Dinosaurs and the paradox of free will

A Dinosaur Comic from last year that we missed (click on it twice for larger image):

Dinosaur free will

h/t Ant

24 Comments

  1. Posted July 9, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    This is a good one!

    Proponents of a “quantum free will” have to understand that indeterminism is a necessary condition for a free will, but not a sufficient one; let alone it’s a necessary and sufficient condition.

  2. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted July 9, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    What is the point? In a civil society, you are responsible, and that is a fact.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      The point is that we are lucky that large dinosaurs are extinct!

      • Jeremy Pereira
        Posted July 10, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        Ostriches are pretty big.

        • darrelle
          Posted July 10, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

          Oh boy, I didn’t think of them. I hope they don’t see this cartoon and decide to adopt this rationalization!

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Actually, it is more of a postulate (of what is characteristic of a “civil society”) than it is a fact. Not that I disagree!

  3. Posted July 9, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    My only quibble would be tying the incoherent albatross of “free will” around the neck of an extremely useful concept such as responsibility.

    You’re responsible for what you do, precisely because you do exactly that which you’re capable of doing and no more and no less.

    And why all the focus on responsibility for the bad things we do? Why don’t we also deserve credit for the good we do?

    If Darwin isn’t responsible for enlightening us all as to the mechanisms driving the development of live on Earth, who is?

    Cheers,

    b&

  4. Adam Smith
    Posted July 9, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Perhaps of interest is a piece by physicist Carlo Rovelli, with some commentary by Lee Smolin: http://edge.org/conversation/free-will-determinism-quantum-theory-and-statistical-fluctuations-a-physicists-take

    • Stephen Lawrence
      Posted July 10, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Quoting Lee Smolin “The problem of the apparent tension between free will and determinism is not relieved by quantum physics. ”

      True, but the first thing to do is get clear about what the apparent tension is. If determinism is true it seems that whether I select option A, B or C depends upon the initial conditions of the universe. If I make a bad choice I’m just unlucky that the universe started out one way rather than another.

      From the apparent tension we can conclude what free will as in “the free will problem” is. It is that we have some power that overcomes the problem.

      What you can’t do is “solve the problem” by re-defining free will as Lee Smolin tries to do.

      It’s not that we don’t have compatibilist free will, just that it isn’t a solution to the free will problem. Rather it’s just something else, not what is referred to in the problem itself.

  5. Posted July 9, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Just because we do not have free will does not mean we shouldn’t be held accountable for our actions. Determinism and responsibility are not mutually exclusive.

  6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 9, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    The problem is (and do I really have to go through this again) is that deterministic chaos means:

    – you _can’t_ “set up the universe in exactly the same way” in an empirically meaningful way.

    The last couple of posts where “free will” was defined as “no dualism, plz!”, are constructive as that doesn’t exist. The philosophic determinism is baloney, because we know physics doesn’t work that way.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      And, as I argued earlier, “no dualism” goes to the core of the issue. Win-win.

  7. Posted July 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Like others above, I am not entirely sure what the point is here. It could be “haha, there cannot be dualist free will because the only available choices are determinism or randomness” but it could also be “look at how easily the idea that there is no free will will be abused to justify bad behavior”. Both of those are plausible. It can be assumed that the third possible interpretation, “green dinosaur is right, nobody is responsible for anything, so let’s all do bad things” is not what the author intended.

    Of course, the absence of responsibility for one’s actions does not logically follow from determinism.

    • Notagod
      Posted July 10, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Just look at the bad behavior that is justified by people that have one or more gods and believe they have free will. Look at all the bad behavior exhibited by the chrisian gods in their bibel. Having the illusion of gods just makes it more difficult to get to an honorable society.

  8. Stephen Lawrence
    Posted July 10, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Alex,

    “Of course, the absence of responsibility for one’s actions does not logically follow from determinism.”

    It depends upon what you mean by responsibility.

    A murderer is merely unlucky. That does follow. If the initial conditions of the universe had been appropriately different I would have committed a murder that day and he would not.

    Of course I’m just lucky and he is just unlucky that the universe started off the way it did.

    So, if by responsible you have something incompatible with this in mind, then we are not responsible.

  9. Posted July 10, 2013 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Notagod,

    Can you point out where I have argued that believing in gods is a good idea?

    Stephen Lawrence,

    We can start splitting hairs about what responsibility really is or whether there is any difference between moral responsibility and just plain responsibility, but it remains a fact of life that a human clubbing another human is not the same as a dead branch falling onto the second human’s head.

    The assailant is an autonomous agent who can decide whether to club the victim or not, depending on how they weigh the benefits of that action against the benefits of not taking that action. The branch can only fall.

    The fact that both the outside world and the internal brain processes of the assailant are deterministic does not change that, indeed they could not make a reasoned decision if world and brain processes were non-deterministic.

