Eddy Nahmias: apostle for free will

Eddy Nahmias is an assistant professor in the Philosophy Department and the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University, in Atlanta.  Lately he’s been writing and speaking a lot about free will. Nahmias is a compatibilist, someone who thinks that free will is indeed compatible with physical determinism (i.e., there is no “will” outside of our material brains that makes decisions). In November he had a piece in the New York Times Opinionator section, “Is neuroscience the death of free will?” (answer: NO), which I criticized in a post two days after Nahmias’s piece appeared.

Nahmias recently wrote on this topic again (a very similar post) at Big Questions Online, a site run by the John Templeton Foundation, which reportedly pays substantial dosh for contributions.  His piece has a similar title, “Does contemporary neuroscience support or challenge the reality of free will?”  His compatibilism is on full display, as it was in the NYT piece. He begins with a ringing affirmation of the thesis that we are authors of our lives:

Humans love stories.  We tell each other the stories of our lives, in which we are not merely players reading a script but also the authors.  As authors we make choices that influence the plot and the other players on the stage.  Free will can be understood as our capacities both to make choices—to write our own stories—and to carry them out on the world’s stage—to control our actions in light of our choices.

This isn’t just a fanciful introduction; this is what Nahmias really thinks.  It implies that we can indeed make choices that influences the course of our lives, and that implies that we could have made other choices that could have affected our lives differently.  To the average person, I think, “making a choice” means that you could have made different choices. Now Namiah really doesn’t believe that, but uses language suggesting otherwise.  In that sense, at least, the idea of “free will”—that we can actually make choices different from those we did—is an illusion, an illusion in the sense that our notion of such freedom isn’t what it seems.  Nahmias calls those of us who agree with this idea of an illusion “willusionists”:

How might neuroscience fit into the story I am telling?  Most scientists who discuss free will say the story has an unhappy ending—that neuroscience shows free will to be an illusion.  I call these scientists “willusionists.” (Willusionists include Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne, Jonathan Bargh, Daniel Wegner, John Dylan Haynes, and as suggested briefly in some of their work, Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins.) Willusionists say that neuroscience demonstrates that we are not the authors of our own stories but more like puppets whose actions are determined by brain events beyond our control.  In his new book Free Will, Sam Harris says, “This [neuroscientific] understanding reveals you to be a biochemical puppet.” Jerry Coyne asserts in a USA Today column: “The ineluctable scientific conclusion is that although we feel that we’re characters in the play of our lives, rewriting our parts as we go along, in reality we’re puppets performing scripted parts written by the laws of physics.”

Yes, our actions are determined by brain events beyond our control. Does anybody doubt that? But Nahmias objects to our definition of free will, which is the dualist one that, I think, most people hold (more about that tomorrow). He says that we can define it in another way so that we have it:

But there is no reason to define free will as requiring this dualist picture.  Among philosophers, very few develop theories of free will that conflict with a naturalistic understanding of the mind—free will requires choice and control, and for some philosophers, indeterminism, but it does not require dualism.

Yes, but in none of these theories is our will really “free.”  Of course you can always define free will in a way that comports with determinism: you can say, for example, that a computer that is programmed to give different outputs when faced with different inputs has “free ill” because it appears to make choices, and in that sense the computer has free will. This, in fact, isn’t very far from the way that many philosophers define free will, except that the computer is made of neurons, sits in our head (yes, I know our brain doesn’t act like a digital computer), has consciousness, and has a very complex way of producing outputs given different inputs.  But are we really freer than that computer? I don’t think so, and most philosophers don’t, either.

Nahmias notes that many people actually do not have a dualistic picture of free will— they’re compatibilists at heart:

Furthermore, studies on ordinary people’s understanding of free will show that, while many people believe we have souls, most do not believe that free will requires a non-physical soul.  And when presented scenarios about persons whose decisions are fully caused by earlier events, or even fully predictable by brain events, most people respond that they still have free will and are morally responsible.   These studies strongly suggest that what people primarily associate with free will and moral responsibility is the capacity to make conscious decisions and to control one’s actions in light of such decisions.

I hope to talk about these studies—in particular Nahmias’s work—this week, but let it be said that the results of different people’s work are, well, incompatible.  The way people answer questions about free will depends largely on how those questions are asked: whether or not the scenario is abstract or concrete, and whether or not one imputes moral responsibility to an actor (moral responsibility and free will aren’t identical to many people).  There’s also the additional point that many of these studies are conducted on American undergraduates—Nahmias’s study that he cites in the NYT article is based on 249 undergrads at Georgia State University—and one might wonder if this is a representative sample of Americans, much less inhabitants of our planet.

Finally, I think it’s indisputable that many Christians, or other believers, think that they do have a completely free choice about whether to accept God or Jesus as their personal savior, that it is not a matter of being predetermined by your genes and environment. I wonder what a survey of Christians would show. At any rate, these surveys are tricky things, and reduce complex questions to simple choices on a form.  There’s no doubt, at any rate, that many people (and some scientists I’ve talked to) are dualists, whether that’s based on religion or not.  And I’m wondering why all those philosophers who are busy redefining free will don’t have the time to tell people that their actions and choices are completely determined by their genes and their environments. (Well, I have a theory about that—see below.)

Nahmias discounts the Libet and Soon et. al experiments (which have been challenged recently on other grounds, not successfully, I think), showing that brain scan can predict the results of a “choice” before that choice is consciously made:

If such early brain activity always completely determines what we do before our conscious thinking ever comes into the picture, then this would suggest we lack free will, because our conscious thinking would happen too late to influence what we did—an audience rather than author.  But the data does not show that brain activity occurring prior to awareness completely causes all of our decisions.  In the study just described, the early brain activity correlates with behavior at only 10% above chance.  It is not surprising that our brains prepare for action ahead of time and that this provides some information about what people will do.

But later studies show a higher predictability and an unconscious signal that arises much sooner—up to ten seconds before one thinks the decision was made.  It’s not surprising that the predictability is not perfect (left versus right choices for pushing a button) given that the brain scans are crude.  What would Nahmias say if we could make predictions that were 95% accurate before the subject said she made a conscious decision? Would that mean that there is no free will in Nahmias’s scheme? For, make no mistake, predictability is going to get better as we understand more about the brain.  And it is not that our brains merely “prepare for action”—it is that our brains give information about which decision we will make ahead of time.

In the end, Nahmias says we have free will because, as humans, we can reflect and deliberate about what we do before we make a choice, and that those reflections and deliberations can affect our choice:

A more complete scientific theory of the mind will have to explain how consciousness and rationality work, rather than explaining them away.  As it does, we will come to understand how and when we have the capacities for conscious and rational choice, and for self-control, that people ordinarily associate with free will.  These are the capacities to reflect on our desires and reasons, to consider which of them we want to motivate us, and to make efforts to act accordingly—or as Roy Baumeister explained in his recent post, to habituate ourselves to make choices that accord with our reflectively endorsed goals.

But none of us incompatibilists think that our “deliberation process” has nothing to do with our choices, for our deliberations reflect our genes and our environments, and nobody denies that our experience conditions what “choices” we make. If you see from experience that an employee who makes mistakes is more responsive to correction when you’re empathic rather than judgmental about it, you’ll tend to be more empathic when dealing with him. Our “deliberations” may reflect that experience, even if there is no “will” that chooses to be empathic.  Our “deliberations and reflections” mirror our experience, and may be the conscious signs of the processing that is going on in our neurons. So when Namiah says this,

But our stories are not always fiction.  Other research suggests that our deliberations and decisions can have significant causal influences on what we decide and do, especially when we have difficult decisions to make and when we make complex plans for future action.

he is saying nothing that’s incompatible with incompatibilism.  That “other research” shows that affecting one’s deliberations by outside interventions affects one’s decisions.  But those interventions also affect one’s neurons and the physical processes in our brain. “Deliberations and decisions” can have causal influences only if those deliberations are part of a deterministic physical process conditioned by genes and environments.

Here’s a 5-minute video of Nahmias speaking at my university (I didn’t hear the talk) under the “Defining Wisdom” program, which was sponsored by a $3 million grant from—guess who?—The Templeton Foundation. Templeton, of course, is wholly in favor of compatibilism; the idea we have free will comports completely with their religion-loves-science agenda.

Note that what seems to bother Nahmias in this video is the idea that the public will misunderstand what “willusionists” like Harris and I say when we argue that free will is an illusion. If the public thinks they they really are really puppets on the strings of our genes and our environments (which we are), then they will become nihilists, people who think that they have no moral responsibility.  Society will fall to pieces. In that way compatibilism resembles the view that morality comes from God: without the notion that we can somehow have free will, or without the Divine Command theory, civil society will dissolve.  So we can’t let the average Joe or Jill know that all their actions are determined, and we must find some way that we are morally responsible despite the fact that we lack some “free agency” in our brain.

This idea, I think, plays a substantial role in motivating philosophers to redefine free will in a way that gives us moral responsibility.  I don’t think I’m being uncharitable to philosophers here, because this view that the public will “misunderstand” determinism is explicit not only in this talk by Nahmias, but in writings by other philosophers that I’ll discuss another day.

Notice the word “threat” in Nahmias’s description of his latest book, taken from his homepage:

“…I am currently working on a book project, Rediscovering Free Will, which is contracted with Oxford University Press and partially funded by a Wisdom Grant (2008-2010) from the University of Chicago’s Arete Initiative and the John Templeton Foundation. In the book I argue that the free will debate should not be focused on the traditional question of whether free will is compatible with determinism. Rather, the free will debate should be focused on distinct threats posed by the sciences of the mind (e.g., neuroscience and psychology). I examine these threats and argue that they do not show that free will is an illusion. However, they do suggest that we have less free will than we tend to think. I also argue that these sciences can help to explain free will, rather than explaining it away…”

Why the word “threat” instead of “challenge”?

h/t: Michael

_____________________

Required reading for this week:

Nahmias, E. and Dy. Murray, 2012, Experimental philosophy of free will: an error theory for incompatibilist intuitions (free download).

This is the manuscript that, says Nahmias, supports the view that the average person is a compatibilist. Please don’t comment on this until I post about it.

298 Comments

  1. physicalist
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    ““making a choice” means that you could have made different choices.

    Question for Jerry:

    Is there any circumstance in which we can truly say that something that didn’t happen could have?

    It seems to me that your position is that, given determinism, there is nothing that could have happened that didn’t actually happen. And so we might as well purge the word “could” and “can” from our language and just make do with the terms “did happen” and “will happen.”

    I on the other hand, think we should understand the term “could have happened” as meaning “would have happened if something had been slightly different.” This means that the word “could” is still perfectly useful in a deterministic world, and it also means that we could have made different choices even given the truth of determinism.

    • Vaal
      Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      Looking forward to Jerry’s reply on this one.

      physicalist, as I’ve also mentioned before, even if one DID want to bite the bullet and remove “could” and “can,” I don’t even see how you can get from “did happen” to “will happen” without “could” and “can” assumed as conceptual underpinning. You need them to understanding the nature of the thing you are talking about. If it is the nature of the thing to behave one way under “X” conditions and another under “Y” conditions (true of just about everything in the world)
      then you have to adopt if/then truth claims – hence “could” and “can,” which is why we use such concepts in the first place (and they are not “illusory” as they describe truth about the nature of the entity being described).

      When we bring this up it seems the usual reply from incompatibilists is “yeah, yeah, no one is saying we can’t use those terms and concepts in describing the world.”

      But what I don’t see adequately addressed is
      how the nonfreewillists allow themselves these concepts for making truth claims about everything else…but make an exception for the physics of human decision making.

      The closest I see to a reply is that “I can do so, but then using language this way is not what ‘normal people’ think of for free will.”

      Which, as some of us have argued, doesn’t seem justified either (for reasons some of us have pointed out). And on it goes…

      Vaal

      • physicalist
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        Vaal says: “even if one DID want to . . remove “could” and “can,” I don’t even see how you can get from “did happen” to “will happen” without “could” and “can” assumed as conceptual underpinning.

        Agreed. We can’t reasonably talk about the future without embracing modal facts (laws, causation, etc.), and we can’t make sense of that without considering counterfactuals.

        Indeed, I don’t think we can even make sense of what did happen (or what is happening), without appealing to modal facts and counterfactuals. This actually plays a significant role in my work attacking arguments for dualism.

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      Yes, but by your own account only “if something had been slightly different” [than the way they were]… but things can only have been as they were, so really your hypothetical scenario is an empty set.

      Nobody is trying to insist that if things had been different things would not have happened differently. This is not the non-free willist’s claim at all.

      So your conclusion “and it also means that we could have made different choices even given the truth of determinism” fails because it is contingent upon an empty set. There is no different choice because there is no case of things having been different than the way that they were.

      (Sorry, I see that you asked this of Jerry, but I couldn’t help myself, I just had to respond.)

      It might help to think that what is, is, and what is will cause what will be, to be what is in that next moment in time.

      • Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        but things can only have been as they were, so really your hypothetical scenario is an empty set.

        Regardless of whether it is the case that only one possibility can ever occur (it may be that quantum indeterminacy plus deterministic chaos means this isn’t really true), it is still the case that we can never fully know what that one possibility is. Thus we have to consider a range of possible conditions.

        For example, it may be that the weather in a given place on the 25th August 2014 is fully determined by conditions now, but since we don’t know what the weather will be, if we were planning an event for that day we would consider a range of possibilities.

        This shows that, even if your claim that only one outcome was ever possible is true, we humans can still talk meaningfully about ranges of possibilities and what-ifs about things being slightly different.

        • Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

          Metaphysical determinism does not prevent epistemological indeterminism: what will be will be, even if humans don’t know what will be. Similarly, looking to the past, we could not be sure of what happened until it happened.

          We can imagine what might have happened differently – but that’s just imagination. This may be a skill associated with the brain’s ability to attempt to predict outcomes, a valuable planning skill. Being able to imagine outcomes in the future may even be enabled by imagining alternative outcomes of past events, as in, “OK that failed, maybe had I done this instead … so next time maybe I’ll try this alternative.” Such a language based internal debate is only a metaphor since some of these predictive skills probably exist in animal brains that do not have language.

          But the capacity to imagine stuff is no indication that the past could have been otherwise.

          What does it mean to plan? If there are no real choices what’s the point of planning alternatives. But there is no real indication that the chosen outcome would not have happened anyway, so that our perception of planning and consequential planned choice is yet another part of the illusion, a psychological interpretation based on the fact that we think we can choose.

      • Vaal
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        “but things can only have been as they were, so really your hypothetical scenario is an empty set.”

        If “could have happened if…” refers to an empty set (and I presume you imply it therefore does not refer to the “real”) then…

        By that logic using hypotheticals to say something “could” happen also refers to an empty set, and is illegitimate on the same grounds.

        So when you try to explain the nature of water by saying it “could” become solid tomorrow if temperature drops below freezing or it “could” remain liquid if the temperature remains above freezing tomorrow, then you are making illegitimate statements.

        But I’m sure you don’t want to throw out our using such claims – it’s the basis for our knowledge and truth claims about reality after all.

        Maybe you will want to say “but in the case of “could have” claims we KNOW the set is empty. In the case of “could if” claims we don’t yet know which set is empty, so they aren’t equivalent.”

        But that still wouldn’t change the fact that if in your “could if” claims about the nature of water, you will of necessity be including a claim that is false. It’s actually not strictly possible that the water “could” have either future as it will only have one. Yet…if you restrict your ability to describe the possibilities for water, you will remove the ability to describe actual knowledge, actual truth about the nature of water. Which is why I pointed out you can’t get to “what happened” to “what will happen” in a way that fully captures the nature of things WITHOUT hypothetical if/then talk. And you can’t go denying the legitimacy of if/then in only one direction – denying it as a knowledge claim about the past while accepting such talk as knowledge claims about how things will behave.

        Either we have knowledge of how water behaves or we don’t. You can’t make a knowledge claim unless you are making a truth claim. The knowledge that water WILL behave in one way IF you do X and another IF you do Y is allowed by you as a legitimate knowledge claim about reality. The same if/then logic applies to water in the past.

        Same with our choices. “If I had desired differently I could have done X instead of Y” is as legitimate a truth/knowledge claim as is “Water will freeze solid if the temperature drops below freezing, but will remain liquid if the temperature remains above freezing.

        If you start talking “empty sets” as a way to make knowledge claims illegitimate, you have to be consistent.

        Vaal

        • Vaal
          Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          Just one more example:

          nonfreewillist, I assume that you, like Jerry Coyne, think that the Catholic priests and bureaucrats who knowingly let child abusers operate in the priest-hood deserve our censure, and likely prosecution.

          The charge is to these people: You COULD have taken action and reported the abusers, but you did not, therefore you deserve censure/legal ramifications.

          The Catholic bureaucrat replies: But since I did not in fact report any abuse it’s false to say I ever “could” have. You are only referring to some non-real, “empty set” so why should your claim against me be taken seriously?”

          Let’s face it: neither you nor Jerry will think this a response that absolves the bureaucrat of our censure or dissolves the force of the charge against him.

          The same for if you see your crazy neighbor
          leaving his home armed to the teeth, yelling “I’m gonna kill everyone at the concert today!” If he does end up killing people, you had no positive role to play in those killings. However we would all censure you for what you FAILED to do – make any effort to warn people, alert authorities or whatever. This censure derives from proposing what you COULD have done but did not. And your referring to what you could have done as an “empty hypothetical set” would satisfy no one if you meant the realities of your options could not be described this way.

          So unless you are going to show how we reasonably dismiss “empty sets” and hypotheticals from the rest of our descriptions of reality, what point could you be making in applying this only to human choice making in the free will debate?

          Vaal

          • Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

            Vaal,

            Are you explicitly saying that you are of the opposite opinion on the matter of “if something had been slightly different” being an empty set: mere hypothetical thinking?

            As far as all your speculative writing, [I guess I know how Clint Eastwood's chair feels], you are off target by about 180 degrees. You misstate my position/case, from this I must assume that you misunderstand it.

            One good point, at least you didn’t accuse me of unleashing the “paedophiles” on the world.

            • Another Matt
              Posted September 4, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

              You’re letting the word “mere” do a lot of work for you. Vaal’s point through these threads has been that all empirical activity is based on “mere” hypothetical thinking.

              That’s why we have concepts like “null hypothesis” — to allow us the “mere” hypothetical thinking required to poke parts of the world in various ways to find out which conditions are relevant for objects’ behavior and in what ways, and (most importantly) so that we can do this over time.

              You can take it a step further and say that the universe has to be sufficiently deterministic to allow us the latitude to prod it systematically in the first place.

            • Vaal
              Posted September 4, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

              nonfreewillist,

              It’s not a misrepresentation of your view: it’s a look at the implications of how you are criticizing compatibilist claims.

              You claimed that physicalists compatibilist account of could-have-done-otherwise fails because it is contingent upon an empty set. There is no different choice because there is no case of things having been different than the way that they were.”

              If we take the same criticism and apply it elsewhere it would seem to undermine many of the things you and I would normally accept as legitimate and true descriptions about the world.

              If you think I’m wrong about the logical implications of your criticism then no problem: then tell us how how and where I’ve gone wrong.

              If I’m right, then my point stands: your criticism seems to rest on special pleading – rejecting the logic for compatibilism that you use and accept elsewhere, without offering a good reason for this exception.

              Vaal

              • Posted September 4, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

                Vaal,

                I do none of the things you claim here.

                “If we take the same criticism and apply it elsewhere…” where else do you want to put any claims about past events?

              • Vaal
                Posted September 4, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

                “I do none of the things you claim here. “

                Vague statements like this don’t help.
                I literally quoted your claims verbatim – which said that physicalist’s use of the word “could” fails due to it’s referencing an empty set.

                I have pointed out the weakness in your criticism – saying “if that amounts to a legitimate reason for dismissing compatibilist claims, the same reasoning seems to apply both to how we assign responsibility to human actors AND to pretty much all other empirical claims about the nature of the world.

                So I was indeed dealing directly with your claims. Instead of responding “No, you are wrong…here’s how I can uphold my criticism of compatibilist use of the term “could” while being consistent with how I use empiricism elsewhere…”

                But you don’t do that. You just imply strawmanning, which misses the point.

                “where else do you want to put any claims about past events?”

                Why re-write what I already gave you? It’s all there above. Is it unacceptabl to claim water “could have” turned to ice if the temperature had dropped below freezing? If it’s not – then I would like to see how you suggest we re-vamp our empirical language and our claims to empirical knowledge.

                If you DO think such claims are legitimate, then why do you suddenly reject them ONLY when it applies to human choice making? Why do you suddenly start calling it a FAILURE to say “could” is a legitimate word to apply to human choice, where “could” is already stated as assuming some level of slightly different circumstances? (E.g., had I the desire to have done differently).

                Are you ever going to address this? Until you do, your criticisms are non-starters.

                Vaal

      • Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

        Still the worry about language from the compatibilists. I see no need to upturn our language.

        It may be that some languages needs to change under some circumstances – e.g. not using free-will to describe human actions when considering the deterministic nature of those actions.

        Dawkins used the metaphor of the selfish gene, but knew damned well that genes are not selfish. We can still use terms like choice metaphorically. I can still say I choose to write this, even though I think I didn’t really have the choice.

        • Posted September 8, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          Oops, bad html formatting. I meant to say “the modal scope fallacy” after “invariably commit”. And the link was just supposed to go with the words “the modal scope fallacy”. The link does work, though.

        • Posted September 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          “There is no basis for the assertion that “things can only have been as they were.” It does not follow from determinism.”

          The basis for this truth is that there is only one universe, it evolves state by state, moment by moment, in a completely causal manner, and time travels in only one direction from past to present to future.

          Conceptually, the only way things could have been otherwise would be if the universe would have evolved differently. It obviously did not.

          • Posted September 9, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

            Which entitles you to the conclusion that things have not been otherwise. But not to the conclusion that things could not have been otherwise. Do read the link explaining the modal scope fallacy, if you haven’t already.

            By the way, for whatever it may be worth, I don’t see any scientific meaning in the assertion that time “travels” in some particular direction. There are earlier times and later ones, and the later ones have higher entropy, and in consequence of that thermodynamics memories can represent earlier times but not future times, and that’s about all that science can say about it.

            • Posted September 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

              “Which entitles you to the conclusion that things have not been otherwise. But not to the conclusion that things could not have been otherwise.”

              Things could have been otherwise if the universe had evolved otherwise. It obviously did not.

              “I don’t see any scientific meaning in the assertion that time “travels” in some particular direction.”

              Regarding time moving in one direction, from past to present to future, many equations in physics are symmetrical in that they mathematically allow for time to travel backwards. However, that prospect encounters logical barriers like the grandfather paradox, and has *absolutely no* empirical evidence in its support.

              Another way to understand this is to recognize that the symmetry is limited to the math, and not a reflection of reality. For example, one can mathematically subtract two from one to arrive at a negative one, however when you try this with physical entities, like apples, you quickly realize that there is, and can be, no such thing as a negative apple. Math measures reality; it doesn’t describe it.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow_of_time#Overview

              Most technically, you’re right that time doesn’t actually “travel.” Mass-energy travels, and time is a measure of that momentum relative to an agreed upon constant.

              • Posted September 11, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

                There remains no basis for the assertion that “things can only have been as they were.” The closest you have come to providing one, is to list some premises, which would lead to that conclusion only if the modal scope fallacy were not a fallacy. But it is.

            • Posted September 11, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

              “There remains no basis for the assertion that “things can only have been as they were.”

              You clearly do not appreciate the law of causality as it applies to the evolution of our universe. Thing could only be different than how they are if the universe had evolved differently. It obviously did not.

              • Posted September 12, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

                So your response to a fallacy being pointed out is to repeat it – three times now.

                Logicians don’t name fallacies for every possible non sequitur, since there are far too many possibilities. They only name those that people often commit. Logical errors that get named are seductive: while erroneous, these inferences nevertheless seem logical and convincing to many. In this case, that “many” apparently includes you, and boy, does it ever.

              • Posted September 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

                “So your response to a fallacy being pointed out is to repeat it – three times now.”

                My response to your asserting that things could have been otherwise when they clearly could not have is to show, three times and twenty if that’s what’s required for some to understand, why such an assertion is simply wrong. Rather than address the content of my explanation, you’ve opted for distracting, irrelevant,

                You’d apparently prefer a different tack. Explain for us in clear detail your claim that things could have been otherwise without the universe having evolved differently than it did. My guess is you’ll balk rather than present a defense all too easy to see through and correct.

                The law of causality, which not incidentally is the foundation for our scientific method with its principle requirement for replication, stipulates that you will always obtain the same effect from the same cause. That is why we could only have done otherwise if the universe had evolved differently. At the heart of your inability to understand this is, apparently, your inability to essentially understand the concept, and appreciate the implications, of causality.

              • Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

                Explain for us in clear detail your claim that things could have been otherwise without the universe having evolved differently than it did.

                It is not physically possible for the universe to have had a different present while having had the same past. Schematically:

                N(same past -> same present)

                where N stands for “necessarily”. Now, what follows from this? Nothing of interest. You can’t derive

                N(same present)

                without a premise stating

                N(same past)

                but you are not entitled to that premise. All you are entitled to is

                same past

                And all that follow from that is

                same present

                which is not in dispute.

              • Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

                In case it isn’t clear from the above, I never claimed that it is possible conjointly for the laws of nature to be what they are, the past to have been the same as it was, and the present to have been different.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      Yep, the decay of an atom.

