flip a coin…?

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

          Responsibility in this sense is pointing to the most immediate and focused point of causation of some event, such as a car crash.

          If several car mechanics can’t get to the bottom of why a car’s brakes keep failing it comes to a point of utility to say the car is responsible, take it of the road, scrap it, it’s not worth spending more money on it. But we would all agree that there must be some underlying explanation for the problem.

          If a killer is imprisoned, released and kills again, then as a point of utility he needs to be taken ‘off the road’. It me just about possible to investigate his history and point to some causes for his behaviour, and maybe scan his brain and note something interesting. But as yet he is unlikely to be fixable.

          The difference in these two is the complexity of the two systems. The first would be solvable, but may not be worth it. The second is mostly beyond our ability to fix.

  10. eric
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I still want to know why compatibilism is considered a serious achievement in philosophy.

    As far as I can tell its not an “achievement” at all – its an untested hypothesis.

    Now, I don’t count it a fault or problem that the hypothesis came about after scientific determinism (if it did). To me, historical response vs. historically idendependent isn’t really the main argument. The main argument is how it could work (i.e., the mechanism which produces free will out of deterministic particles) and is there any evidence supporting the hypothesis. Right now, philosophy’s position on those questions seems to be “we have no mechanism” and “not yet.”

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      As far as I can tell its not an “achievement” at all – its an untested hypothesis.

      Most people who are against compatibilism don’t understand it, and I suggest that your suggesting that it is an “untested hypothesis” shows that you don’t understand what compatibilism entails.

      … the mechanism which produces free will out of deterministic particles …

      There is no mystery here, we can actually *build* devices that have compatibilist free will. Chess-playing computers and aircraft auto-pilots are examples. There is no mystery or “untested hypothesis” about this.

      • JBlilie
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        How is there any free will in an airplane autopilot?

        If pure reaction to data inputs according to a pre-designed algorythm constitutes free will, then the phrase can’t have any significant meaning.

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

          The phrase does have meaning. Yes it is entirely deterministic, but the autopilot has a goal (= “will”), and it can assess its environment, and deterministically pick (= degree of freedom) from a range of options in order to pursue that goal.

          A house brick doesn’t and can’t. That’s the difference.

          In many ways our brains are just a hugely complex auto-pilot, programmed with goals such as survival and reproduction.

          Would you agree that cats pursue goals and pick options towards those ends, in a way that house bricks do not? If so, let’s adopt some words to describe that (deterministic) behaviour.

          • JBlilie
            Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

            “If so, let’s adopt some words to describe that (deterministic) behaviour”

            Now we’re talking.

            • Posted October 29, 2013 at 5:30 am | Permalink

              As long as it’s not ‘free will’, which has significant meaning to dualists theists. It really doesn’t help in discussions with them.

              And compatibilists usually disassociate themselves from the expression “free will is an illusion”. Why? We really do feel as if our will is something that appears ucaused. We cannot feel the physical causes of it. It fees free. That is illusory.

          • Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

            I think if you told most people that they have free will in the same way that airplane autopilot programs have free will it wouldn’t go over vey well.

            • BillyJoe
              Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:25 am | Permalink

              yeah, they want a free and willed freewill not an unfree and unwilled freewill

          • BillyJoe
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:23 am | Permalink

            Congratulations, you’ve just defined freewill out of existence!

            • Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:43 am | Permalink

              Dualist freewill doesn’t exist; free will as understood by compatibilists does.

          • Posted October 29, 2013 at 5:31 am | Permalink

            I’d suggest we do understand it, but simply disagree with the use of the term ‘free will’ being used as compatibilists use it.

            “There is no mystery here, we can actually *build* devices that have compatibilist free will.”

            Then you are also building devices that do not have dualist free will. You are also building devices that do not have free will according to incompatibilists.

            I understand what you say free will is. I and many others are disagreeing that what you are talking about is free will at all. Qualifying it with ‘compatibilist’ is merely taking non-free will and labelling it free will. The term ‘free will’ is a coherent term that is still used by theists to mean contra-causal free will. It is a necessary concept for them to attribute sin to humans. It was best defined by the theist Descartes.

            “The phrase does have meaning. Yes it is entirely deterministic, but the autopilot has a goal (= “will”), and it can assess its environment, and deterministically pick (= degree of freedom) from a range of options in order to pursue that goal. ”

            Yes. It has degrees of freedom. But you’re really stretching the case here, taking the well understood term, ‘free will’, then dissecting it in the way you do. I can just about agree that human ‘will’ is analogous to the goal of an auto-pilot, but that will of the human and goal of the auto-pilot is not free, it is not a goal free of constraint but a goal specifically caused by programming; and human will is caused by all the emotions and history that cause us to have willed goals. The degrees of freedom notion is the extent to which that goal, that will, can be enacted by the machinery, the extent to which the machinery can be made by the system to achieve the goal, the will. The will is not free. The goal is not free. It is the implementation of the goal or the will that has degrees of freedom.

            It is the compatibilist that is confused in talking about the degrees of freedom to implement a goal, while calling the goal free; talking about the degrees of freedom a human has to implement their will, while calling the will itself free.

            • Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

              Shorter version of your comment: “We INcompatibilists demand that we get to say what the term means”.

              There’s no need to give lengthy explanations that what we compatibilists call CFW doesn’t qualify as FW by your usage of the term — we do understand that! We do understand that CFW is entirely determined by the prior state of the system.

              • Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

                So it really is a debate over semantics.

                And I’ve yet to see a convincing argument for what’s so special about the oxymoronic term, “free will,” that it deserves to be wrested from its woo-soaked heritage and re-defined to this new meaning that’s the express opposite of the original.

                Really, you’d need some sort of incredibly overwhelmingly powerful reason to justify such an herculean task, and the best I’ve come across is, “Well, if only the dualists understood reality they’d see that what they’re calling black is really white, so we should make ‘black’ the new ‘white.'” In my book, that doesn’t cut much mustard.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

                Yep, it really, really is a debate over semantics! We point this out repeatedly, and still the incompatibilists continually rail at us as though we were closet dualists.

                ” … what’s so special about the oxymoronic term, “free will,” that …”

                What’s so special about the term that the “free” in it is taken to mean anything different from what it means in:

                free speech
                free radical
                free association
                free market
                freedom of religion
                free-form verse
                free kick
                free vote
                free skating
                free trade
                free pardon
                free pass
                free of charge
                free love
                free energy
                free fall ?

                None of these imply violations of the laws of physics. Why insist that the only allowable usage of “free will” does?

              • Posted October 29, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

                False equivocation. Free speech, free association, freedom of religion, free trade — all are activities free from government interference. Many of the others refer to no money being required for the object or service.

                As I already tried to tell Vaal, just because a lawyer might not charge you for estate planning, the fact that that’s a very real free will is irrelevant.

                When you consider what the will must be free of, you discover that such freedom destroys the will. Alternatively, freedom cannot exist when constrained by a will. It is an oxymoron, pure and simple.

                “Married” and “bachelor are both perfectly valid terms, until you put the two together to refer to the same individual. “Free” and “will” are no different.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:35 am | Permalink

                So “free” is an entirely valid term on its own. What does “free” mean to you?

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 6:39 am | Permalink

                It depends on the context, of course. My dictionary has at least a dozen definitions, about at many idioms, and a bit more.

                In the context of “free will,” my dictionary’s definition is just fine: “the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability toact at one’s own discretion.” Even ignoring the supernaturalistic implications of the word, “fate,” it is of necessity that actions be constrained by the laws of nature. Well, that’s something that’s not only never been observed but would invalidate everything we understand about the way the universe works.

                Can you note that you can act without the constraint of the Gleibfrigmartins, an especially intelligent race some dozens of billions of light-years away, just this side of the edge of our observable universe? Sure. But the question isn’t how many constraints you can identify that don’t apply; the question is whether any constraints apply at all. And, with as bit a whopper of a constraint as physics, who cares about all the other inconsequentialities?

                Really, I’m reminded of nothing in this discussion so much as the Romans. Aside from the laws of physics, and the requirement to eat (which goes without saying)…what is it that restricts us?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

                You dictionary thus gives definitions. The first does indeed seem incompatibilist (though is unclearly phrased). The second definition, after the semi-colon, is the compatibilist one.

                This suggests that the “meaning” of the term isn’t as clear cut as incompatibilists make out.

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

                How, precisely, does one act NOT at the discretion of the laws of nature?

                b&

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

                The definition isn’t “at the discretion of the laws of nature”, it is “at one’s own discretion”, meaning “at the discretion of one subset of the local material stuff”, and thus lacking constraints from the other material stuff around. Again, this is the compatibilist definition.

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

                As I previously noted: apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

                Apart from the laws of physics, the need to eat, the need to eliminate, the need to maintain good hygiene, the lust to reproduce, the inability to play a double high C on the trumpet, the inability to fly, the requirement to pay and file taxes, the lack of eyes at the back of the head, the inability to hold my breath for more than a minute or so, and that damaged nerve at the tip of my left index finger, what constrains me?

                What you propose for compatibilist free will is that a prisoner locked in an 8′ x 8′ cell has more free will than one in a 6′ x 6′ cell, and that’s just crazy.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

                Yep, a prisoner in a larger cell does have slightly more freedom of the will. And it’s not crazy, compatibilists to indeed regard such things as continua.

                And things that are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things (such as, say, whether you can publicly post your views on the selection for the local football team, but not on the validity of the local religion) do matter to humans, and thus it is sensible that we have words for such things.

                As *always* with anti-CFW arguments, you are actually arguing against *dualist* FW, where it would be a binary yes/no.

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

                …and what you fail to see is that the freedom you’re proposing is dualist free will.

                You are every bit as constrained by the laws of physics as each of those prisoners are by their bars.

                There is no such thing as freedom from constraint.

                You are arguing for a woman three days after implantation after an unnoticed contraception failure as being “just the tiniest little bit pregnant” because there isn’t any way she could even suspect that she’s pregnant.

                You might wish for this to be a fine-grained continuum, but, even within the context of looking for degrees of freedom, we find that we are automata operating according to our natures and it is only a quirk of said natures that presents us with the illusion that we could have done otherwise. A very similar version of us with a minor alteration would actually have done otherwise, sure — but that’s not us. A radically different variation on our basic theme would actually do something radically different; but, again, that’s not us.

                In short, you will do what you will; you are not free to do what you do not will; and your will is not free to alter itself. You only think otherwise because such a large part of your conscious experience lies in your will working through its projections of outcomes, and its navigation of such has you realistically imagining those alternatives as if you were living them out. But you don’t even have any choice in whether or not to imagine such things, and you certainly have no choice in which one of those things you imagine will be the one your will settles on as the best course of action.

                The only way to escape is via the incoherent and nonexistent notion of duality, in which you are somehow not your will.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

                Here you once again argue for determinism against determinists (as all compatibilists are). We do agree with you!

                You are indeed correct that there is no such thing as “freedom from any and all constraints”, but there *is* freedom from *particular* constraints.

                For example someone might have the constraint of handcuffs while another person doesn’t.

                It is about those *differences* in constraints that the compatibilist uses the term “free”, just as in “free speech”.

                (And you don’t need the long screeds arguing for determinism — we compatibilists are determinists! And we’re astonished that incompatibilists never seem to get that basic concept about compatibilists!)

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

                You are indeed correct that there is no such thing as freedom from any and all constraints, but there *is* freedom from *particular* constraints.

                The dictionary and longstanding common usage all agree that “free will” means “freedom from any and all constraints.” And even one constraint would invalidate the dictionary and common definitions of “free will.” Just as one teeny tiny little blastocyst would make a woman pregnant, or a mere second of marriage would make a man not a bachelor.

                So, again, it is only the compatibilists who are trying to redefine a word into its opposite meaning.

                Nobody contests that the potential constraints on action are diverse. Only the compatibilists think that has any bearing on the matter.

                Indeed, I cannot imagine a dualist seeing how being in chains would have any bearing whatsoever on one’s free will; it’s an entirely tangential question — that of whether or not you have the freedom to act on your will, not on whether or not your will itself is free.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

                It’s not true that dictionaries “agree that “free will” means “freedom from any and all constraints””. The second definition, after the semi-colon, that you gave was “the ability to act at one’s own discretion”. That is a compatibilist meaning.

                Once again you are simply declaring that you own the language. There are long-standing usages of the term in different senses than yours.

              • Kelton Barnsley
                Posted October 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                Compatibilists are the ones who are claiming to own the language! I’d bet ten thousand dollars that the “long-standing” meaning of “free will” in most cultures (with the possible exception of some east asian cultures) means the freedom to act against the dictates of determinism and chance. The only reason we’re having this debate is because most people think that we’ll lose something important (and gain nothing better) if we admit to ourselves that we don’t have free will, not because the concept of free will has any great intellectual merit. The compatibilist position is simply a way to preserve the illusion while pretending you’ve transcended it. In that sense, it is like accommodationism – you’re still halfway to crazy town.

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

                No, compatibilists are not trying to own the language. We entirely agree that the dualist meaning of “free will” is a widespread and long-standing meaning of the phrase.

                And you are totally and utterly wrong about the motivations of compatibilists. We are not pining after dualism.

              • Kelton Barnsley
                Posted October 30, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

                If you admit that the phrase “free will” has historically meant freedom from determinism and chance, and you claim that compatibilists aren’t pining after this brand of free will, then why continue using the misleading phrase “free will”? Why not use a compatibilist definition of God while you’re at it? As in: God just means, like, the interconnectedness of the Universe, man. It doesn’t have to refer to a supernatural being.

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

                I admit that **one** of the long-standing meanings of “free will” has been the dualist one. There is also a long-standing tradition of using it in the compatibilist sense.

                Again, it’s the incompatibilists who are trying to own the language and rule that no other usage is acceptable, not the compatibilists.

                As for “why use “free” in the compatibilist sense?”, because all other usages of “free” have that sense, they are not about violating the laws of physics.

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:03 am | Permalink

                The use of ‘free’ depends on what it is qualifying, and on what the qualified thing is free of.

                In ‘free will’ the use of ‘free’ is qualifying the will, and in contra-causal free will, dualist free will, it is very clear that ‘free’ is declaring the will to be free of physical causes in this material universe. So this is the ‘free will’ that is incompatible with determinism.

                So, yes, using ‘free’ in this context is just fine. This is the sense in which the term is used by both dualists and incompatiblists.

                And, ‘free speech’, as far as I’m aware is not about speech that is free of physical causes.

                “Dualist freewill doesn’t exist” – I agree it doesn’t. But try telling that to the dualists – while also telling them that free will is compatible with determinism.

                The concept of dualist free will certainly does exist. It is a concept instantiated in the brains of dualists. And it is also a concept instantiated in my brain and yours too. That’s the point. We know what the concept of dualist free will is about; but we are arguing that it does not exist.

                As far as I’m concerned God does not exist. But the concept of God is well established. So, how far do you think we’d move on if we started to argue that the compatibilist God does exist and that the supernatural one does not? The compatibilist God is not an illusion?

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 4:10 am | Permalink

                Hi Ron,

                You accept that in “free speech” the “free” does not mean that the speech is not physically caused, it means that the exercise of the speech is not externally constrained.

                If you accept this for one usage of “free” (indeed the vast majority of usages of “free”) then it doesn’t seem to me utterly outlandish to use the same meaning in the context of “will”. (But, again, the difference is mere semantics.)

                As for talking to dualists. The incompatibilists say:

                (1) You do not have free will, you are not making choices, everything is determined.

                To which the dualist tends to think: “but I am making choices, and I feel my will all the time”.

                The compatibilist says to the dualist:

                (2) The will that you experience is the product of your low-level brain machinery, the choices that you make are made by your unconscious brain, just following the laws of physics.

                This has the advantage that it is not appearing to deny anything that the person experiences, it is explaining what they experience.

                Now, again, the difference between (1) and (2) is mere semantics. But the incompatibilists seem to assume that (1) is the far better language to persuade dualists. I don’t see that, I would suggest that (2) is just as good a away, or perhaps even better, at persuading dualists.

      • eric
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        On one hand, thank you for a relatively clear response that helps me understand what you mean by compatibilist free will (let’s give in an acronym. CFW)

        On the other, I really don’t think the majority of people arguing for human CFW are defining it in a way that chess-playing computers and autopilot systems have it. Do you really, honestly think that the CFW-supporting community shares your definition? Do you think that when Dennett stands up and says we have CFW, he’s arguing we are autopilot systems, no more no less? Or do you think your position represents a very small minority?

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

          Remembering that in this definition CFW is a continuum (just like intelligence), yes I do think Dennett and other compatibilists are arguing for this.

          • eric
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

            I think you’re wrong in that, but that’s jut my opinion.

            I think in fact you’ve got the situation reversed. I think philosohpers and others are invoking the CFW concept in order to reject the notion that we are autopilots, not to support it.

  11. NewEnglandBob
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I can’t help myself to say I think you are right.

  12. Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I cannot respond to the many questions you ask, most of which present false dilemmas. I will simply offer two suggestions:

    1) Compatibilist theories of free will (along with naturalistic theories of the mind, including consciousness and rationality) provide an important scientific research program, one that your views might seem to preclude. How is it that the incredibly complex brain, in accord with the laws of nature, whether deterministic of (quantum) indeterministic, supports the capacities that compatibilists associate with free will, including the capacities to reflect on our desires and reasons, to (consciously) envision future outcomes that depend on what decisions we make, to decide in light of such reasoning, and to control our actions accordingly? Philosophers can help analyze these capacities and the metaphysical requirements for them (e.g., what is a capacity, an opportunity, a causal power?). And scientists can, and do, study these capacities. For instance, psychologists study the conditions under which conscious processes make a difference to behavior–and when they do not, perhaps suggesting limitations on (compatibilist) free will. Neuroscientists can study the neural processes subserving such capacities, including when and why they do not work properly. Evolutionary theorists can study the selective pressures and history of such capacities (how did humans evolve to have them). And so on.

    You will say that none of this research is relevant to free will, because these capacities do not fit the one true definition of free will. I will say that research (e.g., by my collaborators and me) suggests that most people do not understand free will in the way you define it (and they certainly do not understand it as limited to that definition alone).

    2) This means that compatibilism can also play an important practical role in the context of the current discussions, which include claims by people like you and Harris suggesting that the modern scientific view entails that we “are puppets on the strings of physical laws” or (as you say in your USAToday column) that we don’t have any choices. Such claims might easily be interpreted to mean that our conscious reasoning has no effect on anything and that our efforts of self-control are not worth making, that our compatibilist capacities are bypassed. And a naturalistic and scientific worldview does *not* suggest these mis-interpretations. Nor does determinism. Compatibilism can help *correct* the misguided view of those who think free will requires magical abilities to act outside the physical laws, a view you think (from the armchair) is true by definition.

    To be clear, I am open to the possibility that the best way to make our society (and our legal system) more humane and compassionate is to tell people free will is an illusion, ideally being careful to explain exactly what is illusory. But my prediction is that telling people that science shows we are just automatons or puppets controlled by the laws of physics is more likely to lead to dehumanization. Better to tell people the truth–that we are not (metaphysically) what some of us thought (e.g., non-physical entities); that nonetheless we have most of the mental capacities we think (including those we might have thought were based in souls rather than brains); and that we are also discovering that some of these capacities are less substantial than we typically have thought, such that we have *less* free will, and indeed, we should attend closely to (and scientifically study) the sorts of situations (biological and sociological) that limit these capacities for free will, so that we are both more understanding towards the people in those situations and might find ways to improve those situations.

    • eric
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      1) Compatibilist theories of free will (along with naturalistic theories of the mind, including consciousness and rationality) provide an important scientific research program

      Okay, I’m game. Tell me the experimental protocol that can distinguish between a compatibilist mind and a deterministic one. Explain the research progam to me.

      You’ve clearly got some experience with the experiments testing conscious choice, but those don’t really distingish between the hypotheses. The compatibilist can always claim the choice resides in whatever subconscious brain activity is correlating with the external behavior.

      psychologists study the conditions under which conscious processes make a difference to behavior–and when they do not, perhaps suggesting limitations on (compatibilist) free will.

      Now we’re getting somewhere! It is good to see someone sticking their neck out and proposing the hypothesis that compatibilist free will requires conscious choice. I very much support you in efforts to determine how much influence conscious processes have on behavior. That seems like a reasonable way to proceed: develop a testable hypothesis/definition of free will. Go out and test it. Report results. And the fact that you take mixed results as indicated limited free will shows you’re not simply protecting a conclusion by revising your definition. That’s great.

      But I fear that you are the exception not the rule. The rule being either such squishy definitions that they are funcitonally untestable. Or definitions that are constantly revised when they fail – compatibilists that respond to 1,000 failures to detect their N-ray not with “there is no N-ray” but with “hmmm,let’s try N-ray hypothesis variant 1,001…”

      • Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        Okay, I’m game. Tell me the experimental protocol that can distinguish between a compatibilist mind and a deterministic one.

        A compatibilist mind **is** a deterministic one! Of course you could not distinguish between them! If you could it would not be “compatibilism”.

        • eric
          Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

          Okay, tell me how you would do an experiment that distingishes between a CFW mind and a no-FW mind.

          • Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

            A brain trapped in an entirely paralysed body would be close to a non-FW mind (as in, no freedom, not no will). (Though not entirely so, since it could still deterministically choose thought patterns.)

            The whole point of a “mind” is that evolution creates it to select from options in order to pursue goals. So asking about a non-choice-selecting mind with no goals is a bit weird.

          • Kevin
            Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

            It would be a metaphysical experiment. There is no way to determine the difference between CFW and noFW. There is only evidence for noFW, but not conclusive proof.

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Thanks Eddy, your warnings about the puppet mistake are well taken. It’s perhaps a latent form of dualism to think that human agents are just passive victims of impersonal causation and add nothing to local outcomes. As full participants in the causal order, we get to play an active role in controlling our behavior that’s far beyond the capacity of any puppet. Jerry’s insistence that we merely dangle from the strings of physical laws might, as you say, lead to demoralization and will likely retard the acceptance of naturalism.

      • Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        Furthermore, Jerry’s puppet mistake reflects what I suspect is a common (if tacit) confusion on the part of incompatibilists: the notion that determinism is analogous to a puppeteer. This mistake confuses deterministic causation with intentional manipulation.

        We commonly (and correctly) believe that an agent’s being manipulated reduces his/her moral responsibility: we tend to say that the manipulator deserves the blame instead. But deterministic causation isn’t an agent and can’t be a manipulator. Our inveterate human tendency to see agency in the non-agential world may explain why we confuse causation with manipulation. But it’s still a confusion, and not just on the part of non-specialists. I’ve seen academic philosophers make the same mistake in print.

        • Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

          This is why I recommend two dialogues by unusual people:

          _Is God a Taoist?_ by R. Smullyan
          and
          _Who Pushes Who Around the Careenium?_ by D. Hofstadter.

          Both are “old” but still worth pondering. The former is not nearly as theistic as it sounds ;)

      • Dale
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        What is being demonstrated when someone addicted to a substance like tobacco, (as I was for years before I quit), manages to change their behavior so as to stop using tobacco…smoking or otherwise. I mean, there is no question that the organism is physically addicted and will continue the addicted behavior without some kind of intervention. I think I quit by substituting a good habit for a bad one but it didn’t come without effort. I understand the nicotine is additive the first time it’s used and from then on works on the brain to crave more.

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      On (1) – I think this is a late attempt to give compatibilism some credibility. I don’t think it works: http://ronmurp.net/2011/10/12/a-scientific-free-will-in-oppostion-to-deterministic-free-will/

  13. Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Stipulation: the notion of determinism as the “ghost killer” deserves praise. This is a worthy result.

    Correction: compatibilism is not a branch of philosophy.

    Ad hoc label: for the purpose of this post, non-dualistic free will will be called Volitional Free Will

    my response to all four of your questions:
    1) Volitional Free Will counteracts the flaw of “pure determinism”;
    2) Volitional Free Will acknowledges and champions the proper role of volition in human activity.

    The flaw of determinism: regardless of any good intentions (to kill the ghost), pure determinism undercuts the most important fact of human existence: man has evolved into a being of volitional consciousness. Yes, our autonomic systems engage without continuous awareness or proactive triggering. Yes, a person can push through life to some extent driven by received and unexamined social conditioning. Yes, genetic programming and disposition powerfully influence behavior. Yet if a person exists only on these drivers, he/she is only an animal, not a rational animal. And: not a very good animal. He is not ‘homo sapiens.’

    To thrive, a person — each individual — must choose to think, choose a set of principles to guide decisions, choose values, choose to act to gain and retain those values. Like it or not, that is how we evolved. God not needed. That is the true meaning of Free Will.

    • Kelton Barnsley
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Been reading “The Virtue of Selfishness”, have we?

    • eric
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      John, where in your post did you give evidence that we have volitional free will?

      Your statement “pure determinism undercuts the most important fact of human existence: man has evolved into a being of volitional consciousness” seems to be a case of asserting what you are trying to prove.

    • JBlilie
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Volition is the feeling we get when we realize that a decision has been made.

      • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        Decision? That is too free a word for anything autonomic.

        “Decision” implies a conscious person.

        Who made the decision?

        • BillyJoe
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:36 am | Permalink

          A computer algorithm makes “decisions”

  14. peltonrandy
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    sub

  15. Lianne Byram
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I see it as merely a fruitless attempt to make reality conform to both our limited human perspective and our desire to be more/different than what we really are.

  16. Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    This is an excellent piece. I’ve read it numerous times, each time it yielded more for me than the one before.

    The phrase, “perfect knowledge,” however, tweaks me in the same way that the phrase, “spiritual experience” tweaks me. For me it has a theological stench that I just find objectionable; kinda like my reaction to the smell of High Karate in an elevator. I think the phrase should be purged from our lexicon.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:38 am | Permalink

      Complete knowledge then. whatever.

  17. Sastra
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    What kind of comparable advance was achieved by redefining “free will” so that the only thing “free” about it was its freedom to accept determinism?

    Loaded question. “Free will” was not redefined. It’s meaning was clarified in light of our scientific discoveries regarding the falsehood of dualism and its “ghost in the machine.”

    I still think you’ve got it backwards. The term refers to the experience of “choosing,” not the explanation. The religious are the ones who deliberately obscured the experience with an explanation, much the same way they try to define feelings of awe, wonder, and joy as “experiencing God.” Do we now deny that we feel anything positive because that must mean that God exists?

    As I see it, compatibilists are fighting against an enemy you’re all too willing to give in to, granting them the stuff they stole. Arguing that the absence of libertarian free will means that there is no free will in any sense and thus we are but “puppets on the strings of physical laws” is feeding in to religious apologetics. It’s like agreeing that if there is no God, there is no meaning to the universe … and then briskly galloping on to full-blown nihilism and despair because our lives have no meaning.

    Would you argue against the “compatibilist” stance that while the universe itself has no meaning that doesn’t mean that our lives can’t have meaning to us. “Meaning” in the real sense of the term is created by the person who cares: it isn’t handed down from above like a task. That is an illegitimate redefinition, a bait n switch of sloppy religious thinking.

    Saying that without God there can still be meaning to our lives requires reducing “meaning” down to human terms — where it not only belongs but has always been. It is NOT “redefining the word ‘meaning.'” It’s a clarification. The atheist who turns radical nihilist and insists that the proper attitude of every person in a godless universe is to give up and live with no goals or purpose is the one playing the game with the theists, accepting their world view by accepting their terms.

    That’s the fitting analogy. “Free will” is no more an inherently “religious” term than is “meaning,” “marriage,” or “love.” Just because the God-soaked insist that no, they just can’t mentally separate those ideas from Transcendence doesn’t mean we have to buy in to their lack of imagination and bag o’ tricks.

    • Vaal
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Beautifully put Sastra!

      Exactly what I’ve tried to argue, (and why I keep using theistic vs secular notions of morality as an analogy to free will) but so well written!

      Vaal

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      I second Vaal’s support Sastra.

    • DV
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Somehow i replied to the wrong post (in #21). I really meant to reply here, so retyping what I said.

      Excellent!

      As well as Coel’s response on #4.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think so. What each of us feels, thinks etc. is determined by preceding causes. Whether we perceive meaning is down to the causes which create us. We in turn then act as causes.

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        As with everything else.

    • eric
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      The term refers to the experience of “choosing,” not the explanation.

      But is the experience of choosing an accurate perception of what our brains are actually doing, or not? Right now I have the experience of a continuous field of vision. But in reality, I have a blind spot; my brain just fools the aware “me” into thinking I don’t. Maybe ‘fooling’ is a loaded word: my brain processes visual stimuli in a way that gives me a perception different from what my visual stimuli actually gives, because the “processed percetion” is more useful. The same could be happening with choice: maybe the experience of choice is just a useful brain-processed collection non-choices.

      Some brain experiments have shown that what we think are our conscious choices aren’t, in that the decision is made before the experience of choosing. So clearly our brain can fool us with a false perception of conscious choice, at times.

      My question to you as a CFW supporter is: are you defending mere experience, i.e. the notion that we have a perception of choice when we don’t actually choose, ever? Or are you defending the notion that this experiece of choice reflects some actual, underlying brain mechanism which folk from Jerry (on the one hand) to Kane (on the other) would all recognize as ‘making choices?

      • Sastra
        Posted October 25, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        If our experience of choice is an “illusion” then that doesn’t mean we don’t have it: it simply means that it’s not only what it appears to be on the surface. Discovering what’s behind the reality of the experience is where the underlying mechanisms come in.

        If we chemically break down all the elements which go into our observations of the color “pink” then there is nothing there which is actually pink. So is it more useful to say that “pink doesn’t exist so nothing is ever pink” — or “if we chemically break down all the elements which go into our observations of the color “pink” then there is nothing there which is actually pink … but now we understand “pink” better than we did before?”

        • eric
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

          That is something of a non-answer. I’m not questioning whether we have the experience of free will – I accept we do. And sure, both the terms “pink” and “free will” can serve a useful purpose for language-using humans. I’m not arguing we should dump the words.

          Now, does (your version of) CFW include actual choice or not? Is there some choice engine behind the experience, or not?

        • Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:13 am | Permalink

          It’s not the ‘choice’ that’s the illusion. It’s the feeling that the choice is ‘free’ of physical causes that’s illusory. The will, the intention to do something, the choosing, is caused. But human brains cannot detect that causal connection between neurons.

          About as close as we get is when we get a ‘rush’ of feeling, such as fear, and then when we act we seem to acknowledge the bodily cause and switch our speech to how we react, ‘involuntarily’, ‘instinctively’.

          When we are drunk we ‘loose control’.

          These are expressions of examples of when we are prepared to say that we were not acting under the control of our ‘free will’.

          But we are acting under the control of our whole brain-body system, so the feeling that our will is free of such causes is a natural one, but it is an illusion.

  18. Kelton Barnsley
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Even if there is a “nonmaterial spook” (i.e. a soul) in my head which is responsible for my choices and which stands independent of my genes and past environmental influences, I cannot account for why said spook made the choices it did. It does not matter whether the Universe is deterministic or not, or to what degree our choices are influenced by a roll of the quantum dice. Free will is an incoherent concept, and no combination of mechanisms, chance, and indeterminism can render it coherent.

  19. MNb
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    “unless we have perfect knowledge.”
    According to Heisenberg we can’t have perfect knowledge. Your entire argument is based on a wrong assumption.

    “we realized that our brains, like all physical objects, are subject to the laws of physics.”
    As if this is something new. Just look up Carvaka on Wikipedia: 600 BCE.

    “it completely dispelled the notion of dualistic free will.”
    Quite obvious if you are a materialist. I really don’t get why you spend gazillions of words to something that can be summarized as “I’m a materialist so I reject dualistic free will”.

    “So determinism …. was a tremendous advance in science.”
    It was. And throwing determinism out of the window was another tremendous advance. The key word is probabilism.
    In the previous article you gave examples like flying a plane, cutting your finger. What you omitted is that these are also perfectly described by probabilistic Quantum Mechanics.
    As a result you are asking the wrong questions. Here are mine. I don’t know the answers.

    1. can free will meaningfully be redefined in terms of probabilism?
    2. will neuroscientists develop a theoretical model of the brain in which probabilism can be simplified into determinism, like simplified quantummechanics becomes classical physics?

    If 1. is answered with no or 2. is answered with yes we can throw free will in the dustbin.

    In the past you have rejoiced about scientists being capable of predicting say 75% of human decisions. That’s actually highly unimpressive. Physicists are 99,99995 % sure that they have found the higgs-boson. I’ll be not that strict. 99% will suffice for me.

    • MNb
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      In case anyone jumps to a premature conclusion: I’m a materialist myself. It’s just that materialism hence determinism hence no free will is a non-sequitur.

    • eric
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      If you’re relying on QM to do your work for you, then the answer to #1 is “no.” How a QM indeterminancy falls out is not our choice. As far as we are concerned, its essentially an ideal random number generator (with a non-flat distribution of outcomes). So the only way the answer to #1 is “yes” is if one is willing to accept that a programmed computer that occasionally uses a random number generator to make decisions has free will. But I suspect such a device does not have what most people consider to be free will.

      • JBlilie
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        Yes, there’s no “will” in a random result.
        (And there’s no “free” for that matter.)

        Random event ≠ free will
        Random event ≠ will (by definition)
        Random event ≠ free (in any sense that matters here)

        QM random events will not lift the proposition.

  20. MNb
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Reading a quote of Laplace on a website of a reputed scientist to back up an argument related to science is very weird. Laplace since many decades has become irrelevant for physics.

    “our brains, like all physical objects, are subject to the laws of physics”
    Our 21st Century laws of physics, the ones that recently gave us the higgs-boson, are completely contradicting Laplace. I refer to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, chapter 4.

    • JBlilie
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      But LaPlace wasn’t wrong about determinism.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Stochastic diffusion processes occur in the synaptic gap between neurons. An unknown mix of quantum and thermodynamic factors. Effectively we have random motion of particles even without quantum indeterminacy. The question is how relevant are those processes to decision making? It may be that they are not relevant at all. Neural networks may be sufficient. Though again it could be that information processing could conceivably be affected also by the same stochastic processes.

      Maybe someone can explain how any of this could account for “free will”?

    • Occam
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      Our 21st Century laws of physics, the ones that recently gave us the higgs-boson,

      The Higgs field was proposed in 1964. So much for “21st century laws of physics”.

      Apart from the fact that Laplace’s outline of determinism would still be valid even if the balance of his work had become irrelevant, may I enquire which other portion of his work fails to meet with your approval?

      The Laplace equation still holds, the Laplacian operator is still used. Heck, I’m even struggling with Laplacian operators on fractals right now, because I’ve had to learn in my old age that they can be right useful in tackling fractal diffusion.

  21. couchloc
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Let me try to reply to Jerry’s historical complaint since I don’t think the characterization of compatibilism and how it developed is very accurate. I’m not someone who even publishes on the free will debate, but with my limited knowledge it seems clear that the historical understanding of compatibilism given is mistaken, or at least misleading. I don’t say this in a bad way but merely to try to clarify the issues here. First, it is frequently suggested that compatibilism is some sort of “response” to our knowledge of determinism. You speak about “philosophers redefining terms” and “the rise of compatibilism.” In this way of characterizing the issue, the suggestion being made is that science or something has taught us about determinism in the universe during the scientific revolution or more recently. Learning about this determinism philosophers became concerned with this fact and its implications for our understanding of free will. And then **in response** to this they started redefining the term freedom to come up with compatibilism.

    Now, this is why the question of the history becomes relevant here. You note that determinism also has a long history and mention Laplace (1749-) and Spinoza (1632-). But in point of fact there were compatibilists who lived before these individuals. Aristotle (343BC-) and Hobbes (1588-) are considered to be compatibilists. What are we to say about Aristotle’s views in this context? That he was responding to developments during the scientific revolution? That doesn’t seem very plausible I take it. This also suggests that the language of “the rise of compatibilism” is misleading. Compatibilism is not some newfangled theory that philosophers just concocted to give themselves jobs. Aristotle, Hobbes, Hume, Ayer, Stace, Dennett, etc. have been defending compatibilism for years.

    Given this there’s no reason to frame the issue as you do, in my view. The reason people like Aristotle and Hume were led to defend compatibilism has to do with an independent examination into what the term “freedom” means. They are looking very carefully at how people understand this notion and teasing out different senses and understandings, and pointing out that freedom means something other than what people sometimes think. They don’t see themselves as simply redefining things but as offering an independently plausible analysis of the notions involved. Now, it may of course be that their theory about free will is wrong in the end. This has to be considered and debated I presume. But I don’t think it will help in this job to try to cast compatibilists as historically anachronist or something.

    As to your questions about compatibilism and how it influences human behavior: I won’t go into this since I’ve written too much here, but compatibilism enables us to make sense of the notion of moral responsibility which has been a fundamental notion to our society. Our whole social and legal system depends on this notion. Anyway, interesting post.

    • Vaal
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      ^^^^ Exactly!

      It’s continually mischaracterized that compatibilism is “re-definining freedom” when it is more about examining what we can and do mean by such terms, and then noting that many of our concepts of freedom do not contradict causation or determinism.

      It’s not re-defining, it’s understanding.

      Vaal

      • DV
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        Excellent!

        As well as Coel’s response on #4.

  22. Vaal
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Jerry,

    There appears to me to be a sort of equivocation through ought your post and your questions. Your post suggests to me that you are pitching determinism against compatibilism, lauding the achievements and importance of determinism as AGAINST compatibilism, and asking “so what does compatibilism achieve in comparison?”

    But your posts have generally been in defense not simply of “determinism” (which both compatibilists and incompatibilists can accept) but rather of the (philosophical) position of IN-compatibilism vs compatiblism.
    Since determinism is accepted in both those positions, there isn’t some dividing line between what “determinism” has achieved and compatibilism.

    Try taking your questions and replace “compatibilism” with your philosophical position of “incompatibilism.” Don’t ask what determinism has achieved for humankind, ask what incompatibilism has achieved. I’m not sure you’ll be able to point to much achievement, or influence on humanity and it’ s behavior. At least thus far.

    I think if either are successful arguments, compatibilism and incompatibilism both could have result on the issue of free will as removing God form morality. That is, removing some people’s idea that magic is, or must be, involved to ground our notions of “free will.” I’m sure that seems a fine goal from both incompatibilist and compatibilist perspectives.

    The advantage of compatibilism that I see is 1. that it is a more coherent and explanatory in terms of what we mean by “freedom” and “choice” and “responsibility” and does less unnecessary violence to the rest of our language and conceptual framework.

    2. It avoids some liabilities flowing from proclaiming “we have no free will,” e.g. of spreading false and possibly deleterious acceptance of fatalism. Not that incompatibilism necessarily entails fatalism per se, but
    because there are various issues about our control of our fate tied up in the concept of free will, when you say “you don’t have free will” people can take that as a denial of some of the REAL powers they have over their decisions along with the magic powers they don’t have.

    On both sides, compatibilism and incompatibilism, it takes picky weedling to work through these issues to be clear of what we are keeping and throwing out. When you get into the nit-picky areas, incompatibilists and compatibilists can seem to mostly agree on the “reality” but disagree on the semantics or best way of keeping conceptual clarity on the issue. (That goes to moral responsibility too, where compatibilists and incompatibilists can actually get pretty close to agreement). But I think both work at removing similar falsehoods from the concept of “free will,” including contra-causal or ghost in the machine thinking.

    Vaal

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Vaal, I have a new question for you. If you agree that environment, history, and the laws of physics constrain brain activity and therefore our choices and actions, but you say we still have “free will,” what would you call that which we don’t have? A rephrasing is, what would you call it if we were not constrained in this way?

      • Vaal
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        What would I call “it” if we were not constrained by physics etc? I don’t know: what type of world am I supposed to imagine?

        Terms like “free will” and “freedom” apply to and describe specific conditions, just like any other empirical descriptions.

        The dog is free of it’s chain.

        To say the dog is now “free” simply refers to the physical facts that it’s no longer constrained by the chain and can do things off the chain it couldn’t do while on the chain. Nothing about the use of that term “free” implies the dog is therefore free of all constraints, or of all causation, or from determinism writ large. It’s just a useful term to understand some alteration in physical conditions and it’s effect on the dog’s activities.

        So to ask “what is it that the dog didn’t have” when not being free will necessarily be a question about the specific situation. The dog, for instance, “didn’t have” the ability to reach the food it wanted to reach and eat, or to run and play with the other unchained dogs in the yard, as it was inclined to do.

        It’s the same for free will claims. To say “I have free will” is a general claim drawn from specific empirical situations – of me being able to exercise choices to meet my desires in many different situations. But to talk of “what I don’t or didn’t have,” it seems to me we would have to talk about specific situations in which a choice was made, our couldn’t be made.

        I don’t know if that got to what you were asking about or not.

        Vaal

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

          So when the dog is off its chain, it is free of its chain. When you say we have free will, what exactly are we free of?

          • Posted October 24, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

            If I am at home I say “I am here of my own free will”. If I am in jail I say “I am not here of my own free will”.

            Freedom is freedom from external constraints that prevent us from acting on our preferred choices.

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

          I thought I understood your position, but now I am confused. Below you wrote, Now, I’m open to a different use of language if we can find one. But people arguing against compatibilism seem to not only argue against the term itself, but against the very concepts described by the term – arguing that the choices we think we have are illusions, or that “we never really could have done otherwise” etc. Since I think those claims are false…

          How could we have done otherwise? It sounds like you are arguing for libertarian free will here.

        • Vaal
          Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

          pacopicopiedra,

          “So when the dog is off its chain, it is free of its chain. When you say we have free will, what exactly are we free of?”

          For any particular case of free will, we are free of constraints, or impediments, to taking the action we want.

          I’m sitting in my house of my own free will, means I am here because I want to be here, but I’m also “free” or capable of doing otherwise: choosing to go outside.

          Whereas prisoners are not usually in their cells on their own free will; they don’t want to be there and they have no freedom to do otherwise.

          “How could we have done otherwise? It sounds like you are arguing for libertarian free will here.”

          Nope. I’ve spent a lot of time in these comments sections detailing this compatibilist account of free will so I apologize that I don’t want to go to far here but: In a nutshell, all I’m arguing is that there are physical differences in the real world (determined world) that are aptly described by terms like “free.” (See the dog example) and that this carries on to
          describing situations in which we can do what we want, vs situations where we can’t do what we want and can not “do otherwise.’

          The sense in which we can “do otherwise” is just a standard, empirical description of the type of powers we have in similar situations. I drove my car to work today, but I *could have* done otherwise; ridden my bike. I infer I have this power from all the previous times, in similar situations, where I’ve taken either course of action.

          It’s not a claim that I could have “done otherwise” in some magical contra-causal way, that I’m excepted from causation, and can always do something different in precisely the same set of conditions. Nor, do I think most people actually think that, when deciding whether they “could do otherwise” or “could have done otherwise.”
          We are making more general claims about the types of things we are capable of doing, and that it makes sense to say “Yeah, in that situation, I would have been capable of doing X if I’d wanted, or Y if I’d wanted to.”

          Standard, hypothetical, empirical generalizing and inference; no contra-causality suggested, no magic involved.

          Vaal

          • Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

            Vaal, your problem is almost entirely a rhetorical one.

            If it’s not clear by now, it really should be. “Free will” is a self-contained oxymoron that’s loaded down with all sorts of mystical baggage. You are arguing that reality is exactly the same as what Jerry and the rest of us is saying it is, yet you insist that we should use the words, “free will,” to apply to that reality.

            Personally, I don’t see how anything that could even hypothetically be gained from winning that argument could offset all the confusion that has already ensued from its usage.

            I really would suggest dropping the term. Point out that when people say they’re exercising their free will, they’re just engaging in the standard deterministic human decision-making process that involves evaluation of imagined potential futures, but that that’s also equally obviously not what the standard definition of the term means — and that said standard definition has no bearing on logic, let alone reality.

            There are better rhetorical battle to be fought. Honestly.

            I mean, really — do you actually want to claim for rational discourse a term that’s its own oxymoron and which is so loaded down with theological significance?

            Cheers,

            b&

          • Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for the clarification. I was right the first time. When you say you “could have done otherwise,” you don’t actually mean you could have done otherwise in THAT situation, you mean you could do otherwise in a roughly similar situation. So we are agreed. It is only semantics we disagree about. I agree with Ben that using free will the way you do causes unnecessary confusion, but I’m sure you feel that using it the way we do causes confusion. I don’t either of us will ever change the other’s mind.

            • Vaal
              Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

              The problem is it can be just as confusing to discard the term as it is to keep it, clarify and make sense of it.

              People have all sorts of wrong ideas attached to the concept of “morality,” including of course supernatural ideas.

              Do we give in and say “Ok, we don’t have morality?”

              No. We explain “What you THINK you need a God to explain you don’t; you actually have the essence of what you mean by morality, but it’s grounded in the real world.”

              Same for the concept of “life.” We don’t throw away that word because there are real beliefs co-mingled with wrong explanations – we give the right explanation for what “life” is.

              The essence of what people think they have when they think “I chose that freely” they actually DO have; except some people have the wrong explanation for it. Saying “we don’t have free will” is just as confusing because it suggests to people you are throwing away what, in fact, they actually think they have and they DO have.

              They DO have a “real choice.” They could “choose otherwise.” They ARE the authors of their choices. They CAN do as they will. Moral injunctions are relevant and coherent. They can bear responsibility, etc.

              IT will be just as difficult – more I’d suggest – to tell people they don’t have free will…and then essentially try to explain they actually do have most of what they think of as free will…as to keep it and give the right explanation, as we do with “life” and “morality.”

              And in pieces like the USA today column, Jerry made all sorts of claims that I think sew just this confusion – that we may feel like we make choices but we really don’t, that we have no freedom to choose, that we can not do as we will etc. All that I think is false, and the only way it’s “true” is if you look at choice-making through a very idiosyncratic, narrow view that doesn’t really relate much to how people deliberate about things. It’s saying “you don’t have X” where most people think of “X” as something quite different, so THAT is confusing.

              The free will compatibilism speaks of is actually more in tune with the things people think of when they think they have it, hence it’s actually, at least potentially, less confusing to say “we have it, but here’s a sound basis for why we have it.”

              Further, the basis you, or at least Jerry, have for throwing away the term “free will” is via looking at the word “choice” in a way that few people think of it, so you just end up having to do all the work of re-defining that extremely common word – “choice” – as well.

              So I see no particular advantage to tossing the term or concept of free will away, given the alternatives.

              Vaal.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

                I think the problem is that the phrase free will can be used in different ways, the same way “theory” means something different in everyday conversation compared to a strict scientific sense. If someone says to me, “I came here of my own free will,” I know exactly what she means and if I reply with “there’s no such thing as free will,” then her appropriate response is, “It’s a figure of speech, a**hole!” I don’t think any of us here really have a problem using free will in that sense. But when someone asks, “Does free will really exist?” that person is not using it in the same way. That’s a deep philosophical question, and the answer is no. It doesn’t mean you have to stop using the phrase free will in the casual sense. That still means what it’s always meant and everyone understands it. But you don’t need to pretend that there’s another sense in which free will exists to be able to keep that in the language.

          • Stephen Lawrence
            Posted November 4, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

            Vaal,

            It’s not a claim that I could have “done otherwise” in some magical contra-causal way, that I’m excepted from causation, and can always do something different in precisely the same set of conditions. Nor, do I think most people actually think that, when deciding whether they “could do otherwise” or “could have done otherwise.”

            Yes they do think that. We know that empirically from the debate.

            That’s the problem.

            And even if you don’t think that on reflection you live with the illusion because it seems it’s how we are wired up, we leave out the if in could if… and combine it with the choice being up to us. We live with the illusion of free will meaning the illusion that we could have done otherwise in the actual situation in a way that makes the choice entirely up to us. Only reflection on the incoherence of this corrects it.

            To say free will is compatible with determinism when we know that often by free will people are talking about the illusory version is misleading since they will think you are referring to the illusory version.

            I think the way forward is just to stop saying free will is or isn’t compatible with determinism and accept the term is used to mean different things.

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      I think you’ve gotten a lot right here, but be careful about one thing: libertarians, in this debate, are also incompatiblists, and would think that we need “magic”. Not because they hold religious beliefs, per se, but because they see that as the only way to hold that our fundamental experience of consciousness or choosing is actually doing anything like it seems to, and don’t see the scientific “evidence” as being strong enough to support the extraordinary claim that our experiences of choosing are all illusory. They’d argue against free will determinists that they force us to accept that all those experiences are illusory, and against compatiblists that their redefined notion of free will and choice aren’t robust enough to capture the behaviour/concepts that compatiblists accept that we have.

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

        No the experiences are real enough; what’s illusory is the belief that the experience is not determined – that’s what people who believe in free will imagine.

        • Leigh Jackson
          Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

          I should strictly say they don’t believe that their experience is determined or random.

        • Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

          My experience is that when I deliberate, the deliberation is what ultimately determines or decides what action I will take. Under determinism, the argument is that it does no such thing, but merely goes through the motions of what was determined at the Big Bang. That makes the experiences of deliberation and what it is doing, indeed, totally illusory.

          • Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

            Your response here implies that you think there’s some “I” separate from your physical self, and that it is this distinct “I” that is doing the deliberation, not the mechanical computer that is your brain.

            In fact, we can be as certain as we are that the Sun will rise tomorrow in the East that no such distinct “I” exists, and you are in fact a meat popsicle.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

              No, it works regardless of what the “I” is, because that “I”, whatever it is, is an experiencing thing, has private experiences, and private experiences that include experiences like deliberation, which seems to do certain things, things that it isn’t really or meaningfully doign if everything is determined.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

                Now you’re not only brining meaning into the picture, but insisting that meaning cannot come from within….

                b&

              • Posted October 26, 2013 at 1:09 am | Permalink

                Why do you continually jump on one word and argue over that, instead of over what’s actually being said? First, it was “I”, and now it’s “meaningful”.

                When I talk about “meaningfully doing” here, I mean it in the sense that if it had to be determined and was therefore merely going through predetermined motions, it wouldn’t be anything worthy of being called “deliberation” at all.

              • Posted October 26, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

                I keep jumping on you because, even here, you’re making clear that you think it doesn’t count unless there’s something other than the orderly working of the cognitive processes going on, that there’s something bad about being repeatable and predictable, that there’s something dirty about this taking place in a mechanical process.

                How could it be otherwise?

                If the results of the analysis were unpredictable or unrepeatable, what’s the point of the analysis? You might as well flip a coin, because there’s clearly no meaning imparted from the analysis. And of course it’s necessary for it to happen in a clockwork-like physical mechanism. We live in a material universe, not an immaterial one. What else is there other than matter to do the dirty work of making decisions?

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Leigh Jackson
            Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

            My experience of deliberation is of various feelings and thoughts appearing, out of the blue, so to speak. There are just thoughts and feelings happening. For a while. Then something different happens. A decision appears. Or perhaps not, and instead other thoughts, feelings, memories etc take over and no decision happens and the deliberation event is forgotten for ever. I do not assume that the deliberation determines what follows. I assume that the part of my brain responsible for the deliberation thoughts, or some other part, makes the decision thought and then another part leads to action – or not.

  23. Cooperator
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Here’s my 2-cents.
    1) A random number generator on a computer is completely deterministic. But so what? For almost any application (simulation study, or whatever) the random numbers can be treated as though they really are an independent and identically distributed (iid) sequence, and nothing will go wrong. Likewise, even though our actions are completely deterministic, nothing can go wrong by treating individuals as though they really do have free will. (So, I disagree with prof. ceiling cat.) But, that does not mean you have to torture people for being “evil”, or anything like that! I think the goal should be to take a scientific view as Sam Harris suggests, and try to increase overall well being. Whether there is magical free will or not seems irrelevant to that goal.
    2) I doubt that our future actions are absolutely predictable, even in principle. There must be an “uncertainty principle” that goes something like this: In order to determine what a sentient being is going to do, with high reliability, you have to “poke and prod” the brain to find out, and this can effect the final choice. Thus, you can never be 100% certain of someone else’s choices.

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Actually, dedicated RNGs — the ones worth spending money on, at least — pull at least some of their randomness from indeterminate quantum sources of various kinds. And modern software-based random number generators will have a “pool” of randomness that gets filled from various sources, including fluctuations in hardware latency, some of which trace their randomness to quantum indeterminacy as well.

      So, no. Computer-based random number generators are often indeterministic, with the best ones being entirely indeterministic.

      In fact, if you want to build such a random-number generator for yourself, you could do so with a smoke detector, a geiger counter, and an Arduino. It’d be a fun experiment, though it wouldn’t have much practical value…in practice, the RNG in your computer is already at least industrial-grade, if not research-grade.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Cooperator
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        Understood. I was talking about the random number generators used in software for mathematicians, statisticians, engineers, etc., like Matlab, Mathematica, R, etc. These are simple deterministic algorithms. Anybody that uses the kinds of random number generators you are talking about is probably being paranoid. There’s no need.

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          Actually, if you’re doing anything with cryptography — and you are every time you buy anything online, for example — then you absolutely need iron-clad randomness. Which is why almost all computers are quite good at generating random data.

          It’s been a looooooooooong time since the majority of people needing random numbers were statisticians, and much longer still since their requirements were the most demanding.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Cooperator
            Posted October 24, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

            You’re right that if you need to keep secrets then deterministic “random numbers” won’t do. So, I think the analogous statement with sentient beings is that real (deterministic) beings cannot absolutely be counted on to keep a secret (since in principle their minds can be probed). Yes, but so what? Under normal circumstances I think I should interact with sentient beings exactly as I would if they really did have magic free will.

      • Occam
        Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        you could do so with a smoke detector, a geiger counter, and an Arduino

        Place smoke detector over frying pan containing popcorn.

        Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci — or salted.

        • Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

          If your smoke detector goes off when you make popcorn, yer doin’ it rong!

          …though, considering that lava lamps have been used as sources of cryptographically-strong randomness, I don’t see why you couldn’t do the same with the intervals between kernel pops….

          b&

  24. stevezara
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Compatibilism has been around for a long time. Hume was a compatibilist.
    The problem with this centuries-old debate is that it’s to do with definitions, not facts. Hume defines free will as the freedom to do what you want to do. That has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue of determinism. It only expects us to consider humans as being decision-makers with emotions.

    Battling belief in non-compatibilist free will by suggesting we abandon the term ‘free will’, is like insisting that the word ‘life’ must involve some sort of vital essence and so insisting it’s a redundant term because we know there is no such thing as a vital essence. Sure, most people still believe that life does mean ‘vital essence’, but that doesn’t stop scientists knowing what they mean when they use the term ‘life’.

    The same applies to ‘free will’. The vast majority of people believe that free will means that we have some magical ability to influence causality.

    Denying free will sounds like denying that the human mind has any agency. It does, and it has evolved to have agency. The world is different because of each mind that is in it, because minds make decisions. That ability to make decisions that change the world, even in the tiniest ways, is freedom of will. It’s nothing more than the

    We should not abandon this (some think) useful term because believers think it is magical any more than we should abandon the term ‘life’ for the same reason.

    There is, and always has been, huge disagreement about this, including amongst philosophers today. For example, Dan Dennett and A.C. Grayling are in favour of the use of the term ‘free will’, and Pat Churchland is against. All amazing thinkers!

    Well, that’s my two pennies. I’m a Grayling-ist (for now).

    Regards

    Steve

    • Vaal
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Steve,

      I agree with most of what you wrote, but I think it’s important to quibble with this type of statement:

      The same applies to ‘free will’. The vast majority of people believe that free will means that we have some magical ability to influence causality.

      That’s the type of statement from which one can incorrectly infer that compatibilism is “re-defining” free will. Because if you start with saying “to most people free will MEANS having a magic ability re causality” then if you employ the term free will denying that magic, you are re-defining free will.

      But that’s not what compatibilism (in much of what I’ve read) is getting at. It’s about understanding what people actually mean, and presume, when using terms like “free will,” “choice,” “responsibility” etc.

      The compatibilist view is that what we tend to mean by “freedom” and “free will” – that is the situations in which we employ those concepts – are valid and compatible with determinism. That is, it’s consistent and “true” with the rest of our empirical concepts to say “I have a real choice” and “could have done otherwise” and “I am the cause of my choice” etc.

      The dualistic, religious versions aren’t “meanings” of free will, they are competing EXPLANATIONS for free will. Just like they have competing explanations for why we have “morality.” When the theist asks “how is it I have the freedom to choose?” some of them say “well, it must be because I have a non-material soul, or a God gave me this power.” It’s an explanation, not “the meaning of..”

      Compatibilism says “No, that’s not the explanation for why you have that type of freedom; the explanation lies both in our evolutionary history – evolving more ways of avoiding what we want to avoid, and getting what we want to get – and it’s also consonant with the general, semantic and conceptual ways we employ to understand real features of the world (e.g. hypothetical thinking captures real truths about the world).”

      Cheers,

      Vaal

      • stevezara
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that’s a good point. Compatibilism isn’t about redefining free will, it’s about discovering what free will actually is, just as with ‘life’ – the characteristics of life were thought to need some extra essence, but we now know they don’t, same with our ability to reason and make choices.

        Thanks for the helpful correction.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          But if you assume free will exists as a starting point, then the search and discovery of free will is already a given.

          In other words, you’ve reached a conclusion without the evidence.

          • Vaal
            Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

            It’s not assumed; it’s first argued for what people can and do mean when they say “I have a choice” and “I could have chosen otherwise” and “I am responsible for my choice.”

            Looking into these matters, we can conclude about whether the phenomena those concepts are used to describe actually exist or not.
            Compabitilism says “yes, they do.”

            But, again, it’s not just “assumed.’

            Vaal

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

              But what exactly is it you’re looking for?

              Is it a particular part of the brain where decisions are made that we haven’t discovered yet?

              Or is it supposed to be something metaphysical?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

                No, it’s something entirely physical and deterministic, just like a computer (e.g. a chess-playing computer). Compatibilism is not “looking for” anything except what we already know. It is *interpreting* what we already know.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

                But is free will then not simply the process of a brain in action?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

                Yep. That’s *exactly* what it is.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

                Hmm. Is compatibilism then not simply a bureaucratic way of saying that we’re alive?

              • Vaal
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

                Jesper,

                It’s not a concept about some particular part of the brain – it’s a look at our general attributes and abilities, and our language in describing them.

                I have desires to do certain things. I can conceive of more than one way of acting to fulfill the desire. And I can reason about which action will be best suited to getting what I want, and choose that action.

                Alternatively, I can have competing desires, note that certain actions would be likely to fulfill those different desires, check those desires against other desires I have, and then choose which desire to fulfill and which action to take.

                Then, we can describe what type of physical constraints, if any, there are on my getting what I want. (For instance, if I have become a paraplegic, I won’t be fulfilling my desire to be a champion high-jumper any time soon. And if I I’m captured and chained somewhere, it’s not because I wanted to be there and acted to fulfill that desire; I’m made physically unable to fulfill my desire to leave my captor).

                So once you have attributes like desires and ways of reasoning about how to fulfill them, and the physical ability to fulfill them, then we can talk sensibly about under what conditions we can do what we want or not.

                And if you deny that we have attributes like “having desires” and “being able model the likely outcomes of various actions” and ‘reasoning about which action is most likely to fulfill a certain desire” then I’m not sure how you even make sense of this conversation, much less science itself which
                presumes and generally ratifies these attributes of ourselves.

                Vaal.

                (Not that science doesn’t also uncover a lot of illusions we hold about ourselves. But I haven’t seen that it has destroyed those attributes…which…again, science itself seems to be predicated on our having them).

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

                So once you have attributes like desires and ways of reasoning about how to fulfill them, and the physical ability to fulfill them, then we can talk sensibly about under what conditions we can do what we want or not.

                Subjectively yes, but why should we call it free will and how do we decide what falls under the umbrella of free will?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

                No, it’s not just a way of saying we’re alive, it is a careful and considered way of thinking about the goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour that some entities (particularly living ones) exhibit but other entities (e.g. house bricks) do not.

                Do incompatibilists want to suggest that animals do not select from options to pursue goals, or do they just want to use some perverse and convoluted language to describe this, instead of natural English?

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, but I’m a bit at loss here.

                What non-living entities are exhibiting free will behaviour and how do we define free will in non-human organisms?

                I do not consider a brick an entity, maybe that’s where our opinions differ.

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

                Chess-playing computers and aircraft autopilots are non-living entities with free will (of course this is only because we have programmed them with goals; as far as I’m aware goals only occur as products of evolution).

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

                But they require a human to be built, free will as you define it doesn’t. In theory free will would still exist regardless of human existence, only those possesing it wouldn’t know that they had it… as far as we know.

                Would you say that a computer is the result of evolution by natural selection and where/what is the defining line between man and machine?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

                Sure, of course free will can exist independently of humans; rabbits, chimps, cats and dolphins all have it.

                Yes, a computer is a product of Darwinian evolution in an “extended phenotype” sense. You don’t get them other than as made by humans.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

                Maybe I’m a bit thick, but wouldn’t that mean that all entities exhibits free will and that free will simply is what all matter does.

                It just reacts to all the other matter around it.

                I don’t get it.

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

                Entity: “Something that exists as a particular and discrete unit”

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

                Under that definition everything can be defined as entities.

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

                Yep. (The use of the word “entity” wasn’t supposed to be the important part of anything.)

              • Vaal
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

                Jesper,

                “Subjectively yes, but why should we call it free will and how do we decide what falls under the umbrella of free will?:

                Because it’s descriptive and useful.

                Why would we call a dog straining against it’s chains to play with other dogs “freed” from it’s chains, once the chain has been removed from it’s neck?

                Because this word tells us something: it discerns between a situation in which it can not do as it is inclined, and one in which it can do as it is inclined.

                Similarly, we face real world scenarios in which we are more, or less, constrained from “doing as we want.” For instance, someone imprisoned, or the 3 Cleveland women who had lived under they tyranny of their captor for a decade, are not “free” to do many of the things they want to do, which the COULD do if not under such constraints. That’s why we call them “free” or “freed” once released from their captivity.

                Same with “free will.” It’s jut talking about whether we can “do what we will to do” or not. And if we are “doing as we will to do.” “John” is sitting in his house on his own free will” means he is fulfilling his desire to do so, and could do otherwise if he desired. But if he’s under house arrest then he may not be in his house of his own free will; the difference being he can’t take the alternative action he desires of leaving his house.

                Vaal

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                Because it’s descriptive and useful.

                I disagree. I think it adds an extra layer of confusion to the language because there are so many differing definitions of what it is supposed to be.

                If free will simply is the ability to react in various ways to the physical inputs/enviroment, then why don’t we just say so.

                We live in a ( as far as we know ) deterministic universe, and even though the concept of free will has played a big part in the development of our societies, that doesn’t make it real and true.

                So far, I see it as a semantic exercise, not reality.

              • Vaal
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

                Jesper,

                If free will simply is the ability to react in various ways to the physical inputs/enviroment, then why don’t we just say so.

                Because, again, it’s descriptive. It further delineates what one is talking about, just like “fast” doesn’t tell you much, but “fast car” vs “fast acting drug” or “fast centipede” identifies what you are talking about.

                The single word “free” can be describing all manner of empirical phenomena, but “Free will” let’s us know we are talking about our freedom in terms of being able to do as we will (or not, depending on the situation).

                Now, I’m open to a different use of language if we can find one. But people arguing against compatibilism seem to not only argue against the term itself, but against the very concepts described by the term – arguing that the choices we think we have are illusions, or that “we never really could have done otherwise” etc. Since I think those claims are false, and those claims tend to remain under the rubric of “free will,” we tend to use that term in these discussions.

                BTW:

                So far, I see it as a semantic exercise, not reality.

                That’s a very odd distinction. Semantic exercises are required to describe reality. What you mean by “reality” relies on semantics to begin with. So suggesting one is engaged in semantics doesn’t mean it’s not also describing reality.

                Vaal

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

                If we define free will as the processes of a living brain reacting to inputs from it’s enviroment, then sure, free will exists.

                I just don’t see it as an objective description of a real situation because it’s appears to be a term also used as a hypothetical outcome-generator, so to speak.

                As far as we know, determinism is the only option when it comes to the reality of the universe we live in.

                How do we test free will?

              • Vaal
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

                Jesper,

                If we define free will as the processes of a living brain reacting to inputs from it’s enviroment, then sure, free will exists.

                Well, that’s not how I’m defining it. That’s too broad. Rather, it’s the capacity to choose between actions that will fulfill our desires. See, it’s a claim about attributes, general capacities and powers. What one is capable if given certain similar conditions – e.g. I ate Cheerios of my own free will this morning entails that I am capable of choosing Corn Flakes instead in such a situation. I can never say “precisely, exactly the same conditions” because we are never IN precisely the same conditions. ALL our inferences about “what we can and can’t do” are drawn over time from various similar-enough-situations to infer certain capacities in those situations.

                This is exactly the same type of empirical inference-making you do all day in other areas of your life, and that is used in science to describe the real, empirical world.
                There’s not a bit of “woo-woo” in there. If there were, then science would be “woo-woo” as well.

                “How do we test free will?”

                How do you test if water has the attributes of being able to “freezing solid” or “turning into vapour?” Run tests, allowing for altering conditions enough to bring out the attribute described – note that at some temperatures it can be frozen, other temperatures it can be turned into vapour.

                Same with human beings. How do you test if I “could choose Cheerios or I could choose the Corn flakes?”

                Run the test: put me in “breakfast-like conditions,” and watch as I alternately choose between the two cereals, as I desire. If I do so, it lends empirical credence to my claim “I was eating Cheerios of my own free will, as I could have done otherwise; chosen Corn Flakes to eat instead.”

                Vaal

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:05 am | Permalink

                I’m still struggling to find out why you think that these choices are free of constraints and how you think it is testable.

                We agree that the conditions for your free will test can never be fully replicated, yet you claim that this gives empirical creedence to free will. Well, it would no matter what the outcome, simply because you aren’t being forced to do something against your will, and thus free will.

                As I mentioned earlier I think this is a rhetorical/semantic exercise because the possible outcome of the test, no matter what, would leave you with the impression that free will exists.

                What outcome in your test would point to the non-existence of free will?

              • Vaal
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

                Jesper,

                I think you are still assuming something more complicated than what I’m proposing. I’m simply talking about the ability to “do x or y as I desire.”
                I freely chose between the Cheerios and Corn flakes insofar as I had the power to have chosen either course of action. You test this “ability” in exactly the same way you test any other mundane empirical claim. You put me in similar conditions and see if I have the power to choose both Cheerios and Corn flakes.
                Then you extrapolate from this “Yes, this does support the claim he could have taken either action. That’s an ability he has.”

                As for “free of constraints” this just means that the type of situation under which I say I can choose between cereals, allows for me to exercise this ability.
                It’s like if you tested someone for the ability to hear both 4K and 16K audible tones. If they claim this ability, it’s going to be under some set of circumstances that allow for that ability; e.g. in a quiet room, but NOT while jackhammers are going off 6 feet away. That would constrain someone from being able to discern between tones. Similarly, if you chain me to a chair, that will constrain my ability to choose. But, then, I would never claim I could choose between cereals under THOSE conditions of constraint, would I? Neither would you test someone for the ability to discern between audio tones under conditions that don’t allow that ability, or that they’d never claim to be able to perform.

                To say I’m “free to choose” is, of course, not a claim I’m free of all causation or constraints. Rather, like ANY and EVERY empirical insight, it’s a claim concerning my abilities in conditions similar enough to allow those abilities to be expressed. I am “free” to choose, insofar as I’m in a situation that is not constraining the ability to take the actions I’m talking about (e.g. I have the physical ability to choose either cereal, I have access to both cereals, etc).

                What outcome would indicate I didn’t have the freedom I thought? If you put me in front of the cereals and I only ever was able to choose one of them. That would undermine the claim. And then, you could go on to devise hypotheses about why I could only choose one, test it, and perhaps go on to understand what it was that was constraining me. (Just as, for instance, we can see not only the effects of certain brain injuries, but investigate, understand them and predict their effects).

                It really is just standard empirical claims. And you don’t have to perfectly replicate the scenario I describe down to the last molecule any more than you do with all other empirical scientific tests. Like every other test, you just have to set up conditions similar-enough to bring out the ability in question, and then make inferences from such tests.

                Make sense now?

                Then there’s the question of whether this actually has any bearing on how people think when they say “I could do otherwise” or “could have done otherwise.” I say: yes. It explains quite well that language and predicts it.

                People infer “what I’m capable of doing” from their general past experience of their abilities in similar situations, which is why they ever think when the have a choice “I COULD do either A or B.” People don’t think they have choices to do things they have no empirical reason to think they can do – e.g. lift cars above their heads, reverse time, fly around the world unaided etc. We think in empirical inferences and abstractions to arrive at true understandings about how we, and the world, work.

                Vaal

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

                “I think you are still assuming something more complicated than what I’m proposing. I’m simply talking about the ability to “do x or y as I desire.””

                No, I get that. No hocus pocus.

                But as I’ve stated earlier, if free will simply means the ability to react to the environment in various ways, then why call it free will?

                And what is the difference between a mind processing and CFW?

              • Vaal
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

                Jesper,

                “And what is the difference between a mind processing and CFW?”

                What’s the difference between a “mind processing” and “doing algebra?”

                Or “writing a symphony” or “choosing a vacation spot?”

                A “mind processing” is just some vague, generalized phrase. Doesn’t tell us much does it?

                My mind is processing all the time, but if we want further information we have to be more specific. A lot of my mind’s processing has to do with things “out of my control,” e.g. autonomic processes in my body like my heart beating, etc. But Free Will speaks to the things that are IN my deliberate control and which reflect me will/desires.

                I’m sitting in my house. Is this of my own free will? That is to ask: could I be doing otherwise, if I desired, for instance could I be strolling outside? Yes. I’m physically capable and have access to either action, staying in or going out. I’m “free”to do as I “will,” stay in or go outside.

                But if I want to go outside but I’m constrained because I’ve been locked in the house, then I’m not “free” to do as I “will”
                in this particular instance. I’m not here of my “free will.” The reason I’m here isn’t because I will/desire to be here, it’s instead because I’ve been constrained to only this situation.

                Of course this involves some mind processing – my desires and ideas of how to fulfill them – but then all manner of our actions involve “mind processing” so that phrase just isn’t specific enough to stand in for the more specific scenarios described by “free willed choices.” (And, also, scenarios of constraint or lack of constraint
                involve not just our “mind processing” but appeal to states of affairs outside our minds, e.g. physical situations constraining our abilities to act, like locks, physical laws, etc).

                Vaal

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

                Vaal, you say “I’m sitting in my house. Is this of my own free will? That is to ask: could I be doing otherwise, if I desired, for instance could I be strolling outside? Yes. I’m physically capable and have access to either action, staying in or going out. I’m “free”to do as I “will,” stay in or go outside.”

                Just as when Richard Dawkins writes about selfish genes, we all know that genes are not really selfish, but it is a useful metaphor. We understand what he means. Genes are not *really* selfish, but they kind of behave as though they are selfish, and we can use the phrase selfish genes, without extrapolating to say that in fact genes actually are selfish, or else selfish doesn’t mean anything.

                It’s the same with free will. You can say you are sitting in your house of your own free will and we all know what you mean. This can be true and convey meaning, even if free will, in a philosophical sense, doesn’t really exist. You are adding an extra layer of needless confusion by arguing that if you can say “I’m home of my own free will” then free will must exist in a way that non-compatibilists deny.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

                A “mind processing” is just some vague, generalized phrase. Doesn’t tell us much does it?

                .

                The funny thing is that that is how I feel about the term free will.

              • Vaal
                Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

                pacopicopiedra,

                This can be true and convey meaning, even if free will, in a philosophical sense, doesn’t really exist.”

                But I’m arguing free will DOES exist, philosophically speaking, empirically speaking, practically speaking.

                So saying it doesn’t just begs the question against the argument I’ve been presenting.

                I’m saying the things I describe in the term “free will” are aimed at describing real world behaviors and properties: people having desires, wishing to act on those desires, being capable of acting to fulfill those desires under some conditions, but not other conditions, etc. These are all factual, empirical realities, not mere metaphysical woo-woo.

                So your objection seems to carry the assumption that it seems most incompatibilists just can’t shake which is “but THAT isn’t ‘real’ free will. Because REAL FREEDOM would be magical.”

                But, as I’ve argued, I don’t think that’s the case either; it doesn’t truly capture everything that motivates the use of the terms “free,” “free choice,” “freely-chosen,” “free will,” “morally responsible” etc. I think real world observations and descriptions motivate our use of these terms and concepts more than magic, woo-woo, metaphysics do.

                But…these threads can’t go on forever. Thanks for your replies.

                Vaal

            • Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

              When people use that type of language, they’re generally pointing to their internal mental processes whereby they construct a private virtual reality simulation and play out their best guesses at the likely results of the decisions they see they have before them. But this is an entirely deterministic process, and we have no choice but to choose the option that we perceive as being the one with the best chances of the most desirable outcome.

              I think it does nothing but cause great confusion to point to our deterministic decision-making process and mislabel it as “married bachelorhood,” though it does help to identify this as the source of the confusion.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                I think it does nothing but cause great confusion to point to our deterministic decision-making process and mislabel it as “married bachelorhood,”

                Why, Ben, are you ceding to the religious control of the language? Let me guess, “marriage” is only marriage if done in the eyes of God. It does nothing but cause confusion to apply the term “marriage” to merely human arrangements.

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

                Don’t be silly. For one, marriage is far older than any religion in popular practice today, and pair bonding in humans probably long predates anything vaguely resembling religion.

                For another, though questions about the deterministic or chaotic nature of the universe and what influences humans are subject to dates back to at least the pre-Socratics, I’m pretty sure the oxymoronic term, “free will,” is a Christian invention used to label Jesus’s malevolence and / or his incompetence — that is, as the “answer” to Epicurus’s famous riddle.

                I’m more than happy to let the morons have their oxymoron, and to use clear language to describe reality. Humans are amazing decision-making machines who navigate the vast spaces of possibility with remarkable ease. Why muddle what we actually do with a self-contradictory and incoherent term that’s most useful for obfuscating an inevitable logical conclusion arrived at centuries before the Caesars?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

                And another point.

                If we’re agreed that the phenomenon in question is the human decision-making process, and the only question is whether we should appropriate the loaded term, “free will” to label that phenomenon…well, we’re left with another problem. The human decision-making process is, in principle, no different from what a chess computer does. In both cases, a number of different simulations are run of the predicted outcomes of available options, and the results of that analysis determine the decision that’s made.

                You’re presumably trying to save the term, “free will,” for the set of people who embrace it, but to change their definition from “ghost in the machine” to this one. But those same people already use “free will” to differentiate human decision-making from what computers do.

                So, just as with accommodationists, you’re halfway to crazy town. You’re confusing the naturalists by using a religiously-loaded term to describe a mundane phenomenon that only is tangentially related to the original definition, and you’re confusing the supernaturalists by trying to convince them that a computer has the same free will as they do.

                This is not a strong rhetorical position to argue much of anything from, other than a very vague and wishy-washy “Why doesn’t everybody just get along and love one another?”

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                Seems to me that you – and all *other* die-hard incompatibilists [ ;-) ] – are making “laws of nature” rather much of an article of faith. While it is apparently obvious that most events are “lawful” and causal – at least statistically speaking – it seems a bit of a stretch to insist – somewhat dogmatically on rather limited evidence – that absolutely every event so qualifies.

                Analogously, to perform a “thought-experiment”, one could have a bunch of dominoes set up so that tipping the “keystone” to the left causes one sequence of others to fall, while tipping it to the right causes an entirely different sequence of others to fall. While the particular sequence following the choice may be entirely “lawful” and deterministic, the choice of which way to tip that keystone is, I think to some degree at least, a matter of free-will: something not totally determined by prior events.

                Seems to me that you’re begging the question – literally – by insisting on an entirely deterministic universe when that seems rather moot. And the crux of the matter.

              • Posted October 31, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

                It is not an article of faith; it is a conclusion from observation

                http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/

                And “difficult” and “impossible” are as much different from each other as the largest number you can think of and infinity.

                Lastly, nobody’s disputing the existence of true randomness, especially from quantum phenomena. It’s just that randomness is irrelevant. Not only does it carry no meaning (by definition); it’s what we resort to when we don’t give a damn. Sweet & Sour Pork, or Sweet & Sour Chicken? Can’t decide? Flip a coin. Doesn’t matter.

                b&

              • Posted October 31, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

                Ben:

                “A conclusion from observation”, you say? You mean, sort of like the “conclusion” from, presumably, an equal number of observations that space was Euclidean? Which turns out not to be the case. You may wish to take a close look at the Wikipedia article on the problem of induction, your statement apparently being a clear manifestation of that: seems you’re leaping from evidence of “n” cases of lawful behaviour to an assertion that, for example, “n factorial factorial … factorial” cases must, perforce, also exhibit the same type of behaviour.

                In addition, your very admission of “true randomness” carries with it an implication that not every event is causally determined, i.e., absolute determinism is an untenable position. As for your related assertion – that “randomness is irrelevant”, that seems to qualify as “a statement of a point of view as if it were an established fact”, i.e., dogmatism. One might suggest that if random events trigger a whole sequence of causal and deterministic ones then calling that “irrelevant” seems equally untenable if not actually unwise.

                As for Sean Carroll, he is, of course, a clever fellow. Although I expect on some evidence, one not entirely immune to the “sin” of hubris. Which – considering history – seems to “infect” scientists no less frequently than we lesser mortals. Apropos of which, you may wish to reflect on an aphorism from Einstein: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” As someone else said, the map is not the territory – mathematics being, in the view of Jacob Bronowski, “the most colossal metaphor [or map] imaginable”.

              • Posted October 31, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

                Steersman, there are only two possible explanations for your response: ignorance or Chopra-style woo. I can’t suggest which is more likely.

                I can’t imagine how you could have possibly missed it, but space most emphatically is Euclidean, because Relativistic geometry reduces to Euclidean geometry at all but the largest scales. There is nothing even remotely hypothetically relativistic about the human brain. You could use Einstein’s equations to model the human brain, but it’d be a colossal waste, as you’ll get the exact same results as if you used Newton’s equations to within more decimal places than either of us can count.

                The same goes in the other direction, with an insignificant caveat. The brain is not a quantum device. The caveat is that we haven’t entirely ruled out the possibility of very subtle quantum effects at certain junctures, but we’ve almost entirely ruled them out. And we know full well what possible quantum effects could happen, and none of them are even remotely relevant to this discussion — though, to be sure, they’d be a subject of great interest to neuroscientists if they were ever detected.

                Is there a lot that we don’t know? Absolutely. Dark matter, dark energy, gravity, the harmonization of Quantum and Relativistic Mechanics, and more. But we also know that nothing that remains to be discovered is at all relevant to human-scale events. Anything new will reduce to Relativistic Mechanics at large scales (which, in turn, reduces to classical mechanics at our scales) and / or Quantum Mechanics at small scales (which, again, reduces to classical mechanics at our scales).

                How do we know this? Re-read Sean’s essay for starters, but the simple version is that we would have seen evidence long before now. And each new discovery only pushes the boundaries that much farther away. Sean wrote that essay before the confirmation of the Higgs; with that in place, again, you can’t count the number of decimal points left for any new force to have room to work in. That’s also confirmed by recent cosmic-scale observations, including of the Microwave Background; physics has been the same for a baker’s dozen billion years.

                Your map analogy would be a good one if you would actually look at the map. What you’re doing is the equivalent of claiming that maybe there’s still hope for some intrepid sailor to discover Atlantis, still intact and never sunken after all, somewhere off the African coast — and you’re basing that claim on the fact that our maps aren’t complete; the best ones “merely” bottom out at meter-scale resolution.

                And that’s crazy talk, no matter how you dress it up.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 31, 2013 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

                Ben:

                I’ll certainly “cop to” some degree of ignorance, although I think I have enough knowledge to at least know that I don’t know everything. And I might suggest the same is likely to be true for you as well.

                As for the “Euclidean-ness” of space, I think your admission that areas exist where that isn’t the case – like adjacent to stars and nearby planets such as our sun and Mercury – proves my point: what we think is true very often turns out not to be the case. Possibly like the nature of and causes for consciousness. But it seems only dogmatists of one stripe or another suggest otherwise. Apropos of which, and of your comments about dark matter and dark energy – which in total apparently comprise some 95.1% of “the total mass-energy of the known universe” – I’m reminded of a comment from Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics (pg 13):

                In 1900, William Thompson (Lord Kelvin), an influential British physicist, famously proclaimed that physics was over, except for two small clouds on the horizon. These “clouds” turned out to the clues that led to quantum theory and relativity theory.

                Considering the impact that those theories have subsequently had, one might suggest some degree of skepticism about Carroll’s claim that “the laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood”.

                As for your “analogy” with Atlantis, one might also suggest that you would have said the same thing in 1900 in response to similar questions about the implications of those “clouds”.

              • Posted November 1, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

                As for the Euclidean-ness of space, I think your admission that areas exist where that isnt the case like adjacent to stars and nearby planets such as our sun and Mercury proves my point: what we think is true very often turns out not to be the case.

                No; not at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.

                What you’re describing is extrapolating outside of the borders of well-mapped domains. Within the domain of human-scale events, you are simply not going to escape Euclid, period, full stop, end of story. You can try all you want to invoke Einstein, but you are perfectly incapable of drawing a triangle on your kitchen countertop with anything other than a total of 180° in interior angles.

                The brain is solidly in the middle of human-scale physics. There are mysteries about the details of the operation of the brain, but not about the rules of physics under which it operates. The rules of physics under which it operates are perfectly well understood, with no room for doubt or wiggle — and those rules permit nothing even vaguely resembling dualism or freedom willies or whatever.

                But it seems only dogmatists of one stripe or another suggest otherwise.

                I am absolutely a dogmatist about Newtonian physics at applicable scales, and only a fool is not. I am also a dogmatist about the fact that the Sun rises in the East, and that unsupported objects fall towards the center of the Earth at an accelerating rate of about ten meters per second squared, with the usual caveats about aerodynamics and the like. And I am dogmatic about the fact that 1 + 1 = 2, that the squares of the adjacent sides of a right triangle sum to the square of the hypotenuse, and so on. Only a fool is not similarly dogmatic about these sorts of things.

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

            But “free will” does exist in some sense, it exists in the sense that people use the terms “freedom” and “will” about a human choosing an ice cream flavour in a way that they don’t do about a brick falling under gravity.

            Now, given that both of these phenomenon are deterministic, the question becomes that do we actually mean by “freedom” and “will” in such circumstances? What are the salient differences between those two phenomenon that leads to the different use of language?

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

              Does animals have free will?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

                Of course.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

                So it’s not unique for humans.

                Does it matter whether you’re a mammal or an insect?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

                In degree, yes. The amount of flexibility of response will depend on the degree of sophistication of the animal, so mammals will have more of it. As Dennett says, freedom evolves (just like intelligence and everything else biological).

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                But how do you decide what constitutes free will in a living organism and what doesn’t?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

                Free will = Degree of flexibility of response in pursuit of a goal.

                This is not, of course, a yes/no feature, it has degrees, just like intelligence.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

                If it is a question of degrees then there has to be a defining value, otherwise it is a ( scientifically speaking ) meaningless exercise.

                How do we measure the degrees of free will and what is the human average of free will?

              • JBlilie
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

                To Coel’s reply at: October 24, 2013 at 1:13 pm

                You are only discussing the degree of complexity of the machine. I’m not seeing how free will comes out of it.

                At what point does complexity = free? Or = will?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

                Re: “At what point does complexity = free? Or = will?”

                Your question presumes it’s a binary yes/no, which it isn’t. At what point over evolutionary time did animals become intelligent?

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

                Can you define intelligence in this respect?

              • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

                Re: “How do we measure the degrees of free will ….”

                Soemthing like: range of possible behaviours exhibited under the range of possible environments usually encountered.

                ” … and what is the human average of free will?”

                A lot. Would you agree that the term “behaviour” has scientific validity? If so, can you put a number on it?

              • JBlilie
                Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

                I still see this as equating complexity with freedom and will. That’s a nonsequitor as far as I can see.

                As you noted above, different terms are needed.

                I don’t think people define free-ness of will as complexity of behavioral set.

            • Pete Cockerell
              Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

              Could you or Vaal explain the difference between free will and sentience under the definition of free will that you’re espousing? Thanks!

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:17 am | Permalink

                The term “sentience” is broader, and means the ability to experience, to be aware of things.

                “Free will” is more specific. It refers to the goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour shown by intelligent animals.

                Specifically, “will” refers to having goals and wanting to choose an option in order to puruse that goal. “Freedom” refers to the ability to act on that desire.

              • Pete Cockerell
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

                Thanks!

  25. stevezara
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Sorry .. missed out: ‘nothing more than the ability to make choices’.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      One point on the word “ability”.

      I would express it this way. That ability is really an unconscious causal necessity producing a conscious choice and an associated feeling of having chosen – when we do actually find ourselves making choices; and similarly a causal necessity sometimes results in our failing to make decisions with an associated feeling of having failed to do so. It’s obvious that we have no conscious control over the making of choices. We become aware of a need to make a choice, various things come into our minds, and sometimes a choice emerges, sometimes not.

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

        sub

  26. Jeff K
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    The ramifications of rejecting free will as a society seem problematic. Thinking about criminal justice in particular.

    As a psychologist, I reject free will personally but see value in acting as though we do from a mental health perspective.

    • JBlilie
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      “I reject free will … but see value in acting as though we do from a mental health perspective”

      I think this summarizes Harris’s position, for most applications.

      • Kelton Barnsley
        Posted October 31, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

        Do you mean Sam Harris? If so, I think you need to read Free Will a bit more closely. He clearly elaborates that rejecting the belief in free will as a society will have profound – and ultimately beneficial – effects on how we deal with issues like mental health and criminal justice.

    • Kevin
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      As a physicist, I see no problem rejecting free will.

      Criminal justice depends on empirical facts (or it should). No one should be able to go around and say…”Well you have no free will and therefore we will put you away for things you may or may not do.” The system, has and will continue to work as if all agents have free will and we simply have no idea what anyone is going to do tomorrow.

      • gbjames
        Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:05 am | Permalink

        I’m pretty sure I have some idea what I’ll be doing tomorrow. I expect I’ll sleep later than usual, it being Saturday. The chances are much better than 50/50 that I’ll walk to my local coffee shop between 8 and 9:30 in the morning as I’ve done nearly every Saturday for the past ten years. I’m pretty sure I’ll be dining with my wife and friends at Three Brothers and ordering spinach and cheese burek.

        I don’t see that predictability is determinant in the question of free will. (Which I’m inclined to be on the “there is none” side of, fwiw.)

        • Kevin
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

          My wife, kids, and cats would never attempt to semi-accurately predict what I will do tomorrow, or worse, what could happen to me randomly.

          A lot of people do agree (including myself) that determinism is not required for noFW [hard incompatibilism]. Predictability is assumed usually for most hard determinists, but not for incompatibilists. This is unfortunate, it may be proven that the laws of physics which provide solutions for the outcomes in our existence are deterministic, yet not capable of predicting the trajectory of a single molecule over time.

          • Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

            Predictability is always a red herring.

            After all, that’s an epistemic category, not an ontological one.

  27. jeffery
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Even if we HAD “free will”, it could not necessarily be seen as a “good” thing, as we do not know in advance the exact results of the actions we “choose” to take: I can jog to improve my health and end up getting run over by a drunk driver; I can eat more lettuce, and end up getting a fatal bacterial infection.
    This is especially true for Christians: if man’s “original sin” was the result of Eve’s exercising her “free” will, shouldn’t all Christians be earnestly praying every day that any trace of it be removed from them?

    • Kevin
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      They should pray every day. Alas, it is their own manufactured misery and shame. This is yet another reason why I consider that religious people generally think much less about metaphysical issues than atheists.

      Religious people, in general, do so little thinking about their existence. They let their religion think for them…and it proves some rather horrible solutions to every problem ever posed to it.

      • lisa parker
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

        Actually, I think the vast majority of humans spend very little time thinking about their existence or metaphysical issues. They are too busy thinking about keeping their existence and the existence of those dependent upon them ongoing. They get up, do whatever it is that maintains said existence (work for pay, supply food and such necessities, handle household and caregiver duties, etc), until they fall into exhausted sleep when they can. Most of humanity has no time for such trivialities as metaphysics or religion. They trust whatever religious and/or socio-political leaders to handle those areas. We should be grateful (to whatever device that handles such things) that we have the time and resources to concern ourselves about them.

        • Kevin
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:33 am | Permalink

          To some degree I envy honest, hardworking persons who never have a care in the world about metaphysical issues, religius or otherwise. Many physicists are like that…they just can’t be bothered…it is the stuff of ‘not even wrong’ for them. I am just poor sod who thinks this stuff is fascinating.

          • lisa parker
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

            I’m right there with you!

          • Kelton Barnsley
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

            Me too!

  28. eric
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    After reading (and excessively responding to) a lot of the posts, this issue strikes me as having all the standard characteristics of a science-philosophy debate. Scientists are frustrated because philosophers won’t simply pick a defitinion (aka hypothesis) and then go test it; they want to keep discussing all the endless varieties of possible hypotheses there could be. OTOH, philosophers are frustrated because scientists seem narrowly focused on picking one and hammering it down, rather than (as Vaal put it) “examining what we can and do mean by such terms.”

    There’s room for both explorations; examining what humans mean when they say ‘free will,’ AND figuring out which of those meanings have some correlation to empirical reality vs. which don’t. But I side with the sciences in that it seems to me like the philosophy side has an active antipathy towards converting the range of human meanings into a set of testable hypotheses. The fact that there may be an infinite set of possible definitions of free will is not daunting; we just rack and stack them and then test them in turn. Do not fear resolving the question of whether some specific idea about free will is right or wrong; help us do that. Help us make them testable. If you’re wrong, you can always come up with more ideas.

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re generally right, but also that you’re being a bit generous to the philosophers.

      I’ve found that they’re generally offering up incoherent and / or irrelevant definitions, or ones that aren’t even hypothetically testable — all in the name of somehow “salvaging” free willies, especially the wet ones.

      The terms, “free,” and, “will,” are quite useful in their independent contexts — just as, to use my favorite example and the one Jerry used above, “married,” and, “bachelor.” The problem only arises when you try to insist that they can simultaneously exist in the same context. A will that fails to behave in an orderly fashion according to its nature is no will at all, and freedom that submits to structure is only free in an Orwell novel. But this should no more be disturbing to us than the fact that a married man is not a bachelor, and a bachelor is not married! Angst only arises when a married man longs for his glory days before marriage, or a bachelor wishes for the comforts of marriage. Still, such angst does not mean that the two men have now somehow become married bachelors, even if the married man has many mistresses or the bachelor moves in with his long-time girlfriend.

      The philosophers, on the other hand, are, exactly as Jerry described, equating philandering husbands and men with live-in girlfriends with married bachelors. Sorry, no; that’s not the way it works — any more than the women in any of these scenarios can be a “little bit” pregnant.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • JBlilie
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        “A will that fails to behave in an orderly fashion according to its nature is no will at all, and freedom that submits to structure is only free in an Orwell novel.”

        Ben: This is the best thing I’ve read on this thread. Well said.

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

          Thanks. I’m still trying to refine the phrasing…feels more awkward than it should….

          b&

          • lisa parker
            Posted October 24, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

            Personally, I like it just the way it is.

            • Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

              Thanks. I’m still trying to think of how to work in an analogy of pushing something with a wet noodle….

              b&

    • Vaal
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Generally I agree Eric, with the virtues of testability.

      That’s actually strikes me as one of the virtues of the compatibilist stance, at least as I’ve defended it here; it’s coherence with our notions of testability and empirical inference.

      In this conception, to say I was free to choose between riding my bike or driving my car to work is just an empirical claim about what I’m capable of in similar conditions, when not otherwise physically constrained or coerced.

      It can be tested just the way other empirical claims can be tested, by putting me in similar conditions and seeing if I can choose between the options.

      Whereas how exactly is incompatibilism, the claim argued for by Jerry and others here, “tested” in a similar consistent manner?

      If you define free will as the ability to “have done otherwise” under PRECISELY and INVARIABLY the same conditions (“re-wind the tape” as Jerry has put it), how exactly do you test that and show it wrong?

      First, you can’t go back in time and test it, to show that such free will couldn’t have occurred. And if you want to do some test now to establish such free will can’t occur, how would you do it? Given the world is always in a state of change, no two test conditions, physically or temporally, will ever be the same. So you can’t say “I’ve established a test for free will” if you aren’t replicating the conditions you associated with free will in the first place!

      Of course, you can then start saying “Well, we can take all sorts of disparate tests about how people and the universe operate at different times and make inferences about what they can and can not do in a general sense.”

      Well…yes…you can. But then, not only have you abandoned the original insistance on what free will as that you are measuring for, you’ve just gone right down the same path leading to compatibilism: that free will is not sensibly a claim related to abilities measured via a single time and set of causes – but that we sensibly make more generalized claims about our abilities, inferred in similar situations over time – exactly the logic used in the compatibilist sense of “I could have done otherwise.”

      So, it seems to me people arguing from incompatibilism shouldn’t complain about compatibilism “not being testable” if they can’t show how their incompatibilist stance, with it’s definition of free will, has been empirically tested…in a way that does not end up validating the concepts of compatibilism.

      Vaal

      • eric
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        Vaal,
        “Full” determinism is tested because it makes multiple predictions, one of which is that humans don’t have free will, and the others of which emprically appear to be right. It is one hypothesis that makes predictions A-Z, A-Y have been tested and found to be accurate, so we are justified in thinking Z is accurate too. Jerry’s position is supported the same way the claim “c is constant even in places we haven’t measured it” is supported.

        In contrast, I am having a hard time thinking of any supportive test that could distinguish compatibilist FW from Jerry’s full determinism. If you can help me think of one, that would be great. But right now CFW as an hypothesis appears really squishy and untestable to me (except Coel’s version, which is testable but which I have a hard time thinking is acceptable to the vast majority of free-will supporters).

        • Vaal
          Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

          eric,

          You just skipped right over the part where I asked how you would actually test against free will, as Jerry has described it.

          The incopatibilist type of free will to be “tested” is the one in which someone could choose otherwise in PRECISELY the same conditions.

          The best you can do to try and test this is to test for this ability in *similar* conditions and infer from that. But, as I said, once you allow the legitimacy of such empirical claims drawn from that structure of inference, you ratify the same logic for compatibilism. I don’t claim I could choose otherwise in precisely the same situations, but it’s an inference about me from similar-enough situations to make such an inference; exactly how you would structure your claim against contra-causal free will.

          So it’s odd to say “We can test against contras causal free will using this method of empirical extrapolation” but then, strangely, deny it when it comes to testing compatibilist notions of free will.

          To say I chose the penny over the quarter on the table of my own free will, entails that I had the power to do otherwise had I desired to, given I was under the condition of not having been otherwise constrained. You can test this empirically by placing me in similar conditions to the one my claim referred to – with pennies and quarters on a table – to see if I have this ability.

          Finally, this is a bit of a confusion here:

          “In contrast, I am having a hard time thinking of any supportive test that could distinguish compatibilist FW from Jerry’s full determinism.”

          That’s a similar equivocation to the one found in Jerry’s post. It’s not that compatibilism is to be “distinguished from determinism.” Compatibilism makes sense PRESUMING determinism, not being distinguished from it.

          As for making sense; do you not agree that, even given a determined world, it still makes sense to describe a dog as being “free” from it’s chain (when it becomes unchained) or the 3 Cleveland women having become “freed” from captivity?

          Vaal

          • eric
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:39 am | Permalink

            You just skipped right over the part where I asked how you would actually test against free will, as Jerry has described it.

            I didn’t skip it, I told you exactly how it’s been done. You take the full determinism hypotheses and you see what additional predictions it makes, beyond human consciousness. You test those other predictions. If those predictions turn out to be accurate, you gain confidence in the hypothesis. The tests for determinism are in watching the atoms composing the brain and organs obey physical laws. Its in watching neurons and heart tissue and liver tissue behave in a chemically deterministic manner. Its in watching small networks of neurons or blood vesssels function in deterministic ways.

            Maybe that’s not what you’d ideally like to do, but its how we test all sorts of things. Think about scientific claims on the diets of dinosaurs. We don’t insist we have to watch a live dinosaur eating; we identify other predictions such a hypothesis will make – dental wear patterns, etc. – and we test those. Determinism in the mind is exactly the same.

            It’s not that compatibilism is to be “distinguished from determinism.” Compatibilism makes sense PRESUMING determinism, not being distinguished from it.

            I am having a hard time seeing what the label “free will” in CFW refers to then. Surely you must think there’s a substantive difference in your position and Jerry’s. You aren’t simply making a semantic argument that the words “free will” are a perfectly acceptable appellation for deterministic robots, are you?

            As for making sense; do you not agree that, even given a determined world, it still makes sense to describe a dog as being “free” from it’s chain (when it becomes unchained) or the 3 Cleveland women having become “freed” from captivity?

            Sure, I accept that there is more than one usage of the word “free” in English. But I was expecting that the CFW position consisted of more than just an alternate usage of the word “free” that can be applied to human minds the same way it applies to chess-playing computers and airplane autopilots. Maybe that’s my mistake. Is that all you guys are saying? That human minds are free in the same way a chess-playing computer is free to make a chess move?

            • Vaal
              Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

              Eric,

              Your description of scientific forms of inference to test Jerry’s “free will” lands us in one of the two options I’d been describing:
              The same type of testing and inference you allow to justify Jerry’s view of free will being false, can be used to test the compatibilist notion of free will, making it empirically supported.

              That’s been my argument for consistency all along, yet in these pages there is always the claim that CFW can’t be tested and hence it’s still some sort of woo-woo. No, it’s testable in the same way you test anything else, empirically.

              As for the difference between what I’ve argued and Jerry’s position: I’d say the difference is that I apprehend compatibilism to provide more conceptual coherence, both in allowing the consistent use of terms like “free” and prescriptive language, and also in understanding and explaining the type of inferences people are making about their “ability to have done otherwise,” and “responsibility” and the authorship of their choices.

              The way Jerry, and some others, argue against free will involves
              doing unnecessary violence to terms like “choice,” “freedom,” “ought,” “moral responsibility” etc. Because he will say things like “you didn’t really have a choice, it was just an illusion” and “it wasn’t ‘really’ up to you” etc, and I’d disagree with all of that.

              Moral responsibility, agency and moral competence are useful, necessary concepts that describe real world differences between beings. I’m capable of more things than a glass of water, a bug, or a cat (well, maybe not a cat) and some of those capabilities – e.g. being informed, having desires, rationalizing how to fulfill my desires, being able to represent my “reasons for doing things” to myself and others, so we can know whether my “reasons are good” or not, that I’m amenable to change via reasoning, and punishment, etc. While “freedom” can be on a continuum from the tiniest entities who can avoid X or Y to us, nonetheless our type of freedom is much richer and more complex and brings in richer levels of “responsibility” because of our attributes.

              Further, when I asked about using “free” to describe the dog off the chain or the Cleveland captives once released, you characterized this as some “alternate” use of the word “free.”
              It’s not an alternate usage: it generally captures how people actually employ the term “free” to such situations, and how they employ it in situations related to “free will.” If people were asked “were the Cleveland woman in that house for a decade of their own free will” the answer would be “no.” Why? Because
              of the constraints they were under, physical and coercive, abusive threats to their well being. Absent those constraints, if they “could have left any time without restraint or coercion” people wouldn’t be saying they were there against their will; they’d point out they were there out of their own free will.
              The differences the terms “free” and “free will” are motivated by describing these real world, physical differences in their situations. Not, as Jerry and other incompatibilists seem to claim, some contra-causal, metaphysical dualistic claims.

              Which is why the compatibilist notion of “free will” actually matches generally how people adduce such terms, and hence isn’t guilty of “re-defining away what people think of as free will.”

              I suggest the shoe is on the other foot; that people are not actually motivated by weird contra-causal, metaphysical ideas when thinking “I could do either a or b, or I was free to do either a or b. But rather, they are thinking more along standard empirical forms of inference, about what capabilities they have in the world.

              Cheers,

              Vaal

              • eric
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

                It’s [the dog-leash usage] not an alternate usage: it generally captures how people actually employ the term “free” to such situations, and how they employ it in situations related to “free will.”

                That BS, pure and simple. My son has a car that goes on a push of a button. Let’s say I push the button, but hold the car to prevent it from moving. Then I let it go, and it moves. It goes from not having freedom to move, to having it. Did the car go from non-free-willed to free-willed?

                I suppose some small minority of people might accept that definition of free will, but I’m sorry, it IS a non-standard alternate usage, and probably not a definition of free will that one people out of 100 would accept.

            • Vaal
              Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

              Eric,

              These comment strings can get unruly looking, so I replied to you at the bottom of the page, comment #53.

              Vaal

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

          I am having a hard time thinking of any supportive test that could distinguish compatibilist FW from Jerry’s full determinism.

          Compatibilist FW **is** Jerry’s full determinism!

          These debates are always frustrating because everyone always suspects compatibilists of wanting to poke holes in determinism. That is not true! Compatibilists *embrace* determinism fully and wholeheartedly as a starting point.

          From there they want to use words like “choice” and actually think about what is happening in such choices, instead of using “appearance of choice” and not thinking about why they use that phrase for some sorts of behaviour but not others.

      • Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        Vaal,

        Once more I find that your comments are the most thoughtful and insightful in these discussions. Kudos!

        I had never stopped to think that through, but this is really a fantastic observation. Compatibilist free will is a testable hypothesis; incompatibilism is not testable and thus not a scientific hypothesis.

        • Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

          Alex, while I agree that Vaal is the best at explaining the the compatibilist position, I think you’re missing an important point. There is only one thing compatibilists and non-compatibilists disagree on, and that is how to define “free will.” It is entirely a matter of semantics. Any hypothesis you are testing is useless if you can’t agree on the definitions of terms. Sure you can test compatibilist free will. I can also test arglebargleshmargle, if I define it as a coin toss that ends up heads and tails at the same time. So now arglebargleshmargle is a scientific hypothesis, so what? My definition is ridiculous. So, may of us think, is the definition of compatibilist free will.

          • Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

            It seems to me that Vaal has at least implicitly explained quite nicely what is testable and how it could be tested. Not sure if his breakfast analogy is the best, but perhaps another one like stealing will do.

            You can surely imagine how one would test whether a kleptomaniac and somebody not suffering from the same problem would be equally able to refrain from stealing. The ability of the healthy person to make the choice where the kleptomaniac is unable can be called “more free will”. It is not clear to me in what sense the factual observation of this difference and its naming are comparable to an internal contradiction.

            Conversely, Vaal has also pointed out that the claim that we could not have decided differently given exactly the same conditions is, while likely true (like all compatibilists I am a determinist myself), not testable in principle.

            • Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

              Again, you may be testing something in your stealing example, but I wouldn’t call it free will. In fact, maybe I’d call it Intelligent Design. There, now I’ve just made Intelligent Design a testable, and therefore scientific, hypothesis. See how easy that was? And how unhelpful?

          • Vaal
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

            pacopicopiedra,

            I wouldn’t quite agree that the only difference between compatibilists and non-compatibilists is the semantic difference on how to define free will.

            There seem to be some substantial conceptual differences as well, with non-compatibilists describing our choices as “not really ours” or our being like “puppets on a string” and our not really being the authors of or responsible for our choices, or not being morally responsible, etc.

            These types of inferences are ones that compatibilists dispute as well.

            Vaal

            • Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

              OK, maybe the disagreement extends to other words and phrases besides just free will, but I still think it is all semantics. When you say you disagree with the characterization of choices as “not really ours,” we’re still just playing word games. We agree on what’s actually happening at a physical level in the brain. The non-compatibilists say that means there’s no free will, choices are not really ours, we couldn’t have done differently, etc. Compatibilists say there is free will, choices are ours, we could do differently in similar, but not exactly the same, situations. We’re just using different words to describe the same phenomenon. The disagreement is entirely about language.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

                In a way, the disagreement is about language, but the terms we use matter. For starters, one could try to visualize what incompatibilist mean when they say that “choices are not really ours” or, worse, “our brain/genes/the laws of physics decide for us”. The only way I can understand it is that they see “us” as a kind of soul sitting helplessly in the body while the body shambles around following the laws of physics or whatever.

                In other words, there is an involuntary dualism at play here. The compatibilist, on the other hand, realizes that the brain / genes / body / sum of previous environmental influences that make the decisions are not making them for us, but they are us, and thus they are us making our own decisions.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

                In other words, there is an involuntary dualism at play here. The compatibilist, on the other hand, realizes that the brain / genes / body / sum of previous environmental influences that make the decisions are not making them for us, but they are us, and thus they are us making our own decisions.

                Given one of Coel’s earlier grievances regarding what he thinks incompatibilists accuse compatibilists of, I find your claims somewhat ironic.

                But hey, to each his own, right?

        • Vaal
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

          Alex,

          About the testability of free will:

          I just want to clarity that when I allude to the untestability of “incompatibilist free will” I’m not saying it’s untestable in principle, rather I’m making an argument for consistancy.

          Non-compatibilists keep saying that free will is woo woo because you can’t test it. But the…you also can’t say you’ve disproved it either, if your standard is empirical testing.

          And non-compatibilists seem to poo-poo the idea of any free will being testable, CFW or otherwise. But it seems they do this by being inconsistent.

          For instance, I say “To say I ate cheerios of my own free will means I could have done otherwise had I wanted to.” The incompatibilist often keeps assuming his notion of free will in this scenario, that “Vaal could have done otherwise at precisely the same time in the universe, all conditions the same, because after all if he’s not talking about that, then it’s not really ‘free will.”

          I say, look, I can provide empirical support for my claim: put me in front of two cereal boxes and watch as I choose between them.
          This tends to be rejected by the incompatibilist because the conditions aren’t exactly the same. It would only be a true test for free will IF I WERE UNDER PRECISELY THE SAME CONDITIONS and could choose either way, because…after all…THAT’s what ‘real’ free will would be.

          But then – and here’s the consistency argument – if you are putting THOSE strictures on my ability to empirically support my claim of showing free will, then you can’t have it both ways: the same are going to apply to you. If you hold that a test for free will could only be relevant if one could repeat PRECISELY the same conditions, then you can’t talk about empirical tests showing it to be FALSE either. You can’t conclude “we don’t have free will” as if you’ve established it empirically, if THOSE are the restrictions you’ve placed on testing that capability.

          But then, as I’ve said, you CAN make empirical inferences against incompatibilists free will IF you allow yourself to say “Ok, we can’t replicate any situation to exactly the same degree, but we can get roughly similar situations, close enough, to make inferences about whether such an ability is plausible.”

          Which is fine. But then, once you allow that, it’s exactly what I’ve been saying all along: that’s how we make empirical conclusions in the first place…about anything! Abstract inferences from roughly similar situations to test for the attribute under inquiry.

          So it’s hypocritical to say “we can empirically establish we have no free will” while disavowing empirical results showing we have free will – like my being able to choose between cereals under test conditions – that would use the same method of testing and inference.

          And the consequences of this accepted method of inference runs through all our reasoning, including how we are normally thinking when we conclude “I COULD HAVE done A instead of B in that circumstance.”
          Which is one of the cruxes of free will.

          Vaal.

          • Vaal
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

            apologies for typos…

            Vaal

          • Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

            I think we are on the same page here. I do not go around disregarding everything that cannot be called an empirically falsifiable scientific hypothesis either (how would I do math?), and I get that the point is more the irony of calling somebody out for their supposedly non-scientific ideas while promoting a non-scientific idea.

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re right that the debate here, at least, is looking a lot like the “Something from Nothing” issue: scientists wandering into a long-standing philosophical debate with some experiment they’ve run that they think should revolutionize the debate, and the philosophers looking at it and saying that it might be interesting, but they already thought of that a long time ago. Here, specifically, there are a number of philosophers who held that everything was determined, and did so long before we had any of the more recent results. It was the implications of that at least potential that started the debate over free will in the first place, and compatiblism was indeed a way to allow for determinism to be true without facing the seemingly ridiculous consequences of it being true … long before science EVER got around to doing more than presuming determinism.

  29. Greg Esres
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    <>

    No.

    Incompatiblism already encompasses anything that compatiblism has to say. Compatiblism isn’t a real position.

    • Kevin
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Some, if not most, compatibilists actually know that they have no free will but they behave as if they have free will. Their actions would be incommensurate with their beliefs…so they choose compatibilism.

  30. JBlilie
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    :)

  31. Pliny the in Between
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Compatibilism is just another example of a fundamental difference between science and philosophy. Science tends to be a bottom up approach to problem solving. Starting from the basics of observation and experimentation, science builds a progressively better approximation of observed reality. Once the model fits all that can be observed, science is fairly content.

    Philosophy seems to be a top down approach – a theory is created first that is not necessarily anchored in observed reality. As science fills in the gaps from below and reaches a reasonable stopping point well south of the philosopher’s concepts, the response from some philosophers tends to not be to accept defeat, but rather to insist that some unfalsifiable metaphysical fudge factor can account for the disparity. It can all sound very convincing and sophisticated but in the end does it improve our practical understanding?

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Or, as I like to put it: philosophy is atheistic theology….

      b&

    • John K.
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Well, not ALL philosophy is done that way. There are some philosophical elements to the scientific method, which form a concerted effort to avoid the confirmation bias pump you are talking about.

      Still, there seems to be no shortage of overreaching philosophizers that engage in exactly what you describe. I would count Eric MacDonald among them.

  32. ppnl
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    As always in these discussions I take the position that we are discussing the wrong thing.

    Given that we experience our own thoughts it is obvious that we would think we are the authors of our own story. That is what we call free will.

    The question then isn’t about the existence of free will but about the existence of experience itself.

    Can the fact of experience be predicted from the laws of physics? I don’t see how. But if it cannot then experience would seem to have no observable effect in the universe. If it has no effect then how do you explain the existence of this discussion here on this blog? Isn’t that an effect?

    The problem seems insurmountable. I don’t even know what an answer would look like. I don’t much like compatabilism but then I cannot read anything by Searle without throwing the book across the room.

    Maybe the best argument for compatabilism is that the alternative is truly stupid.

    • John K.
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      We may not be able to predict experience as a whole, but we are fairly certain that particular parts of the brain preform specific functions in experience. In that way we can at least make decent predictions about what effect various types of brain damage can have on certain aspects of experience. We know certain substances will cause hallucinations when ingested. The problem is very difficult and complex, but not completely insurmountable.

      Which alternative is truly stupid? Libertarian free will or incompatablism?

      • ppnl
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

        We may not be able to predict experience as a whole, but we are fairly certain that particular parts of the brain preform specific functions in experience.

        No, particular parts of the brain process and arrange different information. Experiencing that information is neither explained or even seems necessary for function. The brain processes information about color. So would a robot brain. We also experience color. Presumably a robot does not. In any case if it does it does not seem relevant to its function.

        And by stupid I mean Searle. I can’t even attempt to parse his writing without blowing a fuse.

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

          I would suggest that what we perceive as our subjective experiences are exactly what it feels like to be “inside” any comparable computational device. We can be as certain as we are of anything that our brains are Turing-equivalent machines, and it therefore follows that any equally-Turing-equivalent machine would have the same subjective experiences as we do.

          The only alternative is for some sort of phantasmagorical spirit of a ghost in the machine, but anything capable of fitting that description would constitute a violation of the conservation of energy — which is why we can be so confident that there really isn’t anything more than what meets the eye.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • ppnl
            Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

            I would suggest that what we perceive as our subjective experiences are exactly what it feels like to be “inside” any comparable computational device.

            That may be so but if so it seems it can’t be derived analytically. You would just have to accept it as an axiom. An axiom that seems disconnected from any other axiom from which nothing follows except that you experience things.

            You may be able to get an empirical grasp on the problem. For example imagine a world where it was not true that it feels like something to be a certain kind of computational device. I can still imagine complex organisms evolving. I can imagine them developing technology and going to the moon. But would they be having discussions of free will and experience? Why would they evolve the ability to discuss things that do not exist?

            Yet this is just an extended “I think therefore I am” which does not seem to go anywhere.

            The only alternative is for some sort of phantasmagorical spirit of a ghost in the machine, but anything capable of fitting that description would constitute a violation of the conservation of energy — which is why we can be so confident that there really isn’t anything more than what meets the eye.

            Yes I suspect this is the origin of compatibilism. Faced with this dilemma some ignore the problem and choose compatibilism while other go supernatural and kill science. Or if you are Searle you just say incoherent things and pretend it’s all obvious.

            I don’t think there is any issue with conservation of energy.

            • Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

              I dont think there is any issue with conservation of energy.

              Oh, but there is! That’s the beauty of it.

              Shannon clearly established that communication requires an exchange of energy, and set some very hard limits related to the matter. An immaterial soul would have to exchange energy with the brain in order for it to communicate with the brain. This energy exchange is something we would long since have observed but haven’t; the brain’s energy budget is very well observed.

              But wait! There’s more!

              If the spirit can control your mind and therefore your body without an exchange of energy, then we can build a perpetual motion machine. All we have to do is set up the experiment that Maxwell imagined, and have the spirit play the role of the daemon. The spirit uses its magic to tell you when to open and close the gate, resulting in the hot side getting hotter and the cold side getting colder without any energy input. Hey-presto! Perpetual motion.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • ppnl
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 1:32 am | Permalink

                Shannon clearly established that communication requires an exchange of energy, and set some very hard limits related to the matter.

                You seem to be talking about Landauer’s principle. The problem is it is a very small amount that no device has ever come close to. A desk top computer working close to Landauer’s limit would probably use nano watts.

                The brain uses about a hundred watts. This is going to be many orders of magnitude higher than Landauer’s limit so there is plenty of excess energy to budget for other stuff.

                Even if the brain were working at Landauer’s limit you still don’t really have an argument since we can’t really quantify how much computation the brain is doing. If we can’t do that then we can’t show an energy conservation problem.

                And even beyond that quantum mechanics gives a way to partly defeat the limit. A thermodynamically reversible computation need not use any energy at all. Now if you print out an answer to the computation that is inherently thermodynamically irreversible. But still by using reversible computations where ever you can you can reduce energy costs below what you expect. Look up reversible computing and especially look at its connection to quantum computing.

                And finally the amount of energy needed for some kind of limited ghost in the machine may be quit small. Until you know the mechanism you can’t really know how much energy it needs. Landauer’s principle is a very poor limit.

                No, the best argument against the ghost in the machine is the total failure to identify its operating principle or worse a total failure to even imagine what it would look like.

                Energy conservation just doesn’t get you there.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

                No, I mean Shannon, and especially Nyqvist-Shannon.

                The spirit has to communicate with the brain, and that must result in physical changes in the brain. That takes energy, and the lower bounds are well within the limits of detection. This isn’t about hypothetical computers at the limits of physical possibility, but meat brains.

                Multiple experiments from multiple domains have overwhelmingly ruled out the possibility of as-yet-unknown forces that could operate at the scale of a human brain — though, of course, there’s lots we don’t know about much larger scales (dark energy) and much smaller scales (high-energy particle physics). So, the brain and anything that operates on it is acting with the familiar forces, and we’re well adept at measuring those.

                Since they haven’t been measured, if they nevertheless remain real, they constitute an imbalance in the energy budget equation — which is just another way of describing a perpetual motion machine. Or, of course, yet another way to confirm that they’re imaginary.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • ppnl
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

                Sorry dude, you will have to reference a paper. I don’t think you can do any conservation of energy calculations on the brain or even be sure you know all the physical processes at play. In particular I can’t see the relevance of Nyqvist-Shannon.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

                This is particularly Torbjorn’s area of interest, and he might want to chime in here.

                But the standard article for laypeople commonly cited is this one by Sean Carroll:

                http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/

                With the confirmation of the Higgs combined with cosmic-scale observations, especially of the microwave background, that conclusion has only grown stronger in the years since Sean penned that article.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • ppnl
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, even while generally agreeing with the article you posted I don’t see how it helps.

                Consider an analogy. Say I believe the NSA has planted a bug in my clock radio. You point out that if my clock radio is sending information to the NSA it can only do so by using energy. That energy can be detected as a violation of conservation of energy.

                That may be true but it is profoundly difficult to do calorimetry on a clock radio accurately enough to detect a bug. You cannot trace every milliwatt.

                It would be far more difficult to trace energy usage in the brain. Your conclusion that the brain is nothing more than a Turing machine may be correct but you don’t have a conservation of energy argument for that. That’s ok you don’t really need one. The Church/Turing thesis gives us strong empirical reasons to believe there is nothing but Turing machines to consider. You just don’t have a conservation of energy argument for that.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

                Erm…the point is that we have a complete list of ways that matter works at human scales. And, first of all, not a single one permits interaction with some immaterial spiritual realm, period, full stop, regardless of energy levels involved. That leaves the spiritual realm being located in the real, physical world but at a remove from the humans involved. And the types of energies needed for that type of communication would show up in so many ways it’s not even funny.

                Also, every example I’ve ever encountered for a suggestion of something that would get around C-T has either required a perpetual motion machine or could be used to construct one. I haven’t tried to thoroughly work it through, but I’m very confident that C-T is “merely” nothing more than a logical consequence of conservation.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • ppnl
                Posted October 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

                Well quantum computers violate the time part of C-T and we still don’t know quantum computers are actually possible although it seems likely.

                So 1) we have recently had to modify our view of C-T and 2) we are still working on the implications of physical theories developed almost a hundred years ago.

                C-T is not a purely mathematical theorem and so has not and cannot be proven mathematically. It is better seen as a deep property of physical law. But even here there is no obvious reason that it must be true. It cannot be derived from known physical law. All we really have is a failure to find a counter example. It certainly does not resolve to a violation of conservation of energy. An even if it did in principle in practice you could never make the necessary measurements of the brain to show it.

                The thing is generally I agree with your skepticism that the brain is anything more than a Turing machine. I’m just saying that it does not resolve to a violation of C of E.

              • Posted October 26, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

                Turing Machines are timeless — or, rather, a Turing machine is allowed infinite time, just as it’s allowed an infinite tape. There simply isn’t any “time part” of C-T.

                If I had proof that C-T was inextricable from violation of conservation, I’d have presented (or published) it. I don’t have such proof. I do, however, have very strong indications that that’s the case, and I’m sure I’ve already more than hinted at them. But, to be specific: start with all the proposals to build a “super-Turing” device; all I’ve ever encountered require infinite (or more than infinite) resources at some stage of the game. Some require infinite time in which to run; many require an infinite number of calculations to be performed in a finite amount of time; some completely ignore Planck scales and assume that something useful could be done at still-smaller scales. Or, to look at it the other way ’round…a Super-Turing device could almost certainly model the behavior of a gas in faster than real time. As such, it could act as Maxwell’s Daemon; there’s your perpetual motion machine.

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Leigh Jackson
              Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

              Is it possible to be a certain kind of computational device and not feel like something?

              A dead one?

              Feeling like something is a powerful and immediate way of distinguishing one’s self from the environment. Maybe robots would find it useful in terms of survival – if they had any interest in survival.

              • ppnl
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

                Having an interest is itself feeling like something.

                And it seemingly can’t be a powerful mechanism for anything because the logic circuits will do what they do regardless of what the robots feel. If the robot also feels that just makes it a helpless witness to events it has no influence over.

              • Leigh Jackson
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

                We are computational devices and we feel like something. We have an interest in survival. Generally we do not feel like helpless witnesses, we feel like agents. Even when we understand that we are only part of a series of cause and effects.

                Evolution appears to be a mindless process which can give rise to mind.

                Puzzling as it may be we do appear to be feeling robots.

              • ppnl
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

                But what is the mechanism of having feelings?

                Forget about being agents as that could be just an illusion caused by the way we experience our thoughts.

                How do you explain experience itself? That is where the mystery is. Free will is a red herring that depends on how we resolve this conundrum.

              • Leigh Jackson
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

                Did you see the remarkable colour spiral illusion recently posted here on WEIT?

                http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/this-cant-be-right/

                It’s hard to believe that the blue and green spirals are the same colour. Blow up the image and the illusion dispels. Dis-spells. It’s not magic it’s a fallible mechanism. And it has to involve data processing in the visual cortices. Similar mechanisms presumably account for the totality of conscious experience.

            • Ivo
              Posted October 27, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

              “For example imagine a world where it was not true that it feels like something to be a certain kind of computational device. I can still imagine complex organisms evolving…”

              For those who have trouble imagining such a thing (nonsentient evolved high intelligence – I submit it is not easy to imagine), and what its existence entails practically and philosophically, I strongly suggest Peter Watts’ novel Blindsight.

  33. Kevin
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Compatibilism is interesting, but it is not a triumph of philosophy.

    Science, and almost exclusively physics, has provided the most interesting inputs into free will in the last century.

    The rise of compatibilism is surely linked to the fact that most people behave as if they have free will, even if they know it is an illusion. Therefore, when they vote, they vote compatibilist. At least it is not as bad as republican, or worse libertarian.

  34. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Ah, cat herding! =D

    Since determinism has been around for a long time, it’s not inconceivable that compatibilism did arise to counteract determinism, and make us feel that we really did have free agency.

    But, ignoring that, I still want to know why compatibilism is considered a serious achievement in philosophy.

    I’m thinking this is barking up the wrong tree.

    – On one end we can compare “apparent [free] will” to “apparent design”. Both maps badly to the underlying physics.

    But ‘design’ is observed (i.e. tests) to be erroneous. While ‘will’ is an ad hoc toy model that works in the same way that ‘solids’ works to describe some chemical compounds.

    This is the theological, so philosophical, usage.

    – On the other end we can look for usefulness. “Former uncle” Eric has just convinced me that whatever usefulness ‘will’ has in folk psychology (which may post-date the philosophical inventions), it isn’t out-weighed by the problems that ‘will’ dualists insert.

    It can be junked. Thanks to Eric, I think it better has to.

    I see no practical consequences of compatibilism save soothing the distress of people who, upon finally grasping determinism, get distressed that they are puppets on the strings of physical laws.

    Again, not the tree I see people climb. ‘Will’ is a practical shorthand to model, i.e predict, the behavior of complex agents. It is another way to say that they are complex.

    It is an unnecessary toy model. Better to admit complexity. (In oneself too, if the purpose is to soothe the problems of understanding as in “puppets” or conversely “why did I react thusly?”)

    • Kevin
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      I know two people who think about free will. One believes he has free will, the other does not. For the most part, they both behave as if it is irrelevant and indistinguishable.

      Experiences homogenize compatibilists and incompatibilists, determinists, and full on enbracers of free will.

  35. Richard Olson
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    subwillornotdeterminecompatibleinoutcome

  36. Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Okay, so to start with the question is flawed because of the equivocation that I talked about with Peter in the other thread, and that Vaal pointed out here already: you are conflating physical determinism — the idea that all events are determined solely by physical causes — and free will determinism, which is the idea that all events are determined solely by physical causes, which means that all of our choices are also so determined, which means that we have no meaningful notion of free will as that would require some form of indeterminism. It’s only in the latter context that compatiblism of any form arises. So we have:

    Free Will Determinism: Physical determinism is true (at least for human behaviour), and so we don’t have any kind of meaningful free will.

    Free Will Libertarianism: We have meaningful free will, so physical determinism, at least, does not apply to human intentional behaviour.

    Free Will Compatiblism: Physical determinism is true (at least for human behaviour) but we do have some kind of meaningful free will, even if it isn’t the contra-causal kind that the incompatiblists think we’d need.

    These positions were sussed out LONG before any form of psychology or neuroscience could be brought to bear on the subject, so they aren’t a reaction to anything scientific. Science is the latecomer, and so far hasn’t been that interesting to the debate, in my opinion, either telling us what we already knew, or not actually testing the right sort of things yet. Anyway, compatiblism was indeed a reaction to physical determinsm … but not Free Will Determinism, which is the only thing you can compare it with.

    So, on your questions:

    1) What the compatiblist position attempts to do is preserve choice, and the already meaningful differences in choices that we seem to experience every day. Free Will Determinism suggests that there is no meaningful difference between someone who shoots someone because they have a chip in their head that someone remotely activates to take direct control of their actions and someone who decides to shoot someone, because no one ever decides anything (you yourself hint at this in the post that starts this). This sort of conclusion is what keeps Free Will Libertarianism alive for people like me who are that. If they can preserve that sort of distinction, then they can preserve the bleeding obvious while still acknowledging physical determinism.

    2) It might, once it becomes accepted. But note that in terms of human behaviour NEITHER physical determinism NOR Free Will Determinism have had any major impact either; we still, for example, hold people responsible for their choices, and do still wonder if human behaviour is really determined.

    3) If it works out, it would be critical. The issue with this question is that for you, it seems to be semantic only because you seem to be stealing notions from compatiblists and then claiming that that’s a deterministic conclusion, because of the confusion of what determinisms are being talked about.

    I still suggest that you read, if you haven’t yet, “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” by B.F. Skinner. It at least would give you a solid, fleshed out system to work with, and Dennett has taken it on specifically so it would be easier to see how the debates work in context.

    4) Compatiblism is supposed to look at the consequences of human behaviour and what that means for concepts like choice, responsibility, morality, etc. It’s not a psychological or physical claim, but a theory of what those claims mean. So why would you expect it to invent new claims of that sort? Free Will Determinism won’t do that either. So what?

    The biggest problem with this debate, it seems to me, is that you don’t have enough Free Will Libertarians in it. That means that Free Will Determinism and Free Will Compatiblism look like extremes. Free Will Compatiblism, however, is an intermediate position, not an extreme, and so to evaluate it that way always misrepresents it.

  37. Jiten
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    We can carry out any reforms we want to of the justice system, based on good reasons and evidence. And the world will still have those who believe in free will and those who don’t.

  38. Posted October 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Which is pretty much how it is.

    And, one might suggest, in that supposedly narrow margin between “pretty much” and “absolutely everything” resides the entity “free will”. And that “pretty much” is what you seem to be taking – one might suggest as an “article of faith” – as “absolutely everything”.

    In addition, that seems to be undergirded by a salient element from your quote of Laplace:

    We ought to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the state that is to follow.

    But, at least according to my limited understanding of quantum physics, the fact of the matter seems to be that not “absolutely everything” is a lock-step consequence of what came before. Laplace seems to have been an inheritor of much of the “clock-work mechanism” universe of Newton. Seems a little unreasonable to predicate a philosophical position on physics that has been shown to be less than entirely accurate under all circumstances.

  39. Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Here’s one compatibilist’s responses to your questions. (They mostly blend together, so I didn’t bother trying to divide them up point by point.)

    The main “accomplishment” of compatibilism is that of rebutting misunderstandings of the consequences of determinism.

    As such, it is indeed largely irrelevant to the common person “on the street,” since for most people just don’t care about determinism or its consequences.

    The importance of compatibilism comes in when some people start saying things like “determinism . . . does have serious implications for how we live our lives and run our socieites

    Compatibilism teaches us that this sentiment is wrong. Determinism is largely irrelevant for how we live. That’s the whole point.

    The only reason compatibilism is important is because some people erroneously think that the truth of determinism has important practical and moral consequences. It doesn’t.

    That’s what compatibilists have been saying since Aristotle’s day.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      That about sums it up. As has been pointed out many times, Jerry hasn’t even convinced himself that determinism has important consequences, so far as I can tell, except for its implications regarding retributive justice.

      Does Jerry (or anyone else here) ever think it necessary qualify their judgement of whether the Beatles were a great rock group with a remark that whatever they achieved, of course, was exactly what their molecular states predetermined that they achieve? Do Darwin’s achievements get a similar qualifier? Mozart’s? How about the achievementa of your car mechanic?

      The thing is, I completely agree that retributive justice is a bad idea. When Michael Dukakis was ambushed by Bernard Shaw in a 1988 presidential debate (“Governor, if Kitty Dukakis [his wife] were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”), he should have answered, “HELL YES! But that’s why we don’t make laws only to satisfy the desire for vengeance of victims and victim’s families.”

    • Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:29 am | Permalink

      The moral consequence of determinism is it destroys notions of sin and associated dualist soul of theism. It can have consequences in helping us better understand that there are non-free willed reasons why people do stuff we label ‘evil’. It can help put a case against the retribution. Our responses to ‘evil’ can therefore be more measured, rational, and motivated to pragmatic solutions.

      • Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

        It’s physicalism that rebuts dualism, not determinism. We can (and should) be physicalists even if determinism is false (indeed, determinism probably is false, and physicalism is definitely true).

        Keep in mind that plenty of dualists have also been determinists. Indeed, Calvinists arguably believe in determinism and lack of freedom, but this doesn’t inhibit their belief in a retributive afterlife.

        Also, as many people have mentioned, one can be opposed to retributive punishment while also believing we are free.

        • Posted October 29, 2013 at 5:43 am | Permalink

          I agree physicalism is the better term to use in opposition to dualism. But in the context of this post I think most compatibilists and incompatibilists are agreed on the extent to which physicalism describes the cause of our mental experience, so that physical determinism is just being used as a general term in opposition to some supernatural or non-physical non-determined will, free of causes determined by the physical brain. In that context the compatibilists wish to call the this physicalist system one that exhibits free will. They therefore have to qualify it with ‘compatibilist’. The main disagreement from incompatibilists is that the will is not free and therefore there is no sense in calling if free, especially when ‘free will’ has such a meaning for most, if not all (Calvanists aside) theists.

  40. Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    What philosophers did was redefine the meaning of “free will” away from its historical and religious sense, so that “free”, instead of meaning “independent of the strictures of your bodily makeup and environmental influences”, now meant a variety of other things, like, “your decision isn’t being made with a gun to your head.”

    This is all news to me. Maybe I missed something, but as far as I am concerned, there was never a time when the only meaning of free was “independent of the strictures of your bodily makeup and environmental influences”. The word is being used for a myriad of things, and with one little exception none of them imply anything about being able to ignore the laws of physics. And indeed even that one little exception constantly needs to be clarified with “libertarian” or “dualist” or something like that to make clear that one does not mean compatibilist free will which, as I have repeatedly argued before, is what the majority of people actually believes in and what every sane human being acts like as if it were true.

    And thus the correct answer to all four questions is mu. There was never a redefinition. Conversely, it would be a purely semantic gesture to stop saying “free will” and “choice” and suchlike because one would still want to and need to have some word to describe the difference between being forced to do something and doing something freely, between acting instinctively and acting deliberatively, between being a kleptomaniac and stealing something for a dare.

    • couchloc
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      “as far as I am concerned, there was never a time when the only meaning of free was “independent of the strictures of your bodily makeup and environmental influences”. The word is being used for a myriad of things…….There was never a redefinition.”

      This is exactly right.

    • Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:36 am | Permalink

      Seeing as the majority of people are religious and do believe in dualist free will, of mind, soul, or both, then I think you are wrong about what most people think. Descartes made dualism the default notion of free will. The term even means the will is free of something in order to act. Can you cite specific ancient philosophers who clearly state that free will is compatible with determinism.

      • couchloc
        Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:03 am | Permalink

        I tried to address this point as well in my reply at #21. You might also look at this article for further examples of compatibilism among the stoics.

        http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/hph/summary/v045/45.3papazian.html

      • Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

        Ron Murphy,

        As I cannot get tired of repeating, and as Hume already pointed out long before neuroscience and all that, that is simply not true. I would say you have to differentiate between what people pretend to believe and what people actually believe.

        There is no sane person who believes in dualist, “contra-causal” free will as a matter of practice, even if they may claim so as a matter of intellectual masturbation or for the purposes of apologetics (free will defense against problem of evil).

        If anybody actually believed in “contra-causal”, dualist free will, they would believe that the decisions of a person are not influenced by their inborn character traits (genes), their upbringing, their experiences, their current environment etc. If somebody actually believed that, then they would have to conclude that they have no way of anticipating the likely behavior of anybody else. They would have no way of predicting whether their nice neighbor would suddenly unmotivatedly kill them, for example.

        Because they do deduce from their neighbor’s character, current environment etc how they will most likely act, they have in practice accepted determinism. QED.

        Heck, seeing somebody drunk already falsifies dualist free will. Again, whether somebody intellectually admits it or not, in practice they do because they treat their drunk mate differently than when aforementioned mate is sober.

        • Posted October 25, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

          Leibniz’s game of “incline without necessitating” is still played here, unfortunately.

        • Posted October 29, 2013 at 5:57 am | Permalink

          “I would say you have to differentiate between what people pretend to believe and what people actually believe. … There is no sane person who believes in dualist, “contra-causal” free will as a matter of practice, even if they may claim so as a matter of intellectual masturbation or for the purposes of apologetics (free will defense against problem of evil).”

          You’re a mind reader now? I don’t have a problem believing that many if not most theists believe what they tell me they believe, whether I disagree with the content of their belief or not. And while I think they are wrong I do not think them insane (generally).

          And from many a discussion with family and friends who take little interest ins cience and philosophy they assure me they believe in contra-causal free will. That belief may be motivated by many causes itself. But they do believe it. Many can’t accept anything other than contra-causal free will for the same sort of reason then can’t accept our evolutionary relationship to apes. They cannot believe we are evolved from other pre-human ancestors, and they cannot believe they do not have free will.

          “If anybody actually believed in “contra-causal”, dualist free will, they would believe that the decisions of a person are not influenced by…”

          Not so. They are quite capable of accepting ‘influence’, while still allowing free will. They often point out to me the varying degrees of ‘influence’ that can exist, and do in fact make the distinction that Jerry makes in the OP: some ‘mentally ill’ people, or those acting out a crome of passion are in a position where their will has lost control. Some have it that there will is still free, and wills something different, while others have the notion that their will has changed uncontrollably – but they still believe in free will.

          “Heck, seeing somebody drunk already falsifies dualist free will.”

          Only while they are drunk. They use terms like “I didn’t know what I was doing”, “I had lost control” – The ‘I’ of the free will is not in control of the body that is drunk. This does not deter them from believing in free will.

  41. kelskye
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    The comparison between free will and bachelor is unfair, as free will is more conceptual than definitional. Look at the way evolution has changed in its definition over the centuries, yet this move is only despised by creationists who think that evolutionists are trying to get out of holding to one definition.

    Does free will need a metaphysical commitment to an underlying chain of causality? Maybe it does, but that’s not going to come from holding a definition, but exploring a concept. “Yes, our abilities as conscious agents are very much like what the philosophers of old meant be free will, however there’s one underwriting metaphysical assumption that means we have to abandon the idea – so what you have is mostly the same as the philosophers of old meant, but with one key feature missing so that we ought to say we simply do not have it.”

    • Kevin
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      You may find that this subject has the appearance of being conceptual, but without definitions, it ultimately gets muddy. There may be disagreement about the definitions, but on the whole, it is worthwhile to arm oneself with both historical, philosophical, and emerging defintions of free will.

      It is, as an example, annoying to me to have to read proposition after proposition about advances in neurosciences and consequences of free will on morality…bloody hell, I think those things are absolutely peripheral to the main issues; but I confess that knowing a little about how people are cornering their thinking around those subjects it helps keep my thoughts fresh.

  42. Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    ” That is the notion that although the universe may be deterministic in a physical way—so that our actions and thoughts are not only determined by the laws of physics, but also predictable if we had enough foreknowledge—we nevertheless have “free will.”

    No Jerry, You don’t seem to get the point. It may be determined but it is not PREDICTABLE. There is no shortcut method to get at the result in advance. Even if all the input is exactly known, and all the rules of processing the input are unambiguous, there is still no way to get at the result without waiting and seeing what happens. And that is why there is such a strong illusion of free will.

    • Kevin
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      We can never have enough foreknowledge. There is no way to simulate complex systems accurately. There is not enough classical memory in the universe to compute the equations of state [This has been shown; cf. L.Krauss]. In the most advanced fields today on the most advanced computers in the world, 1000 atoms in 3D is piecemeal (DFT/montecarlo/model dependent, blah blah blah) and pseudo-qualitative results are the best we get.

      On the flip side, it is good business to still be an experimentalist…

      • lisa parker
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

        Experimentalist have a lot more fun.

  43. Vaal
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    BTW, one of the objections to our having free will, even in the compatibilist sense, is to say “Ok, even if we can do as we will, we can’t will what we will!”

    That is to say: Our will iteslf, our desires, are not chosen by “us” and if that’s the case, it doesn’t make sense to say
    we are the authors of our choices and have free will.

    The compatibilist reply to that (at least some forms) are in a nutshell:

    1. Choosing our desires is not per se a requirement for our having free will; it’s just once we have desires, we can ask whether it’s under our power to act to fulfill them or not.

    2. But I’d also say that, even if we take it that our evolutionary history supplies us with certain in-built sets of desires and inclinations that we did not author or create; nonetheless we are in a significant sense, the authors of a great many of our other desires.

    How? We create a great many new desires in ourselves via our capacity for reason.
    We reason from some first desire (or set of desires) as a starting point and arrive at new, or additional desires. For instance, I start with a desire, that I provide a safe home for my family. From that I will reason toward all sorts of new, specific desires to achieve that goal. For instance, if I think about how I’ll achieve that goal, one of the conclusions I’ll reach may be to buy reliable fire detectors for the house. That’s a new desire, arrived at by my own reasoning, from my own previous desire. And then from that I may research which specific fire alarm is most reliable. I make that conclusion and now I have another specific desire: the desire to go out and buy X brand of fire detector. And on it goes.

    We may have certain sets of desires for which we were not the “authors” in this sense (e.g. the desire to avoid pain, or for food…) but probably the greatest proportion of desires we have, by far, are individual desires that emerge from our own process of reasoning, branching from those fundamental desires. Hence they come “from us” and we author them to the same degree we
    can take responsibility for any other conclusions from our reasoning.

    Just throwin’ that out there :-)

    Vaal

  44. lisa parker
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Professor,
    First, I think I can answer one of your questions. Compatibilism is considered a serious achievement in philosophy because humans are inherently very combative, so it makes them happy. Your web site, if nothing else should stand as proof of that.
    Now I am hoping you can answer my question. For the most part, I agree with your interpretation of determinism and free will. I must add that it has been a long time since I studied biology and genetics to any real degree and our knowledge and understanding of it has increased exponentially since then. I have tried to keep up with the main points, but there are several things that I am not clear on. If our actions, etc, are determined by natural physical laws, why aren’t more identical twins raised together in the same environment, and so acted upon for the most part by the same physical situations, more alike? I realize this is rather simplistic, but can you give me an answer without my doing a whole lot of studying how these sciences have progressed?

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      Why arent more identical twins raised together in the same environment, and so acted upon for the most part by the same physical situations, more alike?

      That’s one of the discoveries of chaos theory: the effects of small inputs in certain situations can have dramatically divergent consequences. You could, for example, build a machine to wield a cue to break a billiard ball set, and, no matter how precise the machinery or its operation, the balls will never wind up in the exact same locations twice.

      Or, for a biological example, see CC, the first cloned cat. CC is white-and-tabby, but her biological mother from whom she was cloned and who has the exact same genetic composition was a calico.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • lisa parker
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the info. I have heard enough about chaos theory lately to think it might be my next area of inquiry. I found the work on rogue waves (at sea) fascinating.

        • Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

          Go for it! There’s enough in there to keep you busy for several lifetimes, should you be so inclined….

          Cheers,

          b&

    • ppnl
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      Given the complexity I think the surprising thing about twins is how similar they are even when raised apart.

      • lisa parker
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, even in my more sciency days I thought that was fascinating, sometimes just ‘weird’ (which I realize is very unsciency.)

    • Kevin
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      Take two identical plutonium-239 atoms made on the same day. The chance that they decay at the same day is about one in a billion. Nothing we have in science can yet predict their future.

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

        Actually, it doesn’t matter whether they were made on te same day. No matter how old a Pu-239 atom is, its life expectancy going foward is the same.

  45. Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    What bothers me about the free will/determinism debate is not so much the incompleteness of the physics as the incompleteness of the relevant brain science. Benjamin Libet’s often quoted experiments in 1983 were always controversial, as his interpretation of the data was, after all, interpretation. There are questions about whether the so-called RP (readiness potential) meant that the volunteers’ brains, all unbeknownst to them, had already decided to move a finger— milliseconds before they themselves were aware of making that decision—or if, instead, the brain activity was just a gearing up to decision-making. Aaron Schurger of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Saclay, France, has said that “what looks like a preconscious decision process may not in fact reflect a decision at all. It only looks that way because of the nature of spontaneous brain activity.” This ambiguity itself points to how little we actually know about consciousness. No one can state categorically that the RP itself represents a decision to move.

    The physics, too, is ambiguous, despite assurances from Sean Carroll and Steven Weinberg. Dartmouth neuroscientist Peter Ulric Tse, whose book The Neural Basis of Free Will: Critical Causation, published by MIT Press this year, argues that the macroscopic universe is not deterministic because the brain amplifies quantum level particle effects to the macroscopic level through the action of specialized neuronal channels, making decisions truly stochastic. Obviously, since random movements of particles, according to this view, would be running the show, we don’t have free will—but it’s not determinism either.

    Clay

    • ppnl
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      All complex macroscopic processes amplify the quantum level. Roll dice and after just a dozen bounces it is probably in the zone of quantum uncertainty. Go back in time a billion years and the path of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs is probably in the quantum uncertainty zone.

      While this limits determinism it isn’t clear how this gets free will or experience.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:16 am | Permalink

      Jerry has posted on Tse.

      http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/a-strange-conception-of-free-will/

  46. Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    Questions for the INcompatibilists

    So you’re determinists and have rejected notions of dualistic contra-causal free will. Good, that’s a good starting point.

    So, you’ve also purged from your language all usage of the words: “choice”, “decision”, “control”, “attempt”, “option”, “plan”, “threaten”, “test”, “compel”, “consider”, “coerce”?

    You haven’t? Why not? You are incompatibilists, so you don’t believe these things have any meaning.

    Perhaps you rigorously prepend “appearance of …” to each of these words? Didn’t think so, but even if you do, well that’s a palava isn’t it? Why don’t we agree on a short-hand and omit the “appearance of …”?

    Now, have you considered why you use the term “appearance of choice” or just “choice” for some phenomena and not for others? Why is it that we don’t use it for a house brick falling under gravity but do use it for a child picking an ice-cream flavour?

    Is the difference there a real difference in how things behave (particularly products of Darwinian evolution, which show goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour), or is there no difference at all?

    Have a think about that question, and you’re well on the way to becoming a compatibilist!

    Please note that becoming a compatibilist is not in any way a pulling back from embracing determinism wholeheartedly; it is about trying to understand a deterministic world.

    • Dyami Hayes
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:04 am | Permalink

      “So, you’ve also purged from your language all usage of the words: “choice”, “decision”, “control”, “attempt”, “option”, “plan”, “threaten”, “test”, “compel”, “consider”, “coerce”?”

      === Great question! It helps to look at what would qualify as the negation of each. I’ll look at choice, or chosen (where ‘~’ = ‘not’).

      if ~[x is chosen] then ~[x is rationally processed and deliberated under stable circumstances]

      so, if [x is rationally processed and deliberated under stable circumstances] then [x is chosen].

      If one reply’s by saying, ‘You are no better than a compatibilist for re-defining choice!’, then I would respond by saying that free-will is a red herring and actually makes setting choice parameters more problematic. Of course, this is an absurdly crude account of choice – volumes have been written on the matter – but it hopefully shows how one COULD go about keeping CHOICE without FREEWILL. Indeed, free-will is necessary for choice when we want to preserve Divine Power and Punishment. If we do not care for such, then Free Will is not necessary for us.

      • Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:54 am | Permalink

        The problem with this is that the only reason people want to keep free will is to preserve things like choice, decision, etc, etc. To say that we can keep choice without free will looks suspect, then, since either you are going to do what compatiblists are doing anyway but are just making a semantic claim about not liking the term “free will”, or it is difficult to see how you’d be able to have any notion of choice at all.

        Looking at your statement, it’s quite difficult to see how that statement is different than what compatiblists want, and wonder why you’d care whether we talk about that in terms of the all-encompassing “free will” or in terms of choice without talking about free will. Thus, you’d have no interesting disagreement with compatiblists.

        • Dyami Hayes
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:37 am | Permalink

          “it’s quite difficult to see how that statement is different than what compatiblists want…”

          === The difference is semantic, but not mere semantics. By your analysis, we should be able to use [chosen] and [freely willed] equivalently. Original statement P1a, would be P1b:

          if ~[x is freely willed] then ~[x is rationally processed and deliberated under stable circumstances]

          The issue therein lies in the ambiguity and underdetermination of ‘freely’. “Choice” is more likely equivalent with “Willed”, than “freely willed”. Freely Willed would be more akin to “Freely Chosen”. My point being that the predication FREE is either superfluous or erroneous, and almost certainly is more prone to false equivocation. That is, one will switch from this to misleading claims like,
          “So, you were free to choose after all”. But this would be clearly false. THis is not a knock-down argument, but I hope it does some of the work to show why I think FREEWILL is a bogus concept.

          To be transparent, IMO (In)Determinism is a red herring in regards to FREEWILL, and FREEWILL is a red herring in regards to choice, responsibility, etc. The connection between these three issues is only relevant if we include in our ontology [Super Natural] entities and/or a [Punishment/Reward-grounded Ethics]; both of which are trivial and false.

          • Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

            Well, the idea those is that it does make sense to talk about a “free choice” versus, say, a “compelled choice”, so you’d be quibbling over a word, and a word that compatiblists already agree is problematic and needs to be updated. Dropping free will and moving to choice, then, does not free you (heh) from the implications of “free”, as free does not seem superfluous or erroneous, and so again you end up saying pretty much what they already say, and yet oppose them for saying it the way they say it, which is not an interesting discussion. At least philosophically; perhaps science, broadly construed likes to nitpick over saying essentially the same thing in different ways, but philosophy tends to ignore that once it realizes that, yes, the two sides are saying the same thing in different ways.

        • eric
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

          The problem with this is that the only reason people want to keep free will is to preserve things like choice,

          I agree with this. Its the reason why I think Coel’s definition of CFW isn’t what most CFW defenders mean when they say we have free will. According to him, airplane autopilot systems have CFW. While I respect his position for being clear and fairly precise, I don’t think that most people would think it preserves the notion of choice.

          • Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

            Well “most people” are dualists, not compatibilists. I do think that most compatibilists would agree with me, but I’m open to being corrected.

            So far, people such as Vaal have not jumped on me!

            • Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

              As an incompatibilists I agree. Most of us are.

              I think it’s possible to be non-dualists intellectually, as incompatibilists, or even as predeterminsts (the ‘fates’ sense). That’s the sense in which it is an illusion. That’s why leaving ‘free will’ to the dualists is the best course.

          • Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

            Except that he is right, in that it does seem that if you are going to accept physical determinism you do have to accept that things like that make choices. Most CFW defenders do, indeed, accept that computers and perhaps even drink machines make choices, because they have no principled way of distinguishing them. That being said, most will also argue that humans and intentional beings — which would include advanced AIs — have much more complex and interesting decision and choice making processes and inputs than simple systems like airplane autopilots.

            • Posted October 25, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

              In fact, one of my classmates at UBC was interested in the FW question precisely because she was interested in its importance for robots. This is now a research area with (even) DoD money, as “ethical military bots” are all the rage these days. (R. Arkin, others.)

            • eric
              Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

              Most CFW defenders do, indeed, accept that computers and perhaps even drink machines make choices

              So, let me just see if I have this straight. Coel, Sastra, Vaal, Couchloc, feel free to reply with a simple yes or no:

              The CFW position is that humans have free will in the same way that airplane autopilots, and soda machines have free will. Yes or no.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

                I, too, would very much appreciate an answer to this question.

                It would seem obvious that there is no fundamental difference between what goes on in human brains from what goes on in any other computational device. That’s the essence of the Church-Turing Thesis, and that one’s on superbly solid ground.

                So, if humans have free will, the only possible conclusions are that all other computational devices, whether biological or mechanical, also have free will — a proposition which the overwhelming majority of proponents of “free will” will outright reject. The other logically possible path to take is to reject Church-Turing and embrace supernaturalism, to go with a ghost in the machine; this is precisely what that same overwhelming majority of proponents of free will in fact do do.

                If we can get a clear answer on this one from the proponents of compatabilist free will, I think it would go a long way to clarifying whether this is an argument over substance or semantics. And if it’s an argument over semantics, I think it should also make clear the perils of embracing the loaded and oxymoronic term for something that it is typically the diametric opposite of its common meaning.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Ivo
                Posted October 28, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

                “The CFW position is that humans have free will in the same way that airplane autopilots, and soda machines have free will.”

                Why so black and white? The answer is Yes and No. Yes, in the sense that there is no essential (metaphysical?) difference between the free will of a human and that of an airplane autopilot, just as there is no essential difference between the life of a mosquito and that of a human being: both are based on the same essential biochemistry and the same laws of physics (we’re not dualists!).

                And No, because of course there is a huge difference in degree and in quality. Both our goals and our navigation algorithms are (or at least can be…) orders of magnitude more refined than those of any current man-made machine.

              • Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

                Coel says there is no difference. I think that makes him either an unusual compatibilists, or if that view is common then there are multiple types of compatibilists, compunding the problem further.

              • Ivo
                Posted October 29, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

                Not true. Coel wrote:

                “In many ways our brains are just a hugely complex auto-pilot, programmed with goals such as survival and reproduction.”

                as well as:

                “Remembering that in this definition CFW is a continuum (just like intelligence), yes I do think Dennett and other compatibilists are arguing for this.”

                So he acknowledges the great difference in degree and complexity.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:42 am | Permalink

      “So you’re determinists and have rejected notions of dualistic contra-causal free will. Good, that’s a good starting point.”

      Yay, thus far we agree.

      “So, you’ve also purged from your language all usage of the words: “choice”, “decision”, “control”, “attempt”, “option”, “plan”, “threaten”, “test”, “compel”, “consider”, “coerce”?”

      No, but I always consider how I use words and what they mean in that particular context.

      “You haven’t? Why not? You are incompatibilists, so you don’t believe these things have any meaning.”

      Of course they have meaning. But I hope we can agree that just because Santa Claus has a name, that doesn’t make him real.
      In other words we use the same language as you, but when it comes to free will, we have no proof of its existence ( depending on how we define it ) other than our subjective opinion on the matter.

      Instead of the term “free will” I’d rather use the term “constrained choice”.

      “Now, have you considered why you use the term “appearance of choice” or just “choice” for some phenomena and not for others? Why is it that we don’t use it for a house brick falling under gravity but do use it for a child picking an ice-cream flavour?

      Because we expect the child to favour one flavour over another. As far as we know, the brick doesn’t.

      “Is the difference there a real difference in how things behave (particularly products of Darwinian evolution, which show goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour), or is there no difference at all?”

      Of course there’s a difference. As far as we know, a brick doesn’t have a brain.

      Does a computer have free will in your opinion?

    • eric
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      You haven’t? Why not?

      They are useful in differentiating between context and types of action. “I asked Bob to cluck like a chicken” and “I coerced Bob to cluck like a chicken” gives the listener a different understanding of what types of actions I took. The words have communicative value.

      Look, I have no problem with the word ‘free’ being useful as a means of distinguishing some human actions from others (having communicative value). I have no problem with there being some definitions of “free will” being fully applicable to humans. But none of that tells me what CFW-supporters see as the difference – if any – between a human mind and an airplane autopilot.

      Coel has said that’s what CFW is: the capability of an airplane autopilot. But I think most defenders of the CFW concept are defending some stronger notion of free will, and I want to know what distinguishes that stronger notion from Jerry’s position. Do you agree with Coel or think CFW represents some stronger capability? If the latter, what is it?

      If nothing distinguishes the two positions (CFW and Jerry’s) in terms of human mental capability, and you’re just saying other usages of the word “free” still apply to human mental activity, then I think you are really doing the public a disservice. You need to come clean that CFW defenders agree with Jerry that the standard vernacular understanding of human free will doesn’t exist. That is the primary point of the debate. Once the public has got that point, you can go on ’til your heart’s content about how the word “free” can still be applied to autopilot systems and humans. But (assuming you think there’s no difference and ) if you don’t communicate that basic, fundamental agreement with Jerry and the other determinists, you’re throwing chaff in the air – you’re confusing people rather than illuminating them.

      • eric
        Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

        Ack! My apologies Coel, for some reason I thought Couchloc had written the original post. Obviously all the “if you don’t agree with Coel” questioning doesn’t apply to you. :) But I invite the other CFW defenders to reply to my questions, above.

      • Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

        CFW is: the capability of an airplane autopilot. But I think most defenders of the CFW concept are defending some stronger notion of free will …

        This is the problem, we compatibilists are *always* suspected of being closet dualists and of wanting to poke holes in determinism and of hankering after some “stronger notion” of free will.

        You need to come clean that CFW defenders agree with Jerry that the standard vernacular understanding of human free will doesn’t exist.

        We have. Lots of time. Yet even after we’ve stated that again and again and again in thread after thread, we *still* get accused of being closet dualists!

        Nearly everyone who argues against compatibilism does not understand the compatibilist position. Or they listen to it and then suspect it of being a cover for something else!

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

          I can’t speak for Eric, but I don’t suspect any of you are trying to invoke some magical thinking. I just think you are using a term that doesn’t add to our understanding of the human mind. But then again, I am a big fan of KISS. :-)

          In one of your earlier definitions free will was simply the brain’s processes in action. I’m cool with that, but I just don’t see why it should be labelled as free will when the word means so much more to so many people.

          Also, can any of you compatibilists explain to me what the defining line between man and machine is when it comes to CFW?

          • Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

            Freewill is a particular type of brain process, the goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour. Also, asking about “dividing lines” is a wrong way of thinking about it, degrees on a continuum is a better way. Where computers are programmed to show goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour (e.g. chess-playing computers and autopilots) then it makes sense to say they have “free will” in the same way that cats, dolphins and humans have it (though not necessarily to the same degree).

            As for what it adds to our understanding, what language do you wish to use for goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour, if not words like “choose” and “will” and “freedom” versus “constrained”?

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

              “Freewill is a particular type of brain process, the goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour. Also, asking about “dividing lines” is a wrong way of thinking about it, degrees on a continuum is a better way. Where computers are programmed to show goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour (e.g. chess-playing computers and autopilots) then it makes sense to say they have “free will” in the same way that cats, dolphins and humans have it (though not necessarily to the same degree).”

              Who’s the control group?

              “As for what it adds to our understanding, what language do you wish to use for goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour, if not words like “choose” and “will” and “freedom” versus “constrained”?”

              Depends on the situation as each situation is unique. There’s a wide variety of words I’d use instead of simply saying “free will”.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

                “Who’s the control group?”

                I’m not sure I understand the question. I guess the control group is entities such as house bricks that don’t show goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

                Alright, let the bricks lead the way then.

                On a last note though, I have a philosophical question for compatibilists:

                If a free will knows not of its existence, does it then cease to exist?

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

                No, it doesn’t. I don’t think that an autopilot necessarily “knows of its existence”, though what “knowing of its existence” minimally requires is not that clear to me.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

                Me neither.

                In fact, I doubt that a computer is aware of it’s own existence.

                So far, that experience is reserved for animals.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

                Depends on how you define “awareness.” Pretty much all computers you’re likely to encounter have various types of self-monitoring, often active, including temperature and fan speed and battery level and network link status…and that’s before we get into memory resource usage, how long it’s been since disk maintenance has been done, and the like.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

                I wonder if a robot has ever passed the mirror test and if that would constitute consciousness.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

                I’d think, by now, it’d be trivial to design a robot capable of passing the mirror test. Image recognition has advanced to the point where computers are damned good at face recognition, and manufacturing robots have far more dexterity than any human. Extrapolating that to anthropomorphic robots with smudges of dirt on their foreheads doesn’t seem at all a challenge.

                I do believe, though, that many more animals actually pass the mirror test than is commonly supposed. The problem lies in smudging dirt on the animal’s forehead; dirt just isn’t that big a deal to many animals.

                When I first invited Baihu in, he showed as much interest in the mirror as you’d expect from any curious young mammal — he was wary, paid a lot of attention to it, tried to look behind it, the works. Then the novelty wore off. When he came back from…ah…being tutored, and he was wearing the Blue Cone of Shame, his reaction to his reflection in the mirror was every bit as dramatic as the classic ones of the mirror test. You see, he had suddenly sprouted a large, blue mane, something that is quite significant to a cat.

                Tamar also reacted to the addition of the mane — much more wary.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

                Hehe…the cone of shame strikes again, poor kitty.

                I think I’m going to try it on Monty and see how he reacts.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                I’d actually love to see somebody do a proper experiment of the whole thing. Figure out some obvious visual cues for different animals — not just a bit of dirt. Changes to sex-linked traits would be good. Does a peacock accustomed to its image in the mirror react when you give it tail extensions? How ’bout a female cardinal after you dye (with non-toxic dye, of course!) her feathers red?

                b&

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

                That would be cool. It could potentially open a whole can of worms regarding consciousness.

              • Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

                I know! That’s why I’m really hoping that some graduate student, at the least, will run with it….

                b&

            • Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

              Where computers are programmed to show goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour (e.g. chess-playing computers and autopilots) then it makes sense to say they have free will in the same way that cats, dolphins and humans have it (though not necessarily to the same degree).

              And yet, by popular usage, almost all of those who use the term in a philosophical or theological context would argue that free will is exactly that property which distinguishes humans from mere machines — and, often, beasts, as well.

              Seems powerful strange to want to wrest such a religiously-loaded oxymoron and twist its definition such that it means the exact opposite of what most people think it means.

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Leigh Jackson
              Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

              As for what it adds to our understanding, what language do you wish to use for goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour, if not words like “choose” and “will” and “freedom” versus “constrained”?

              When there are no constraints on the will we do not choose to act but act because we are forced to. In the absence of a counter-motive a motive must inevitably lead to action. Thus CFW falsely implies just what is not true. Freedom from constraint is not freedom of will. Sufficient force of will will ride roughshod over all restraints or perish in the attempt. Constraints only act so as to force the will to change – or not.

              There is no free will. CFW is a deceptive definition concealing a lie.

              The deceptive definition:

              Freewill is a particular type of brain process, the goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour.

              • Posted October 31, 2013 at 12:51 am | Permalink

                So you want to reject the concept of “choice” entirely?

              • Leigh Jackson
                Posted October 31, 2013 at 3:11 am | Permalink

                No. We experience a sense of self with a will acting under varying degrees of constraint making choices. These experiences I consider to be due to non-conscious mechanistic processes within the brain. Attach the word free to will and we run into intractable problem, it seems. From introspection and thinking about linguistic use, I see the word free in this debate as misconceived.

              • Leigh Jackson
                Posted October 31, 2013 at 3:44 am | Permalink

                Will is a particular type of brain process, the goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour.

                That is sufficient.

            • Posted October 30, 2013 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

              Leigh Jackson said:

              Sufficient force of will will ride roughshod over all restraints or perish in the attempt.

              Seems that is the case only if you happen to have an absolutist if not omnipotent conception of “free will”. A conception which I rather doubt many compatibilists actually subscribe to. Hence, that would seem to qualify as a rather large-ish strawman and red herring.

              • Leigh Jackson
                Posted October 30, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                Seems to me that what I said is true. I have no concept of free will. It does not fit the facts.

            • Posted October 30, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

              Leigh Jackson:

              What things look like, what they seem to be, very frequently turns out to be rather different from what they really are. Obviously some very different conceptions here of what “free will” actually is, but I think it rather presumptuous for many to be rather dogmatic in their assertions. While it might be a tenuous analogy, I think there are some similarities with the dichotomy between light as particles and as waves: both situations where there are two ways of looking at phenomena, but where it still seems a very open question as to what things are “really like” underneath the hood.

              Why I tend to the compromise, if not accommodationist, position that free-will is a spectrum, that there are degrees of it: some things are manifestly determined, some things apparently a matter of choice and free-will. While some might react in horror that that entails some form of dualism, I hardly think it provides much of a toehold for Jehovah and his ilk. The fear of which seems to be the motivation for that response.

              But you might wish to take a look at the Wikipedia article on degrees of freedom – a perfectly sound and credible scientific and engineering concept. As above, so below.

              • Leigh Jackson
                Posted October 30, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

                What I said is true. Since when did truth become dogmatism?

            • Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

              Leigh Jackson:

              Looks to me like you’re asserting that determinism is true and that there are absolutely no cases in which free-will – the ability to make choices “that are unconstrained by external circumstances” – is present. Without much in the way of credible evidence that I can see. Which, in the insistence on its truth, looks rather like dogmatism, i.e., “a statement of a point of view as if it were an established fact”.

              • Leigh Jackson
                Posted October 31, 2013 at 2:41 am | Permalink

                I am doing no such thing.
                I see no reason why one might not argue equally well that free will is the ability to assert one’s will in the teeth of all constraints. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Nobody denies there’s experience of will of constraints on will and choices. The word “free” is a red herring.

          • eric
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

            I don’t think you’re closet dualists, but I do think referring to your position as a form of “free will” is confusing almost to the point of deception. YOU don’t believe in free will the way the vast majority of humans use the term, so IMO the term “compatibilist free will” is mis-representative.

            Let me give an analogy. I can say to the world “I can prove God exists” and then mumble to myself [for some definition of "prove" and some definition of "God"]. That statement with the caveats may be true, but it’s a terrible miscommunication. Intentionally or not, that plays on other people’s views of “prove” and “God” to give them a wrong impression of what I’m claiming. When you guys use the term “compatibilist free will,” pretty much EVERY listener is going to think you’re defending the notion of a choice-engine in the brain. If you’re not doing that, you need to pick another term.

            • Leigh Jackson
              Posted October 26, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

              Nearly everyone who argues against compatibilism does not understand the compatibilist position. Or they listen to it and then suspect it of being a cover for something else!

              Jerry has been accused of being a dualist many times.

              What we should not be doing is manipulating language to avoid hurting people’s sensitivities, at least, not in a misleading fashion.

              To say that we have free will, just not quite as much as we used to think we have, is misleading if free will is simply acting in accordance with the will. Obviously that is a very important thing for us to be able to do, but it’s misleading if it is interpreted as meaning we can consciously control the will.

              Compatibilist freedom is one of being able to act in accordance with the will. What then when the volition is experienced as overwhelmingly powerful? Given a sufficiently powerful volition no choice is possible. One is then forced to act by one’s will.

              In fact, we always must act in accordance with our will in the absence of internal or external constraint. Why else would we act all? And since we do not choose our volitions, then our will is clearly not free.

        • Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

          This is the problem, we compatibilists are *always* suspected of being closet dualists and of wanting to poke holes in determinism and of hankering after some stronger notion of free will.

          That should give you some idea of the rhetorical windmill you’re tilting at.

          It should be quite obvious that the oxymoronic term, “free will,” is primarily used as the label Christians attach to Jesus’s incompetence and / or malevolence, in the Epicurean sense. The philosophical and theological senses of the term are nearly inseparable, especially when engaging in a philosophical or theological debate.

          Here’s one for all you compatibilists: are you equally attached to the word, “sin”? Wouldn’t you agree that people do bad things, and that there’re plenty of useful non-religious definitions of the term? If so, why wouldn’t you use “sin” to describe misdeeds?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

            This may be a difference between the US and Europe, here in Britland the religious connotations of “free will” have died away to a large extent.

            No, I would not use the word “sin”, but I would (for example) use “moral”, and see ideas of freedom and will as more akin to that than to “sin”.

            Maybe in the US you’re still busy fighting Christian dualists, whereas we in Europe aren’t so preoccupied.

            • Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

              You may well be correct about there being something of a continental divide to the matter. But, I assure you, the British at the very least are familiar with the formula.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • gbjames
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

                One of my favorite movies!

            • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

              I can also assure you there are plenty of dualists in the UK that would be willing to point out to you that they do care.

              You might try arguing the point with some of the theologians in the various colleges of Cambridge and Oxford for a start. Or maybe some of the local priests. I can give you links to a number of blogs of C of E Reverends that would argue with you.

              It’s not just the religious who think they have contra-causal free will. I could take you to some tasty pubs around Manchester where telling someone they don’t have contra causal free will would lead to a counter-demonstration you wouldn’t appreciate. Your antagonists would be wrong of course, but I’d leave you to persuade them further.

              I also find this at odds with your statement elsewhere on this post that most people are dualists. OK, so you think most people think they are dualists, with dualist free will. Why confuse them further?

              It’s much easier to explain that. “Yes, you feel like you have free will, but look at this optical illusion – that’s what’s going on in your brain when you feel you have free will. Feeling something is the case doesn’t mean it is the case.” That then gives you an avenue into why having a belief is not a good omen for the content of the belief.

              Incompatibilism has utility, as well as being a coherent and supportable position against a coherent but unsupported position.

          • Diane G.
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

            It should be quite obvious that the oxymoronic term, “free will,” is primarily used as the label Christians attach to Jesus’s incompetence and / or malevolence, in the Epicurean sense. The philosophical and theological senses of the term are nearly inseparable, especially when engaging in a philosophical or theological debate.

            I so disagree with that. I only ran into that sense when atheists started to glom onto and promulgate it.

            • Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

              Not sure I follow the direction you’re going. Is it the sense of free will as the answer to the Problem of Evil that you hadn’t encountered before, or the compatibilist sense of free will under discussion here that you hadn’t encountered before, or…?

              b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

                The idea that in the USA the term nearly exclusively refers to the churchy sense. Not IME.

              • Posted October 26, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

                Obviously, different experiences….

                I will grant, though, that the legalistic sense (entered into the agreement of your own free will) is probably the truly most common one. But that doesn’t have any bearing on this discussion, I should think….

                b&

      • Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        Well said, Eric. I wrote almost the same thing above, before I saw this. I don’t get why the CFW folks think that if we say there’s no such thing as free will, that we have to dispense with the word free altogether.

        • Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

          If the only term you want to ditch is the specific phrase “free will”, then ok, that’s fine with me.

          But incompatibilists such as Jerry have also wanted to avoid “choice” (though he accepts “appearance of choice”), and by implication one would also have to avoid: “decision”, “control”, “attempt”, “option”, “plan”, “threaten”, “test”, “compel”, “consider”, “coerce”, etc).

          • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

            If you drop the term ‘free will’ then you are no longer a compatibilist. A compatibilist is someone who thinks free will is compatible with determinism, is it not?

            • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

              No, the compatbilists are the ones who are *not* getting all hung up on mere semantics, but are actually trying to understand things like goal-oriented choice selection in a deterministic world.

              You don’t stop being a compatibilist if you agree, for the purpose of clarity, to avoid using a particular phrase.

            • Posted October 30, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

              If the disagreement is about semantics then I don’t see how we can avoid getting hung up on semantics.

              It’s difficult enough dealing with the duplicitous language of the religious, so I think it’s important to be clear, semantically, on this matter.

              I don’t see how you can justify saying “Free will is compatible with determinism, so I’m a compatibilists.” and also say, “Everything is deterministic, and what human brains and other machines do, such as deciding, making choices, is physical and deterministic too, but let’s stop calling it free will.”

              I really do think it’s more that just being pedantic, I really do. As much as it may seem so, I’m not arguing this point just to be an incompatibilist arse.

    • Kelton Barnsley
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Choice =/= free will. Your argument illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding in this debate. We clearly make choices, every day. While many of these choices are made reflexively and/or unconsciously, many are not. Some choices, like whether or not to get married or go to grad school, are often made after a period of conscious reflection. The content of this reflection affects the final decision, so it would seem that consciousness is a necessary component of higher-level decision-making. Ultimately however, your conscious thoughts still must rest upon unconscious, electrical and chemical processes in your brain, which, as the mere witness to your thoughts and decisions, you cannot get behind and control. Even if you could get behind these processes and influence them, what would influence your decision of how to influence them? Trying to determine the origin of a freely willed action inevitably leads to infinite regresses such as this. And if our choices were free of any prior causes, they would hardly seem to represent a coherent will at all. They would be unpredictable in principle.

      Bottom line: A “will” cannot be free, and if it is free, it is not a will at all, but an unpredictable storm of arbitrary actions with no internal logic. The fact that we have wills and make choices does not all suggest that we have free will.

      • Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        “… electrical and chemical processes in your brain, which, as the mere witness to your thoughts and decisions, you cannot get behind and control. Even if you could get behind these processes and influence them, …

        I reject this dualist notion of “you” being anything other than those very “electrical and chemical processes in your brain”.

        A “will” cannot be free, …

        The “free” in CFW is about whether we can act on our will, not about whether “we” can will our will.

        • Kelton Barnsley
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

          ‘I reject this dualist notion of “you” being anything other than those very “electrical and chemical processes in your brain”.’

          Most of the time, we feel identical to our experience of the world, as though we were riding around inside of our skulls and looking out at the world through our eyes. This is not a claim that dualism is true; it is only a description of what it is like to be a conscious creature most of the time. This feeling of identity with our experience of the world is what we call “I”.
          As it turns out, the feeling of “I” can be dispelled (I’ve done it, albeit briefly. The first time was when I let go of my faith in free will). This ability to dispel the illusion of the self is in fact evidence that dualism is NOT true.
          The thing is, nobody feels identical to the electrochemical events happening in their brain. To say that this is what we should call “I” makes no more sense than saying that we should call the goings-on of our digestive system “I”. While it is true in a sense that we “are” (in part, at least) our digestive systems, only a lunatic would argue that the activity of our small intestine constitutes “free will”. Re-defining free will to mean the deterministic processes occuring in our brains (or colons) is merely a semantics game which does nothing but cause confusion and provide an excuse for people to continue believing they have free will. This is harmful, because the concept of free will is antagonistic to compassion.

          • Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

            Thank you Kelton, in particular for: “the concept of free will is antagonistic to compassion.” This statement strikes me as one of the most sagaciously concise critiques of the dangers of specious thinking. In fact to extend this polemic further–and in the process revisit a favorite analogy of mine–believing in free will is no more viable or useful than believing that the earth is flat.

            What is even more disturbing is that despite the overwhelming proof from both neuroscience and physics that we are not in conscious control of our lives, our societies have only displayed the slightest of acknowledgements of the truths of Determinism / our Deterministic Universe. We find these paltry expressions of collective acceptance of the truth in legal instruments such as the insanity plea and a move towards restorative justice, as opposed to the historically retributive forms (at least in the so-called developed world; let’s keep in mind another important aspect of this polemic must acknowledge that a significant portion of the troubles in our modern world, even though I accept it’s all predetermined, correlates to the presence of excessively Eurocentric belief systems in line with post-Columbus capitalistic world views versus the more holistic and often profoundly wise, even time-symmetric belief systems of indigenous peoples, e.g. Dream Time of the Aboriginal people of Australia).

            For a reasonable treatise regarding our world’s need for greater enlightenment regarding the fallacies of free will, please see: David Eagleman’s “The Brain on Trial.”

          • Vaal
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

            Kelten Barnsley,

            I would say your analysis, and dismissal of free will, is based on too narrow an analysis – the issues involved in free will are wider than what you’ve described.

            Whether there is an “I” in exactly the sense if “feels” like or not doesn’t answer the question of whether free will talk is valid or relevant, because the concept of free will is larger than just that issue.

            Take the concept of “driving cars.”

            Riding a car it just “feels like” the gas pedal “makes the car go,” like there is some direct connection. But of course, the real description
            involves a lot more complexity and if someone were pernickety they could try to point to numerous other places in the chain that are “making the car go.” But even if someone were wrong in his explanation of how the car is working in certain details, even if there is some element of illusion within that explanation (e.g. it’s an illusion that it’s simply the gas pedal causing the car to move), that doesn’t therefore entail that “driving a car” is an “illusion.”
            It’s still true to say people can drive cars; so long as you have the wider view that people can indeed operate cars, “driving cars” is still a real phenomena to describe.

            Similarly, even IF we are not the “I” in exactly the way it feels, even IF it turned out our identity isn’t located so precisely or at that precise point, there is STILL phenomena happening that is left to describe in essentially the same way: Humans have desires, the ability to rationalize about how to act to fulfill those desires, the ability to model different courses of actions, physical capabilities of taking those actions, etc. I just raked our yard. Even if the “I” I felt like was in some sense an illusion, it was still an expression of the desires and rationalizing behavior of the “me” that is this body.
            “I,” my desires and my deliberations, is still the focal point for explaining the proximate cause of my behavior.

            Secondly,

            The issue of free will centers not just around whether the “I” operates exactly as it feels; but whether it is true, valid or sound to say “I have a choice, I could have done otherwise, this choice reflects my desires, that action does not…etc.”

            To know whether these types of claims are valid, we also have to look at the method of inference behind those claims. I’ve argued that when deciding whether we have, or did have, a “choice” we necessarily engage in hypothetical reasoning, modelling, and abstract empirical inferences about our capabilities in similar situations. And that we accept this reasoning as getting at truths about “how the real world is.” So if I have a cup of water and I am deciding what to do with it, I engage in hypothetical reasoning “IF I want it frozen, I can place it in the freezer, but IF I want it boiling, I will place it over flame on my stove.” This is how we think – I claim – when we perceive ourselves as making a choice. And the thoughts are “true,” insofar as the world works the way we think it does, in just the way all sorts of other empirical claims are “true” and justified. In other words, we are not “under an illusion” about our powers to choose between the options when we are thinking this way. Therefor it wouldn’t be true to characterize our thinking “I could do X instead of Y, or could have done X instead of Y” as in “illusion.” And since the sense of “could have done otherwise” is a central cog in the concept of Free Will, it is not dispensed with when only talking about whether the “I” operates exactly as it feels or not. Even if deliberations were first done “unconsciously” and then delivered to our conscious awareness, there is still a “me” doing those deliberations and understanding them as the relationship between my desires and my ability to model hypothetical routes of action is still the most explanatory and predictive way of understanding what it going on.

            So, I just think the thread you are picking at does not unravel the whole ball of thread.

            Vaal

            • Kelton Barnsley
              Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

              Vaal,

              I’m not sure I understand how your car analogy applies to what I wrote.

              Judging from the rest of your post, it seems (correct me if I’m wrong) we both agree that people are capable of conscious deliberation and rational-decision-making. We also both reject dualistic, libertarian free will. I just don’t understand why you continue to use the word “free will”. We can talk about the will and choices without contradicting the truth of determinism (or whatever mixture of that and quantum randomness turns out to be salient to our behavior in the end). But when we talk about free will, we’re talking about an incoherent, oxymoronic concept. Even if we don’t really mean free will in the way that dualists do, we’re simply confusing potential listeners and – this is the kicker for me – providing intellectual cover for folks who don’t believe in the supernatural but who don’t like the idea that there’s no free will to hide behind and avoid thinking too hard about how we should reform our systems of justice, economics, etc. in light of our understanding of human behaviour.

              I hope that helped clarify my objection.

              Cheers,

              Kelton (with an “o”)

              • Vaal
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

                Well, maybe my car analogy was crap. I dunno.

                Anyway,

                A lot of people think the explanation for morality is magical. Do you think it gives “cover” to dualists or the religious to still say secular people can be “moral?”
                Or is it better to say “we can do the things you call moral, except you’ve got the explanation wrong?”

                Or, do you think we should cede the term “life” because so many people think we have magic in us (e.g souls) that makes us so?
                Or, do we stick to our guns and say “Actually, things are alive and act in the way we think they do…but your explanation for it is wrong.”

                ?

                The problem in getting rid of the term “free will” is that in most practical cases, the term is adduced to describe true situations and real powers we have (e.g. what we can do when not constrained). So when you start saying “we don’t have it” it can be at least as confusing – more I’d say – than “we do have it.”

                Better to say “we have what you think you do – the ability to choose, to do otherwise, to author your choices, to have responsibility – but it turns out we have non-magical, real-world basis for these attributes.

                Vaal

                (I’m certainly willing to be convinced otherwise, about the language issue, but every time I see the type of argument that follows from incompatibilists trying to say it’s an “illusion” or doing away with the term or concept, it actually seems to spring more leaks than keeping it).

          • Vaal
            Posted October 25, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

            PaulAinsworthFrancis.

            What is even more disturbing is that despite the overwhelming proof from both neuroscience and physics that we are not in conscious control of our lives,

            Whaaa?

            Since when did “physics” “prove” we are not in conscious control of our lives?
            How, exactly?

            Also, when did neuroscience “overwhelmingly prove” we are not in conscious control of our lives? You seem to be making a very large, ill-advised leap from the interpretation of some small set of experiments testing only certain capabilities under specific conditions…and then saying “Hey, we’ve disproved conscious control!”
            It’s not normally scientific to be that rash, so why in just this case would you allow yourself to inferring wholesale dismissals of something as complex and not near totally understood as “consciousness” from initial, selective trials, that are still themselves the subject of debate? Methinks you’ve rather jumped the gun…or the whole platoon.

            Consciousness would seem to still play quite a crucial role in your being able to comprehend, believe things, reason from those beliefs, from desires, to goals etc.
            For instance, how much would you comprehend of what is written on this page, and how well could you respond…if you were unconscious? How many cities are planned and built, how many symphonies are written, how many math problems solved, by people who are not conscious? Seems kind of important.

            Vaal

            • Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

              Keep going Vaal. You are exposing the fundamental agenda of the radical mechanicalistics.

              • Kelton Barnsley
                Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

                Objectivist troll alert.

            • Kelton Barnsley
              Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

              Letting go of the term “free will” is not the same as ceding the definition of morality to the God-fearing. It is more akin to letting go of the term “God” when all you really mean by it is the interconnectedness of the Universe. A compatibilist argument for God could run like this:

              It’s true that the all-powerful man in the sky who created the earth in six days doesn’t exist, but let’s focus on what does exist: a huge Universe filled with billions of galaxies strung on a vast web of dark matter! Isn’t that a better definition of the word “God”? What, you say the thousands of Op-Eds by scientists and intellectuals published every year proclaiming that “God” still exists lead religious people who may be doubting the existence of God to think that their conception of God is backed up by science? That’s silly. Why would anyone want to believe in that stinky old definition of God?

    • DV
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      +1

    • Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      Coel,

      “So, you’ve also purged from your language all usage of the words: “choice”, “decision”, “control”, “attempt”, “option”, “plan”, “threaten”, “test”, “compel”, “consider”, “coerce”?”

      For most of these there is only a problem in some context if there is already a problem regarding free will. It becomes clear that free will is the problem and that is discussed.

      Choice – Dualists know what they mean by a human making a choice and don’t have a problem understanding machine choice to be an anthropomorphic metaphor. Incompatibilists don’t have a problem because they know that in humans and other machines it’s all mechanistic. Generally the only time ‘choice’ is a problem is with compatibilists, because while some such as yourself (Coel) agree it’s all mechanistic you still want to associate with the term ‘free will’

      Compel – To cause. I don’t see the problem.

      Coerce – Generally a teleological term, but can be used as an anthropomorphic metaphor for cause.

      The problem is with the teleological meaning, which comes from a history of philosophy and theology that has attributed free will to humans, and specifically a free will that is not merely caused by the physics of the brain, the body and their history.

      Taking just a few of these terms: Choice, decision, control – (A) These are good descriptions of deterministic systems from the perspective an entity that cannot fathom the determinism, when we apply them to indeterminate outcomes. Instead of your ‘brick’ let’s use a ‘rock’. A rock rolling down a hill as a result of weathering, will reach ‘decision points’, which depending on the physics of the moment will determine if it goes left or right of a large stationary rock. We might use the phrase “It chose to go left” in an anthropomorphic sense, a sense that has arisen in the context of an understanding that humans have contra-causal free will and are able to freely choose. (B) When applied to systems humans design and control then the ‘choice’ and ‘decision’ is deemed to be programmed, as part of a ‘control’ system – a system we wish to control, applying the contra-causal free will to us this time, as instigators of the system.

      • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        I disagree with your A, and this is entirely the point. I do not accept that a falling brick has “goals” and makes “decisions” to attain such goals in the same way that a cat or an aircraft autopilot does.

        I claim that the latter behaviour is qualitatively different and deserves to have its own language, even though it is still entirely deterministic.

        In the same way we use phrases such as “threat display” or “courting ritual” or “social bonding grooming” for high-order animal behaviour, even though it is all deterministic.

        • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

          That the rick does not have goals is no different than saying a logic gate in the autopilot does not. The very use of the terms you refer to come out of a history of anthropomophic teleological language.

          You attribute free will to an autopilot, to a frige thermostat, but not to a brick hitting a point that determines it goes left or right? Where do you draw the line? If you want to say the brick has no goals then nor does an aothopilot – its just a pile of atoms that are interacting. So are humans.

          So, yes, these terms have meanings that are adaptable. But they can be adapted to any purpose. I can, lingusitically, adapt the notion of decision making to a falling brick.

          All these descriptions of behaviour are human invented linguistic models. None of them have any meaning outside a human context anyway, so its how humans apply them that counts.

          This is why there are some terms that have become consistent in use in both human and other machines – much of this use encouraged by the development of computers. But ‘free will’ still has a specific and useful meaning in both our perception of how we think and decide, and in how religions use it.

          • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

            Yes, the logic gate of an autopilot does not have “goals”, but the *system*, the autopilot overall does.

            In the same way a “cat” has the goal of catching and eating a mouse, but a given molecule in the cat does not have any goal.

            This is what you are missing in your “just a pile of atoms” descriptions. It’s a particular pattern of atoms with very particular properties and behaviour.

            As for where does one draw the line, it’s a continuum, just like “complexity” and “intelligence” are. Why do we need to draw a line?

    • Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      Coel,

      “You are incompatibilists, so you don’t believe these things have any meaning.”

      Not true at all. I also think ‘free will’ has a very good meaning: contra-causal will, a will that is free of physical causes, dualist free will.

      “Perhaps you rigorously prepend “appearance of …” ”

      Not rigorously. I could, if I wanted to avoid any confusion, if I wanted to prevent someone really mistaking my meaning to be teleological when it isn’t.”

      On the other hand compatibilists are always having to prepend ‘compatibilist’ to ‘free will’, in an attempt to avoid confusion – though it doesn’t avoid confusion. Imagine for the moment we had this scenario:

      1) Thesis and some philosophers believe in dualist free will, for one reason or another: mind, soul.
      2) Compatibilists and incompatibilists think it’s determinism all the way (ignoring quantum stuff) – at least to the extent that there is no contra-causal free will.
      3) Humans, all humans, feel they have contra-causal free will, because that’s how it does feel. In fact, when someone feels they have no control of their lives, as if someone or something else is making decisions for them we treat this as a brain fault. In this context contra-causal free will is the default feeling humans have. So, according to those that support (1), this represents the reality. For those that support (2) this feeling must be illusory.

      At this point we have a coherent set of observable opinions:

      1) Those that understand a notion of contra-causal free will, that feel they have that free will and believe they have it.
      2) Those that understand the notion of contra-causal free will, as understood by group (1), that also feel they have that contra-causal free will and yet believe they don’t have it – they believe it is incompatible with determinism, and think also that the feeling we have it is illusory.

      But then, to spoil the party, we have the contrary Marys compatibilists who, want to play with group (2), but want a bit of the freedom that group (1) has. They want to make up their own rules, and some of whom even deny that anyone still believes as group (1) does. They say things like, “Look a chose to raise my arm, I could have done otherwise, I have free will.” They are the “I’m going to start calling Sunday Monday – so this Sunday will be compatibilist Monday, and there is no actual Monday, because nobody believes in Mondays anymore.” brigade.

      • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

        As everyone who objects to compatibilism does you are misunderstanding compatibilists. We would agree entirely with your (2). We do *not* “want a bit of the freedom that group (1) has”.

        We are *not* closet dualists and we are not pining after dualism or more freedom. All we are doing is choosing to use the word “free” for the only sort of freedom that actually exists!

        • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

          I know that is the case for you. But not for all compatibilists. This is why I can’t understand your particular commitment to compatibilism.

          Do you have a response to (3)? Yous say elsewhere most people are dualists. Putting aside your intellectual position, or looking back to earlier times in your life, do you not feel that your decisions are free of physical cause, have you never felt you actually have free will in the dualist sense? Do you not think humans suffer that illusion?

          • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

            Sure, lots of humans have that illusion of dualistic free will. I may have done in the past, before I thought about it, but I’ve been pretty militantly deterministic since my mid teens!

            • Posted October 30, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

              But isn’t there a difference between the intellectual knowledge and the mental experience? We still experience the illusion of optical illusions even when we know how they work. We can even change perspective and see why the error occurs. With the Necker cube we can even attempt to ‘will’ a change in perspective.

              The same for free will, surely. When not contemplating these issues, do you really feel you can detect the cause of all your willed actions, all your decisions?

              I don’t see a problem with feeling I have free will, and even using the language of free will, at work or at leisure, as if I really had contra-causal free will, while being explicit about what I think is happening physically when called upon to do so. This is no more a difficult dichotomy to live than feeling as though I’m pretty solid while intellectually acknowledging first that I’m mostly water, and then that I’m mostly free space.

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

                No, I don’t feel that I can “detect the cause of all my willing actions”, because most of that machinery is not available to my consciousness. However, that doesn’t mean it “feels” to me as dualistic, it just means that I’m not aware of it in the same way that I’m not aware of all the electrons whizzing around in the innards of the device on which I am typing this.

                In that sense I — personally — do *not* have any sense or illusion of dualistic FW (though I accept that many people do).

    • Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      Coel,

      “Why don’t we agree on a short-hand and omit the “appearance of …”? ”

      Why don’t we agree to let dualists of various sorts keep their meaning of free will? Why don’t we agree to stop saying ‘free will is compatible with determinism’ and instead say ‘the illusion of free will is compatible with determinism’.

      Because of course, while (contra-causal) free will is incompatible with determinism, the illusion of having contra-causal free will is not. The brain is caused to have the mental impression of making contra-causally free willed decisions. The free will is an illusion. The illusion is a real phenomenon of a human brain, and as such it and all other illusions are compatible with determinism.

      An optical illusion of a convex when looking at the concave side is a real deterministic phenomenon of a brain. The brain has a representation that, for want of a more complex explanation, ‘sees’ a convex mask, is triggered to respond as if presented with a convex mask, even though deterministically the light hitting the retinas corresponds with that of a concave mask.

      The metal perception is that the brain ‘sees’ our decisions coming to us free of physical cause – the illusion is a phenomenon determined by the brain’s operation. But the free will the brain ‘sees’ is not real, but is instead caused.

      This is the context in which it makes sense to continue to have free will mean dualist free will, and the context in which to say it is an illusion, and the context in which to say the illusion is compatible with determinism, but the free will content of the illusion is not.

      This provides a context in which we can focus on theists that want to attribute sin to free willed actions. It’s a simplistic notion that deserves opposing so that we can move to a better understanding of the behaviours that are customarily attributed to sinful free will. Compatibilism is a side-show that derails this process.

    • Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      Coel,

      “Why is it that we don’t use it for a house brick falling under gravity but do use it for a child picking an ice-cream flavour?”

      1) Because they are so different in degree. We could use ‘choice’ with regard to the brick if it were to hit a scaffold bar and bounce left or right. If the brick + scaffold system was part of a mechanism that was complex enough we might well do that. But you want to use ‘free will’ for so many simple systems that other compatibilists would not agree with.

      2) We are still dualist by mental experience. We do suffer the illusion. So, when on a building site a sudden gust of wind knocks a plan that hits a spade that clatters into a pile of bricks that sends one falling we don’t tend to say the brick chose to fall; but we would tend to suggest that the guy underneath it choose to move out of the way. If you’re a philosophical bricky then you might well contemplate the fact that your shout of alarm ’caused’ your co-worker to move.

      This is the problem with free will as a term. It has a history and a common use and a common mental experience that all point to contra-causal free will. The incompatibilists accepts this is the history and this is also how it feels; but that the history is mistaken because the feeling is mistaken: free will is an illusion.

      “Is the difference there a real difference in how things behave (particularly products of Darwinian evolution, which show goal-oriented, choice-selecting behaviour), or is there no difference at all? ”

      The difference lies entirely in the mental illusion of us having free will, which in history has caused us to construct our language as if we really do have contra-causal free will.

      “Have a think about that question, and you’re well on the way to becoming a compatibilist! ”

      I’m even less of a compatibilists having read all the comments here by compatibilists. Not one has provided anything that would suggest that:
      – humans do not have the feeling of having dualist free will
      – that this feeling we have it is not illusory
      – that compatibilists are not causing confusion – by insisting on claiming the meaning of free will that is counter to the more coherent dualist meaning, that is counter to the grammatical meaning of the term, that is counter to their own commitment to determinism.

      “Please note that becoming a compatibilist is not in any way a pulling back from embracing determinism wholeheartedly; it is about trying to understand a deterministic world.”

      Then try to understand that human brains are determined to feel they have contra-causal free will and that most humans feel that way. Incompatibilists can accept the illusory nature of it, and accept determinism. Incompatibilists can accept that some brains still insist the contra-causal free will is real. As an incompatibilists I can raise my arm and feel that this choice was mine, because that’s how my brain makes it feel, because that’s all my brain reveals to me about that ‘choice’, because I cannot feel the physical neurons ticking away, playing out causally to make my arm raise or not. As an incompatibilists I can understand why the feeling is so strong that some compatibilists are all but dualists in the way they argue.

      Coel, you seem to be a rare compatibilists that seems an incompatibilists in every sense except that you call yourself a compatibilists and insist on using the term free will. Could you tell me if you feel you have contra-causal free will, or can you detect all the physical events that make you make decisions? Are you saying yes, you feel you have contra-causal free will, but you instead intellectually think you have compatibilists free will? Are you comfortable saying contra-causal free will is an illusion but compatibilists free will is not?

      • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        Hi Ron,

        First, the situation of a brick bouncing off a scaffold does not involve any concept of “goal” or choice-selection to pursue that goal. That is the phenomenon that compatibilists are trying to get at when we use the term “will”, and I disagree that the concept is illusory or no different from a bouncing brick.

        Further, we compatibilists do entirely understand and entirely accept that humans are deterministic and that any sensation of dualistic free will is illusory.

        No, I personally do *not* feel any “illusion” of contra-causal dualistic free will — I’ve long trained myself not to think like that and I don’t. My consciousness does indeed lack awareness of the inner workings of the machinery, but that inner machinery is still “me” and still deterministic.

        And, yes, I do really think that compatibilist FW is *not* an illusion, but to understand that you really need to appreciate that *all* we mean by “free” in that sense is what it means in the term “freed from jail” — it is not, not even in the smallest degree, a pining after dualism.

        We do know that this meaning of “free” is *not* the same as dualistic “free” will, but it is the only sort of freedom that *actually* *exists*!

        It is so very weird to be continually told that it is wrong to use the term “free” for the only sort of freedom that actually exists!

        • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

          “First, the situation of a brick bouncing off a scaffold does not involve any concept of “goal” or choice-selection to pursue that goal.”

          Nor does an autopilot, except in as much as humans attribute a goal to it.

          All it would take for a falling brick to have some purpose would be for some human to invent that purpose. Purpose is an entirely human invention anyway. we attribute it generally to machines we invent, but in doing so you are doing Paley’s work for him, making us the designers.

          But in a more fundamental sense, as determiistic machines our perceived goals are illusions. In the context a working human brain we attribute purpose to its behaviour. The brain attributes goals to itself. The “I” that plans is the brain in action.

          The only thing that determines that some object has a goal is a human.

          It is in opposition to this complete materialism determinist physicalism that we have theology and some philosophers that want the human mind/soul to have free will. Only be being quite stark about how much goals are an invention of the thing doing the labelling of goals can we get across to them how everything is all physical. We need to make our case in opposition to their notion of free will most clearly.

          The term ‘free will’ is the problem. The terms like ‘choice’ are only a problem in a confused context of compatibilism. It’s quite easy to retain the use of ‘choice’ in opposition to ‘free will’, the mechanistic choice of any logic system

          • Posted October 29, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

            Here I do disagree with you. I don’t agree that “goals” and “purpose” are mere illusions attributed only by humans from a false dualistic perspective.

            To my mind concepts of “purpose” and “goal” are entirely real and valid concepts in a deterministic world. I don’t see it as invalid to ask what the “purpose” of a lion’s legs or teeth are.

            Now, yes, you could re-phrase all of this in very low-level language that avoids these high-level concepts — just like you can translate a high-level computer code into machine code — but that would be rather perverse.

            • Posted October 29, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

              “To my mind concepts of “purpose” and “goal” are entirely real and valid concepts in a deterministic world.”

              Concepts. Models about the world. Models used by humans to describe the world. This conceptual illusion about the world is easy to demonstrate. It’s very easy to play a trick on a friend to make some inanimate object appear real so they leap in fear – it only has to move somewhat like a living entity and our reactions are instinctive. We attribute purpose to ventriloquist dummies, to cartoons on TV. Even when watching a move made from live actors we are watching a 2-D image of changing light patterns, and hearing sounds, and combining them in an illusion of reality. It’s the brain that imparts meaning onto collections of atoms. We did so initially with animals, and then thunderstorms. We invented tools to extent our own bodies, and as the tools because useful they attained a use, a purpose. As tools become detached, partly autonomous, they take on a purpose of their own, but still one attributed by us. This is brains at work, making fictions about the world.

              But to ask “What is the purpose of a lion’s legs” is using ‘purpose’ in the descriptive sense, not the teleological sense that theists want to attribute to sinful free willed actions, or to their gods.

              Yes we could re-phrase these other terms, but we don’t generally need to because whether we are imparting teleological meaning or metaphorical teleological meaning to ‘inanimate’ objects, or merely describing the ‘purpose’ in the functional sense is usually clear enough. We don’t need to avoid these terms; we only need to be careful in their use. On top of that we are in the process of discovery in which we have ingrained into our brains teleological interpretation, brains which are trying to come to terms with an entirely mechanistic universe. We even end up using teleological language in the very words that we use to explain why we should try to avoid it, so ingrained into our brains and our language is teleology. It’s not easy to avoid teleological language, but sometimes we have to do it. And it’s especially important to be clear about the matter of free will.

              That’s one of the reasons it’s worth the effort to keep free will a distinctively dualist concept. We can let the dualist make their case for it, and we can make our case that what they think they have is illusory – their will and our will is not a free as it feels and not as free as they would assert it is – it is not free of physical cause. So, when talking about matters that arise around ‘free will’ it becomes important to stress the disagreement. It becomes important to make the distinction. Compatibilists does not do this.

              Compatibilists are making a claim to determinism while saying we have free will. So, yes, we incompatibilists don’t understand you, but not because we don’t understand what you are saying, but because we don’t understand why you say it – why you say free will is compatible with determinism. And I can see why dualists are confused too, when they’ve got two sets of determinists telling them different things; and with one set, the compatibilists, completely ignoring the illusory aspect of free will.

              Again I put it to you that you say most people are dualists, and I agree with you, and that feeling they have that they have free will is the illusion.

              • Posted October 29, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

                Yes, humans are easily tricked into seeing agency and purpose where there is none. That’s because our brains evolved largely to detect agency and purpose (in other humans and animals).

                That doesn’t alter the fact that agency and purpose are entirely valid ways of thinking about and understanding the world. There are plenty of situations where those are exactly the right way of thinking about it.

                And yes, this should all be understood in a descriptive sense, not in a teleological sense.

                Finally, yes, most people are indeed dualists and their illusion of dualistic free will is indeed an illusion. We compatibilists are not ignoring the illusory nature of dualistic free will.

                Further, compatibilists can emphasize to people that the “will” that they feel is a deterministic product of brain machinery just as much as incompatibilists can emphasize that.

              • Posted October 29, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

                Coel,

                “That doesn’t alter the fact that agency and purpose are entirely valid ways of thinking about and understanding the world.”

                Yes I agree, they can be. They are useful and efficient in our daily lives. When is a meeting at work I use them all the time, and might use them when describing what some computer is doing, or what a computer program is ‘trying’ to do.

                But in the context of the philosophy of human brains and the extent to which they have free will it’s worth making the distinction between contra-causal free will of the dualist and determinism – and these two are not compatible as real descriptions of the world. But a physical brain suffering the illusion of free will is a good description of the world: it describes the fact that the brain is a deterministic system, and that humans feel they have free will, and hence the feeling that dualists are experiencing too, but that this freedom is illusory, because we are constrained physically.

                You put it as “e are then in a position to become compatibilists”, but I think that in the above context it is unhelpful. We are in a better position to say we are complex automatic, physical dynamic systems under the influence of the laws of thermodynamics, so much so that we are constrained to will only what we are caused to will, and we are constrained to carry out a will action only to the extent that we are not physically constrained from doing so. This is all about degrees of freedom of an automaton, and is quite different from the contra-causal free will of dualists, and this is worth emphasising.

                “Finally, yes, most people are indeed dualists and their illusion of dualistic free will is indeed an illusion. We compatibilists are not ignoring the illusory nature of dualistic free will.”

                Then you are unique as far as I know as a compatibilists. Dennett specifically denies free will is an illusion, as do most compatibilists. This is because they ignore and will not acknowledge the point you just have. I think it perfectly clear to Dennett and all compatibilists that incompatibilists are talking about contra-causal free will being illusory. And yet, when compatibilists are asked “Is free will an illusion?” they say not, and they specifically don’t volunteer, “Well, contra-causal free will is an illusion that we all suffer; but there is another free will, compatibilists free will, that is not.”

                “Further, compatibilists can emphasize to people that the “will” that they feel is a deterministic product of brain machinery just as much as incompatibilists can emphasize that. ”

                Yes, I agree they can. But how can they emphasise it is ‘free’? Free of what? Physical causes? No. Because it’s the freedom from physical causes that’s the issue for dualists, and it’s the issue for incompatibilists – that’s what it’s incompatible with.

                And, compatibilists do not agree on what has free will: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/questions-for-compatibilists/#comment-589184

  47. Andrew Platt
    Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    I am really trying to understand why the majority here believe there is no free will. There is some confusion over exactly what is meant by free will but there is also great emphasis placed on the universe being deterministic. Laplace was right to say what he did in a world yet to discover quantum mechanics but, as Michio Kaku points out, Einstein was wrong to claim that God does not play dice. He does – or at least, He would if He existed!

    For the sake of argument let’s pretend the universe is deterministic. If we accept our brains are a part of that universe then we must conclude that we have no choice but to follow the laws of physics and therefore we have no free will. This implies our brains are operating like clockwork – in any given state, given identical inputs, the processing performed and the outputs produced will always be identical.

    How, then, do we explain concepts like creativity, cognition and consciousness? Do determinists think these concepts are illusions too, or do they think they are all properties that could arise in a sufficiently complex automaton? If so, how?

    Reductionist arguments of this type are similar to those which say that our bodies are made of molecules, which themselves are made of atoms, and because neither the atoms nor the molecules are alive, then life itself must be an illusion.

    Does any contributor believe that? Why not? After all, carbon atoms and proteins are only obeying the “deterministic laws of nature”?

    • Dyami Hayes
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:56 am | Permalink

      “How, then, do we explain concepts like creativity, cognition and consciousness? Do determinists think these concepts are illusions too, or do they think they are all properties that could arise in a sufficiently complex automaton? If so, how?”

      == Good question, but presented such that it appears to be ‘mystery mongering’. This sort of Difficulty, ergo Faulty is reminiscent of the arguments against evolution of life. I.e. “How can we explain living things emerging from mere atoms and void?!?!”.

      Consciousness is not incompatible with determinism. Consciousness might imply that certain processes in the brain, though determined, are transparent, or self-referential. Cognition certainly necessitate free will: just ask a cognitive scientist. Creativity would have to be qualified as [with respect to given functional norms]; it would be creative in a sense analogous to evolution.

      I think we should allow indeterminism as a possibility, and thus allow “Robust creativity”, but that this creative process is not ever “freely Willed” by agents. It is simply a subset of those phenomena that are [random or chaotic or indeterminate].

      • Andrew Platt
        Posted October 28, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

        Thanks for the reply Dyami.

        If I appear to be “mystery mongering” it is only because the origin of creativity, cognition and consciousness are a mystery. Science does not have all the answers but that does not mean the supernatural is a valid way to fill the void.

        Yet there seems a lack of willingness in some to admit that science does not have all the answers, their certainty over the issue of free will being one such example. Most quantum physicists will admit that no-one understands quantum physics, and if we do not know how consciousness comes about then clearly we do not know how the brain works. Where is the basis for certainty?

  48. Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    And now I will Sub. Better late than never.

  49. Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Maybe it would help if we all agree to rename Compatibilist Free Will, Autopilot Free Will (AFW). Then we’re left with Libertarian Free Will (dualists), no free will, or Autopilot Free Will. The latter group says we have free will, but we have it in the same way that an autopilot has it. This clears up a lot of confusion. No one will be claiming that the AFW supporters are closet dualists anymore. It will be clear to everyone that the AFW supporters agree that there is an algorithmic process going on and that the EXACT SAME inputs will give you the same output each time. It becomes obvious that the AFW supporters are using the phrase free will to mean something (for example, what an autopilot does) that most of the rest of us don’t mean when we use that phrase.

    • ppnl
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      How is autopilot free will different from “the orbit of Mars” free will? The only difference seems to be in the complexity of the calculation.

      • Posted October 25, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

        The orbit of Mars has no memory, which is part of the picture.

        Also, since neurons have a base-level firing rate, there’s a way in which some of what we do is self-originated. (This is my sketch of an answer to Kane.)

        • ppnl
          Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

          An auto pilot does not generally make use of its memory of past states. It only has an algorithm for converting its current state to some target future state.

          • Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

            What is its store of maps if not a memory of past states?

            Is it necessary that the autopilot was the device that originally formed the memory?

            They even have short-term memories, too — they’ll take in weather reports, readings from onboard radar, commands from the human pilots, all that sort of thing.

            The difference between an autopilot and a human really is only one of degree, not of type.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • ppnl
              Posted October 26, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

              The maps are mostly places it has never been. If it has been to a particular point on the map it has no memory of that. It is just data. It does not even know it is a map. It is just a list of numbers.

              I have a map of Africa. Never been there. I at least see it as a map rather than a list of numbers.

              • Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

                Again, of what significance that that particular autopilot be the one to have created the memory?

                b&

  50. DV
    Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Excellent defense of compatibilism from Sastra, Vaal, and Coel. Great point by Torbjorn that Free Will is a model.

    The problem with Incompatibilism is that in its reductionist zeal it rejects a really useful model. But worst is that its proponents go on to act and talk AS IF people do have free will. In other words they want to have their cake and eat it too. They (claim to) reject the model that they use everyday!

    I will also that we should use Evolution to shed light on this topic. To a rock in a lifeless world, everything that happens to it is inevitable. To a living thing, windows of evitability open up. The more complex an organism is, the bigger the windows are, the more choices it has. This is what Dennett calls the Evoution of Evitability. Death is still inevitable. (But even now we can conceive that in the future it might not be, or at least substantially delayed).

    Again this is just a way to understand in convenient terms how we experience the world. You can choose to think of the world as just composed of nothing but wholly deterministic interacting particles (which it is) but then how do you navigate your everyday life, much less how do you avoid cognitive dissonance the next time you order from a menu? Or you can use a high-level model of the world as being inhabited by goal-seeking, choice-making, free-willing agents. Nobody’s putting a gun to your head, so you are free to choose.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Again this is just a way to understand in convenient terms how we experience the world. You can choose to think of the world as just composed of nothing but wholly deterministic interacting particles (which it is) but then how do you navigate your everyday life, much less how do you avoid cognitive dissonance the next time you order from a menu?

      Is it cognitive dissonace to draw on your past experiences with food before ordering?

    • ppnl
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      In deterministic world “evitability” never exists and is always an illusion. Everything is always inevitable.

      Inject some randomness into the world and evitability may exist but choice still does not. It is still an illusion. A rocks future may be evitable just like a persons. On a large enough time scale the orbit of planets becomes evitable.

      And this does not explain how we can experience our thoughts.

      • BillyJoe
        Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

        Since someone above praised a few posters for their (what I can only describe as) wafflings in this thread, let me praise you for you succinctness and perspicacity (:

  51. BillyJoe
    Posted October 25, 2013 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    “computers are non-living entities with free will”

    Obviously, the compatibilist has re-defined freewill.

    Someone above tried to breathe life into freewill by making an analogy between freewill and life. In fact the appropriate analogy is between freewill and lifeforce. Neither exist.

  52. Posted October 25, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    The Ego ~~ conscious control ~~ choice ~~ free will; these are all anthropic artifacts akin to the world is flat ~~ I will fall off the edge of it if I go too far ~~ the sun and the heavenly bodies circle the earth etc. I don’t mean to belittle the free will argument with excessive flippancy but it’s all but begging for it. In some ways this blog is great because it facilitates our discussing and debating concepts rarely found in other forums. However, I find myself having to repeat things that I’ve already stated in previous posts so I wish there were some way to crosslink similarly / previously expressed ideas [a fitting challenge for some app developer and/or software engineer I think]; anyway, for the purposes of addressing this topic let me revisit a previous post of mine:

    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 much as I loathe engaging in debates that center in the realm of semantics, I find it necessary to challenge Vaal’s statement that I made “a very large, ill-advised leap from the interpretation of some small set of experiments testing only certain capabilities under specific conditions.” Let me start with citing some of David Eagleman’s work again (btw/FYI Eagleman is not a hard determinist, much more of a free will sceptic if I may categorize his thinking):

    “When it comes to nature and nurture, the important point is that we choose neither one. We are each constructed from a genetic blueprint, and then born into a world of circumstances that we cannot control in our most-formative years. The complex interactions of genes and environment mean that all citizens—equal before the law—possess different perspectives, dissimilar personalities, and varied capacities for decision-making. The unique patterns of neurobiology inside each of our heads cannot qualify as choices; these are the cards we’re dealt…

    The crux of the problem is that it no longer makes sense to ask, “To what extent was it his biology, and to what extent was it him?,” because we now understand that there is no meaningful distinction between a person’s biology and his decision-making. They are inseparable.

    WHILE OUR CURRENT style of punishment rests on a bedrock of personal volition and blame, our modern understanding of the brain suggests a different approach. Blameworthiness should be removed from the legal argot. It is a backward-looking concept that demands the impossible task of untangling the hopelessly complex web of genetics and environment that constructs the trajectory of a human life” (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/the-brain-on-trial/308520/3/).

    And Andrew Platt, if you’re going to cite a modern physicist, please stay away from the wishy washy work of that media whore Mitio Kaku; he’s a poor knock off from the Copenhagen school dinosaurs. Not to sound elitist, but Gerard t’Hooft—a Nobel Prize winner—who has collaborated with modern greats such as Leonard “the plumber” Susskind on top notch work, including the holographic principle, helps us to see that at best our conscious minds are merely biological extensions of Nature’s immense processing devices [i.e. the Universe akin to a gigantic computer] in which “Nature does her own calculations much faster than any man-made construction, made out of parts existing in Nature, can ever do. There is no need to demand for more free will than that (“Free Will Postulate” 4,7 Gerard t’ Hooft).” For further deterministic elucidations, please see t’ Hooft’s work on Beables and Changeables.

    PS: Einstein and Schrödinger were right.
    Also it looks like we’re breaking off into competing groups of thinkers, which is fine with me and obviously predetermined. Personally I think the wisest voice in this forum is that of Kelton Barnsley; I just noted his even more thorough expression of how belief in free will correlates to terrors in our world:

    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.

    Thank you again Kelton.

    Finally to end this post on a more uplifting note, enlightened dismissal of concepts such as free will and blame allow us to embrace a new and better paradigm which I have written about and continue to enjoy immensely, summarized in the phrase: Being more pleasurable than all ones.

    • Kelton Barnsley
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Aw, shucks.

      • Andrew Platt
        Posted October 28, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

        “I think these beliefs are even more harmful than a belief in God.”

        Although I am an atheist a comment like this enables me to see things from the perspective of – and to some extent feel sorry for – the poor beleaguered believer!

        “Belief in free will…is the enemy of compassion.”

        Does the author of this comment have compassion for Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot? Read the posting about the Irishman with the Hitler birthday cake and see how much compassion is in evidence for Hitler and the Nazis. Many of the people posting in that thread will no doubt be determinists. Where is the consistency? Forgive the pun but they are having their cake and eating it!

        “They are also a continuous source of mental anguish when people blame themselves for their own shortcomings and failures instead of moving on.”

        So if a drunk driver kills someone in a crash they should just shrug their shoulders and move on? I have always been amazed how ready some people are to forgive when their family members are killed in such accidents, or even in heinous murders. Maybe the very religious can do so, trusting in ultimate justice in the afterlife. It seems determinists like Kelton Barnsley have more in common with believers than they might like to admit.

        P.S. Paul Francis is dismissive of Michio Kaku. Perhaps he has more respect for Stephen Hawking, who also believes Einstein was wrong, saying: “Consideration of black holes suggests, not only that God does play dice, but that he sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can’t be seen.”

        Rather than turn this into a game of “my scientist is better than yours” why not just admit that no-one can be certain whether free will exists or not? That is all I am saying. Here is Richard Dawkins on the subject: “The philosophical question of determinism is a very difficult question…Now I don’t actually know what I actually think about that, I haven’t taken up a position about that.”

        To me, that is the wisest voice.

        • peltonrandy
          Posted October 28, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

          The reason we should not do as you suggest is for the reason Jerry has stated repeatedly: where we fall on the question of free will greatly influences the conclusions we draw about how to treat people, particularly in regards to our criminal justice system. The free will issues is not just an interesting intellectual exercise. It has real-world implications. And because it does I think we need to continue to work toward a resolution of the question.

        • Kelton Barnsley
          Posted October 29, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

          Although I must admit that I occasionally catch myself humming “Springtime”, I’d have to answer that I don’t feel a wellspring of compassion for Hitler (or Pol Pot or Stalin). I also know that these men were ultimately the victims of some combination of bad genes, bad ideas, and bad upbringing. This is not a contradiction. We primates are hardwired to want to see retribution exacted against people who harm us or the community. This undoubtedly served a purpose in helping groups of primates (including humans) to survive by discouraging selfish behaviour that was destructive to the group. And I must concede that if someone had killed or imprisoned Hitler before he committed the holocaust, the amount of suffering in the world would have been diminished immensely.

          But what if you could go back in time and give art-school Hitler a pep talk, or a seminar, or a pill that put him on the track to becoming a champion of human rights? Would you withhold such a treatment as punishment for the crimes he has yet to commit? Would this make any sense at all?

          This is not a mere hypothetical question. In the future, we will likely have pharmaceuticals for treating mental disorders which will be much more effective and predictable than what we currently have. People with underlying tendencies toward violent behaviour will be able to treat these tendencies and live normal lives. But given the beliefs about free will that currently prevail in our society, such treatments will be stigmatized. All because of the view that each person is the ultimate author of their actions.

          I know you raised other points, but my lunch break’s almost over and I feel like I’ve written a long enough post already.

          • Posted October 29, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

            But what if you could go back in time and give art-school Hitler a pep talk, or a seminar, or a pill that put him on the track to becoming a champion of human rights?

            Even more off-topic…why didn’t Jesus do so? Hitler not only would have his free willies intact, he would have had that much more willies freed. The Holocaust would have been averted (or, perhaps, some other monster would have needed a bit of inspiration as well), and we’d have had another great expressionist painter’s artwork to admire. And it’s not like it would be challenging for a super-god like Jesus; Greek Muses did that sort of thing all the time.

            Cheers,

            b&

        • Posted October 29, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

          :) @ My scientist is better than yours. Since peltonrandy and Kelton have already handled the ethical side of this discussion–I’m using that word liberally
          because I sense that Andrew is not coming across as combatively as would warrant the term debate)–quite handily, I will proceed to focus on the rhetorical and physics-side.

          First of all, Andrew, wisdom or lack thereof, I’m glad that you’re presenting yourself as a sceptic and not a hard-line compatibilist–or even worse a libertarian. I’ve found it futile to the nth degree to try and build bridges with said types of thinkers; so at least we seem to be in the same ballpark if not necessarily playing by the same rules philosophically (pardon the pun).

          Sticking to my ‘t Hooftian influenced Weltanschauung, seeing the Universe as a gigantic processing device, what makes sense to any individual in said mechanism is arguably of little consequence / importance ultimately; however, as I have already made clear, I think the best science and most compelling proofs and, dare I say, best minds agree with the Determinist position.

          Like most things in science, including believing that our earth is an oblate spheroid and not flat e.g., there is no obvious sensory proof of this fact. Furthermore, unless one has either flown nonstop around the world with clear visual indicators of one’s journey and/or sailed around it, one must at some point accept that certain facts are scientifically verified, not subject to philosophical sophistry–which after all can argue almost anything, including that there is no truth or that it is instantaneously constructed blah blah blah or the so-called genius of pleading ignorance au your quote from Dawkins. I must also confess that I am not terribly fond of Hawking’s work either; for a physicist who has made his name as some sort of black hole expert, he certainly got burned when Susskind–along with ‘t Hooft, per the holographic principle–proved him wrong about information loss via blackholes.

          Alright I can’t resist it; I have to speak briefly about your ethical stance. I noticed a pervasive part of your argument relied on the highly sentimental, unscientific, and at best existential realm that assumes the importance of conventional retributive justice, i.e. au “law and order” of Nixon et al. Look we’re all human here and thus prone to emotional and/or irrational feelings; as enlightened people however, ideally, we neither deny nor condemn human tendencies / experience(s). Rather, we seek to sublimate them and in the process realize that the world that most of us take for granted–i.e. post-Columbus urban police states–is merely a blip in human existence thus far–and beyond that relative to the age of our earth and universe. Thus, as a Determinist, I accept that Nature, including via the human realm, has proven amoral on the whole thus far. In other words, far from condoning violence, I merely accept that it like everything else in Creation is predetermined.

          … Finally even though these final series of thoughts of mine are more closely related to another more exploratory topic, would anyone else here agree that the greatest achievement of science will be to “gaze out on the vast and elegant universe with a perspective of infinite [rhetorically not literally, Greene a top theoretical physicist is well aware that we are in a finite realm] clarity” or equivalently know the most sine qua non workings of the universe(s) / Multiverse (Brian Greene Elegant Universe 387)? More simply, if possible, to have a complete and satisfying answer to the question what is/are the universe(s) / Multiverse truly?

          [One obvious semi-answer per 't Hooft, yes he is my favorite living physicist, is that all of Creation is a massive computing mechanism, manifested in mindboggling complexity on a prima facie level but ultimately Deterministic and binary in nature {ie on the Planckian scale}, as his work--on Beables and Changeables--shows].

  53. Vaal
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Eric,

    (If you are still there…)

    “That BS, pure and simple. My son has a car that goes on a push of a button….snip…Did the car go from non-free-willed to free-willed?”

    No because a car doesn’t have a will or desires, but we do. That’s why the “will” part is in the phrase “Free Will.”

    One can say, however, that once your car is no longer prevented from moving, it is now “free” to move, or can move “freely.” This is a pretty standard use of the term that we often apply to physical objects once some sort of constraint it removed: the door, once un-stuck, now moves freely. The drain is unclogged so the water is now moving freely. The kite broke free of it’s string. The dog is free of the chain. Etc.

    So the point I’m making is that in everyday, practical use, we tend to apply the term “free” to real world differences in physical conditions – describing specific instances of constraint. No magic involved.

    And that this practical use continues when we talk of human choices and “freedom to choose” and “freedom to do as we will.” If you look at the motivation for bringing in the word “free” to describe one situation with a person vs one in which you won’t use that term, what is being described is some real world, physical constraint, or lack of, removal of a constraint (including constraint in the form of coercion).

    Ask people about whether someone (e.g. the 3 Cleveland women), when held captive by a serial killer or abuser in a basement, would describe the victim as “being there of her own free will.” The answer will be “no.” Why? Because people understand the victim will have real world desires to be elsewhere and unharmed, but is restricted from taking actions she otherwise could, because physical constraints (be it chains, locked doors, coercive threats to well being, etc). That will be contrasted to a condition in which the victim was NOT under such real world constraints and then WOULD be described as being somewhere “of her own free will.” It’s not that the victim is “magical/dualistic/contra-causal” in the non-free willed situation, and suddenly becomes magic, or dualistic, in the free willed situation. No one thinks that. Rather, the difference described by “free willed” and “being free to choose” are actual, real world differences on someone’s constraint to do things she wants to do.
    That EXPLAINS and makes sense of the practical situations in which “free too choose” is actually adduced most of the time. Viewing free will as only something describing a magical contra-causal ability, as if this is what motivates everyday people’s use of the term “free” for our actions, just doesn’t
    predict, describe or capture how people adduce that term nearly as well.

    Hence, the “freedom” most people talk of in terms of being free or not free do do as we will, tends to be aimed at real, empirical realities.

    Vaal

  54. Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    One last try, because eric never got a response to this comment.

    eric
    Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
    Most CFW defenders do, indeed, accept that computers and perhaps even drink machines make choices

    So, let me just see if I have this straight. Coel, Sastra, Vaal, Couchloc, feel free to reply with a simple yes or no:

    The CFW position is that humans have free will in the same way that airplane autopilots, and soda machines have free will. Yes or no.

    • Vaal
      Posted October 26, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      No.

      (Though, I suspect a “simple yes or no” wasn’t really what eric wants…)

      Vaal

      • Posted October 26, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        Coel, for one, seems to disagree. But Jerry has now put up a new post, with this as the main subject, so let’s resume this discussion over there.

  55. Posted October 30, 2013 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Hi Coel,

    Picking up from here:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/questions-for-compatibilists/#comment-594262

    (1) is a misrepresentation of incompatibilism. (2) is closer to incompatibilism, but is incomplete.

    So, let me make your (2) incompatibilist with some additions to complete it:

    (2) The will that you experience is the product of your low-level brain machinery, the choices that you make are made by your unconscious brain, just following the laws of physics. That will is therefore not free of those physical causes. That your will, and mine, feels free of those physical causes is an illusion.

    I note that your (2) did not say “The free will that you experience…”, and I think that is significant when discussing free will with a dualist, because they think the will is free in that sense. These two aspects: the feeling that the will is free, but that it is not, are the key points that make it important to say, “Free will is an illusion, we don’t have it, because it is incompatible with determinism (or fundamental indeterminism) that we infer from all science”.

    But, I can see what you are getting at in (1) with “you are not making choices, compared to (2) “…the choices that you make…” , and I’d address that as follows, noting why that is different argument and why it’s ‘free will’ we are addressing here:

    At the low level physics we may argue about how far determinism goes, and quantum physics provides a challenge to this. But any quantum event, no matter how random, still appears to have deterministic consequences to us. No matter how ‘random’ the science of Physics tells us the universe is, to us it appears deterministic to a degree. The indeterminism we experience looks just the same whether it’s truly random, or entirely deterministic. We don’t see individual atoms, so we sure don’t see quantum weirdness at that level or below. If quantum physics was entirely wrong and if the universe had been entirely deterministic in the classical sense, so much of it would still be indeterminate to us, because we don’t have the capacity and acuity to experience the world to the an appropriate degree. So, even if a ‘choice’ is no choice at all, but was determined back at the big bang, it would still be indeterminate to our brains, and would still feel like we are making a ‘free willed’ choice.

    It does not matter if ‘choice’ is real or not in some metaphysical sense, it is still about the unfolding of physical events. We can have a different philosophical argument about causation, determinism, indeterminism, time, and all the metaphysics we want. But for us humans we experience the world as time related causal events that are deterministic to a large degree, but where in very quick order, the detail in complexity becomes indeterminate. In that context it makes sense to talk about ‘choices’, ‘options’, ‘decisions’, in purely mechanistic terms, for humans and all other machines.

    Free will on the other hand is quite different, because free will is a notion that describes the will being free of physical causes. Choices are still caused. Our will is still caused, and the actions the body performs as a result of the will are still caused. But ‘free will’ is a declaration that the will is free of physical cause, and is attributed to some notional ‘person’, ‘I’, as if a separate non-physical soul or a mind. This is the context of the argument with theists and other dualists.

    We can’t help, in our daily lives, suffering the illusion, experiencing the world as if we are making free willed choices. Though both the ‘free will’ and the ‘choices’ aspects of this experience are up for debate, in the context of this discussion it’s ‘free will’ which is the focus of the argument here, and there is a clear physical/non-physical argument with dualists.

    It may be that we would want to argue with a dualist about the metaphysics of ‘choices’, ‘options’, ‘decisions’ – are logic OR-gates making decisions or simply playing out an already determined outcome – but if we can’t get past free will with the dualist then their use of ‘choice’ is already wrapped up in their ‘free will’.

    The other metaphysical issue of choices is not important here. So I can accept that a ‘choice’ is something that occurs at a point in time when physical ’causes’ come together and ’cause’ one outcome or another, where prior to that point in time we could not tell which would occur. Or I can accept that ‘choice’ is a metaphor for determined outputs that are indeterminate to us.

    I could draw a logic circuit with a single OR-gate, define the inputs NOW, and the output would be determined already. We would not feel as though a choice is being made, but that a stable state exists. If I then state that the inputs will change in one second, then we might be torn between saying that the future outcome is predetermined by the future inputs, or that the gate will make a choice when the outputs change according to the new states of the inputs. Extend this circuit to a more complex one, that detects the colour of passing marbles and flips a switch according to their colour, we would be more inclined to use the ‘choice’ metaphor for the circuit’s operation – it is making choices according to which marble passes. But if the circuit is reliable and the order and colour of marbles pre-stated, then we might also say the outcome is determined, certain, and that as a whole no choice is being made. The use of the term ‘choice’ is a contextual metaphorical one, but with underlying metaphysical interpretations at stake. But it is not addressing any magic, as if the choices are ‘free’ of physical causes.


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