    The fundamental mistake of those who deprive humans of agency and responsibility is in where they locate and how they circumscribe the “I” or “me” of a human. “I” am envisioned as a helpless observer (soul?) caught in a body that deterministically shambles around and does better or worse things without me being at fault. In reality, “I” am simply that body. I am not the slave of my genes and experiences, I am the sum of my genes and of my experiences.

    • Stephen Lawrence
      Posted July 10, 2013 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

      “The fundamental mistake of those who deprive humans of agency and responsibility is in where they locate and how they circumscribe the “I” or “me” of a human. ”

      No, because it makes no difference to the problem of free will.

      The problem is if the past before you were born was in certain states you will commit murder tomorrow. If it wasn’t in those states you are 100% lucky that it wasn’t (good luck).

      People believe we have power that overcomes this so we are not merely lucky or unlucky to get to do this or that but instead deserve what happens to us as a result of our choices.

      • Stephen Lawrence
        Posted July 10, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

        Alex SL,

        I’ll add this:

        http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-luck/

        <>

        The short version is “man can do what he wills but not will what he wills”.

        What many do, as you are, is alter the problem and then solve the new altered problem.

        • Stephen Lawrence
          Posted July 10, 2013 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

          Oops meant to quote from the article:

          “Causal luck. Finally, there is causal luck, or luck in “how one is determined by antecedent circumstances” (Nagel 1979, 60). Nagel points out that the appearance of causal moral luck is essentially the classic problem of free will. The problem of free will to which Nagel refers arises because it seems that our actions—and even the “stripped-down acts of the will”—are consequences of what is not in our control.”

          • Stephen Lawrence
            Posted July 11, 2013 at 12:02 am | Permalink

            One more quote:

            http://www.naturalism.org/celebrities.htm

            Bertrand Russell: “When a man acts in ways that annoy us we wish to think him wicked, and we refuse to face the fact that his annoying behavior is the result of antecedent causes which, if you follow them long enough, will take you beyond the moment of his birth, and therefore to events for which he cannot be held responsible by any stretch of imagination…

            I’m determined to bash away at the same point because there is quite a movement to try to “move the goal posts”, to alter the problem and thus disappear it.

      • Posted July 10, 2013 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

        Okay, a simple question with a potential follow-up, depending on your answer:

        Would you treat/punish a kleptomaniac who steals something in exactly the same way as a sane person who steals something?

        If no, why not?

        My hunch is that if you are sane yourself, you would answer no, and that the reason for that answer would be at best a laborious exercise in describing the difference in personal responsibility without using those words.

        (Of course, one could also ask if you would punish the fallen branch in the same way as the assailant. The Persian king Xerxes supposedly had the sea whipped after a storm destroyed some of his ships, so obviously sentencing a branch that has hurt a human to jail would not be without precedent. It would, however, surely be considered odd.)

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

          Alex,

          “Okay, a simple question with a potential follow-up, depending on your answer:”

          I am sorry but I’m not going to answer because I agree with you on compatibilist responsibility.

          It’s just it’s not a solution to the free will problem, rather it’s a different subject. People believe we are ultimately responsible, which is why determinism (and indeterminism) is a problem and hence the cartoon.

          The solution is we are not ultimately responsible.

          Then, since responsibility is an important subject, it’s important to talk about compatibilist responsibility but not on the same thread since one is not to be confused with the other.

          • Posted July 11, 2013 at 2:56 am | Permalink

            Okay, I understand better now. Not convinced that it makes sense to make a difference between ultimate and compatibilist responsibility though.

            • Stephen Lawrence
              Posted July 12, 2013 at 1:14 am | Permalink

              Alex,

              “Okay, I understand better now. Not convinced that it makes sense to make a difference between ultimate and compatibilist responsibility though.”

              When Sam Harris says we don’t have free will he means what we do is 100% out of our control in the sense I’ve outlined. We could have done otherwise but what that means from a compatibilist view point is would have done otherwise if circumstances beyond our control had been appropriately different.

              Sheer luck. (in one sense).

              What people believe is we have some way of overcoming this that makes us deserving of the consequences of our chosen actions.

              A helpful way to put it is that people believe it can make sense for God to judge us after we are dead for what we have done. Whilst in fact God would just see that we were unlucky to do it.

              This is why people wrestle with determinism and try indeterminism as a solution.

              People do believe we can be “guilty in God’s eyes” as Dennett puts it and this is what is meant by Ultimate responsibility.

              What is of concern to those who say we don’t have (Libertarian) Free Will, is the influence belief in it has. What influence does it have on people that they believe in ultimate responsibility?

              Merely using a different definition of Free Will just misses the point, because it is the difference between the two versions which is what matters.

              http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/free-will-and-free-will


%d bloggers like this: