Who wrote Shakespeare?

I have landed in Costa Rica to find this email from a reader awaiting me:

 Professor Coyne:

Free will aside, your biological determinism means that it’s not Shakespeare who wrote Hamlet but Shakespeare’s brain. That’s an absurdity; isn’t it?
Might there be a place in this world and in literature for common sense even if there is a place too for science?
Of course it was Shakespeare’s brain, and his neurons and his molecules!
I’m a huge fan of literature, but am not sure what this reader is on about.  Yes, the words of all those great plays came out of the pen held in the hand of the man (whoever he was) known as William Shakespeare.  And he had no choice about what he wrote—most of my readers will agree that it was all determined when he sat down.
So what’s the absurdity? Can someone enlighten me?
The hold of dualism on people is very strong. . .

253 Comments

  1. Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:59 am | Permalink

    At least they didn’t think it was Sir Francis Bacon’s brain who wrote it.

    • BilBy
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      Of course not. It was Kit Marlow’s brain. Or the Earl of Oxford’s brain. Or the Earl of Derby’s brain.

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

        Woody Allen:
        “If Marlowe wrote Shakespeare’s works, who wrote Marlowe’s? The answer to this lies in the fact that Shakespeare was married to a woman named Anne Hathaway. This we know to be factual. However, under the new theory, it is actually Marlowe who was married to Anne Hathaway, a match which caused Shakespeare no end of grief, as they would not let him in the house. …
        We wonder then, was not Lewis Carroll caricaturing the whole situation when he wrote Alice in Wonderland? The March Hare was Shakespeare, the Mad Hatter, Marlowe, and the Dormouse, Bacon — or the Mad Hatter, Bacon, and the March Hare, Marlowe — or Carroll, Bacon, and the Dormouse, Marlowe — or Alice was Shakespeare – or Bacon — or Carroll was the Mad Hatter.

        The point is, if you’re going to move, notify your post office.”

        Woody Allen, But Soft … Real Soft

        • PB
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

          good one ..

  2. Strider
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Any time someone mentions ‘common sense’ I know there’s some weapons grade bullshit coming next.

    • Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

      Yes, that’s common sense, Strider! ;+)

      • Strider
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

        No, that’s skepticism; the two of which I maintain are typically mutually exclusive.

        • Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

          Skepticism can confirm, or deny, an assumption from common sense.
          From Stanford encyclopedia:
          Because common sense tells us that there are physical bodies, and because there is intellectual pressure towards producing a unified view of the world, one could say that materialist monism is the ‘default option’. Discussion about dualism, therefore, tends to start from the assumption of the reality of the physical world, and then to consider arguments for why the mind cannot be treated as simply part of that world.

          Any time someone mentions ‘common sense’ I know there’s some weapons grade bullshit coming next.

          Both common sense and skepticism tell me that your statement employs several fallacies: poisoning the well, opinion as fact, appeal to emotion.

          Same link:
          If mind and body are different realms, in the way required by either property or substance dualism, then there arises the question of how they are related. Common sense tells us that they interact: thoughts and feelings are at least sometimes caused by bodily events and at least sometimes themselves give rise to bodily responses.

          I’m getting tired of telling hard determinists that their conclusions are contrary to common sense and that, therefore, the onus is on them to explain how our minds work in order to negate free will.

          • Strider
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

            I readily agree with your first statement. It’s been my experience in the past, and Jerry’s emailer is no exception, that when people talk about something being common sense said ideas should be examined with a very skeptical eye. I’ll wager many religious people, in particular the ones who took the polls Jerry cites frequently, would strongly object to the ‘common sense’ notion of materialist monism being the default option per your citation. In fact, they’d reach the exact opposite conclusion. Finally, I can see the first two logical fallacies in my original assertion but appeal to emotion? Not so much.

            • Strider
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

              So, is it safe to say you would’ve defended the common sense notion of the geocentric universe?

              • Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                The geocentric universe and and a flat earth are common sense, and the logical default positions, but they soon crumble in the face of contrary facts like ships disappearing over the horizon, midday shadows at distant points on the same day not being aligned, and the inability of a stationary earth’s gravity to hold the sun in orbit around it (without crushing our much closer bodies very flat indeed).

              • Strider
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

                That was kinda my point.

              • Posted January 10, 2012 at 12:35 am | Permalink

                Well my point is that those who defended the geocentric universe and the flat earth were not foolish to do so in the name of common sense before those facts were discovered, and it would not have been unreasonable to try to defend them until the facts convinced you.

                (The Church, remember, did not defend the geocentric universe in the name of common sense, but biblical inerrancy.)

              • steve
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

                You don’t think the Church thought it common sense that the bible was without error?

                Never mind that… when it comes to an illusion (which is what we are dealing with) common sense fails… that’s the very problem with illusions. If someone is telling you that you’re deluded by an illusion, it is foolish to say, “But my common sense says I am not.” In the case of an illusion it is time to quit relying upon what seems to you to be common sense.

  3. Keith Merrick
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    At the time Shakespeare wrote Hamlet he did have a choice. As he sat there head in hand, with the beautifully blank page in front of him, he had the choice of what to write.

    In retrospect it looks like he had no choice. All the atoms in the universe, all the way down from the Big Bang, conspired to make him write what he wrote. I agree. But this is not the same as saying he didn’t have a choice. It’s not even the same as saying that he ‘appeared’ to have a choice, but in reality his choice wasn’t a real one. It just means that there were things that caused him to write what he wrote. To say that there are causes for what we do is not the same as saying that we have no choice.

    However, I agree with you that Shakespeare’s brain wrote the plays. What, or who, else could have done it?

    • steve
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      Keith,

      I’m not sure I know (or that anyone else could know), just what you’re on about here. Are you quibbling over the difference in saying “no choice” and “no libertarian free choice”?

      It seems as if, bottom line, you do agree that Shakespeare had to (i.e., could not have done otherwise, all things considered) write what he wrote.

      • Keith Merrick
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

        Steve,

        Although you might not know what I’m on about, this doesn’t necessarily mean that nobody could. It could also be the case that you’re being unusually dense.

        No, this is not a quibble about what we call choice. I agree that our decisions have causes. What I don’t agree with is that this therefore means that our choices aren’t our own.

        What you are perhaps objecting to is the idea of a being who somehow stands apart from all external influences. I agree that this is impossible. What I disagree with is that simply because we don’t stand outside these influences that our choices are not our own.

        Whereas we both agree that a self that stands outside all cause is a chimera, you seem to think that this leads to the belief that there is no self, or that it is an illusion. You think that only a self unsullied by causation could be a real self. I disagree. I think the self is composed of these causes and is no less a self for that.

        • steve
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

          Where have I ever said there is no self?

          All I say is that the self has no freedom of will: free will is an illusion.

          I think you have mistaken my views with that of someone(s) else.

          • Keith Merrick
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

            What I was taking issue with originally was Jerry’s statement that “[Shakespeare]…had no choice about what he wrote”. I disagreed with this. You then took me to task for disagreeing. I then had to imagine precisely why you disagreed and ended up attributing beliefs to you that you in fact don’t hold. Okay, so we agree that there is a self. So the reason you took me to task was because you think that Shakespeare had no choice about what he wrote. Is that correct?

            I think Shakespeare did have a choice. If he had decided to write something altogether different Jerry would be still be saying that Shakespeare had no choice in writing this altogether different work. I am saying that whatever Shakespeare decided to write was his decision, regardless of the forces that impinged upon him. This counts as choice. You disagree. That’s fine.

            • steve
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

              Keith,

              For clarity’s sake, I would say Shakespeare did not make any libertarianly free choices about what he wrote, specifically that his non-free choices were a function of his matrix of causal determinants (reference them as heredity & environment or nature & nurture).

              • Keith Merrick
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

                How would you differentiate between a simple common-or-garden choice and a ‘libertarianly free choice’? Is the latter born ex nihilo, something akin to a virgin birth? Needless to say, this is something that no normal person believes in.

                My suspicion is that my ‘choice’ is your ‘non-free choice that was a function of a matrix of causal determinants’. (Where did you get to write like that? Have you, perchance, been to one of those university thingies?)

                But if you insist on claiming that Shakespeare didn’t in fact choose anything, not really, it was just a matrix of causal determinants that found their convergence point in a place called Shakespeare, then I’ll have to insist that you don’t really believe that Shakespeare had a self.

              • steve
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

                Keith,

                How would you differentiate between a simple common-or-garden choice and a ‘libertarianly free choice’?

                Trick question: I am a non-free willist: I don’t assert the existence of libertarian free will. I certainly don’t talk in terms of choosing and really choosing. All behavior is a function of an individual’s causal determinants.

    • Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      It’s a great tragedy that no trace of his original writing survives. I wonder whether he scratched out and rewrote a lot, like Beethoven, or the words just flowed onto the page while he composed more in his head, like Mozart?

      It seems to me that the many fine options involved in writing a single line of Shakespeare (or anyone else), choices of thoughts, then words to express them (and in his day even choices of spellings), might have been generated almost at the molecular level by semi-random processes, but then the decision-making, choosing the best word (or spelling), would happen at a much more rational level.

      (And you’ve no idea how hard it was to write that sentence, with so much self-referentiality going on.)

      • steve
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        Shaggy,

        Have you ever seen the skit about Shakespeare and his agent hashing out Hamlet… it was done by Rowan Atkinson Hugh Laurie… makes one wonder how what came to be, came to be.

        • Posted January 10, 2012 at 12:42 am | Permalink

          No but I remember a radio sketch (Take It From Here?) about a schoolboy being punished for suggesting that Shakespeare wrote a particular line because he couldn’t think of anything else, followed by a flashback to Shakespeare….

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 11, 2012 at 2:51 am | Permalink

          . . . or not to be, . . .

          • steve
            Posted January 11, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

            Diane,

            I was gladdened that somebody played along with my jest.

      • Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

        Shuggy

        You ask, “I wonder whether he scratched out and rewrote a lot, like Beethoven, or the words just flowed onto the page while he composed more in his head, like Mozart?”

        “In his prose work Timber, or Discoveries (1630), [Ben] Jonson (who was satirized for his slowness in composition) discusses the speed and ease with which Shakespeare wrote:

        ‘I remember, the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare that in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out line. My answer hath been, would he had blotted a thousand. Which they thought a malevolent speech. . .'”

        http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/drama/reputation/jonson1.html

        • Posted January 10, 2012 at 12:44 am | Permalink

          And didn’t Shakepeare chop and change his plays to suit particular audiences, or am I thinking of someone else?

    • PB
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      This debate represent the confusion we still have. Brain actually is not under control of Self (Self is just a part, a small player, among many subroutines running in our brain). Self got wind of any decision post-hoc / after the fact.

      “A decision” was made inside the brain, but not clear by whom, most definitely (or in most cases) not by the conscious part Self. Most probably the other subroutines are not as clearly defined as Self.

      What is Self then? Not very clear, seems like a somewhat semi-constant subroutine running like a spokeperson for the brain to outside world, and as most employees, Self does not make decision, or even the first to know.

      What we know is that Self is most likely a response to the need of Homo Sapiens to communicate effectively to each other. Self is created so that we can see others as more clearly defined, and later on takes control the social aspect of human revolution. This in turn makes it very entrenched in a person’s point-of-view in the world, as we perceive Self is the CEO of our (or somebody else’s) Brain, Inc. While actually Self is just a spokeperson, and not a very influential too (most of important activities of Brain Inc, like eating, breathing, regulating hormons etc are not reported to Self).

      If all of these things about Self are true (I suspect they are), it will revolutionize our understanding of being human, and what social interactions are.

      This is the crux of free-will confusion. No free will by the conscious self. Self may be there but not so executive. And decisions are still being made, only not clear by whom, and definitely not by Self, which most of people assume is your personality, therefore no freewill as we used to know it.

  4. Marella
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    Maybe they think Shakespeare’s hand wrote the plays without his brain? Maybe he was asleep at the time? It would still be his brain writing it anyway, even if his consciousness was not part of the deal. You can’t do anything much without your brain.

    • Larry Green
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink

      I don’t know about that. Sometimes we all try to do stuff without using our brains. Doesn’t turn out so good though.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      It wasn’t his hand. It was the ink from his quill.

      • Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

        Ah! ’twas a goose that wrote them, then!

        [Ducks]

        /@

        • Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          Tsk, tsk.

          Two fowl puns.

    • Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      Maybe they think Shakespeare’s hand wrote the plays without his brain?

      Sort of how Conservapedia works?

    • Chris Booth
      Posted January 11, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      You brainists. Of course Shakespeare’s hand wrote Hamlet. Perfidious a-handions!

  5. Jacob
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    Even if Shakespeare was free to choose whether or not he would write any of his plays (or even become a writer as his occupation in the first place), there is still a certain level of determinacy at work, as there was no one but Shakespeare who could’ve possibly written any of his pieces. The difference, obviously, is mental states, which we cannot choose. Only Shakespeare’s particular mental makeup could’ve written his plays. I find nothing absurd about that. It’s pretty obvious, or else anyone could write Hamlet simply by choosing.

  6. Nick LaRue
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    That hurt my brain just reading it.

    From what I can understand, loosely, is that being creative is a form of free will? Or you can’t be creative if there is no free will?

    I don’t know what else you can get out of that.

    The conspiracy theories all around who wrote Shakespeare are rather silly. It’s sort of like Jesus, there’s a lot of rumours around pointing to him but very little in the way of substance. With those who supposedly wrote Shakespeare beside Shakespeare is pretty much the same. It’s all speculative.

    I’ll go with Shakespeare (brain and body) being the writer unless there’s better proof otherwise.

    • Gerdien
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      Unless Coyne means Shakespeare’s brain could exist without his body.

      • James K
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

        1000 Quatloos on the newcomer!

        • Strider
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

          James K, ftw!!!

    • Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      At least we know there was a historical Shakespeare, and we know that somebody (and from textual analysis, just one person?) wrote the plays.

      With Jesus, it is still possible there was no single person, and that none of the supposed events of his life ever happened. (One aspect of the Jesus story I would like to know more about, is whether traces of his stories, parables etc. – other than the known precedents for virgin birth, resurrection etc. – can be found earlier than he is supposed to have lived, suggesting the entire thing was literally fabricated – perhaps by unconnected people in unconnected places – early in the first century CE.)

      • Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        Richard Carrier’s book on the historicity of Jesus is coming in April.

  7. Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Your reader has failed to prove that Shakespeare was not a p-zombie.

  8. Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    So what’s the absurdity? Can someone enlighten me?
    The hold of dualism on people is very strong. . .

    Why is that, my brain wonders?

  9. MAUCH
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    I’m coming to think that the ultimate absurdity of religion is not so much the idea of the cosmic overseer as the idea that the little voices that live in the heads of the faithful are real.

    • steve
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      MAUCH,

      I suspect that it is those very same “little voices that live in the heads” that gave seed to a super voice that lives everywhere at all times with omnipowers, in the first place.

      It is only because humans have a firsthand experience with our own little voices that we were able to imagine something else (gods) existing without benefit of material substance.

      • Dominic
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        What happens when the little voices start to sing together? Creepy…

  10. Chinahand
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    My central debate about determinism is whether things are pre-determined.

    I do not think they are.

    I agree that the world is basically deterministic, and there is no duality – the mind is a product of a physical brain operating under the laws of physics. But I believe the mathmatics of recursivity show that self referential systems are essentially open – you cannot predict whether a Turing Machine will halt, even though it’s behaviour is purely deterministic.

    That is an intrinsic part of mathematics, just as the uncertainty principle is an intrinsic part of reality – at a certain scale it is impossible to distinquish accurately between both position and velocity – they are unified, but if you wait long enough and that unification will break down producing uncertainties which will grow to affect ever larger scales, making the future essentially open.

    Looking at counter-factuals, I believe the question to be asked is whether, if everything was “exactly the same” for a moment in two different scenarios, would then then be exactly the same always.

    I am troubled by such ideas – they require an absolute frame of reference, which relativity shows to be impossible, they assume we can know things exactly, which quantum physics shows we can’t.

    Hence I am unclear of the relevence of determinism – I am doubtful that if you ran the model “again” you would get Shakespeare writing exactly the same Sonnets and Plays.

    What will be will be – of all the infinitude of possibilities, only one will occur. If everything occurred the same, then the result will be the same. That is a factual statement, but I do not think reality is knowable, predetermined, or repeatable. These are illusions from our marcroscopic, relative, point of view

    What makes Shakespeare unique is his uniqueness. The contingent experiences he had to go through, which includes introspection and the multiple drafts as his brain built up the conscious thoughts transcribed onto paper.

    Change things and things will be different, and there is no way – as Turing, Godel, Einstein, and Heisenberg have shown – to know what will be the result of the massively recursive process of a brain working.

    All this makes me think determinism may be true, but a total red herring. You can’t make things exactly the same at one moment, to get the same results for all time, because of uncertainty.

    We, due to introspection, and the recusivity intrinsic in our brains are open systems, and we have to include our introspection in determining what we will do.

    Only one future will result, but we have a role in creating that future, and nothing not even an omniscient being can say what that is, no more than an omnipotent being can stop pi being pi when you assume five Euclidian Axioms.

    Shakespeare, Prof Coyne and I are all unique, contingent beings, and we are only what we are because of what we do – which includes introspection and self knowledge.

    Put Prof Coyne in an Star Trek Transporter and transport him to a totally different universe with a totally different path tragectory from ours, he will remain Prof Coyne and change and influence that universe as it changes him.

    His uniqueness is what is important in doing the unique things he does, not that the results are the physical output of a materialitic universe.

    • Gerdien
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      Very good reply undermining Coyne’ major thesis.

      • vel
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        really? Then explain it without using the techobabble used by the poster.

        • Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

          That’s lame, vel.

        • Gerdien
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

          Get some more physics.

        • Andrew
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

          The simple explanation:

          Coyne bases his argument on the assumption that the universe is deterministic. Since the best models that science has are not deterministic, Coyne’s assumption is almost certainly false, rendering his entire line of reasoning false.

          From what I can tell, Coyne is confusing free will with dualism, and is actually trying to argue against dualism, but getting everything all flubbed up by instead arguing against free will.

    • steve
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      This is all well and good, but none of it establishes free will. It only establishes un predictability. Shakespear still lived the only live he could have ever lived. Hard determinism is not a requirement of non-free willism. (The non-existence of free will being Dr. Coyne’s thesis.)

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

        Actually, steve, hard determinism is the reason Dr. Coyne believes in non-free willism.

        • steve
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

          Say you know him better than I do, that he get’s to non-free willism while believing in hard determinism, gives him a different explanation as to why/how he arrived at this conviction he still counts himself as a non-free willist.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      We exist on a knife-edge of being, regarding the snail trails we leave behind us, homes, possessions, assignations, work, as if they give us a connected narrative of existence, but we are all just the dust around the legs of Ozymandias.

      • Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        Like the sands through an hourglass, so are the days of our lives 🙂

    • Chinahand
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      Let me try again.

      If Prof Coyne went into a Star Trek transporter and was materialized into another universe he would severe all connections to this universe. You can think of this as a discontinuity, a step change as he suddenly materializes from one universe into another.

      Or think of a counterfactual where a person is replicated in a computer and goes and sits in a room, the physical dimensions of the person are then cut and pasted out of this model and dumped into a room in a second program which up until that moment had been running an entirely different set of initial conditions (though similar enough to ensure the same physics etc).

      The only influence that comes into the new universe/program is Prof Coyne. Everything else is left behind. Does Prof Coyne loose anything by severing these links or does he remain what he is, unique through his physical body?

      The rest of the universe becomes irrelevent – it is not determining his behaviour. He is, interacting in either of the universes, on either side of the step change which physics and mathematics cannot replicate – they are tears in reality created for our thought experiment.

      What determines Prof Coynes behaviour – the universe, or himself?

      • Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        Both.

        /@

        • Gerdien
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

          What disproves prof. Coyne’s thesis.

      • Chris Granger
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        At the risk of being pedantic, Prof. Coyne’s matter and energy are part of the universe and can’t be separated from it. That is, whatever our universe is includes the matter and energy that at present are embodied in Jerry. I’m not sure it makes sense to ask what would happen were he moved to another universe.

    • BradW
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      Is this sentence the same? Is this sentence the same? Is this sentence the same?

      True, as I wrote each of the above, they were all written at an absolutely different point in time and space. But as you read them, they all convey the same visual and definitional meaning even though you have no (apparent) choice but to read each one at a different point in time and space.

      It’s all relational isn’t it?

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      Just a warning. When you try to justify some wooey spooky brain nonsense by mentioning Godel, Einstein, and Heisenberg everyone is going to assume you’re some variation on Deepak Chopra.

      Like most of these arguments, yours just doesn’t hold together. You can’t get from incompleteness (a property of more powerful formal logics) to indeterminism. You can’t get from the uncertainty principle to indeterminism either (because you still can’t go back and measure a second time so you can’t be sure your uncertain measurement wouldn’t be exactly the same).

      His uniqueness is what is important in doing the unique things he does, not that the results are the physical output of a materialitic universe.

      These things are not mutually exclusive. A materialistic universe can contain unique patterns that are generated by the senseless operation of naturalistic laws. Some of the possible patterns include Shakespeare and Professor Coyne. You’re looking too hard for contradictions.

    • Chinahand
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      I always enjoy seeing how changing the language changes the argument.

      Is making a decision different to coming to a conclusion in a debate about freewill?

      Shakespeare came to a conclusion to write down a certain couplet, or to pick a particular quill out of his ink pot!

      Was that conclusion inevitable? – from the beginning of time? – from when he sat down to think about it? – from when?

      I definitely don’t think it was inevitable from the beginning of time – the conclusion is the output of an intrinsically unpredictable process.

      Even ignoring quantum uncertainty (which I think has little, though maybe not no relevance to overall brain function – like photosynthesis I understand quantum processes are involved) the eventual state of a Turing Machine has been proved to be indeterminate. The brain with its multiple layers of recursion is, in my view, similarly open.

      The further back you go in time, the greater the chance that the general indeterminacy Turing foresaw, and the physical effects of quantum uncertainty will make it impossible to say that Shakespeare would inevitably produce a certain couplet – or a Turing Machine would inevitably halt. This isn’t just ignorance, but due to general properties of mathematics and physics.

      If conclusions are not inevitable, what does that say about choices?

      I can come to a conclusion from assessing the world and being introspective; and as a result change my behaviour.

      I do not feel that coming to a conclusion is inevitable until you get quite close to the point of decision. This is perfectly consistent with the work on neural activity Prof Coyne quotes. As you approach a conclusion it can be predicted, and I am perfectly happy that the brain provides many of the inputs to a decision unconsciously – but it is still the individual assessing the information and coming to a conclusion. Mind is more than consciousness.

      Whether it is unpredictability, or the lack of inevitability in coming to a conclusion, I am intrigued by this debate and feel it is a fascinating one.

      I agree what will occur, is what will occur, but that would be the case in any universe – a deterministic one, or a supernatural dualistic one.

      I don’t know what determinism is adding to this, but I don’t think it is inevitability.

      • Circe
        Posted January 10, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        Chinahand said:
        “the eventual state of a Turing Machine has been proved to be indeterminate.”

        No, nothing of the sort has ever been proven. It is also false. Given a Turing Machine, you can always construct a Turing machine that will tell (correctly) in finite time whether that given Turing machine will halt.

        What has been proven is that there is no one Turing machine that will do this job og checking for halting for _all_ Turing machines.

        Those two are very very different things.

    • Circe
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      you cannot predict whether a Turing Machine will halt, even though it’s behaviour is purely deterministic.

      I can tell you that this sentence has no bearing on Coyne’s thesis, and, at some level, is even wrong.

      What is meant when computer scientists say that the “halting problem is undecidable” is that they believe it to be a physical law that you cannot design a computer which will compute, given a computer program and the input to that program as input, whether the program will halt. So there are two points:

      1. No one is saying you cannot “predict” whether a given Turing machine (or computer program) will halt. We are just saying you cannot write a program which does that prediction, and is itself guaranteed to halt for any other program you can feed to it.

      2. There is no “mystery” about it. Every Turing machine either halts, or doesn’t halt. The claim is about having an effective procedure that will decide for each machine, in finite time, whether it does or does not. As far as I can see, Coyne’s thesis is not about whether you can efficiently predict how an individual would act. It is about whether or not it is determined by physical laws. Whether or not you can efficiently predict something has no bearing on whether or not it is “determined”. There are enough examples even in classical in physics of that: deterministic chaos comes to mind.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        Except that Jerry is not content to say merely that the process of writing the plays was determined by physical laws. He goes one step farther and asserts that the content of the plays was determined before Shakespeare started writing them. That implies an element of predictability that’s not warranted by the assumption of physical determinism. (And if that’s not what he meant to imply, then he should be more careful in his choice of phrasing.)

        • Circe
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          “He goes one step farther and asserts that the content of the plays was determined before Shakespeare started writing them.”

          Unless you bring in quantum phenomena, this is exactly the same as

          “the process of writing the plays was determined by physical laws.”

          As physical events, there is no significant difference between “starting to write” and “content of the writing”.

          Also, “Efficient Predictability” and “Determinism” are not the same things, even if you restrict only to classical physics. Also, the only way, according to current physical laws, that the content of Shakespeare’s play was not “determined” before they were actually finished is through Quantum Mechanics, where, it would be the result of a set of uncountably many configurations of the universe, drawn at random from the sample space of all possible configurations of the universe. Then, only the probabilities governing the random draw are determined, but not the result of the draw itself.

        • Dan L.
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

          That implies an element of predictability that’s not warranted by the assumption of physical determinism.

          I’m not sure how “predictability” fits in here. Coyne himself would probably be the first to say that no one could have predicted Shakespeare’s career.

          At the same time, I agree with Coyne that Shakespeare’s plays could not have been other than they are because Shakespeare’s patterns of neural activity could not have been other than they were because the stimuli which caused those patterns could not have been other than they were because the causes of those stimuli could not have been other than they were…

          …all the way back to the beginning of the universe. There’s nothing special about “content” that gives it a “get out of determinism free” card.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

            It’s not determinism I’m objecting to, it’s predeterminism, i.e. the idea that the act of writing the plays down was somehow irrelevant because their content had already been fixed. This is muddled thinking in my view, because the process of writing them down is how their content becomes fixed.

            Yes, it’s all deterministic, but that determinism is a dynamic process, not a static thing that exists once and for all time. Events happen when they happen, and not before. The Big Bang did not write those plays; Shakespeare did, as part of an ongoing causal flow in which his thought process was an essential component. Any causal description that elides that fact (such as “it was all determined when he sat down”) is therefore incomplete and inaccurate.

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

              Any causal description that elides that fact (such as “it was all determined when he sat down”) is therefore incomplete and inaccurate.

              I think very differently about this. I think that ALL causal descriptions are fundamentally incorrect (I dispute the concept of “cause”) and are useful only inasmuch as they are more expedient than describing events purely naturalistically. I think there’s nothing wrong with considering the universe as a four-dimensional “object” with time being interpreted as another spacial dimension, and in this case the content of Shakespeare’s plays IS determined by the structure of the universe on either side of Shakespeare writing his plays.

              So I think seeing the universe as a dynamic process and that things only happen when they happen is only one possible way of looking at it, and certainly not “the right way” (I don’t think there is one right way of looking at the universe). Call it muddled if you want. Makes perfect sense to me.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

                “I think there’s nothing wrong with considering the universe as a four-dimensional ‘object’ with time being interpreted as another spacial dimension”

                I’m not a physicist, but my impression is that physicists are divided on the legitmacy of the “block universe” view.

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

              I also don’t understand the distinction between “determinism” and “predeterminism” you’re trying to draw. From what you’re saying, it sounds like you’re trying to say “predeterminism” means what determinism has always meant, in which case I’m not sure what you mean by “determinism.” Could you just give definitions for how you’re using them so I can be more sure I’m understanding what you’re saying?

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

                In rough terms, determinism says that each domino knocks over the next domino in sequence. Predeterminism says that knocking over the first one knocks them all down. Logically the difference is that if the first domino alone bears causal responsibility for the whole process, then it doesn’t matter if some dominoes are missing; they’ll still all fall, because the first one caused them to.

                This sounds like obvious nonsense when put in these terms. But I think there is an unconscious strain of predeterminist thinking embedded in phrases like “determined before he sat down”. It’s what Eddy Nahmias calls “bypassing” in his studies of folk concepts of free will.

              • steve
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

                What the… what system asserts that missing dominos won’t effect the falling of chain of dominos?

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                OK, I think your “predeterminism” is pure straw man.

                Your dominoes analogy is problematic because when it comes to the universe we don’t have a bunch of dominoes already set up. The dominoes getting set up IS part of the universe. Your definition of “predeterminism” implies that the domino setup could have been other than what it was. But under determinism, the domino setup CAN’T be different than what it is because the domino setup is determined by the same deterministic laws that govern the subsequent interaction of the dominoes.

                Determinism says that for Shakespeare’s literary output to have been different than it was there would have been some other fact of history that would have to have been different from what it was (this is, roughly, the “cause” of the difference). But that other fact of history would have to have been caused by some earlier difference. In this sense, all of Shakespeare’s past light cone determines what Shakespeare wrote and he could not have written otherwise unless something in his past light cone was different. This is the sense in which his plays were “determined before he sat down.” Yours is a very uncharitable reading.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

                Uncharitable perhaps; but I think it’s consistent with the position Jerry has argued in multiple threads as well as in the USA Today piece, which (in my reading) is that intentions don’t matter, because everything is predetermined by biology and physics.

              • steve
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                It’s not that intentions don’t matter… it’s that intentions are also caused as opposed to being freely originated libertarianly by the individual in question.

              • Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

                I think the domino analogy is also poor because there really are no “missing dominoes.”
                Whatever happens next, or is caused to happen next, is the next domino.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

                I agree that whatever happens next is the next domino. Nevertheless, as Nahmias documents, there are people who believe irrationally in predeterminism as I’ve described it. (Really; I didn’t just make this up.) Phrases like “determined before he sat down” play to those irrational fears, so if we want to communicate effectively, we should avoid such phrases.

              • steve
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

                They (people with these irrational fears) don’t seem to do better with statements such as “he did the one and only thing his matrix of determinants caused him to do at that point in time”.

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

                I’ll have to look up Nahmias, sounds like interesting research.

              • Peter
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

                Dan L.,

                You may be right that Gregory’s predeterminism is a straw man in that people don’t explicitly endorses it, but it seems to me that Jerry is drawing on intuitions about predeterminism when he talks about the consequences of not having free will.

                Also, Jerry *does* think intentions don’t matter, that’s why he thinks things like the Libet and related experiments, count against free will. He pretty much explicitly argues that our alleged intentions are only post hoc rationalizations.

            • Circe
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

              “It’s not determinism I’m objecting to, it’s predeterminism, i.e. the idea that the act of writing the plays down was somehow irrelevant because their content had already been fixed.”

              I am sorry, but I fail to see the point. We are not making value judgements of “relevance” here. I just said that the “act of writing” down the plays” is, as a physical event, no different in the way it is determined by physical laws as the formation of a star, or that of a snowflake. We are not arguing “credit” here.

              Unless there is a significant physical way which you can point out in which the event of “writing the plays down” is different from the “formation of Alpha Centauri” in the way it is determined by the laws of Physics, I fail to see the distinction you are making.

              “Any causal description that elides that fact (such as “it was all determined when he sat down”) is therefore incomplete and inaccurate.”

              As I said before, if the world operated according to classical physics, “it was all determined when he sat down” is a perfectly accurate physical statement about a physical event. The only reason it is incorrect (on current physical theory) is because of the true randomness inherent in quantum mechanics. The only thing that can be said is “the probability distribution of all that he could have done was determined when he sat down.”

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

                This whole extended free will debate has been a value judgment on the relevance of conscious intentions to behavior. How could it be otherwise?

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                Because conscious intentions, if they are caused, can simply be part of the causal structure of the universe. The theses “mind is causal” and “determinism is true” are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Literally EVERYONE who calls himself or herself a compatibilist takes this sort of position.

              • steve
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

                Yes, but what they are want to avoid doing is acknowledging that therefore there is no (libertarian) freedom to the human will.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

                Dan, I don’t dispute any of that. But if we want to talk sensibly about behavior (including the writing of plays), then we have to talk about intentions. Confining our discussion to the physics of what happened before the intentions were formed won’t get us anywhere useful.

              • Circe
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

                “This whole extended free will debate has been a value judgment on the relevance of conscious intentions to behavior. How could it be otherwise?”

                As far as I am concerned, the debate is about whether “conscious intentions” are physical events are, or are not physical events. That’s not a value judgement. The debate is not about the “relevance” of “conscious intentions” to behavior. The claim that Coyne is making, as far as I see it, is that “conscious intentions” are nothing more than complicated physical events, like the formation of a snow flake, or that of a star, or that of a galaxy.

                I don’t think anybody is denying that physical events called “conscious intentions” cause physical events called “behavior”. What is being asserted is that this statement of causality is no different from other statements of causality like “accretion of gases causes star formation” or that “a supernova leads to a stellar dwarf”. Is your objection that we are denying the relevance of the “supernova” to the formation of the stellar dwarf, or the relevance of “accretion of gases” to “star formation” by saying that, in each case, both the cause and the effect are determined by physical laws?

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

                Greg, I agree we’re pretty much stuck using natural language to describe the particulars but that’s not necessarily relevant to the essentially philosophical question: could Shakespeare’s plays have come out other than they did if all of history preceding Shakespeare had happened exactly as it did?

                The uselessness of the language of physics to describe “intention” is, I think, not really different from the uselessness of the language of physics in describing the execution of a software program. There’s no reason in principle it can’t be done but it’s almost always much more efficient to speak about it in higher-level terms.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

                Circe, I think Jerry goes farther than that, albeit perhaps unintentionally. If he had said something along the lines of “what Shakespeare wrote was determined by physical processes in his brain,” I’d have no quarrel with that and would have let it pass without comment.

                But that’s not what he said. What he said was “he had no choice about what he wrote…it was all determined when he sat down,” which to my mind implies that Shakespeare’s (physically based) decision-making faculties played no role in determining what he wrote, that the plays were fore-ordained in some fashion independent of Shakespeare’s volition.

                I hope we can all agree that this latter position is indefensible and probably not what Jerry meant. My motive in commenting was to take him to task for this poor choice of words, which (in my view) reflects and reinforces an irrational sort of predeterminism rather than a rational determinism.

                And now I really must try to get some work done.

              • Circe
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

                “Shakespeare’s (physically based) decision-making faculties played no role in determining what he wrote, that the plays were fore-ordained in some fashion independent of Shakespeare’s volition.”

                Ok, I see your objection. If I thought Coyne was saying that, I’d disagree with that too.

              • Peter
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

                I think Jerry is explicitly trying to argue that since Shakespeare’s volition was determined, that his volition doesn’t matter. Or that in some way that’s important to us, it isn’t *his* volition.

                Anyway, I disagree with Dan L. that Jerry is basically a compatiblist who just thinks “free will” is the wrong term. Yes, he agrees about the facts, but he definitely attaches different values to those facts. His writing is clear about that: he’s bothered by our lack of contra-causal free will, and he thinks compatiblists are afraid to face up to that fact so we cling instead to our cheap, empty replacement. That’s why he likes the Harris quote about puppets who love their strings.

          • Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

            Of course, there are universes in which Shakespeare didn’t write Hamlet and those in which he wrote different Hamlets.

            /@

            • Circe
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

              And why, oh why, must multiple universes be the correct explanation for Quantum?

              • Posted January 10, 2012 at 1:38 am | Permalink

                Because it provides a truly physical interpretation of, inter alia, Schrödinger’s cat and quantum computing. See Deutsch’s The Fabric of Reality.

                /@

              • Circe
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

                I have read The Fabric of Reality. It is an explanation without evidence (as Deutsch clearly notes, but goes on with it because of his ideas about “explanatory power”.

                As far as I can see, with the little research I have done with Quantum computing, it has no more explaining power than “Nature can compute with complex numbers”. It just appears more “physical” but that’s a subjective opinion.

              • Posted January 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

                So, which interpretation of quantum theory do you prefer, and why?

                I think that many are “unphysical”, and that that’s more than just a subjective opinion. Any interpretation that involves the “collapse of the wavefunction” is simply hand-waving; it says nothing about what actual happens when someone makes an observation; it has no explanatory power here. (Which was the point Schrödinger was making with his feline thought experiment.)

                From my understanding of quantum computing, I don’t see any other interpretation that can explain how qubits hold multiple values.

                /@

              • Circe
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

                Why do we need untestable interpretations at all? Each qubit requires exactly one complex number for its representation, and quantum mechanics tell us how to use that representation.

                And I can tell you very confidently that qubits don’t hold “multiple values”. The right way to think about a qubit is that it is a “direction”. However, you can can never find out what direction the qubit is in, you can only choose a pair of perpendicular directions, say North (N) and (E), and “ask” the qubit for which of those two directions it prefers. Now, if the qubit was along NE (North east), it would answer N and E with equal probability. If it was along NNE (midway between NE and E), then it would be more likely to answer N.

                Now you might say that this does not “explain” how the qbit “chooses”. I would say that the correct explanation is that the “qbit” chooses entirely at random from the possible sample space. I don’t see why I need to go ahead and give that sample space loaded names like “multiple universes” or how exactly it would help the previous explanation except for introducing extra words.

                I think one reference, which does treat this quite well — without delving into equations, which are frankly not needed at this stage — is the Third Volume of Feynman’s Lectures, or his the book “QED” by Feynman. Or you might like to have a look at these notes for the views of one of the founders of Quantum Complexity Theory.

              • Circe
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

                I think, in short, my main objection to “multiple universes” is that it is no more an explanation than “collapse of the wavefunction”. What both of them are saying is that when a measurement is made, there is a sample space, and a result is chosen from that sample space at random. One represents the sample space as the (local) wavefunction, the other calls it “multiple universes” (without providing any rational for said universes actually existing). Asked to choose between the two, I’ll choose the one needing the smallest number of claims. “Multiple universes” fails on this point.

                To take an analogy, would you say “charged particles repel” is not an explanation for the electromagnetic forces. Why, or why not? Keep in mind that the notion of “charge” (like the “wavefunction”) is needed only to deal with electromagnetic forces (just like the “wavefunction” is needed only to deal with “quantum phenomena”).

              • Posted January 10, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

                I’m not sure why you say that the “right” way to think about a qubit is as a direction: It seems that the right way to think about a qubit depends on its physical implementation.

                Anyway, thank you for telling me very confidently that qubits don’t hold “multiple values”. I was actually thinking of ensembles of qubits rather that qubits individually (my apologies for being ambiguous), per, for example, “A short introduction to quantum computation”:

                A quantum register composed of three qubits can store in a given moment of time all eight numbers in a quantum superposition (Fig. 2). This is quite remarkable that all eight numbers are physically present in the register but it should be no more surprising than a qubit being both in state 0 and 1 at the same time. If we keep adding qubits to the register we increase its storage capacity exponentially i.e. three qubits can store 8 different numbers at once, four qubits can store 16 different numbers at once, and so on; in general L qubits can store 2^L numbers at once.

                I’ve gone back to Deutsch, and I think you misrepresent him earlier. That is, I can’t reconcile what your assertion of what he said above – that he “clearly notes” that the many worlds (or parallel universes) interpretation is an explanation without evidence – with this statement (p. 47 in the Penguin edition) [my emphasis]:

                … single-particle interference phenomena unequivocally rule out the possibility that the tangible universe around us is all that exists.

                (Unless you can cite the page where he does “clearly note” the lack of evidence…)

                Deutsch’s discussion in this chapter also rebuts your assertion that there’s no rationale for multiple universes actually existing. If you choose the “collapse of the wavefunction” (i.e., the Copenhagen) interpretation, on the basis that is has the smallest number of claims (per Occam), explain single-particle interference phenomena… (and the challenge that Deutsch makes later, p. 217: “explain how Shor’s algorithm works”).

                (I’m not sure how a discussion of charged particles and electromagnetic forces is analogous here, quite apart from the fact that “charged particles repel” isn’t a true statement… But, m.m., I’d say “yes” from a classical perspective and “no” from the pov of quantum field theory.)

                /@

              • Posted January 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

                Link HTML fail… (If Ceiling Cat is around, can He change that </q> after “physical implementation” into </a>? Thx.)

                /@

              • Circe
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

                1) Re direction:

                If you look at the last two columns of the table you linked to, you will find them labelled (|0> and |1>). Those represent a pair of perpendicular dimensions, and the state of a q-bit is always a linear combination of those two directions (say (1/sqrt(2))(|0> + |1>)) (the technical jargon is a vector). That’s what I meant when I said a qubit is always a “direction”. What |0> and |1> are chosen to mean depends upon the implementation. But the state of the qbit is always a direction which is a linear combination of those two chosen states.

                2) “Number” stored in qbits:
                I don’t think saying 3 qbits store “8 numbers” is very accurate. Again, the right language is the one of direction. Just as a qbit is represented as a direction in a two-dimensional space (|0> and |1>), teh state of 3 qbits is given by a direction in a 2^3 = 8 dimensional space. It is not so different so far from classical (3 bits can have 8 possible states). The power of quantum computing comes from the fact that the qbits actually do behave like directions: all the basic operations (logic gates) of quantum computations are rotations in this space. All algorithms are stated in terms of these rotations (called “unitary transforms”) and a lot of of the “intuition” in the design of those algorithms comes from what people know about rotating vectors in high dimensional space: that is linear algebra. That’s how useful this idea of representing qbits as directions (called the Hilbert space formalism) has been in this field, and that’s why it should be understandable why I am so passionate that due credit be given to it :D.

              • Circe
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

                3) I am really sorry if I unintentionally misrepresented Deutsch: I read The Fabric of Reality and my impression (which might have been wrong, or might have been due to my already established views on quantum mechanics) was that he was very clear that he was not claiming that multiple universes is a testable idea (and it is not). His idea (which I think is legitimate enough) was to have a coherent narrative about quantum phenomena in which (just like the Hilbert space formalism) any given quantum phenomenon can be described.

                As for single particle interference: why do you think “the wave function” explanation is any worse than multiple universes? The most intuitive multiple universe explanation would be to say all possible wave function trajectories evolve in different universes, and our universe is one of them. The “wave function” explanation is no different at all, except for the words used: the wave function evolves with time, and at any time, there is a probability density over possible outcomes. When a measurement happens, a outcample is sampled from this distribution.
                The only difference is that the multiple universes narrative “hides” the probability distribution in multiple universes (there would be more universes corresponding to higher probability outcomes). In mathematical terms, it is just giving the name of “universes” to points in the sample space of the experiment. In other tongue-firmly-in-cheek-words, it is just a “metaphor” for the Hilbert Space (“Quantum systems are directions”) formalism, not by nay means a replacement for it.

                The same goes for Shor’s algorithm. I don’t think the explanation that “Shor’s algorithm is fast because you can do actual rotations (the Quantum Fourier Transform) on directions in high dimensions” is any worse than “Shor’s algorithm works because there are multiple universes which each compute one of the components of the Quantum Fourier transform” (the last one is quite inaccurate, but then, I can’t think of a coherent explanation of the Shor’s algorithm in the multiple universes language). Admittedly, the Quantum systems can do rotations is not a very good explanation either, but the fatal flaw with the multiple universes idea is that it can make one think it has explained SHor’s algorithm when it has done nothing of the kind.

                I’ll ask you a question (to return your favour): How do you explain the other big Quantum Algorithm (Grover’s search)? Have a look at how the directions interpretation goes (it tells you exactly what is going on, and can, I think, be stated without using equations), and then see how multiple universes does with it. I should probably make it clear I am not trying to be dismissive here. I am just saying that you are sending the (poor dear :)) vector space interpretation a lot of brick-bats it does not really deserve :).

              • Circe
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

                Also, to conclude, you might like the Wikipedia explanation of how Grover’s search works here. Modulo the bra ket notation (just think of them as vectors) there is nothing in it beyond high school geometry. I think this illustrates the point about the utility of the vector space interpretation I have been trying to make very clearly.

                Also, sorry for the Deutsch fiasco. Do tell me if you think that I have got it really horribly wrong (even in my last comment), and I’ll try to read it again.

                Thanks for the stimulating discussions. The horizontal comment space here is thinning out very rapidly. I am willing to continue, but I do think I inflicted a lot of pain on you with that long last comment (making the vain assumption that you are actually going to do it the honour of reading it :)) with only 4 words to a line :).

              • Posted January 11, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

                Well, of course I read your comments. But I’m suddenly too far behind with work – and sleep – to reply at length just now. Stay tuned.

                Btw, you’re clearly well informed about this (if misguided! 😉 ): What are your credentials here?

                /@

              • Circe
                Posted January 11, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for the compliment. We Hilbert-spacists have to put up with much more than just “misguided”, I guess ;-).

                Well, I did some research as an undergrad, (and then as a beginning graduate student) on problems in quantum computing. But I later shifted to other things in (Theoretical) Computer Science.

              • Posted January 19, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

                Circe, if you’re still listening, I’m just about to post my rebuttal at the end of the Comments.

                /@

    • PB
      Posted January 11, 2012 at 1:27 am | Permalink

      You point out on of the important aspects on freewill. The world is deterministic, yes, but that does not mean pre-determined. Even deterministic processes can create large uncertainties, even chaotic outcome. The study of complex systems and emergent phenom (EP) proves all of this.

      So, while the world is, at least from atomic level up, clearly deterministic (as about sub-atomic levels we need to separate them, this is a appropriate approximation for macroscopic human level) – this relate to something with trillions of trillions (deterministic) variables, so on any stretch of imagination it does not means everything will re-run exactly as it was / is.

      Jerry seems to use “if everything the same” in metaphorical way 😀 – with trillions of butterfly effects, that status of sameness will never be achieved.

      And that was before we know about complexities of atomic systems (systems with myriads of similar sub-components) that create emergent phenom (EP). Things that routinely happened in weather system, stock market, gas in a chamber, flocks of birds, and .. human brain ….

      This deterministic thingies becomes probabilistic for practical purposes. Now, we are talking realities (as of scientists/ technologists) or of ideals (as in philosophers, theologians, theorists ..) ?

      Even if our Self is not the sole executor of our Brain Inc, still a lot of things can be done by a flutter of butterfly wings in the forests .. or a flutter of thought (= internal inputs feedback into system ) inside the borderline chaotic human mind …

      Yes, ideally it is deterministic system, but for all practical purposes you have to use long paragraphs to describe this, once you start talking metaphorically, then you cut corners and create confusion (strange that we got a lot of this feeling from Jerry’s many talk of deterministic things? .. hope he’s just sloppy)..

      • steve
        Posted January 11, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

        Chinahand,

        Of course it goes without saying that I can’t speak for Coyne, but what you say here about the inexactness of thought experiment of “rewinding of the clock, and the same thing happens as happened the first time through”, even if it were correct, wouldn’t establish the existence of libertarian free will.

        But then upon further reflection, what you say here is not correct. In the thought experiment, when the clock is rewound everything in the whole entire universe is set back to the way it was at that point in time. Every wing on every butterfly in every forest is as it was originally. When the clock is let loose to move forward with time, all that chaos added to the unfolding of events would unfold exactly as it did the first time through.

        (If you don’t believe so, please explain why it wouldn’t.)

        Though we can observe the unpredictability of future events of determined complex systems due to chaos, but this does not translate into the kind of variance you insert into the rewind the clock thought experiment.

        • Posted January 11, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

          When the clock is let loose to move forward with time, all that chaos added to the unfolding of events would unfold exactly as it did the first time through.

          (If you don’t believe so, please explain why it wouldn’t.)
          Google chaos. It most certainly would not replay exactly – that’s what chaos is. It is indeterminate by definition.

          • Posted January 11, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

            I stand corrected! Chaos is deterministic, ffs.

  11. Maxwell's Demon
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    Well, I feel I should direct folks attention to a little film from 1939: The Wizard of Oz. As I recall, the Scarecrow did all kinds of singing, dancing and talking just fine without a brain.

  12. IW
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    “So what’s the absurdity? Can someone enlighten me?”

    Aye, there’s the rub!

  13. Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    I think he’s been watching too much Futurama

    /@

    • Dominic
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      …or too much Pastrami!

      • BradW
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

        Perhaps too much pseudo pastafarian input?

  14. Stephen Moore
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    It’s absurd only to the extent that one has as one’s premise that Dualism is true. The questioner attempts to base their question in materialist terms (brain, rather than soul), but the dualist nature of self can be inferred; Shakespeare the person is not mere brain, but something else, or something more.

    Shakespeare the person is an emergent property of the brain activity that was in that particular body, just as I am an emergent property of the brain activity within this particular body.

    • BradW
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      If you take the “brain” away, do you still have a “mind”

      • Stephen Moore
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

        No.

        • BradW
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

          Exactly!

  15. Gerdien
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    “And he had no choice about what he wrote—most of my readers will agree that it was all determined when he sat down.”

    But not before he decided to become a playwright?

    If it was determined how Shakespeare would write Hamlet at the moment he sat down to do so, was it determined the moment he was born? If yes, predict who when where will write the next major play.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Ah, but that would require god-like powers of knowing all the information in the universe up to that point, would it not?

      • Gerdien
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2012-01-01/free-will-science-religion/52317624/1
        A practical test of free will would be this: If you were put in the same position twice — if the tape of your life could be rewound to the exact moment when you made a decision, with every circumstance leading up to that moment the same and all the molecules in the universe aligned in the same way — you could have chosen differently.
        This practical test would require god-like powers of knowing all the information in the universe. (Anyway, all quarks and strings the same way, not only all molecules. )
        If you could not have chosen differently under the cited circumstances, the universe should be predictable.

        If the god-like powers of knowing all informmation are not sensibly available, giving the cited definition of free will is useless.

    • steve
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Gerdien,

      Non-free willism does not equate to perfect predictability.

      • Gerdien
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

        Explain

        • Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

          Can you predict where every raindrop in the next storm will fall? If not, does that mean water has free will?

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

            Thanks…

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

            I hope that works as an explanation. But who can predict?

          • steve oberski
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

            Just because you can’t predict it doesn’t mean it can’t be predicted in principle.

  16. vel
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    the usual desperation of a theist to claim that a person isn’t the sum of their thoughts, which do indeed come from the brain and nowhere else. They must ignore all of the evidence that says that the brain is what is important and not their delusions of a “soul” or “spirit”, so they can feel like special snowflakes.

    • BradW
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Raindrops keep fallen on my head . . .

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Note that the “you are your brain” thesis is widely rejected even among materialist philosophers of mind. Your sex organs, adrenals, blood sugar (i.e. what you’ve eaten recently), blood oxygen level, hydration, any sorts of psychoactive drugs — all these things (and probably a bunch more) affect your mind (and thoughts) and are not part of your brain.

      • Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        But they are impinging on your brain, which is where your mind is produced. I don’t understand your point.

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

          His point was… I give up, I don’t know what his point was either. It certainly did not add anything of value to the “free will” side of the conversation.

        • Dan L.
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          Dude, if your adrenals are impinging on your brain you need to see a surgeon post-haste.

          Your “where your mind is produced” thesis is incredibly problematic as phrased, but it’s ROUGHLY what I believe so I’ll forgive you for being unnecessarily contrarian.

          Steve, I don’t believe in free will, I’m just pointing out “your mind is identical to your brain” is not a viable position and offering one obvious, inarguable reason why.

          Your brain is a thing, your mind is a process. Saying they’re the same thing is like saying your MacBook IS OS/X.

          • Dan L.
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

            Oh, and please stop assuming the worst. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them an “atheist apostate.”

          • steve
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, I concur, Dan L.

          • Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

            I think that’s a bad analogy, as Mac OS X isn’t an emergent property of a MacBook, but was constructed independently.

            A better analogy would be the logic that’s burned into the Intel chip. (The brain is plastic in this respect, of course, being able to physically change in response to mental activity, or “processing”, where the Intel chip isn’t.)

            /@

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

              Your analogy isn’t representative of what I’m arguing. I DON’T think the mind is a physical thing like an Intel chip. I think it’s an abstract process like an operating system. So I disagree entirely.

              • Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

                Then you misunderstand: The chip is the brain; the logic, the mind.

                Your analogy isn’t representative of what your arguing, either – unless I’m making the wrong inference and you’re actually a dualist. 😉

                /@

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

                Your analogy isn’t representative of what your arguing, either – unless I’m making the wrong inference and you’re actually a dualist.

                The Intel instruction set is also not a good analogy for what I think the mind is. The Intel instruction set is not a process any more than the chip itself is. It might be abstract, but it’s also static.

                You might not understand what I’m saying but I’m the one making the argument and I’m the one who made the analogy, so maybe just take my word on it that I think a lot about this stuff and have reasons for saying what I’m saying? Accusing me of dualism is an especially low blow. If you need me to explain why operating system is the right analogy (in my opinion) then I will but otherwise I think I’m done with you.

              • Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, Dan; I wasn’t intending to get your back up. The “ 😉 ” was supposed to soften the blow!

                I did acknowledge the the chip analogy was flawed, albeit in a different way. I’ll concede your point, too.

                I think I do understand what you’re saying. But however much you’ve thought about this, I still think that your analogy is also flawed, for the reason I stated above: That Mac OS X isn’t an emergent property of a MacBook, but separately created (and in that way, “dual”), whereas the mind (a process) is an emergent property of the the brain (a lump of meat).

                Is that clearer (and less galling)?

                /@

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                Yes, I think so. Your objection seems to be that the software for OS/X isn’t directly embedded in the system. That’s a valid objection to my analogy but there’s a good reason for that: it’s not the sort of relationship my analogy was intended to illuminate. All analogies are flawed in one way or another. And there’s no reason in principle why OS/X (or some other OS) couldn’t be embedded in hardware.

                “Special creation” isn’t quite right. OS/X was written specifically to use the instruction sets provided by modern chips, and it wasn’t written in one go but rather written piece by piece and tested. Parts that didn’t work well would have been modified to better suit the hardware. OS and hardware co-evolved. OS/X won’t run on arbitrary instruction sets, it is rather hardware-specific.

                Incidentally, I think the term “emergent” is essentially useless. It doesn’t convey any information, really. Telling me that consciousness is “emergent” doesn’t give me even the barest hint of how to physically or conceptually implement a mind. The question is HOW the mind “emerges” from the brain. No one has the answer so I can’t come up with a good analogy.

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

                Correcting a little bit of the last post, OS/X is a Unix variant so it’s probably written in C, meaning it can run on any machine with a C compiler. It’s the compiled OS/X code that is hardware dependent.

                Also, Allan, I’m not talking about the OS CODE, I’m talking about the OS program running natively on a computer. I’m now thinking that the RUNNING OS (as opposed to the OS code) is actually emergent in just the way you’re saying it’s not.

              • Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

                “Allan”? Should I call you “L”, then? 😉 Ant is actually my forename!

                To be clear, my objection was not that the OS isn’t directly embedded in the system but that it’s created discretely and then installed.

                In that respect, a theist dualist might see a parallel with a soul, that God created discretely (to “run” on human “hardware” (or “wetware”)) and then “installed”. That was a principle concern, that the analogy could be (wilfully) misconstrued by someone as illustrative of dualism.

                While I’m not sure that I’d describe the running OS as emergent, I think that may be the basis for a better analogy: The brain is the hardware and software (not just the OS) in toto; the mind is the sum of all running processes. This analogy also allows you to talk about the plasticity of the brain, as software, at least, can be self-modifying.

                /@

                PS. I think (a part of) Mac OS X (not “OS/X”! sorry: that was bugging me; OS X was what iOS was called at one point) is written in Objective-C rather than C or C++, but it could still be compiled for other hardware (and indeed some versions worked on both PowerPC and Intel chips). But I think that a bigger issue is that some of the drivers are hardware specific, and need to be coded differently in the first place.

  17. Dominic
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Running the model again is impossible & therefore a meaningless question I would think?

    Determinism & its opposite (non-determinism/ or free will?) are ‘top down’ ways of looking at events I reckon – as if events were ‘meant’ to cause things, which in a godless world they are not.

    • steve
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      Huh? How in the world does that work?

      • Dan L.
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

        I think Dominic is saying that determinism vs. indeterminism is a meaningless question and that the only reason it doesn’t seem meaningless is the strange impression humans have that they could step outside of time and space and watch the whole thing go backwards and forwards like a VHS cassette.

        Also I think Dominic is pointing out that there really aren’t “causes,” just law-like behavior that the human mind interprets as “causes.” There’s actually some very good reasons to believe that.

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

          Thanks! Much better put than I could manage!

          • Dan L.
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

            I wouldn’t have put it that way either if I hadn’t read your comment — good thoughts. Teamwork!

  18. Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Ooo, I’m glad the Free Will Wars came up today, because this morning I thought of an analogy to explain the difference between where Jerry and where folks like Dan Dennett are coming from. I wrote a blog post about it which opens thusly:

    Daniel Dennett and Jerry Coyne are hanging around the former’s apartment. Dennett goes to the kitchen, pulls a jalapeno from the coldest part of the refrigerator, and takes a bite out of it.

    “Hoo boy, that’s hot!!” Dennett exclaims.

    Jerry impatiently corrects him: “No, Dan, it’s not hot, it’s spicy. Silly philosophers…”

    Only the above little story is not really fair to Jerry. Really the encounter should take place in an alternate universe where, with the exception of food scientists and a handful of enlightened chefs, the vast majority of people believe with all their hearts that the chilled jalapeno really does have a high temperature despite being in the fridge all day, and find the suggestion that it might just be a heat-like sensation to be disturbing to say the least.

    Capsacin is real. The burning sensation produced by capsacin is real (it stimulates sensory neurons involved in the perception of heat). And in a world where everybody knows we don’t actually mean heat — we just mean it feels like heat — it’s fine to call them “hot peppers”.

    But as Jerry and Ben Goren and others have maintained, in the world we live in, people desperately want to believe that even the coldest jalapeno has an inner warmth. Given that, perhaps it’s better if we call them “spicy peppers” (and don’t refer to compatibilism using words like “free will”).

    • steve
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      Why not… compatibilists are free willists.

      • Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

        Because it’s confusing… what they mean by free will is not what many people think they mean by free will.

        It’s an issue of semantics, and so it’s somewhat arbitrary, but improperly chosen semantics can be confusing. If my definition of the word “Nazi” was that you preferred pepperoni on your pizza, that’s ultimately arbitrary, since there is nothing special about the letters A, I, N, and Z that mean they can’t apply to a fondness for a certain pizza topping… but it would be really confusing.

        As I explained in the blog post I linked to, I am increasingly of the mindset that using the words “free will” to refer to compatibilist free will ultimately winds up being confusing. It’s not crazy to use the words “free will” to refer to that phenomenon (that’s where I differ from Jerry), but I am gradually coming around to the idea that it’s confusing at best, and deliberately misleading and obfuscatory at worst.

        • Peter
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

          It is confusing! It’s so confusing that it even confuses Jerry into thinking that since we’re material creatures and that we obey the laws of physics (and so, in a sense, aren’t “free”), we don’t make choices and we aren’t morally responsible.

          • Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

            🙂

          • Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

            hehehehe… True.

          • Chris Granger
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

            If I’m not misinterpreting Jerry’s position, it’s not that we don’t make choices, but that the choices we do make are ultimately inevitable given any particular situation where all details of spacetime are precisely the same.

            I agree with him on this, but don’t agree that this results in everything being predetermined, for reasons I’ll elaborate on if anyone is interested.

        • steve
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

          Because it’s confusing… what they mean by free will is not what many people think they mean by free will.

          Again, combatibilists are free willists… for sundry reasons they endeavor to blot out the truth that what has heretofore been referred to as free will is nothing but an illusion.

          Confusion and obfuscation may be a strategy.

          • Posted January 9, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

            Wait, so you’re saying free will even in the compatibilist sense doesn’t exist? I’m not really sure what you mean by that…

            It is true that a lot of the choices we make, we “decided” before we consciously realized what we were deciding, and our reasoning is post hoc rationalization. I accept that. But clearly that is not the case for all of the choices we make.

            I’ll use an example I have used countless times before: You will never convince me that when I sit down to solve a complex calculus problem, that I already had the answer in mind to begin with and that all of the reasoning that went into it was simply post hoc rationalization. Sure, all of the deliberation that went into it obeyed the laws of physics, and so was almost entirely deterministic (and when not deterministic, still obeyed statistical laws and can in no sense be thought to salvage libertarian free will). But from a high-level point of view, all of the reasoning behind my decision(s) was all more or less exactly what it proclaims itself to be.

            Maybe this does not address what you mean… I see how someone can look at what compatibilists propose and say, “That’s all fine and good, but it’s not ‘free will'” — I have recently moved into that camp myself. But I don’t see how one can look at what compatibilists propose and say, “Oh no no no, that doesn’t exist at all.” Clearly there is something qualitatively different about the deliberative processes used by sentient beings… I just don’t see how one can deny this. Or are Chatterbots already sentient?

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

              Clearly there is something qualitatively different about the deliberative processes used by sentient beings… I just don’t see how one can deny this.

              Incompatibilists don’t DENY this. They just don’t think it’s relevant to the question of determinism. Sure, SOMETHING is happening when you do calc but that it happens doesn’t mean it isn’t determined. That is to say, incompatibilists aren’t necessarily claiming that your brain does calculus and then you’re only aware of it after the fact. Your conscious deliberation of the problem can be part of solving it without hamstringing determinism in the least. (In this case, your internal deliberations could not have been other than what they were.)

              The question of moral culpability is the only part of incompatibilism that’s the least bit sticky but read up on the trolley problem. If free will can be a useful illusion then so can moral culpability.

        • DV
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

          Only the Incompatibilists are confused. There is nothing confusing about phrases like “act of your own free will”. We use this everyday. It means nobody pointed a gun to your head when you made the choice and that you are therefore responsible for what you did. The problem is that incompatibilists (e.g. Jerry Coyne) has gone to the absurd extreme to deny that choice and responsibility exists. What’s wrong with just denying that dualism exists, while still allowing for the existence of “acts of your own free will”?

          • steve
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

            DV, really? You think that’s what people are really talking about when they argue over the existence of free will? The “I did it without a gun pointed to my head” definition of free will?

            • Peter
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

              Yes, steve. He really thinks that. I do, too. That is, after all, the sense that’s relevant for assessing moral culpability and such.

              They also mean in the sense of “why bother,” and maybe some other senses. For that matter, in what sense of free-will do you think that people could care about contra-causality.

              I’m probably not going to get to read your response in a timely manner, so let me just pre-reply:

              Wow, really, you think *that* sense of free-will is important?

              • steve
                Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

                Thanks, Peter.

            • DV
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

              The people who argue about the existence of “free will” are not the same people who the incompatibilists condescendingly worry will get confused. Only philosophers argue about the existence of free will. All the rest (the 99%) have no confusion as to what free will means.

              The incompatibilists have a strange definition of free will – the “rewind the tape and choose” definition that nobody else uses. That’s why I say they are the only ones who are getting confused and end up saying we don’t have choice and responsibility. Ironically by avoiding an imagined confusing term, they end up with a more confusing claim – try telling the average person he/she doesn’t have choice or responsibility!

    • Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      I think this burning question (*ducks*) goes beyond semantic quibbles.

      Compatibilists would say that Jerry is ignoring the fact that the pepper feels hot, and that you shouldn’t ignore this higher-order phenomenon. Therefore, the pepper really is hot. In other words, they want to take some of the reduction out of the reasoning that leads us to the conclusion that there is no FW. In other other words, if it walks like a duck, etc.

      This isn’t quite the same as simply using different terms to refer to the same (non-existent) phenomenon. I get the impression from what they write that they’re still trying to rescue something pretty darn close to libertarian FW, whether they realize it or not.

      • Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        Umm…strike the beginning of the last para.

        *…isn’t quite the same as using the same term to refer to two different phenomena, one emergent and complicated, the other imagined.*

      • steve
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        Please tell that to likes of DV & Peter.

      • DV
        Posted January 10, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        >>I get the impression from what they write that they’re still trying to rescue something pretty darn close to libertarian FW, whether they realize it or not.<<

        I get the impression that you are trying to be pretty darn obtuse whether you realize it or not.

        • Posted January 10, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

          Well, at the very least, we both think I would have to try to be obtuse.

  19. Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    This is perhaps a little bit of a cop-out, but I am going to argue that Hamlet was not written only by Shakespeare’s brain: Surely that organ was responsible for the vast majority of the composition, but the results surely would have been vastly different were it not for quirks in his endocrine system, for example. There are probably lots of other influences as well. Do we count what he ate that morning?

    So, it really is more than Shakespeare’s brain which penned the plays, and in fact the totality of sources is rather nebulous and poorly-defined. It is quite useful to just refer to the whole package as “Shakespeare”, without bothering to clearly delineate it.

    Nobody should be confused by this.

    (On the other hand, I heard it was Francis Bacon’s brain… [duck])

    • Chris Granger
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      If you’re going to expand the circle of influence beyond Shakespeare’s brain, where do you stop?

      Indeed, the weather may have influenced him, or the words of his friends may have, or situations in current events or politics or whatever else. But all of these things (yes, including his internal biological processes) were influences upon his brain.

      I think if you’re going to credit external influences as taking part in the writing of Shakespeare’s works, you might as well say that the universe wrote them.

      • steve
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        Chris,

        Hi. Are you coming late to this party? Nevertheless, it does seem as if you are getting to the gist of things. You could say such a thing… but… then you’d upset free willists who are opposed to such a view.

        (This is not to say that they are freely opposed to such a view, as they are fully caused to oppose such a view at this point in time.)

      • Posted January 9, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        If you’re going to expand the circle of influence beyond Shakespeare’s brain, where do you stop?

        That’s why I said the border was nebulous and ill-defined — but that doesn’t mean the concept isn’t useful.

        I realized one time while giving someone a massage — and under the influence of, eh, some substances — that there was a region, a rather large reason by molecular standards, where it was not at all clear which particles belonged to her body and which to mine. You cannot draw a sharp boundary around the border of a body.

        Does that mean the concept of a body is useless, and you might as well say that all of our bodies are synonymous with the universe? No, and stop with the acid, hippy! A concept can have a nebulous boundary without becoming a useless or undefinable concept.

        • Badger3k
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

          That actually is a pretty Zen-like idea – or maybe Buddhist – that since we are all interconnected, there isn’t any “real me”, just the collection point for these influences – my memories, body, relationships, environment, etc (okay, not the best way of describing it).

          There would be no chair without the person who made it, the tree that was cut down to make it, the gas in the vehicle that delivered it, the food the growers ate, the sun, etc, etc, etc. So there is no separate-from-eveerything chair.

          But since you can’t function for too long in the world like that (as I think one Western Buddhist writer wrote, IIRC), we use the terms “me” “chair” etc to describe it as shorthand. It’s a different way of looking at things, a bit of a mental twist we normally don’t do or consider really relevant to most of our day-to-day lives.

          • Posted January 10, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

            It is also important to remember that bodies are held together by forces of varying strength – and that most these forces diminish with distance. That too introduces sorts of separation – though with the mediation of exchange particles, it also introduces another form of connectivity – which in turn is mediated by finite speeds of propagation.

      • Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        To take it a step further, there is no sharp dividing line between “Shakespeare” and “not Shakespeare”. I think we all agree that Shakespeare’s brain is part of “Shakespeare”. I think we all also agree that his endocrine system “is Shakespeare” (if you’re arguing that his hormonal chemistry played no significant part in the writing of Hamlet, I dunno what to say). I think we’d all also agree that Julius Caesar’s pet dog “is not Shakespeare”.

        But what he happened to eat for breakfast the morning he composed the first draft of the “to be or not to be” soliluquoy? Well, I don’t think there’s a firm answer on whether that “is Shakespeare” or “is not Shakespeare”. It’s “somewhat Shakespeare”.

        I might even go way out on a limb and argue that parts of the brains of his friends and family were “somewhat Shakespeare”. Why not? To the extent that the feedback loops generated by the piles of neurons that make up our brains can be said to be a monolithic entity, if some of these feedback loops form a larger scale feedback loop involving neurons in other brains, why do we sharply exclude them?

        Certainly the neurons of his friends are “less Shakespeare” than his own neurons. But I don’t think you can make a sharp delineation. If so, then you also need to claim that either a) Shakespeare has no body, b) Shakespeare’s body is the entire universe, or c) given perfect information you could take an inventory of every single sub-atomic particle in the vicinity of Shakespeare and give a complete, unambiguous, and non-arbitrary accounting of which particles were part of his body at any given point in time, and which we not. I find all three of those claims ridiculous, so instead I go with the “nebulous boundary” idea.

        • Chris Granger
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

          Agreed on all points, it just seems that for clarity of intent we’re stuck with drawing sharp lines… I don’t know how else to refer to somebody as an individual without doing so.

        • Dan L.
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

          Very nicely said, James. Wittgenstein famously pointed out that it doesn’t seem possible to define the word “game” in such a way as to include all things that are games and exclude all things that are not games as an example of a concept with a necessarily fuzzy boundary. Anything precise enough to catch all games also catches stuff like war and parliamentary procedure that seem like Serious Business rather than games.

          If the meaning of words were wrapped up entirely in their definitions people wouldn’t still disagree about whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables.

          Chris gets to the nub of the determinism/free will debate. “Where do you stop?” The point of determinism is that there is nowhere TO stop: the state of Shakespeare’s brain was caused by the weather, by current events, by photons emitted from Betelgeuse hundreds of years before his birth, and more remotely by the formation of the earth/moon system, by the evolution of trilobytes, etc. Determinism is very much the thesis that the entire universe wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays.

          The problem is that the human mind does not naturally think this way. But that’s a problem with the human mind, not determinism.

          • Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

            +1

          • Posted January 10, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

            See my previous remark – I think you could rule out things outside of his light cone.

  20. Nathan
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    I haven’t looked too much into this topic. I’m not sure I understand it. But you might as well sing and dance and praise the gods and call it fate. Everything is “fate”. Pre-destined (by God).

    I do not believe this and kinda laugh at it. No offense to anyone that believes in this pre-destined ‘fate religion’.

  21. anon
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    But, determinism makes me uncomfortable. Therefore it could not possibly be true.

    • Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      Worse yet, the laws of physics dictate that you can’t help but feel uncomfortable with the thought of determinism. That’s two strikes against it! 😉

    • jose
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Is that a quote from Werner Heisenberg?

  22. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    William Shakespeare didn’t write his plays and sonnets. They were merely written by someone who called himself William Shakespeare.

    • Badger3k
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      Well, to be fair, his parent probably called himself that, unless it was a pen name, in which case you would technically be correct. 🙂

      • Badger3k
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

        “called himself that” ?

        Blargh! “called him that”

  23. Sigmund
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    Free Will Shakespeare?

    • Jordan Bissell
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      Of course, Shakespeare put these lines in the mouth of a murderer, which may tell us something about what he actually thought of them.

    • Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      “Free Will Shakespeare”

      Excellent!

      (Or: I didn’t know he’d been incarcerated!)

      /@

      • Badger3k
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

        I like the Reasonable Doubts podcasts on Free Will (Free Willy vs the Determinator” IIRC). The podcasts (found online or at iTunes were pretty good.

    • Andy Dufresne
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      “Free Will Shakespeare.”

      Well played. The man himself might be proud of that one. In the Sonnets, he puns his name in kind of the same way—”Will” his name and “will” as in “the will to x,y, z…”

  24. tdraicer
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    >And he had no choice about what he wrote—most of my readers will agree that it was all determined when he sat down.

    Have you taken a poll of your readers?

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

      In theory, this would be a good idea. In practice, Pharyngula’s hordes would inevitably crash the party. 😉

  25. Xuuths
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Contemplate the following:

    A molecule of H2O has certain properties. It obeys the laws of physics. It is deterministic.

    But putting it together with a lot of other molecules, the group gains emergent properties. It may be in the middle of a puff of steam, with certain emergent properties. Or the middle of ice, with very different emergent properties. Or in water, with different emergent properties still.

    Taking just water, it has very different properties if it is part of a teaspoon of water, rather than many gallons, or at the bottom/top of an ocean of water. Yet the molecule itself isn’t any different. Its properties have not changed.

    I believe consciousness (and free will) is an emergent property of all the bazillion molecules and processes going on in our physical brains. Linked and built upon the ultrasupermicroscopic, but an emergent property.

    No soul required, no ‘ghost in the machine’ per se — although it is clear that subvocalizing is being performed and perceived by some part of your consciousness (I don’t believe neuroscientists have that locked down quite yet).

    But it seems clear that despite the fact that nothing is “solid” you can use a cup to hold water. The emergent properties function very well.

    • PB
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      Agree that emergent phenoms explains the raise of memes inside brains (subroutines running on our wetware-computer). As in other emergent phenoms (EP) raising from atomic components (flocking, weather system, financial / economics systems etc) consciousness has characteristics not present in its constituents, hence the emergent part.

      EP seems to have its own goals and missions (see the flock of bird or fish that looks like a giant being moving as one), and indeed it may have if we follow memetics.

      Self is one of the subroutines in our brain

      There are many “subroutines” running around any brain any moment (actually running and maintaining a behemoth like our bodies require lots of subroutines beyond what Self can do).

      Self seems very important in dealing with other people, but it is not the major player.

      This is another importance of EP, understanding ourselves.

    • steve oberski
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      But a molecule of H2O is composed of 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom which are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons which are composed of quarks which may be composed of strings, who knows where it stops.

      Why do you get to say that the physics defying “emergent” properties only become apparent when you put a bunch of water molecules together ?

      Sounds pretty arbitrary to me.

      • Posted January 10, 2012 at 1:43 am | Permalink

        POI: Just to clarify, electrons aren’t made of quarks. I’m not sure if you actually thought that or if the implication was just an artefact of how you constructed that sentence.

        /@

    • madamX
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      Emergent just means we don’t understand it – yet.

  26. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Free will aside, your biological determinism means that it’s not Shakespeare who wrote Hamlet but Shakespeare’s brain.

    Ah, seeing who is talking this is perhaps an arcane formulation of a ‘closed’ brain conundrum. Who filled Shakespeare’s brain with Shakespeare’s ideas?

    See creationists that like to stuff genomes with scripted “information” for ~ 4 Ga of evolution.

    Of course one has to ask in the end, which brain can be more closed than a creationist’s?

  27. queenofromania
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    James Allen wrote over a hundred years ago, “As a man thinkith in his heart, so is he.” My belief system says that we are the stories we tell, which basically has the same meaning. If one looks at oneself from this perspective, then free will really isn’t free will, but our will. This is my first post to your web site, and I’m happy to be here with other like minds.

  28. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    “…most of my readers will agree that it was all determined when he sat down.”

    Not this reader. It was all determined, yes — but not before he sat down. Determinism is an ongoing, dynamic process, a continuous unfolding of causes and effects. There are any number of influences that could have impinged on Shakespeare during the act of writing, and these causes are just as effective as anything that was already in his mind before he sat down. To imply that it was already written before he wrote it is an absurdity; the writing happened in his brain, in real time, while he sat there, and could not have happened without his active participation. Sitting there, thinking, with pen in hand, was an inextricable part of the deterministic causal chain; you can’t short-circuit that by saying it was all determined before he sat down, as if his thought process had nothing to do with it.

    Once again, if you want people to understand determinism properly, you have to stop conflating it with fatalism.

    • Xuuths
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      Except that hard determinism is fatalistic, in that it does not allow for anything happening other than what has to happen via all the reactions to prior events.

      Which is one reason why I disagree with it.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        That’s not what I understand fatalism to mean. Fatalism is that idea that it doesn’t matter what we do, because we are powerless to affect events. But that’s nonsense; if we are physical beings in a determined universe, then we are necessarily embedded in the fabric of physical causality, and what we do does matter. So the plays were not written before Shakespeare sat down to write them; on the contrary, his writing was instrumental in bringing them about.

        • Xuuths
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          The fatalism is that we cannot do anything other than what was determined we’d do back at the start of the universe.

          We are merely reacting to those things that have happened before, while having the illusion of consciousness to experience it while it is happening.

          At least, if you believe in that. I do not.

        • Posted January 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

          See Bunge, _Causality in Modern Science_, for an argument that fatalism is in fact *incompatible* with determinism (at least in the broad sense of determinism defended therein).

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      I disagree that Jerry’s endorsing fatalism. You’re right in a picky semantic sort of way when you say Shakespeare’s plays weren’t written before he wrote them, but that’s not what Jerry said: Jerry said the plays were determined. I believe this as well. Shakespeare could not have done otherwise than to write those plays unless he lived in an alternate universe where, for example, the plague never came to London or where the Normans lost the Battle of Hastings.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        Whether Jerry consciously endorses fatalism or not, his choice of words (“determined when he sat down“) clearly invites the inference that what happened after Shakespeare sat down didn’t matter, that his thought process played no role in determining what was written. If Jerry doesn’t want to invite such inferences, then he should clean up his language and explicitly acknowledge the causal efficacy of thoughts and intentions, instead of continually trying to sweep them under the rug by denying their relevance to decision-making.

        • Dan L.
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

          I’ve never interpreted any of Jerry’s writings on free will as doing what you’re saying. I have never seen any denial that thoughts and intentions are part of the causal loop coming from Jerry. I haven’t seen Jerry write anything about free will that is inconsistent with such a view. Since I agree with you that thoughts and intentions have causal efficacy but also (mostly) agree with Jerry on free will I’m not sure I see the contradictions you’re seeing.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

            So you agree with me that thoughts and intentions have causal efficacy, but you also agree with Jerry that compatibilism is wrong, that we are not in control of our own actions, and that fMRI experiments preclude any role for conscious thought in decision-making? How do you reconcile those two positions? Alternatively, how have I misunderstood Jerry’s position on these questions?

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

              1. As I read Jerry, his only difference with compatibilists is the semantics of the phrase “free will.” He thinks it’s better to drop it and compatibilists disagree. Otherwise I don’t see any daylight between his position and, say, Dennett’s.
              2. fMRI experiments are important because they provide evidence that decisions are subject to determinism. They don’t preclude the possibility of consciousness being causal, but they do suggest that it’s not causal in the way that it FEELS causal. I was already quite aware that most decision-making is unconscious simply through introspection about my own decision making so this doesn’t surprise me in the least nor does it contradict any pre-existing beliefs of mine.
              3. I reconcile these positions, as I hinted above, by concluding that the causal role of consciousness does not lie in directly making decisions. That’s the contra-causal free will model of consciousness and I do not agree with this model. As far as what consciousness is for, Dennett and others have written more and better about this than I can provide in a little comment box.

          • Xuuths
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

            Dan L. you wrote “I haven’t seen Jerry write anything about free will that is inconsistent with such a view.”

            I suggest you re-read where he clearly claims he is deterministic, and that there are no choices, that there are only the laws of physic, and that he has no choices.

            Dr. Coyne just hasn’t thought through the implications of his statements, or has but doesn’t want to write about them as they tend to refute his beliefs and how he lives his life.

            If he is correct, there are no intentions, only reactions based on prior reactions going back to the start of the universe.

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

              I suggest you re-read where he clearly claims he is deterministic, and that there are no choices, that there are only the laws of physic, and that he has no choices.

              I’m a compatibilist. In other words, I don’t think there’s any contradiction between determinism and the concept of “making choices” as long as your concept of “making choices” is coherent. The contradiction between determinism and “making choices” is, in my opinion, the result of people not understanding what it means to “make choices.”

            • Posted January 10, 2012 at 4:53 am | Permalink

              Xuuths, you are right. J. Coyne has explicitly stated that our actions are not choices in any sense of the word and, by implication, that our self perception and consciousness are extraneous.

              Dan L., I think you hold contradictory, incompatible(I couldn’t resist ;] ), viewpoints together. You don’t make sense, Dan.

              One must ask, Dan, if a rock that drops from your hand is making a choice to fall if you think that being prescribed to only possibly act in one way somehow is inclusive of a choice.
              Choice is only meaningful when alternatives are viable, and Jerry saying that Shakespeare had no choice, not only in what he was about to write, in the fact that he walked to a table and chair with quill and papyrus and sat down with the intention to write was already determined by circumstances in the first place.

              That’s Jerry’s position in a nutshell. We are all just circumstantial!

              I hereby propose a new term to describe ‘non-free willists.’ Circumstantialists!

              They think we are all, every time, all the time, unwillingly duped victims of circumstance.

              Any objections to this terminology?
              Are you a rock, or a butterfly?(I just said that, it doesn’t mean anything…)

              • steve
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

                Oh but Mike, it means so very much.

              • steve
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

                Mike,

                We already have the name Non-free Willist… I don’t see us adopting your term Circumstantialist. (In case you’re wondering how come: your term is way too vague to work.)

            • steve
              Posted January 10, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

              And I am a non-free willist, which technically means I am also an incompatibilist. (Of course there are free willists who are also incompatibilists, and there are free willists who are compatibilists – how confusing is that?) In other words, I think there is a contradiction between determinism and the concept of libertarian free will. Nonetheless, even if the universe proves to NOT be 100% deterministic, i.e., indeterministic, this would not necessarily establish the existence of libertarian free will. I do believe that humans make choices, they just don’t make them with any degree of libertarian freedom (as is asserted by the proponents of libertarian free will). People that would assert that humans make completely determined choices, but insist that we go ahead and call such choices free will, are people who exhibit an incoherent/incomplete concept of “making choices”.

              • Peter
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

                I don’t think you know what an incompatiblist/compatiblist is. A compatiblist does not believe in libertarian free will, and also believes that the contra-causal aspect of libertarian free will doesn’t add anything interesting to the concept of free will. So the compatibilist position is that even though our behavior completely obeys the laws of physics, all the way down, our concept of free will isn’t wrong in any important way (i.e., we don’t have to drastically rethink our intuitions about how to make choices, assess moral credit and blame, etc, even though our explanation of what free will is can be very wrong). It will be refined by new knowledge, but needn’t be thrown out.

                An incompatibilist is shaken by the realization that our behavior is deterministic, and thinks that our intuitions and values associated with free will need to be discarded, re-evaluated, or kept only on the basis of totally new arguments.

              • steve
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

                From:

                Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
                Compatibilism
                First published Mon Apr 26, 2004; substantive revision Mon Oct 5, 2009
                Compatibilism offers a solution to the free will problem. This philosophical problem concerns a disputed incompatibility between free will and determinism. Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism.

                If compatibilists don’t believe in free will then how can they believe free will to be compatible with determinism?

  29. H.H.
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    And he had no choice about what he wrote—most of my readers will agree that it was all determined when he sat down.

    Not necessarily. Even if he didn’t have a choice, consciousness could have a component of randomness that prevents knowing in advance what will be produced by any given brain.

  30. Kevin
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Well, I think Shakespeare could have called the Dane Hamton or Hamret or Samlet and the result would have been much the same. He CHOSE the name Hamlet for a reason. That name wasn’t predestined from the beginning of time.

    So, no I don’t think that particular man was predestined to write that particular play (or any of his other bodies of work). It just turned out that way.

    There are more things in chaos theory, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosohy.

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      That name wasn’t predestined from the beginning of time.

      This is exactly what is being argued. If you just say “well, it wasn’t predestined” without offering an argument why not then you are begging the question.

  31. Wayne Tyson
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    I have long wanted to know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (or was it the head?).

    Now, I’m hoping I will at last learn the answer.

    [PLEASE NOTE: This relates to the entire thread, not to any particular post.]

  32. Joey Frantz
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Coyne is once again just equivocating by making “choice” refer only to choices that occur outside the laws of physics. Shakespeare no doubt considered heavily the contents of his every work, and so he absolutely did choose what he wrote. We “dualists” who Coyne consistently condescends towards are not dualists at all; we’re just thinking clearly and recognizing that choices exist.

    • Posted January 9, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      But which part of you is thinking clearly? If it’s your mind, what’s the brain doing in the meantime?

      /@

      • Joey Frantz
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        I’m not a neuroscientist, so I don’t know which part of my brain is responsible for abstract reasoning, but whatever part is doing a fine job. And your second question is confusing to me; it seems like you’re forming a sharp distinction between the mind and the brain, which I wouldn’t abide to.

        • Posted January 10, 2012 at 1:26 am | Permalink

          Then why did you think that Jerry was condescendingly referring to you as a “dualist”?

          /@

    • Circe
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      So you are saying that the laws of physics (incomplete as they are) need to be tempered with something called “choice”? Is this “choice” available to other animals? To Bacteria? To plants?

      Before you say no, I’d request you to consider that under some definitions of the existence of such choice, (and assuming the current laws of physics) it is a mathematical theorem (due to Conway and Kochen) that if human experimenters have that “choice”, then elementary particles must have have that choice too. This is the wikipedia link, which has a link to the original article too. So, do electrons have free will? If not, why not?

      • Joey Frantz
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

        I am not saying that the laws of physics need to be tempered in any way. Choices can be made by minds that evaluate options. This occurs in a strictly physical sense.

        • Circe
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

          But then, according to the Strong will theorem that I cited, do you concede that electrons have the same kind of “choice” that these “minds” have?

          Also, do you have any mechanisms in mind for how “choices” are available to minds which are not probabilistic functions of their histories?

          • Circe
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

            *Strong Free will Theorem. Sorry for the typo.

          • Joey Frantz
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

            The Strong Free Will Theorem, which I admit I don’t understand, doesn’t apply, because I do not reject determinism. And I have to also admit I don’t know what you mean by “probabilistic functions of their histories.”

            You’re wrong about the Turing machine. It is a choice, and it fits the common usage of the word “choice” perfectly. Coyne is just equivocating over the word “choice” and getting a lot of leverage out of it. Pace Coyne, the essence of choice is not causal externality to the laws of physics. This is the central issue here. It doesn’t follow from determinism that we don’t make choices.

            Why Coyne is equivocating I don’t know, but I get the feeling he wants to draw moral conclusions from his equivocation or rile people up by saying we don’t really make choices.

            • Circe
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

              Re: Turing Machines
              No, it’s not a “choice” in as much what the machine does is already determined by the input. I thought you meant “choice” to mean the kind of “choice” most proponents of “free will” mean: that it should, at the very least, not be a function _only_ of history and some randomness.

              Re: probabilistic functions of histories.

              Quantum mechanics systems evolve probabilistically in the sense that even if you knew the complete state of the system, and I asked you to predict the outcome of a proposed experiment, you could only predict the probabilities of various outcomes (unlike classical mechanics, where given the whole state and infinite computational power, you could, in principle, predict the outcome exactly). The randomness in the case of quantum mechanics is inherent to the theory: there is no way, even in principle, to go around it.

              I am sorry to say this, but to me, you seem to be quibbling about the use of the word “choice” too. Coyne’s point, as I see, is that even when a “mind” (as you say) makes a choice, that choice is made as a result of physical processes: it is a physical event like any other. You already concede the last point. I fail to see any essential physical difference between this and “determinism implies we do not make choices”. It does imply that, in the sense that the result of those “choices” are already constrained by physical laws to the same extent that any other physical event is.

              • Joey Frantz
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 2:12 am | Permalink

                Well, I am sorry to say this, but it was never reasonable for you to assume that my notion of choice violated determinism. It was also never reasonable for you to believe that I was arguing for what most proponents of “free will” argue for. It was only reasonable for you to argue with my individual points. I am sure there are tons of other advocates of “free will” or “choice” whose ideas I would disagree with.

                I do not see why you repeatedly put the word “mind” in scare quotes. I am not referring, by “mind,” to magical mental forces, such as a soul. I am referring to cognitive faculties. There is no woo-woo here.

                The fact that you “fail to see any essential physical difference between this and “’determinism implies we do not make choices'” is still essentially unsupported. We make choices in that we recognize alternative courses of action, evaluate them, and decide on particular actions. The way I’m used to using the word “choice,” those are choices.

                And with regard to “physics to lexicography”: I claimed, from the get-go, that Coyne was equivocating, so I have not been changing the subject.

              • Circe
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

                “We make choices in that we recognize alternative courses of action, evaluate them, and decide on particular actions.”

                But in as much this does not create any difference at a physical level (since the result of those choices are not determined by a mystical “us” but by physical processes), I think the claim that

                “The way I’m used to using the word “choice,” those are choices.”

                has any meaning apart from an appeal to lexicography. This “choice” that you talk of, as far as I can see based on your views, is no more different from the “choice” available to a gas molecule about the direction of its movement, or the “choice” available to a star of “whether to go supernova.” If it is, I would like to know why exactly it is so.

                Without that, I maintain that you are just arguing about lexicographical labels.

            • Circe
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

              Pace Coyne, the essence of choice is not causal externality to the laws of physics. This is the central issue here.

              If that really is the central issue then I missed the point where the debate moved from Physics to lexicography.

        • Circe
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

          Also, if you are modelling a mind as some sort of a Turing machine making choices based on “options” available to it thorugh its inputs, then this is no “choice” at all. It is a purely deterministic behavior (since such a machine will always make the same choice (classically) or according to a determined probability distribution (quantum mechanically). I don’t see how that is different in any way from what Coyne et al have been saying.

  33. Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Mark Twain wisely said that Shakespeare’s plays “were not written by him, but by someone else of the same name”.

    (Of course it is believed that Mark Twain’s writings were not written by anyone named Mark Twain).

    • Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      Mark Twain’s writings were written by Samuel Langhorne Clemens who called himself Mark Twain.

      • Circe
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        I thought those rumours were vastly exaggerated?

  34. Posted January 10, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Jerry Coyne = “Of course it was Shakespeare’s brain, and his neurons and his molecules!”

    That’s a dualist statement!

  35. Posted January 19, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    *test*

  36. Posted January 19, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    In reply to Circe:

    1. Direction

    My interpretation would be that those orthogonal directions (in Hilbert space?) represent the |0> and |1> eigenstates which in turn represent the actual physical properties of whatever is instantiating the qubits.

    2. Number

    I can see the elegance of the Hilbert-space formalism, but, if this is a computer, then it is still meaningful to talk about qubits holding values. Yes, a classical computer with 3 bits can have 8 possible states (= values), but isn’t the power of quantum computing that it can have those states simultaneously?

    +

    • Posted January 20, 2012 at 1:07 am | Permalink

      3. Deutsch

      I don’t recall — and riffling through didn’t find — him making a definitive statement one way or another.

      However, the Everett FAQ that I linked to earlier, and which Deutsch recommends (albeit without fully endorsing it), references David Deutsch, “Three connections between Everett’s interpretation and experiment”, Quantum Concepts of Space and Time, eds Roger Penrose and Chris Isham, Oxford University Press (1986), which, it notes, “Discusses a testable split observer experiment and quantum computing.” [my emphasis]

      It also says:

      The general consensus in the literature [11], [16] is that the experiment to detect other worlds, with reversible minds, will be doable by, perhaps, about mid-21st century. That date is predicted from two trendlines, both of which are widely accepted in their own respective fields. To detect the other worlds you need a reversible machine intelligence. This requires two things: reversible nanotechnology and AI.

      So, maybe not in our lifetimes, but still, in principle, testable.

      +

    • Posted January 20, 2012 at 1:10 am | Permalink

      (cont.)

      I think the difference in interpretations is meaningful because in many-worlds there’s no unphysical collapse of the wavefunction. That’s still not adequately described — it smacks strongly of woo, in my opinion. (Note that the Everett FAQ distinguishes many-words as a metatheory rather than just an interpretation of quantum theory: “Many-worlds should really be described as a theory or, more precisely, a metatheory, since it makes statements that are applicable about a range of theories. Many-worlds is the unavoidable implication of any quantum theory which obeys some type of linear wave equation.”)

      You’re right about the equivalence inasmuch as the outcome is sampled from a probability distribution. But that really only says that the maths is the same. (I had managed with just the maths, identical across interpretations, while I was doing my Ph.D., but it was only when I read Deutsch that the physics of it actually made sense.) The Everett FAQ says, “Feynman … always emphasized to his lecture students [F] that the “collapse” process could only be modelled by the Schrödinger wave equation (Everett’s approach).”

      (I find it interesting that Feynman was, apparently, a supporter of many-worlds — the FAQ mentions not only this, but also “a poll of 72 of the “leading cosmologists and other quantum field theorists” about the “Many-Worlds Interpretation”” with Feynman being one of the 58% (i.e., 42[!!!}) who answered “Yes, I think MWI is true” — since you previously cited Feynman’s QED contra many-worlds.)

      Deutsch’s argument re Shor relates to the computational capacity requirements that can be met in many-worlds but not in a single universe.

      I know nothing about Grover. However, the Wikipedia “explanation” demonstrates only the elegance and utility of the Hilbert-space formalism — which Deutsch himself uses in his papers! — not the underlying physics of the quantum computer.

      4. Envoi

      I’d commend diving into the Everett FAQ beyond the points I’ve cited above. It’s one of the best “short” discussions of many-worlds that I’ve found, and provides much better explanations than I could, given all I’ve forgotten since finishing my thesis over 25 years ago and all the work that’s been done since.

      Happy reading!

      /@

    • Posted January 20, 2012 at 1:16 am | Permalink

      PS. For some reason WordPress/WEIT doesn’t like me linking to the Everett FAQ, even though I had before… 

      Join with dots… www hedweb com/everett/everett htm


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