  2. Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Yes, our actions are determined by brain events beyond our control. Does anybody doubt that?

    I don’t doubt it, but I do quibble about the “beyond our control” wording. There is no “us” that is separate from those brain events to which the “our” could refer to. Those brain events are us, they are us exerting our control.

    (And yes, that is a fully deterministic “control” in the same sense that an aircraft auto-pilot could be said to be “in control” of the aircraft’s flight, despite being an entirely deterministic system.)

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      Thanks for this. There’s a residual dualism in Jerry’s conceptualization of the self that also plagues Harris’s writing on free will. We don’t have to be first causes to be controllers in our own right.

      • Vaal
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        Agreed.

        Vaal.

      • Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

        The determinist position has always been about how determinism is not compatible with free-will. It is the compatibilists that have come along and said determinism is compatible with free-will while changing the meaning of free-will. There’s nothing residual about it. That’s all it ever was.

        • Vaal
          Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

          Yes we know incompatibilists like Jerry disavow dualism. The point was, that being the case, it would behoove folks like Jerry to not describe things in ways that seem to
          imply dualism. As coelsblog points out, when Jerry states “Yes, our actions are determined by brain events beyond our control” it talks of “us” as if we were separate from our brain states, whereas it is less confusing to simply note that “we are our brain states.’

          Vaal.

      • Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

        If compatibilists are meaning a different free-will and are not claiming dualist free-will then I guess compatibilists are in agreement that dualist free-will is an illusion?

        • Vaal
          Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

          Compatibilists have stated over and over that they reject the dualist account of free will. If we are talking about the acausal notion of dualism, it doesn’t even rise to the level of “illusion” – it’s just flat out incoherent.

          But that is not the same thing as saying “therefore free will – the possibility that we could do otherwise – doesn’t exist.”
          Compatibilism simply purports to uncover the actual basis to justify our notions of having a choice, rather than the fantasy-based justifications.

          So, no, compatibilism is not simply “re-defining” free will. It’s simply giving a different account for how we would have it.
          Once based in the empirical reality of determinism.

          Vaal

          (Time to do a “drinking shots” game based on how many times a compatibilist has to repeat this?)

          • Tim
            Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

            Time to do a “drinking shots” game based on how many times a compatibilist has to repeat this?

            Don’t do it! It is suicide!

      • Posted September 7, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

        To the extent the causal chain preceding any human choice stretches back to before the human was born, we can only figuratively or colloquially speak of a person having any degree of “control.” Fundamentally, they have none.

      • Posted September 7, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

        Because the causal chain preceding any human choice stretches back to before the human was born, we can only figuratively or colloquially speak of a person having any degree of “control.” Fundamentally, we have absolutely no control over any of what we think, feel, say, or do.

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 5:12 am | Permalink

      The point is, I think, that that part of us is also beyond our control – it was formed by our childhood, genetic endowment, and so on. Then a sort of “transitivity” argument goes through. This is the problem that many see (e.g.) with Fischer’s work, because it doesn’t seem to be able to hold off a regress of lack-of-responsibility. Paul Russell (for example) in seminar ~12 years ago was in agreement with this point at the time, I don’t know if he still is or whether he’s written on it.

  3. discettico
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    “If you see from experience that an employee who makes mistakes is more responsive to correction when you’re empathic rather than judgmental about it, you’ll tend to be more judgmental when dealing with him.”

    I think you meant to say “you’ll tend to be more empathic when dealing with him.”

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      Fixed, thanks.

  4. darrelle
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    “So we can’t let the average Joe or Jill know that all their actions are determined, . . .”

    I think a large part of what causes the average Joe or Jill to react so quickly and negatively when told that all their actions are determined is how they think of that word, “determined.” They likely think of it as there being a script already written, in the “beginning”, that everyone is compelled to follow. They probably don’t understand that what is meant is a continuously updating, adapting, changing system that similar to weather, though constrained by previous conditions instant to instant, is ultimately not predictable beyond a certain scale.

    • RWO
      Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      This ‘system’ analogy helps me to understand a bit better, but over the past two years I’ve listened to 4 hours of podcast lectures and read a half dozen or so explanations of this argument, including Sam Harris’s (I look forward to Jerry’s rebuttal post tomorrow), and I remain still very much in the dark. I have yet to see a metaphor or analogy that gets me over a hump that is present in my programming and blocks my ability to process this.

      Years ago I read a paperback version of War and Peace that included an appended lengthy essay by Tolstoy about free will. I remain too confused to be certain that this essay comports with the concept of free will this thread is concerned with; if I learn the answer to that question, it will be progress, I think. I hope soon to encounter more metaphors (or whatever), like Darrelle’s, that help lever me out of the mental rut I am stuck in. I’m weary of not quite getting the gist of this concept.

      • darrelle
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        Don’t think you are alone! I think everybody is a bit confused on this subject, whether they realize it or not!

      • Vaal
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        RWO,

        I’m unclear on what it is you think you don’t understand.

        Is it the very concept of “free will?”

        Is it incompatibilists arguments against there being free will?

        Is it compatibilists arguments FOR there being free will?

        Etc.

        Hard to help unless we know what you want to understand.

        Vaal

  5. MNb
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    “brain events beyond our control.”
    Just another philosopher who doesn’t think before he writes.
    Who are those “we” who are supposed to control brain events – or not? A compatibilist who wants to convince a materialist like me – and I like to be convinced – that free will exists needs to avoid even the resemblance of dualism.

    “This [neuroscientific] understanding reveals you to be a biochemical puppet.”
    This is the reverse mistake. The thing pulling the strings to which the biochemical puppet hangs is the same as that puppet. So Harris doesn’t think before he writes either.

    “our actions are determined by brain events beyond our control.”
    And even JAC makes this mistake. There is no homunculus or spiritual entity controlling or not controlling our actions. “Beyond our control” is a meaningless phrase; so is “within our control”.

    “But are we really freer than that computer?”
    Meaningless question. How do you measure grades of freedom?

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      “But are we really freer than that computer?”
      Meaningless question. How do you measure grades of freedom?

      While I agree with the rest of your post I disagree with this. I think that “freedom” is a continuum and does have degrees.

      “Freedom” is to do with ones degree of local autonomy and the range of different behaviours one is capable of displaying in response to different conditions, in order to effect a desired outcome.

      No I don’t have an easy way of quantifying it or an SI unit of “freedom” to offer, but I do think that grades of freedom is a meaningful concept, indeed the only way of making sense of the word “freedom”.

  6. MNb
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Neurobiologists are developing a model that describes how the human brain functions. That model will be causal or probabilistic. In the first case that model will allow us to predict brain events or not. Compare the motion of three point masses in a vacuum – causal, but incalculable and thus unpredictable. Only if the model will be ánd causal ánd calculable we can abandon free will. In both other cases we just will have to redefine it. That’s nothing spectacular; modern physics has redefined “force”. To avoid confusion it prefers to call it “interaction”.

    “What would Nahmias say if we could make predictions that were 95% accurate before the subject said she made a conscious decision?”
    I would say that there isn’t much room left – only 5% – for free will indeed. So keep me informed.

    “many Christians think that they do have a completely free choice”
    Try Luther and Calvin, who defended predestination. This is still a doctrine in Dutch Reformed Church. I am pretty sure its orthodox members don’t have any problem with incompatibilism. I refer to the Synod of Dort 1618. If curious, see Wikipedia.

  7. Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    I have no idea what percentage of free willism support takes the form “If non-free willism is true then that means there is no personal/moral responsibility,and if there is no personal/moral responsibility and people find out, then they will have no reason to behave responsibly and so they won’t and in a flash they’ll just run amok and human civilization will cease to be, and that will be a bad/undesirable thing and therefore non-free willism can’t be true.” (Or if it is true we can’t admit that it is true.)

    I am baffled as to how supposedly intelligent and educated people can accept an argument that takes the form “anything that I find undesirable can’t be true”. Really, surely somewhere along the line they must have heard that wanting a thing to be true does not make it true, and not wanting a thing to be true does not make it untrue. Maybe this is a function of magical free will discernment (by which one “freely” discerns what is truth) which is oft touted as superior to determined discernment (by which one is caused to believe what one believes).

    Well as I was saying, I don’t know the exact percentage that this particular rejection of non-free willism appears, but I suspect it is a rather large portion.

    I gather that the Defining Wisdom project funded in part by the Wisdom Grant would be working towards the position that it is wise to continue the myth of free will even if my way of prestiredefidigitation.

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      The flip side is — if it triggers a warm fuzzy feeling in the moment, usually some relief from chronic depression, anxiety and fear, it’s transcendent.

      These are psychiatric matters neither transcendent nor of much empirical value in public discourse.

  8. Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Where is the mechanism of consciousness that represents the unmoved mover?

  9. darrelle
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Another quick observation/opinion. I think the term “puppet” is misleading and maybe in some cases chosen for its impact. I think many people associate agency with the term puppet, regardless of any explanations that may be given. And let’s be clear, whether your actions are the result of unconscious or conscious processes, or some combination of both, it is still “you” that is doing it.

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      Are you saying most people think of puppets as having agency?

      • Vaal
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

        No, I believe darrelle is talking of the fact that puppets are normally associated with being directed by a personal agent – a person moving the puppet as they desire.
        Since we (who don’t believe in supernatural agents) do not impute another conscious agency as pulling our strings, the puppet analogy can be misleading. We are making the decisions, not another agency – since we are decision making entities.

        If you want to say “well, ok, the strings aren’t being pulled by a conscious being, but rather non-sentient causes preceding our actions” that would still be missing the point. Those non-sentient causes can’t “make decisions or choices” so it’s silly to impute our choices to those causes. They can help EXPLAIN our choices, but those other things did not MAKE the choices, WE did.

        This is not magic: it’s merely rational stopping of an infinite regress. If you really consistently followed the “but X didn’t REALLY cause Y because X was the result of all it’s preceding causes” then you’d never be able to identify any specific entity as a cause. You wouldn’t say it was
        illegitimate to say “Rabies caused the death of the man” on the grounds that you can point out rabies itself was the result of previous causes – as if the fact that rabies was preceded by non-rabies causes precludes rabies itself from being a cause.

        Similarly, it’s weird to say “you” weren’t the cause of making a choice, simply because the “you” were preceded by other “non-you” causes.

        These type of issues are the type of thing I believe darrelle was trying to head off.

        Cheers,

        Vaal

        • Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

          Vaal: “Those non-sentient causes can’t ‘make decisions or choices’ so it’s silly to impute our choices to those causes. They can help EXPLAIN our choices, but those other things did not MAKE the choices, WE did.”

          Thanks, hope Jerry gets this message so he won’t any longer feel the need to put “choices” in scarequotes as he does in the OP.

          • Lyndon
            Posted September 4, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

            Tom, if we find it necessary to put “free will” in scare quotes or qualify it, and we do this partly because of the phenomenology, then the discussion will very much overlap how people use the word “choice,” since it overlaps how choice appears to the self and how people have seen their choices in the past.

            The idea that there is not a close connection between how people understand and use the phrase “free will” and how they understand the phrase, “I choose X,” is absurd. The only way that would make sense is if how people have been using the term free will (often erroneously as you argue) is completely unleashed from how they view their choice making. In other words, I find it unfathomable that people could be misinterpreting their “free will” and the connotation surrounding that idea, but be blemishless in how they interpret choice making in itself and use the word “choice.”

            Why do you think that separation is unproblematic?

      • darrelle
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        nonfreewillist,

        Sorry about not being more clear, not much time. Vaal pretty much nailed what I was trying to say.

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      The action is emanating from a corporeal being, but there is no unmitigated “self” steering the boat.

      • darrelle
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        If you mean that there is no magic, I agree.

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Now that I understand better what you are saying, let me say that the issue at hand is not so much about whether the “you” that is doing the doing, but much more about whether there is actually “freedom” in the doing that you do. It is really a question about freedom as opposed to a question about actors.

      (Although a good conflation can be whipped up about choices being made by individuals when really the issue is whether such choices are made with any freedom. (This is not to say that those who conflate the issue in this manner are in anyway free to do otherwise.))

      Maybe this is too subtle to be grasped, but we (nonfree willists) are not denying that world is made up of you’s and me’s that go around doing things… all we are pointing out is that every single thing that you and I do is completely caused to happen by a matrix of causal determinants that none of us are capable of transcending.

      Puppet on a string is by no means a perfect analogy because it alludes to puppet masters (associated as agency) at the controls of the strings. Certainly the causal determinants of heredity and environment (nature and nurture) are not well represented as an kind of agent.

      And an automaton is merely another kind of puppet: strings being replaced by a library of programming. So this term might also invoke thoughts of an Über agent/agency in control of things.

      I tend to avoid the whole pitfall inherent in such allegorical labels and just state the case that human behavior is a function of one’s causal determinants and that therefore there is no freedom to the human will.

      • darrelle
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        “Now that I understand better what you are saying, let me say that the issue at hand is not so much about whether the “you” that is doing the doing, but much more about whether there is actually “freedom” in the doing that you do.”

        Oh yes, I understand that the debate is about “freedom”. My comment was limited specifically to the use of the term “puppet” as an analogy by some parties of the debate.

        My position in this debate is closely aligned to the incompatibilist camp rather than the compatibilist. There is a spectrum of ideas in each camp, positions are not uniform in each. I often do not agree with what many incompatibilists argue the implications of non free will are. But, admittedly I often do not understand if they are using rhetorical tools of various kinds to express themselves, and I am just not understanding what they “mean.”

        In contrast, I do agree with some of the compatibilists arguments regarding the implications of what they are willing to accept as free will, and what noncompatibilists refer to as non free will.

        I also disagree with some of the arguments commonly used by incompatiblists, in a tactical sense i.e., the puppet analogy I commented on above.

        I think that the debaters sometimes lose track of what exactly the debate is too. As far as I can tell both compatibilists and incompatibilists agree that the notion of free will that entails being able to somehow ignore all the preceding determinant events is bunk. The incompatabilists say, that’s it, no free will. The compatibilists say, well, we should change the definition of free will to comport with how things actually seem to be, which isn’t so bad even if it isn’t old school free will.

        In short I agree that free will is bunk, and, I think what we do have is not so bad and do not oppose redefining the term to comport with reality. And yes, I understand the religious aspects of this argument, but I am quite capable of explaining to a religious person why his idea of what free will is is bunk.

        • Old Rasputin
          Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

          You’ve summed up my own stance on this matter quite nicely, and although I largely agree with Sam Harris and Jerry, I too wince a bit at words like “puppet” or “meat robot”. It seems that these thinkers want to do away with the term “free will” because it is a loaded term, easily misunderstood by casual observers of the debate, and in doing so, they end up using… more loaded terms easily misunderstood by casual observers.

          However, I think a great deal of the frustration experienced by the non-compatibilists stems from the fact that certain philosophers and thinkers are quick to point reassure people, “oh, of course you have free will*! …What’s that? An asterisk, you say? Well, let’s not worry about that until chapter 12.”

          I think non-compatibilists would rest a bit easier at night, if everyone who was in such a hurry to save “free will” would explain that asterisk right up front: “Well, of course we have free will! But it’s also true that every single choice you make is caused entirely by the conditions that preceded it and there is no room for any sort of autonomous “you” who can step in and interrupt the chain of causation; the only “you” to be found is the you that is part of the chain.”

          And if you said /that/ to the average Joe on the street, I suspect he’d respond with something to the effect of, “What good is that? That’s not free will!”

          • Old Rasputin
            Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

            By the way, I hasten to point out that many of the compatibilist commenters here do a very good job of meeting the issue head on and explaining their position honestly and clearly without sweeping anything under the rug. Generally, I’ve found the debate here to be useful and enlightening (for me at least).

          • Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

            OR,

            And the average Jane on the street too.

  10. Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    “If the public thinks they are really puppets on the strings of our genes and our environments (which we are), then they will become nihilists…”

    Jerry, I’m not sure why you (along with Harris) continue to purvey the puppet meme, which is false and can indeed be demoralizing. Human persons are just as real and causally effective as the conditions that create them, and they have internal behavior control capacities that puppets don’t have, see http://www.naturalism.org/demoralization.htm

    Determinism doesn’t obviate the fact that we often play active roles in shaping our circumstances, so we aren’t merely at the mercy of cause and effect – we participate in it. In failing to see this, you’re setting back the cause of naturalism since people quite rightly don’t want to think of themselves as puppets, so will reject naturalism if they suppose it has this implication.

    However, understanding that we *aren’t* exceptions to determinism can have a humanizing influence on our responsibility practices, since it challenges desert-based justifications for punishment and inequality traditionally linked to our being supernatural first causes. So letting the world know about determinism is just what it needs, so long as we avoid the puppet mistake, http://www.naturalism.org/determinism.htm

    • Vaal
      Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Exactly.

      It’s like the idea that without God naturalism implies we therefore can not have morality. Naturally this will make religious people wary of moving toward naturalism.

      But the argument from us naturalists isn’t therefore “Well, we’d better try to hide that uncomfortable truth that on naturalism you can’t have morality.” That isn’t why we would deny such a claim. We deny that conclusion because we think it’s FALSE to say morality depends on there being a God – we can identify the REAL basis for morality in naturalism.

      Same with the puppet concept. We don’t want to deny it in order to prop up some comforting illusion in the masses. We want to deny it because it’s just a false, misleading description of reality – for the reasons Tom and others keep giving. And since this mistake implies a conclusion that repulses people, it’s a particularly pernicious mistake to make if you want more people to accept naturalism as being the better description of reality.

      Vaal

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Why not use this idea for making determinism more palatable?

      The way in which humans are determined in their choices is that they have no choice whatsoever other than the choice they most desire to make, all things considered, in any given moment.

      Freedom from guilt, virtue, self-suspicion or self-recrimination. That should sell, except for the virtue part. That damn virtue part. That’s the sticking point.

  11. RodW
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    I’m a bit skeptical about the work of Libet and Soon. Indulge me for a moment:
    Several decades ago I had an interesting dream. It involved several locations and actions ABC that all implied an ending in ‘D’ where a loud noise would occur. ( I forgot what exactly- say a plane engine at an airport). ABC occured, I wound up at D and heard the noise. I immediately woke up because the sound was actually my alarm clock. On the face of it this suggests I was asleep, timing events in ABC and D to coincide exactly with my alarm ringing minutes later. This is impossible. What MUST have happened is that my alarm rang and I immediatly retrofitted a story to explain it…or more likely, I had the perception that there WAS a story that fit the final event perfectly. I’ve heard of similar experiences from others as well.
    What this suggests to me is that our minds can play fast and loose with correlations and its possible that the experimentees really did ‘choose’ when the brain scans showed they did but they perceived their choice occuring later.
    Perhaps my thinking on this topic is a little fuzzy. I still hold out the possibility that some form of free will exists after several layer of emergent properties.

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      its possible that the experimentees really did ‘choose’ when the brain scans showed they did but they perceived their choice occuring later.

      Yes, that is what those experiments seem to show. And this is a strong argument against our deliberative consciousness being involved in our choice making, it isn’t an argument against all types of “choice”.

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      Rod,

      Is this to say that you believe it better that free will exists, than that it does not exist?

  12. johnjacoblyons
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    The term ‘free-will’ has become so fuzzy in usage that I suggest it should be abandoned completely in philosophic/ scientific discourse. Whether or not we persevere with the term, it – or an alternative – needs to be rigorously defined by authors prior to use within an argument. Accordingly, I will use the term ‘free-cognition’ and I therefore need to explain what I mean by this term.

    I suggest that human behaviour is the resultant of several contributory drivers; genetic/ epigenetic, early nurturing, developed cognitive patterns – largely infuenced by our life-experience – and, what I have called, free-cognition. The latter I envision as an evolutionary adaptive, phylogenetically developed, neural facility that enables us to respond appropriately to novel situations. The facility would be mediated by bio-chemical processes; but could its contribution to behaviour be predetermined from a complete knowledge of the prevailing bio-chemical state? I am suggesting that it could not; since the precise neural connections that we will invoke could not have been predicted in advance.

    The free-cognition facility is bio-chemically mediated but the particular neural pathways that will be invoked are not completely deterministic. Contrast this with the other contributory drivers of behaviour – genetic/ epigenetic, early nurturing etc, which are indeed fully determined at the time the behaviour is manifested.

    Is this the true nature of our “free-will”?

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      No. It still lacks any freedom.

      • johnjacoblyons
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        You say “No. It still lacks any freedom.”

        I’m suggesting that our behaviour isn’t totally determined. We can decide to review initial inclinations using our free-cognition as previously suggested. On the other hand, we may take the short-cut of acting purely on impulse. This choice gives us a degree of freedom in our behaviour.

        • Posted September 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

          I am afraid cognition is no more able to transcend causation than the will is. Act quick, and maybe you can get your own camp of compatiblists to endorse your idea… they seem keen on calling that without an iota of freedom, free. Compat-FC: Determinism is compatible with free-cognition.

        • Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

          Cute idea but there is mounting physiological evidence disproving anything ideas close to this in any primate brain.

          • johnjacoblyons
            Posted September 5, 2012 at 1:13 am | Permalink

            Here’s an example. Walking down Oxford St. It’s very busy and I’m stressed. A guy walking the other way blunders into me. “Why don’t you look where you’re bloody going!”, I yell over my shoulder. As I turn, I see to my acute embarrassment that he’s using a white-stick.

            I acted on impulse. If I had invoked my free-cognition, I may have looked for a possible reason for him stumbling into me and suppressed my rude and unjustified outburst.

            “Sorry chum!”, I shout: but too late.

            • johnjacoblyons
              Posted September 5, 2012 at 1:57 am | Permalink

              The ‘free-cognition’ that I’ve described in my posts above is adaptive since it enables us to respond appropriately to specific conditions. It is inconceivable that selective pressure from evolutionary processes would have left us without such a useful facility and at the mercy of purely deterministic responses.

            • Posted September 5, 2012 at 4:34 am | Permalink

              So the proposition is your storytelling vs years of peer-reviewed research — that’s delusional.

              • johnjacoblyons
                Posted September 5, 2012 at 5:29 am | Permalink

                No delusion here. The story is not the proposition of course. It’s purpose is merely to illustrate/ clarify the concepts.

                There are indeed several years of peer-reviewed research that have failed to provide evidence for freewill/ free cognition. However these are still relatively early days for fMRI assisted research in this field. At this stage we can still say that absence of evidence is not yet strong evidence of absence.

                I suggest that, in due course, evidence for free cognition may well be forthcoming.

              • Posted September 5, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

                Wishful thinking is worthless. Concepts without data are worthless and a waste of time as well. Just word play.

            • Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

              John,

              “If I had invoked my free-cognition…” this construct implies precursor event of invoking/not invoking of your proposed faculty of “free-cognition”, it begs the question is this invoking/no invoking faculty a libertarianly free function? I mean are you now introducing free-invoking in addition to the proposed free-cognition? You do see the problem if this invoking function is itself a completely non-free (deterministic) function?

              • johnjacoblyons
                Posted September 5, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

                An interesting point ‘nonfreewillist’. As ‘Brain for Business’ implies, I’m only suggesting a hypothesis at this stage. However, this is set within a broader hypothetical framework of the constituent drivers of behaviour and with a rationale in terms of evolutionary theory.

                Re your ‘invoking’ point. I doubt that this would be subject to free-cognition. However, it would be very speculative to take my hypothesis too far at this time. I would only suggest that the hypothesis deserves to be tested and, since I have no access to lab. facilities, I would welcome collaboration with any group/ individual that could offer same.

              • Posted September 5, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

                It sounded more like you were asserting the free-cognition required invoking and thus was subject to that invoking…not that invoking is subject to free-cognition… now you want to describe the arrangement in reverse?

  13. Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Another nail in the coffin of free will:

    “Is visual processing in the dorsal stream accessible to consciousness? A. D. Milner*
    Department of Psychology, Durham University, Durham, UK a.d.milner@durham.ac.uk

    Abstract

    There are two highly interconnected clusters of visually responsive areas in the primate cortex. These two clusters have relatively few interconnections with each other, though those interconnections are undoubtedly important. One of the two main clusters (the dorsal stream) links the primary visual cortex (V1) to superior regions of the occipito-parietal cortex, while the other (the ventral stream) links V1 to inferior regions of the occipito-temporal cortex. According to our current understanding of the functional anatomy of these two systems, the dorsal stream’s principal role is to provide real-time ‘bottom-up’ visual guidance of our movements online. In contrast, the ventral stream, in conjunction with top-down information from visual and semantic memory, provides perceptual representations that can serve recognition, visual thought, planning and memory offline. In recent years, this interpretation, initially based chiefly on studies of non-human primates and human neurological patients, has been well supported by functional MRI studies in humans.

    This perspective presents empirical evidence for the contention that the dorsal stream governs the visual control of movement without the intervention of visual awareness.”

    This is the level at which discussions of free will should be taking place. What!? Was that the thundering sound of pretty much every public intellectual who comments on this topic running for the exits?

    Of course, to discuss this with any intelligence you have to know something about the physiology, duh.

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      For what it is worth, I found (completely by chance) a neuroscience journal special volume on willed action when doing the FW & D course 12 years ago. I passed along the reference to my classmates and the faculty involved in the seminar; I don’t know if anyone used it (there was one student who had been psychology and philosophy undergraduate, but …).

      If I were doing philosophy full time, I’d be tempted to crack open some of this again, but …

      • Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Don’t do that. You’ll be branded as a trubble maker and be even more unpopular.

        Good science never made anyone popular — to the contrary. I believe “pushback” and “blowback” are the modern equivalents of burning at the stake.

        Think we have to accept that the more pop science is communicated the more attacks and unprincipled attacks it produces.

        Look at Bill Nye. All he did was give the crazies a new target.

  14. Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Not sure if this has been posted already, but relevant to this and other recent posts, here’s a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education on The Templeton Effect, which talks about the $5m grant to Alfred Mele to study free will, amongst other things:

    http://chronicle.com/article/The-Templeton-Effect/134018/

    The distorting affect of the Templeton millions is plain to deduce from the article.

    To be fair to Templeton for a moment, the writer of the article says “Suspicions about some secret religious agenda tend to lessen the more widely the foundation’s substantial sums begin to spread”. I criticise Templeton a lot, but they’re hardly secretive about their agenda. I think it’s transparent what they’re trying to do.

  15. Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    The use of the term “threat” reveals how dangerous evidence-based ideas and arguments feel to brains that can’t cope well with novel ideas.

    Since our ideas feel like a physical attack, threat, to these brains they are justified in doing anything to attack back and defend themselves. So lying, ad hominem attacks and all the rest are moral and right — since it is all self-defense.

    It is also good to see the evidence that pretty much any big name institution can be bought. We all knew this anyway.

    Money always buys lots of voices to support its ideology. That is defined as “freedom.” Again, lying and dishonest tactics are justified under the guise of “freedom” and protection from “threats.”

    Of course, if you are a lone voice with no money to buy other voices — you are attacking the prerogatives of money. Such as minority voices and science,logic, etc.

    Standard dominance tactics.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    This is the type of robust analysis that results in a clear and strong view. Pointing out the dualism of many, and expanding on the neuroscience basis why there is no gap for such here.

    I’ll only note that “In that way compatibilism resembles the view that morality comes from God” is too broad since many or most of what philosophers like to call “compatibilists” are monists and/or not arguing about choice models as a problem for morals.

    The folk psychology notion of (free) will is compatible with simple, testable and useful* computer models for human agents and neuroscience both. It doesn’t matter when decisions are taken when the idea is that the outcome is too complicated to predict.

    Noting that apparently makes one a “compatibilist”. I would rather say that the models are, I have no choice in the matter. (O.o)

    ————–
    * Not so useful if they are confused with what the neuroscience is or used to argue for non-evidential dualism, of course.

    But this is no different from observing physical laws or theories, those have both been used to claim “therefore gods”.

    The more problematic use IMHO is when people goes off on a tangent and argues for a homunculus in the brain. Still non-evidential, but … ouch!

  17. Another Matt
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I contributed way, way too much in the last thread so I might lie a little low this time. I agree so far with the posts by physicalist, Vaal, coelsblog, and Tom Clark.

    I just wanted to reiterate that the question of dualism is distinct from the question of determinism. Having a soul would not be a “get out of determinism free” card — all the same ontological questions surrounding determinism and indeterminism in the posited “immaterial realm” remain.

    As others have pointed out, the “puppet” metaphor also relies heavily on dualism, if only through the back door.

  18. Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Read the Chronicle of Higher Ed article on Templton.

    So, in America, philosophy is no longer a critical thinking domain but one of ideology salesmanship. That makes sense.

    Money always buys “voices” to rationalize and promote it’s behaviors – post hoc. The problem is all these folks are taking the money and lying. There is no evidence for anything supernatural and millenia for proof against.

    This is just the last gasp of a profession that has lost any empirical relevance to devolve into a marketing tool thru clever, but dishonest, word play. We see it with commentators here. Predictable.

    Of course, Templeton helps hasten the demise of the profession it pays for its’ sales goals. RIP

  19. TJR
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    We’ve made some progress with defining what each of us means by “free will”, in particular explicitly saying “dualist free will” when that is what we mean.

    However I hadn’t realised that the same thing seems to be going on with “determinism”. In an earlier post Jerry mentioned that when he’d said “determinism” he should have said “materialism”, but here he is using “determinism” again. Is this a change of mind, or a different usage?

    I read the article on “determinism” that Tom Clark pointed to above and now I’m even more puzzled. This seemed to use the word just to mean being part of the general web of cause and effect, and to recognise the existence of law-like regularities. It even seems to say that some of these could be probabilistic. Eh?

    I assumed that “determinism” was being used to mean “its all deterministic”, so how can this be the case when some things are admitted to be probabilistic?

    However, I use “deterministic” to mean the opposite of “probabilistic”, so maybe here its being used in a different way?

    To cut a long comment short, please define your terms, including “determinism” as well as “free will” itself. Thanks.

    • Posted September 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      There’s a good definition of determinism here:

      Determinism requires a world that (a) has a well-defined state or description, at any given time, and (b) laws of nature that are true at all places and times. If we have all these, then if (a) and (b) together logically entail the state of the world at all other times (or, at least, all times later than that given in (b)), the world is deterministic.

      It is inconsistent with fundamentally probabilistic laws. However, for the purpose of discussing humans’ freedom of action, it might not matter if there is some indeterminism associated with atomic decay, for example. It’s in that spirit, I think, that Tom Clark is willing to stipulate that determinism is “pragmatically true” even if quantum mechanics is not literally deterministic.

      • Posted September 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        “It (determinism) is inconsistent with fundamentally probabilistic laws.”

        Mass-energy at the quantum level is completely deterministic. We must derive predictions for individual particles from probabilistic equations because of measurement prohibitions by the uncertainty principle. However, these probabilities are completely derived from the Newtonian, or classical, measurement of *groups* of particles, which are measured as they behave completely deterministically.

        Invoking the now discredited quantum indeterminacy hypothesis in no way helps the cause of free will, but clarification on this matter is still valuable so that some people are not left thinking that some physical and/or spiritual events actually happen indeterministically, or without any cause whatsoever – a conceptually and empirically absurd notion.

        • Posted September 9, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

          There are deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics (QM), and indeterministic ones. I have little sense of which interpretation may be best, although among physicists, indeterministic ones seem most popular. I was just trying to explain to TJR why Tom Clark regards determinism as “pragmatically true” even though Clark leaves the door open to the possibility that QM is indeterministic.

          I wholeheartedly agree that QM indeterminacy in no way helps the cause of free will. Firstly, it needs no such help, since free will is thoroughly compatible with determinism, and secondly, indeterminacy is irrelevant at best, providing no additional freedom even if indeterminacy is true.

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

            Um, no. Libertarian free will is not compatible with determinism.

            • Posted September 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

              And who said anything about Libertarian free will? (In other breaking news, all tautologies are still tautologies.)

          • Posted September 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

            “There are deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics (QM), and indeterministic ones. I have little sense of which interpretation may be best, although among physicists, indeterministic ones seem most popular.”

            Let’s investigate indeterminism as a concept. By it do you mean that certain events happen acausally, or without cause? If so, perhaps you’d like to explain what you mean by that, and how that might work. To reason and science, the prospect is logically incoherent and without any empirical evidence.

            “I wholeheartedly agree that QM indeterminacy in no way helps the cause of free will. Firstly, it needs no such help, since free will is thoroughly compatible with determinism,”

            By this you seem not to appreciate the implications of the causal regression required by the law of causality, and how the ensuing chain of cause and effect behind every human act spans back to before the human was born.

            Free will is only compatible with determinism as a straw man argument conceptually distinct from the longstanding contention that absolutely nothing that humans do is in any real way up to us, all human action having necessarily been compelled by that causal chain of events that spans back at least to the Big Bang.

            • Posted September 11, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

              A scientific indeterminism would presumably look something like the Copenhagen interpretation. Wiki says it:

              holds that quantum mechanics does not yield a description of an objective reality but deals only with probabilities of observing, or measuring, various aspects of energy quanta…

              According to a poll at a Quantum Mechanics workshop in 1997,[13] the Copenhagen interpretation is the most widely-accepted specific interpretation of quantum mechanics, followed by the many-worlds interpretation

              (emphasis added) I don’t know, and for the purposes of this discussion, don’t care which interpretation is correct. But to imply that Heisenberg and Bohr were “logically incoherent” is an absurdity.

              If I had to bet, I’d bet that determinism is correct, and causes of present events and actions really do go all the way back to the Big Bang. So what? Causation isn’t compulsion.

              • Posted September 11, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

                “I don’t know, and for the purposes of this discussion, don’t care which interpretation is correct. But to imply that Heisenberg and Bohr were “logically incoherent” is an absurdity.”

                Is it really absurd to assert that events do not happen without their having been caused?

                Conceptualize, then, for us what an indeterministic, or uncaused, action looks like, (I’m quite serious about this challenge, and relatively sure you’ll, appreciate it’ s impossibility evade it). Or, equally important, present some evidence from Heisenberg, Bohr, or anyone else from the Copenhagen camp demonstrating even a *single* instance of uncaused behavior in either macro or quantum physics.

                Indeterminism, A.K.A acausality, is conceptually incoherent and lacking any manner of empirical evidence in its support.

                “Causation isn’t compulsion.”

                To the contrary and more so, causation is complete and inescapable compulsion via the causal regression of any human event that spans back to long before humans roamed the Earth.

              • Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

                No, causation (whether probabilistic or deterministic) isn’t the same as compulsion. Your repeating the claim failed to make it true.

                No quantum physicist has ever proposed that an event is uncaused, but they have proposed that some events are probabilistically caused, rather than deterministically caused. Evidence for the probabilities abounds, look up Schrödinger’s Equation for Flying Spaghetti Monster’s sake.

  20. Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Nahmias:

    “Furthermore, studies on ordinary people’s understanding of free will show that, while many people believe we have souls, most do not believe that free will requires a non-physical soul.  And when presented scenarios about persons whose decisions are fully caused by earlier events, or even fully predictable by brain events, most people respond that they still have free will and are morally responsible.   These studies strongly suggest that what people primarily associate with free will and moral responsibility is the capacity to make conscious decisions and to control one’s actions in light of such decisions.”

    Nothing in there demonstrates that the people surveyed are compatibilists. One needn’t explicitly espouse the specific notion of a soul to be engaged in some kind of dualism.

  21. couchloc
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Jerry: “This idea …. plays a substantial role in motivating philosophers to redefine free will in a way that gives us moral responsibility.”

    I’ve seen this sort of statement from you before in these terms, but accusing Nahmias of “redifining” the notion of free will is tendentious in this context. Nahmias is saying that if you look carefully at how people actually use the terms “free will” and “choice” (that is, if you actually do empirical research into the issue and not just go by some simplistic understanding of the history of debates about free will and religion over the years), you’ll see that what people really mean by these notions are what the compatibilist says they are. So he takes himself to be *reporting* the correct usage of the terms, not redefining them. Against this sort of view it isn’t very helpful to argue that “compatibilists are merely redefining things and changing the subject,” since his whole point is that previous members of the debate (at least the traditional determinists and free willists) have misunderstood the central notions involved. Surely someone is allowed to point out in a debate that the crucial terms at issue between two parties are mistaken and suggest a third view? Surely the history of science itself is filled with examples of similar sorts of moves? You would do better just to try to argue directly against compatibilism than keep leveling the “redefinition” charge.

  22. matt
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    “willusionists”

    NOPE. hate it.

  23. Peggy
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Hi Dr. Coyne,

    I really enjoy reading your posts on free will and it mostly makes a lot of sense to me. There are just a couple of things that I find confusing that I want to ask you about.

    First, when you talk about how we don’t have free will, who is the “we”? For example, if I say, “I don’t have free will,” does the “I” refer to me as a whole organism or my sensation that there is an part of me in my brain that is the executive or decider (which is itself a brain event)?

    Second, isn’t it theoretically possible that there is biologically based free will? That is, that there are brain functions that do correspond to a capacity that is an executive or decider that can override other brain functions and exists in the vast majority of people in a pretty much equal capacity unless it is damaged in some way. I’m thinking of something analogous to vision, which can be damaged (either before or after birth), but, in general, the majority of people can see within a particular range. We have the expectation that people can see the same things we are looking at and although we learn there are variations, the capacity itself is usually there. Even as I’m writing this, I see problems with this analogy, but I hope the basic question makes sense.

    Thanks,
    Peggy

  24. Caroline52
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    What ordinary people are really worried about when they talk about free will is freedom from control by others. That’s why the “puppet” image is so resonant–and so misleading. A puppet is someone who is controlled by someone else. The fact “I” don’t have free will doesn’t make me a puppet because it doesn’t mean someone else is controlling me. The real problem is that pople don’t stop to think who they mean by “I.” What does it even mean to say “I” don’t have free will because “I” am controlled by the interactions of my genes and the environment past and present? What else could “I” be than my genes and my past experience?

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      To answer your last question, it really means that because you are controlled by the interactions of your genes and the environment past and present you don’t have any freedom: you have to do that which your genes and environment necessitate you do. You are correct, we all are what our genes and past experience make us to be.

      • Caroline52
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I wouldn’t say “we” have to do what “our genes and environment necessitate we do.” That makes it sound like there is a “me” separate from my genes and environment that is being controlled by my genes and environment. And it’s precisely this dualistic intuition that leads people to shudder at the idea there’s no free will. Whether they realize it or not, they are assuming that if “I” don’t control my choices, something other than “I” does. But in fact, there’s no one entity controlling some other entity. It’s all bottom-up emergent activity. And that’s why the fact that we have no free will isn’t creepy, isn’t scary, isn’t sad at all.

    • MNb
      Posted September 4, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      To answer that last question: other options are indeterminancy and unpredictability. It’s not been decided yet that genes plus environment fully determine the outputs of our brain processes.

      • Caroline52
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

        Your point sounds like the answer to a question I didn’t ask–that is, what causes “my” actions.

        My point was about who “I” am. I’d say “I” consist of my genes and past experience (broadly defined–including such things as which chemicals were available when my cells were dividing in the womb). I don’t agree that “indeterminacy” and “unpredictability” are part of who “I” am, any more than the law of gravity is part of who I am.

  25. MNb
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    “has a very complex way of producing outputs given different inputs.”
    “our brains give information about which decision we will make ahead of time.”
    A next step is needed to eliminate free will: if an outsider, say a string of random numbers, can manipulate that information and thus force the output we are just puppets indeed. Libet and Soon experiments might only show that consciousness is not what we think it is. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the underlying biochemical process of producing outputs is deterministic.
    There is one point I cannot stress enough. As a materialist I reject dualism. So any definition of free will that implies an agent external and/or independent of the brain (usually called “I” or “we”) is wrong at beforehand. Above I argued that Nahmias is guilty of this and that Sam Harris and JAC take this mistake over now and then.
    We are our brains (can be formulated better, but OK). If (wo)man has free will it is to be found in the brains themselves and must one way or another be part of a satisfying neurobiological model.

  26. MNb
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    “there is no reason to define free will as requiring this dualist picture.”
    So I agree with this.

    “Of course you can always define free will in a way that comports with determinism”
    JAC assumes here that a naturalistic understanding of the human mind is deterministic, but doesn’t argue why that would be the case. So his statement that “our will isn’t really free” is premature. Moreover it smells like a no real free will fallacy.

  27. Posted September 4, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    “But later studies show a higher predictability and an unconscious signal that arises much sooner—up to ten seconds before one thinks the decision was made. It’s not surprising that the predictability is not perfect (left versus right choices for pushing a button) given that the brain scans are crude.” To generalize from brain-scans of button pushing to conclude that decisions like whether to get married, or to apply for mortgage refinance, or what to say in a philosophy or science paper are predetermined by neurons just seems bizarre. Where are the brain-scan studies of mortgage refinance decisions? There aren’t any. Button-pushing studies are ‘way inadequate to support conclusions about really important decisions. I’m not a dualist,not a compatibilist, not a determinist. I’m a”nobody knows-er.” Why can’t we just recognize our ignorance? But keep working on the problems.

  28. Jonathan Lee
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    It seems that there are a lot of experimental philosophers who disagree with Nahmias. Here is a paper by a guy at my uni. who taught me about free will:
    http://philpapers.org/rec/DEEPAI

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      These are medical and physiological matters exclusively. Why would anyone knowing anything about philosophy, religion or any other ideology have anything useful to say?

      It’s purely a matter of data.

      • Vaal
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

        Brain For Business,

        Whoah! Sorry, but I suggest you need to reign back those horses here. You have galloped off before the starting pistol even fired.

        Before you can start talking about the free will issue being “purely a matter of data” you first need a clear concept of what it is you are finding data to support or refute.

        Hence you need to be able to answer the question “What do you mean by Free Will?”

        THAT is the level at which the debate is generally taking place here. You don’t get to just skip over it and declare victory.

        Most people understand the concept of “free will” to entail “I could do/have done otherwise.”

        Now, when we ask; “To be clear, what precisely to you mean by being able to have done otherwise – under what circumstances?”
        Then we get different answers from various people and this impacts what the “free will” is they are talking about.

        Jerry C. for instance says that he means by free will “I could have done otherwise at precisely the same moment, with all causes/atoms/physical causes in the universe exactly as they were when I made my choice.”

        Well…naturally the answer is going to be “no, you could not have done otherwise given that criteria. It is just incoherent when you consider it’s very basis. If every cause is the same, even if some of those were inderterministic causes, we’d expect the same effect. But more important, it requires a ‘choice’ to occur that seems utterly random with respect to the “you” making the choice.”

        But then, if the criteria for establishing this form of “free will” is incoherent to begin with, how do you go finding “data” to support an incoherent proposition?

        But then let’s take the compatibilist version: That to say “I could have done otherwise” is an empirical claim in the same way we make all other empirical claims about the behavior of anything: it assumes some jiggling of variables. Hence “I chose to eat the burger for lunch, but I COULD HAVE eaten the hot dog instead, had I wanted to.” It’s just a mundane, everyday description of our powers. Can we gather data for THIS kind of free will claim? Yes, in exactly the way we text any other empirical claims: You could perform a series of tests, putting me in a very similar situation, asking me to choose either the hot dog or burger. I then show the ability to choose the burger sometimes, the hot dog other times. This would provide evidence for my claim that I could have chosen either one, depending on my desire.

        Are we replicating EXACTLY the physical circumstances of my first choice? No. But that’s not required by our claim, no more than it is required by investigating the nature of ANY OTHER empirical entity (otherwise, experiments would never support any hypothesis).

        So…which is it? What “free will” are you talking about when alluding to all your data?

        And, no, you don’t get to just declare your “free will” to be THE ONLY REAL idea of free will. That, too, is something you’d need to actually establish, not just assume for yourself.

        So, see, it isn’t so easy. (Well, unless someone makes it “easy” by just ignoring the arguments of others, which sometimes is the case).

        Cheers,

        Vaal

        • Jonathan Lee
          Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

          Sorry. I meant Vaal gives reasons why in his comment. I was speaking with Brain for Business.

        • Posted September 5, 2012 at 5:51 am | Permalink

          Hence “I chose to eat the burger for lunch, but I COULD HAVE eaten the hot dog instead, had I wanted to.” It’s just a mundane, everyday description of our powers. Can we gather data for THIS kind of free will claim?

          This is not really a free will claim… this is only your version of compatabilism’s redefinition of free will. As soon as you add on “had I wanted to” you create a non-sequitur. Free willists are not including any such disclaimer in their claim of free will, and you must stick with what the free willists are claiming when you try to engage in this subject, otherwise you are talking about something else (not the thing that free willists are claiming exists).

          I hope you can grasp that in order to actually be on topic you have to stay with the concept of free will that is asserted by free willists, even as incoherent as it may be.

          • Vaal
            Posted September 5, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

            nonfreewillist,

            Who are these “free willlists” that you speak of? Do you not understand that there have been libertarian, determinist/incompatibilist, compatibilist conceptions of “free will” throughought the history of careful thought on the subject?

            And since I believe free will is a legitimate concept, it follows I must be a “free willist” as well, so I’m quite entitled to defend this position.

            Or, do you wish to ignore the subject’s philosophical history and only point to the “average joe’s” conception of “free will?”

            If so, I’m waiting for you to actually demonstrate everyone has some “free will” concept that comports STRICTLY with what you are thinking of when you tell me of “freewillists.”

            Whereas I have given reasons before as to why our everyday claims of “I could have done otherwise” seem to comport with a compatibilist account. “I could eat the burger OR the hot dog” assumes a jiggling of variables to make sense in exactly the way our claim “this water could be made to freeze solid, or to be vaporized” assumes jiggling of variables.

            You just keep dismissing compatibilism on assumptions you don’t bother backing up.
            Which is too bad, as it can be an interesting subject, vs settling for the satisfaction of thinking you get another opportunity to diss someone’s “woo” again.

            Vaal

            • Posted September 5, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

              Vaal,

              I think it disingenuous for Compatibilist to make the factual claim that [Libertarian] Free Will is completely compatible Determinism, but only if on the back-end we agree do a new definition of Free Will.

              “Who are these “free willlists” that you speak of?”

              I think you know what Free Willists I speak of. If you don’t then you don’t really belong in this conversation. If you do know, then why play these word games about it?

              • Jonathan Lee
                Posted September 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

                Everyone agree that libertarian free will is incompatible with determinism. That is definition of libertarian free will. Compatibilists only say that humans are different from things like rocks: they make choices, even if choices are not libertarian free will. And sometimes people get brain damage and can’t make choices. But when they make choices, they have free will (but not libertarian free will). What is wrong with this?

              • Posted September 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                Well from the view point of trying to clearly describe life, the universe and everything, it pretty much fails on the basis that it makes no sense to call something free that is completely devoid of freedom.

                Let us not forget, we got into this “swamp” because pretty much everyone was under the mistaken notion (didn’t have the slightest doubt) that they operated via this libertarian free will. We are trying to unmask this illusion, and in order to do so we must be clear… there is no such thing as free will… any equivocating on this point will only serve to muddle the message to those we are trying to edify.

              • Jonathan Lee
                Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

                Plato said water was icosahedron formed by twenty equilateral triangles. People believed him but he was wrong. Now scientists say water is H20. We swapped beliefs. Water is H20. No one say there isn’t water. So even if people believe free will is libertarian free will, then discover we all don’t have it, that isn’t saying there is no free will. Maybe free will is what happens when people decide on coffee, not tea. Like water is what Plato and we drink. There is still water. Like this, even if there is no libertarian free will, maybe there is still free will.

              • Vaal
                Posted September 6, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

                nonfreewillist,

                “Well from the view point of trying to clearly describe life, the universe and everything, it pretty much fails on the basis that it makes no sense to call something free that is completely devoid of freedom.”

                So by the lights of your logic, in a deterministic universe it will never make sense to call anything “free.”

                Ok, so, how do you suggest we start replacing the term and concept “free” in our language and in our concepts?

                “I’m free Wednesday for dinner.”
                “The slaves were set free.”
                “The person was pulled free of the car wreckage.”
                “The rope swung freely.”
                “We ought to work toward the freedom of wrongly imprisoned persons.”
                “He is free of guilt”
                “He signed the contract of his own free will”
                “Mars rover Curiosity is now free of it’s tether line…”

                The examples are endless.

                But you say it makes no sense to describe something determined, which everything is in a determined universe, to be “free.”

                But wait…it DOES make sense. Because the use of the term “free” in all these cases are referents to real, existing states of affairs, that are described as different from other possible states of affairs (e.g. one would not describe the slaves as set free if they were still in chains).

                “Free” is still informative and descriptive, which is why we use it everywhere in our concepts and language.

                But if you want to say “it doesn’t make sanse” then you ought to tell us how to replace the word, and what words to use as short hand to describe what we currently use “free” to describe.

                Since incompatibilists rarely bother doing this, and inconsistently only demand we remove the idea of “freedom” from idea of human choice, I’m not holding my breath.

                Vaal

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

                Vaal,

                This is nothing more than so much conflation that only serves to obfuscate.

                Taking you at face value, and assuming that you are trying to engage in honest and open dialog I would say that pointing out that the human will is not libertarianly free does not oblige me or any other non-free willist to solve what appears to be for you very troubling issues concerning language.

                The conundrums of English idioms that you reference do not change the reality that free will is a myth/illusion.

              • Posted September 8, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

                Do you always take your definitions from theologians? Do you also let those who proclaim there is no morality without God define you as an amoral beast? Just asking.

              • Posted September 8, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

                Of course not… what does this have to do with the price of tea in china?

                Do you blame me for the free will illusion? That would be odd considering that I reject free willism, and speak up about the truth of there being no freedom to the human will.

              • Posted September 9, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

                So you don’t accept theologians’ definitions of morality. You probably don’t accept dualists’ definitions of “mind” and thereby conclude that, since there are no immaterial ghosts inside the organism, therefore people have no minds. And you probably don’t accept vitalists’ definition of “life”, either. Why then accept theology-and-dualism-colored definitions of “free will”? What makes “free will” special in that it alone must sink or swim attached to the ball and chain of metaphysical theories that people have concocted about it?

                Two hundred years ago, if you talked to average people on the street about the difference between living and nonliving things, the majority probably would have endorsed something very like the elan vital hypothesis, under the names “life force” or “breath of life”. And yet despite this widespread cognitive illusion having being refuted, life (pardon the pun) goes on.

              • Posted September 9, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

                Free willists aren’t necessarily theologians and all theologians aren’t necessarily free willists, so, what are you going on about?

              • Another Matt
                Posted September 9, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

                The life & elan vital analogy has run both ways in discussions on this site.

                Compatibilists have tended to map it this way:

                life : elan vital :: free will : contra-causation

                We can keep the concepts “life” and “free will,” but get rid of elan vital and contra-causation as necessary components thereof.

                “Incompatibilists” this way:

                life : elan vital :: behavior : free will

                Elan vital and free will are useless concepts and just get in the way.

              • Posted September 11, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

                Good point A.M., and we should address the question of which analogy is a better fit. Is free will like the concept of “life”, or is it an arcane theory like “elan vital”?

                If free will were like the concept of “life”, people would use it in practical business outside the academy and outside the church. Like, say, in courts. They would develop guidelines for judgments like “committed the crime of his own free will” or “signed the contract freely” which referred to things like the agent’s ability to understand right and wrong, and to apply that understanding to his actions. Things which were reasonably testable, not to the standards of physics or chemistry, but to those of psychology, say.

                Hmm – sound familiar?

              • Another Matt
                Posted September 11, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

                I guess there’s another approach I didn’t really think about, which is to claim that both “life” and “free will” are illusions.

                For that stance, “real life” would have elan vital and “real free will” would be contra-causal.

                Or, what we call “life” isn’t really life and what we call “free will” isn’t really free will, because at a fundamental level, it’s all just nonliving molecules reacting in the ways they were determined to.

                I haven’t seen anyone defend that stance on this site.

        • Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

          What definition of cancer, manic depression, or a tooth ache are we talking about?

          These are physiological systems. Everything is a working definition and heuristic since we are using words and words are generally non-referential until tagged to data.

          It appears they are mainly used to deceive and show loyalty to local social norms.

          To claim conceptual word play has any value outside of local norms is silly. Meaning? Even less.

          Do you want to talk about a tooth ache or do something about it?

          Surely a conceptual, philosophical, ideological argument about what is a tooth ache is more value than free will since, there is a lot more evidence for the former.

          • Vaal
            Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

            “Surely a conceptual, philosophical, ideological argument about what is a tooth ache is more value than free will since, there is a lot more evidence for the former.”

            Well, what can I do when your response entirely misses the point?

            You still haven’t defined “free will” conceptually. So how is it you can say “there is no evidence for X” when you don’t define what the heck X is?

            All reference to “conceptual word play” can be ignored as it is simply filler – an excuse not to engage with the arguments already given.

            Vaal

            (Sorry if that’s a bit snippy….sorry…but mere dismissals without actually showing how an argument is wrong gets wearying after a while).

            • Posted September 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

              Only someone paid by the word would request “a” definition. There are multiple ones. None of which can ever be useful unless they predict measurable events.

              Pick any definition and then go get data. Or look at the data and assume that’s what we have to explain and understand now.

              Semantics may or may not increase predictability — but predictability is all that counts. Pun intended.

              • Vaal
                Posted September 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

                Brain For Business,

                You dismiss free will as not having any evidence in it’s favor. Yet you refuse to simply explain what you mean by “free will.”

                How anyone who espouses the importance of empiricism can ignore the importance of being clear about what it is you are investigating…let alone make any argument about it…is beyond me.

                BFB: “Pick any definition and then go get data.”

                I already have. Over and over and over in these threads and in particular to you in my first reply to you.

                Free Will means I am “free” to do an action if it is my “will” (desire) to do so. (That’s why those words “free” and “will” are together). And that this action is an expression of “my” desires and deliberation.

                I ate cheerios this morning. I did it of my own free will insofar as I was not forced or coerced to do so, and I could have chosen to do otherwise, like eat Wheaties instead.

                On this account, saying “I could have chosen otherwise” is a standard empirical claim of the type of being I am, a claim about my powers and nature during the time I made my choice of cereals.

                Like EVERY OTHER EMPIRICAL CLAIM DESCRIBING THE NATURE OF AN ENTITY this necessarily assumes some level of abstraction and inference – a jiggling of variables to get at understanding my powers. Essentially, that under very similar circumstances, introducing salient variables like “If I had wanted to choose the Wheaties instead” I had the physical powers to have eaten the Wheaties.

                Exactly the same for a scientific claim like “This water could have frozen if the temperature dropped OR it could have been vaporized had the temperature been hot enough.”

                How do you gather data and test my claim?
                The same as any other empirical claim: test me. Put me in a situation similar to this morning and see whether I can indeed choose the Wheaties in some portion of the test and the cheerios in the other. I’ll be able to do this. You’ll have your data supporting my claim that I could have chosen the Wheaties instead.

                If it is somehow illegitimate to make claims in this way, if it’s not really “talking about reality,” then you have thrown out the very empirical basis for everything else you are claiming. Because science relies on JUST THESE types of claims and inferences and tests to make it’s claims. A scientist tells us “This water can freeze solid at temperatures below 0 degrees C, or it can vaporize in temperatures above 100 degrees C..”

                What is this claim based upon? It’s an abstraction about the real nature of water taken from observations of previous freezing and evaporating events – since you can never PERFECTLY reproduce the same event your claims are extrapolations from sets of similar events.

                The claim: “I could choose the cheerios or the Wheaties” is exactly of this empirical nature – it’s an extrapolation from the data, and can be tested empirically.

                You put out the challenge. I’ve answered it.

                Ball’s in your court…
                :-)

                Vaal.

              • Posted September 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

                Empty word play.

                1. If free will were such a robust phenomena it should be relatively easy to find in the brains of humans and other animals. What animals would and wouldn’t have it?
                2. The definition is tied to physiological processes. Free will is whatever is or is not measurable.

                If anything approaching free will exists it would be a brain process descended from earlier animals so should be evident there without the word play.

                The rest is idle chit chat.

                We are talking apples and footballs. But your talk has no predictive value — except of maybe more talk.

              • Vaal
                Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                Brain For Business,

                The problem is your responses don’t really engage the exact points being made, and your replies tend to be ill-defined. So it’s hard to know what it is you are actually asking for.

                1. If free will were such a robust phenomena it should be relatively easy to find in the brains of humans and other animals. What animals would and wouldn’t have it?

                People make choices between alternatives. This is empirically obvious and verifiable – just look at people doing it anywhere. And before ever looking into a brain, that is all you need to justify “could have done otherwise” claims of the nature I have described. Going further, we can examine the brain to see brain states associated with making these choices as well, if you desire. What else are you looking for, some “free will” neon-sign in the brain?

                If anything approaching free will exists it would be a brain process descended from earlier animals so should be evident there without the word play.

                Yes, free will evolved in stages, as animals evolved ever more complex responses to the environment – more choices of how to evade what they don’t want and get what they want. That is why Dennett’s book on the subject is called “Freedom EVOLVES.” You criticize him like you read his work on free will, but then make statements that imply you have not.

                Vaal.

              • Posted September 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

                This is simple. Post any peer-reviewed primary research to support any of your claims.

                Let’s start with animals making conscious choices. Now these occur in seconds, not milliseconds. Agreed?

                In a process as robust and necessary as free will proponents claim, it should be a fundamental survival mechanism from eons ago well before language. Well before H Sapiens. Agreed?

                So you’re looking for measurable cortical events occurring over seconds before action is taken in a mammal or primate. There also has to be some traveling of the signal back and forth to “higher” parts of the brain – processing – and lower parts – action direction.

                This is basic bench science. No need to even touch on human processes.

                Now I posted a piece of research showing visual triggering of behavior occurring without conscious processing. So find a counter study to that.

                Study the science, ignore airport books by philosophers. Learn something.

      • Jonathan Lee
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

        Why do you think philosophy is “any other ideology”? I think philosophy is people arguing about things so everyone see who has the better form of argument. Your argument is:

        (1) Free will is medical/physiological matter.
        (2) Philosophy does not say anything useful about medical/physiological matters.
        (3) So philosophy does not say anything useful about free will.

        But (1) is false. Brain for Business gives reasons why in his comment. So then, (3) is false.

        Maybe all of these philosophers don’t have understanding of medical/physiological matters. But it seems that they can say something about free will.

        • Posted September 5, 2012 at 4:38 am | Permalink

          What they say is meaningless, since it has no empirical referent, but it is just ideology = normative, local social word play in support of statements with no evidence.

          Ideology is always wishful thinking. It is wishful thinking to propose a statement with no data supporting it is meaningful.

          • Vaal
            Posted September 5, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

            “What they say is meaningless, since it has no empirical referent,”,

            That is just wildly untrue. Go look at Dan Dennett’s books on Consciousness, the implications of Evolution and Free Will.
            They are not only full of empirical reference to the science, they are examinations of the IMPLICATIONS of the science.

            Many philosophers do the same. And looking at the implications of empirical observation has been part of philosophy since it began.

            Further, what you just claimed – that what philosophers say is meaningless because it has no empirical referent – was you doing philosophy. It’s a conceptual claim about what constitutes “meaning” (and implies “knowledge,” exactly the realm of philosophical issues. But if we are to disdain philosophy, why take your philosophical claim seriously?

            Many people who have a disdain for philosophy fall into doing philosophy anyway because it is unavoidable – philosophy often concerns uncovering the assumptions underlying the things we claim and believe. But if we do philosphy while refusing to acknowledge it’s worth, then we end up doing it poorly – because we won’t consider the philosophical arguments against our position worthwhile. So we don’t grapple with the errors in our arguments.

            And portraying philosophy as always “wishful thinking” is so wrong…well…it’s just not trying.

            At first I thought Jerry Coyne simply rejected the worth of philosophy, but I’ve come to think he has a pretty good balance of being wary of philosophy’s shortcomings while acknowledging it’s worth in some areas.

            Vaal

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

              Dennett’s book = argument by authority. His ideas that are not empirically based can be dismissed as ideology as well.

              Ascribing ideological meaning to words is just rhetorical trick. Words don’t matter — math does.

              Philosophy is a dead language like religion. That’s just the way it is.

              What statements in philosophy are predictive of anything that can be measured in physical reality? Of course, then it’s not philosophy anymore.

              We don’t need to philosophize about important matters anymore and what is philosophized about is worthless ideology and local beliefs and word play. Our Jerry has a different view.

              Still, show me the data. Talking about words is silly. Talking about data is useful.

              • Vaal
                Posted September 5, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

                Ok, since your replies take the forms of dismissals rather than arguments, this line of the conversation has gone dead.

                Vaal

              • Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

                Without data, there is nothing to discuss.

              • Vaal
                Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                “Without data, there is nothing to discuss.”

                Without knowing what it is you are trying to understand through data, the data is useless.

                “Listen, I want you to provide me data supporting the existence of BRONKY”

                “Ok, but first, what do you mean by BRONKY?”

                “Who cares? Don’t pester me with such nonsense philosophical questions. You’ve either got the data for it or not!”

                You’d view this as asinine in any other context, so why do you allow yourself to ask for data for free will while showing no concern at all in pinning down what you mean by the term?

                Which is why this conversation has been useless without your making that step.

                Vaal

              • couchloc
                Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

                Vaal clearly has the best of Brain For Business here. The latter is merely adopting a specific view about the subject (“what’s meaningful is what’s tied to data”) that is philosophical in nature, while asserting the
                unimportance of philosophy at the same time. There is no empirical data that supports your claim that “what’s meaningful depends on data” since this very claim is a conceptual definition, as Vaal has explained. You can use whatever definitions you want. But don’t complain that it’s philosophers who are the ones playing games with words.

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

                Well sure. All words are self-referential,locally normatively confined and deceptive.

                Data is just more inter-subjective and, much more, predictive of things happening. That’s all. The error term on data is knowlable — on words it seems infinite.

                Again, what prediction has philosophy-theology-ideology ever made that’s proven out — without data?

                My only interest is in learning something I don’t know, hopefully where what I have learned already is wrong. “Winning” arguments is uninteresting. Learning something new is always exciting, for me. Learning something new about the brain is the most fun.

  29. tnadelhoffer
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Dear Professor Coyne,

    First, I am curious whether you take yourself to be relying on some combination of the ad hominem fallacy and the guilt by association fallacy every time you mention that Nahmias has received funding from the Templeton Foundation. It would make more sense, from the standpoint of both logic and professionalism, just to attack Nahmias’s arguments rather than trying to impugn his motives. If you think that the source of Nahmias’s funding is relevant to the discussion then I, for one, would really like to hear precisely why.

    Second and relatedly, it’s worth pointing out that your claim that it’s unsurprising that the Templeton Foundation supports researchers who lobby for compatibilism is…well, surprising. After all, your own argument is crucially based on the empirical claim that the folk concept of free will is incompatibilist, dualist, etc.–a view which you suggest is driven by the Christian world view (i.e., the official view of the Templeton Foundation). But then wouldn’t the Templeton Foundation be fishing for evidence for dualism, incompatibilism, etc.? If so, why would they give $4 million in funding to a group of researchers who are predominantly either compatibilists (like Nahmias) or free will skeptics (like me, Haggard, Wheatley, and others)? If your Templeton conspiracy theory were true, one would expect fewer compatibilists and skeptics and more libertarians. Of course, once we look at the actual views of the folks who got funding through Mele’s BQFW, it revels what’s wrong with the way you try to use Nahmias’s funding to undermine his views–which is presumably why you didn’t bother to either look at or mention these details.

    As a free will skeptic and atheist who (a) has frequently collaborated with Nahmias, and (b) happens to also currently be funded by Templeton through Mele’s BQFW Project, I think it’s quite clear that your argumentative strategy is dependent upon on a number of questionable assumptions both about Nahmias’s motives and the way BQFW funding was dispensed. And I have just finished writing a book chapter that criticizes both Mele and Nahmias and presents some new evidence that partly supports your claims about folk dualism and libertarianism. So, it’s not like I am just towing the line for Jesus, the Templeton Foundation, Nahmias, compatibilists, or anyone else. But the thinly veiled strategy of character assassination that you adopt in this piece–whereby Nahmias is dismissed as a Templeton Foundation shill for compatibilist free will (see above for why this doesn’t make much sense)–is distasteful and distracting.

    My advice is to focus on Nahmias’s arguments (and not the irrelevant source of his funding)–arguments which crucially depend on data from experimental philosophy and social psychology which you claim you will address in a follow up post. I, for one, look forward to these follow-up criticisms–especially if they are presented in a non-fallacious way that strikes at the substance of the disagreement between you and Nahmias. At the end of the day, I, too, ultimately disagree with Nahmias and compatibilists more generally. But I prefer to use both arguments and evidence to make my case.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 2:56 am | Permalink

      Did you even READ the piece? The vast bulk of it is devoted to Nahmias’s argument, and I mention Templeton only twice, as sponsors of his talk ant the U of C and as the people who run the site where he sponsored the essay. He himself mentioned the program that sponsored his book, not I, and I didn’t even highlight that, nor know about it until a reader sent it in. This was to show the kind of work that Templeton sponsors, somethng in which I’ve been interested and will post about today. But I’ve criticized Nahmias not on the basis of his funding, but of his ideas. You seem extraordinarily defensive about Templeton, since you mention it eight times.
      As for why Templeton sponsors such research and why it’s on their agenda, see the post today (Wednesday) about the Chronicle piece.

      • tnadelhoffer
        Posted September 5, 2012 at 4:54 am | Permalink

        Dear Professor Coyne,

        I did indeed read your entire piece. That’s precisely why I wrote the comment. You, on the other hand, seem not have read the comment I wrote very carefully. I wasn’t claiming that you were relying exclusively on fallacious character assassinations to make your case. I was merely pointing out that the fallacious ad hominems and guilt by associations you do use are distracting, distasteful, and unprofessional. Yet, rather than unapologetically owning up to the fact that you were at least partly trying to undermine Nahmias’s argument by mentioning the source of his funding–which is what I naively expected you to do–you deny you were trying to get any argumentative mileage out of the references to Templeton at all. Really?

        Let me get this straight, when you called Nahmias an “apostle of free will” in the title and then mention his Templeton funding in the first paragraph, you weren’t trying to suggest that Nahmias is a shill for free will right from the start?

        Similarly, you make the following claims:

        “Here’s a 5-minute video of Nahmias speaking at my university (I didn’t hear the talk) under the “Defining Wisdom” program, which was sponsored by a $3 million grant from—guess who?—The Templeton Foundation. Templeton, of course, is wholly in favor of compatibilism; the idea we have free will comports completely with their religion-loves-science agenda.”

        Setting aside the confusion that besets your conspiracy theory when it comes to Templeton and compatibilism, do you honestly expect your readers to believe that this comment was in no way supposed to impugn Nahmias’s motivations for writing about compatibilism, free will, and recent advances in science?

        You’re either being dense or disingenuous. Given that I respect your work as a general rule–and hence I don’t think you were being so dense as to be unaware you were peddling fallacies–I will assume you’re just being disingenuous.

        That said, I look forward to your posts on Templeton funding and on the data from experimental philosophy and social psychology on folk intuitions about free will. I hope they shed more light than heat.

        • Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

          Experimental philosophy is an oxymoron. If there is evidence and data — it is “science” not philosophy.

          Isn’t “dense and disingenuous”
          1. Abusive adhominem – which you know well enough?
          2. Imputation of motives, which is unknowable?

          In fact, given the best research, motives are unknowable even by the “knower.”

          Templeton Foundation is a bully in billionaire clothing. Using money in place of evidence and slick salesmanship to degrade the ideas and principals of scholarship.

          We don’t need to impugn anything the correlation seems causal. Big money from ideological billionaire > “scholarly” work on metaphysical treatment of physiological matters. 2 + 2 = ?

          “Follow the money.”

          • Gray
            Posted September 8, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

            Science without philosophy is an oxymoron. This idea that science is ‘purely empirical’ is a dogma and a nonsense, and by extension so is your idea that philosophy cannot be empirical.

            Furthermore you’ve merely re-pedalled the same ad-hominem that Nadelhoffer suggests Coyne refrain from. If you believe the work isn’t “scholarly” then explain why it’s not scholarly. Offer an academic critique of the work itself. Be ‘aware’ of the money, follow it by all means, but don’t use that as an excuse not to engage in scholarship yourself.

            • Posted September 9, 2012 at 12:47 am | Permalink

              “Science without philosophy is an oxymoron.”

              Actually, at it’s most fundamental level, science completely evades all, and requires no, philosophical understanding. Try postulating a philosophical explanation, for example, for why the universe exists. At the level of textbook-standard “shut up and calculate” physics, as Bohr, Heisenberg and others were quick to remind their field, philosophy is at best inconsequential and at worst a useless distraction.

              • Gray
                Posted September 9, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

                At its most fundamental level the decision to undertake science itself, the very epistemology upon which the conduct of science rests, is necessarily philosophical. You can shut up and calculate all you want, but the mere act of deciding to do so is a value judgement, not an empirical concern. Since you seem so intent on breaking things down to their ‘fundamental level’ afterall.

              • Posted September 9, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

                That’s a statement like “god directs all actions.”

                According to your definition then, animals need philosophy.

                You are merely saying any human enterprise needs to use word. That’s trivial like philosophy.

                What brain research has proven is that action does not require forethought and certainly not word play around concepts and ideology. It’s all post hoc and local social norm behavior.

              • Posted September 9, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

                “At its most fundamental level the decision to undertake science itself, the very epistemology upon which the conduct of science rests, is necessarily philosophical.”

                Where are you getting this stuff? Science began as a practical endeavor (i.e. the attempt to transform base metals into gold), and is still overwhelmingly concerned with functional utility.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_science#Early_cultures

              • Gray
                Posted September 9, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                George: To make statements about ‘facts’ or ‘truths’ first requires an epistemological basis from which such claims are made. This is necessarily a philosophical position. The very notion that empirical facts can be determined is a philosophical position, you can’t prove empiricism empirically. The fact you don’t seem to understand this is worrying, particularly because of the apparent certainty with which you hold your opinions. It’d be hoped that you understand the ultimate basis for them.

                Brain for business: No idea how you draw that parallel there. Nevertheless, even if it is trivial the error of your original post remains and I was simply pointing it out.

              • Posted September 9, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

                “To make statements about ‘facts’ or ‘truths’ first requires an epistemological basis from which such claims are made.”

                Without change, the universe would be completely static, and nothing would happen. Change is an expression of causality. That is how basic causality is to the universe, and to human understanding.

                “The very notion that empirical facts can be determined is a philosophical position, you can’t prove empiricism empirically.”

                According to that perspective, nothing can be “proven.” However, a universally epistemological conclusion regarding the absolute necessity for causality can be considered, as described above, a priori, or axiomatic. It is therefore at the most fundamental level of epistemology, or, more colloquially, the agreed upon meaning necessary for any and all discourse.

                That the universe exists is hardly an epistemological conclusion, self-evident and indisputable as it is. That it changes is similarly self-evident. That causality if the basis for any and all change is, again self-evident. There’s your required “proof.”

                With it, game over for free will.

              • Gray
                Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:01 am | Permalink

                “That the universe exists is hardly an epistemological conclusion, self-evident and indisputable as it is.”

                What? Your whole ‘existence’ could be nothing more than a simulation. You could spend your life uncovering the laws of the simulation and be completely wrong about its origin and its ‘true’ nature. That the Universe exists is about as self evident as others proclaim free will to be. Indisputable it is not. You cannot PROVE empirically that the Universe exists because empiricism first assumes that it does. It is a vicious circle. What you CAN do is make a philosophical argument that it does in fact exist, or that we should assume it does, and use that to support whatever empirical findings are made thereafter. Science necessarily has a philosophical underpinning. To ignore that is pure dogma.

                “That it changes is similarly self-evident. That causality if the basis for any and all change is, again self-evident. There’s your required “proof.”

                How flippantly you use the word self evident! The irony is of course that your apriori argument is precisely a philosophical argument, not an empirical proof. It’s also a rather poor one that commits a basic logical fallacy, in that it begs the question. That causality is the basis for ANY and ALL change is about as ‘self evident’ as claiming all swans are white. It’s precisely what’s in question. There is a reason why theoretical physicists are so sharply divided on the question of determinacy/indeterminacy. The debate is still very much alive because it is still very much there to be had. We appear to have come across black swans my friend.

                No one is denying causality or its importance. So merely pointing to it and offering it as ‘proof’ that it is ALL there is, boils down to nothing more than a bare assertion. For someone who professes not to need a lick of philosophy it appears you could benefit from a 101 in logic.

              • Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:49 am | Permalink

                “You cannot PROVE empirically that the Universe exists because empiricism first assumes that it does…The irony is of course that your apriori argument is precisely a philosophical argument, not an empirical proof.”

                The meaning, utility, and absolute necessity of axiom and a priori fact within science quite clearly escapes your appreciation. Please take some time to grasp their meaning.

              • Gray
                Posted September 10, 2012 at 2:24 am | Permalink

                Haha on the contrary my friend. Your inability to see them as necessarily philosophical is what has escaped YOUR understanding. You’ve never really thought about them have you? You just kind of accepted them as ‘self evident’. You’ve again merely demonstrate how you could benefit by reading a little philosophy.

              • Posted September 10, 2012 at 5:00 am | Permalink

                Gray,

                I’m obviously not reaching you. Good luck with your endeavors regarding the nature of human will.

        • Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

          “Let me get this straight, when you called Nahmias an “apostle of free will” in the title and then mention his Templeton funding in the first paragraph, you weren’t trying to suggest that Nahmias is a shill for free will right from the start?”

          Your distracting allegation that Coyne engaged in ad hominem is dismissed firstly by reference to knowledge of our unfree human nature, and a well known quote by Upton Sinclair that ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’ It is dismissed secondly, and far more strongly, by reference to the standard, quite moral and arguably necessary journalistic practice of providing the kind of full disclosure that enables readers to evaluate a person’s assertions within a relevant framework or perspective. For example, had Nahmias been a fundamentalist preacher, understanding this fact would undoubtedly help readers better understand his perspective.

          Knowing that Nahmias and you are professional colleagues, and perhaps also good friends, helps me understand, and be more forgiving of, your inordinate zeal in defending him. I trust you would not also label as ad hominem my suggesting this connection between the two of you, as a way of helping readers better understand your motives.

          Reflecting on the above, not incidentally, is a good way to understand a major personal and societal benefit of our overcoming the illusion of free will. To the extent we do, we more intuitively and responsibly seek out causes for why we do what we do, and invariably benifit from greater understanding and greater compassion.

  30. Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    What we have is nothing more complicated then a few older, irrelevant and obsolete white guys, fighting a desperate rearguard action for some old, irrelevant and obsolete ideas using really old, obsolete and irrelevant books. That’s all.

  31. Eddy Nahmias
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Dear Prof. Coyne, there is a lot to say in response to your criticisms of my arguments, and I won’t try to do it all right now. I hope people will read what I actually write, rather than just your interpretations of it. (In addition to the links you kindly provide, readers might be interested in my review of Sam Harris’ book Free Will here: http://bigquestionsonline.com/comment/586#comment-586)

    Like you, I am a naturalist who believes that humans evolved by natural selection and whose minds (including consciousness) are products of our brains (though I am not as reductionistic as you and think the mind-body debate is more complex than suggested by your conclusion that we are best understood as “meat computers”). I do not believe in God or immaterial souls. I do not think we have supernatural powers to act outside the natural laws or to magically create ourselves from scratch. If one stipulates that “free will” is, or requires, such supernatural (or even impossible) powers, then I agree we lack free will.

    I simply think that this stipulated definition is inaccurate as a definition that best accords with ordinary usage and intuitions and useless as a theoretical term that helps us understand and describe human action and our practices of interpreting behavior and holding each other morally and legally responsible. And I think I have good evidence for these claims, evidence you obviously find dubious. Perhaps I can discuss this evidence more, including the cases I have used that test almost exactly the descriptions you use in your USAToday article and in this post to suggest that people share your definition of “free will”.

    For now, I will just point out that I think you wildly exaggerate the implications of rejecting supernaturalism and accepting naturalism, or if not, you use metaphors that suggest such exaggeration: “we’re puppets performing scripted parts written by the laws of physics,” we’re all “victims of circumstance”, the idea of “me” is an illusion, etc. And though it’s an empirical prediction, I predict that such proclamations do not help advance the goals of opening people’s eyes to the truth of naturalism or of creating a more just political and legal system.

    In my view, it is better to explain (theoretically and scientifically) how we have those powers of self-control and rational decision-making that we do in fact have (and as I openly and often say–even at Templeton forums!–those powers may be shown to be much more limited than we think, and that’s the real scientific challenge to free will), rather than throwing out the baby of these natural capacities with the bathwater of the supernatural powers we agree humans lack.

    [You can cut from post, but please use my name and not "Namiah".]

    • Eddy Nahmias
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Oops, I put the wrong link for my review of Harris. It should be: http://www.thephilosophersmagazine.com/TPM/article/view/15359/12081

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

      “I am not as reductionistic as you and think the mind-body debate is more complex than suggested by your conclusion that we are best understood as “meat computers”

      By the above you are questioning the validity of determinism, or the law of cause and effect. However complex our mind and body may be, they are governed by causality. To challenge this conclusion affords no prospect for a free will because an acausal, or random, mind-body event would certainly not have been caused by a human will, free or otherwise.

      “If one stipulates that “free will” is, or requires, such supernatural (or even impossible) powers, then I agree we lack free will. I simply think that this stipulated definition is inaccurate as a definition that best accords with ordinary usage and intuitions”

      By such statements you seem not to appreciate that both determinism and indeterminism, causality and acausality, order and randomness, equally and fully prohibit free will, and, most importantly, there exists no third alternative to these dichotomies, either conceptually or empirically. To suggest such an alternative exists is to, de facto, appeal to the supernatural.

      By “ordinary usage” and “intuitions,” you are actually describing the illusion of free will, as experienced by those under its influence. Coyne rightly explains how and why such characterizations of human will are scientifically and conceptually impossible, regardless of how commonly held they may be.

      • Posted September 6, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

        George, I hope that nobody takes your completely logical challenge to Eddy Nahmias’ thesis as rude dismissal. The least of which being Mr. Nahmias himself.

        It will be interesting to see if this environmental input (your post) into his matrix of causal determinants will result in a change in his belief system. Will he abandon his thesis?

        • Posted September 6, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

          Direct and devastating, yes, but why would anyone take the challenge as rude?

          Nahmias will likely maintain his position nonetheless. As director of the Exploring the Illusion of Free Will project, I’ve investigated the free will belief phenomena enough to conclude arguments for it derive not from reason, but from desire (for meaning and credit)and fear (of society crumbling by our not being able to manage the truth of our determined human will.

          I also predict that, because of the emotional foundation for his thesis, Nahmias will probably ignore the challenge or mis-characterize its points and salience. He is, of course, not to be faulted for what his genetics and conditioning, or more generally causality, have compelled of him. And that is good.

          • Posted September 6, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

            He posted a good article worth reading.

            Summary
            When humans are engaged in goal-related process- ing, activity in prefrontal cortex is increased. However, it has remained unclear whether this pre- frontal activity encodes a subject’s current intention.

            Instead, increased levels of activity could reflect preparation of motor responses, holding in mind a set of potential choices, tracking the memory of previous responses, or general processes related to establishing a new task set. Here we study subjects who freely decided which of two tasks to perform and covertly held onto an intention during a variable delay. Only after this delay did they perform the chosen task and indicate which task they had prepared. We demon- strate that during the delay, it is possible to decode from activity in medial and lateral regions of prefrontal cortex which of two tasks the subjects were covertly intending to perform. This suggests that covert goals can be represented by distributed patterns of activity in the prefrontal cortex, thereby providing a potential neural substrate for prospective memory.

            During task execution, most information could be de- coded from a more posterior region of prefrontal cortex, suggesting that different brain regions encode goals during task preparation and task execution. De- coding of intentions was most robust from the medial prefrontal cortex, which is consistent with a specific role of this region when subjects reflect on their own mental states.”

            He comment when he posted seems balanced. I will listen to the vid.

      • Gray
        Posted September 8, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        Challenging determinism and challenging the law of cause and effect are not synonymous. A proponent of quantum indeterminacy, for example, may accept the necessity of ’cause and effect’ at the macro level while also accepting the existence of true randomness at the micro level.

        Furthermore your claim that there are no ‘third options’ that don’t appeal to the supernatural is incorrect. There are theories of free will that incorporate both necessity and indeterminacy, in a ‘two stage model’. The psychologist and philosopher William James proposed such a model. The astrophysicist Bob Doyle along with scholars like Martin Heisenberg have also advocated similar theories.
        http://www.informationphilosopher.com/

        • Posted September 9, 2012 at 12:39 am | Permalink

          “Challenging determinism and challenging the law of cause and effect are not synonymous.”

          Determinism is the application of predictive correlates to the underlying law of causality it determinism expresses.

          Quantum indeterminancy, in the sense of uncaused particle activity, does not exist. It is a mistaken conclusion lacking both conceptual and empirical substance. If you doubt this, try to explain the nature of an uncaused event, and you will discover for yourself the absurdity of such a claim.

          “Furthermore your claim that there are no ‘third options’ that don’t appeal to the supernatural is incorrect.”

          When I say there is no third option to causality and acausality, I mean there there is no rational or scientific third option, notwithstanding whatever nonsense has been advanced by whomever. If you wish to champion the third option claim, as with indeterminacy, try explaining it. You’ll quickly discover yourself in a sea of confusion of your own making.

          • Gray
            Posted September 9, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

            firstly you seem to understand the implications of QM much better than the broader scientific consensus. I could be charitable and ascribe this to your own individual genius, or it could just be hubris. you do seem to have an extraordinary faith in the potential of our evolvING fleshy brains to wholly capture the intricate nuance of reality, right here and now, conceptually and linguistically, since you suggest if it can’t be explained right here and now it is nonsense and cannot possibly be true. of course this is a familiar line pedaled at various times throughout history. hubris isn’t merely a contemporary problem.

            As to whether there is a third option between causality and acausality your implication was that it was an either/or question. The standard argument against free will, we all know what it is. I’m suggesting there is a third option, a both/and. Why don’t you try reading ideas before you dismiss them, I find it helps avoid this hubris problem we spoke of earlier. i gave you a link. bob doyle is a harvard astrophysicist who has spent much of his life grappling with the free will question, both the philosophy and science. far from an appeal to authority, i’m merely pointing out that he might deserve more than a cursory “nonsense because I don’t know about it!” shrug of your shoulders? it is of course up to you. you’re free to have it all figured out if you so choose :P

            • Posted September 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

              “I’m suggesting there is a third option, a both/and. Why don’t you try reading ideas before you dismiss them,”

              I have, and found them sheer nonsense. I guessed you wouldn’t try to explain or defend the contention yourself, and was right. The more I debate free will believers (and I’ve been at this for over a decade) the more I find that as you begin to lose the argument, you shift to some or another manner of blame or insult. The reaction is now so common and expected it arouses curiosity rather than bother.

  32. V. Alan White
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    It ought be acknowledged that dualism is neither necessary nor sufficient for incompatibilist belief. A dualist Hobbesian compatibilism demonstrates the latter; a materialism ala Robert Kane’s event-cause libertarianism demonstrates the former. Dualism is nothing here except as a side issue about what the hoi polloi accept, and ought be put aside as insignificant for what “free will” is.

  33. Alex SL
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    Not sure if this thread still has life in it, but I would like to say that this discussion was very interesting, insightful and civilized despite the long-running underlying controversy. This site is really one of my favourite hangouts on the intertubes.

    One small thing I might add, in the light of some comments concerned with meaning and language that I found above, is that the German word for voluntary is “freiwillig” (free-willed). So in my native language, I have to use the term free will whenever I need to express that somebody has done an act without being coerced into it at by somebody else.

    This just to demonstrate why some of us may not necessarily consider “free will” as badly contaminated with dualist implications as many incompatibilists here do.

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

      Alex,

      This is interesting to know about the German language. I have often thought about the curious effect on language that the free will illusion has caused (language coming into being under the sway of the free will illusion). As you can tell from the long running controversy, the built-in assumption of libertarian free will, tinges/effects almost all of the lexicon of human behavior.

      I am curious, how widespread would you say the belief in free will is for speakers of German? Is it possible for them to conceive of free will as only being an illusion/mirage when experienced first hand and a myth when talked about?

      Very interesting indeed.

      • Alex SL
        Posted September 5, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

        As far as I am concerned, this is all about meaning of words and language. Both sides (here at least) agree on determinism and monism. The difference boils down to one side thinking that words like “free will” and “decision” necessarily imply dualism, and one side saying they don’t (and in fact, as above, arguing that a sentence like “we are just puppets of biochemistry” betrays the truly dualist stance).

        I have no idea how many % of German speakers are dualists but would assume them not to be that different from English speakers. With Hume, I think that while many people would unthinkingly claim to believe in dualist free will, nobody actually does. Nobody really, truly believes that our and others’ decisions are independent from our character and previous experiences, after all, or we would not be able to interact with other people at all.

        • Posted September 5, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

          “The difference boils down to one side thinking that words like “free will” and “decision” necessarily imply dualism, and one side saying they don’t”

          The issue of dualism is inconsequential to the question of human will because regardless of whether we define a human choice as material or spiritual, it must take place within a precise and specific moment along the universal time line. If a choice occupies a space within time, it must be subject to the physical laws of nature, and to the causal process. This is especially true when considered alongside Einstein’s explanation that space and time are best understood as a single entity that in physics is referred to as space-time.

        • Posted September 6, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

          Alex,

          “With Hume, I think that while many people would unthinkingly claim to believe in dualist free will, nobody actually does.”

          I do not concur… I am confident that a majority of people actually do believe (or are deluded by) the illusion to be real. One thing that leads to such confidence is the existence of the unabashed legitimacy that is given to the behavior of retributive punishment/harm. The idea that it is valid to make someone suffer because they deserve to suffer because they have transgressed in some matter.

          “Nobody really, truly believes that our and others’ decisions are independent from our character and previous experiences, after all, or we would not be able to interact with other people at all.”

          Well, here in this statement you conflate many different elements producing a muddling of notions that individually may or may not be true. For example, many free willists are quite on board with claims that character is something individuals are able to freely control and that people are rightly held responsible for not having the right character. And while many a free willist is hard pressed to deny that environmental inputs can have an influence to “some degree”, but they are still firm in believing in the “veto power” of free will… (some compatibilist(s) I think even put forth the term “free won’t”). Really, truly.

  34. DV
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I just read Nahmias and I agree with him.

    I think some highlighting of the situational nature of free will, and the idea of free will in the context of an environment of competing wills, would also help to clarify the compatibilist notion.

  35. Posted September 5, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    “Free will can be understood as our capacities both to make choices—to write our own stories—and to carry them out on the world’s stage—to control our actions in light of our choices.”

    Nahmias loses the argument in his introduction. If factors outside of our control, like our unconscious, are either taking part in, or are completely responsible for, our choices, our will is not free. More technically, since the causal regression that precedes all choices spans back to before the “chooser” was born, it is not even right to say we are actually making a choice. We simply play out the roles fate has causally decreed for us, without even opportunity to interpret these roles.

    That causality and the unconscious completely and unequivocally refute free will is so difficult for some academic philosophers to understand or accept has become the more salient question; one over-ripe for inquiry.

    • Vaal
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      “Nahmias loses the argument in his introduction. If factors outside of our control, like our unconscious, are either taking part in, or are completely responsible for, our choices, our will is not free.”

      Me thinks you are “making yourself too small.”

      Why do you assume our unconscious does not constitute part of “us?” If MY unconscious is involved in decision making, it’s MY unconscious and still ME making the decision.
      Not you. Not someone else.

      “More technically, since the causal regression that precedes all choices spans back to before the “chooser” was born, it is not even right to say we are actually making a choice. “

      This is a fallacy some of us have pointed out before.

      Humans have choice-making cognitive apparatus. Our nervous system takes in information about the environment, collates it with our desires, and rationalizes about which actions will fulfill our desires given the info we have, which often involves modelling the various choice scenarios and likely outcomes, and choosing between the possible actions. Even IF some portion is done unconsciously vs consciously, this still describes the overall cognitive assets of human beings.

      Surely you would not deny these features of human beings? And how this would separate us from, say, rocks and trees?

      Yes we are influenced by other causes…but insofar as those other or previous causes are not able to make “choices” as described, it is silly to ascribe OUR choices to things that can not make choices.

      You are setting up an infinite regress ONLY for the physics of human choice making that you would recognize as folly anywhere else.
      I gave an example of this before: “Rabies caused the man’s death.” The fact someone can point out that the rabies was preceded by causal regression spanning to before the rabies existed does not cause us to say “Therefore it’s not even right to say rabies is actually causing anyone’s death.”

      Right? Imagine how bereft we would be of understanding about anything if we did not pick out specific entities as causes along this endless causal chain.

      So either you remain consistent and throw out all science…given science identifies
      specific causes even though it’s part of a longer causal chain…or you are being inconsistent in making this criticism of human choice making.

      Vaal

      • Posted September 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

        “Why do you assume our unconscious does not constitute part of “us?””

        Our unconscious is certainly a part of us, but not one we can control, or are even aware of, by definition, in real time. The question of free will revolves around the issue of conscious control. If we don’t have it, we can’t have a free will.

        “Humans have choice-making cognitive apparatus.”

        If the chain of cause and effect that results in any and all choice precedes our birth, and even the birth of our planet, our “cognitive apparatus” is only playing out a choice that was actually made for it. As such, human “choice” is only a colloquial figure of speech.

        “Surely you would not deny these features of human beings? And how this would separate us from, say, rocks and trees?”

        Causality rules the entire universe, and human beings are not exempt from that fundamental law of nature. With regard to the nature or origin of our actions, we are essentially no different from rocks or trees or the wind.

        “Therefore it’s not even right to say rabies is actually causing anyone’s death.”

        Most fundamentally, our universe evolves moment by moment in a causal manner. As such all specific events, including the contraction of rabies, are subsumed within and subject to this universal causal evolution. As such, it’s most correct to say that the universal process of causality causes the rabies, and the rabies can be described as the “proximate” cause of death, preceded, or caused, of course, by billions of years of universal evolution.

        • Posted September 6, 2012 at 5:34 am | Permalink

          +1 Very well said, George.

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

          George Ortega,

          “Our unconscious is certainly a part of us, but not one we can control, or are even aware of, by definition, in real time. The question of free will revolves around the issue of conscious control. If we don’t have it, we can’t have a free will.”

          See my reply to BFB under comment 37. I find you are practicing an unwarranted form of reductionism all over the place, especially with regard to our identity and choices.
          You are begging the question by assuming free will ONLY concerns the conscious portions of our deliberations. This is exactly what is under dispute and the accusation is you are “making us too small” by doing so – by essentially saying we are only “us” “making choices” if we are talking about the moment of consciousness of a decision. But compatibilists would point out that is unwieldy reductionism and that “we” and our choice making have to do with the whole input-output of our cognitive system. The fact is, we still rationally deliberate on possible courses of actions to fulfill our desires. Is is “Us” doing the deliberating/making choices whether the results end up as reported to our consciousness afterward, or whether it’s some sort of mix (which it likely is).

          You are starting with claims, assumptions, that part of the dispute. So you can’t go begging the question here.

          “If the chain of cause and effect that results in any and all choice precedes our birth, and even the birth of our planet, our “cognitive apparatus” is only playing out a choice that was actually made for it. As such, human “choice” is only a colloquial figure of speech.”

          Sorry, that seems incoherent. In what sense of the word are you using “choice?’ It seems very non-standard. We normally apply that term to entities like ourselves who take in information about the world and deliberate about which actions, which choices, will fulfil our desires. That’s why we typically don’t call our “obeying the laws of Gravity” a ‘”choice” but would use that term for, say, deciding where to vacation. In every similar situation we will always obey the laws of gravity – thus we have no “choice.” But in every similar situation we will not always decide to go on the same vacation, hence this is something we can make “choices” about.

          So, give me examples of the things in the chain preceding a human choice that you are referring to. And explain how these things “made choices.” Let along, how they “made choices FOR US.” See, it’s one thing to say preceding causes influenced or help explain why we had a choice. It’s another to say preceding causes MADE THE CHOICE. In the same way it’s true
          to point out cheery pie is made out of fundamental particles, but another to impute “being like cherry pie” to describe the fundamental particles.

          You just seem to be applying an irrational level of reductionism to past events in the same way as it would be irrational to say “there’s not really such thing in reality as cherry pie, since we can say it’s REALLY only made of atomic particles which aren’t cherry pies, and came from a non-cherry pie past.”

          Yeah, cherry pies are made of things that aren’t in of themselves cherry pies. But that doesn’t mean cherry pies don’t “really exist” and are only colloquialisms.

          It’s no different to say “We aren’t REALLY making choices because the causes preceding us
          weren’t choice-making.”

          Even weirder is the way you seem to be going, which is to describe past events as “making choices” for us.

          As for Rabies as a cause of death, of COURSE it’s part of a causal chain. That’s a given. The point is we STILL have to identify rabies as a specific entity causing death, or we can’t learn about the world. Unless you want to say of everyone who dies of any disease “the Big Bang caused his death.” Er…thanks a lot for that insight. No, GIVEN the contest of determinism it actually means something quite valid and informative to say “rabies was the cause of his death.”

          For the same reasons GIVEN the contest of determinism and a great chain of causes, it is still valid and informative to say “John made the choice to open a restaurant.” We still have phenomena like that to describe. So I can’t see what point you could possibly be making against copatibilism, which obviously accepts the chain of causation but points out we still have language to pinpoint entities within those chains that do things differently than other entities, like “make choices.”

          Vaal

          • Posted September 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

            “You are begging the question by assuming free will ONLY concerns the conscious portions of our deliberations.”

            Not so. The causal chain of events that precedes all human activity also prohibits our unconscious from freely willing anything.

            “In what sense of the word are you using “choice?’ It seems very non-standard.”

            If you build a robot and program it to turn left each time it reaches a wall, you could not reasonably say the robot made a choice. It just followed your instructions. I’m using “choice” in it’s most literal and technical sense of ascribing an action to the proximate causal agent, rather than to the causal process that entirely determines that “choice.”

            “So, give me examples of the things in the chain preceding a human choice that you are referring to.”

            The state of the universe immediately preceding the state of the universe in which any choice is made is completely and directly responsible for that subsequent state. Since our choices do not reside outside of our universe, they do not reside outside of the moment by moment, state by state evolution of our universe that comprises the most complete and general description for all events, including all human choices. I did an episode on this on my show; here’s a link to the You Tube upload – http://youtu.be/u22XZd7FmIA

            “Even weirder is the way you seem to be going, which is to describe past events as “making choices” for us.”

            Why you would describe the inevitable implication of the process of causality the governs all of nature on all of nature as weird escapes me. Yes, the past completely determines, or chooses, the present.

            • Vaal
              Posted September 6, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

              George Ortega,

              “Not so. The causal chain of events that precedes all human activity also prohibits our unconscious from freely willing anything.”

              Again, your term “freely willing anything” begs the question. A reminder: compatibilism ASSUMES determinism, this causal chain you are talking about. But it says it still makes sense to use “freedom” because even in a fully determined universe, there are differences in states of affairs and in how things behave that can be usefully described by that term.

              That’s why we have words like “solid” even though some smarty-pants can always point out that most of what we think of as “solid” is “actually when looked at from the atomic level, mostly empty space.” Yes – from the atomic level. But from the macro level we need words to describe the actual RESULTS of how matter interacts with us. “Solid” refers to the very real set of facts like that I can not pass my hand through my oak door. It’s “solid.” If we put some ridiculous constraint on our term such that it had to accurately describe the door at every possible level of analysis, that would be frankly foolish, and we’d be left still needing a word to describe the real phenomenon of “solidity” at our macro scale of interaction.

              Similarly, compatibilists realize the concept of “freedom” still makes sense to describe real
              differences about the world. It does not mean “freedom from all causality or from all preceding events.” Rather, it means some relative relationship – a fixed clock gear moves “freely” rather than being jammed without possibility of motion. I am “free for dinner wednesday” means there are no strong constraints on my fulfilling a desire to have dinner wednesday.
              “I freely chose to eat Cheerios instead of Wheaties this morning” equates to “I could have eaten Wheaties had I wanted to.” It’s a reference to my general power to do things like “eat Cheerios” and “eat Wheaties” when my desires drive me to do so, in circumstances where there are not other constraints on my ability to do such things. “Free” in this context assumes a slight jiggling of variables – e.g. if I’d had a different desire, for Wheaties, it was within my physical powers to eat them and nothing in particular was likely to stop me. And “jiggling the variables” is how we describe most real things in the world! So it would be special pleading to object to it’s use in describing our powers of choice.

              These are still real differences in the world we need to describe. If we put some crazy limit on the word “freedom” in that it had to apply correctly to ALL LEVELS of possible analysis – e.g. “If it wasn’t free of causality it wasn’t really ‘free’” – that would simply be a foolish constraint for the same reasons it would be foolish to drop the word “solid” if it didn’t describe matter at every level of analysis.

              Vaal

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

                “Again, your term “freely willing anything” begs the question.”

                That’s an absurd contention. The discussion is about free will, and the phrase freely willing simply expresses what is generally meant by free will.

                “I am “free for dinner wednesday” means there are no strong constraints on my fulfilling a desire to have dinner wednesday.”

                The compatibilist free will you are defending is a straw man version categorically different from the free will that has for centuries been the subject of the debate.

                What is generally meant when we say that free will is an illusion is that nothing at all is, or can be, fundamentally up to us. We do not “decide,” in the strict sense; we act out the will of the causal past. Metaphorically, we are robots, or puppets, or actors without even the slightest discretion regarding how we interpret our roles. The logical and empirical consequence of causality is that reality is very much like a movie. Everything that happens in the present moment, including every human act, is the direct and complete result of a causal process that stretches back in time to at least the Big Bang.

              • Vaal
                Posted September 6, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

                George,

                “The compatibilist free will you are defending is a straw man version categorically different from the free will that has for centuries been the subject of the debate.”

                That’s incorrect. As I keep having to point out: Long before the scientific version of determinism seemed to threaten some notions of free will, the belief in Gods already brought this dilemma. The omniscience of the Gods (and powers of determining fate) already had people asking “are we really free in light of this?” And the responses ranged from libertarian, to compatibilist to incompatibilist responses. It is simply wrong to claim one conception of free will is the whole story.

                This is why, as I’ve said before here, I think that Free Will, like “morality,” is best understood as a rubric for various questions and issues to which various answers have been offered.

                A central thread in the free will debate revolves around whether we can justifiably answer “yes” to the question “Could I have done otherwise?” If you think we have grounds to say “YES, I could have done otherwise” then you are answering a central question concerning free will, and affirming a “yes” to our having free will.

                Compatibilism is simply one account for how we can answer “yes” to this issue. In the same way a secular account for moral realism saying “It’s true, we ought not kill babies for pleasure” is still talking about “morality” even though some other people have believed that morality only exists if God exists.

                Further, another point of compatibilism is that it argues AGAINST the claim that libertarian versions of free will are the best account of our free will claims.

                That is, if you look more carefully and uncover the basis for why people will say things like “I did X of my own free will” or “I did X but could have done Y,” you will see
                that intoning “dualism” and contra-causality simply aren’t robust enough to cover it.

                Rather, our claims about what we “could have done instead” tend to run along the same lines – a claim abstracted from separate experiences over time – as we apply to every other thing we describe.

                When I say “I could have eaten the Wheaties instead” what is the basis for this claim? Why would I make it in the first place? It’s not based on the claim that once, while every state of the universe including my desire was precisely the same I actually made two different choices. Who the hell would think that?
                Why would I even CHOOSE something other than what I desired at the time, and something other than what my deliberations at that time pointed toward doing? This is a flat out irrational claim, and I don’t see how it is the basis of why anyone would claim they could have chosen otherwise.

                No. Rather, like any normal person my claim is derived from collating past experiences in similar situations and noting my powers in those situations.
                I have experienced the ability in the past, in similar circumstances, of being able to eat Wheaties (or things similar enough to Wheaties for me to presume I could eat Wheaties if I wanted to).

                I mean, “I could have eaten Wheaties instead IF instead I HAD WANTED TO.”
                Which is true. How do we explain people’s deliberate actions in the first place?
                We explain it by appeal to their combination of beliefs AND DESIRES.

                If you challenge me, or someone else, to say “No, you couldn’t have eaten the Wheaties” I’m going to say “Oh yeah? Watch, I’ll eat some Wheaties right now!”

                If you say “No, I mean you couldn’t have eaten the Wheaties instead of cheerios if it was the EXACT same time with every atom and cause in the universe being the same!” I’m going to reply: “What the hell are you talking about? I never had that notion in mind to begin with! Why would I even claim I could do that?”

                When we encounter the common claim: “I did A but I could have done B instead” ask “Ok, if you say you could have don B instead, then tell me WHY you didn’t do B.” Typically their answer will appeal to their DESIRES. “Well, I didn’t WANT to do B. I wanted to do A, But I could have done B if I wanted to.” Notice how the claims are a link between our DESIRES and the powers we think we have, born of extrapolations from past experience.

                If I had never been able to lift 500 pounds it would never come to my mind to claim “I lifted 70 pounds today, but I COULD have lifted 500 pounds instead.”
                Why? Being able to lifting 500 lbs isn’t part of my past experience and nothing in the present suggests I have this power now. I also wouldn’t have in mind “I could have lifted the weight given no desire to do so” since no one normally goes around thinking of the things. They think of things they have the power to do, and what they could do in terms of fulfilling their desires. Though, once they ARE talking about things they can do that DO NOT reflect their own desires, THEN notice how talk of “doing something of my own free will” starts to come in.

                So the idea that mere “dualism” or “contracausality” forms the basis for our everyday claims about what we could have done or not simply doesn’t make full sense for why we make our claims. Rather, our claims seem to be abstractions about our powers, as related to possible desires – assuming variables and counterfactuals in just the same way we do when we talk about how water “could have” frozen but didn’t or this hammer “could have been used” to hammer that nail, but wasn’t.

                So, no, you don’t really just get to declare Libertarian free will is the only “real” free will, or that it is the best account for everyday claims referred to in the debate about free will.

                Vaal

              • Posted September 7, 2012 at 5:16 am | Permalink

                Vaal,

                You really are caught by the free will illusion.

                As I have said before…. when you add the “if I had wanted differently” caveat you (not just you but any one of the compatibilist p.o.v.) veer away from the claim of libertarian free will that the free willists make, and this is what we nonfree willists are refuting.

              • Posted September 7, 2012 at 5:22 am | Permalink

                Vaal,

                “So, no, you don’t really just get to declare Libertarian free will is the only “real” free will, or that it is the best account for everyday claims referred to in the debate about free will.”

                But we do get to say this issue happens to be about that account of free will, because that is the account that we are refuting.

                It is borderline insane to insist that we can’t address the free willist claims. In effect you are claiming that it is you that gets to declare what we get to refute.

  36. Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Now, we all know that real science, biology and brain research is uber-boring to the enlightened intellects/philosophers/etc commenting, but…just for a change an occasional dose of real knowledge vs. the chit chat is at least sumptin’ different. Mike Gazziniga chimes in. Now, this is not hard to understand. Please note emphasis on WOT – “waste of time”:

    “Conscious processes are slow, as are conscious decisions. As a person is walking, sensory inputs from the visual and auditory systems go to the thalamus, a type of brain relay station. Then the impulses are sent to the processing areas in the cortex, next relayed to the frontal cortex. There they are integrated with other higher mental processes, and perhaps the information makes it into the stream of consciousness, which is when a person becomes consciously aware of the information (there is a snake!). In the case of the rattler, memory then kicks in the information that rattlesnakes are poisonous and what the consequences of a rattlesnake bite are. I make a decision (I don’t want it to bite me), quickly calculate how close I am to the snake, and answer a question: Do I need to change my current direction and speed? Yes, I should move back. A command is sent to put the muscles into gear, and they then do it.

    All this processing takes a long time, up to a second or two. Luckily, all that doesn’t have to occur. The brain also takes a nonconscious shortcut through the amygdala, which sits under the thalamus and keeps track of everything. If a pattern associated with danger in the past is recognized by the amygdala, it sends an impulse along a direct connection to the brain stem, which activates the fight-or-flight response and rings the alarm. I automatically jump back before I realize why.

    If you were to have asked me why I had jumped, I would have replied that I thought I’d seen a snake. The reality, however, is that I jumped way before I was conscious of the snake. My explanation is from post hoc information I have in my conscious system. When I answered that question, I was, in a sense, confabulating—giving a fictitious account of a past event, believing it to be true.

    I confabulated because our human brains are driven to infer causality. They are driven to make sense out of scattered facts. The facts that my conscious brain had to work with were that I saw a snake, and I jumped. It did not register that I jumped before I was consciously aware of it.

    In truth, when we set out to explain our actions, they are all post hoc explanations using post hoc observations with no access to nonconscious processing. Not only that, our left brain fudges things a bit to fit into a makes-sense story. Explanations are all based on what makes it into our consciousness, but actions and the feelings happen before we are consciously aware of them—and most of them are the results of nonconscious processes, which will never make it into the explanations. The reality is, listening to people’s explanations of their actions is interesting—and in the case of politicians, entertaining—but often a waste of time.

    http://discovermagazine.com/2012/brain/22-interpreter-in-your-head-spins-stories

  37. Posted September 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    OK, let’s try this. Let all free-willie-rs
    come up with one — one single study suggesting that “higher” cortical functions precede lower brain function triggering of behavior.

    The conceptual/rhetorical chit chat has run it’s course.

    The tricky part is that choice, free willie, deciding must take seconds and behavior is triggered in milliseconds but, that should be no obstacle.

    Now, Dr. Nahmais is a paid professional in neuroscience with access to all the latest research so he must have one, or more peer-reviewed studies to support any of his statements.

    Sincerely, us sciency and evidence folks like nothing more than to be proved wrong, because then we have learned something new that we didn’t know and our brains love that feeling.

    One study, not even replicated. Fair?

    I believe is ran across one and I will go look for it.

    • Another Matt
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

      one single study suggesting that “higher” cortical functions precede lower brain function triggering of behavior.

      Well, at least we’re getting a little closer to ideas instead of just rude dismissal.

      So, what makes this the sine qua non for free will?

      • Posted September 6, 2012 at 1:39 am | Permalink

        It’s not. We’re looking for one, single piece of evidence for brain function that would fall in the general realm of choice. Just one.

        That should be easy. We know thoughts take seconds and behavior is triggered in ms. Let’s start there.

        • Vaal
          Posted September 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          BFB,

          The problem is your challenge already implies a false dilemma, in terms of the view of many compatibilists. Are you trying to find evidence for YOUR concept of free will or the compatibilist? If seems the former, which is why you aren’t getting many bites.

          One of the points made by many compatibilists is that incompatibilists dismiss “choice” and free will by “making us too small.” That is identifying too small a point to say “If THIS point isn’t US doing the deciding, then it’s not really US deciding and choices are not controlled by US.” Typically this point is, as you imply, the point of conscious awareness of a choice.

          Whereas the compatibilist would reply along these lines: Let’s say consciousness is fully epiphenomenal – consciousness is just the awareness we have of our decision making, after the fact, after it had occurred by “non-conscious” processes.

          So what? There is still an “me,” an identity, a person, making decisions. Whatever part of my brain it is that is making those decisions is still ME. People still take in information about the environment, still have desires, still manage to construct rational models of the environment, still manage to produce various mental simulations or calculations concerning the outcomes of taking various actions, and still choose those actions that are in concert with fulfilling their desires. ALL THE SAME STUFF we would normally attribute to a “conscious-guided” person anyway. It’s still happening, even if it were the case that we only become conscious of the process right after our deliberations have occurred.

          And “I” am still making the choices since, “I” have a cognitive apparatus that does these types of things…and not the non-sentient causes preceding me. So the whole issue of making choices related to our desires remains anyhow, and we can still talk of whether we “could have chosen otherwise” and all the things related to free will.

          These are the more basis issues at hand, which is why it doesn’t serve a lot of purpose to skip them and proceed with your demands that seem built on already eschewing these issues.

          Cheers,

          Vaal

          • Posted September 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, who cares? Just look for the electrical signal and wiring and stimuli in and muscle movement out and timing there of.

            The rest is word play mainly adhering to local social norms and ideology. Big waste of time.

            “Bites”? lol who cares. The way to get “bites” is tell people what they want to hear.

            • Vaal
              Posted September 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

              I’m baffled as to why you refuse to respond with clarity in your comments.

              Where you asking for evidence in support of the compatibilist account of free will, or your own or some other? If it’s the compatibilist account, then you have to do with what compatibilists actually hold to mean “free willed.”

              If you are going to continually call someone else’s definition “word play” because it doesn’t satisfy some definition YOU have in mind…but won’t state clearly!…then why should we bother? (And continually slapping a label “word play” does not engage your opponent’s arguments).

              Ah well, too bad.

              Since you apparently refuse to recognize the role of defining a possible phenomenon before you go looking for data to support it…the conversation is at a halt.

              So, thanks for the conversation to this point. We can both go back to bashing theists now :-)

              S’long.

              Vaal

              • Vaal
                Posted September 6, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                sorry, should have been: ” If it’s the compatibilist account, then you have to DEAL with what compatibilists actually hold to mean “free willed.”

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

                So I spent a few hours reading these folks and have to confess it is completely incomprehensible to me.

                Thank allah, no one has to be a philosopher to do any bench science.

                And the idea of asking people what they mean, or think or feel isn’t really taken seriously by anyone anymore. Even the people you ask.

                In fact, I would guess that since brains are pretty much the same, asking yourself what you mean is probably as predictive as anything! Does sample size matter in heart function? A little.

                Maybe the Templeton funded crew is not a representation of philosophy.

                I must say it makes listening to hour+ NIH lectures on neuronal processes crystal clear in comparison.

                It just seems like generic defeding the ideology stuff.

                I will say though – Ed N does need to explain what he means by “threat” because our brains code that word as a physical attack. This seems the foundational theme of his writings — managing the threat.

                It’s a strong “hook” (quickly read emotional appeal) to acknowledge the threat readers feel and offer to moderate it.

                That seems the emotional/hormonal motivation of this all — not dispassionate at all – which makes for ink being spilled.

                Apparently, discussing free will feels very threatening to some, most? Did Mele first use this idea? That why he got the funding?

              • Vaal
                Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

                Brain For Business,

                I’d like to give one last try at helping you understand what compatibilists are saying, and that it isn’t empty “word play.”

                Let’s presume causation and determinism – which we both do.

                Let’s take my example of “water.”

                GIVEN determinism, how do we still TRUTHFULLY describe the nature of water?

                For any scientist trying to educate a student about water, it is normal and uncontroversial to say things like:

                The chemical substance in this beaker is H20, otherwise known as “water.”

                Water has some interesting properties.

                IF it is placed in standard temperature and pressure, like in this room, it will take the form of liquid that you see right now.

                But IF you raise it’s temperature above 100 °C (sea level) it will “boil” into vapor.

                Or, IF you lower it’s temperature to 0° C or below, typically water will freeze into a solid.

                Now, as per determinism, the future is as fixed as the past. So we can make these statements in past tense “If the water had been in standard temp/pressure it would have remained liquid, IF it had it’s temperature dropped below 0 C it would have frozen,” etc.

                Since science relies on extrapolating from past observation to future prediction, both ways of talking about the behavior of water – what water could do or could have done – are informative. Right? Nothing controversial for you there I presume?
                You aren’t going to call this stuff “mere word play?” If so, you will be rejecting how scientists conceive of and talk about
                the natural world, which would also undermine all your appeals to science.
                All this – which ASSUMES determinism – RELIES on appeals to the same entity under variable circumstances, remains informative and necessary, conceptually, for us to understand and transmit knowledge about the world.

                In fact, abstraction = taking separate observations of how similar entities over time and understanding them as the “same” entity – “water” – is built right into our very words. That liquid thing that froze yesterday and the thing that boiled today is still referred to as “water.” If our concept of identity could not absorb DIFFERENT OBSERVATIONS like this over time, then we’d have to come up with a new name or identity for this-water-thing for every altering nanosecond of the universe, since, strictly speaking, the instances we observe of these similar looking liquids don’t occupy the same space/time, they could be said to be “not the same thing.”

                But such an objection would not only be ludicrous, it would for no good reason rob of us of a conceptual tool for actually describing the world and predicting it!
                That’s why abstracting the identify of “water” is so useful for us. “The thing that boiled yesterday and froze today is the same thing – “water.”
                (Again, all this in the context of a fully determined universe – but we understand how entities in the universe behave by allowing ourselves to conceive of ABSTRACTIONS that refer to how a similar entity has behaved in varying circumstances over time.

                Right?

                So, given this, why in the world does it confuse you when we simply extend this talk of the determined, physical world to the particular physics of
                human beings using the SAME LOGIC?

                As a compatibilist I would say “I ate Cheerios yesterday but I COULD have eaten
                Wheaties instead.” (A standard free will statement).

                This is NOT a claim about one specific time in the universe only, where all causal states are precisely the same.
                That would be to adopt the same useless, crippling burden as trying to make statements about water that can only refer to single frozen instances of the universe.

                Rather, my claim involves some abstraction – it ASSUMES some variable – the variable for instance of my desire. IF I had desired to eat the Wheaties instead, I could have. The “I” being referred to is, like “water,” an abstraction over time. It is the “I” that
                chose Wheaties one day to eat, and the “I” that chose Cheerios another time. Just as “water” is the same thing that froze yesterday and boiled today, or this “hammer” is the same thing that hammered in a nail yesterday, but removed a nail today.

                Putting together these observations over time I claim this entity – “Vaal” – can do things like choose Cheerios or choose Wheaties if we jiggle some variables, like if I had a different desire.

                “I COULD have chosen the Wheaties instead” is a statement about what type of being I am, my powers, in similar circumstances. (And if I’d said I “Could have eaten the Empire State Building instead, I’d be wrong, since there are no previous empirical instances of “me” being able to do any such thing).

                So the “could have done otherwise” so inherent in the free will issue is answered “yes” on these grounds – on the same grounds we use to make claims about any other empirical entity.

                Which is why we keep asking: Why is it perfectly fine for you to accept such talk as scientifically legitimate in describing everything else in the determined universe, but suddenly consider it “playing with words” when we simply remain consistent and employ abstractions and counterfactuals to describe humans making choices in a determined world?

                Vaal

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

                Vaal,

                And yet you say you aren’t asserting that you have libertarian free will…

                So we don’t really have a disagreement.

                Yesterday when you ate your Fruitloops, you we moved to eat them due to a set of determinants that made you eat them… you claim to be in agreement with this statement.. you claim to accept that you were completely caused to eat Fruitloops… we agree… your choice to eat Fruitloops was devoid of freedom… you agree with this… there is no disagreement… for the record water has no free will either.

              • Posted September 7, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

                Vaal,

                On one hand you hold up water and a hammer, which being the inanimate objects that they are are pretty much unchanging, and on the hand you hold up a human, which is quite unlike water and hammers in that it is an animate object and is by comparison to the water and hammer extremely changeable. Then you make a case that we should think of, and talk of humans in the same exact manner (interchangeable in your reasoning) as we think of the water and hammer.

                Add to this, the fact that nobody (and by this I mean no sane persons) is making libertarian free will claims about water and hammers, whereas they are made for humans.

                And you can’t figure out why your posts are dismissed out-of-hand as so much woo.

              • Posted September 7, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

                No, it’s mere reification of local behavioral norms/word play and, likely, mainly non-verbal signaling, to strength social bonds — mainly deceptive it appears.

                Any heuristic value is mainly metaphorical/rhetorical, that’s all.

                Let’s do this. Let’s take humans out of it completely. Thus, removing the heuristic of philosophy. Let’s look at animal behavior and brain processes — a lack in Eddy N’s arguments, along with the rhetorical trick of using “threat” — what then are we talking about?

                How about songbird behavior, very well studied and include vocalization. Not enough cortical material? Ok any other social animal.

                Let’s focus on that thought preceding action experience in animals. Is a solipsistic causal agent, at any level, needed or present? Do we care about parismoney? How do we test for both — conceptual word play or data.

                Does data include word play, of course, but as little as is humanly possible whereas ideology-philosophy-magical beliefs contains as much as possible and usually nothing more.

                Now, brain research is suggesting that the use of word play is mainly tied to unconscious ms, limbic system neuronal firing.

                Ultimately these philosophers, Templeton and you are saying is we can bring the new (threatening)realities of brain science within the local social norms of philosophy by name calling/labeling/tagging. That’s just cheap rhetoric trickery. But soothing.

              • Alex SL
                Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

                Vaal,

                I think it is hopeless at this point, at least as far as BFB is concerned.

                To what you wrote I would also add that I find the observation that we could only ever have done one thing at any given time completely irrelevant and uninteresting in the first place, because this would still be true even if there were no determinism and everything that happens was causally unconnected. I cannot, after all, eat cake and not eat cake at the same instant, so that insight has no relevance to the discussion at all.

              • Vaal
                Posted September 6, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

                Alex SL,

                Just reading nonfreewillist’s recent reply..My God…you are right. If I reply all I can do is re-state what he has ignored over and over.

                I guess I’ll keep a look out for some other
                folks who show more interest in sharing understanding, rather than being simply dismissive.

                As per the point you made, yeah I agree. It’s something a few of us have said here before. This obsession with having to reference a single point in time, all-states-the-same is just an uninteresting non-starter, yet it’s the obsession of many incompatibilists can’t get out of their head while thinking about human choice making.

                Sigh.

                Vaal

              • Another Matt
                Posted September 6, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

                Vaal,

                It really reminds me of discussions I’ve had with theists, who exclaim to me, “so you think that we’re simply made of matter? How can mere matter do all the things that humans do? Fine, then – so if we’re all mere matter, it should be just as fine to slaughter a human as to blast a boulder.”

                As though “made of matter” were the only interesting – or even relevant – thing that might be said about humans and boulders alike.

    • Alex SL
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

      As pointed out again and again and again, compatibilists as commenting here do not doubt determinism, so your challenge is only slightly more apropos than a saltationist challenging a gradualist to provide evidence against evolution to make their case.

      The unconscious decision is also made by me because the parts of the brain that make it are part of me.

      One thing that I really wonder about regarding the whole idea that we are making all our decisions before we become conscious of them is this: what do you think consciousness is then actually good for? Why do we have it? If everything can be done without conscious thought, why do we have a consciousness in the first place? It seems like a terrific waste of resources to have the brain go through all the unnecessary neuronal activity you call confabulation, and there should thus be strong selective pressure against it.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted September 6, 2012 at 4:32 am | Permalink

        If everything can be done without conscious thought, why do we have a consciousness in the first place?

        this was covered in some of the previous discussions, and I think the best answer was that we use consciousness to process and generate endless “what if” scenarios based on past experience.

        these then get molded eventually into the NEXT unconscious decision made, and then the feedback and gaming start all over again.

        an unconscious decision making process likely would make the same decisions in any given scenario repeatedly, with no input feedback.

        you could still train such a system, but it couldn’t train itself.

        so, in essence, consciousness is nothing more than your ability to process information and train yourself to react differently.

        but your final decision to act in the next set of circumstances is informed by that process, but not controlled by it.

        hence, you can process information and STILL not have “free will” in the classical sense.

        • Alex SL
          Posted September 6, 2012 at 4:38 am | Permalink

          Ah, thanks for that, I must have missed some of the previous discussions. Not sure if it convinces me though.

          hence, you can process information and STILL not have “free will” in the classical sense.

          Again, I am not aware that anybody here defends what you would call the classical sense, except for maybe the odd visiting theist.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted September 6, 2012 at 4:37 am | Permalink

        It seems like a terrific waste of resources to have the brain go through all the unnecessary neuronal activity you call confabulation, and there should thus be strong selective pressure against it.

        well, you’re right, and there obviously IS in most circumstances.

        hence likely why we think ourselves rather unique to a greater or lesser extent.

        99.999999999999999% of the organisms on the planet don’t have such an information processing system likely BECAUSE in most circumstances, it would be selected against.

        OTOH, it’s also just as true that most organisms do not have 8 arms and 2 tentacles with sucker disks, or eyes with double-binocular vision that can see ultraviolet light.

        it’s easy to think of a rare trait as being somehow harder to explain, but you have to look at the evolutionary history of an organism to understand often what went to fixation and why.

      • Posted September 6, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

        “As pointed out again and again and again, compatibilists as commenting here do not doubt determinism,”

        If compatibilists truly understood the determinism they purport to agree with, they would understand that the causal chain of events preceding any human’s birth gives rise to every decision and act that human makes, so for a compatibalist to nontheless continue to assert that human beings freely will anything is, in the words of William James
        “a quagmire of evasion” and of Kant “wretched subterfuge” and “petty word-jugglery.” I would simply label it a classic strawman argument, whatever specific form it might take.

        “If everything can be done without conscious thought, why do we have a consciousness in the first place?”

        Without consciousness, we could not know that we were alive, or experience life, so your question is somewhat akin to asking why we are alive in the first place. We could similarly, of course, also ask why there is a universe to begin with. Consciousness is simply that which our unconscious chooses to focus on at any given moment. As per our question, remember that consciousness is awareness, and awareness is not decision-making.

        • Posted September 6, 2012 at 6:01 am | Permalink

          “As per our question, remember that consciousness is awareness, and awareness is not decision-making.”

          I would add, “no matter how much it feels/seems like it is.” I would add this to emphasize just how persuasive the illusion of free will is.

        • Alan
          Posted September 6, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

          It really needs to be pointed out that compatibilism need not entail determinism. From simple Hobbesian compatibilism to intricate forms of psychological hierarchical approaches, there are lots of forms of compatibilism that do not require the truth of determinism or indeterminism of mind. That’s why they are compatibilist in the first place. Treating all forms of compatibilism as a lump view that entails determinism is just wrong.

          • Posted September 6, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

            “It really needs to be pointed out that compatibilism need not entail determinism.”

            The “compatibilist” arguments you refer to are straw man defenses of free will, fundamentally and conceptually different from the definition of free will mainstream physics, philosophy, psychology, biology sociology, and now neuroscience accepts – the ability to choose one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions free from factors that are totally out of one’s control, like the process of causality.

            “Treating all forms of compatibilism as a lump view that entails determinism is just wrong.”

            Compatibilism, by definition, accepts determinism, and claims that free will is nonetheless possible. It’s a conceptually absurd position firstly because free will requires determinism, and secondly because the fundamental causality determinism engenders compels a causal regression from any and all human acts that spans back to long before the person performing such acts was born.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism

            • Alan
              Posted September 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

              “Compatibilism, by definition, accepts determinism, and claims that free will is nonetheless possible.”

              You did not understand my post. That is demonstrably false. Please read Peter van Inwagen–an incompatibilist BTW–on his Mind and Ethics versions of compatibilism. The Mind compatibilists do not necessarily accept determinism. Ignoring this distinction is to misunderstand the complexity of these issues. But his whole thread has not been about understanding, but only stubborn Rove-like repetition of beliefs, and so with this comment I am done with this pretense of inquiry. Don’t bother to reply because you won’t be talking to me, but only yourselves, which is what all this is about anyway.

              • Posted September 7, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

                “The Mind compatibilists do not necessarily accept determinism.”

                They are then not compatibilists as the word has been accepted for decades.

          • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

            Alan,

            You know who really needs to take this to heart? Not the free willists, ironically it is self identified compatibilists.

      • Posted September 6, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

        Alex,

        “One thing that I really wonder about regarding the whole idea that we are making all our decisions before we become conscious of them is this: what do you think consciousness is then actually good for? ”

        For the record, I also ponder this… but it really is not central/crucial to the core question is it? The human will is devoid of freedom, as you say every true compatibilist is in accord with that conclusion, even if the mystery of what good is consciousness still remains… likewise the question of how should humanity think of moral responsibility in light of the nonfree will enlightenment?

        • Alex SL
          Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

          Of course, the movements of a car, train or airplane are likewise “devoid of freedom” in your sense. Still, people find it useful to use the term:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degree_of_freedom_%28mechanics%29

          Likewise, there is a difference between you and a rock in the way you can interact with the environment, and some of us find it useful to use terms like “decision-making” or even “free will” for it without breaking out in moral panic about some slippery slope supposedly leading to dualism.

          (I assume, at least, that you see an important difference between yourself and a rock, or between a kleptomaniac and a sane thief. But if I felt keen to play the compatibilist counterpart of Brain For Business for a bit I might post half a dozen comments challenging you to prove that there is no difference whatsoever to defend your position, completely ignoring any answer on the lines of “that is not what I said”.)

      • Posted September 6, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

        P.S. Alex,

        “The unconscious decision is also made by me because the parts of the brain that make it are part of me.”

        Non-free Willists don’t dispute/object this point, sure the deciding takes place within you, nonetheless the crucial point is that there is no freedom to your decision.

        • Posted September 6, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          The two-fold refutation free will believers must contend with regarding our unconscious is that not only is it not amenable to our control in real time (we’re not even directly aware of it, by definition), but that it is also subject to the law of causality that renders all of its activity the complete and necessary result of events that precede even the birth of the human being that manifests unconscious activity.

        • DV
          Posted September 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          That’s the crux of the matter – what freedom means, isn’t it?

          At least now we’re moving to the real issue.

          What does it mean to be “free”? Is it escape from causation, or the violation of physical laws? Or is it something a bit less miraculous and more ordinary?

          I contend that the concept of freedom is only interesting in environment of competition of wills/intentions. The same physical constraint becomes an issue of freedom only when that constraint was created or caused by another intentional agent in contravention with your own intention or will. Being illiterate is not a matter of freedom (our ancestors lived hundreds of thousands of years not being able to read), until somebody creates a situation preventing an individual from attaining literacy. Not being able to walk through walls is not an issue of freedom, until somebody puts you in prison against your will.

          • Posted September 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

            “The same physical constraint becomes an issue of freedom only when that constraint was created or caused by another intentional agent in contravention with your own intention or will.”

            The physical law of causality not only constrains, but completely compels, your every action. It not only causes what you feel constrained by, it also causes the “intentions” that comprise your “will,” and thereby render your will unfree. The issue of intentionality by another that you raise is not consequential to this argument. In other words, whether the process of causality manifests specific intentionality does not negate its complete determination of all future events, including all future human actions, conscious and unconscious.

          • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

            DV,

            I read what you write here, but it really doesn’t have any connection to the question as to whether the human will is contra-causally free. As much as you would like to side step the whole issue of causation, you can’t because of the free willists who assert that humans have free will, humans can circumvent cause and effect.

            DV, respectfully, it doesn’t matter that you personally don’t find that of interest. And be clear on this point, the freedom that is on the table is most certainly not something a bit less miraculous and more ordinary? It’s the freedom that free willist have brought to the table by their assertions that humans have libertarian free will.

  38. Posted September 6, 2012 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    Here’s another approach.

    Get Templeton to massively fund, hundreds of millions of dollars, the proof of free will. A Manhattan Project on free will.

    Seriously.

    The benefits would include:
    - Historical recognition of the senior Templeton’s legacy
    - Eternal fame for the current Templeton as the Einstein of the brain
    - The key to unlock the central human problems of destructive behavior. Once the mechanism for conscious choice is uncovered medicines for mental illnesses can be developed or not needed. Problems like addictions, mental illnesses and mass murder can be remediated eventually by right thinking and choices.
    - A cornerstone discovery for supernatural and religious belief, moral codes and laws. Proving the mechanisms for choice with provide a scientific basis for laws, beliefs and punishments.

    There is more, but can there be a more important science project in human history? Templeton has the money.

    Brain research in animals and humans is far enough along that a massively funded, focused project on explaining the physiological mechanisms of free will is possible. The EU is devoting 1B EU each to three massive focused projects like this. Certainly a few hundred million for this kind of breakthrough is trivial.

    Let’s challenge Templeton on this. What could be better for mankind? Once we understand how free choice and conscious choice works then problems like global warming and water and pollution, war, crime will be treatable.

    • Alex SL
      Posted September 6, 2012 at 3:43 am | Permalink

      Seriously, your complete failure to understand what the discussion is all about stands in a fascinating contrast with your smugness.

      For details:
      https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/eddy-nahmias-apostle-for-free-will/#comment-278979

      • Posted September 6, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

        I repeat, just a simple explanation of thought preceding action.

        It’s a time series.

        The stimuli occurs. It is received in the brain in the sensory regions. It then must proceed to the “higher” cortical regions frontal lobes for thinking and evaluation and a conscious decision being made, that takes seconds, then go back to lower regions to trigger muscle movement. That’s the chain proposed by free will proponents.

        This will not be hard to both describe or explain — if it exists. One data table will do it.

    • Posted September 6, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      BfB,

      What next, a funded project to find proof of god(s)? Interestingly enough they do have that project of substantiating the claim of life after death…

      • Posted September 6, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        But this does not have to be supernatural or even touch on it. Just normal brain research setting out to prove that thought precedes action and the mechanism for it happening.

        Nothing complicated conceptually or even scientifically.

        • Posted September 6, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

          I don’t know, seems to me that anything that can circumvent/transcend cause and effect is going to end up being supernatural.

          • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

            The idea is to prove that there is thought that controls and precedes behavior. That’s all.

            Just need to show a spike in electrical flow in neurons in a specific part of the non-limbic parts of the brain, taking seconds, before the muscles move. It can be vocal muscles as well.

            “Thinking” before talking. “Thinking” before walking, etc. That’s all that’s needed.

            It’s proving the wiring and timing of cause and effect nothing transcendent.

            • Eddy Nahmias
              Posted September 6, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

              Haynes, J.D., Sakai, K., Rees, G., Gilbert, S., Frith, C. & Passingham, D. (2007). Reading hidden intentions in the human brain. Current Biology 17, 323-328.

              Ironically, it’s by an author whose work is cited as showing free will is an illusion. But this study suggests that there are patterns of neural activity that are the basis of a person’s conscious intention (in this case, to add or to subtract two numbers) which can be measured before the person pushes a button that indicates that they are adding or subtracting the numbers.

              But more generally, much of the work in cognitive neuroscience involves studying the mechanisms involved in complex cognitive tasks, including ones involved in conscious deliberation. As far as I can tell, there is no reason to think the neural processes involved in these tasks are cut off from those that are the immediate causes of muscle movement. None of this is to say that conscious reasoning or awareness of making a choice is *always* subserved by neural processes that precede and cause the relevant movements.

              As I say in the articles Coyne is attacking, the downstream effects of conscious deliberation and choice are rarely on immediate action (we talk too fast to think about what we say right before we say it)–rather, their effects are likely to be on shaping the non-conscious intentions that immediately precede action. And it is extremely difficult to study these sorts of distal causal relations in the brain.

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

                Great and thank you. So now we have a fact basis for further discussion. Let me study the paper.

                There is another I just saw on beliefs, I assume verbally reported, thus conscious and preceding action, and investment behavior. I will find that cite.

                It seems that if we can, as a start, find thought preceding any actions we have a biological basis for more elaborate concepts. e,g, free will.

                The argument can be made that our technology is not yet detailed enough to find these effects. That is fair an no doubt true. Why we need the Templeton billions!

                But the model you are working with then, proposes that conscious deliberation prior to some kinds of “deliberative/complex” behaviors (?) should be evident?

                Yours’ is also a good model justifying moral ideologies because it proposes that individual can chose differently. Therefore, right thinking is beneficial. Is that fair?

                Now, what insight is your model based on? Surly not just because it “feels” that way?

                Also, how would you expect this to show in other animals? In higher level cortical processing?

                It would be nice to find some semblance of this “higher” order electrical activity in smaller brained life forms and then trace it as the brains get more cortical material.

                Or do it backwards. What processes does this identify humans that we can find parallels in other animal brains scaled down?

                That’s a Nobel Prize or two for sure.

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

                “As far as I can tell, there is no reason to think the neural processes involved in these tasks are cut off from those that are the immediate causes of muscle movement. None of this is to say that conscious reasoning or awareness of making a choice is *always* subserved by neural processes that precede and cause the relevant movements.”

                Actually, that causality governs all neural processes, and that the law of causality mandates that *all* events must have a cause does clearly and unequivocally mean that any and all conscious reasoning and choice must *always* be subserved, or caused, not only by preceding neural processes, but by their causes as well, and the ensuing causal regression that thereby results. That this ensuing causal regression, as clearly demanded by causality, stretches back in time to before the brain experiencing such neural activity was actually formed means that the relevant movements you refer to must be the complete and direct result of this causal chain, and cannot result from a will *free* of this causality.

              • Another Matt
                Posted September 6, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

                That this ensuing causal regression, as clearly demanded by causality, stretches back in time to before the brain experiencing such neural activity was actually formed means that the relevant movements you refer to must be the complete and direct result of this causal chain, and cannot result from a will *free* of this causality.

                That’s right, but we can also say with the same logic that my pancreas does not regulate my metabolism, because the real control is a direct result of the regress of prior causality, and cannot result from anything *free* of this causality.

                This much is true, but “control” and “regulation” are useful — maybe even indispensable — concepts in biology, so the best thing to do is not to say that control and regulation are illusory, but instead to change our understanding of those concepts in light of what we have learned about determinism.

                Again — determinism does not count as an explanation for anything. Nothing at all is explained if you say something happened because it was determined to happen as a result of all of its prior causes. You actually need to do an analysis of a situation to find out what things might be relevant causes, how, and to what degree those causes might change or stay the same in other contexts.

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

                A.M.,

                Actually he doesn’t have to do that in this case, the case of whether there is any freedom to the human will or not… the level of detail you are suggesting is not required to get to the point of confidence to reject the proposition that humans have libertarian free will.

                Other than that you have a word game going on concerning “control” and “regulation”. But I don’t see you talking about your pancreas freely controlling or freely regulating. Of course not.

              • Another Matt
                Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

                Other than that you have a word game going on concerning “control” and “regulation”. But I don’t see you talking about your pancreas freely controlling or freely regulating. Of course not.

                It’s not a word game. There are two recognizable strains of “incompatibilist” argument, and I really only have a problem with one of them.

                The first strain is the one that agrees with compatibilist claims about human behavior (we make choices, decisions, plans, etc.), agrees that these behaviors are real, but disagrees that what those behaviors are amount to free will. I’m fine with this. When it’s just a semantic issue like this there’s not much to argue over.

                The second strain is the weird, quasi-dualist one that talks about us as puppets that don’t make decisions and which have no control over anything. This latter one I can’t get behind, for many reasons, because I think it’s incoherent, and it’s what I take George Ortega and others here to be defending.

                It’s the kind that says that because of determinism there’s no meaningful difference between the behavior of a roller coaster and the behavior of a car — both of them do what they were determined to do. It gives more explanatory power to “determinism” than is warranted; an analysis of how causes go together to create behavior is missing.

                I don’t care very much about whether you mean “free from causation” when you say “free” and I mean “less rigid constraint on behavior.” I think we can put this kind of semantic question behind us.

                You might say that this just shows how much of an illusion free will is for me, that I can’t accept the “hard truth” about what determinism means for our behavior. Maybe so, but I’m much more concerned that if you applied the same conceptual scheme to biology as a whole (and in extreme cases even basic physics/chemistry) you’d be describing something that looks foreign to biologists (and physicists/chemists).

              • Posted September 8, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

                Nice reference, thanks. Looks like it would be a useful context in which to place Libet’s research.

              • Posted September 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                Here’s the problem, if it’s posited that there is a separate system for “thoughtful” vs immediate term triggering of behavior that seems unlikely and is unparimonious.

                So ppl bring up emergence, well, think of the emergence of any colonies. In fact, this colony is made up of a lot of very mechanical and simple stimulus response behaviors by all the ants.

                Projecting elaborate processes back from the higher level complexity is a mistake.

                Probably the same with human consciousness. But really we should all be studying animal consciousness before we jump the (supposed) gap.

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

            Not just supernatural, also internally, conceptually and empirically inconsistent (how would anything happen in an uncaused manner?) and not helpful to free will (an uncaused action cannot, by any and all reasonable definitions, have been caused by a human being.)

            It is also generally unappreciated that the scientific method by which we ascertain all but a priori or axiomatic truths (like change, with its attending expression in causality) requires, and operates under the dictates of, cause and effect.

            • Posted September 6, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

              Sure, but for free will or thought-before-action all we care about are the electrical signals traveling along neurons. That’s it.

              What that means is just ideology and local preferences ain’t it? Like ethnic food preferences.

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

                “Sure, but for free will or thought-before-action all we care about are the electrical signals traveling along neurons. That’s it.”

                Causality requires that *everything* must have a cause. As such, these electrical signals all have causes, and the causes of those causes must also have causes, etc. going backward in time in a causal regression that spans back to before the human having the thought was even born. That’s why free will, as ascribed to humans, is absolutely and unequivocally impossible.

              • Vaal
                Posted September 6, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

                Egads.

                You guys don’t seriously think Eddy Nahmias meant to propose uncased choices or that causality somewhere disappears in our nervous system…do you?

                He’s a compatibilist – it assumes the chain of causation, determinism – so he hardly needs to be reminded of this.

                Vaal.

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

                Reread Nahmias: he clearly says “I examine these threats and argue that they do not show that free will is an illusion.” (And by this he means libertarian free will.)

                So, yes, he does need to be reminded that causality does not disappear somewhere in our nervous system… well not really reminded, because it clearly is not the case of him forgetting this fact.

              • Vaal
                Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

                “Reread Nahmias: he clearly says “I examine these threats and argue that they do not show that free will is an illusion.” (And by this he means libertarian free will.) ”

                Are you kidding?

                I just read his piece. He’s a compatibilist (as Jerry has already pointed out). He first lays out the concept of libertarian/dualist free will and rejects it and then EXPLICITLY lays out his notion of free will in the compatibilist sense, where determinism and causal chains are a given but arguing that so long as our choice-making and deliberations are part of that causal chain,
                it still makes sense to use the term “free will” to describe out choice making: “We are responsible for our actions roughly to the extent that we possess these capacities and we have opportunities to exercise them.”

                I can not imagine a greater misreading of what he wrote than to saying as you do that he’s by “free will” he means “Libertarian free will.”

                Really, with a tendency this strong to just not listen to what compatibilists are saying it’s no wonder this has been like banging
                heads against walls…

                Vaal

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

                Vaal,

                He is clearly denying that free will is an illusion.

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

                Vaal,

                I mean if he isn’t talking about libertarian free will not being an illusion then his statement has no relevance to the issue of whether there is any freedom to the human will. So either he is refuting nonfree willism or he is off topic.

              • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

                Well he is watching this thread, maybe he’ll step forward and say he wasn’t talking about libertarian free not being an illusion…

              • Posted September 7, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

                Why should any notion of free will be proposed any more than any other non-evidence based idea as an agent? Because it “feels” like it and creates a warm fuzzy feeling?

                We could propose the tooth fairy directs our actions with as much empirical, it always has to have a data referent, validity and likelihood.

                Why search for conscious control more than supernatural control. There is no more empirical reference for either.

  39. Posted September 6, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Looked at the video. Well Ed N has embarked on an exploratory exercise — if…then,if…then, etc. He seems to be following the standard tropes of these ideologies in competition.

    Self-reports then are the basis for discussion of how the various ideas “work” to effect behavior, I assume. I would look for behavioral measures but they are expensive, but Templeton is rich.

    I don’t think he misunderstands the brain science though.

    I have a different reading of the research but I am an amateur. I found what’s on his site first page interesting.

    I like this kind of work. Let’s trot out all of these ideas and unpack them in any way possible.

    I also give him credit for jumping into the shark infested pool!

    Bottom line I may not agree but I don’t hear him lying about anything. I hate lying to promote ideologies and bash science.

    I’m going to follow his work.

  40. Posted September 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to clutter up the board but this seems to say it all about Templeton et al:

    From interview with Alfred Mele, who got $4.4 to study free will except:

    “AM: Yes, a $4.4 million grant just for philosophical work on free will would exist only in a remote possible world (to use some philosophical jargon). But the explanation of this fact really is very simple.

    Scientific research on free will is way more expensive than ordinary philosophical research on the topic because scientific experiments are expensive and philosophers normally need only some time away from teaching to concentrate on research and writing….

    Our philosophy and theology grants are for a maximum of one year. In 2011, there were six winners at an average cost of a bit over $50,000. This level of funding is adequate when there are no lab expenses, no research assistants, etc….”

    So this is the budget version of studying free will. No pesky “lab expenses, no research assistants…”.

    Well it will be a supernatural event if they learn anything useful. http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/the-4million-dollar-philosopher/

    In hyper-contrast, philosophers, etc. will have to accept that this is how knowledge is produced now…

    “Berkeley statisticians played a key role in the large ENCODE consortium that determined the function of what was thought to be “junk” DNA in the human genome. Led by Peter Bickel, the statisticians provided several of the tools biologists needed to uncover the functional roles of DNA outside protein coding genes.”

  41. Eddy Nahmias
    Posted September 7, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Yes, I’m reading the thread, and Vaal has got it right. Of course I’m not arguing that we have libertarian (or dualist) powers, as all of my work makes clear. Some people on this thread seem unable to understand that the compatibilist definition of free will is viable. OK, I understand you are convinced that a reasons-responsive agent who is part of the causal order does not count as free. But as Another Alex helpfully points out, don’t let that commitment lead you to the unjustified conclusions lacking this sort of impossible “free will” means: that we lack any control over our actions, that making choices is an illusion (that we must put the word “choice” in quotation marks!), that consciousness is an illusion, that the brain makes us do what we do, that everything is inevitable or that what we do makes no difference (fatalism), etc. All these conclusions are either leapt to or implied by Coyne and others here without any argument whatsoever, just the assumption that they directly follow from our lacking magical free will.

    So, just to make it explicit. We are agreeing about Premise 1: Humans do not have immaterial souls or libertarian powers to act outside of the laws of nature. We then disagree about what follows from that premise.

    And I await Prof. Coyne’s response to the question suggested by Nadelhoffer on this thread and Leiter on the Templeton thread, which I will put very simply:
    Coyne claims Templeton is funding/rewarding people who uphold their views and/or people are being influenced by Templeton money to change their own views, and Coyne thinks that the Templeton view is that we have the dualist libertarian powers. So, since I reject that we have those powers, what gives?

    • Posted September 7, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      So, then to be clear you misspoke when you wrote, “I examine these threats and argue that they do not show that free will is an illusion.” I ask because if I understand you, you seem to be saying here that you agree free will is an illusion. (Of course I’m not arguing that we have libertarian (or dualist) powers,..) An what ever are we to make of the term “threat”? How is our realization that there is no such thing as libertarian free will in anyway a threat to anything? After all, it is just an acknowledgement that human is no more separated from causality than the rest of the universe… The people who come to mind that would see nonfree willism as a threat would be those that do hold that humans are special, and do transcend causality: free willists.

      As for “as all of my work makes clear.”, I must point out that no, your work does not make that clear when you include statements as above. I for one was not clear because of the contradiction. If you think you work is clear after what you have read here, then you really are mistaken.

      I am very much focused on what do we do in light of nonfree will enlightenment. But I don’t see how there can ever be a sane discussion on that matter, if we must go down the road of determinism and [libertarian] free will are compatible with each other. (Even if we do this by redefining what we mean by free will, after the conversation has started.)

      • Tim O'Keefe
        Posted September 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

        So, then to be clear you misspoke when you wrote, “I examine these threats and argue that they do not show that free will is an illusion.” I ask because if I understand you, you seem to be saying here that you agree free will is an illusion. (Of course I’m not arguing that we have libertarian (or dualist) powers,..)

        No, he didn’t. He’s not a libertarian and not a dualist, so he thinks that we can have free will, that it’s not an illusion, even though we don’t have any libertarian (or dualist) powers. He believes that materialism is consistent with people being able to deliberate about what they should do and to exercise rational control over their actions, and that having these sorts of abilities is what’s key for having free will.

    • Lyndon
      Posted September 7, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      There is good reason to be wary of the Templeton project. If Big Tobacco said that they neutrally were giving large grants to scientists to study the effects of tobacco, but claimed they “just wanted answers” and those scientists appropriately responded, “the tobacco company have told us our research is independent and I would not dare to be influenced by where my grant money came from”- we would appropriately roll our eyes at such an arrangement.

      We would be wary of a scientific arena that was funded in such a manner (as we are many times), and scientists’ research should be more clear cut. If the analogy holds for philosophy, even greater wariness ensues.

      Templeton, whose mission is unquestioned, picks (at least indirectly) among a large field of diverse and respected opinions who gets a large bloc of money; that influences discussions across the board.

      There is not good justification for helping reproduce such a system.

    • Posted September 7, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      It’s the time honered strategy of ideologues to capture power – done unconsciously, of course = Dilution. Create diversions. Smoke screen.

      By, minimally, funding silly projects it creates the illusion of scientific credibility for crackpot ideas that support it’s ideology. The afterlife is a crackpot idea, of course.

      To real evidence and empirical work it can hold up sham projects to win support from power holders and the public using deception.

      It’s a very clever and effective tactic. Pretty much the same as the alternative medicine, etc industries.

      For example, spending $4.4 on the immensely important topic of control of behavior is just dumb, as Mele admits.It create the illusion of serious evidence (data) collection while doing the opposite.

      Asking people about stuff is laughable “science.”

      We all also know that funding is based on group power negotiations and upholding the status quo. Templeton’s money just supports the status quo using deceptive use of words.

      All magical thinking ideologies are doing this creating false “think tanks”, institutes and pretend intellectual stuff.

    • Posted September 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      “don’t let that commitment lead you to the unjustified conclusions lacking this sort of impossible “free will” means: that we lack any control over our actions,”

      If you truly understood the implications of determinism, you’d understand that the causal chain of events behind every human decision, which stretches back to the big bang, assumes *full* control of our every decision. What you haven’t yet realized is that free will is indeed an all or nothing proposition. Check out the transcript to an episode I did on this -

      http://causalconsciousness.com/Episode%20Transcripts/11.%20%20The%20Absurdity%20of%20Varying%20Degrees%20of%20Free%20Will.htm

      “that making choices is an illusion (that we must put the word “choice” in quotation marks!),”

      If the causal past controls all of our choices, these choices are not up to us in any real sense, and we only “appear” to be making them. That, in fact, is the illusion, or, better stated, the mistaken conclusion.

      “that consciousness is an illusion,”

      You’ve got this one right, but consciousness is *only* awareness. It is not decision making, which must all be made at the level of the unconscious. Here’s an episode that explains why this must be so; YouTube version this time – http://youtu.be/o0LUGv-NEj4

      “that the brain makes us do what we do,”

      You’ve got this one right too. If the causal chain of events regressing from what we do spans back to before we were born, the brain is only a proximate cause in that chain, like the next to last or last domino in a series. What makes us do what we do is the process of causality.

      “that everything is inevitable”

      Everything is inevitable in the sense that the chain of cause and effect from the Big Bang onward to the present and future has already and completely set *everything* in stone. Nothing in the universe can alter or inject itself into that causal order; there is, of course, no way of knowing – at least in terms of much human behavior – what will happen until it does – (too much data to acquire and crunch)

      “or that what we do makes no difference (fatalism),”

      You’ve got this one right too! Our actions have consequences, which is why it would be foolhardy to think our not having a free will grants us license to do what we want with the need to fear reprisal, either from nature or from others. Here’s the episode – http://youtu.be/MWso74VrAM4

      “All these conclusions are either leapt to or implied by Coyne and others here without any argument whatsoever,”

      This contention is bewildering in it’s absurdity and desperation. It’s almost funny, and a classic example of psychological projection (please do not take offense with this diagnosis because I do not ascribe the fault to you personally). Shame, however, on the universe that had you write it!

      “without any argument whatsoever,”

      This part is truly funny and thus bears re-citing. How some like you fail to realize that causality and acausality are the only two conceptual and empirical options describing human behavior, and that they both equally and completely refute free will, has indeed become a far more interesting subject for inquiry than the now too obvious explanation of the fundamental and genuine origins of human action.

      • Another Matt
        Posted September 7, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        If the causal chain of events regressing from what we do spans back to before we were born, the brain is only a proximate cause in that chain, like the next to last or last domino in a series. What makes us do what we do is the process of causality.

        Imagine two teams investigating the Challenger Disaster.

        Team A declares they have found why it exploded — it was the big bang and the process of causality.

        Independently, Team B releases their findings — it exploded because of faulty O-rings.

        Team A protests: “But the faulty O-rings were only a proximate cause!”

        Both teams are right, but why should Team A get any credit for their findings?

        • Posted September 7, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          Another Matt,

          When did anyone ever assert that the Challenger blew itself up of it’s own free will? Or when did anyone assert that the O-rings failed because they “wanted to”, and could have not failed, if only they hadn’t wanted to?

          • Vaal
            Posted September 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

            ^^^ Sound of Space Shuttle flying over someone’s head.
            ;-)

            Vaal

          • Another Matt
            Posted September 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

            Nobody, but the reasoning about causation is the same.

            You wouldn’t let “the chain of causation stretching back to the big bang” count as an explanation for a simple question like “why did the heavy and the light ball land at the same time?” yet some of you are replying as though it’s the only worthwhile explanation for “why do humans behave the way they do?”

            Like I said before, I can get behind “that doesn’t count as free will” arguments — we can get over the semantic squabbles. It’s the “determinism makes potentiality impossible” stance that I think is unwarranted and a little too heavy-handed for free-will debates, unless you’re prepared also to try to explain natural selection without reference to contingency, potentiality, repetition, and so forth.

            This isn’t even about free will anymore.

            • Vaal
              Posted September 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

              Another Matt,

              Yes, when it comes to free will it starts to involve many different areas and all of them involving some of our most basic assumptions and conceptualizing.
              But you can’t get anywhere if someone won’t truly evaluate their assumptions. It’s like
              theists thinking it’s so obvious that the the world required a creator (What, it just created itself…are you crazy??!!) or that the Bible is true, or that God exists or is good. From the outside you can see the problem is they just aren’t truly interested in putting their basic assumptions on to the table to examine, which can make any attempt to move forward futile.

              That’s how it can feel in the free will debate. It seems some folks are so convinced at the outset that free will must be talking of “woo” – and they are so wary of philosophy (which deals with our assumptions) that you get a form of “don’t bother me with the philosophical mumbo jumbo about assumptions…just show me the evidence.” But of course you can never move forward until they are actually willing to truly evaluate the assumptions they may be
              holding. (And any of us ought to be ready to re-evaluate our assumptions, since that is one of the prime ways we humans fall into error).

              As I’ve argued earlier, the types of criticisms made by incompatibilists, and the responses by compatibilists, really plunge about as deep as it gets, conceptually….right into the most basic concepts of “identity.”

              The incompatibilists seem to express deep discomfort with any form of abstraction – thinking it mumbo jumbo – but ONLY if we are talking about human behavior (choice making). Yet they don’t seem to grok that even by just identifying anything – calling something a “rock” or “sand” or a “tree” or “a computer” is to already engage in an abstraction – when you hold up a metal and say “this is Gold” you have already abstracted that identity from multiple past instances of different shiny-yellow-things-that-seemed-to-have-similar-qualities at separate times and often behaving in different ways (e.g. Gold being solid, gold being melted, gold being ring-formed, Gold being in brick form etc). But you found some string of identity, some similarity enough to link all those things and form a single concept comprising ALL those different observations: “Gold.”

              So simply identifying a substance as “gold” assumes in it’s identity different instances of time, and different behaviors in different situations. You are not referring to one possible instance of time in which all
              atoms and causes in the universe are the same. If you did…you could never even CONCEIVE of “Gold” in the way we do.

              Same for conceiving any person. When I talk about “I” or “me” by the very nature of identity that represents not a “me” in some frozen state in time – it is “me” through time, and the collection of “ways I behave and powers I seem to have.”

              So when I say “I” could have chosen a different sandwich to eat, me-through-time is built into my very identity. So I’m referring to the list of observations-through-time of what I can and can not do in varying situations.
              “I” am the type of being who has been able to choose different sandwiches in similar situations.

              The frozen-in-time version of “me” that incompatibilists keep throwing up is not only conceptually useless, we CAN’T and DON’T think that way normally about ourselves or the rest of the world.

              People can be mistaken about how they really think. Someone who thinks he truly make claims about what he can do simply on the basis of “dualism” or “contra-causality” is mistaken the actual basis, the actual assumptions he is making in his thoughts.

              In a similar way to how Christians may have expressed the idea for thousands of years that they were getting their morality from the bible, whereas a closer analysis shows they are wrong – they are actually bringing their own moral assumptions to the bible, and they are blind to their own assumptions.

              So when incompatibilists think that “libertarian, dualist, contra-causal” notions are really underneath how humans think about their abilities, they are wrong. (Or, at least, far from the whole truth). And if they think they do not want to accept any abstraction/counterfactuals in talking about free will or it will be mumbo jumbo, they are wrong – they already accept this approach in making claims about the world.

              Vaal

            • Posted September 8, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

              Another Matt,

              “You wouldn’t let “the chain of causation stretching back to the big bang” count as an explanation for a simple question like “why did the heavy and the light ball land at the same time?””

              This isn’t what us nonfree willists are doing.

              AM,

              free willists assert that the human will is able to transcend causation, circumvent cause an effect…they called this having free will.

              nonfree willists reject this assertion and say, no, there is no power/faculty of free will, the is no freedom to the human will, the human will is completely 100% caused, human behavior is a function of a matrix of causal determinants that the individual has no contra-causal control over, that everyone does exactly those behaviors that they are caused to do, (just the same as the rest of the animal kingdom), and any subjective feeling of being uncaused in their choices and actions are an illusion. Anyone that supposes that any person could have done anything other that which they did, at the place and time that they did this thing, is in error. This is what nonfree willist assert.

              I was pointing out to you that your O-ring analogy failed because the mechanical failure of the O-rings is not considered a free will issue by free willists. I know that you couldn’t help yourself, you had no choice but to cling to what you thought was a good argument, and so instead of acknowledging your error, you continued to rely upon it.

              • Another Matt
                Posted September 8, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

                One of my favorite Simpsons moments:

                Lovejoy: Lisa, it’s still the same basic message — we’ve just dressed it up a little.

                Lisa: Like the Whore of Babylon?

                Lovejoy: That is a false analogy!

                Lisa: No, it’s not. It’s apt. Apt!

                Anyway, not everyone who believes that free will is a meaningful, and perhaps even necessary concept for science believes that it is free from causation.

                It’s true — my analogy fails when the issue is what all the readers here agree on, viz. that contra-causal free will is a nonstarter.

                That’s not really what is at issue in the current disagreement, which I take to be “how much of our current understanding should we eliminate in light of determinism?”

                I’ve contended that if you throw out “choice” as a meaningful category of behavior, there’s a lot more you’re logically throwing out with it, like “adaptation,” “advantage,” “evasion,” “capability” and other concepts we obviously need for natural selection.

                To the extent that “choice” is synonymous with “free will,” compatibilists have been content to keep the latter, just understood and interpreted without the contra-causal “woo.” I can respect that not everyone is so content — that’s the semantic issue I’ve been saying I think we can put behind us.

                But the O-ring analogy was meant against arguments which go many steps further and say that because determinism is true, we ought to attribute all behavior of everything to the big bang and unfolding causation, and leave it there without any further explanatory analysis. Empirical science can’t even get off the ground under that framework.

        • Posted September 7, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

          Neither team would *fundamentally* get any credit because neither is fundamentally responsible for their understanding. However, because our species is hard-wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, we would celebrate and assign credit to their achievement as a way of creating pleasure for both them and us.

          Because our species is also hard-wired to be as reasonable as our minds allow, we would *pragmatically* credit team B more than team A, firstly because team A’s conclusion is already obvious and not a new discovery, and secondly because we appreciate understanding the proximate causes of phenomena to better accomplish our goals.

          • Another Matt
            Posted September 7, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

            I just don’t understand why we can’t understand “credit” as a pragmatic human behavior in the first place. Credit (and responsibility) doesn’t need to be cosmic or come from on high or ooze from fundamental particles to be meaningful, as long as it’s understood for how it actually comes to be.

            • Posted September 7, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

              Unfortunately the free will illusion leads to horrific inhumanity. 30,000 kids die of largely preventable poverty *every day* in our world because our socio-economic systems predicate their allocation of resources on the fundamentally erroneous crediting individuals. As a result of our free will-based attribution, we consider it necessary to compensate with billions of dollars individuals for their “deserved” accomplishments. Hopefully, as free will is universally understood as the illusion, or mistaken conclusion, that it is, we can collectively begin to consider that a child’s right to live and prosper is far, far more important than an individual to “earn” as much money as they can.

              Another theoretically monumental determinant deriving from our collective free will illusion has to do with the approximately 60 billion animals that we torture and kill each year, mostly to feed our appetite for meat (an appetite that, not incidentally, kills us at a younger age and hugely increases our health care costs.) My hypothesis is that the free will illusion prevents societies from facing, learning about, and ultimately stopping our institutional torture of innocent sentient beings to a degree and extent far more cruel than ever before not only in human history, but in the history of the planet.

              I suspect that when confronted with our collective evil, to the extent that we believe it is *our* evil rather than that of the universe, we most likely completely turn away from the horrible matter because it is psychologically too threatening to us to admit we, as individuals and as a society, could be so unimaginably cruel.

              To the extent, however, we accurately recognize that the evil is not genuinely ours, my hope is that we would be freed this threat to our collective self-identity, compassionately consider what the universe is compelling us to do to those animals, and, with a clear, compassionate conscience, finally and forever put an end to this unimaginably cruel, systematic torture of animals.

              For a graphic description of the kind of animal torture I refer to, view the following 12 minute video narrated by Alex Baldwin and produced by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)

              (warning: absolutely not for the faint of heart)

          • Vaal
            Posted September 7, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

            George,

            Putting aside for the moment all manner of quibbles I’d want to make with your post, this part seems most important:

            “we would *pragmatically* credit team B more than team A, firstly because team A’s conclusion is already obvious and not a new discovery, and secondly because we appreciate understanding the proximate causes of phenomena to better accomplish our goals.”

            Right. So you agree it is the SECOND teams approach that is the way we’d actually achieve our goals.

            Does this not strike you as rather hugely important?

            Let’s say I took my son to the hospital with a swollen face and constricted breathing. We need to know what is causing it. That is our urgent goal. One medical team says “It’s the the chain of causation stretching back to the big bang” the other identifies the cause as being an allergic reaction to a peanut. In terms of our actual goal of trying to understand the phenomenon at hand, and treat my son before he dies, the first team’s statement while “true” in some basic sense is just f#cking idiotic and irrelevant in light of the goal at hand. You’d want to STRANGLE any team that thought that THAT was the relevant level of analysis for understanding what is happening to your kid and deciding what action will help. One level of analysis is MASSIVELY ineffectual and uninformative to the goals at hand, the other (singling out the peanut and allergy) is of the strictest relevance and usefulness to the goal at hand.

            If the first team starts saying “Well…yeah, sure if you want to start getting all pragmatic about things…!”
            Well that’s the point! It’s being “pragmatic” to actually want ways of understanding all the specific phenomena of the world.

            Identifying “proximate causes” as you phrase them is really that important a level of analysis.

            That is why it is so bizarrely mistaken to keep making this exception to human choice-making and responsibility (being the actors making the choices). It is important to be able to identify that people REALLY ARE the cause (“proximate cause”) of choices, like where they vacation, what ice cream they chose etc, in the same way we need to identify a peanut exposure/allergy as the cause of my son’s health problem, or rabies as the cause of a dog’s death or countless other examples. To keep putting the emphasis on the “chain of causation” preceding a human choice, as if to deny that “we shouldn’t REALLY be identifying the person as making the choice, since they are just at the end of the big bang…” is just absurd. You can not act like that and truly understand individual phenomena in the world, or conceptualize it or talk about it, INCLUDING humans as causes.

            Vaal

            • Posted September 7, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

              “So you agree it is the SECOND teams approach that is the way we’d actually achieve our goals.”

              If our aim is to fix flaws in aircraft design, team B’s finding would clearly be the way to go. However, if our aim is to create a more intelligent, compassionate, sane and accurate understanding of our world, and our place within it, team A’s conclusion would be exceedingly more useful.

              “To keep putting the emphasis on the “chain of causation” preceding a human choice, as if to deny that “we shouldn’t REALLY be identifying the person as making the choice, since they are just at the end of the big bang…” is just absurd.”

              I’m not aware of ever claiming that the identification of and focus on proximate causes is unimportant to a great many human endeavors. Both fundamental and proximate causal perspectives of human behavior have their utility, according to our aim. But, again, if we are to create a more intelligent, sane, compassionate, fair, and truth-driven world, we absolutely must abandon the free will illusion that now forms the basis of it’s major institutions, and of our personal identity.

              • Vaal
                Posted September 8, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

                Hi George,

                “I’m not aware of ever claiming that the identification of and focus on proximate causes is unimportant to a great many human endeavors.”

                You keep saying things like our choices were “made for us” by past events (stretching to the Big Bang).

                That is the slippery, misleading type of language and conceptual scheme that I believe leads to the confusion inherent in your view. (At least, from how I see you expressing it).

                When we talk of identifying humans as choice-makers, your putting more emphasis on the preceding causal chain, is a similar fallacy to looking for “A computer” by looking only at it’s fundamental atomic particles. At that level of analysis you will always miss
                a truth about what computers do at the macro level. You can not explain what computers do and why if you only refer to it’s non-computer smaller parts. It’s not true the computer being made of non-computer parts is merely “an illusion.” It’s real and really does things – you just have to not confuse yourself about which level of analysis will tell you about computers.

                Similarly, if you keep thinking that the “non-me” preceding events to what humans do is “ultimately” the more important to understanding humans and their making choices, by focusing on the non-people causes you will miss the TRUTH of what people are ACTUALLY doing – making choices.

                The fact people’s choices are on one level at the end of a chain of non-us causes no more undermines this than the fact we are made of non-human-like particles when analyzed at the sub atomic level.

                So you keep thinking that to really understand our choice-making the IMPORTANT level of analysis is to appeal to preceding causes and on these grounds, well since those causes “weren’t us and can’t choose otherwise” then it means WE can’t choose otherwise. That is the conflation you keep making when you deny free will and try to attribute our ability to choose to preceding causes, and not to us.

                And we needn’t make this type of mistake in order to make arguments that retributive “justice” etc are less likely to lead to a better world.

                Vaal

            • Posted September 8, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

              So disappointing that you grabbed Another Matt’s strawman argument of the only answer to why something happens has to be a reference back to the big bang and the chain of cause and effect and no other amount of details about the chain of cause and effect will be mentioned or considered.

              • Posted September 8, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

                Another Matt was conceding that the Big Bang is an explanation for all human behavior. Where’s the straw man in that? His point about the pragmatic utility of also identifying and addressing proximate causes is valid, as is mine about the pragmatic utility of understanding that human behavior is not up to us humans. I’m not sure I follow your objection.

              • Vaal
                Posted September 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

                George,

                “Another Matt was conceding that the Big Bang is an explanation for all human behavior. Where’s the straw man in that?”

                He never said that. You keep trying to grab too much here.

                In fact he keeps arguing (as I do) that, while it may be TRUE that human behavior is preceded by causes stretching back to the big bang, it CAN’T really act as an “explanation” for explaining human behavior, like “why I went to the store and bought some milk instead of orange juice.”

                Juat as it is true we are made of atomic particles, but you CAN’T explain why I did the above by appealing only to the level of atomic particles.

                “as is mine about the pragmatic utility of understanding that human behavior is not up to us humans.”

                For reasons already stated, I can’t agree. Your point doesn’t make sense. We can certainly talk about preceding causes and their roles in our behavior, but you take this so far as to make a total destruction of our very ability to talk about anything.
                It’s self-refuting. (I know you haven’t seen this yet, but we keep trying to give examples showing why).

                Yeah, my decisions are “up to me” because I am the agent in question, whose choices were necessary for X to occur. It is nonsensical to think they could have been “up to” the the original particles of the big bang, or gravitation, or the first precursors to life, etc. because they are not “agents” and nothing can be “up to them”
                since they can not choose as I can. Not to mention, how can a choice that is not even manifest at all (before I even exist – before even milk or orange juice exists to be chosen between) be made?

                So the only thing a choice like “going to the store to buy orange juice” CAN be up to is us agents-who-make-such-choices.

                So given it’s nonsensical that “choices” were made before us by things that could not have possibly made the choice in question, you have to explain the choice by OUR actions.

                Now, how will you explain WHY someone went to the store and chose milk over orange juice?

                So now that we have something to understand and explain – someone’s behavior – how will you do it? By appeal to all the causes starting from The Big Bang? Good luck. Let’s see how that will work.

                Much more informative will be the normal mode of explanation – by appeal to the person’s beliefs and desires. Then you’ll understand why I did those actions. But then…in making this appeal we are already into the realm of what we call “making a choice.” So the explanation – the one that will actually inform us – will presume that understanding us to be choice-making-agents is critical for understanding, explaining and predicting human behavior. It is THE critical level of analysis for understanding human behavior – not “the big bang.” (In fact, no one ever needed to know the Big Bang ever happened to explain my behavior, empirically).

                It’s TRUE we are part of causes stretching back to the big bang. It’s TRUE we are made of fundamental atomic particles. But it’s NOT TRUE that those are the most pertinent ways of understanding human behavior – they are actually laughably ill-equipped to do so.

                Vaal.

  42. Vaal
    Posted September 7, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    nonfreewillist,

    No he’s NOT saying free will is an illusion.
    He’s saying noting that the libertarian/dualist account of free will is conceptually poor and offers another account for how we would have free will. And it’s not simply “re-defining” free will to do so any more than a materialist is “re-defining” morality when he points out morality doesn’t need a magic God: that moral rules of behavior can be accounted for in a fully materialist universe.

    I ask because if I understand you, you seem to be saying here that you agree free will is an illusion. (Of course I’m not arguing that we have libertarian (or dualist) powers,..)

    That’s the mistake you keep making.

    You are leaping from his comments that Libertarian/dualist powers are an illusion to ‘therefore free will must be an illusion.”

    He spent the whole article explaining why that was in incorrect leap to make. And he’s just reiterated that. The contradictions you think you are seeing come from your own misunderstanding of what he’s writing.

    Vaal

    • Posted September 7, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      So he is saying feeling of contra-causal free will is NOT an illusion?

      See I could swear he was saying he agrees with us that there is no freedom to the will of humans.

      • Tim O'Keefe
        Posted September 7, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        No, he’s saying that free will is not an illusion, and that free will does NOT require any contra-causal powers.

        • Posted September 7, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

          Then he doesn’t agree with nonfree willism.

        • Posted September 8, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

          P.S. Tom, free will IS contra-causal power. Free will needs to be redefined in order to make what you claim be true.

          • Eddy Nahmias
            Posted September 10, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

            You can define a term however you like but you cannot expect everyone to agree with your definition. You can assert “free will IS contra-causal power” but if you do, most philosophers and, I would argue–based on actual evidence–most people would disagree.

            Here’s an analogy:
            1. Knowledge IS what the natural sciences can tell us is true.
            2. Philosophers (and artists and sociologists and historians and novelists…) make claims that are not based on what the natural sciences can tell us is true.
            3. So, philosophers (and…) do not provide us with knowledge.

            So readers here might agree with this argument (does Coyne?). But premise 1 is highly contentious (and I would argue, false). At a minimum, it requires argumentation. So does the claim that free will IS contra-causal power (or requires indeterminism or requires a soul, etc.).

            • Posted September 10, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

              Eddy,

              You can define a term however you like but you cannot expect everyone to agree with your definition.

              It’s not me, that is defining free will (to be precise libertarian free will), nor is it any of my fellow nonfree willists either, but instead it has been and is those who assert and rely upon the concept of libertarian (contra-causal) free will who define it: the free willists.

              You can assert “free will IS contra-causal power” but if you do, most philosophers and, I would argue–based on actual evidence–most people would disagree.

              It does not matter, even if this was true, all that matters is that the free willists are talking about libertarian free will when they assert free willism. Again, you would have to convince the free willists that they have defined free will incorrectly.

              Believe me, once everyone accepts that libertarian free will doesn’t exist, that every single person is completely without an iota of contra-causal freedom, you won’t hear a peep from us nonfree willists.

              Upon further reflection…

              What you suggest is very much akin to suggesting that instead of atheists accepting what theists assert an existing god to be, and then denying that any such entity is, atheists should just say, yes god does exist if you define god to be the universe. If all atheists just accept that by god, we mean universe (which almost everyone can agree DOES exist).

              Atheism and theism are compatible, all that is required is the god be redefined as the universe (which is really what matches close to what everyone experiences anyway). Atheists quit saying god doesn’t exist, god does exist, god is the universe.

              Compatabilism that redefines free will as something other than the libertarian free will (the free will that compatiblism originaly claims to be compatible with determinism) is nothing more that a bait-and-switch argument, with suspect motives of free will appeasement due to perceived (real and unreal) threats of nonfree willism.

            • Posted September 10, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

              “You can assert “free will IS contra-causal power” but if you do, most philosophers and, I would argue–based on actual evidence–most people would disagree.”

              Unless you’re defending a straw man version of free will, the only conceptual or empirical alternative to “free will IS contra-causal power” is “free will IS contra-acausal power,” or the notion that freely willed thoughts can somehow arise uncaused. Such a will, however, becomes even more impossible. Clearly an uncaused decision cannot have been caused by a human will.

              “2. Philosophers (and artists and sociologists and historians and novelists…) make claims that are not based on what the natural sciences can tell us is true.”

              You might also add religionists to the list. What they all have in common that makes them lesser authorities than our best and most reliable source and method for ascertaining truth – science – is that absent scientific evidence their “truths” are actually more accurately defined as subjective beliefs whereas science strives for verifiable understanding.

              “But premise 1 [1. Knowledge IS what the natural sciences can tell us is true] is highly contentious (and I would argue, false).”

              When the truth being ascertained – i.e. do we humans have a free will? – relates and is subject to fundamental physical laws, like the law of causality, science is far and away our *most* reliable authority.

              Regarding free will, all scientific and logical evidence refutes it, and non supports it. This statement of fact is based on the fact that a human decision can only be causal or acausal, and neither allow for a free will.

  43. Posted September 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Some data on word play from another species. This suggest experimental philosophers might include baboons in their experiments:

    “Skilled readers use information about which letters are where in a word (orthographic information) in order to access the sounds and meanings of printed words.

    We asked whether efficient processing of orthographic information could be achieved in the absence of prior language knowledge. To do so, we trained baboons to discriminate English words from nonsense combinations of letters that resembled real words.

    The results revealed that the baboons were using orthographic information in order to efficiently discriminate words from letter strings that were not words.

    Our results demonstrate that basic orthographic processing skills can be acquired in the absence of preexisting linguistic representations. ”

    This suggest that the basic brain processes needed for vocal signaling will be found in animals from which humans descended, of course. Proto-human verbal abilities had to evolve far earlier over likely millions of years, or longer.

  44. Posted September 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Well, we certainly got some mileage out of this post. Here is a lecture on the state of the science. Some support fo the middel ground.

    Go past the music to get to the lecture – http://www.dericbownds.net/Istanbul_video.mov

  45. Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Learn something. Not for feint of mind.

    Here is the latest science and some “higher” order concepts (yuk) on consciousness – major conference with lots of primary material — http://users.ecs.soton.ac.uk/harnad/TuringEvolutionConsciousness.htm

  46. Posted September 12, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    “Nahmias, E. and Dy. Murray, 2012, Experimental philosophy of free will: an error theory for incompatibilist intuitions (free download).

    This is the manuscript that, says Nahmias, supports the view that the average person is a compatibilist. Please don’t comment on this until I post about it.”

    Are you still going to post on this manuscript?

  47. Luther Flint
    Posted October 27, 2012 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Anyone who believes Soon et al’s experiments show anything remotely resembling what is claimed for them thereby relinquishes all claim to be thought of as a rational thinker. Why? Because the idea that there could be anything like a 10 second gap between unconscious “choices” and conscious awareness of them in the normal case is preposterous. And to believe such a thing is the limiting case of credulity. That is, if you believe THAT, what would you not believe?

    Try this: 1. close your eyes; 2. turn your head to your left (or right); 3. open your eyes; 4. pick an object; 5. change your mind for good measure; 6. point at it and say its name out loud; and 7. repeat steps (4), (5) and (6) as often as you can – or knit a cardigan – in what remains of the ten seconds. Thus, unless you unconsciously, and psychically, “deliberated” and “chose” before you could have even known (non-psychically) what the options were, you didn’t take anything like 10 seconds to do it.

    The moral of the story being: if someone tells you an experiment shows people don’t have hearts, it’s a good idea to check the experimenters had the right end of the stethoscope in their ears, and were holding it to an appropriate part of the anatomy. And, by bearing this in mind, you’ll be less likely to endorse patent nonsense, and I won’t need to channel an Atlantean to tell you so.

    Siphon Crehonerex II (channelled by Luther Flint)

      • Luther Flint
        Posted October 28, 2012 at 2:01 am | Permalink

        Yeah, just as I said, no ten second gap there, and thus further evidence that anyone who buys Soon et al’s lunacy can not really be considered a rational thinker.

        • Posted October 28, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

          Why are you quibbling about details? Both causality and randomness make free will absolutely impossible, and there is no third alternative. Game, set match for a causal, unconscious will.

          • Luther Flint
            Posted October 29, 2012 at 2:46 am | Permalink

            You miss the point. My point was about Soon et al’s claims and how those who believe them relinquish all claim to being rational thinkers. And I’m “quibbling” because pseudoscientific nonsense was being passed off as science and being widly (and wildly) promoted – and that can’t be a good thing now can it?

            As for your “no third alternative” – lol, to use the parlance of our times. Your claim appears to be based in large part, as most such claims are, on some truly awful conceptual analysis of the word “free”. Consider the fact that when I say, eg, “I’ll be free after 6 tonight so I can speak to you then” – that’s not false because, say, I can’t go faster than the speed of light once the clock hits 6, or because I still have to breath . But it is false if, say, I have a meeting planned from 6-7. It is in this, and similar ways that the word “free” is used. And as can be seen from the example, it is consistent (dare I say, it is compatible) with all sorts of constraints that might lead one, if one had befuddled oneself sufficiently, to say I wasn’t really free after 6 at all.

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted October 29, 2012 at 4:13 am | Permalink

              The sense in which the average person uses “free” in “free will” is dualistic, and Soon et al.’s studies are not scientific nonsense. You may be interested to know that one outcome of our meeting was that most people thought the term “free will”, freighted with its common and theistic meaning, should be abandoned and replaced by something like “volition.”

              • Another Matt
                Posted October 29, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

                Many of your readers have also found it important to eliminate the concept of “volition” — or for that matter any distinction between “voluntary” and “involuntary,” “corrigible” and “incorrigible.” A few have been bold enough to want to ditch concepts like “avoidance” as being nonsensical in light of determinism.

            • Posted October 29, 2012 at 4:26 am | Permalink

              I understand your point. You might want to consider that Soon did his experiment in 2008, and there have apparently been no published unsuccessful replications in the four subsequent years.

              In terms of a third alternative, I’m referring to causality and acausality (or randomness), not to the term free. It’s a logical extrapolation from this no third alternative to our causality and acausality reality that free will, in the sense that we humans would have any more decisive power than the average puppet, is completely impossible.

              This is basic logic were dealing with here. If you’re arguing for any other kind of freedom, you’re missing the point of free will refutations. The essential point and meaning of these refutations is that we humans have absolutely no power to consciously decide anything, and that anything our unconscious decides is either conceptually governed by a causal regression that spans back to before we were born or by an acausality that we cannot therefore logically attribute to anything, including human will.

              Check out my site for much more detailed information on all of this.

              http://causalconsciousness.com/

              (disregard that “above of” error in the “The world’s…” sentence.)

  48. Posted February 13, 2013 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    If an illusion of free will was important to live in so many ways, then how could the first questioning individuals survive? The many problems with it should immediately have caused natural selection to purge questioning. And yet questioning does exist, so the whole evolutionary psychology theory of a naturally selected hardwired illusion of free will is fatally flawed as a theory. A better explanation is that afterconstructs are simply the results of social pressure to justify. As shown in “Mind, Brain and Education” metastudies by Kurt Fischer, Christina Hinton et al., extreme recoveries after brain damage unexplainable by conventional theories are linked to tolerant environments. This can be explained by lack of social pressure to justify allowing self-correction to flow free. See the page “Advice of ways to stop justifying” at the list of topic pages near the top of the main page on Pure science Wiki, the link to Pure science Wiki is http://purescience.wikia.com


Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *
*
*

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 25,707 other followers

%d bloggers like this: