Eagleton on Baggini on free will

The philosopher and atheist Julian Baggini has a new book called Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will. As you can probably tell from the title, it’s a compatibilist book, claiming that although all our acts are determined by the laws of physics, we still have a kind of free will.  And it’s reviewed in the April 1 Guardian by the theist Terry Eagleton, who agrees with Baggini’s determinism but also with his compatibilist solution to the problem of feeling like we have a choice when we really don’t. Here’s Eagleton’s precis on how Baggini solves the problem:

What, however, if our beliefs and desires lead us to act in a way that feels inevitable? Can we still be free if we could not have acted otherwise? Baggini is surely right to claim that we can. In fact, most of the things that matter – being in love, composing a superb sonata, detesting Piers Morgan, feeling horrified by the slave trade – have a smack of inner necessity about them, as this book argues in a perceptive chapter on art. What define the self most deeply are the sort of commitments from which we could not walk away even if we tried. The point, however, is that we don’t want to. Freedom from such engagements would be no freedom at all. True liberty lies in being able to realise such a self, not shuck it off.

This is of course making a virtue of necessity, as does all compatibilism.  The smack of “inner necessity” comes largely from our genes, substantially from evolution, and partly from our environment. Take being in love. That emotion, of course, is determined by physics acting on evolved organisms (or so agree Baggini and Eagleton), and is a compulsion surely stemming by our genes, one that almost certainly evolved as a bonding mechanism. We don’t not want to be in love, for love feels good—like orgasms, evolution’s cue for adaptive behavior is often the sensation of pleasure—but what on earth does this have to do with “freedom”? It doesn’t—except for those who are desperately groping about to find some way, when we’re held in thrall by the connections between our neurons, to redefine that as “freedom.”

And what does it mean to “define the self” by the compulsions we feel and which we even know we cannot abjure? Where, exactly, is the freedom in that? If you have no choice about those things, what does it even mean to “realize a self”? What you’re doing is simply instantiating a self: the program run by your neurons which you feel is “you.”

What Eagleton says here is that we are compelled to behave and feel in certain ways, that we like some of those compulsions and at any rate cannot escape them, and that is “true liberty”.  That, dear readers, is Orwellian doublespeak.  Compulsion is both freedom and “true liberty”; black is white. As Sam Harris said, compatibilists view us as marionettes, but ones who love our strings.

The fact is that we don’t “make” anything of our compulsions, or use them to “realize the self”. We have no ability to “realize” our self; all we can do is rationalize what we do and re-brand it as “freedom” so people don’t get scared. So Eagleton’s simply engaging in nonsense when he says stuff like this:

Freedom is not a question of being released from the forces that shape us, but a matter of what we make of them. The world, however, is now divided down the middle between off-the-wall libertarians who deny the reality of such forces, and full-blooded determinists such as the US convict Stephen Mobley, who 20 years ago tried to avoid execution for the murder of a pizza store manager by claiming that it was the result of a mutation in his monoamine oxidase A gene. It wasn’t the smartest way to appeal to a jury of citizens likely to endorse Oprah Winfrey’s view that “we’re responsible for everything that happens to us”.

Yes, we’re “responsible” in the sense that someone identifiable as Stephen Mobley did a crime. It may not have been solely the result of his mutation, but it was solely the result of his genes and his environment. He was wired in a way that he had to commit that crime. It’s sad that people like Oprah don’t seem to realize that, but the sooner we do, the sooner we can reform our judicial system in a way that’s both empathic and efficacious.

Eagleton then dwells on the gene theme (which determinist ever said that physical determinism was solely genetic) to go after his favorite target—the now bullet-ridden Richard Dawkins:

Men and women aren’t authors of themselves, as a character in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus remarks of its proud protagonist, but neither are they slaves of their genes. When Richard Dawkins describes human beings as “survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes”, his language is redolent of neoliberal capitalism as well as the scientist’s laboratory. To see people in this demeaning way is simply the flipside of the idealising talk of pure autonomy. If the former captures something of the bleak reality of the marketplace, the latter belongs to the heady rhetoric that helps to legitimate it.

Well, I’d take some issue with Richard’s statement here, for we’re programmed not solely by our genes, but by our genes and our environment, which are the only things that influence the configuration of molecules and neurons that determine our behavior and “choices”. Nevertheless, we are still robot vehicles, even if we don’t feel like it!

Is it “demeaning” to see people that way? I don’t think so, for it happens to be the inescapable truth. Eagleton and Baggini are, after all, determinists. Eagleton seems to be so blinkered by his hatred of Dawkins that he repeatedly equates physical determinism with genetic determinism (see below). It’s not. If we have an accident that injures our brain, so that henceforth we behave in very different ways, but ways predictable from brain neuroscience, well, that accident was determined by physical law, but its sequelae have very little to do with our genetic endowment.

At the end, Eagleton not only calls determinists “enemies of freedom” (equating us with, say, fascists or totalitarians), but manages to get in a final gratuitious lick at Dawkins:

For most people, Freedom Regained will seem like a kind of Maginot line, defending a territory that is not under attack. This, however, is because the new enemies of freedom are not much evident in everyday life. They are mild-mannered, soft-spoken men and women in senior common rooms, not wild-eyed dictators raving through public address systems. Among its other virtues, the book reveals how many of these soft-spoken types engage in one of the oldest of all debating devices: setting up a straw man of the concept under fire so as the more conveniently to bowl it over. It is just what Dawkins does with God.

Eagleton should surely know enough about religion, and about surveys of folk attitudes, to know that the idea of contracausal free will, in which we can choose to behave in ways other than we did, is palpably not a “straw man”. I suspect it is the dominant view of most people, and it’s certainly the dominant view of religionists, especially those who say we can choose whether or not to accept Jesus or Allah, or that evil exists on earth so people can choose whether to behave good or badly. Libertarian free will is not a straw man.

And Eagleton’s final slap at Dawkins is equally misguided, for the kind of believers Dawkins addresses—those who really see God as a bodiless human with feelings and a moral code he wishes us to obey—are quite common. Muslims and conservative Christians embody the Dawkinsian God quite well, thank you. That god is not a straw man. Just because Eagleton is a Sophisticated Believer™ shouldn’t blind him to the fact that the rest of the world doesn’t share his rarified notions.

At first I thought that Eagleton’s ascerbic review was an April Fool’s joke, but then I realized that the man has no detectable sense of humor.

366 Comments

  1. Posted April 4, 2015 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    As Sam Harris said, compatibilists view us as marionettes, but ones who love our strings.

    That’s half of it.

    The other half is that compatibilist models are overly simplistic for the domain they’re attempting to apply them to.

    You might find it useful to ignore aerodynamics when plotting out a go-kart racing course. Those things just never get going fast enough for aerodynamics to be a significant limiting factor.

    But if you used that same model to predict the top speed of my 1968 VW Westfalia Campmobile, you’d conclude it should easily shatter most any land speed record you can think of.

    As such, we are “free” if you ignore this constraint here and that other one other there and simply pay no mind to these several others.

    And, yes. It’s often very useful to do so — such as when discussing civil liberties and the like.

    But “free will” is about the freedom of the will itself, and only peripherally about external limits imposed upon the will. And it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to describe the will itself in terms of freedom, any more than it makes sense to describe a bachelor as married.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted April 4, 2015 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      A bachelor is not married, but he does have something more like “free will” than does a married man. Not that I’m complaining!

      And your Westfalia might not have gone so fast but I bet it pushed the par-tay limit.

      • Posted April 4, 2015 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

        As the joke goes, the longest sentence is, supposedly, “I do.” Don’t know about that one personally, but I’ve know people form whom it sure seems like that’s the case….

        b&

  2. Posted April 4, 2015 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Jerry for this typically excellent and thoughtful commentary.

    Just a little reply to your “Well, I’d take some issue with Richard’s statement here, for we’re programmed not solely by our genes, but by our genes and our environment.”

    Yes, but you have to look at the second part of the quotation from me: “… programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” Yes, of course we are programmed by environmental influences. But environmental influences don’t program us to preserve environmental influences. Genes do program us to preserve genes. Both program. But only genes program to preserve themselves because only genes are passed on.

    That is the whole essence of The Selfish Gene.

    Richard

    • Posted April 4, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      [E]nvironmental influences don’t program us to preserve environmental influences. Genes do program us to preserve genes. Both program. But only genes program to preserve themselves because only genes are passed on.

      Seems there should be some interesting sociology and / or psychology research that should benefit from that observation. What happens when the genes and the environment conflict, such as when a dictatorship compels self-sacrifice? It might be possible to create a model that predicts how long such anti-genetic influences can persist before vanishing, significantly diminishing, or wiping out those faced with such conflicts.

      Perhaps less challenging to study than dictatorships would be cultural practices related to courtship and the like, especially those, such as FGM, that directly diminish chances of reproductive success.

      b&

    • Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Well, Richard Dawkins certainly affected my programming immensely: as a believer in belief, I was deeply affected (and somewhat shamed) some ten years ago by a YouTube video of a talk he gave and especially by his responses in the Q&A after.

      It seems to me that our brains’ susceptibility to memes (I know, right?) results in humans’ being influenced by our environment in a way that is unique among and faster than any other organism experiences as a group. So we owe a debt for our survival to our bodies’ openness to influence and adaptability to a wide range of conditions.

      Faith and other insidious memes, I feel, are maladaptations if not hijackings of those survival mechanisms – the will to reproduce, the usefulness of protection from the herd and our acute responsiveness to risk and reward – but ultimately our genes don’t care! There are several thousands of millions of us! The genes are getting what they “want”!

      For now. The genes’ robot bodies are being exposed to increasing levels of stress and to all kinds of stresses which would be alien to our ancestors. And failures of rationality, including and especially religious beliefs, are leading us into degradation of our only home and into organizing systems that put the health and lives of the young in dire jeopardy. I hope it does not turn out that the consciousness our genes evolved is the end of our run. I don’t think it will (even though the earth would be just find without us) – though I think our lot will get much worse before it gets better. Our genes don’t care about that, either.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        As a woman, I am keenly aware that my genes want me to reproduce and if I don’t, they will just give up on me and let me die. Genes are jerks.

        • Posted April 4, 2015 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

          I think that overstates it a bit: your genes might not have any use for us, directly, if we don’t reproduce, but they’re not a-holes about it.

          I think our genes were selected for us to live long enough to reproduce and then invest enough parenting (not the Amish or faithiest kind, the helping-them-not-die-before-fertility kind) for the progeny to reproduce. That we live two and three times as long as our genes require is a fluke – a spandrel, if I’m using that term correctly – that selection can’t touch; a by-product of reproductive fitness extended over the past century or so by medicine and, you know, washing.

          I can look my genes in the double helix and say I did my job for them: I put a total of five babies in my two (not-overlapping) spouses – actually, eight, if one counts miscarriages 😦 – and each one of them is a fierce, intelligent girl or woman respectively.

          I just mention that because I am done with the babymaking and maybe it’s coincidence but my genes seem to be done with me, too: Flat, defined abs? Buried in flab now that my metabolism is slowing faster than my appetite is shrinking. Thick wavy auburn hair? Thinner and silvery. Eyesight? Diminished and requiring 3x specs.

          My wife and female acquaintances tell me to shut up (just like that, “Shut up!”), that I’m just being vain (I call it honest, but whatever). If that’s so, then riddle me this: why do females look at old pictures of me and blurt out “This is <you! You were hot!”

          Ahem: “were.” I rest my case.

          However, my genes have granted me one small grace: I don’t care! They can take my hair. They can take my eyesight. But they can’t take my freedom! Freeeeedommmm!

          • rickflick
            Posted April 4, 2015 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

            Amen!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 4, 2015 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

            Speak for yourself but I just got down 16 days straight of radiation for estrogen and progesterone positive breast cancer which I suspect happened because of both bad luck and just having too much estrogen since I’m 45 and never have been pregnant.

            If your body lets you get away without reproducing, you’re lucky.

            • rickflick
              Posted April 4, 2015 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

              Very sorry about your condition. And, best wishes for a completely healthy future. But, I did not know that women who have not conceived have a higher risk. Interesting, if distressing to know.
              So I wonder, if childbearing is protective, is the number of children an important factor? Or will one child suffice?

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 4, 2015 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

                Estrogen is one of those things that is bad for in the long term. Having breaks from it from pregnancy and breastfeeding feeding is a good idea because your genes will sacrifice your longevity for reproduction.

                Oddly, women who have late pregnancies as there only pregnancy seem to be at higher risk than women who never had children at all but I wonder if it is coincidental as there probably aren’t a lot of women having children after 40. When a friend of mine had a scare (she has a higher risk because he min had breastfeeding cancer) the medical staff were happy she had breast fed for so long (she had her daughter when she turned 40). So I suspect that the more you stay away from estrogen, the better. This is why hormone replacement therapy carries a risk of breast cancer (not to mention the absolutely terrifying ovarian cancer).

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 4, 2015 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

                Ugh. My autocorrect kept replacing “breast” with “breastfeeding”. Even, my device is thinking about reproduction.

              • rickflick
                Posted April 4, 2015 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

                That’s ok. My device thinks about reproducing all the time. (chuckle goes here).
                I understand testosterone has a similar effect. Best to let it diminish and peter out over time as nature intended. I actually have no problem with becoming a husk blowing in the wind. Better than an awkward, tumorous, abbreviated, maturity.

            • Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:57 am | Permalink

              Diana I am really embarrassed by my cluelessness. I had no idea you were being quite so literal.

              So, yeah, I speak for my (idiot) self only. And I take back what I said: your genes ARE a-holes.

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 5:50 am | Permalink

                At Rickflick: You mean “diminish and peter IN”

            • Posted April 6, 2015 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

              It’s been bothering me that I did not understand the gravity of your comment. I hope that was obvious enough and I would like apologize for any offense or insult I may have caused you.

              Hearing your perspective on things is a delight. I hope you are feeling well and that your treatment is uneventful and a success.

              🐹

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 6, 2015 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

                Oh no offence taken at all! I wasn’t insulted or annoyed at our conversation. I was very lucky (stage 1, grade 1) so no chemo. I had a lumpectomy (aka partial mastectomy) & radiation & I have to take medecine for at least 5 years that reduces the amount of estrogen in my system so that I reduce the likelihood of a recurrence.

                I think estrogen & progesterone receptor positive breast cancer is a good example for 1) how our genes favour reproduction over everything, including longevity 2) that we weren’t really built to last 3) that science can overcome a lot of the shortcomings of our evolution.

              • Posted April 6, 2015 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

                I’m so glad and relieved to hear! If you’re lucky then we’re all lucky!

                It might not only be that your genes are a-holes: selection can’t act except before reproduction; if ladies are stricken after the prime offspring-producing years, evolution doesn’t have any idea. So our bodies’ job is to flood the zone with the juices for baby making and so where do we get off living past age 30? Rather like driving a vehicle after the warranty on the drivetrain is expired – gosh, the agent at Ford would love to help you but his or her hands are tied and have you seen the new hybrid?

                It’s fortunate we have access to repair shops.

                Future generations (maybe the Millenials even) of women will be able to act based on genetic markers and preventative hormone therapies will help them live to be 150 like their peers. Not sure what they’re going to do with themselves when the robots take all the jobs but, hey, they’ll have to face that problem long before they hit the triple digits.

                Be well!

              • Johan Mathiesen
                Posted April 6, 2015 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

                The ethics of prolonging life to 150 years are significant in this world of abundant people. It’s bad enough as it is when we already outlive our warranties. Complicating the matter is that the “artificial” longevity isn’t evenly distributed in the world, either socioeconomically or geographically.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 7, 2015 at 8:39 am | Permalink

                You could argue having children is also unethical if you use your same logic.

              • Johan Mathiesen
                Posted April 7, 2015 at 9:43 am | Permalink

                And, indeed, there are strong arguments against having large families. Arguments that women all over the world have paid attention to and acted upon. But I don’t see the issues as equivalents. Arguing against gluttony is not to argue against eating.

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 11:44 am | Permalink

                At the same time, increasing people’s lifespans is not going to extend their reproductive years. The percentage of the population of child-bearing age and intention will fall. Many of the incentives to have children will fall.

                Plus…if people can expect to live for another century, they’ll be much less inclined to do something today that’ll be great for the next three quarterly profit targets but fuck themselves over royally twenty years from now.

                All in all, I’m pretty sure that civilization would be far more stable and pleasant with a long-lived population than a short-lived one.

                b&

              • Johan Mathiesen
                Posted April 7, 2015 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                > > “All in all, I’m pretty sure that civilization would be far more stable > and pleasant with a long-lived population than a short-lived one” >

                Hmm? An interested, if untested, proposition: that longer-lived populations are more pleasant that short-lived ones (stability being a separate question altogether). I guess I’d be curious to see the data on that. I don’t have your assurance on that. Are humans happier now than they were 200 years ago; and, if they are, can that be attributed to longevity versus other factors? Ditto third-world versus first-world?

                The length of reproductive years is not at issue here, it’s the number of children, not when in the woman’s lifespan that they were born. As I pointed out, the number of women worldwide deciding to have fewer children has increased, but living longer has no effect on that because they stop having children long before they’re physically incapable of having them. It’s not an age issue which curtails the number of babies, it’s other socioeconomic issues. In the aggregate, many species reduce the number of offspring in times of overpopulation; they don’t always just die off.

                None of this addresses the issue of who lives longer, because that’s not distributed equally and won’t be in the future. The effects aren’t equal, either.

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

                Are humans happier now than they were 200 years ago; and, if they are, can that be attributed to longevity versus other factors? Ditto third-world versus first-world?

                I should think the data on such should be blindingly obvious. Just ask yourself: would you choose to live in some random third world country on the median income for that location? I very much doubt it. And I very much doubt significant numbers of those living there would turn down the opportunity to swap places with you and enjoy your (presumed) middle-class first world lifestyle.

                You might not think this extends to questions of longevity…but ask yourself a similar question. Imagine you’re 75 years old. Would your answer be any different? Now, imagine you’re 75 years old and diabetic, but the condition is well under control with modern medication. Still like the idea of a third-world lifestyle?

                We also have hard empirical data that birth rates drop dramatically with income and education, especially for women. Excluding immigrants, most Western populations are in decline. I’m sure our already-extended lifespans are playing a non-trivial factor in that. If nothing else, women are choosing to delay the age of their first childbirth in order to establish themselves in their careers. If lifespans were extended, careers would similarly extend and there’d be even more pressure to get a good start at the bottom of the ladder or else you’ll never outlive those above you…again reducing birth rates further.

                b&

              • Johan Mathiesen
                Posted April 7, 2015 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

                Unfortunately, it’s blindingly obvious that the question at hand is not, which I’d prefer, long or short life, but under which conditions are people happier. Are the people of Bhutan, who lack the conveniences you tout, that less happy than the Danes? The indices don’t point that way. And are people of today happier than the people of the past? Are people happier than chimpanzees? How are you making these measurements? What you did was answer a question that wasn’t asked and avoided the one that was.

                I doubt that women in Rio are not having children because they’re thinking of career opportunities; I think it has to do with the impracticality of large families in urban environments. But more importantly, I think the species is to a degree self-regulating, albeit how it works on an individual level is open to debate. I don’t see anyone saying, gee, I’m going to live an extra fifty years, maybe I shouldn’t have so many kids. I simply don’t see the connection you’re making there.

                I can tell by your comments that you want to live longer; I’m just not convinced that, if you were to live longer, you’d necessarily be any happier.

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

                I can tell by your comments that you want to live longer; I’m just not convinced that, if you were to live longer, you’d necessarily be any happier.

                The thing is…if I live longer and I’m not happy, I can always remedy that situation. Not quite so much if I’m dead….

                b&

    • BillyJoe
      Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      It must be frustrating to be continually misquoted, quoted out of context and, as in this case, factually quoted but misinterpreted.
      I don’t know how you preserve your calm demeanor in the face of all the antagonism, especially when that antagonism is projected onto yourself.

    • Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      I love it when RD shows up in the comments. But it makes me wonder…is Professor Dawkins an incompatibilist or a compatibilist? Maybe I should know the answer but I don’t remember coming across it in all my readings.

    • Posted April 5, 2015 at 5:41 am | Permalink

      That was very “soft-spoken”, and yet somehow “militant” at the same time. Heads they win tails you lose!

  3. NewEnglandBob
    Posted April 4, 2015 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    I was going to make a comment here but after Ben Goran and Richard Dawkins have commented, I will just subscribe

  4. Posted April 4, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    If you have no choice about those things, what does it even mean to “realize a self”?

    What it is saying is that freedom to *act* on ones desires is more important than “freedom to desire ones desires”. The latter concept we all agree is incoherent.

    But, freedom to act on one’s desires does matter to people. And note that “freedom” there is nothing at all to do with the non-operation of the laws of physics, since that is not what the word means.

    Take, for example, being in love. If you were locked in jail and unable to even see your beloved, then you would not be “free” to act on your desires, and not free to “realise your self”.

    This would matter a lot to a human, and that’s why we have words such as “free” to describe the situation.

    What we don’t have many words for is the non-operation of the laws of physics, since that never happens, so words for it would be fairly pointless.

    Thus it is not sense to interpret common English words such as “free” as necessarily being about the non-operation of the laws of physics.

    • Posted April 4, 2015 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      What it is saying is that freedom to *act* on ones desires is more important than “freedom to desire ones desires”.

      Again, that’s freedom of action, not freedom of the will.

      And it’s a perfect example of Sam’s quip about loving your own chains.

      As well as my own observation of oversimplifying by failing to consider all forces involved and extrapolating into domains where those ignored forces dominate.

      It must also be observed that, in your sense, every car on the road has “free will” for the simple reason that, though it chooses not where it goes nor how fast nor the rest, it is generally quite free to move in accordance with the control inputs over which it has no control.

      b&

      • Posted April 4, 2015 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        “Again, that’s freedom of action, …”

        It is indeed. And it matters to people. It’s what most of the usages of the word “free” in the English language are about.

        ” … not freedom of the will.”

        I’m not sure what you even mean by “freedom of the will”? Freedom of the will to act? Yes it is. Freedom of the will to will itself? No.

        “It must also be observed that, in your sense, every car on the road has “free will” …”.

        No, sorry, it doesn’t. Most cars do not have a “will”, they are not programmed with desires and goals. Aircraft autopilots are, so your comment would be correct about those.

        • Posted April 4, 2015 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

          I’m not sure what you even mean by “freedom of the will”?

          I mean, of course, “free will,” Eagleton captures the essence of the question well with his question, “Can we still be free if we could not have acted otherwise?”

          And, of equal significance, I mean, historically and to an overwhelming extent today, the freedom to choose to be a good and righteous God-fearing Christian and an evil and despicable minion of Satan. Do you think people have any choice in decisions such as that? If not, would you shift the discussion again, claiming that that’s not freedom of the will because, after making such a choice, people still have the freedom to pick whether to go to the Catholic cathedral or the Satanist temple for their communal worship?

          Nobody’s debating over whether or not we have freedom of action, in the sense meant by civil libertarians and the like. To a large extent in the West we do; not so much in Iraq or North Korea these days. That’s not what “free will” is about — not in the slightest, and not even if that’s the type of freedom most in need of defense.

          The debate is over the existence of “free will” — and, indeed, whether or not it’s even a coherent concept to begin with (which it, of course, isn’t).

          b&

          • Posted April 4, 2015 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

            “That’s not what “free will” is about — not in the slightest, …”

            You are simply wrong, in the sense that plenty of people have used the term in that sense.

            When a term has a long history of widespread use in more than one way, simply denying that the other usages exist is rather perverse.

            • Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

              You’re quite right, of course. There are other, perverse usages of the term.

              /@

            • Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

              I wonder if one could find a way to engage on this subject without repeatedly asserting that the other commenter is “wrong” and doesn’t “understand”? I find it uncivil and disrespectful – I would estimate those ad hominems have been thrown at Ben a dozen times between this post and the previous one on free will – so it undermines the quality of the dialogue.

              Also, it’s been my observation that the assertions are not supported by any kind of persuasive data. If I am wrong that 2 + 2 = 17, that’s unfortunate, but I’m not going to be convinced until I’ve seen a proof of some kind. On WEIT we’re not practicing arithmetic, we’re probing whether there is empirical evidence to support the compatibility of hypothesis that humans have “free will” and the evidence is not showing up. If Ben or I or anyone else don’t state the counter positions correctly, as I’ve suggested before, it would be most helpful to have them represented coherently; such representation is not showing up, either.

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

                “I wonder if one could find a way to engage on this subject without repeatedly asserting that the other commenter is “wrong” and doesn’t “understand”?”

                Sure there are. All it takes is for Ben to accept that the word “free” is sometimes used in ways that do not mean “operates independently of the laws of physics”.

                For example, if I use the phrase “free speech”, I am not implying that the speaker is not subject to the laws of physics.

                Now, if Ben would acknowledge that point, then we could indeed discuss as you suggest.

                “we’re probing whether there is empirical evidence to support the compatibility of hypothesis that humans have “free will” and the evidence is not showing up.”

                The very fact that you ask that question shows that you don’t understand what compatibilists mean by “free will”, as in, we have a will, and often we are free to act on it.

                If you understood what compatibilists meant by free will, you’d immediately accept that humans have it and exhibit it all the time.

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

                we have a will, and often we are free to act on it

                Or not act on it, as the case may be. And if the exercise of the will to act (or not) is driven by psychosis, what then? Or influenced by hunger, sexual ardor or fatigue, which might cause our bodies to do the exact opposite of what we “will”?

                I think that our actions are the result of brain processes, back to front, over which we have no control. I think “will” is a story our brains tell us after the fact because feeding the illusion of self-determination to the rational part of the brain keeps it under control. I think the primitive brain processes do nothing but react to environmental stimuli – which is no more “free” will than my pocket calculator is “free” to tell me 2 + 2 = 7. And I think those environmental stimuli, even as they are affected by the brain’s reactions, are the product of spiritless chain reactions going back to the Big Bang.

                As near as I can tell, compatibalists and incompatibalists are in agreement as to the model of causation, and differ only as to the compatibalists’ insertion of the word “free” somewhere in the mix. Like I always say, insert the words “as if we are” in there, too, and it seems like we’ve got near unanimity.

                I realize we’re kind of talking past each other because you are more focused on the misrepresentation of compatibalism than on the debate itself. And that’s fine: strictly speaking, I don’t understand, because it doesn’t make sense. All I’m hearing is semantic differences here, and from the compatibalists I’ve read so far all I’m hearing is at best society works better if we go along with the illusion of free will (Dan Dennet) and at worst folks asserting the experience of (I say illusory) free will. I won’t speak for Ben, but for me, I’ll cop to being wrong when I see an argument that has something more to it than wishful thinking and anecdotes – whatever compatibalists may be trying to say, those are the apparent bottom line of the arguments I’ve read so far.

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

                Sure there are. All it takes is for Ben to accept that the word “free” is sometimes used in ways that do not mean “operates independently of the laws of physics”.

                I’ve acknowledged that repeatedly.

                What you’ve yet to do is demonstrate that the will is a domain in which the concept of freedom meaningfully applies.

                But you keep insisting on switching the subject to civil liberties.

                Explain how your civil libertarian “free will” does or doesn’t apply to somebody with clinical depression, and you might make some headway.

                b&

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

                “I think that our actions are the result of brain processes, back to front, over which we have no control.”

                See, you’re thinking like a dualist, as incompatibilists tend to. We *are* our brain processes! There is not a separate “we” that has “no control” over our brain processes.

                “I think the primitive brain processes do nothing but react to environmental stimuli – which is no more “free” will than my pocket calculator …”

                Again, c-FW is not about the *formation* of the will, it’s about social coercion and *acting* on that will.

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

                So, c-FW is compatible with cc-FW; it’s just that FW means something quite different in each case …

                /@

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

                Ah. I see there I was unclear. I don’t mean to think like a dualist, but I was still under the impression compatibilists are essentially dualists.

                If you’re right then that compatibilists are not dualists (I am pretty sure some of the arguments I’ve read at least imply dualism, but okay), and if they accept the emergent system nature of the brain (I think I’ve heard some called compatibilists not-accepting it, but it could be I misunderstood) – then I have to say compatibilism is even less coherent than I thought!

                If there’s no intention, then there is no will. If there is no ability to choose otherwise, there is no free. And if there’s no brain-mind duality, then there isn’t even an “I”!

                So it remains without proof and without explanation exactly how compatibilists look at the same facts and have all the same conclusions about those facts as do incompatibilists, yet find “we have free will” a supportable position. Not disproven, just not supported.

                I find I am now less concerned than when I started, whether Ben and I have been “wrong” or “misunderstanding” as to the compatibilist position: what’s the point of understanding something that does not make sense?

                Since I assume compatibilists are intelligent and educated people (no doubt more than I am) I think there is a very good chance that there is an irreconcilable difference in interpretation of the terms. If compatibilists embrace a “free” that is without choice and “will” that is without intention, then plainly those words just do not mean the same thing to them that they mean to me.

                Interesting.

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

                If compatibilists embrace a “free” that is without choice and “will” that is without intention, then plainly those words just do not mean the same thing to them that they mean to me.

                That sums up the overwhelming majority of the discussion, I fear.

                b&

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

                “I think that our actions are the result of brain processes, back to front, over which we have no control.”

                See, you’re thinking like a dualist, as incompatibilists tend to. We *are* our brain processes!

                Reread what Man OutOfTime wrote.

                He made no mention to sense of self.

                He quite clearly wrote that our actions are the result of brain processes. Brain processes cause actions.

                How you get dualism from such a clearly mechanistic description of cognition and motivation is utterly beyond me.

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted April 4, 2015 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

                Manoutoftime,

                “If compatibilists embrace a “free” that is without choice and “will” that is without intention, then plainly those words just do not mean the same thing to them that they mean to me.”

                And to turn this around:

                If incompatibilists embrace a “Choice” that denies the ability to do otherwise, then plainly those words just do not mean the same thing to them that they mean to me. (Or most other human beings).

                So I’m left wondering: do you still embrace the word “choice” or have you banished from your vocabulary, with the suggestion it’s best dropped from language?

                (BTW, it’s not the case that compatibilists embrace a “free” without “choice.”)

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 1:01 am | Permalink

                So I’m left wondering: do you still embrace the word “choice” or have you banished from your vocabulary, with the suggestion it’s best dropped from language?

                Personally, it depends entirely on the context. In everyday usage I’ll use the word without a second thought nor worry. But in this context…no, “choice” is not a defensible concept. We compute, with courses of action determined by that computation. And that process is reasonably informally referred to as a choice…but there’s not actually any choosing going on, just the inevitable results of a particular computation. It makes as much sense to suggest that a stream “chooses” its course down the mountainside.

                b&

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 2:52 am | Permalink

                It doesn’t invert quite like that because if I understand correctly the incompatibilist view is that choice in the commonly-understood sense is an illusion. That’s more like a rejection than an embrace I’d say.

                Obviously events unfold as they do: friends see this movie instead of that one, a person sticks to his diet (or doesn’t), or my GPS takes me to a surface street instead of the highway route I assumed was faster – we all refer to these as “choices” or “selections.” As Jerry put it in a post last year, “Apparently I’m having the salmon for lunch,” or words to that effect, instead of “I chose the salmon.”

                It’s not the words that are in question but the presumption of an agency behind them that could have chosen otherwise. My GPS calculated a route, one could say it selected a route or chose one, but my GPS could not by definition choose any route but the one it calculated.

                Regarding your BTW, if I wasn’t clear in my previous comment, I wasn’t expressing an opinion so much as trying to summarize what I was hearing from the compatibilist side.

              • Vaal
                Posted April 5, 2015 at 2:02 am | Permalink

                So Ben,

                You are arguing not just that free will doesn’t exist. You take the stance that “choice” doesn’t exist either. And clearly “choice” is a word that is basic to human interaction, and infiltrates much of what seems to matter to people. You think the project of retaining “free will” while clarifying it’s naturalistic basis is impractical? Try convincing re-purposing “choice,” removing it of essentially what it means to everyone, and see how practical a direction that turns out to be.

                And, if we remove it, please explain what language without “choice” will look like.
                Of course you are doing away with any other words/concepts we use that are synonyms, like “options” etc, so you have your work cut out for you.

                I’d love to see how the language looks with “choice/options (and other such illusory speak)” removed, say being presented…er…something…at a restaurant and maybe an interior designer suggesting…uhm…something (fill in blank) in helping you re-paint your room.

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:33 am | Permalink

                All kinds of things are basic to human interaction which are not scientifically valid. And I don’t think language dictates reality – which may not even be what you’re suggesting – but the existence of a word does not mean the concept to which it points is valid.

                The same goes for processes in the brain: our perceptions are not trustworthy and so that’s why humans invented science. I feel like I am exercising free will as I type these words, for example – but then, if that feeling is an illusion, I can’t tell the difference. When science steps in to break the tie, it finds that “my” choices are made in my brain before I am aware of them. So I’m not asserting it is proven we do not have free will, it’s just that it has not been proven that we do. As far as I can tell, compatibilists and incompatiblists are in agreement that I chose the steak for dinner, it’s just that incompatibilists accept that I cannot have chosen otherwise because that’s what the evidence indicates.

                And since you asked, here are two perfectly valid statements for your scenario that don’t rely on the concept of choice:

                In a restaurant: “I’ll have the steak.”

                Designer: “Here are some paint schemes. Let me know how you feel about them and we’ll go from there.”

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:17 am | Permalink

                Vaal, I’ve already addressed this.

                When you actually look at what’s really going on in the real world, we aren’t choosing spirits; we’re computational engines.

                But of what relevance is that fact to informal discussion?

                We all here are fully aware of the actual heliocentric geometry of the Solar System — and, yet, we’re perfectly fine saying that the Sun rises in the East. Nobody thinks that the Sun is actually rising; we’re all fully aware that the Earth is rotating and that, if anything, the Sun is always below us and we’re always above it.

                Do you think I’m calling to reform that language, as well?

                What on Earth for?

                We’re perfectly capable of coming to understand the perfect lack of choice in reality because, when it comes right down to it, all else isn’t equal and; at the same time, independently analyzing the influences of different factors separately and serially as if each was uninfluenced by the others and then multiplying the effects together to approximate the likely outcomes.

                Is that contradictory? Yes, sure, of course. But it’s also contradictory to use a flat map to make your way to the drugstore when we know that the Earth is really round…but you don’t need to include the actual shape of the Earth into your navigation computations to get to the drugstore. You could, but it’d just require insane amounts of extra work to wind up with the same answer, so of course you take the shortcut.

                Same deal here.

                Yet another way of summarizing the difference between compatibilism and incompatibilism. Both agree that the Earth is (roughly) an oblate spheroid, but the compatibilists think that, because it seems flat at local scales that means it actually has an essence of flatness to it that we should embrace, and we shouldn’t worry people with the concerns of falling off the other side because the flatness of the town as represented by the street map is the only type of geometry worth wanting. The incompatibilists say that that’s all bullshit; the Earth is (roughly) an oblate spheroid; the little people can handle the truth; and the maps are still plenty useful even if they don’t even bear the slightest hint of congruence with reality.

                Or, which comes first: the map or the territory?

                b&

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:12 am | Permalink

                “… but I was still under the impression compatibilists are essentially dualists.”

                This is exactly the problem. Whenever we explain c-FW you (compatbilists) take no notice. You think, well, they can;t actually mean that, they must be talking about some sort of dualist-FW, and then you reply as though that were true.

                “… if they accept the emergent system nature of the brain”

                Which *of* *course* they do.

                “If there’s no intention, then there is no will.”

                I don’t accept that determinism means that there is no “intention”. A chess-playing computer has intention to win a game.

                Now, if your reply is that that is not dualist-intention and thus not *real* intention, then my reply is that, indeed, it is not d-intention, but it is the only form of intention that is actually real.

                “And if there’s no brain-mind duality, then there isn’t even an “I”!”

                Yes there is. The material body is the “I”.

                “whether Ben and I have been “wrong” or “misunderstanding” as to the compatibilist position: what’s the point of understanding something that does not make sense?”

                If you understood it, you’d see that it does make sense.

                “If compatibilists embrace a “free” that is without choice and “will” that is without intention, …”

                A chess-playing computer chooses a move and has an intention to win the game.

                “then plainly those words just do not mean the same thing to them that they mean to me.”

                Exactly. We compatibilists understand concepts such as “choice”, “will” and “intention” as they actually are in a deterministic universe.

                You incompatbibilists don’t, you simply don’t understand what they mean in a deterministic universe.

                Yet you still use them in everyday life. Perhaps you regard them as a metaphor for some sort of dualistic reality that isn’t at all real. But you don’t know what they actually mean. Which is why incompatibilism is totally incoherent.

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:47 am | Permalink

                If you understood it, you’d see that it does make sense

                Free choice or not I’m not wasting any more time on this thread. Hearing over and over and over what I don’t understand, telling me I don’t know what words mean, and “you incompatibilists” this and that.

                I mean, really.

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:24 am | Permalink

                Unfortunately, they cannot have done otherwise… (since no-one was constraining them).

                /@

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:20 am | Permalink

                A chess-playing computer chooses a move and has an intention to win the game.

                Only in the sense that a thermostat chooses when to turn the heat on and off and has an intention to maintain a steady temperature.

                But you reject the notion that the thermostat has free will. There’s no real difference in the real world between the chess computer and the thermostat, leaving only the possibility of dualism, which you also claim to reject. And you claim that there’s no contradiction in your multiply-contradicting position.

                b&

              • Posted April 6, 2015 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

                “And you claim that there’s no contradiction in your multiply-contradicting position.”

                Correct Ben, there isn’t. You regard the point about a thermostat as a refutation because you have the *dualist* mindset than FW must be a binary yes/no.

                But, everything in biology is about continua. Intelligence, awareness, will, freedom etc, are not binary on/offs, they are continua.

                It is entirely in line with my c-FW conception to regard a simply thermostat or logic gate as being right at the simple end of the continuum of FW or intelligence.

              • Posted April 6, 2015 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

                Coel, you still haven’t answered my repeated questions of whether or not somebody who suffers from clinical depression such that she lacks the will to get out of bed has compatibilist free will or not. Instead, you’re now dragging in yet more unrelated phenomenon such as variation in IQ scores.

                Does somebody with clinical depression have compatibilist free will?

                b&

              • Posted April 6, 2015 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

                Actually, I have just answered it. The answer is yes, they do, but that is not relevant to their ailment.

            • stephenlawrence
              Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:03 am | Permalink

              ““That’s not what “free will” is about — not in the slightest, …”

              You are simply wrong, in the sense that plenty of people have used the term in that sense

              When a term has a long history of widespread use in more than one way, simply denying that the other usages exist is rather perverse.”

              Ben is not denying the other usage. He’s saying that’s incorrect. Quite understandable.

              And you do exactly the same thing in reverse. You deny the term correctly refers to Contra Causal Free Will.

              There is a big fat illusion for sure. People imagine they alone CHDO. Not would have if the big bang had banged slightly and appropriately differently. So the term is needed for the illusion.

              The term is not needed for compatibilist free will, “own volition” will do fine.

              Compatibilism doesn’t work. Either it just makes people think the free will illusion is compatible with determinism. Or it causes endless posts over what are just semantic differences.

              • Posted April 6, 2015 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

                “You deny the term correctly refers to Contra Causal Free Will.”

                No I don’t. I acknowledge that the term FW has a long history of use in two senses, both dualist-FW and compatibilist-FW.

          • Posted April 5, 2015 at 12:15 am | Permalink

            I love the clarity of your reasoning, Ben.

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 4, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Of course I agree with what Jerry says here and I wonder about a psychopath’s free will when the poor schmuck cannot feel the things the rest of us do (or, maybe lucky schmuck), but I suppose he is just less free in the compatibilist sense.

    • Posted April 4, 2015 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      At least according to Coel’s working definition, the sociopath is every bit as free as you and me. For compatibilists, since “free will” isn’t, for whatever reason, the freedom to choose one’s will / nature / soul / desires / whatever, but rather the freedom to act on them…then the sociopaths and the Hannibal Lecters and the devoutly religious who do crazy things and the rest…they all have just as much or little “free will” as anybody else, until their insanity lands them in jail (etc.).

      No, it doesn’t make any sense to me, which is why I keep banging the drum that “free will” is incoherent nonsense and it’s time we stop pretending it is, either because of dualism or “freedom worth wanting” or “think of the little people” or bait-and-context-switch or whatever.

      And I still think it’s incredibly insensitive and insulting to suggest that somebody with severe clinical depression still has all kinds of “free will” because, hey! Nobody’s pointing a gun to said person’s head, so they’re clearly staying in bed all day out of their own free will.

      b&

      • Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        “… so they’re clearly staying in bed all day out of their own free will.”

        Why is it any more insulting to tell someone that their will is faulty than to say, for example, that their liver is faulty?

        It is the literal truth. Severe depression is a malfunction of the brain, in the same way that other diseases are malfunctions of other organs.

        I suggest, Ben, that you only find it insulting because you have a dualist conception of “will” as being independent of the person’s body, and of thus being a “moral” issue rather than a medical one.

        But that is exactly why you never accept c-FW, because you always try to interpret it in dualistic ways.

        • Posted April 4, 2015 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

          Why is it any more insulting to tell someone that their will is faulty than to say, for example, that their liver is faulty?

          But that’s not at all what you’re doing.

          You’re telling them that, because they don’t have a gun to their head, because they’re not chained to the bed, because they’re not incarcerated behind bars, they’ve got free will. And it’s the only type of free will worth wanting, to boot.

          Ergo, there’s nothing stopping them from just getting up save for them being lazy bums who can’t be bothered to exercise their perfect free will.

          It is the literal truth. Severe depression is a malfunction of the brain, in the same way that other diseases are malfunctions of other organs.

          Wait — what’s this? They don’t have free will after all? And it’s because of the functioning of their brains and not because of social interactions? But other people who inevitably make different choices because of the functioning of their brains do have free will?

          Unless you’re going to go back to blaming the depressed for their inaction, you’ve just torpedoed any last hopes you might have had for carving out anything even vaguely resembling a coherent and consistent position.

          b&

          • Vaal
            Posted April 5, 2015 at 2:29 am | Permalink

            Ben,

            You are whacking at a straw man. The compatibilists aren’t stuck in this binary “ultimate free will” or “no free will” version you are running with.

            Freedom comes in degrees. Can ebb and flow. You can have less of it, or more of it, especially as it concerns specific instances of “freedom.”

            For instance, I have more “freedom” to choose to stay inside, or go to the mall, than someone suffering from acute, paralyzing agoraphobia. In fact, we generally recognize agoraphobia as restricting the options of those who suffer from it.

            The differing degrees in “freedom of choice” in this regard are perfectly testable, as I will be able to repeatedly, easily choose to stay inside or go to the mall, where the person with acute agoraphobia (or perhaps, certain types of depression) will not show the same range of freedom.

            There is nothing remotely incoherent or self-contradictory to point to various ways in which we can suffer deficiencies in the freedom of our actions or will. It’s only incoherent on your own assumptions.

            • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:01 am | Permalink

              Freedom comes in degrees. Can ebb and flow. You can have less of it, or more of it, especially as it concerns specific instances of “freedom.”

              So…in the compatibilist universe, 30 weeks after conception a woman is a bit more pregnant than she was ten weeks after conception?

              For instance, I have more “freedom” to choose to stay inside, or go to the mall, than someone suffering from acute, paralyzing agoraphobia.

              “All else being equal,” of course, yes, you do.

              But I challenge you to identify but a single instance in all of history or projected to ever happen in the future in which all else actually was equal.

              b&

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                In the broken record category…

                Conflation of meaning. Having more than one option, the “freedom of choice,” doesn’t mean that the process of making that choice is free.

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:35 am | Permalink

                But, in the real world, you don’t actually have more than one option — which is the point incompatibilists keep trying to make to both dualists and compatibilists.

                All else ain’t equal. When it comes down to the wire, you’ve only got the one option after all.

                Nor is that in any way radical. Think about your last major decision. When you finally arrived at it, wasn’t it obvious that you just couldn’t go with the alternatives for whatever reason? Yes, you liked this-and-that about one and such-and-such about the other, but neither could make up for the overwhelming advantage presented by the one you went with.

                …that was at the time you made the decision, of course. You may well have come to regret it later as you learn new information that you wished you had known at the time, but you didn’t know it then, so how could that possibly have changed the decision you made?

                “All else being equal” can be an useful fiction in various circumstances…but, make no mistrake: in reality, it’s bullshit.

                b&

          • Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:14 am | Permalink

            “Ergo, there’s nothing stopping them from just getting up save for them being lazy bums who can’t be bothered to exercise their perfect free will.”

            No Ben, that’s not what *I’m* telling them. That’s what a dualist would tell them, but c-FW is not d-FW.

            This is the problem, you always, always, always interpret c-FW as though it were about d-FW.

            • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:03 am | Permalink

              Then tell us, Coel — and, if you can, please include a simple “yes” or “no” with your answer, in addition to whatever elaboration you feel compelled to make — does somebody with clinical depression so crushing she can’t get out of bed…assuming no gun-to-the-head or handcuffs-to-the-bedposts or any of that sort of thing, does she have your version of “free will”?

              b&

              • Posted April 6, 2015 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

                Yes, she does have c-FW, but it is not the relevant thing in that situation.

                [Again, just because dualist-FW might be highly relevant in that situation does not mean that compatibilist-FW need be, since c-FW is not d-FW.]

              • Posted April 6, 2015 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

                Yes, she does have c-FW, but it is not the relevant thing in that situation.

                …and you don’t see the problem with telling somebody who lacks the will to get out of bed that she has the only type of free will worth wanting?

                I’m sorry, but your compatibilist free will is so far removed from freedom, from will, and from reality itself that all I can do is dismiss it as purest nonsense. And I really doubt there’s anything else for me to add to this discussion at this point, so I’ll let you have any more words you find yourself compelled to post.

                b&

    • Hal
      Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      I recently read Murderous Minds: Exploring the Criminal Psychopathic Brain: Neurological Imaging and the Manifestation of Evil, by Dean A. Haycock. It addresses some of the implications for criminal justice of the study of the structures of the brain of those who test high on the inventory of psychopathic tendencies and are involved in serious crime. Questions about “free will” are especially pertinent here.

      • rickflick
        Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        You’ve hinted at an interesting point but didn’t follow through. What did the imaging show? How do Psychopaths photograph under the hood? How do they differ from you and me? Can we use imaging to identify potential psychopaths before they do any harm? Curious minds want to know.

  6. J Smith
    Posted April 4, 2015 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    I have yet to read a compatibilistic account that is coherent or internally consistent (including Dennett), and avoids the simple fact that everything ultimately is derivative of physical laws, hence no free will. They all amount to the assertion that we seem to make free choices or we feel like we have free will, which nobody denies, but does nothing to explain what free will is or how it operates. Can someone just explain what the heck free will even is, like how the free part interacts with the will part.

    • Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      “Can someone just explain what the heck free will even is, like how the free part interacts with the will part.”

      Sure. We have a will (as the product of a deterministic brain). Thus we want to do certain things.

      The term “freedom” in this context is about coercion by other humans.

      Thus, a prisoner in jail might prefer to go home. He is not in that cell, lying on his bed “of his own free will”, since he’d prefer to be elsewhere.

      Contrast that with someone lying on the bed in their own home, who is there “of their own free will”, because that’s what they want to do.

      It is not a hard concept. And it is not about laws of physics or the non-operation of the laws of physics.

      • rickflick
        Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        It’s also clear that neither the couch potato nor the prisoner had any choice in where they ended up. It’s just that one is happy about it and other is not.

        • Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          Just? As if human happiness were unimportant?

          Here is c-FW in a nutshell:

          A man takes two children, Dan and Sue to buy an ice cream and tells them to choose a flavour.

          Dan asks for chocolate, and gets it and starts licking it.

          Sue asks for strawberry. The man says: “no, you’re having chocolate also”, and gives Sue chocolate.

          Dan then has the flavour he has “of his own free will” whereas Sue does not.

          That’s it.

          It is not a hard concept.

          It is not about non-operation of the laws of physics.

          It is about coercion by other humans.

          This sort of thing matters to humans. (I can assure you that Sue was distinctly peeved by the above.)

          People develop language about things that matter to them.

          Anyone wanting to point out that the above scenario followed inevitably from the laws of physics (true, it did) has missed the entire point.

          • rickflick
            Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

            Well certainly you are correct. There seems to be two distinct but confusing levels of meaning of the operative term “freedom” under discussion. Each is correct at its own level. I think the dispute between compatiblists and incompatiblists might just revolve around which level they feel is of most significance.

            • Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

              Actually, it’s simpler than that.

              Incompatibilists tend to think that, “free will,” should refer to the freedom of the will, not (as Coel repeatedly insists it really is) the freedom of the body to act upon the will.

              Compatibilist free will is garden-variety civil liberties with a label from theology slapped on top.

              b&

          • Posted April 5, 2015 at 12:45 am | Permalink

            “Sue asks for strawberry. The man says: ‘no, you’re having chocolate also,’ and gives Sue chocolate.

            “Dan then has the flavour he has ‘of his own free will’ whereas Sue does not.”

            Ah ha, therein lies the rub. You’re confusing different meanings of the same word through three different people. The “freedoms” Sue and Dan had were to select flavors. The determinist would claim that neither Sure nor Dan actually had any freedom in choosing the flavor that chose. But that’s their only part in the scenario, making the choice. Whether or not they were successful in getting the flavor of their choice was not determined by their will/choice; that was determined by the will of the vendor; and there’s no proof that the vendor had any choice in his decision, either.

            For what it’s worth, Ben and MOOT are correct in saying the problem of free will is one of meaning. There is no workable definition of free will, there is no explainable mechanism. Every choice is determined by an algorithm. It is not logically possible to make a choice without application of some set of criteria, even if that criteria is to have the choice be random. While there may be many possibilities for choice, choice is always made for a reason; one doesn’t make up one’s own reasons; those are the things that arise from inheritance and environment.

            • Vaal
              Posted April 5, 2015 at 2:51 am | Permalink

              Johan,

              “Ah ha, therein lies the rub. You’re confusing different meanings of the same word through three different people.”

              Nope, he’s not confused 🙂

              “The determinist would claim that neither Sure nor Dan actually had any freedom in choosing the flavor that chose.”

              Yes, and it’s the determinist who is relying on the incoherent meaning of “freedom” from which to make that strange claim.

              “Ah ha, therein lies the rub. You’re confusing different meanings of the same word through three different people.”

              No, we are to presume the adult in the example would have given “Dan” whatever flavor Dan chose, hence Dan had real options to choose from, and was unimpeded in choosing the option he desired. That is a standard conception of “freely choosing” the choice being “of his own free will.”

              Whereas Sue was NOT given the option to choose as she desired. The choice was forced upon her and didn’t reflect what she wanted.

              “There is no workable definition of free will, there is no explainable mechanism. “

              (Paraphrasing Wikipedia, a compatibilst definition):

              “Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unimpeded by certain prevailing factors. examples include: physical constraints (such as chains or imprisonment), social constraints (such as threat of punishment or censure), and mental constraints (such as compulsions or phobias, neurological disorders, or genetic predispositions).”

              The mechanisms (briefly stated) for free will derive from our neurologically sophisticated brain, which allows us to model various possible routes of action, evaluating which is most likely to fulfill the desire(s) in question. And the physical ability to take the actions in question.
              (E.g. given my work schedule, I can choose to work out in the morning, or at night. I can contemplate the likely results of each course of action, and I have the physical ability to take either action).

              You were saying…?

              🙂

              (Cue rejection of the above, by assuming a contra-causal-only version of freedom…)

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:44 am | Permalink

                “Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unimpeded by certain prevailing factors. examples include: physical constraints (such as chains or imprisonment), social constraints (such as threat of punishment or censure), and mental constraints (such as compulsions or phobias, neurological disorders, or genetic predispositions).”

                Yes — “all else being equal.” Problem is, factors actually do impede and all else isn’t equal after all.

                b&

      • J Smith
        Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        Got it. So if I’m not coerced by other human beings, I am totally free, physico-chemical forces don’t apply in this case I guess. Also what is so special about human coercion.

        • Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

          “Also what is so special about human coercion.”

          What’s so special about it is that a huge amount of human language, attitudes, feelings, et cetera, are about interacting with other humans. It is not at all surprising that humans have developed concepts that are “about” interacting with other humans.

          But of course all the other factors apply! It’s just they are not what the term “free will” in that context is about.

          If I used the term “free speech” everyone would immediately accept that I am talking about human coercion, not about anything else.

          It is not a hard concept.

          • Marilee Lovit
            Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:34 am | Permalink

            Ordinary language serves us quite well in daily life, such as choosing an ice cream flavor or signing a legal document as an act of one’s own free will. But taking those same words away from common usage and using them to describe what the world is made of and how it works creates problems. Space and time are not what our ordinary language describes. The same is true of free will, now that we know more about brains and genes. I’m not sure, however, if the arguments of the above posts are purely semantic. Seems like they should be only semantic unless one posits a disembodied spirit as the “I”.

          • Posted April 5, 2015 at 6:17 am | Permalink

            So then a recluse in the woods who is hidden and nobody knows where he is has almost perfect free-will insofar as they cant’ be coerced by other humans?

            This is not what the argument is about. You keep saying the concept is simple because you are using examples that are not what the discussion is about.

            • Posted April 5, 2015 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

              So what is the discussion about? If it is about dualist FW then the answer is that nobody has it. End of story. That was easy.

              But various people start conversations about compatibilist FW, and then when we explain c-FW we’re told, no the conversation is about dualist FW.

  7. matunos
    Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    The problem with debates over free will is that the term as it’s colloquially understood is paradoxical and doesn’t actually mean anything upon closer consideration.

    Either our actions are contingent on other causes (determinism) or they are not. In the latter case, try are random. Neither contingent action nor random action meet the common definition of free will. It doesn’t matter if, in the contigency case, you posit a supernatural cause or not.

    Further discussion of the question cannot proceed unless we’re willing to look beyond common definitions of free will to see if there is any satisfactory understanding of agency. The fact that we continue to use pronouns and refer to ourselves and others as agents suggests that this is a worthy endeavor, whether you want to call it “free will” or something else.

    • Posted April 4, 2015 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

      I disagree that free will, the way most people think about it, is either deterministic or random. It’s none of those, but the product of some sort of deliberation (I was about to say conscious deliberation, then decided to give up “conscious”).
      The idea that a person can choose to do A and not B is a common moralistic (as opposed to utilitarian) justification for punishing that person for doing B when B is forbidden. Most (I am careful. I am quite confident it’s all) legal systems don’t punish for actions committed without physical control). People feel that actually being able to act differently is a necessary condition for punishment.

      • Posted April 5, 2015 at 12:49 am | Permalink

        Ah, but that’s not quite the case. You said it yourself, “some sort of deliberation.” A choice was being made, Criteria were being applied; the algorithm of choice was set in motion. That you come to a conclusion is admirable, but there’s not freedom involved, it’s all in the equation. Of course, experience—such as new information—can change the equation; but no decision can be made without application of criteria. Logically impossible.

        • Posted April 5, 2015 at 6:11 am | Permalink

          I didn’t say anything about a criteria. That’s your addition.

  8. peepuk
    Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Libertarian freewill is the only freedom worth wanting, and the only interesting concept of Freewill. It’s rather unfortunate that it cannot exist.

    We experience that we are in absolute control when we are not. Even the freewill deniers, like me, have this very strong illusion, we cannot escape from it. Most of the time.

    Compatibilist freewill is totally superfluous. Replacing it with puppet-freewill or pragmatic-freewill, we can call it whatever we like, it stays utterly uninteresting because our illusion is a much better experience.

    Daniel Dennet, who has done more for naturalism then all other philosophers together, is eliminative about most other nonsense. Why he keeps this compatibalism about freewill alive? Maybe even he cannot escape from this illusion, or doesn’t want to for consequential reasons? He’s always been a bit ambiguous about his realism towards compatibalist freewill.

    • Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      I. for one, do not have an illusion of libertarian free will.

      I do have an experience of *will*, which I presume to be the deterministic product of my brain.

      • peepuk
        Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:54 am | Permalink

        “I. for one, do not have an illusion of libertarian free will.”

        I give you credit for defending compatiblist freewill so well.

        The moment you get credit for something and you think you deserve it, you experiencing libertarian free will. The same when you think someone deserves to be punished for murder, torture or rape ….

  9. Heather Hastie
    Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    As I read about this particular version of compatibilism, I thought it sounded just like the religious who say they have found freedom by placing their lives completely in God’s hands. Neither makes sense unless you want it to…

  10. Vaal
    Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Coel wrote: What it is saying is that freedom to *act* on ones desires is more important than “freedom to desire ones desires”. The latter concept we all agree is incoherent.

    I’m going to disagree somewhat with that statement, Coel 🙂

    I was going to bring this up in response to Jerry’s post, which gets into a bit of this issue.

    I agree that(many forms of) Compatibilist free will does not *require* that we choose what we will. It asks whether we are free to act on our will.

    BUT…that does not entail that, therefore, choosing what we will is incoherent, or impossible. (And here I will use what I “desire to do” as stand in for “what I will to do.”)

    While it can certainly be more difficult to change what we will, to “choose” what we will, doing so is a pretty common feature of human experience. For instance, I was out of shape for a while and didn’t desire exercise. Now, I WANTED TO DESIRE to exercise, but I didn’t have the desire to exercise, hence I preferred to sit on my butt. But since I had a desire to be healthy, and exercise would be necessary for that goal, I knew I had to overcome my lack of desire for exercising. I knew from past experience, as many people have learned, that I could develop the desire to exercise…by starting to exercise.

    And that is of course what happened. When I began, I didn’t like the exercising at all. It was a chore to do it, but I was motivated by another desire: to become more healthy. But eventually my body came to crave exercising, just as I knew it would. And now that I’m in the habit, I DESIRE exercise.
    I actually want exercise, desiring the experience in of itself, and not as something unpleasant that I had to go through to meet another desire.

    People do this “deliberate desire-changing” all the time when embarking on behavioral changes, for whatever original motivating reasons. Certainly new desires arise from previous desires, but they are from there “choosable” in essentially the same way actions are choosable given motivating desires.

    I don’t yet have a desire to meditate. But I recognize that I have other desires that might benefit from aspects of mediation, and so developing that desire is something I might pursue.

    (Cont’d…)

    • Vaal
      Posted April 4, 2015 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      Further, there is often a depiction, usually form the incompatibilst camp, of our desires as somehow external to “ourselves,” as if we are just given them only by genetic inheritance (e.g. evolution) or that somehow desires “just arise” and then rational thought takes over from there – as if we are not the authors of any of our desires.

      But this does not seem the case at all. A great many of our desires, if not MOST of the desires we acquire, are produced BY our rational deliberation. That is:
      I currently have a desire to purchase some 4″ locking castor wheels – it is what I will to do. Where did that desire come from? Surely the answer isn’t “evolution,” since our ancestors would not have any idea of such devices, nor are such specific beliefs/desires transmitted via genes. I wasn’t born with it. It came from my own rational deliberation. I had the desire to build a prototype dolly for an object I need to roll from one room to another. All sorts of tests and deliberate calculations led me to realize that the 4″ wheels would suite my goal. So from one desire, I’m motivated to reason about how to achieve it, and using logic, reason, testing I come up with ENTIRELY NEW desires (“I now desire to acquire castor wheels”) that are the end result of my considered reasons for having them.

      And you can examine any number of things you are doing now, and realize they are part of such long chains of NEW DESIRES generated BY YOU as the result of
      previous deliberations. Hence we do generate many of our own desires, we are “responsible” for them in many ways, and they do not simply haphazardly, as if they were the equivalent of being inserted helplessly into our consciousness.

      • Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

        Further, there is often a depiction, usually form the incompatibilst camp, of our desires as somehow external to “ourselves,” as if we are just given them only by genetic inheritance (e.g. evolution) or that somehow desires “just arise” and then rational thought takes over from there – as if we are not the authors of any of our desires.

        Our language is inescapable dualistic. I’ve repeatedly indicated that I am a meat computer — and the fascination of knowing that what I experience really is what it’s “like” to be any other sort of computer. You want to know what it’d be like to be “downloaded” into some futuristic Matrix-style computer? Exactly the same as it’s “like” to be you right now, to the limits of the accuracy of the simulation.

        But even that preceding paragraph, as explicitly non-dualistic as I can think to make it, still have inescapably strong dualistic overtones to it, as if the self is the ghost that manifests itself in the machine, rather than the ghost and the self and the machine all being one single entity.

        And the inherently fractured natures of our selves doesn’t help, either — such as the part of you that would love to just skip exercising today versus the part of you that wants to shed those last few pounds versus the part of you that’s thinking about something from work as you crank out a couple more reps versus the part of you that’s chastising yourself for thinking about work at a time like the versus the part of work that’s trying to correct your form and on and on and on. Which of those is the “real” you?

        The answer, of course, is either “all of them” or “none of them,” depending on what angle you’re looking at them from.

        b&

      • Posted April 7, 2015 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        The problem that many see is that you are not author of *you*. Kane (on the other side) puts it well – he wants self-origination *and* self-forming. For example, where did your desires come from? Further back, other desires (“I want a good job because I want money.”) and so on all the way back to something which is *not* a you at all – in infancy, perhaps, or puberty, or whenever. So the *adult* has a “self” which can be in harmony, but the root desires and other character traits did not involve consent, etc. (Interesting convergence between this and the “raising kids” post.)

    • Vaal
      Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Finally, while it is not *required* that we choose what we will, on a compatibilist understanding, it is not just coherent to ask “Could I have acted differently?” it’s coherent to ask “Could I have WILLED differently?” And for the same reasons as the former, the answer is often enough “yes.” It’s based on the same logic as free actions. I “could have” chosen to eat Shreddies this morning instead of Cheerios insofar as I had the physical ability to do so (and was not restrained/coerced etc). What’s the basis for my thinking I “could have done otherwise?” My past experience of what type of being I am: I have the physical power to “choose and eat Shreddies,” and have in the past, which is why I “could have” done that instead.

      Same with what I will/desire. I am “capable” of having the desire to eat Shreddies it’s a power I have. And I’ve demonstrated the will to do so in the past, which is why I know I “could have” willed to do so. I can demonstrate my ability to have either a will to eat Shreddies or one to eat Cheerios in exactly the same “experiment” as demonstrating my power to act in either direction. In fact, I’m showing BOTH abilities at the same time. I can sit down, choose to eat Shreddies, and then, because I’m then willing to eat Cheerios, I can then eat Cheerios. I’m changing my will and acting on it each time.
      (It is not required that we are able to easily change everything we will, at any time, just that some substantial and relevant portion of our willing is alterable).

      So, as I usually argue, “I could have willed otherwise” is just a standard, empirical, testable claim, just like “I could have acted otherwise” is. And the important point that I feel many incompatibilists, like Sam Harris miss, is that empirical claims like this are ones about “plausible claims of our powers* AS EXTENDED OVER TIME.
      We get our inferences of “what we can do” from coalescing separate instances of experience over time, and “us” extended in time, not frozen in one moment.

      So, how would it be “false” for me to say “I could have willed otherwise?” Well, I’d have to be empirically wrong about my power to do so. If, for instance, my will to eat Shreddies was under control by the “evil scientist” then I would be wrong to think I could have chosen otherwise. Now replace the scientists with a brain tumour that had the effect of making me desire Shreddies, and which made it impossible for me to desire Cheerios. In that case, I would be wrong to think “I could have willed otherwise.”

      Aha! Say the incompatibilists (like Harris). But the evil scientists and brain tumours are just stand ins for the myriad external causes on your will! Just replace the scientist with “genetics” or “environment” or “all the other causal factors leading up to your having that will to eat Shreddies.” It is JUST as fixed and controlled as if the evil scientist or brain tumour were fixing your will. You can’t escape this web of causation.

      And, again, this is missing the point. In raising this objection, it rests on the incompatibilist insistence on “doing otherwise” being FIXED at one specific moment, all causes the same. Which is NOT what the compatibilist is talking about. I’m not talking about the ability to “choose or will otherwise given any specific ext moment in time, all causes being the same.” It’s a claim about my nature and powers *extended over time.* In other words, if I think I have the ability to will to eat one cereal over the other, I can be proven “wrong” by testing this in various trials over time. If I sit down and find myself UNABLE to alter my actions or will to eat anything other than Shreddies, THEN I’ll have to admit my claim to be false. And someone could point to the scientist controlling me (showing a plausible explanation) or a brain tumour that removes this ability.
      I would in that case be wrong about my “powers to do otherwise” and I would not have the “freedom I thought I had.”

      That ANY ONE MOMENT IN TIME displays some “inevitable result” doesn’t matter because we have to use different conceptual modes to understand entities OVER TIME, in order to understand “what they can do.”

      So trying to make “the entire chain of causation” on the same footing as the “evil scientist” or the “brain tumour” scenario just miss this compatibilist sense of “freedom” and our “powers.”

      (All this will be white noise to those incompatibilists who have seized only on one
      idea of “freedom,” that being the incoherent contra-causal version, and so anything that does not satisfy that concept won’t “really be talking about freedom.” But perhaps the above is of interest to other compatibility, or those seeking to understand it).

      • Posted April 4, 2015 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        Vaal,
        Brilliant comment(s); you have saved me a lot of typing. But, like Coel, I think you grant too much to the incompatibilists. Your concession that, at any one moment in time, what we do is inevitable, is not correct. It would be correct to say that what we do is predictable (in principle). But that’s not the same thing as inevitable. It would also be correct to point out that what we do at a single time has a one-to-one correspondence to a large set of conditions that existed, for example, shortly after the Big Bang. But, despite appearances, it does not follow that what we do now is inevitable, because, despite our intuitions, it is not true that all of those conditions a few minutes after the Big Bang are inevitable.

        I will now do a bad job of explaining this. For a better one, watch a video (sadly, you will need Microsoft Silverlight, a free download) of a talk by Jenann Ismael, 0:54:00-1:39:00. A strong physics background helps.

        Some of the early universe conditions are entropically neutral: it does not matter to the entropy of the early state, whether a particular particle is over here, or over there. But these differences in early conditions might be the very ones that correspond to whether I have Cheerios, or Shreddies for breakfast today. So I need not worry that my choice is somehow “fixed” before I make it. The relevant parts of my past are not (not all of them) “fixed”, either, but are dependent on my choice – by the very same, CPT-invariant, deterministic physical laws, applied (as it is mathematically and logically possible to apply them!) in a present-to-past direction. I can eat whatever I want, confident in the knowledge that, if those early conditions are ever discovered, they will correspond to the breakfast of my choice.

        Our intuitive sense of causation says that it runs in only one direction, from past to future. And where entropy changes are involved – which includes all the practical purposes that humans actually care about, but not all the philosophical purposes – the intuitive idea of causation works. But the intuitive idea of causation finds no place in the deepest physical laws. There is no compulsion going on in those laws. The laws are only equations – equations which relate past and future events, but make no mention of any metaphysical arrow of time that “pushes” from one direction toward the other. The association of causing with compelling is based on our own subjective experience of our own agency.

        The idea that past conditions plus deterministic laws “compel” us to do this or that, is an anthropomorphic projection of subjective human experience onto the very fabric of the universe. Kind of like, oh, I dunno – belief in gods or spirits?

        P.S. I have previously posted as noghostnomachine, but WordPress has somehow locked me out of posting here from my home computer under that account. I can still use my phone, but that’s awkward. So now I use my real name, which Jerry has stated he prefers anyway.

        • Posted April 4, 2015 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

          Please try to keep your comments shorter than this. I’m asking for comments and not essays. Thanks.

          • Vaal
            Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

            Guilty as charged. I tried to cover too many angles. My apologies.

      • Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

        Finally, while it is not *required* that we choose what we will, on a compatibilist understanding, it is not just coherent to ask “Could I have acted differently?” it’s coherent to ask “Could I have WILLED differently?” And for the same reasons as the former, the answer is often enough “yes.”

        Again, that’s just simply not supported by the evidence, as is so amply demonstrated by people with clinical depression and other mental illnesses. You can’t just will yourself to do things; if you could, nobody would ever suffer from depression without first sitting down and saying, “I think I’d like to be depressed for the next few hours.”

        b&

        • Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

          How is this relevant? I don’t think that any serious supporter of free will (the way you see it, which I agree with) argues that it’s unlimited.
          It seems reasonable to me, if one accepts free will, that mental disabilities harm (at least certain aspects) of free will.

          • Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

            It then follows that mental abilities enable free will.

            So do you choose to have mental health? Do the mentally ill choose mental illness?

            At best, you’re blaming brain function for failure, but dismissing its relevance for success. In most contexts, that’s what’s known as a double standard and not something to be embraced.

            b&

            • Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

              No.
              If you believe that free will “occurs” (sorry, English is not my first language) in the brain, you can think that you have (some degree of) free will when your brain functions well you and that can lose (some of) it, if your brain malfunctions.
              It’s not essentially different from thinking that your brain controls your hand, but can lose the ability to do that.

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

                But now you’re directly contradicting Coel when he insists that “free will” is synonymous with civil liberties, meaning that you don’t have a gun to your head, the ice cream man isn’t saying you can have any flavor you want as long as it’s vanilla, and so on.

                But if we run, for the moment, with the notion that “free will” is a brain function that’s as self-contained as, say, speech or locomotion or arithmetic abilities or empathy or whatever…we’re right back to it being functionally no different from any of those others. Photons hit your retina and you’re going to see a particular something, with said something getting filtered through both your hardwired vision processing algorithms and your experiences that prime you to expect something in particular. Same thing with decision-making, if that’s what “free will” is supposed to be relevant to: you’re confronted with a choice and you’re going to pick the particular option based on both your hardwired decision-making processing and your history that’s primed you with various preferences.

                Does your visual cortex have “free will”? And if it doesn’t make sense to describe your visual cortex in terms of “free will,” why should it make sense to describe any other part of your brain in such terms?

                b&

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

                Coel’s definition of free will seems to me inconsistent with the way this term is commonly used. I started by saying that I agree with your notion of free will.
                What I disagree with you about is the idea that (assuming that there is free will and that it’s not a supernatural phenomena) pathologies of seriously damaged free will, like mental illnesses, are not a bigger problem than physical malfunction of the brain (I am not sure that the distinction between physical and mental makes much sense in this context) at all.

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

                I started by saying that I agree with your notion of free will.

                Erm…we may have a disconnect. My notion of “free will” is that it’s an incoherent mess. The most common sense that matches the straightforward standard definitions of the two words is a self-contained contradiction. Most of the alternatives are either equally confused or are simple linguistic reifications of entirely banal concepts — Coel’s use of the term to refer to bog-standard civil liberties, for example.

                The point I’m driving at with mental illnesses is that, if we’re supposed to understand “free will” as being some sort of brain function, then it’s no more free than any other brain function. Nobody I can imagine would think to apply “free” as a description of vision or fine motor coordination or numeracy or short-term memory function or anything else, which seems to make it silly to apply it to any other form of cognition.

                Are you “free” when you compute that 2 + 2 = 4? Is a ball payer “free” when she figures out the trajectory of the ball and catches it? Are you any more “free” when you weigh the relative merits of the house on Elm Street with the house on Ash Avenue?

                b&

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

                To me free will implies choice, as in deciding between two or more options. It’s not deterministic, in the sense that there is no way to calculate it, even if all the relevant information on the way the brain works and the “input” (the state of the world, memories, past experience etc.) is available. It’s not random, in the sense that the person who makes the decision controls it (but it may be random for an external observer).

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 12:58 am | Permalink

                I’m not aware that there’s anything in physics that permits any option other than deterministic or random — and there’s much debate over whether or not “random” is really real or if it’s just a matter of the dice being hidden when they’re rolled and revealed only when they’ve stopped tumbling.

                Now, granted, we have lots of examples of things that are unpredictable for all sorts of reasons…but, curiously enough, it’s the random events that tend to be the most predictable in aggregate and the deterministic ones that tend to be the most unpredictable in aggregate. Good luck, for example, predicting the orbits of the planets in the Solar System a sufficient number of millions of years out…and, yet, I would hope we would all agree that orbital mechanics is the perfect example of a deterministic system. On the other hand, you can predict with insane precision what percentage of uranium will have decayed over that same period of however many millions of years.

                So I think you might have some soul-searching, so to speak, to do to figure out what it is that you have in mind that’s in some sort of middle ground between deterministic and random, for physics as we know it (or, at least, as I understand it), permits no such thing.

                b&

        • Vaal
          Posted April 4, 2015 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

          Ben,

          “Again, that’s just simply not supported by the evidence,’

          Of course it’s supported by evidence. Overwhelming tsunamis of evidence everyday from our experience, and any scientific study of human choice-making.

          If I say I can alter my will/acts between choosing two cereals (or any of countless other examples of choice-making) all I have to do is demonstrate the ability to first choose one, then the other, then the other.
          My will to choose one or the other is changing each time, hence I “have a will that could have been otherwise.” In the compatibilist sense I’m describing, it’s perfectly testable. You insist that if I’m not referencing something UNTESTABLE then I’m not really showing freedom. But that is how the question keeps getting begged, assuming your own definition of “freedom” to dismiss the compatibilist account. Which is why it’s impossible for a meeting of the minds on this.

          As for the challenges to changing our will – of course in some scenarios difficult, sometimes impossible. But free will has never, in ANY sense, assumed that altering the will is ALWAYS easily achieved. You don’t think dualists have noticed the difficulties in some situations of changing what we will?

          And if you take the stance that some people not being able to change their will (e.g. depressed) is evidence that the will can’t be changed, then you have logically admit that the successes (e.g. those who get themselves out of alcoholism and other addictions) are evidence FOR the possibility of changing the will. Can’t have it both ways.

          Being able to do what we will is the lion’s share of what people want – or at least is far and away enough to make “freedom to do as we will” valuable and important. If you don’t think so, being put in a tiny cage, or strapped to a wall, would quickly disabuse you, as you’d become anguished by the loss of freedom (to do so many things you will to do) you are currently taking for granted.

          • Posted April 4, 2015 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

            If I say I can alter my will/acts between choosing two cereals (or any of countless other examples of choice-making) all I have to do is demonstrate the ability to first choose one, then the other, then the other.

            Somebody throws you a ball. Superficially, you can run left to catch it or run right to catch it. Realistically, the direction you run is determined by your evaluation of what direction the ball is headed towards. In what sense is your choice of direction to run in actually free? Yet, throw lots of balls, and you’re gonna be running in all directions.

            As for the challenges to changing our will – of course in some scenarios difficult, sometimes impossible.

            The part you’re missing is that you don’t actually have any internal inputs that directs the change. You might not ever even have considered the merits of exercise were it not for the lecture your physician gave you after your last physical (to pick a typical example, not necessarily your particular circumstances). Or you might have gotten drafted, gotten hooked on the endorphin rush from physical training, and never stopped. Maybe you had a crush on somebody who rejected you for your poor physical condition and your biologically-imbued desire for reproduction took over.

            Whatever the case…something entirely outside of your control reached your awareness such that, according to the computational engine that is your brain, not exercising was enough of a less attractive option to you than exercising.

            And, yes. there can be feedback loops, even ones that amplify things. Your doctor only made a passing comment about your cholesterol numbers rising and isn’t even worried about them, but your friend just had an agonizing heart attack and you want nothing to do with that. Irrationally, going too long between workouts scares you into thinking you’ll backslide and never exercise ever again so you push yourself ever harder.

            But don’t you see? That’s all just external stimuli triggering entirely deterministic computational pathways in your perfectly physical brain. Some of them trigger little cascades, yes, like the feedback loops of good physical health spurring the determination to stay healthy…but that’s no different from the ball in the Rube Goldberg contraction falling onto the latch for the cage that holds an entire bucket of balls and all those balls bouncing all over the place.

            Keep poking at these sorts of things and you quickly discover that, no, you didn’t actually decide anything. You’re just headed down the path, making the least-worst choices you can based on your available information and your skills at processing that information. If you had more information or you were better at processing it, of course you may well choose differently…but, similarly, if the ball were thrown with a different force in a different direction, it would go somewhere different, as well. But neither you nor the ball actually has any choice of where to go; you just, ultimately, like water flowing downhill, always take the path of least resistance (even if, for you, that includes a “long view” conception that lets you go uphill in one direction for smoother sailing down the road).

            b&

            • Vaal
              Posted April 5, 2015 at 12:19 am | Permalink

              Ben, the ball analogy does’t work. It confuses several issues rather than clarifies.

              That only certain actions will allow me to catch the ball is not the same as talking about the alternate actions of which I’m capable. If I say “I can run either right or left” I can demonstrate that freedom for you. I can explain that I have the freedom of catching (or trying) to catch the ball or not. And I can demonstrate over successive tests, my willing to abstain from catching the ball, or attempting to catch it. Just as I could show you how my will changes toward eating one cereal, then the other.

              “The part you’re missing is that you don’t actually have any internal inputs that directs the change.”

              I have referred to our powers of deliberation. Are you now saying our neurology does not allow for reasoning and deliberating? What could you possibly mean?

              “But don’t you see? That’s all just external stimuli triggering entirely deterministic computational pathways in your perfectly physical brain.”

              Of course my brain is responsive to external experience and runs on deterministic principles. I wouldn’t want it any other way. You seem to be simply removing the “me” from the process -as in even the rational deliberation isn’t really “me” doing the choosing. Basically, you have set up a very bizarre apparently impossible-to-be-met criteria for locating the “me” in the process.

              It is very strange to see otherwise secular people speaking in such reductionist
              stances, so similarly to the theists who leap from “if all we are is matter in motion, then, nothing we think is true, and nothing really matters.” They are glossing right over what the “matter in motion” is specifically doing that IS reasoning, thinking truths, valuing things, at the level of the human being.

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 12:51 am | Permalink

                Vaal, I think a concise way to summarize this is that compatibilists keep using “freedom” in its various forms as a variation on the phrase, “all else being equal.”

                And that’s the problem. All else isn’t equal, has never been equal, and never will be equal. The phrase is just a way to express either ignorance or indifference. Yet, in reality…the difference is there, the difference matters, and it’s the difference that lays out the path that you actually wind up taking.

                All else being equal, you could have had the one cereal or the other for breakfast…but all else wasn’t equal, and something tipped the scales in the direction of the cereal you actually ate.

                The most that you ever add to the equation is your internal calculations of the inequalities…but even that’s dependent on your genetic inheritance and your history since conception that’s shaped the expression of that inheritance. Maybe the tipping point in the case of the breakfast cereal was a recollection that the other is so-and-so’s favorite and you’re running low so you should leave it for her; maybe it’s a minor dopamine high from a forgotten-from-consciousness association with something pleasurable the last time you ate it; maybe it’s a primal lust for the one with the more sugar; maybe it’s a conscientious guilt wanting to avoid the one burdened with all that extra sugar; maybe it’s something else entirely; maybe — and most likely –it’s a complicated weighting of all those factors and several more.

                But, at the end (or beginning, in this case) of the day, it’s just simple grinding of input into output, just like any other Turing-equivalent computational device…which is exactly what you are. And describing “choice” as a true property of such only works in the ignorant or indifferent abstract of “all else being equal,” which, in reality, it really isn’t.

                b&

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 6:55 am | Permalink

                I think Vaal is saying that we may be meat machines/computers and in fact we are, so that “WE” do make choices. Which is why he and that side of the line of thinking, complain that Ben and his other side of the line of thinking keep straw manning a “dualist I” as a ghost in the machine and then criticize that view; whereas Vaal is saying no – the “I” IS the machine with its ability to run algorithms so that the “I” or “WE” really do make choices (have free will)

                That is what you are saying isn’t it Vaal?

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 8:07 am | Permalink

                @ steve: I’m dead certain that you’ve gotten Vaal’s intent right, and you said it even better than Vaal did.

              • Vaal
                Posted April 5, 2015 at 11:26 am | Permalink

                Steve,

                Essentially, yes that’s right.

                (Though we get into trouble with descriptions that resort to a sort of “just” level of analysis, like we are “just” meat computers. In doing so we can start to rub away important details with over-generalizations).

                It’s the incompatibilists who strike me as addicted to a sort of dualistic mode of thinking.

          • Posted April 5, 2015 at 1:03 am | Permalink

            Are you free to change your will? No. Can your will be freely changed? Yes. The data can change, the input can change; hence the will can change. Can you control what data arise or what input will arrive? No. You can’t make a choice without making a decision. You can’t make a decision without applying data to an equation. The equation determines the choice.

            • Posted April 5, 2015 at 1:09 am | Permalink

              Excellent summary.

              Given any particular starting point, new input will (hopefully!) factor into subsequent modifications of the decision-making algorithm. If all functions properly, said algorithm makes use of various feedback devices to drive constant refinement and improvement…but even such recursion is the result of the initial state plus following inputs and most emphatically not of any dualistic ghost-in-the-machine free will or anything natural that could resemble such if you squinted at it enough.

              b&

    • Posted April 4, 2015 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      I knew from past experience, as many people have learned, that I could develop the desire to exercise…by starting to exercise.

      Vaal, it’s great to hear that you’ve started and continued an exercise regimen and are staying with it. I encourage everybody else to do so and I wish I didn’t wait so damned long to do it, myself

      But don’t you see the fault in the logic you just expressed?

      At best, it’s the same old “free will is the chains you find comforting” bit Sam refers to. But…do you honestly think you had any choice for that first exercise session, any more than you do before a workout today?

      Sure, maybe it was a painful and agonizing choice. But, when it came right down to it…the pain of not doing it was, you calculated, likely to be worse than the pain of continuing to avoid it…and so there really wasn’t any alternative.

      What you’re describing isn’t choice over your choices. It’s building habits.

      b&

      • Vaal
        Posted April 4, 2015 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

        “But…do you honestly think you had any choice for that first exercise session, any more than you do before a workout today? “

        Yes. In the sense I have defended. Demonstrably. You are rejecting this on the version of “freedom” you have presumed, not on whether I have a coherent stance or not.

        Of course there were alternatives. I experienced and availed myself of the alternative – not exercising or getting fit – everyday for quite a while, which is why I got out of shape to begin with!

        Again, there is no need to claim that altering what we will always has to be easy.
        Sometimes it’s trivially easy, sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes it amounts to impossible. But even when difficult, it’s often possible.

        • stephenlawrence
          Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:48 am | Permalink

          vaal,

          “Again, there is no need to claim that altering what we will always has to be easy.
          Sometimes it’s trivially easy, sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes it amounts to impossible. But even when difficult, it’s often possible.”

          Yes it’s often possible but it won’t happen unless that’s the one thing that can happen given the circumstances of your birth as they were.

          Just checking you agree with that.

          • Posted April 5, 2015 at 7:01 am | Permalink

            Well now I think Vaal really does think their is an “I” that chose the exercise independent of the other “I” that is his meat machine/computer.

            Something does not compute here. Or Vaal is not being very clear –Contradictory even?

            • Posted April 5, 2015 at 7:02 am | Permalink

              there

            • Vaal
              Posted April 5, 2015 at 11:17 am | Permalink

              Steve,

              I’m recognizing the causal role that my desires combined with my deliberative faculties play in coming to a decision.
              Other causes obviously play a role in the chain of causation. For instance “rain” may be a causal factor in influencing my decision not to exercise one day. But “rain” doesn’t have the properties to “decide” things – it doesn’t have desires and rational faculties to model different possible scenarios for achieving a goal. I do, which is why I locate the “decision” part to “me” not external causes that have no such faculties. An ancient earthquake may have played a part in the causal chain leading to the existence of my computer, but you don’t attribute “computing” to an earthquake, and if you want to understand why my computer runs iTunes 10 instead of eleven, it would be perverse to go trying to locate the reason at the level, or time, of the earthquake.

              I don’t know what I’ve said that implies that “I” am anything other than the patterns produced by the processing going on in my brain. (I’d extend the “I” to the rest of my body, of course, in another sense).

          • Vaal
            Posted April 5, 2015 at 11:06 am | Permalink

            stephenlawrence,

            “Yes it’s often possible but it won’t happen unless that’s the one thing that can happen given the circumstances of your birth as they were.”

            Though I’d quibble with the wording, essentially yes, that’s right of course.
            Given all causal factors being the same, you could not do otherwise. Which is why we need to understand “possibility” in the context of determinism.

            So if I’ve been voting Republican and you think I ought to vote for a certain Democrat candidate, what if I reply (on determinist grounds) “But that’s not possible. I’ve been voting Republican because I’ve been determined to do so. It’s therefore NOT POSSIBLE for me to vote Democrat.”

            In order to make your prescription to me to vote Democrat instead, you have to explain why, even given determinism it IS in a relevant sense “Possible” for me to do otherwise than I’ve been doing.

            When you do this, you will inevitably start speaking in compatibilist terms. The ‘possibility’ for alternative action, even while accepting everything is determined.
            But you won’t just be arguing like a compatibilist, you’ll be making a case like virtually EVERY regular person does – appealing to things like If/Then scenarios, appealing to the physical abilities we posses. Because it’s the ONLY way to make sense of prescriptions for our behavior. And it doesn’t contradict determinism.

            And as I’ve argued, if you think about it, the only way humans could have developed a system of thinking true thoughts about courses of actions IS in a manner that does not contradict determinism. In a deterministic world, such a mode of thinking would be necessary, which is why we think that way.

            (That’s not to say that in a determined world all our thoughts, or modes of thinking would be free of illusion or untruth – it’s just to point out that in order to get along day to day and understand the world, compatibilist thinking would be necessary to ever understand truths about the world and navigate it successfully).

            • Posted April 5, 2015 at 11:14 am | Permalink

              So if I’ve been voting Republican and you think I ought to vote for a certain Democrat candidate, what if I reply (on determinist grounds) “But that’s not possible. I’ve been voting Republican because I’ve been determined to do so. It’s therefore NOT POSSIBLE for me to vote Democrat.”

              But that’s not determinism! Not even close!

              “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Have you never heard that disclaimer?

              Determinism states that, when you walk into that booth, when you pull that lever, the lever you pull will be the one-and-only choice you could possibly make in that particular situation, because all else is not really equal.

              It does not state that, a year hence in the next election, you’ll pull the same lever. Maybe the odds are more likely than not that you will because, though some things will have changed most things typically won’t have…but some things will have changed. And those changes will add up to a different weighting of the options. And if the weighting changes sufficiently, you’ll have no choice but to pull the other lever.

              b&

              • Vaal
                Posted April 5, 2015 at 11:38 am | Permalink

                Ben, that’s still missing the point.

                Of course it’s a mistake to equate determinism with fatalism.

                What you have to do is make the cogent case for the sense of “possibility” given determinism. And give reasons why I “should” choose to vote otherwise.

                Right now you seem to be going down the (correct IMO) road of acknowledging that, yes, even given determinism an alternative action IS “possible” in a real, and substantive sense. Well, that’s the compatibilist way of thinking.

                When you get into the nitty gritty of of how you will will have to talk to persuade me, you will inevitably have to assume choice, alternative action, is possible. (Not contra-causal choice, just a real version of choice given determinism, where we consider contra-causal realities).

                And you can’t just leave it in vague terms like “well, it’s possible determining forces will lead to a different outcome in your behavior next vote.” That doesn’t prescribe anything.

                You will have to appeal to my desires and rationality, my decision-making ABILITY TO CHOOSE, to make sense of the prescription.

                You’ll have to makes sense of all this within the context of determinism, and as you do you will be doing just what compatibilists do.

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 11:46 am | Permalink

                When I’m trying to convince you, I’m trying to alter the weighting of the factors that will be in play when you make your decision.

                But when a decision is made, those factors have whatever weights they have at that moment, and the decision effectively makes itself.

                You might argue that I’m making a choice in attempting to change your future choices, but my choice to influence you is also the inevitable result of conditions at the time I choose to attempt to influence you.

                I have no choice but to try to influence your future decision, and neither have any choice as to how significant my attempts to influence you are relative to all the other factors that will influence that decision.

                Imagine a river flowing to the sea. At any point, if all else were equal and the ground were flat and there wasn’t any wind or anything else, the water could go in literally any direction. But the ground isn’t actually flat, so the water flows downhill. And because the water flowed down to the left instead of to the right, that same water will encounter the beaver dam over there as opposed to the lake on the other side, and so on.

                b&

  11. Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Well said, good criticism.

    On responsibility, I think by accepting that we are machines without free will it will become more than just to “reform our judicial system in a way that is emphatic and efficacious.” Most people, even with “deleterious genes” do not end up in lives in which they unthinkingly steal the property of the person next to them or turn to violence with regularity.

    There are changes to our social institutions and socialization processes that can create non-criminals before we need a strong deterring arm of the law or some kind of quarantining procedure for people who have gotten there. Eradicating poverty, giving superb educations to everyone, and bringing everyone into the manifolds of society should go further in deterring (or not creating) criminals than by creating a better justice systems. Which we of course should do as well.
    Furthermore, ending the drug war will literally write off many criminals.

  12. BillyJoe
    Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Coel,

    “You are simply wrong, in the sense that plenty of people have used the term in that sense”

    C: This table is solid.
    I: Actually, this table consists of atoms which are 99.999999% empty space.
    C: In popular parlance, this table is solid.
    I: In fact, it’s not the table’s solidity that prevents you falling through it, but electrostatic forces.
    C: This table is still solid in everyday parlance.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted April 4, 2015 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      …actually, my memory failed me, an atom is 99.999999999999% empty space.

    • Vaal
      Posted April 4, 2015 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      The table is “solid” not only in the sense of “everyday parlance,” it is “solid” in a very real way *at the level of everyday human experience.* I can not see through a sold door. I can not walk through a solid door. There are all sorts of real world facts that we use to discern “solid” from “empty space’ at the level of our perception and experience. (In other words, that we use the term “solid” for physical objects doesn’t entail everything about it is an “illusion” and that we are “wrong” about the solidity of things).

      • BillyJoe
        Posted April 4, 2015 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        Of course it is an illusion.

        A door is almost entirely empty space. That is a fact. If it were not for electrostatic forces, you could indeed walk through a door.

        Things are not as they seem.

        Freewill seems to exist *at the level of our everyday human experience* as you put it. But, in reality, it is an illusion. Science sees beyond this illusion of our everyday human experience, to the underlying reality that freewill does not exist.

        You are rejecting science in favour of your *everyday human experience*.

        • Vaal
          Posted April 4, 2015 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

          BillyJoe,

          It’s not an “illusion” that I can’t walk through a solid door, but can walk through (not solid) air. It’s not an illusion that a solid table will hold up a led block, but bathwater or the air in my room will not.

          If for some bizarre reason you’d want to say “but that’s NOT REALLY solid” you’d be simply wrong. Scientifically.

          Solid:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid

          Wikipedia: “Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas, and plasma). It is characterized by structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume. “

          The properties of such “solid” objects apply both in everyday and scientifically at the level at which we interact with macro objects. They are *real* characteristics of matter in certain forms, with *real* consequences for how we have to interact with it.

          Of course if by “solid” you mean, I guess,a sort of “perfectly contiguous collection of nuclei or something, i.e. something that mimics the way solid objects appear to us,then in that sense one could say the solidity of a table is an “illusion.”

          But the point is it would be perverse to seize upon THAT sense of “solid” as the “only valid sense of solid,” dismissing the most commonly used reference of “solid” that is so useful for us, and which denotes TRUE and REAL qualities of “solid objects.”

          And yet, this essentially seems the attitude of incompatibilists to “freedom” “free will” “choice” etc.

          • peepuk
            Posted April 5, 2015 at 4:46 am | Permalink

            Vaal, here I agree with you solidness is a real emerging property.

          • BillyJoe
            Posted April 5, 2015 at 9:05 am | Permalink

            Vaal,

            “It’s not an “illusion” that I can’t walk through a solid door”

            No. It’s an illusion that you can’t walk through a door BECAUSE it is solid. It’s because of electrostatic forces, not solidity. That door is 99.999999999999% empty space. That’s not solid in anyone’s book.

            In everyday parlance a door is said to be solid and our experience is that a door seems to be solid. But this is an illusion as science has conclusively demonstrated. You can’t even make contact with the wall. The electrostatic forces prevent you from doing so. And if it was not for those electrostatic forces, you would pass un-impeded straight through that door. Do you really mean to deny this scientific fact?

            Similarly, in everyday parlance, I am happy to say I choose chocolate, even though I know that the reality is that I do not actually make choices. That too is an illusion.

            • Vaal
              Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:50 am | Permalink

              BillyJoe,

              You are the one strangely denying science here.

              Again: ““Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas, and plasma). It is characterized by structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume. “

              What you are saying is “that’s not REALLY solid.” But of course it is. Science understands the underlying atomic structure of matter, but still uses “solid” as a descriptor because “solid” describes REAL and NOT ILLUSORY qualities of matter, in certain states – e.g. that result in “structural rigidity” at our level of interaction. “structural rigidity” is a REAL property of the concept of “solid” and
              it’s generally what everyday people refer to
              when dealing with “solid objects” and “not solid objects” (e.g. liquid, gas).

              If you say to a scientist “solidity is only an illusion” he will correct you. He’ll explain the very real properties of matter refereed to as “solid.”

              It is very strange to watch the incoherent reductionism, to the point of undermining scientific concepts, that seem to come from the incompstibilist side of these debates.

              The mistake here again, is to say “solidity is an illusion.” On one hand, yes there is an illusion (e.g. that for instance it’s perfectly contiguous particles given the limitations of our eyes). But on the other hand, and for all practical purposes, and the way it is understood at our macro level, “solidity” ALSO refers to VERY REAL PROPERTIES of matter that are NOT untrue, NOT illusions. It would therefore be foolish to go around proclaiming “solidity is only an illusion” without being very careful to point out that what you are actually saying is that *one sense* of solidity is an illusion, while it is quite real in other important respects. But this is similar to what incompatibilists do with “free will” when they say things like “choice” is an illusion. Once you get more detailed, separating the illusory parts from the real parts, you end up essentially speaking in compatibilism.

              • richardwkc
                Posted April 6, 2015 at 1:28 am | Permalink

                Vaal, excellent explanation. But there are people who cannot see the forest for the trees.

            • BillyJoe
              Posted April 5, 2015 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

              I think you’ve lost track of the argument.

              It started with Coel saying that if incompatibilists use and accept the phrase “freedom of speech” then we should also support the concept of “free will”.

              My point was along the lines that “freedom of speech” is common parlance for the idea that people should not be restrained from putting their views, but that this has no bearing on whether or not “free will” exists.

              My analogy was the common concept of solidity. In common parlance a thing is solid if there are no holes in it. Edam cheese is solid, Swiss cheese is not. However science has shown that even objects we commonly call solid are, in fact, full of holes – to the extent that 99.999999999999% is empty space. But that does not mean we stop using the word “solid” in relation to Edam cheese and doors. And it doesn’t mean we reject the science that all objects are, in fact, largely empty space.

              You counteracted with a scientific defintion of the word “solid” not realising that this actually supports my argument. The scientific definition is different from the common usage. We don’t stop common usage and we don’t reject the science.

              Similarly, our common usage and acceptance of the term “sunrise” does not imply that we accept that the Sun revolves around the Earth. And our common usage and acceptance of the term “freedom of speech” does not imply that we accept that there is “free will”.

        • Posted April 5, 2015 at 7:08 am | Permalink

          Also given enough time, there is a non-zero probability that you could actually in actual for real ways walk through the solid door.

          That’s what physics says — which is why science is used to find approximations of truth to finer and finer precision levels — to find what is actual, not what we perceive on a first or even second or third approximation as actual.

          You are talking about semantic convenience not truth claims.

    • peepuk
      Posted April 5, 2015 at 4:51 am | Permalink

      tables and freewill are different type of things.

      • BillyJoe
        Posted April 5, 2015 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        But illusions regarding both are not.

        • peepuk
          Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          I disagree, A table reduces well all the way down to physics, freewill not. I’m a realist about tables 🙂

          • BillyJoe
            Posted April 5, 2015 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

            I was referring to “solidity” (with tables as an example) and “freewill”

  13. Keith Cook or more
    Posted April 4, 2015 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Illusions abound and this free will is just another, like the Muller-Lyer optical illusion, very difficult to shake, simply because it is an heuristic reality and like the free will illusion, is going no where soon.
    The great wiki says…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCller-Lyer_illusion
    It is interesting in that it suggests we could limit the effects, our susceptibility to illusions.
    Perhaps an instructive way of resolving the free will illusion could be devised so as it’s not so scary say? maybe, maybe not.
    When self awareness arrived, this hairless primate loaded itself (heuristically) along with self biasing confirmation with this illusion and I suspect anthropomorphic arrogance (whatever form i.e. religion) keeps it front and centre.
    So it’s not surprising but fundamentally basing our lives on any illusion free will, religion or otherwise is defective thinking, inhibiting personal growth, social policies of any real substance.

    • peepuk
      Posted April 5, 2015 at 4:33 am | Permalink

      We cannot easily escape from this illusional freewill but we can indeed try to change our environment so it does less harm.

  14. Michael Waterhouse
    Posted April 4, 2015 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    A small criticism perhaps.

    “survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes”

    I can’t see how this statement says we are programmed ‘solely’ by our genes,

    hence I don’t quite get the issue with it?

  15. Posted April 4, 2015 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read Julian Baggini’s book, so I’ll just have to trust Eagleton’s review for now to tell me its contents. And if Eagleton is to be trusted, then Baggini is a weaksauce compatibilist.

    Love doesn’t feel voluntary – Baggini/Eagleton are right about that. But having come to love a woman, rearranging my schedule to take a class beside her felt very free indeed! I could have acted otherwise, but luckily I was not crazy enough to do otherwise. I freely chose the one option that clearly kicked butt, according to what I valued, over all the other options available to me at the time. Freely, and utterly predictably, if you knew me well enough at the time. Note that prediction isn’t control. It isn’t enslavement. It isn’t force. Neither is causal determination.

    It’s been asserted many times on this blog, by Jerry and many commenters, that causally determined acts are compelled, that they leave no room for choice. Asserted, but not actually demonstrated, using scientifically valid conceptions of causality, and proper modal logic. It simply does not follow, unless one replaces a scientific understanding of causality with an intuitive, human agent centered concept. But in a discussion of scientific determinism, that is not a legitimate move.

    The Baggini wing of compatibilism is like the Republican wing of the Democratic Party (e.g. “boll weevils”). Why bother with such timid stuff? More robust compatibilists endorse could have done otherwise claims for paradigmatic choices by normal, competent adult human beings. As we keep pointing out, incompatibilists don’t have an argument that doesn’t either make a bad inference, or start with an unscientific premise about causation, or both.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted April 4, 2015 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

      “It’s been asserted many times on this blog, by Jerry and many commenters, that causally determined acts are compelled, that they leave no room for choice”

      What do you mean by “asserted”?

      It is true by definition. If acts are causally determined, then they are compelled. Meaning that they leave no room for choice. If there was such a thing as choice, then choice would be an act. But acts are causally determined, therefore choice would be causally determined. But, by defintion, choice is something that is not causally determined.

      In other words, freewill is an incoherent concept.

      • Posted April 5, 2015 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        What dictionary are you using? The Merriam Webster online definition of “choice” makes no mention of “not causally determined”.

        • BillyJoe
          Posted April 5, 2015 at 9:12 am | Permalink

          There ought to be a logical fallacy called “argument from dictionary defintion”. As soon as someone pulls out a dictionary defintion instead of offering an argument, they have lost the argument.

          • Posted April 5, 2015 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

            If that’s a fallacy it’s a broader one, and should be called “argument from definition.” By that standard, you lost the argument when you wrote “It is true by definition.”

    • Posted April 5, 2015 at 1:59 am | Permalink

      Sorry, Paul, I could follow your argument; your hands were waving too much.

      /@

      • Posted April 5, 2015 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        You couldn’t follow my argument because I didn’t make one. I requested one. Those who assert that one statement (e.g., no one ever has a choice about anything) follows from another (human acts are causally determined), should produce an argument.

  16. richardwkc
    Posted April 5, 2015 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    This morning [a Monday] I opened my wardrobe, looked at the options available to me – a T-shirt, a short-sleeved shirt or a long-sleeved? Striped or checked? Blue, green or pink? After some thinking, I decided on a blue-checked shirt. What influenced me to select the blue-checked? I don’t really know; it was a just a choice I fancied at the time.

    At the breakfast table, I chose coffee instead of tea; yesterday morning [Sunday] it was also coffee during breakfast. For this Monday afternoon, I drank tea. And it was also tea after dinner.

    On Tuesday morning it was neither coffee nor tea, but Milo. However, from Wednesday to Saturday it was tea all the way, from breakfast in the morning until late in the evening.

    From Tuesday to Sunday, I wore only striped shirts.

    Can the determinist tell me, what, exactly, determined the choices I made as described?

    • Posted April 5, 2015 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      No. But so what? Because the inputs are many and some are hidden, that doesn’t mean that they are not there.

      • richardwkc
        Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        So what? So a lot! Deterninism is NOT about pre-determinism, but about environmental inputs. But what, exactly, caused me to opt for A instead of B? I want to hear this from the determinist. It’s no use telling me after I had opted for coffee instead of tea that I could not have opted otherwise. I could be doing the same thing successfully every day for the next seven days, or I could be doing a different thing eaxh day for the next ten days. If the determinist cannot tell me what, exactly, determined by action[s] – even after they had occurred, then deterninism has nothing useful to say as far as I am concerned. Sure, we are all part of the environment, but what environmental factor[s] caused me to act in this way rather than that way? This is where determinism falls short.

        • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          I thought I already had?

          Again, I’d have to know the specifics which may well include all sorts of information that only exists in your brain. But you might choose the coffee if it’s a new batch and you’re eager to try it out — or the same with the tea. You might choose the coffee if you didn’t sleep well and want an extra jolt of caffeine or the tea if you think you’ve been getting a wee bit too much caffeine lately.

          “All else being equal” is the fallacy on which any and all forms of “free will” hinge upon. In reality, all else isn’t equal, and it’s the inequalities that’re ultimately responsible for the decisions you actually make.

          b&

    • BillyJoe
      Posted April 5, 2015 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      Can you tell me what – other than deterministic cause and effect or qunatum probability, neither of which amount to freewill – could possibly have resulted in you drinking Milo instead of coffee or tea?

      • richardwkc
        Posted April 6, 2015 at 1:54 am | Permalink

        Well, for one thing, I know there are various kinds of beverages. This morninng I opted for Milo; I was having tea or coffee for the past few days. My opting for Milo was not a consequence of the fact I was drinking coffee ot tea for the past few days. What if I told you I didn’t deliberate beforehand before going for Milo? What if I say, it was a sudden fancy that came into my head? Still, I did make a choice; only it was not coffee or tea.

    • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Can the determinist tell me, what, exactly, determined the choices I made as described?

      In those specific circumstances? Of course not. I don’t know if your examples are even real or just made up for illustration.

      But I can tell you the types of forces that determine those sorts of choices.

      For the shirt…you could know that you’re likely to spend a fair amount of time in the Sun today and thus narrow the selection down to one of the long-sleeved shirts to avoid sunburn. And you could have lunch planned with somebody you’re looking to impress who likes blue, so that narrows it down further. And then you remember that said somebody hails from the northern end of the British Isles and they like checkered patterns there.

      A different day, maybe you’ll have a formal engagement and a dress shirt is called for. Another and you’ll be volunteering to paint something so you reach for the holey old one on the short list for the rag pile. And so on.

      Again…”all else being equal”…but all else is never actually equal.

      b&

      • richardwkc
        Posted April 6, 2015 at 2:32 am | Permalink

        Good try there, Ben. But the answers may not be correct, whether the examples cited are real or for demonstration; being subjective, you will need to ask the person who made the selection as to what prompted him to select shirt A, instead of shirt B, or shirt C, or shirt P; then you will have no choice but to take his word for it.

        As people we are influenced by our genes and by our environment, no dispute there. But as people we have a mind [brain if you like] that can think, make decisions or evaluations, etc. And each of us is unique in some ways, right? Also, we are our genes, not separate from them.

        Five adults living in the same house for years can make a completely different choice when it is about opting for a drink or a meal. We can then argue that different people have different tastes.
        What about environmental factors that allegedly affect one’s circuits in the brain? The determinist has no way of telling me what, exactly, caused each of these five people to make a selection that is different from each of the others, although they are exposed, or have been exposed, for many years, presumably, to the same environmental factors.

        • Posted April 6, 2015 at 9:12 am | Permalink

          Erm…nobody’s pretending that we have or even practically can have anything even vaguely close to absolute knowledge of…well…anything.

          Somebody throws a ball. Do you think we know down to the picovolt the electrical potential across every muscle fibre and synapse in the thrower’s body? The vector of every air molecule in the volume through which the ball passes? The precise gravitational gradient of that location? And so on?

          Of course not. But that doesn’t mean that we therefore should conclude that it’s the ball faeries determining the trajectory the ball takes. A simple approximation using Newtonian Mechanics is pretty much all you need nearly all the time.

          The determinist has no way of telling me what, exactly, caused each of these five people to make a selection that is different from each of the others, although they are exposed, or have been exposed, for many years, presumably, to the same environmental factors.

          I also couldn’t tell you exactly which radioisotope in a sample will be the next one to decay. But I can tell you with incredible precision what percentage will have decayed after a given amount of time.

          Your objections are entirely unreasonable and have no bearing whatsoever on either this particular question or how science and human understanding actually works.

          b&

          • richardwkc
            Posted April 7, 2015 at 1:31 am | Permalink

            My point is this: despite all that has been said about determinism, I am still free to make choices.

            Example: I am having a prostate problem [prostate enlargement with difficulty in urinating]. The doctor has prescribed a medication that has side effects, one of which is the lowering of the blood pressure.

            Whether to take the medication or not is totally up to me of course. Thus, although the medication is supposed to be taken daily, as has happened, I have in practice taken the medication on an irregular basis; there were days when I decided against it. A quick evaluation and then a quick decision; I was free to decide and my decision was made freely, without any coercion from anyone else. And the incompatibilist says: My choice was not free. My answer: Sorry, I disagree.

            • Posted April 7, 2015 at 2:38 am | Permalink

              You’re wrong to disagree.

              The illusions of free will is a powerful one, isn’t it?

              Sure, no one was coercing you, so you decision each day was free of that input. But how can your decisions have been truly free of the all past and then current inputs, preferences, and so on on each occasion?

              You’re free to agree, of course… or are you?

              /@

              • richardwkc
                Posted April 7, 2015 at 8:34 am | Permalink

                You are wrong in saying I am wrong to disagree, and in being presumptuous about free will being a powerful illusion. Free will – the libertarian kind – may be an illusion to incompatibilists but please remember that not everyone in this world is an incompatibilist or determinist. Got it?

                Secondly, please point out where exactly did I talk about “free will”? Another presumption plucked from too much imagination about arguments on “free will”?

                What inputs, current or past, are you referring to? This is too vague an area for discussion. Of course my life has been influenced by thousands or plausibly millions of things that have happened since I was born. “Sure, no one was coercing you, so you decision each day was free of that input” – so here you are admitting that my decision to take or not to take my decision was free of that input; but what current or past inputs caused me to take my medication on some days and not to take it on some other days? This is the point I have been trying to put across to determinists – determinism falls short when it comes to specifics. Your argument is not unlike the silly argument I heard from another determinist, who claimed whether I would be drinking tea or coffee tomorrow was already decided when I was born. This determinist was totally clueless that such a concept of determinism was totally useless to me. He was being presumptuous, of course, that my choice of drink for tomorrow would be either tea or coffee.

                In the example I quoted, whether it was the same input, a different input or a combination of inputs, the fact is, the result might outturn different, and indeed had outturned different as when I decided to take the medication or when I decided against it. Of course, one can argue that all else is not equal – a minute ago may not be the same as the minute we now have.

                You can disagree for all you want – but you cannot detract from the fact that it was a choice I exercised – whether I decided to take or not to take the medication – regardless of whatever input you care to imagine that affected my being. So, in your argument, when I decide to take, I am not free; and when I decide not to take, I am also not free; no freedom.

                Please feel free to respond or not to respond – take it that there’s no coercion from me.

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 11:40 am | Permalink

                Of course, one can argue that all else is not equal – a minute ago may not be the same as the minute we now have.

                And that’s exactly the point.

                “All else being equal” is no different from ignoring sweeping collections of factors, any one of which could well have been all it took to actually make the difference — and the combined effect of which is not merely overwhelming, but the only actual determinant.

                When you decided to not take your medication, was it because of some ethereal idealized Platonic notion that that was the pure essence of action you were going to realize, or was it because of some other factor that simply, when it came right down to it, you couldn’t at that moment in time ignore?

                b&

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

                Of course you were talking about free will, richard. (That’s what this page is about, after all!)

                The very notion that you are “free” to choose whether to take your medication or not is the nub of (illusory) libertarian/contra-causal free will: CHDO – could have done/decided otherwise. Many compatibilists deprecate contra-causal free will and then in the next breath take about making “freely making decisions” exactly as if contra-causal free will were true. It’s *that* powerful an illusion that you don’t even notice it!

                Could you really have decided otherwise *at each instant*? Sure, you can make different decisions from one day to another, but that’s quite a different thing. But given the *same* set of contextual data, including past history, and the *same* complex decision making algorithms that howie sets out (however those are instantiated in the brain), how *could* you have decided otherwise? (Why would you have “wanted” to?) Sure, you “exercised a choice”, but that is just a matter of applying those deterministic algorithms to that data.

                This does not mean any decision is *predictable* at any instant. In practice, it is impossible to predict the disposition of the billions of neurons, trillions of synapses, and quadrillions of sodium ions in your brain at the instant of your decision, which would entail keeping track of every external influence on your brain up to the present (or at least since taking the last snapshot of your brain). Limits on mensuration would introduce chaotic effects. Plus all the stochastic effects at the quantum level (did Schrödinger’s cat ever scratch you or not?). But lack of predictability ≠ freedom, either.

                Got it?

                /@

        • Posted April 6, 2015 at 9:38 am | Permalink

          “The determinist has no way of telling me what, exactly, caused each of these five people to make a selection that is different from each of the others, although they are exposed, or have been exposed, for many years, presumably, to the same environmental factors.”

          Not being able to tell the cause does not imply free will.

          • richardwkc
            Posted April 7, 2015 at 12:33 am | Permalink

            “Not being able to tell the cause does not imply free will.”

            Not being able to appreciate that I have a mind that can think and evaluate, and make decisions, does not imply that I am not free to make choices.

            • Posted April 7, 2015 at 11:33 am | Permalink

              “Freedom to make a choice,” whether or not you wish to label that, “free will,” only makes sense if you presuppose that all else really is equal. But all else is never equal, and can’t possibly ever be equal.

              It’s like stating that, if you drop an hammer down a well, it’ll accelerate at ~10 m/s/s. Well, yes…but only if you ignore other forces such as friction, Coriolis, tides from other bodies, magnetism, Relativity, and all the rest.

              Granted, the Earth’s gravity overwhelms all the others such that it’s generally difficult to measure the others…but such is most emphatically not the case in decision-making. There’re inevitably incredibly significant factors that are perfectly capable of having gone the other way that would have radically changed the decision you made.

              You are not in the position of an explorer hiking over the landscape. Rather, you are in the position of a drop of water flowing from the cloud to the mountaintop through the rivers to the sea. All paths may well seem open from the initial vantage point of the cloud…but the actual path you take is inevitably and inescapably determined by the winds, the slope of the hillside, and all the rest. That other nearly-identical drops took radically different routes to the sea is of no relevance; they had no choice, either, but simply always followed the local gravitational gradient (with some footnotes for prevailing winds or thirsty beasts or what-not).

              b&

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

                パチンコ!

                /@

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                Were it not for Teh Innertubes, I’d have no clue what that chicken scratch is supposed to represent…but, yes. Exactly right.

                All the players, I’m sure, are convinced they have some sort of influence over the prizes they win (or, rather, the money they lose). In reality, of course, they have no more control over the game than any of us do over anything else in the Universe, for we ourselves are but the balls bouncing down off the pegs….

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachinko

                b&

            • richardwkc
              Posted April 8, 2015 at 7:32 am | Permalink

              This is a response to Ant’s post of 7 Apr 12.20:

              It is clear no amount of clarification is going to resolve this impasse. Just look at the amount of text that has been expended by people here who are on the compatibilists’ side; same can be said for those arguing for incompatibilism or determinism.

              So, Ant, I will end this exchange by saying I will stop here; and that’s my choice, whether you like it or not.

              Savvy?

              • Johan Mathiesen
                Posted April 8, 2015 at 9:13 am | Permalink

                Having a mind that thinks and evaluates and makes decisions does not imply that a mind has free will. I would hope clarification would help. The problem is one of logic, not difference of opinion. The very process of evaluation means data have been applied to algorithms and a decision drawn from that algorithm. No freedom is involved, it’s a computation, done consciously or not. It’s not really an arguable point, it’s merely how it works; there logically can’t be another way. One either understands the logic or one doesn’t; it’s not a matter of agreement.

  17. Posted April 5, 2015 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    Ben: “I have yet to read a compatibilistic account that is coherent or internally consistent (including Dennett), and avoids the simple fact that everything ultimately is derivative of physical laws”

    And I have not yet read a incompatibilist account of human mental decisional processes that is not grossly oversimplified, unaware of the nature of the actual decisional processes involved, and excessively reduction and irrelevant to the question at hand on the issue of what we compatibilists define as the human capacity to exhibit free will.

    I have mentioned before that my background in computer science has only reinforced my certainty that the compatibilist position is correct. Let me set out the reasons.
    Most incompatibilists argue their case from a grossly simplistic causal model of the “physics of decision making” – the kind of combinatorial mechanism one would find in a tea kettle. Cause and effect here is so simple. Let me however list just a few of the computational mechanisms at work in the human mind. These indeed are totally untea-kettle like.
    When we decide most things (aside from reflexive actions) we utilise “software processes” evolved for problem solving in the human mind. These include:
    1) Advanced modelling – we do not just react to the physical entities that make up a decisional problem, we deal with the”representational-physics” of multiple mental models of these entities. The mind, with past learning, creates these models
    2) Associative memory – unlike a tea kettle we use a vast memory system which is associative in nature. Associations are programmed by the minds processing. This is non combinational logic at work. The mind processes involve not only memory of things but associations connected with these things
    3) Pattern recognition – the brain exhibits pattern recognition capability which far exceed the most advanced capabilities we have yet produced in the most complex computer systems. This pattern recognition capability forms part of the decisional process of human mind.
    4) Learning – our memory capacity of fact and event history is vast. It forms part of a structure of a complex multi-state machine array.
    5) Language – we do not directly deal with the measured physical entities in most decisions we deal with a symbolic representation of these entities formed in Language. Decisional processes AND the entities processed are not physical but mathematical constructs. This DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY ARE IN ANY WAY “SPOOKY”
    6) Self Programming – much of human mental decisional process is self-programmed
    Now the question follows is “ what/who exactly has the ultimate responsibility for the decisions reached” with this software system – a system that is both physical and mathematical in nature? (this question addresses Kane’s and Dennet’s free-will criteria) Well – the answer- it is “self programmed” processing of the mind using mental processing capabilities that is unique to the human mind. Decisional outputs are mostly “self formed”/”self processed” – but in a totally deterministic physical world. Thus they exhibit compatibilist free will. Before Ben starts his broken record of shouting “dualism” these mechanisms are NOT in any way dualistic. They are real, and they are not spooky.

    • peepuk
      Posted April 5, 2015 at 4:16 am | Permalink

      “Decisional processes AND the entities processed are not physical but mathematical constructs. This DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY ARE IN ANY WAY “SPOOKY””

      If you agree with “Mathematical concepts are neither located in space-time nor do they have causal powers” then this sentence is false. If not we need some proof.

      “Self Programming”

      The moment you combine it with responsibility it’s dualism.

      • Posted April 5, 2015 at 8:20 am | Permalink

        “If you agree with “Mathematical concepts are neither located in space-time nor do they have causal powers” then this sentence is false.”

        Dear me… Descartes old Res cogitans/Res extensa issue.. Well we know so much better now. Software processes (mathematical constructs) connect with and influence the external world through Input/Output systems…. something that is part of EVERY computer. No big deal, and certainly not dualistic. You incompatibilists sling the word dualism about every time you get stumped, don’t you?

        • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:52 am | Permalink

          Software processes (mathematical constructs) connect with and influence the external world through Input/Output systems

          Sorry, but that is dualism, even if it’s such an useful way of thinking about it that it’s what all computer programmers do.

          Software doesn’t “connect with and influence” anything.

          All a computer is is electrons banging into each other. It’s a super-miniaturized Rube Goldberg contraption on steroids.

          Software, for that matter, doesn’t actually exist.

          What does exist are various groupings of voltages which, when they bang into each other, create various interference patterns that can be quite useful.

          But, again, you could do the same thing with water pipes and valves…or, for that matter, with a bunch of rocks.

          b&

        • peepuk
          Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

          You misunderstood me, the dualist part is creating someone to blame by “self-programming”.

          The first part is about realism of mathematics.

    • Posted April 5, 2015 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Are we again at the “meat machines/computers ARE ME, so it is “I” that make decisions?

      The reason that is not spooky is because it doesn’t say much. It is almost banal as I think Ben has said before.

    • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      When we decide most things (aside from reflexive actions) we utilise “software processes” evolved for problem solving in the human mind. These include:

      That’s as good a summary as you’d expect somebody to come up with on the fly for a post to a Web site…and yet it’s all irrelevant.

      The entire process is still Turing-equivalent. You could still reproduce it exactly with any other Turing-equivalent device with sufficient memory and time.

      If the particular Turing machines that are us have free will, we’re left with the inescapable conclusion that all Turing machines have free will — or, perhaps, alternatively, that it is a particular algorithm or an operating instantiation of it that has free will.

      Understanding the complexity is important to getting a good grip on how the process unfolds, but it’s entirely irrelevant to fundamental questions such as this.

      I think we can all agree that either a thermostat lacks free will or, if it has it, the term is utterly meaningless.

      The physics tells us that we are ultimately no different from the thermostat when it comes to matters of choice; both are the product of input and algorithm to produce output.

      Those who still cling to “free will” are, ultimately, in denial of those facts of physics.

      b&

      • Posted April 6, 2015 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        “The physics tells us that we are ultimately no different from the thermostat when it comes to matters of choice;”

        Nonsense. Recall the advanced computational capabilities I have outlined,- modeling, pattern recognition, associative memory, language, learning, self-programming……….. capabilities far beyond those found in any machine or computer that exists today.

        NOW, you might just ask yourself WHY have all these advanced mechanisms evolved in the human brain, and what purpose do they serve? The answer- evitability. Each mechanism exists to enhance an organism’s capacity to solve the problems of survival and reproduction and to do this with extended degrees of freedom. They exist as an emergent property to negate the slow progress of genetic evolution in dealing with these problems – a process that otherwise takes generations to “make a decision” in adapting to how to deal with a survival problem. Each mechanism is “self programmed, in whole or in part. Why? The individual-self is the fundamental unit of selection, and it is uniquely advantageous to enhance decisional capabilities at this selection level. We “self-form” our individual minds as we grow from childhood to adulthood to the point that decisions are more the function of the programmed self, rather than any external inputs relevant at the point of decision. A “line has been crossed” in our capabilities as agents. These capabilities are well “worth having” as Dennett puts it. Humans exhibit these capabilities in all their decision making and in doing so exhibit the emerged property we see as free will.

        • Posted April 6, 2015 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

          Nonsense. Recall the advanced computational capabilities I have outlined,- modeling, pattern recognition, associative memory, language, learning, self-programming……….. capabilities far beyond those found in any machine or computer that exists today.

          Erm…all those abilities, in one form or another, are ancient history in computer science today. Granted, not always to the degree exhibited by humans…but, as often as not, to an even greater extent. Remember, machines are unbeatable by humans in both the chess tournaments and the trivia game shows.

          And you’re still making the claim that “free will” is an advanced algorithm, and that computers which implement said algorithm have “free will” but a comparable computer that didn’t implement it doesn’t have “free will.” That really only makes sense if you’ve reified computation, which is a form of dualistic Platonic idealism.

          To demonstrate: using your terms, one would have to conclude that a monstrously massive steampunk Rube Goldberg contraption would have free will if it could reasonably satisfy the criteria Turing laid out in his famous eponymous test, and without resort to Eliza-style trickery but instead through means of logical reproduction of the same sorts of algorithms humans employ.

          That might work for you, but I don’t think it works for anybody else. And, if it doesn’t work for you, then that’s an unabashed full embrace of religious-style dualism.

          b&

          • Posted April 6, 2015 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

            “And you’re still making the claim that “free will” is an advanced algorithm, and that computers which implement said algorithm have “free will” but a comparable computer that didn’t implement it doesn’t have “free will.”

            That is exactly what I’m saying.

            There are other operative influences that limit system determinacy to a degree from external causal effects but we can ignore them for the time being.

            And you should know that software (mathematics) is machine independent, so who gives a toss about the hardware that algorithms run on. You pick the Turing machine, the simplest of hardware, in your argument merely for effect, because you think simple hardware means simplicity. Well it doesn’t, and nobody is impressed by such a specious argument..

            • Posted April 6, 2015 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

              And you should know that software (mathematics) is machine independent, so who gives a toss about the hardware that algorithms run on.

              But that’s the problem — you’re equivocating between two different meanings of the word, “independent.”

              Software is “machine independent” in the sense that, as Turing demonstrated, there are logical equivalencies between machines that permit any calculation that can be executed by one particular piece of hardware to be executed by any other particular piece of hardware up to the physical limits of the machine.

              It is most emphatically not “machine independent” in the sense you’re using it in that software exists independently of a machine.

              Computer science is really just a particular branch of physics — or, for that matter, geometry, when it comes right down to it.

              Physics tells us how bits of matter can move about. So does geometry; you can’t make two successive right turns on a flat surface and wind up where you started, just as you can’t accelerate faster than c.

              Computer science tells us the ways you can and can’t connect circuits together and have them give the results you expect them to. It doesn’t exist independently in some Platonic realm; it’s just describing the geometry of your circuitry. And you still need the physical circuits connected together in order to realize the plans you dream up.

              The point you’re continuing to miss is that there’s not any freedom in any of these circuits, any more than there’s freedom in orbital mechanics. Set a bunch of bodies of certain masses on certain paths, and they will move with respect to each other in the way Newton described (with footnotes from Einstein). Connect a bunch of switches together and set them in motion, and they will trigger each other in the way Turing described.

              They have to, or computer science just simply doesn’t work. I mean, really — if computers could just start choosing what results they wanted to report, how on Earth do you think you could even pretend to program one in the first place?

              b&

              • Posted April 6, 2015 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                “any calculation that can be executed by one particular piece of hardware to be executed by any other particular piece of hardware up to the physical limits of the machine.”

                Totally incorrect. Any computer is exactly equivalent to any other computer with respect to be ABLE to execute an algorithm.. The only difference is the time it takes to execute an algorithm.”

                Computer science is really just a particular branch of physics”
                Totally incorrect. It is a branch of mathematics. Hardware is interesting but irrelevant.

                “The point you’re continuing to miss is that there’s not any freedom in any of these circuits, any more than there’s freedom in orbital mechanics”
                Again Ben, circuits have nothing to do with it. Mathematics represents the situation.

                You’ve said somewhere that you earn a living in the field on computing. I’m beginning to wonder how this can be possible with the level of understanding you’ve expressed on the subject.

                Tell me that you are just say these things to be provocative Ben, not that these statements represent your level of understanding of computation

              • Posted April 6, 2015 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

                Howie, all your arguments presuppose the reality of mathematical idealized Platonism, which is something many mathematicians (and those in related sciences, such as information theory) are in love with, but which has no more actual support by physics than any other form of dualism. That’s the real argument you and I are having.

                You see no transcendent meaning in a single switch, but you do see transcendent meaning in an assemblage of switches doing math in all its pure glory.

                The analogy with Newtonian orbital mechanics couldn’t be more clear. The orbits are real; the math that describes them is just a precise form of human language that helps us better understand and predict the orbits.

                The changing voltages in an integrated circuit are real. The software is just an easier way to describe the patterns of changes in the circuits, but the software itself isn’t any more real than the equations that describe a planet’s orbit.

                Or, in much more prosaic terms, “1 + 1 = 2” isn’t real, even though, if you place one apple on the table and then place another apple on the table there are now two apples on the table. The apples are real; the equation describing the evolution of the apples with respect to the table isn’t.

                I very much doubt I’ll have any success convincing you that your mathematical Platonism really is dualism cast from the exact same mold as religious spirituality, but we’ll see.

                b&

              • Posted April 6, 2015 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

                “The changing voltages in an integrated circuit are real. The software is just an easier way to describe the patterns of changes in the circuits”

                No, it’s you that has got it backwards. The circuit (computer) is just one of many ways of implementing the mathematical rules that govern the execution of algorithms. The existence of such a physical way of doing this process is irrelevant to the existence of the mathematics.

                You have drifted into only making incorrect statements concerning mathematics when my original comment focussed mostly on evolutionary advantage. Perhaps you have a comment (hopefully not incorrect) on that particular subject?

              • Posted April 6, 2015 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

                The existence of such a physical way of doing this process is irrelevant to the existence of the mathematics.

                That’s the Platonist position, yes. And, yet, the results of the LHC have empirically and most emphatically ruled out any possibility that that position is anything other than a linguistic convenience. The actual physics predominates, not any immaterial conceptual approximation of the physics or anything else immaterial.

                Platonism is dualism. Dualism is false, and we know this because we would have detected its effects long ago. Platonism is no more and no less than a claim that the Standard Model isn’t merely incomplete at scales far beyond day-to-day life (which we already know); it’s a claim that the Standard Model is flat-out incorrect at human scales. And that’s a claim that ultimately has no more bearing on reality than young flat-earth geocentricism.

                You have drifted into only making incorrect statements concerning mathematics when my original comment focussed mostly on evolutionary advantage. Perhaps you have a comment (hopefully not incorrect) on that particular subject?

                Biology is irrelevant to this part of the discussion. You’re making claims that contradict physics, and biology is just applied chemistry which is just applied physics.

                b&

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

                Computer science is *not* a branch of mathematics. If it were, it would not be about the world and real things in it. Similarly to physics – there are mathematicized *models* of things. In the case of CS, computers – humans and machines, particularly and historically, the former, as it happens. In Turing’s 1936 paper, particularly in section 9: he makes it clear (and that’s where the genius is vis-a-vis his paper vs. Post and Church) that the discussion is not about *math* but about *doing* mathematics. Turing machines are people, and have been since 1936. Only more recently has there been a rigorous *general machine model* for machine computations at the same level of abstraction – 1980, at the earliest, with Robin Gandy’s paper, “Church’s Thesis and Principles for Mechanisms”. (Gandy was a student of Turing’s, as it happens.)

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for that. You expressed what I was trying to do much more clearly.

                I’d also suggest that Turing and Church and the rest actually grounded math in physics. The Church-Turing Thesis, after all, states that anything that can be computed can be computed by a Turing Machine…which, in turn, means that all math is computer science (as opposed to the other way ’round), and, as you noted, computer science is yet another form of applied physics. Or, as I’ve been trying to explain, mathematical Platonism is just another variation on the ancient theme of dualism, and one that’s as emphatically demonstrated false as any other form of dualism.

                b&

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

                I find it astonishing that anyone, even a person with only a superficial understanding of computers could ever think that these devices are not processors of mathematics(which is what software is). Look at computer architecture – the fundamental unit of the computer structure is the Arithmetic Logic Unit. It does exactly what the name implies – Arithmetic operations and Logical Operations – both mathematical. Look at the Instruction Set of any computer – the instructions are mathematical operations and some instructions to move mathematical variables around. Look at the creators of modern computational theory – Turing and von Neumann – both MATHEMATICIANS. What was Turing doing in defining his “Turing Machine”? Pure mathematics… answering Hilberts challenge to determine if mathematics could be complete, consistent and decidable. Godel addressed completeness and consistency – Turing decidability (the Entscheidungsproblem).
                Computer software is nothing but algorithmic process – which is mathematics. It’s ALL just mathematics. This is exactly what Computer Science is.
                Much of what we discuss here at WEIT involves opinion. But sometimes we deal with absolute established fact. If certain people posting cannot understand simple and obvious fact, how can we ever think they can ever express a sensible opinion.

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

                Howie…the point we’re trying to make is that, rather than computers providing a window into the Platonic realm of mathematics, Turing showed us that mathematics is, ultimately, just a matter of the types of geometries that are permissible for a certain class of machine.

                You’re familiar with the Church-Turing thesis, right? That anything computable can be computed by a Turing Machine?

                But that phrasing is upside-down. The proper way to understand it is that, if you can’t build a Turing Machine to compute it, it’s not actually real.

                Can you build a Turing Machine to calculate 1/0? Clearly not. You would argue that its math that tells you that 1/0 is “undefined,” but the reality is that the fact that you can’t build a Turing Machine to calculate it means that it’s incoherent. You can maybe approximate some perspectives on interpreting the implications of the “equation,” such as plotting 1/x and observing what happens as x approaches zero from either side…but, ultimately, what the math means is that it’s impossible to build a Turing Machine that can solve that equation — save, of course, it’s the physical impossibility that comes first.

                Does that at all help you at least understand the perspective we’re approaching this from?

                Consider another example, such as squaring the circle. Can’t actually be done, and we see this reflected in the math by the concept of “the last digit of π” being as incoherent as 1/0.

                b&

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

                “It’s ALL just mathematics. This is exactly what Computer Science is.”

                Just a few minutes on the internet easily confirms that that is !*not*! an established fact.Even – or especially? – among computer scientists.

                /@

    • Posted April 7, 2015 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      Ok, so it’s all terribly complicated, but in what way is any of those processes any !*less*! deterministic than the combinatorial mechanisms in a tea kettle?

      /@

  18. stephenlawrence
    Posted April 5, 2015 at 2:39 am | Permalink

    “Eagleton should surely know enough about religion, and about surveys of folk attitudes, to know that the idea of contracausal free will, in which we can choose to behave in ways other than we did, is palpably not a “straw man”. I suspect it is the dominant view of most people,”

    Yes, it’s the view of anyone who hasn’t reflected much on free will because there is an illusion. When we look back on what we could have done we believe we are thinking about could with the causal antecedents of the choice as they were. So rather than could along with the invisible “strings” i.e. would have if the causal antecedents of the choice had appropriately different, we get the impression we could with the “strings” just as they were.

    People view free will as incompatible with determinism because they know the (distant) past was not chosen by us and yet it would have to have been different for us to behave differently.

    Defining contra causal free will is important because some will question what we are talking about when we use the term.

    It’s that we CHDO without circumstances not of our choosing having been appropriately different to bring about the different action.

    Also it can be put in the form of what it’s the denial of. It’s the denial of:

    1) Circumstances not of my choosing would have had to have been different for me to have done otherwise.

    2) If circumstances not of my choosing had been appropriately different I would have done otherwise.

    • Vaal
      Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:31 am | Permalink

      “When we look back on what we could have done we believe we are thinking about could with the causal antecedents of the choice as they were.”

      I disagree. I believe that when we are deliberating about a choice, we are using methods of thinking that are more abstract, and less metaphysical, than is described in the above.

      When weighing choices, we natural think in “if/then” scenarios “IF I want to save parking money THEN I should take the public transit, but IF I want to get there faster THEN I should take my car.” In other words, we “jiggle” scenarios and possibilities, with slightly modified assumptions (e.g. I could do A IF I WANTED TO or I could do B IF I WANTED TO DO B INSTEAD).

      The other major assumption underlying this reasoning is: “I am PHYSICALLY CAPABLE of performing either action.”

      It isn’t metaphysical, it isn’t “I am a contra-causal being.” Rather, we assume oiur options based upon abilities we have inferred from our previous experience. That’s why they are understood as options for us in the first place.

      In the above case of transportation – something I deliberated upon last week – everything there is “true” and not “illusory” or metaphysically based.
      It was true that I had the physical capabilities and wherewithal to take either transit or drive my car. It was true that IF I took transit I’d save parking money and IF I took my car I’d get there faster.

      The idea that I had to be a contra-causal agent didn’t for a second figure into my deliberation. And my deliberations – using if/then reasoning and understanding my general physical abilities – did not contradict determinism whatsoever.

      • stephenlawrence
        Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:56 am | Permalink

        Vaal,

        You might be very unusual, I don’t know.

        But ordinarily people do experience the illusion of CCFW which I described and that’s why there is all this debating going on.

        Compatibilism can’t give us the moral responsibility people suppose we have.

        If I’m unlucky the circumstancs of my birth were set in such a way that my one possible future I can get to from the circumstances of my birth is to commit murder tomorrow. I doubt I am unlucky but I recognise that’s what it boils down to.

        People do deny this on mass when judging and blaming and it’s wrong to do so.

        • Vaal
          Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:24 am | Permalink

          stephenlawrence,

          I’m struck that you do not recognize that as examples of normal decision making, not some strange exception to the rule. I suggest if you deny that is generally the process, you will no longer understand the process – it won’t make sense.

          So think about this again. “Sue” is choosing between driving to work or taking the subway, balancing the reasons I gave.
          Trying to determine WHY Sue makes the decision, what is going in in her thinking, you can ask things like:

          Do you think at this moment of deliberation that BOTH options are equally open to you *in the sense* that you could SIMULTANEOUSLY choose to drive to work while taking the subway?”

          Sue’s answer would of course be “no, that makes no sense, it’s impossible.” She recognizes that ultimately she is able to choose only ONE option for action. Therefore, the only way of rationally thinking about the choice is If/Then reasoning. So if you ask Sue how she is reasoning about it, she will explain the pros and cons in an If/Then conception: IF I take the car THEN I’ll get there faster, which I want. On the other hand IF I take the subway THEN I’ll save money, which is also something I’d like.

          She isn’t violating determinism, reasoning ‘contra-causally” here. Given determinism, this is exactly how humans would HAVE to deliberate to get along in a deterministic world, so it’s hardly as surprising state of affairs.

          Sue makes her decision, you ask “why, what were you thinking that led to it?” She outlines the above, and then appeals to the above, and to her sets of desires: “Ultimately I chose to take the subway, and will continue to do so, because I’m trying to save money to move to an apartment downtown.” Om other words, she calibrated her if/then thinking against a survey of her desires and chose to satisfy certain of those desires over others (e.g. saving money over comfort/convenience).

          Notice that in asking WHY someone thought she made a decision it is to survey what is going on in their deliberations, what they are consciously thinking, and “I’m a contra-causal being” just isn’t the part of the equation. That’s because it would play no useful function. And this is normal, everyday choice-making in action.

          So in choice making the actual LOGIC, the thoughts going through people’s heads when they have a choice, are not violating determinism, and not appealing to contra-causality.

          Now, you could say there are *some* illusions involved, for instance perhaps a sort of “sensation” of contra-causality (of even that I’m not sure it holds up). But even if that’s true, the point is that it’s still false to depict humans choice-making as if the entire process is “illusory” – that people are thinking “Untrue things” when they “think they have a choice.”

          Also, contra-causal ideas may arise if you ask (some) people to *reflect* on how it is they had a choice, but that only means they are coming up with a bad theory about how they were able to choose, it doesn’t entail that they were IN FACT thinking contra-causally, thinking in terms of untruths or illusion, when actually MAKING the choice.
          Our normal thoughts during choice-making do not appeal to contra-causal logic.

          (All of which is ignored by the way incompatibilists dismiss our choices as “illusion” and hence “not true”)

    • Posted April 5, 2015 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      “It’s that we CHDO without circumstances not of our choosing having been appropriately different to bring about the different action.”

      No one actually believes that. I know that if I choose Cheerios for breakfast, many circumstances not of my choosing will be different. The prices of wheat and oats in 2016, for example, are probably affected, though I have no idea in which direction, nor do I really care.

      But I mentioned future facts. I did that because I’m a bastard. You meant past facts. People have the intuitive idea – unsupported by physics – that the entire past is independent of what one does in the present. So, some people do make the mistaken inference you mention, but so what? People make mistaken inferences. That does not show that the mistake is built into the very definition of the concepts they are using.

      Vitalism used to be the majority view. That does not mean that when we discovered there’s no elan vital, it proved that nothing is really alive.

      • stephenlawrence
        Posted April 7, 2015 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        Paul Torek,

        The “so what” is there is an extremely nasty illusion”.

        If I’m determined to break a rule and pay a penalty that’s my bad luck, because I couldn’t have done what I should have done without a different “distant” past and I can’t go back and change the distant past. People do deny this on mass and it does matter.

        • Posted April 7, 2015 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

          You are making a mistake here, by applying your intuitive idea of causality as if it were identical to what physics tells us about causal determination. A full explanation is quite complex and requires that you learn some physics. My blog has some explanation, but not enough yet. I am not accusing you of irrationality or stupidity; thinking requires using the concepts one has!

          You don’t have to “go back” and you don’t have to “change” the past. A particular time and place in the past either has a certain event or it doesn’t. It can’t first have the event and then (but at the same time!) not have it, that’s just contradictory. BUT, none of this shows that the distant past is independent of what we do. Nor is it true in fundamental physics that causation has a clear “direction” in time.

        • Posted April 7, 2015 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

          I should explain more. You (stephenlawrence) quite reasonably, given your common sense understanding of causality, think of the past as fixed. Written in stone. That the past, the whole past down to the last detail, is utterly independent of what we do now. So, when you consider any particular event, if the following is true: [necessarily, that event happens iff the past was a certain specific way], you conclude that there is no option.

          But while it is reasonable to conclude from everyday human experience that the whole past down to the last detail is utterly independent of what we do now, it is not true. Our macroscopic size and our interest in events that (as it happens) are all thermodynamically irreversible, gives us a biased sample. In actual physics, the fundamental laws are CPT-invariant, which means they work “the same” (modulo certain mathematical operations) backwards and forwards in time. We can pick any point in time and trace the consequences of interventions both forward and backward in time. Since we are located at “now”, we should center such reasoning exercises at “now”. If we are only interested in macroscopic, thermodynamically irreversible stuff (as, in practice, we are) then only the future will contain interesting consequences, and we’ll restrict our attention there. This is called “deliberation” and “choice”.

          • Posted April 7, 2015 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

            Paul…if you’re suggesting time travel or even anything that would indicate or reduce to time travel…well, we can rule that out pretty emphatically, regardless of the current limits of physics.

            With time travel, it’s trivial to create perpetual motion machines and otherwise wreak havoc with thermodynamics. And, sure; the equations we have today might not care. But we also know that the equations we have today aren’t complete over exactly the domains that’re relevant for these sorts of matters.

            It’s a very handy tool to have in your kit. If anything reduces to or requires time travel, hypercomputation, perpetual motion, negative mass, superluminal velocities, or anything else like that, it’s not real. All are interchangeable and none is even remotely coherent.

            Again, even if the rulebook you’re operating under doesn’t actually rule them out.

            b&

            • Posted April 8, 2015 at 4:21 am | Permalink

              No, no time travel. No closed timelike curves are required. I am saying, look at the actual physics that we have. It does not support “the past is fixed,” in the sense of “fixed” that is relevant to compatibilism vs incompatibilism. Incompatibilists are projecting their own experience of causality onto the deterministic laws. If we take a modern scientific definition of causality (Pearl 2000) and apply it to CPT-invariant deterministic laws, the common sense viewpoint that gets slaughtered is not “the future is open” but rather “the past is fixed”.

            • Posted April 8, 2015 at 4:34 am | Permalink

              I forgot to mention, that of course in practice the past is “fixed” by the 2nd Law, because we humans only care about thermodynamically irreversible, macroscopic stuff in the past. But if one is going to make a philosophical argument about inevitability, blah blah blah, then what is only true “in practice” goes out the window.

              • Posted April 8, 2015 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                So…in reality the past is fixed, but, philosophically, it can be whatever you want?

                …and people wonder why I have so little patience for philosophy….

                b&

              • Posted April 9, 2015 at 6:07 am | Permalink

                No, in reality macroscopic irreversible events in the past are fixed, and thermodynamically reversible events are non-fixed. We usually don’t care about the latter, but the philosophical arguments make them relevant. We can say “for all practical purposes” the past is fixed, where “practical” refers to “stuff people normally care about, outside of philosophical argument”.

  19. Axolotl
    Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    Coud somebody explain this to me? Jerry says

    “Yes, we’re “responsible” in the sense that someone identifiable as Stephen Mobley did a crime. It may not have been solely the result of his mutation, but it was solely the result of his genes and his environment. He was wired in a way that he had to commit that crime. It’s sad that people like Oprah don’t seem to realize that, but the sooner we do, the sooner we can reform our judicial system in a way that’s both empathic and efficacious.”

    In other words, Jerry thinks X lacked the faculty of free will that would make him choose not to commit the crime, but at the same time the rest of the society should choose to reform the judicial system in a way that is both emphatic and efficacious. Well, wouldn’t the latter choice also require free will? In other words, if somebody says, “we should be lenient toward X because there is no free will so he couldn’t help it”, why wouldn’t an equally valid response be “sorry,I cannot be lenient because I have no free will so I cannot help remaining harsh”?

    • peepuk
      Posted April 5, 2015 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      Our preferences are just the way things have worked out in our lives. It doesn’t require any freewill.

      • Axolotl
        Posted April 5, 2015 at 7:28 am | Permalink

        But that’s my point. Why treat preferences regarding committing vs not committing a crime differently from preferences regarding how to punish (or not punish) the perpetrator of that crime?

        • Posted April 5, 2015 at 8:09 am | Permalink

          I think it is like this:

          Jerry is thinking that if he and other like-minded people say it enough so that society as a whole hears it enough, then that will be CAUSAL INPUT into the legislative machine for the DETERMINISTIC OUTPUT of laws changing so that Johnny the psychopath, still gets put away for society’s safety and hopefully some treatment if some can be found, but also gets a little break in the “we hate Johnny” attitudes of society.

          • Axolotl
            Posted April 5, 2015 at 8:16 am | Permalink

            That is all nice and well, but it has nothing to do with the free will argument whatsoever. The choice of input is still a choice.

            • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:26 am | Permalink

              Well, yes, but the process of making that choice is not free; it can’t be, it has to agree to a paradigm.

              • Axolotl
                Posted April 5, 2015 at 11:14 am | Permalink

                But then – again – somebody can decline this choice (reforming the judicial system according to Jerry’s liking) solely by saying that he/she is not free to make this choice,that he/she has been dealt the cards that make him/her view things differently than Jerry, so he/she won’t do it and that’s it.

          • Vaal
            Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:33 am | Permalink

            steve,

            But the issue brought up by Axolotl, and by others like me over and over is not answered by that response.

            Answering that “what Jerry says can act as causal input, changing the behavior of others” fails to answer whether what Jerry is saying is actually coherent or not.

            Bad arguments, with inconsistencies and fallacies, ALSO influence people’s behavior.
            So pointing to influence just doesn’t answer the question posed, about the internal coherence of Jerry’s (and other incompatibilist’s argument).

            If you start by saying “No one really has a choice” (and on this basis we need to refrain from hating Johnny) then in the next breath saying “we ought to CHOOSE to reform the judicial system” (vs choose to run it as we currently do) is incoherent. It’s an internal contradiction, like saying “I think it’s impossible for us to live on the surface of the sun, now here are reasons I think humans should choose to live on the sun….”

            It’s amazing to bring this up over and over, to no avail.

            • peepuk
              Posted April 5, 2015 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think someone is denying that we make choices. And no one is denying that our choices matter.

              • Posted April 6, 2015 at 7:25 am | Permalink

                BillyJoe wrote “If there was such a thing as choice, … But, by defintion, choice is something that is not causally determined.”

                But paradoxically, you’re probably right in your second sentence. No one is denying that (what almost everyone calls our choices) matter. It just that some, perversely, refuse to defer to common usage regarding the meaning of the word choice.

              • peepuk
                Posted April 6, 2015 at 10:54 am | Permalink

                Hello Paultorek.

                “But, by definition, choice is something that is not causally determined”

                It’s a dualist definition; I wouldn’t use it. He denies that we make choices according to this definition, I agree with that.

                Redefining common concepts should be no problem for any compatibilist 🙂

              • Posted April 7, 2015 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

                Hi peepuk,

                I’m glad to hear that the dualist definition of “choice” is one you wouldn’t use. Now if you’ll likewise stop deferring to the dualists on the definition of “free will”, we’ll be home free.

    • Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      In other words, Jerry thinks X lacked the faculty of free will that would make him choose not to commit the crime, but at the same time the rest of the society should choose to reform the judicial system in a way that is both emphatic and efficacious.

      Jerry has performed a typically human analysis of the situation, imagining what the world would be like if we tweaked the knobs in various ways. The result of his analysis is that the world he most wants to live in is the one he described, so, of course, he’s going to do what he can to tweak the knobs in the ways he anticipates will result in his desired world.

      His conclusion is the inevitable (and, frankly, obvious) result of his analysis of his observations. As such, he has no choice but to reach that conclusion.

      Make sense?

      b&

      • Axolotl
        Posted April 5, 2015 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        Not really, no. The problem is this part:

        “so, of course, he’s going to do what he can to tweak the knobs in the ways he anticipates will result in his desired world”

        How can he tweak the knobs in the ways he anticipates will result in his desired world and not in some other way if this tweaking and his desire are not his free choice? I do not think you can justify the above without conceding that at least one step in the described process is freely chosen.

        • Posted April 5, 2015 at 11:28 am | Permalink

          Part of this is the problem of our inherently dualistic language.

          Forget people. Imagine steampunk computers — gears and chains and valves and all the rest. You press a bunch of buttons on one console, pull a lever, and, after much clinking and clanking, a bunch of lights flash in a certain pattern on another console.

          Maybe the buttons you pushed amounted to a request for the machine to calculate 2 + 2. And, if all is functioning properly, the lights will flash, “FOUR.”

          Maybe you’ve plugged in sales figures and marketing surveys and other bits of data and asked it what color widget will have the most profits. Depending on the quality of the information input and the sophistication of the analysis, making the widgets that color will actually maximize profits.

          Maybe you skipped the human intervention step and connected the machine directly to the assembly line, and, based on the exact same computation as in the previous example, it directly mixes the paints to make the widgets blue without you having to tell it to do so or even bother worrying about why the widgets are coming out blue.

          Now…forget the steampunk computer, and instead imagine a Rube Goldberg contraption that, as a result of billions of years of evolution, has an incredibly sophisticated array of abilities for ensuring the reproduction of its genes. One of those abilities is a computational device that is so sophisticated it has the ability to transcend short-term reproductive goals and instead plan for the best chances of success of the species as an whole.

          I’ve just described Jerry in his position of arguing for the compassionate treatment of criminals…but, when it comes right down to it, he’s just a much more sophisticated version of that original steampunk computer.

          b&

          • Axolotl
            Posted April 5, 2015 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

            You are assuming that compassionate treatment of criminals is a result of evolutionary processes that has maximised the chances of survival of species as a whole. I would say this is a bit of a stretch. First, compassionate treatment of criminals must be tested in the wild for evolution to work on it, and it may as well turn out to be a failure (for example if compassionate treatment results in criminals doing more harm than they would otherwise) and a person that argues the opposite (i.e. harsh treatment of criminals to minimise their damage-making ability) might turn out to be the one who does what it takes to maximise the species’ reproductive success. So, you just do not know, and neither does Jerry. Jerry is acting the way he is because he just is, and his calls to reform the judicial system are just one of many possible involuntary reactions to an involuntary crime. Which means that as a call for action they basically change nothing, because they can’t.

            • Posted April 5, 2015 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

              The research and experiments have been done, repeatedly. “Tough on crime” is ineffective. If crime reduction is the goal, the overwhelmingly most effective means is childhood education and health (including nutrition). Next up is a strong social safety net, including both unemployment insurance and vocational rehabilitation programs — and, again, universal healthcare, including mental health facilities. That all prevents crime in the first place better than anything else we’ve found. For preventing recidivism…more of the same, basically, plus maximally compassionate incarceration until such time as one can be reasonably confident that reoffending is unlikely.

              And, yes. There will be a vanishingly small handful who shouldn’t ever be let back out on the streets — at least, not until our mental health sciences get significantly more sophisticated. But those numbers are vanishingly small exceptions not at all relevant to even the overwhelming majority of those currently behind bars in the States.

              b&

              • Axolotl
                Posted April 5, 2015 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

                This all might be true, but it does absolutely nothing to prove your original point. If the evidence you are suggesting was Jerry’s motivation for suggesting the reform of the judiciary system, it would be valid regardless of the existence of free will, so it can’t be justified by the absence of it (which is what Jerry started from). Then it is the evidence itself and the choice(!) to act in agreement with that evidence what governs this action. At the same time the millennia of people’s acting “tough on crime” (which was the societal norm in most places) was, according to you, evolutionarily maladaptive and only now people like Jerry are acting (involuntarily) to amend it. These things just don’t add up. Depressingly so.

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

                You’re conflating and mixing multiple unrelated phenomenon in a confusing manner.

                Let’s get this out of the way up front: “free will” is an incoherent self-contradictory oxymoron that simply has no bearing on reality whatsoever.

                You asked about how Jerry could argue for compassionate treatment of criminals if Jerry himself lacked the free will to do so. That’s like asking how Jerry could give a set of towels to the happy newlyweds if he doesn’t believe there’s such a thing as married bachelors.

                I then attempted to explain how cognition actually works. In short, it’s the processing by the biochemical computational device known as the brain, itself a product of millions of millennia of evolution, of a complicated summation of inputs and other influences since…well, since time immemorial, really, but pertinent in the individual’s case mostly just since conception.

                Complaining that being “tough on crime” can’t possibly be maladaptive because we’ve been doing it that way for thousands of years misses multiple points spectacularly…but the simplest one to point out is that matters of criminal justice have damned little to do with our genes and everything to do with social structures. Evolution only barely perceptibly works on humans on scales two orders of magnitude larger than we have written history to document, so, barring stuff that would wipe out the species entirely, there simply isn’t time for anything cultural to get encoded in the genes.

                b&

              • Axolotl
                Posted April 5, 2015 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

                ““free will” is an incoherent self-contradictory oxymoron that simply has no bearing on reality whatsoever.”

                Exactly, and that is why free will (or invoking its existence, its absence, or its meaninglessness) should have no bearing on how one decides to reform one’s judiciary system. And the latter was exactly what Jerry was doing and that to me looked like a flat-out contradiction.

                “You asked about how Jerry could argue for compassionate treatment of criminals if Jerry himself lacked the free will to do so.”

                No, I asked about how Jerry could argue for compassionate treatment of criminals based on the free will argument.

                “Complaining that being “tough on crime” can’t possibly be maladaptive because we’ve been doing it that way for thousands of years misses multiple points spectacularly…”

                I never complained about it. I just concluded that it followed from your line of reasoning.

                “Evolution only barely perceptibly works on humans on scales two orders of magnitude larger than we have written history to document,”

                No, evolution works on all scales, as I am sure Jerry can teach you. The “two order of magnitudes the written history” is dangerously close to the “paleo” argument. Which is pseudoscientific.

              • Posted April 5, 2015 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

                No, I asked about how Jerry could argue for compassionate treatment of criminals based on the free will argument.

                I’m unaware of Jerry ever doing any such thing.

                “Evolution only barely perceptibly works on humans on scales two orders of magnitude larger than we have written history to document,”

                No, evolution works on all scales, as I am sure Jerry can teach you.

                My point is that there’s more variation between selected individual humans today than there is between an average modern human and an average human from hundreds of thousands of years ago. Ignoring the physical impossibility of time travel, you could pluck individuals from all sorts of settings over the span of hundreds of thousands of years and be hard pressed, physiologically, to put them in any sort of chronological order.

                Yes, of course; evolution never goes away. But evolution and culture act at vastly different timescales such that the two might as well be independent.

                About the best example you’re going to come up with to demonstrate the intersection of the two is lactose tolerance. Big whoop. Yes, it’s significant in explaining various agricultural practices and population migrations and the like…but it’s so far removed from the realm of, for example, the criminal justice system, that it’s absurd to conflate the two.

                b&

  20. Vaal
    Posted April 5, 2015 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Have work to do today. Must…resist…peeking into this thread again….

  21. rom
    Posted April 6, 2015 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    Just skimmed through this ‘thread’. I can’t help thinking there is confusion around the word “choice”. And this confusion is to at least a small degree perpetuated by phrases like “I have no choice”. Often in jest.

    I make choices all the time … for me there is no question that I do. But I also am aware so does my Excel spreadsheet, with a few well placed Boolean operators.

    It is nature of the choice that is important rather than whether or not we make choices.

    • Axolotl
      Posted April 6, 2015 at 3:57 am | Permalink

      But that is the point – why some choices are worthy of contempt and others are worthy of compassion because they “couldn’t be helped”. Regarding the latter, Jerry (despite Ben G.’s obfuscatory exegesis) calls for it to be taken into consideration by making the judiciary more emphatic. Bu then somebody CAN disagree with him and refuse to make the judiciary more emphatic. Why would this refusal to make judiciary more emphatic be worthy of condemnation as a choice rather than compassion as a choice that couldn’t be helped any more than the types of deeds for the treatment of which Jerry demands empathy? We are dealing with double standards here. Either have empathy towards everybody who does or says something you disapprove as such, or admit that you are differentiating people and situations based on the _ability_ to choose freely.

      • rom
        Posted April 6, 2015 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        While I might disagree with Jerry’s views on things like Sophisticated Theology and the like I do understand it is his environment that has caused him to take his stance and Karen Armstrong hers.

        I have not quite worked out how I can handle the cognitive dissonance this causes. You never know I might get the opportunity to ask Jerry directly in Vancouver this coming June,

        Having said all that … I would argue an ‘ideal’ judicial system should be concerned with deterrence, rehabitalation and containment. Not retribution. This opinion is of course a product of my environment.

  22. stephenlawrence
    Posted April 6, 2015 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    I’m not a compatibilist or a hard determinist. I think the problem with that way Of thinking is it supposes we either have free will or we don’t. I reject that because it depends what you mean by free will. The free will merry go round is the merry go round it is, mostly because of this.

    I can sum up my beliefs in a few sentences, so here goes.

    I define contra causal free will as the denial of two statements.

    1) To have done otherwise circumstances not of my choosing would have had to have been different.

    2) If circumstances not of my choosing had been appropriately different I would have done otherwise.

    I think almost everybody believes in CCFW. I disbelieve in it. I think belief in it is doing tremendous damage to human relationships on all levels.

    I don’t go as far as to say I think determinism is true. I do say it’s true for practical meaning indeterminism makes no significant difference.

    I believe choices can be more and less free in a compatibilist sense ranging from we can do “whatever we want” to being “forced against our will”.

    I believe we are interested in CHDO because we want to know what prevented a person from doing what they should have done and this matters when holding each other responsible. We are interested in whether a person CHDO if he chose to. But we want to know more, how could he have chosen to?

    I think we need rules with penalties for the foreseeable future. But if we really understood it’s just the luck of the draw, in the sense of my statements 1) and 2) we would feel very differently about this and so we would change, reducing the penalties to the minimum and be more interested in better ways of reducing rule breaking. The more fortunate wouldn’t have the strong sense that they deserve their good fortune, that they have and would be more willing to share. I also think there would be a lot less rule breaking if people simply got that we don’t have CCFW, because I think there would be a rise in compassion and way less desire to harm others.

  23. Posted April 6, 2015 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    The problem with Coyne review here, is that he seems to believe that has a good understanding of how everyday folks view free will, even though every day folks who believe it rarely think of it to the degree that theologians or philosophers, or even folks like Coyne do.

    Also none of the problems he seem to propose, deal with the fact that believers at least, who hold to free, will, tend to also believe in all powerful, all knowing God. So any objection proposed by determinism, has already been in there since conception.

    The problem is that I doubt Coyne or anyone else who subscribes to determine has dug deeply into what any person, common or other believes in regarding the topic.

    All things are determined by our genes and environment? Off hand, someone might reject this, but only because he’s unaware of the fact that the meaning of environment here is all encompassing, and not just one of physical circumstances, but beliefs, attractions, the entire gamut, is being thrown under this label?

    What’s the difference between consensual and non-consenual sex? Both are determined by our environment. Ours attractions, our comfortability, that lack of moral qualms, our desire and willingness to sleep with the person, our religious beliefs, all fall under the “environment” category.

    And if a questioner is not particularly aware, as to how one is using the term, than no meaningful understanding of even common views, would be possible.

    I subscribe to, Compatibilism, only because there is difference between consensual actions, and non-consensual ones, regardless if ones environment in the broadest sense possible is involved in both.

    And I don’t particularly disagree with anything determinist have to say, but it just seems that we just have two parties talking past each other.

  24. Posted April 7, 2015 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Ben – the thing that you don’t seem to understand is that the hardware is not what sets the limits of computing – it is mathematics. Being concerned about the physics that govern electronic, mechanical or biological computers is totally superfluous, – physics and physical law say nothing about what these computational entities can do. You have repeatedly said physical law was computation… and it is NOT any such thing.
    Perhaps somehow we are just talking past one another, but I do see a fundamental misunderstanding in what you have been saying.

    • Posted April 7, 2015 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      Howie…take a step back — a step back a few millennia, in fact, all the way to the origins of geometry.

      I’m pretty sure you would argue that geometry is pure math, about as pure as it gets.

      But consider. Does the math prevent you from drawing a triangle with two right angles?

      Phrased like that, it should, I hope, be obvious that the math is entirely irrelevant to the physical activity of geometry — and, in fact, it’s the other way ’round. We only have the math we do because it accurately describes what happens when you try to draw, for example, that triangle with the two right angles.

      It’s no different from orbital mechanics. Newton’s laws don’t dictate the orbits; the orbits are what’s really real, and Newton just offered us an excellent language to use to describe the physicality of the orbits.

      So it is with all math, especially computers.

      It’s not the math that says that you can’t build circuits to calculate 1/0; it’s the fact that you can’t build such circuits that dictates that the math that accurately describes computers doesn’t also give a real answer for 1/0.

      b&

  25. Posted April 7, 2015 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Ant qnd Ben:
    In science we make mathematical models that coincidently express behaviours of physical systems. If the model doesn’t fit, we try a different model. Once it was Newtons model that seemed right, now it’s Einsteins model. But neither model changed mathematics. Unlike science in general, in Computer Science we just express the rules of mathematics, particularly algorithms. Nothing else. We NEVER change the fundamental model, for there is no such model. There is only mathematics. Sure, we also talk about hardware… but never to EXPLAIN how hardware works, only to fit the hardware to the mathematics….. to make the mathematics execute faster.
    I’ve said before that my Philosophy of Mathematics professor said he believed that mathematics existed before the big bang. Now THAT’S Platonic! But possible.

    • Johan Mathiesen
      Posted April 8, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      I’m with your Philosophy of Mathematics professor. It’s my suspicion that everything is merely mathematical expression, but I have no idea what I’m talking about.

    • Posted April 8, 2015 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Unlike science in general, in Computer Science we just express the rules of mathematics, particularly algorithms.

      That, of course, is the heart of this argument.

      And I would posit that there is, in fact, no difference between the relationship between physics and math and computer science and math.

      I think part of the source of what I would call your confusion is that computer science is a very young field. When geometry was first developed, we were starting with essentially a blank slate everywhere. By the time computers were developed, physics had imprinted so much of itself onto math that the assumption was that math was at least as real as physics.

      You likely wouldn’t even consider attempting to build a computer that executed invalid math. Why would you? What would be the point?

      Yet…you can construct all sorts of bad math. 1 + 1 = 3 — or, to use a Christian’s favorite, 1 + 1 + 1 = 1.

      How do we know that said math is bad?

      Because, when you pick one apple off a tree and put it a bag, then later pick another apple and put it in the same bag…when you empty the bag, there’re two apples in there.

      However…it’s not at all difficult to imagine constructing a world in which even something as simple as integer addition worked radically differently. Indeed, our universe works differently at certain scales. At quantum scales, you may well pull more apples (particles) out of your bag than you put in, thanks to the generative powers of the vacuum; sometimes, 1 + 1 really does equal 3. And at relativistic scales, you can accelerate all you want but not see an increase in velocity; 1 + 1 + 1 = 1, sorta. Free yourself from the constraint of matching reality as we observe it, and, suddenly, all the math you think is fundamental is irrelevant, and lots the math you think is nonsensical and worthless is what you actually really need.

      That, fundamentally, is how we know that math is just a language, and has no Platonic reality to it.

      Computers are no different. In our constructed universe, the math you think is fundamental simply wouldn’t work on computers designed to our specifications. The computers you’d construct in such an universe wouldn’t function at all in our universe.

      Math is the mirror of reality, but only because we’ve polished it so finely. It has no actual reality to itself — any more than any other human language.

      b&

      • Posted April 9, 2015 at 2:23 am | Permalink

        “Math is the mirror of reality, but only because we’ve polished it so finely.”

        No. You are totally incorrect.

        Reality, for some reason no one has yet been able to explain, often follows the similar axiomatic systems common to mathematics and thereby reflects “mathematical behaviour” and can be useful as such.

        Science involves attempting to fit any one of an endless number of possible models to a particular physical behaviour and to empirically see whether this is the “model that fits”. Unlike science mathematics instead rests on absolute proofs.

        Furthermore, there are things in math that are not part of the physical world… for example imaginary numbers. What is mathematics? Mathematics is a self-contained abstract system. Your example of counting apples “explaining addition” might be helpful for explaining addition to a young schoolchild today, and was once used centuries ago to explain the relationship of real objects to mathematical processes but it is not so now. Mathematics involves the self-contained properties of axiomatic systems (some of which do not even have any association with reality). Numbers (quantity), geometric objects and logic itself reflect abstract axiomatic relationships NOT necessarily any extensions of “rules of physical processes” such as counting.

        “It (mathematics) has no actual reality to itself — any more than any other human language.”

        You are contradicting yourself. Language in general is also a form of abstraction. Why are you so afraid of abstraction Ben, and refuse to admit that it exists? I think it is because it makes you think that there is something that endorses “dualism” in abstractions, in idealisations. You will go to any extreme to discredit anything which smacks of your so-called “dualism” even if it requires incredibly specious argument.

        • Posted April 9, 2015 at 2:45 am | Permalink

          I will try to help you out Ben so that you can return to a more rational set of arguments concerning the subject of free will. I acknowledge that that it is possible to argue from the incompatibilist stance and still accept the existence of non-physical abstractions such as mathematics.

        • Posted April 9, 2015 at 3:00 am | Permalink

          @ howie : So, you say that mathematics and language are both abstractions. Do you agree that both are only mental abstractions constructed within our meat brains? Or do you think that either or both exist independent of our minds?

          /@

          • Posted April 9, 2015 at 4:00 am | Permalink

            Nice question!
            I say that all such abstractions exist outside the brain. The ability of our brain to deal with these complex abstractions is perhaps the “crowning glory” of the human mind in my opinion.
            Perhaps along with free will, that is 😉

            • Posted April 9, 2015 at 5:01 am | Permalink

              “I say that all such abstractions exist outside the brain.”

              Where, then?

              /@

              • Posted April 9, 2015 at 5:29 am | Permalink

                “Where, then?”

                Why do we need a Where?
                .
                .
                .
                Gosh Ant, ain’t philosophy grand!

              • Posted April 9, 2015 at 5:34 am | Permalink

                And you wonder why Ben accuses you of Platonism … ?!

                /@

              • Posted April 9, 2015 at 6:05 am | Permalink

                I don’t mind being of accused of Platonism in considering certain abstract things Ant, I only resent being called a dualist.

              • Posted April 9, 2015 at 8:44 am | Permalink

                But, Howie — Platonism isn’t merely dualism, it’s the very archetype of dualism! All those bits that Paul wrote about Adam being the model of the flesh and Jesus the model of the spirit…Plato could have written that. It’s the perfect rabbit that’s floating somewhere past the orbit of Saturn casting its shadow on the wall of the cave.

                It goes straight to your question of why there must be a “where.”

                There must be a “where” because we know from experimentation that, with no “where,” there is no possibility, even in theory, for interaction with anything.

                As another example…let me use an honeycomb. We know, of course, that such an arrangement is the optimal packing of circles in a two-dimensional plane.

                The question then arises…of whether that is the case because the math dictates it, or whether the math is correct because it predicts the observations we have made.

                Ant and I, of course, take the latter position. And we justify this position by the fact that, were somebody to somehow come up with a novel way of packing circles that actually bested the honeycomb, we’d ditch the math we have today in favor for new math that was a better fit. Indeed, that’s exactly what Einstein did! As incredibly useful as Newton’s math is in day-to-day life…we can state with overwhelming confidence that his math most emphatically does not represent reality. It is, in fact, worng, a lie, a mistrake, incorrect, false, or any other variation on that theme you care to use.

                So what sense does it make to claim that Newton’s math somehow exists in perfection independent of spacetime when it ostensibly models spacetime but, in fact, models nothing real whatsoever?

                Worse, coming back to the honeycomb…if we take the position that the math itself dictates the arrangement of the circles, that’s a statement that the Platonic ideal is reaching through the aether and moving the circles around until they’re in their Platonically proscribed positions, or at least “close enough.” But we’ve absolutely ruled out the possibility of any such being the case, as it would require the application of forces we must have detected but haven’t.

                On the other hand, the view of math as language is perfectly consistent. “If you want to pack the circles as efficiently as possible, arrange them in an honeycomb. The farther you deviate from the honeycomb arrangement, the less efficient it will be.” That’s really all that the math is saying — though, of course, it says it with much more precision than is possible in English because we intelligently designed math for exactly such purposes. It’s a technical jargon, just like the ones used in any other profession.

                So, if you wish to demonstrate the Platonic idealism of math…I should think you could do that with the example of the honeycomb. What is the relationship between a beehive and the math that matches it? Is it one of description or proscription? And, if the latter…how, exactly, is that supposed to work?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted April 9, 2015 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

                “But, Howie — Platonism isn’t merely dualism, it’s the very archetype of dualism! All those bits that Paul wrote ……”

                This is an old problem of yours Ben. Just because Plato’s ideas were once utilised by religious thinkers does not invalidate Plato’s thinking as a whole. Mathematics involves ideals – eg the ideal circle, limits, imaginary numbers etc etc. We are not reverting to early Christian philosophy every time we do mathematics, that’s silly.
                You do the same sort of thing , but worse, with the dualism of Descartes. To you free-will must be exactly as Descartes described it, just because someone just uses the term “free will”. I guess you think that if you repeat this charge often enough somebody might believe you.

                “There must be a “where” because we know from experimentation that, with no “where,” there is no possibility, even in theory, for interaction with anything.”

                If we know “from experimentation” we know based on induction… which means there is no certainty at all about your assertion. And mathematics in itself is deductive, not inductive. So your statement should be deductively provable. Now PROOVE that mathematics “needs a “where”.

                “The question then arises…of whether that is the case because the math dictates it, or whether the math is correct because it predicts the observations we have made.”

                Mathematics is a self-contained system. It does not predict, it proves or disproves. As I previously stated no one has come up with an explanation of exactly why physical law follows mathematical premise. It just does. So if we can express a physical behaviour with some particular equation involving some selected variables (a “model”) then the mathematics of the model will express the implications demanded by the mathematics, not the other way around.

                “So what sense does it make to claim that Newton’s math somehow exists in perfection”

                Newtons math, as math, is perfect. Newton’s thesis that his particular set of equations describes the laws of motion is imperfect.

                “So, if you wish to demonstrate the Platonic idealism of math…I should think you could do that with the example of the honeycomb.”

                THE ASSUMPTIVE ARGUMENTS
                1) The storage cells of a honeycomb are circular
                2) It is advantageous that maximum storage or a given volume exists in a hive because …….
                3) The theory of evolution encourages maximised adaption
                THE NON ASSUMPTIVE MATHEMATICS
                4) Maximum packing of circles or spheres is cubic closest packing
                CONCLUSION
                5) A honeycomb will have cubic closest packing if 1,2,3 is true
                VERIFICATION
                Look in a number of beehives and try not to get stung

              • Posted April 9, 2015 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

                “… no one has come up with an explanation of exactly why physical law follows mathematical premise. It just does.” v. “Newtons math, as math, is perfect. Newton’s thesis that his particular set of equations describes the laws of motion is imperfect.”

                Is there not a contradiction here?

                And you’re now reifying “physical law” — the law is (part of) the model. It’s *our* description of how the cosmos behaves.

                /@

              • Posted April 10, 2015 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

                Yes — exactly.

                If there’s one thing physics has taught us…is that any notion of mathematical perfection only exists as an approximation for specific limited domains.

                It goes all the way back to the ancients. Geometry (and trigonometry and algebra and the like) are all you need to describe human-scale phenomenon, though not necessarily enough to optimally engineer them. Newtonian physics and calculus is basically all you need for modern engineering, so long as you don’t get too small / fast / etc. (such as ICs banging against QM limits or GPS and its Relativity). Quantum and Relativistic mechanics are all you need for everything else up to the most extreme scales…where, again, they’re revealed to be “mere” approximations and no more real than basic geometry.

                So, that’s it: we know for an absolute fact that no math ever used to describe reality has ever been a true description of said reality. So if the math doesn’t even match the reality…how on Earth can we pretend that the math is more “real” than reality?

                Instead, it’s just another language. I could use English to describe everything math does, just not as conveniently. The sum of the areas of squares drawn on the adjacent sides of a right triangle have an area equal to that of a square drawn on the hypotenuse. Or, if you prefer, a^2 + b^2 = c^2. It’s just descriptive language. All that higher math is more language, the good stuff poetry, some of it abstract and some of it realistic.

                But none of it has any sort of “real” reality that language itself doesn’t have. And, indeed, all of math is demonstrably significantly less real than reality.

                b&

              • Posted April 11, 2015 at 6:55 am | Permalink

                “So, that’s it: we know for an absolute fact that no math ever used to describe reality has ever been a true description of said reality.”

                Hmmm… you seem to becoming pretty damn Platonic yourself Ben.

                But once again you’ve got it backward…the imperfect nature of models is due to inadequate mathematical modelling, not inadequacies of mathematics. Sometimes this happens only because we model with only first, second and third order effects taken into account and in reality there are fourth, fifth, sixth order effects at play. Other times it’s because we don’t really understand what’s going on and what we are doing is almost “curve fitting”.
                As for your saying that mathematics is only a language two things need to be said. First, ALL language is abstraction so what does that statement really say; you are only “changing the notation”, Second, normal language does not contain mathematical axiomatics; so ANY arbitrary language is not an effective descriptor at all.
                You seem to be afraid of the idea that abstraction forms a vital part of human thought and human mental activity. You are so desperate to treat everything as physical because it makes your incompatibilist argument simple to theorise. But you are not being very scientific in your insistence on physics alone Ben. This is very disappointing.

              • Posted April 11, 2015 at 8:54 am | Permalink

                But once again you’ve got it backward…the imperfect nature of models is due to inadequate mathematical modelling, not inadequacies of mathematics.

                That’s the central thesis of Platonism, and one that’s not only not supported by any evidence but contradicted by all the evidence we have.

                The idea is that, if only we could find the true and perfect math behind the veil of perceived reality, all will be revealed.

                The real reality is that there isn’t any actual true and perfect math, and there’s no veil for it to hide behind. And this reality is supported by overwhelming volumes of evidence, including all the best evidence we have.

                First, ALL language is abstraction so what does that statement really say

                YES! Math and language are both abstractions — imperfect models of what we see around us.

                Both are maps. The map is not the territory the map represents; the map is a model of the territory.

                And such models are incredibly useful, for they permit you to do a great deal of exploration without getting your feet dirty…but, at the end of the day, when you do get out there and get your feet dirty, you’ll discover discrepancies between your map and the territory.

                Platonism is an exercise in searching for the One True Map from which the model around us was made — but, even if you could find the architect’s master plans, that still doesn’t include all the ways the builders deviated from the plans plus all the modifications that’ve been made since. And, again, that presupposes that said plans and architect and builders (whether conscious agents or otherwise) exist, despite all evidence being that they don’t.

                Mapmaking is an essential exercise and you always want the most accurate maps possible for whatever scale of detail you’re modeling.

                But the maps, no matter how detailed nor accurate, are not the territory.

                You are so desperate to treat everything as physical because it makes your incompatibilist argument simple to theorise.

                No…you’ve got that exactly backwards.

                The LHC results have made it quite plain that everything is physical, period, full stop, end of story. And we’ve had good reason to suspect that such is the case since Newton and no reason to suspect otherwise since Darwin.

                That computation is the interaction of physical stuff is perfectly consistent with everything else we know about the way the world actually works. For computation to be anything else would be as radical a departure as learning that Helios really is responsible for the Sun’s motion across the sky, after all.

                The physicalist position is simple. Just as orbital mechanics is entirely natural and simply the motion of bodies following the effects of their mutual gravitational attraction — or, in more modern terms, following the local curvatures in spacetime — computation is entirely natural and simply the motion of very small bits banging into each other with the restrictions of their own local geometries. That you can get something as glorious as an Arizona sunrise out of the former or a digital photograph of an Arizona sunrise out of the latter may seem remarkable, but both break down to their simple constituents without too much prodding.

                b&

              • Posted April 11, 2015 at 10:05 am | Permalink

                Well Ben, we must again be nearing the point where the rools say we need to make an exit. All I can say is that you have been in constant denial of what is really blindingly obvious – that the human mind is operating at an extreme of evolved capabilities for advanced “evitability” – showing, as it were, physical “degrees of freedom” that we never find elsewhere in all of biology. Furthermore, these capabilities are built out of advanced computational processes which allows us to deal with external events not just as sensed data but as symbolic abstractions and associative processing of these things. Moreover, most of these computational capabilities we exhibit allow extensive amounts of self-programming so that our behaviour becomes more and more autonomous and ‘self formed” I cannot understand how anyone can apply crudely simplistic and reductionist physical causality to such a system. At best “the jury is out” in deciding the issue of free will.
                (time that we exit….but..to be continued)

              • Posted April 11, 2015 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

                [T]he human mind is operating at an extreme of evolved capabilities for advanced “evitability” – showing, as it were, physical “degrees of freedom” that we never find elsewhere in all of biology.

                …and my counterpoint is that the difference between humans and, say, an abacus, is the same type of difference as between the Wright Flyer and the latest prototype to come out of NASA. Sophistication gets you farther and faster and higher and better…but it’s still “merely” a variation on the same basic theme. Just as there’s no need to invoke ethereal notions of purity of flight in the latter comparison, there’s no need to invoke ethereal notions of purity of computation or math in the latter. Yes, the one seems magical in comparison to the other…but there really isn’t any magic at all.

                b&

  26. Posted April 9, 2015 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    What exactly is “choice”?
    Simple life forms have hardly any at all: their activity is reflex, unvarying. But the more complex the organism the less and less their actions are purely innate responses and require selection from variably viable alternatives. Bees require pollen to make honey but have to find it using genetically-formed senses and wings to do so. Predatory animals have a host of genetically-formed, and powerful, reflexes, instincts and emotive reactions which provide the basis of their behaviour to obtain food, keep alive and avoid harm and danger, but this minute-by-minute activity is so varied that these innate responses are often inadequate to select appropriate behaviour.
    Hence the complex “conscious” brain which supplements innate reactions. It “reasons” out a “best choice” from a range of perceived alternatives using any previous experience housed in memory or, specifically in the case of humans, by reference to a whole host of previous experiential data recorded using language or arts. This mental process used to decide on action is commonly called our “freewill”.
    I just cannot see how this “freedom of action”, this activity of “choice” can in any way be other than completely causal, -effects which resul from the brain/body’s joint use of innate responses coupled to sensory inputs and remembered or recorded accessible data.
    You choose a strawberry ice at a particular moment because at that moment your taste, all the ambient conditions (such aa temperature, humidity, the vendor, your present companions, etc.) and your memories of previous ices you have enjoyed, determines that precise choice on that precise occasion.  You could not instantaneously, realistically have chosen otherwise, yet, though determined, the choice was unpredictable: both it and the necessary pertinent conditions are in the unknowable future up until the event happens.

    • Posted April 9, 2015 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      I can accept your analysis as accurate, but I wonder about the choice of words. If, as you point out, all choices are necessary at their given moment, that one could “not realistically have chosen otherwise,” how is this any less innate than the bee’s search for honey? Complexity or unpredictability doesn’t make it less innate.

      “Hence the complex ‘conscious’ brain which supplements innate reactions.” Similarly, when does this “conscious brain” emerge? Does not consciousness itself become more or less complex with the type of living being; don’t all living things perceive and react to their environment?

      Is it not more likely that awareness, consciousness, is a feature of all living things; albeit each species’ consciousness is different from any other’s. If not, you’re going to have to refine your definition to be able to pinpoint when it arises. Or, more correctly, you’ll have to define your terms, period. Both “consciousness” and “innate” need definitions before one can unpack your statements.

      • Posted April 10, 2015 at 6:27 am | Permalink

        Johan: thanks for your reply. I think the term “freewill” is at best a misnomer and likely to evoke misconceptions in discussing human morality. I am in full agreement with all your previous remarks about non-freewill and my entry was intended to support your vigorous denials of it.

        Regarding the points you raised about my comment:
        By “innate” I meant evolved “no-choice” behaviour such as is demonstrated by bees and their one food -honey, though their individual flight paths are perhaps border-line “conscious”?
        I do not see any possibility that the “choice” of strawberry-flavour ice cream as a specially-evolved innate strategy in our genes although it is innate in so far as it is necessarily made by using our evolved body/brain processes to make it: the decision remains “at its given moment, that one could “not realistically have chosen otherwise”.

        In contrast to the innate behaviour of bees and their honey-dependence I went on to refer to the behaviour of more complex life-forms such as predatory animals all of whom I would readily accept have degrees of consciousness which I do not see as an evolved adaptive feature found only in humankind. Very many and various life-forms have both the need and the ability (=freewill?!) to make choices from alternatives of action by using memorised experiential “learned” data which must involve something within their nervous system and mental activity like that which we accept as “consciousness” in us. (The mental procedure, say, to cross a busy street is similar in humans and cats.) But please don’t expect me to “pinpoint when it (consciousness) arises”, nor do I think the fact that I/anyone being unable to do so affects the arguments about “conscious choice”.
        I will make a further claim that our “human” consciousness is different only in Degree and not different in Kind from that found in other life. But ours is unique in one major advantage: in addition to this deductive (conscious) behaviour, we have an evolved brain capacity giving us the ability for precise and detailed methods, via language and arts, to communicate our internal mental activity (thoughts) both with ourself and with other members of our species, and this far outstrips grunts, gestures and other forms of passing on experiential data.
        This has been further augmented by successfully translating that communication into ever-increasing permanent records of accessible knowledge, vast accumulated results of experiences and thoughts. A non-innate Reference Memory for deductive action not just “learned” by a sole individual but by a whole species, not just of the present but quite a way back into the our historic past and is being continuously revised and updated globally

        • Posted April 10, 2015 at 10:43 am | Permalink

          Thoughtful reply, thanks. And, of course, I agree with all of it. It’s a question of semantics when it comes down to “innate.” I translate “innate” as something you can’t avoid doing; and lacking free will, it would seem that nothing is avoidable. Some people might claim “innate” to mean a response never reaching the level of consciousness, but that gets into the question of what is consciousness?

          I asked the question about pinpointing the birth of consciousness as illustration of its impossibility. It’s sort of like asking which ape was the first human? Although not quite. I don’t see consciousness and life as distinguishable. It seems to me that life implies consciousness. Exactly what form that consciousness takes depends on the species; and indeed, in us it’s really big and expansive. We have to pay attention to a lot more stuff than do e. coli.

          Consciousness is often equated with awareness; in fact, “awareness” is usually the definition of “consciousness,” so it begs the question, What, then, is “awareness”? We’re back where we started from. Does it take awareness to eat? I’d think so. Does it take a human level of awareness? Of course, not. Do I have any idea what awareness feels like to a cabbage plant? None at all; but I’m confident that the plant does.

        • Posted April 10, 2015 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

          Hey mogguy,

          You’re not by any chance a compatibilist infiltrating the enemy camp? Because except for a weird (IMHO) semantic choice to deny that the above describes “free will,” I agree with everything you’ve said in these two comments. Of course, in ordinary speech people usually deny that mammals and birds “have free will,” (as if it were binary and not a matter of degree), but then, they also deny that mammals and birds are intelligent, when clearly, they are, just not as much so as humans.

          I’ve said too much in this thread. I’ll shut up now.

          • Posted April 10, 2015 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

            Not quite sure to whom you were addressing your comment, but I’ll take a whack.

            Are you implying that freedom can be associated with will? It would seem that way. Are you positing that there is meaning in the term “free will”? As for myself, I have no idea how a will could be free, what one has to do with the other. That’s always been my problem with free will: I have no frigging idea what it means. It’s not that I don’t believe it; it’s that I don’t understand it. It baffles me.

          • Posted April 12, 2015 at 10:10 am | Permalink

            paultorek: “I agree with everything you’ve said in these two comments.”

            Hi Paul, But I said “(a) decision remains “at its given moment, that one could “not realistically have chosen otherwise” AND I meant just that. Though one may have many alternatives of action there is only one that is *possible* as one’s instantaneous decision.

            I cannot help but be a hard Determinist, others cannot help but be Compatibilists or freewill-ers -unless there occurs some change in all those complicated personal circumstances governing our convictions.

            It is unreasonable to suggest that a moon’s orbit isn’t a caused effect, -to suggest that it is orbiting of its own freeWill or that a moon “wants” to orbit, or if hit by sufficiently massive object it would then “choose to do otherwise”. When I choose a strawberry ice I do “what I want”; yes, you might argue me into a raspberry-ripple and then that flavour becomes what I *now* want: metaphorically I’ve been hit by a sufficiently massive reason.

            But it remains *I* always do “what *I* want”: there is no way of my doing otherwise and I see “doing what I want” as an effect completely determined by prior (up-to-the-moment-of-decision) causes. Whether I choose to write this or not is not really open-ended: I do it because of my beliefs, my disputative character, available time, an iPad, etc., etc., etc. All these circumstances combine to give me the mental condition which I call “wanting to”. Though coercion might force me to “want” differently from what I might “want” if uncoerced, I will still, whether submitting or defying to any coercion, act according to what *I* want to do. To say I could act in some other way than what I “want” (that is: an effect, a mental activity, completely determined by “prior-etc. causes”) is as unlikely as a moon varying its orbit in the absence of any change to its controlling forces.

            Yet I differ from our illustrious provider of this WEIT site because my opinion is that *non-freewill* does not affect or reduce, let alone nullify, in any degree personal “moral responsibility” for our personal behaviour. We act the way we do according to our unique genetic make-up plus what we have personally learned since our conception. Evolution selects by “comparing” this against other competing life. However, Evolution selects on the basis of not only the better (physical) runner but also those runners whose genetic body/brain “wants” the *better direction* in which to run (behaviour). And I think we should use this meaning -Evolutionarily better behaviour- to denote the correct use for the human mental concept of Morality. Not easy! It means our moral codes, rules, laws, rewards and punishments are required to second-guess their future likely results, to be non-sacred and to be capable of modification and improvement.

            • Posted April 12, 2015 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

              I don’t believe the evolution of consciousness has been mapped out. For the most part, we don’t have a functioning definition beyond the circular “awareness.” This is without getting into the refinements of self-consciousness. It’s hard to avoid the issue of consciousness when pondering morality.

              We tend to conflate consciousness with existence; witness Descarte’s “I think, therefore I am.” In that scenario, the conscious mind is the only reality, a popular philosophical position. But there are philosophical positions and there are functioning realities. Philosophically, we can debate whether or not the truck is really there; but practically, there’s only one option, to which many an armadillo lies testament. A more practical question is whether or not you and I exist, at least in a Descartian sense? That’s a little more dubious.

              One’s awareness of one’s existence, thanks to the real-time functional nature of consciousness, makes one aware of one’s unitary existence; but it leads to the illusion of that unit being independent, rather than a functionary of a swarm. For what it’s worth, we’re no more independent as a creature than is the average bee or termite. Every individual is merely a temporary expression of the species.

              Since the invention of sex, intra-specific rules of behavior have been essential. One could not have sex without rules governing it; not just for meet-and-greets, but for raising children, so to speak, as well. Even plants protect their offspring. Needless-to-say, all of those rules are simply encoded in the genes, and most of them don’t require much awareness for implementation; but as one moves up the ladder of evolutionary complexity, the rules become more complex, as well; until you finally get to people, where our massive self-reflection plays havoc with any straight forward transference of rules.

              It’s pretty obvious that language isn’t the tool used for transferring intra-specific rules, or morals, in any species but ours to any significant degree. Other species might use language as a way of imparting some information, but for the most part, another mechanism has to be used. I would argue that, for the same most part, only emotions qualify. A moral is felt, it’s a gut feeling. In people it surely gets modified by our thought process, but it’s origins and primary expression in most living things, I would argue, are in emotions. We don’t commit incest, because we feel it’s bad. We do help our elderly neighbor, because we feel it’s good.

              I’d further argue that all morals, all those emotions, are there to protect the species, not the individual. If they only helped the individual, they wouldn’t have survived selective inheritance. If we make mistakes in our over-thinking our morals, it’s that we don’t recognize the universal nature of them, we think they are there for the individual.

              Since we’re given to intellectualizing our morals, I suggest we use that as our base: what is best for the species. Add that to the Golden Rule, and you have pretty much all you need.

              • Posted April 14, 2015 at 7:44 am | Permalink

                Johan: You said previously that
                “Consciousness is often equated with awareness […] but I’m confident that the (cabbage) plant (has awareness)”

                I agree that inextricably linked to all the FW/Morality discussion is the puzzle of Consciousness. I am consciously “writing” but besides that one-but-not-simple-behaviour *I* am hard at it doing all manner of things like breathing, circulating blood, digesting food, using my sight and muscles and have all senses on standby: a host of activities going on without my having any awareness of them. A growing cabbage is alive but is not all of its activity innate? -which (to me) means un-aware. A daisy will open its petals if the sun is out just as I might perspire as a reflex action. I do not decide to sweat. That I begin to sweat is caused by my *unconscious* sensory perceptions: I will become aware of doing so by a *conscious** sensory perception of dampness and consciously wipe my brow.
                I think this demonstrates that more complex life has a spectrum of modes of mental response to handle various problems of survival ranging from the totally reflex to “conscious” hyperactivity in extreme danger which produces combined reflexive and decision-making processes of extreme intensity. These latter processes, requiring continuous active sensory observations, are decision-making using comparisons with previous memorised lifetime-experiential data together with more basic urges of intuitive/emotional experience inborn by natural selection from our ancestral past and supplied to us genetically. I have no degree of conscious control over sweating but I decide to wipe my brow. I believe the first is fully unconscious and the second more likely to be conscious.

                Language itself exacerbates the problem. The word “table” does not denote the external object but represents all the electro-chemical events within my brain -the sensory perceptions I have of the properties of “the” external “thing”. I can use aural or visible symbols internally to myself or to transmit a semblance of my electro-chemical events to produce a comparable set of electro-chemical events in your brain. But there cannot be an exact match because the composition of each brain is unique: its inherited and its life-time experiences also unique. This is our big difference from Computers. Though there is variation between designs any “conversation” between them has none of the fuzziness of a human word or phrase: we always have this extra level of computation -extracting “meaning” much more contextually. “Right away!” does not mean amputation of a hand nor does it always mean “Immediately” -let alone the imprecision of ASAP.

            • Posted April 13, 2015 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

              Thanks mogguy. You pointed out another of your statements that I disagree with, which I missed earlier. You deny that a person making a choice could have done otherwise.

              Your evidence and reasoning for that, however, seem to just amount to the fact that the choice is causally determined. I, of course, agree that it’s causally determined, but don’t see why that’s incompatible with “the agent could have done otherwise”.

              The way you put “want” in scare-quotes kinda suggests that maybe you doubt that humans really desire things? Or will things? But that seems implausible, so I probably shouldn’t interpret you that way. Probably you are just calling attention to the vagueness and imprecision of “want” and “desire” compared to some lower-level neurological description, and noting that at the neural level, the determinism becomes more obvious. But, I already agree that it’s deterministic.

              • Posted April 14, 2015 at 7:41 am | Permalink

                Hi Paul
                Firstly, “want” was in quotes hoping to imply that it emphasised a special meaning of a specific electro-chemical mental condition or event, -*A cause*, in fact.

                So, you “agree that it’s causally determined, but don’t see why that’s incompatible with ‘the agent could have done otherwise’.”
                In the sense that a rain-cloud doesn’t always produce rain on the ground, I will likewise agree that an agent could have done otherwise but with a proviso -*only* if one of the contributary causes was also “otherwise” and enough to affect the state of the mental processing-of-data producing what the agent feels or “wants”.

                In the event you HAVE NO CHOICE: you are the “powerless victim” of all the pertinent prevailing conditions and this includes the *inherent genetic character* of your body/brain and all the present data held therein .

                Very importantly, that *inherent character* of each us is a variable from person to person and from occasion to occasion, therefore *it* (rather than “intention” or what you insist is “freewill”) will significantly vary the relative morality of our behaviour. Though our actions are always “determined”, this in no way affects our “moral responsibility” for our behaviour. That both the sadistic psychopath and the genius Darwin were *born* that way is Evolutionarily causally-determined, -their bad/good luck, yet they, nevertheless, should proportionately be morally evaluated and so regarded by Society

              • Posted April 14, 2015 at 10:56 am | Permalink

                Hey, mogguy, unpack for me this statement:

                “Evolutionarily causally-determined, -their bad/good luck, yet they, nevertheless, should proportionately be morally evaluated and so regarded by Society.”

                What do you mean by “morally evaluated”?

              • Posted April 14, 2015 at 9:57 am | Permalink

                Your evidence and reasoning for that, however, seem to just amount to the fact that the choice is causally determined. I, of course, agree that it’s causally determined, but don’t see why that’s incompatible with “the agent could have done otherwise”.

                The agent could only have done otherwise if “all else were equal,” and if some other set of circumstances prevailed rather than the circumstances that actually did prevail.

                It’s a very useful analytical technique to ignore the prevailing circumstances. But “free will” can only exist in the absence of prevailing circumstances — a proposition that’s clearly incoherent.

                “Free will” might be helpful for certain types of analysis and planning…but only in the same way that you might model a vehicle as traveling in a vacuum on a frictionless surface with no-slip tires.

                b&

              • Posted April 14, 2015 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                Thanks again mogguy, your explanations are advancing the discussion, I feel. We may never agree but we can pinpoint the source of disagreement.

                I agree that a decision could go otherwise *only* if one of the earlier events was also “otherwise” and enough to affect the state of the mental processing. I would add “if” to your “only if”. If and only if the earlier events are e1, the later decision is d1; iff the earlier events are e2, the later decision is d2; and so on. This is what our deterministic laws of physics are like: from a description at a given time, one can derive *both past and future behavior* (relative to that time) of the system.

                But that doesn’t make me a “powerless victim”. The decision maker, rather, is if anything the “perpetrator”. Only agents can make victims, and the early state of the universe is not an agent.

                Since there is no designation, in the equations of physics, of a “master” time to which all other times are “slaves”, we can pick our own time to take as the independent variable. In both senses of “pick our own time” – pick as we see fit, and pick the present time, because the perspective of the present time is the most useful. Just as, when reading a map, the first thing you do is find the “You Are Here” location.

  27. Posted April 15, 2015 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Hi Johan, this is replying to yours of the 14th but the larger offset in a long thread produces only a few words/line…

    You asked, “What do you mean by morally evaluated?”

    “Morally evaluated”: making an educated guess at what the likely future result of a specific behaviour will be (to me this is what measures its moral quality) and acting towards the perpetrator of that behaviour in proportion to the expected benefit/disbenefit to the individual, his kin, larger societal group, to Humankind with these in rising order of importance.

    I.e. Darwin is easy, his activities undoubtedly merit respect, praise and rewards; a sadistic psychopath is a less comfortable subject but at least his sadistic behaviour cannot be respected or praised and probably be needs to be actively controlled. I hope that more clearly explains what moral principles and hence what “morally” mean to me.

    • Posted April 16, 2015 at 12:29 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the clarification. In a nutshell, you’re evaluating the results of actions against a preset moral fabric, correct? How do we determine that moral fabric? How do we define “benefit”? It’s not automatically clear. If beheading an apostate gets me into heaven, that’s a good thing, right? If enslaving the lesser humans brings them closer to god, that’s a good thing, right?

      When I think of questions like morality, I often find it easier to understand, if I frame the question as “What would a wildebeest do?” Or a cockroach; anything but a human? In other words, we’re not the only animal with social relationships, they all have them; how does the rest of the kingdom—that part that’s not burdened by excessive self-reflection—deal with social rules? Who benefits? The species, of course. For any mutation to be selected—i.e. survive—it has to benefit the entire species, not just an individual or an individual’s kin. Over time, it has to benefit everyone or it won’t make it.

      Which is why the debate over whether or not altruism is inherited is rather moot. Intra-specific rules of behavior, how the units of a species function together, have to be inherited. Those rules, developed by natural selection, will promote smooth functioning of the individual units of that species. Calling them altruism or cooperation is missing the point; they’re the functional framework of a species. A species couldn’t exist without them.

      Which is merely to say, I can’t figure any other way it could work.

  28. Posted April 16, 2015 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Hi Paul, re yours of Apr.14:
    “We may never agree but we can pinpoint the source of disagreement.”
    This is true since we agree:
    1. We have alternative choices of action.
    2. The action taken is determined.

    From Statement 1. a compatibilist derives freewill arguing that, before the decision, there were alternatives.
    Whereas I see Statement 2. as a trump card, making the actor a powerless victim -to quote my rather scary phrase.

    A compatibilist can then judge behaviour on its apparent intention, -on how an actor’s freewill has been used.
    Whereas I can judge on the apparent physical qualities of the actor as demonstrated by his behaviour.

    Since each method will use actual or foreseen results of said action it probably amounts to very similar conclusions. For example: that the actions of a sadistic psychopath should be (at least) controlled whether one thinks this behaviour is wilful or helpless.

    You said later: “..from a description at a given time, one can derive *both past and future behavior* (relative to that time) of the system.”
    I think that should more correctly be “one can see cause-and-effect between events which happened in the more distant past and subsequent events which happened in the less distant past”.

    However “reversible” time may be in theoretical physics, no way can I agree that we can ever do more than intelligently guess “the Future”. Our “map” extends only one way – the recorded past, detailed recently but the less decipherable the further we try to look back, and any exact clarity ends abruptly at “here”. The perspective of the present time is the only one possible. E.g. we can *know* that yesterday’s cake was edible: we cannot *know* that tomorrow’s cake will not be burnt; – that is a feature off the drawn and definite “map”!

    The current scientific account of the remote universe in space and time (though better grounded than previous scientific or religious ideas) does not compare with our known certainties of the nature and behaviour of the physical Solar System which now relies on much more than the evidence of purely line-of-sight electro-magnetic wave observations.

  29. Posted April 16, 2015 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    mogguy,
    Once again we agree on a lot. I’d like to continue this discussion but I’m wary of violating The Roolz of whyevolutionistrue, which discourage long one-on-one exchanges. Please go to my website if you wish to continue. (Other folks also welcome.)

    • Posted April 16, 2015 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      PCC will disagree if he must, but since there seems to a real dialogue here rather than automatic gainsaying of any statement other people make it doesn’t strike me as a violation. I’d like to see it continue here. 🖖

      /@

      • Posted April 18, 2015 at 6:28 am | Permalink

        Hi Ant, Thanks from me also. I, too, have felt I was pushing “the roolz” and also PCC’s hospitality, though at least I hoped that the comments have been well related to the Main Post. This WEIT site offers such a rich and varied menu and PCC’s own frequent and often lengthy contributions amaze me all the time.

        Paul, whether the roolz axe strikes or not I do hope to access your website if only to reply to yours of 17Apr here. I will just say now “Some bridges DO fall down!”
        I also have a blog at https://seesomelight.wordpress.com/
        in which I tried to express some (contentious/heretical) ideas but it seems moribund and has no Box for Comments now anyway, but at least it gives me access to other sites.

    • Posted April 17, 2015 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      Thanks Ant. I’m new to WEIT, so I’ll take your guidance interpreting The Roolz.

      mogguy,
      I don’t think it makes it any more correct to rephrase the implications of the laws of nature as, “one can see cause-and-effect between events which happened in the more distant past and subsequent events which happened in the less distant past.” For one thing, this ignores the fact that we routinely use the laws of nature to predict the future with a high degree of accuracy. That’s how engineers build bridges that don’t fall down. We don’t achieve perfect accuracy, but similarly, our knowledge of the past also lacks perfect accuracy. However, at the same time your statement does capture an important physical fact about past versus future.

      As you point out, parts of the past are recorded. That brings up the important concept of a “physical record”, which then relates to entropy and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. A memory is a type of physical record which, when made and recalled, necessarily increases entropy. Because the past is a lower-entropy time and the future is higher-entropy, we can remember parts of the past and cannot remember any part of the future. The increase of entropy with time also implies that we cannot affect the parts of the past that we can remember.

      But!

      The parts of the past that we can remember, do not constitute the whole past. And the philosophical arguments which try to derive no-free-will from a premise of determinism, always invoke the whole past. Otherwise their logic would transparently fail.

      • Posted April 20, 2015 at 7:10 am | Permalink

        Hi Paul,
        If an event(B) has been observed many times to follow another event(A) one may rationally conclude that (B) somehow depends on (A)’s occurrence. In “Philosophese”: (A) determines (B), or (A) entails or necessitates (B): they are causally-linked. The concept grounds the whole structure of scientific knowledge which, shall I say, explains the Past and enables degrees of accuracy in predictions of the inaccessible Future.

        A simple scenario which involves conscious human action:
        Yesterday’s weather forecast,
        “Heavy rain is expected for south-east England tomorrow morning ending the long dry spell”
        Today’s 2pm weather report:
        “0.6ins. rain fell between 10.20am and 11.50am local time has now moved north. The rain missed the extreme South-coast.”

        Where, when and how much rain(B) fell was determined, entailed, necessitated by a set of Natural Events(A), Physical Causes being the latest in an innumerable but unbroken series of (A)->(B becoming the next A)’s feasibly going back for “ever”(?).

        A keen gardener living on the South-coast whose grass is looking brown decides to water his lawn this evening. A conscious, intentional action. He can only do this if he has the physical time, energy, water supply and hose, these are all Determined externally but are conditions used in his decision. But the decision is internal, voluntary: a mental process of choice within his direct control.

        Our problem: has such a self-generated self-conscious action an un-Determined freedom? Is his “direct control” un-caused?

        Our gardener’s identical twin who lives next door is also a keen gardener and similarly waters his lawn. However, the neighbour on the other side (no relation, and with other interests) doesn’t water his lawn. Why the difference?
        As a hard Determinist, to me their behaviour is entirely caused by their genetic coding and their nurture. As a Compatibilist where and how do you see the possible break in the long physical chain of cause-and-effect happening, where and how an un-caused effect in a human mind, if it is an entirely physical organ, somehow materialises?

        I re-iterate that whichever is one’s opinion it does not affect “moral responsibility” -OK whatever that may be, but that is a different problem. A sadistic psychopath is just that. Whether he “chooses” to be so or was “chosen” to be so. He remains a bad human, a danger to the rest of us. It may sound good to say he is an unwitting victim and defend him on the grounds of bad, perhaps largely unsought, circumstances but it takes more than one generation to tame (evolve) a wild wolf into a cooperative and domesticated d*g and magic wands are in short supply.

        • Posted April 20, 2015 at 8:50 am | Permalink

          Comme d’habitude, as a hard determinist, I concur with your conclusions except for the phrase “moral responsibility.” That seems meaningless in a deterministic world. While society might want to affect the behavior of people who deviate from the norm—your psychopath, for example—that doesn’t make those people who deviate to be morally responsible for their actions. It does mean that their actions might have to be altered to make society run smoothly, but it changes the emphasis of why one is trying to alter someone else’s behavior; and it, likely, changes the methods used. But making a rock morally responsible for the trajectory it takes when it falls, makes no sense.

          • Posted April 21, 2015 at 7:26 am | Permalink

            Hi Johan,
            Agreed: a rock isn’t “responsible” in any way for trajectory: it is not living hence has no choice of any sort. In fact to describe Life as forms of Matter which have some degree of behavioural choice is a fair definition. Under an external force complex living things often have several possible reactions; also some means to make and then to carry out a chosen behaviour, but the one that is made (from its alternative possible behaviours) is nevertheless Determined.

            The relative survival value of any *chosen* behaviour is subject to the inescapable process of Evolution which, over huge time-scales, would “design” distant descendants filtering slowly the behaviour of many actors. Such is my meaning for a “moral” action: a behaviour which, given enough time, Evolution would Naturally Select. In my sense “moral behaviour” is widespread, found in much of Life and certainly very considerably pre-dates sentient humanity. *Our* genetic coding carries the cumulative effects of ancestral behaviour selection processing and can completely account for intuitive Golden Rules, innate virtue, even instinctive altruism. All of these being unconscious mental processing, certainly not conscious choices!

            Human cultural Moral “Codes” are sentient attempts based on relatively short-scale human observations to encourage behaviour to match the behaviour which has been concluded would be Naturally Selected by Evolution. Religion has always been plagued with worries about why an Omniscient God would allow pain, -so why did it *evolve*? It is one of Evolution’s solutions to enable/force our better choice of behaviour. It is an uncomfortable but effective “moral” constraint directly related to maintaining our individual survival for long enough to reproduce offspring.

            Does this help to show my very broad interpretation of what “moral responsibility” represents?

            So is same-sex love “moral”? I don’t know if it is or not, but it must be one or the other and not just a matter of opinion or prejudice!

            • Posted April 21, 2015 at 10:29 am | Permalink

              Now, if I could only figure out how to set aside quotes in those nice little boxes…

              I’d certainly agree with your conclusions, although I’m not so sanguine about your terminology.

              “Such is my meaning for a ‘moral’ action: a behaviour which, given enough time, Evolution would Naturally Select.”

              A number of people, Sam Harris among them, try to define morals as the result of actions, not as strictures. Your definition of “moral action” slides in that direction. But I’m not sure if your definition is anything other than a definition of evolution, not morality. Evolution, necessarily, is what’s left over after the selecting is done; there’s no moral component to it; it’s simply what works and it covers everything. Nature has selected certain kinds of eating, that doesn’t make eating a moral process. So, it’s not just naturally selected behavior which is moral behavior.

              It would help, I think, to find first a definition of morals. I don’t think morals are behaviors; I think morals are expectations about behavior. We make moral judgements based on those expectations. A quick check at the dictionary finds this definition: “a person’s standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do.” I think that hits at the prevalent understanding of the word. Where I diverge from that definition is that I include all living things in my definition. I define morals as intra-specific rules of behavior. I could rephrase the dictionary definition to read: intra-specific standards concerning what is and is not acceptable to do. I cannot imagine life—at least life with sex—to not have such rules. In that sense, all living things have morals; and we seem to agree on that.

              “Religion has always been plagued with worries about why an Omniscient God would allow pain, -so why did it *evolve*? It is one of Evolution’s solutions to enable/force our better choice of behaviour.”

              That makes it appear that pain is a part of the rules of intra-specific behavior, which I can’t fathom. All preferred (selected) behavior is not “moral.” Pain is not there to enforce our “better choice of behavior” so that we can get along with our fellow creatures; it’s there as a survival warning mechanism for our interaction with the environment. I don’t think there’s been a religious debate over why a god would allow pain; I think the debate has been over why god would allow evil; and that’s a separate issue. That is a moral issue.

              I find your definition of morals to be: “Human cultural Moral ‘Codes’ are sentient attempts based on relatively short-scale human observations to encourage behaviour to match the behaviour which has been concluded would be Naturally Selected by Evolution.” I find that way too broad (and a touch vague). Pain, for example, is not a “sentient” attempt to encourage good behavior; it’s a warning to avoid injury or further injury. One doesn’t “think up” their pain; it occurs spontaneously. I think you’re confusing normal bodily functions with value judgements about human behavior.

              Moral codes in the human realm are pretty specific. They are the Ten Commandments, the Boy Scout Code of Honor, etc. They are couched as specific dos and don’ts. They pretty much all relate to human interaction. They are the rules. Because we’re people and foolishly complex creatures with massive internal feedback loops and self-reflection, our rules of interaction are, necessarily, vastly more complex and variable than those of any other living creature; but their functions, origins, and methods of transference are the same.

              But there’s a difference between telling someone that it’s foolish to jump off that cliff because they’ll die, and telling someone that it’s wrong to push another person off that cliff.

              • Posted April 22, 2015 at 7:47 am | Permalink

                quote “telling someone that it’s foolish to jump off that cliff because they’ll die, and telling someone that it’s wrong to push another person off that cliff.”

              • Posted April 22, 2015 at 7:52 am | Permalink

                Sorry, I mucked that up!

                First: I retract with hindsight my last remarks: : it was flippant and quite wrongly implied immutability of morality. [E.g. Whereas the biblical injunction to go forth and multiply was then good, fecundity in the overcrowded Earth is less easily justifiable though it still remains (of course) in *absolute* religious codes.]

                Next: thank you for your interesting reply, we do seem to have similar ideas.
                BTW this time “responsible” simply meant it was a quote from your earlier reply and I support Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape’s suggestion that moral coding is amenable to scientific assessment, however, designing successful bridges is one thing (one can test actual models to destruction) designing moral coding is way more difficult even rationally using past records.

                Terminology is always a hurdle and my concept and usage of the word moral is a long way from any dictioary definition. In particular I do not equate moral behaviour with moral behaviour rules. Moral to describe a type of behaviour, morality to denote a human concept of that type of behaviour and then morality’s rules, codes, norms become uniquely-human verbalised cultural expressions.

                I like your term intra-specific (or intra-species perhaps?) but would not define morals as (quote) “intra-specific *rules* of behaviour”. Some behaviour in an animal is moral (in my/our sense) but he has no set of *rules*. Only a human can consult a rule-book about sex and sexual behaviour, only a human can devise marriage and make rules covering extra-partner sex and call it by a name -adultery, yet many animals and birds form life-long partnerships which, presumably, benefits their offspring and so their species.

                To quote from WEIT (chap.1) “If, after all, we are simply beasts, then why not behave like beasts?” This popular view uses normal usage of moral behaviour as an UN-beastly and exclusively human attribute. For me (and for you too from your comments) the question becomes a statement “Many beasts, us included, have evolved genetic inborn intra-specific moral behaviour.”

                But the problem remains: where does simple self-preservation get a moral overtone in the sense that restricts it to better behaviour towards family, kin, group and species? Of course pain is not a moral behaviour though it satisfactorily demonstrates an evolved characteristic which does cause better behaviour doing for *a* beast what moral behaviour does for beasts.

                Codes of Morality are artefacts we can accept or deny. Moral behaviour derives from innate unconscious compulsions which, though difficult to control, may be overcome through a conscious (yet Determined) choice in “beasts” as well as us, a conscious choice which has been tempered by acquired experience and for humans alone by cultural influences, e.g. acceptance of and conformity to humanly-reasoned Moral Codes and humanly-enforced Laws.

                Your last point:
                Quote “telling someone that it’s foolish to jump off that cliff because they’ll die, and telling someone that it’s wrong to push another person off that cliff.” -is not the same.
                But actually there may be not so much intra-specific moral behavioural difference, because both actions will adversely affect (possibly many) other human beings and that makes them both questionable, immoral behaviour, not only murder but suicide also; -unless one was a lone and hopeless survivor, uncontactable in an immobile vehicle, totally adrift in far space. Having said that I must add that I have been a convinced member of an active association supporting legal assisted suicide since 1993. Throwing oneself off a cliff is morally worse than a medically-assisted easeful death.

              • Posted April 22, 2015 at 9:49 am | Permalink

                Morning, mogguy (I have a son nicknamed Mo),

                It looks like we’re pretty much in agreement. Couple minor points:

                “I support Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape’s suggestion that moral coding is amenable to scientific assessment…”

                Moral coding, or morals, are amenable to scientific assessment, but only once the morals are decided upon. Science can’t be used to determine the morals, but it can determine if the moral goals are being reached. It’s not necessarily true, as Sam would suggest, that moral behavior is that which helps people “thrive.” That’s a value judgement, not a scientific one. We can determine whether or not a behavior helps us thrive, but we can’t determine if it’s a good thing or not to thrive, that’s a value judgement. I would argue that morals are all value judgements and that science can only help us evaluate how we achieve those preferred actions, or whether or not our actions achieve our goals; but science can’t help us decide if those morals are reasonable or nor, per se.

                Which is why I contend that morals are transmitted emotionally, not intellectually.

                “Some behaviour in an animal is moral (in my/our sense) but he has no set of *rules*. Only a human can consult a rule-book about sex and sexual behaviour, only a human can devise marriage and make rules covering extra-partner sex and call it by a name -adultery, yet many animals and birds form life-long partnerships which, presumably, benefits their offspring and so their species.”

                I understand your reluctance to use the word “rules” when discussing other animals, but I think it’s appropriate. I don’t think rules have to be verbalized, but maybe I should use the word “compulsions” or some such to differentiate. What I do think is that all animals have drives/compulsions to do X and that those are the functioning rules we all live by. People do think about what they’re supposed to do; and I don’t know how much other animals do, but I wouldn’t count them out. Geese probably form couples with the same emotional bonds that we have, for example. I think that, just because humans complicate their rules thanks to self-reflection and emotional feedback, it doesn’t mean their rules aren’t based in those very emotions.

                “But the problem remains: where does simple self-preservation get a moral overtone in the sense that restricts it to better behaviour towards family, kin, group and species?”

                Some place lions get theirs. Or salamanders. The moral overtone is an emotional response, not intellectual. It’s not reasoned, it’s felt. (Obviously, I should be qualifying all this with “IMHO.”) It’s inherited, part of the gene package. It evolved because without it the species would perish. A species cannot function without an internal code of behavior regulating their intra-specific conduct. Even sea-slugs know when to bring flowers and when to kiss the girl and to not run over her dog.

                I find it helpful to recall that species are individual units, they are the entity that exists; we are merely temporary expressions of the master species. As far as the species is concerned, it makes no difference if we’re people or tadpoles or fire ants. Each little ant is no more important to its species than we are to ours. Our time here is so fleeting, it can hardly be said that we exist, at all. In light of that, all the internal rules, compulsions, desires, and emotions—all the hardware and wiring—that we have are only there to make us function smoothly as a part of the species. None of it is for the benefit of the individual. Likewise, mutations only survive that benefit the species, not the individual units; about them the species could care less. Of course altruism is genetic; what species wouldn’t have its parts cooperate? How could a species survive that wasn’t altruistic? What, the left hand wouldn’t help the right hand? All these rules are only there to keep a blob of flesh alive, just like the heart is there to keep the blob alive; they both evolved as survival mechanisms; and they’re both as necessary.

                IMHO.

                “Throwing oneself off a cliff is morally worse than a medically-assisted easeful death.”

                Yup, I can agree with that. But it’s not necessarily wrong to throw ones self off a cliff. There might be preferable ways to do it, but I can understand the compulsion. (I once worked at a place where three of us had fathers who’d committed suicide, and I suggested we form a Dead Fathers Society, but it didn’t go anywhere. I could never figure out why.)

              • Posted April 24, 2015 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

                Johan,
                To set aside quotes in those nice little boxes, use blockquote html tags as explained here. By the way you don’t need to include the cite=”” part in a blockquote html command.

              • Johan Mathiesen
                Posted April 24, 2015 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

                Gracias.

        • Posted April 24, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

          Hi mogguy,
          Sorry I missed your reply earlier (I did check my own blog – sorry for that confusion).

          As a Compatibilist where and how do you see the possible break in the long physical chain of cause-and-effect happening

          I don’t see any possible break in cause-and-effect. I merely point out that this “chain” doesn’t bind. There is no One Right Answer, independent of his own decision, that the decision maker must get right. He can choose whatever – water his lawn, or not – confident in the fact that the past will turn out to have been whatever it needs to have been, to fit that decision.

          Any sense that determinism forces our hand is based on bad physics – i.e., based on substituting one’s own intuitive sense of causality, instead of causality as understood by modern science.

          • Posted April 24, 2015 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

            Any sense that determinism forces our hand is based on bad physics – i.e., based on substituting one’s own intuitive sense of causality, instead of causality as understood by modern science.

            We’ll test that HTML command.

            And then, what is an “intuitive sense of causality”? That differs from causality, per se? How would that be?

            • Posted April 25, 2015 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

              The intuitive sense of causality paints it as fundamentally, inherently one-way in time. It views earlier events as “master” and later causally related events as “slave”. The causal laws of modern science, however, are bi-directionally deterministic.

              • Posted April 25, 2015 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

                The causal laws of modern science, however, are bi-directionally deterministic.

                At human and near-human scales, there’s not even the hypothetical possibility of bidirectional determinism. And those same theories are known to be incomplete at the scales at which they do not rule out bidirectional determinism.

                Much, much worse, there is no experimental evidence of bidirectional determinism…and the clincher is that any such phenomenon would instantly overthrow thermodynamics, the one branch of physics you should have more confidence in than any other.

                Even if it makes sense in certain contexts to describe certain non-human-scale phenomena as being bidirectionally deterministic, that’s irrelevant to human-scale phenomena where we can be as absolutely certain as we are that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow that absolutely nothing even close to our scale is bidirectionally deterministic.

                b&

              • Posted April 26, 2015 at 8:01 am | Permalink

                Ben,

                Macroscopic events alone, in the prehistory of a given person, are insufficient to causally determine his decision/action today. Microscopic events must be included to get the causal story right. “The human scale” isn’t all that matters to human life.

                The way to reconcile bidirectional determinism with (the overwhelmingly likely statistics of) thermo, is known since Boltzmann (~7:00 in the video). And evidence for a bidirectionally deterministic theory (like QFT) is evidence for its logical consequences.

              • Posted April 26, 2015 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

                Paul, I think Sean put his finger on where you go worng in your interpretation just a minute or so after the point you indicate.

                Specifically…well, at the very beginning of the video, he uses the example of an astronaut floating in space; for her, there is no direction of space because there isn’t any nearby massive object to provide a gravitational gradient. But here on Earth, there is a direction of space; the Earth and its gravitational field provides us with both “up” and “down.” You can very reasonably argue that Newton’s laws have no concept of “up” nor “down,” merely of relative positions…and, yet, both “up” and “down” fall out of his equations quite naturally when you rest one massive object on the surface of another.

                The same thing with time. Sure, there might not be any direction of time in an absolute abstract sense, but we’re in the vicinity of an overwhelmingly influential state of low entropy — the Big Bang a baker’s dozen billion years ago.

                Unless you can propose a way to escape or otherwise minimize the influence of the Big Bang, everything you ever experience is going to give time for you a directional arrow, just as the Earth’s gravitational field gives space for you a directional arrow.

                As for escaping the influence of the Big Bang into some localized region of high entropy isolated from the ancient state of low entropy? Well…actually, that’s something that actually will happen to all of us…it’s just that the common word for that is, “death.”

                Sean used the other example of a glass of water sitting on a countertop and that you have no way of knowing if a while ago it was a glass of boiling water that has cooled to room temperature or if it was a glass of icewater that’s melted. Only long after your body has completely decomposed will similar ambiguities exist with respect to whatever’s left of you.

                Sean’s day job, as it were — that of attempting to understand how there came to be a state of low entropy at the Big Bang — is utterly irrelevant to questions of the reversibility of entropy here and now on Earth. Yes, there’s all sorts of exciting speculation about multiverses and bubble universes and all the rest that might tell us something interesting…but you’ll never be able to go visit any of those exotic realms, yourself.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted April 26, 2015 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

                Ben,
                Once you give up the intuitive picture of causality whereby earlier events are “master” and later ones “slave”, it makes no never-mind whether you are in the temporal vicinity of the big bang. The philosophical arguments for incompatibilism – which assume perfect independence of the past from current action – fall apart. And incompatibilism needs an argument. One who claims a logical implication between two statements, e.g. “causal determinism implies no free will,” must produce an argument.

                Of course, one who denies a supposed logical implication, should produce a counterexample. But that’s easy. Human beings are both fully causally determined, and free willed. And this counterexample will be denied, because incompatibilism. So we are back to needing an argument for incompatibilism.

              • Posted April 26, 2015 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

                Ah, Paul,

                You’re a great aim. Unfortunately, you’re not aiming at the target.

                The essential problem with free will is not whether or not it exists, but rather as to exactly what it is. It lacks a working definition. Most any definition I’ve seen is circular, such as—from Google—“the ability to act at one’s own discretion.” As you can see, that is no definition at all. We understand that free will means that, at the outset from outside appearances, when one has options, one had the freedom to choose whichever option they prefer. That’s tautological. That only means, of course, that there are no exterior constraints as to which option is chosen. It says nothing, though, about the process of making that choice. The process, of course, is anything but free. The process is, essentially, an algorithm into which data is thrown and out from which flows an answer. There’s no more choice in that process than in choosing an answer for what is 2 + 2? At the outset, there’s an infinity of answers; but given the constraints of the algorithms, the answer is, inevitably, 4. To make a different choice requires changing the data or algorithm. That’s true of every decision making process for every living thing.

                The problem is there is no “free” in “free will.” If there is, no one has yet been able to pin it down. I’d invite you to give it a crack. It’s not a question of compatibalism versus incompatibalism; it’s a question of making a working definition so we know what the heck people are talking about when they say “free will.” What is the free part of the process when one is exercising free will? What does “freedom” mean in that context. It can’t mean just having a choice; it’s a question of how that choice is made. How is a choice made under free will that is any different from how choices are otherwise made?

              • Posted April 27, 2015 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

                Johan,

                You say freedom can’t just mean having a choice, but I think that’s exactly what it means (well, and the choice has to make a difference to what the person actually does). Ask around, and get your neighbors’ word usage patterns if you don’t believe me. Give them a scenario where it’s stipulated that a person had multiple options, chose one, and acted on it because they chose it. Ask them if that means they did it of their own free will.

                Some relevant research on what people generally take “free will” to mean.

              • Posted April 27, 2015 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

                Oops, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I didn’t realize we settled scientific questions by popular vote. Although, come to think of it, in this country we do that all the time.

                What you’re telling me is, indeed, the popular conception of free will. But as I tried to point out, that’s not the issue, the issue is definition, what do you mean by free will, forget about the neighbors—although they have their own ideas, I’m sure.

                What you’re pointing out is that when one has options, from the outside it looks arbitrary which option is chosen; that’s the “free will” part. “Here, pick a card; any card.” From a cursory glance, it looks like the chooser can pick any card he/she wants; and that is true. But, of course, no one picks just any card, they pick a particular card. Why that card? Chances are they have no idea. “It was random,” they’ll say. But random is a choice in itself; it’s not arbitrary. And anyway, the card was not chosen at random; a zillion things influenced why the selector chose that particular card. The reasons why will remain unknowable, but some calculating process within the person drove their hand to pick one card versus all the others.

                The main point is there were reasons. All decisions are the end result of reasoning. One does not have any command over how one reasons or where the data comes from; one only has results.

                Other than that, I’m sure you’re right about the general concept of what free will means. I just didn’t know that was how you decided such questions. Interesting.

              • Posted April 28, 2015 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

                Johan,
                The free will debate involves both definitional and scientific disputes. (Scientific disputes especially between libertarians and free will skeptics, both of those being incompatibilists.) Except for theoretical words (“electron”) introduced for scientific purposes, the general public’s verbal habits are the ultimate foundation for definitions. The assignment of words to referents is based on convention, after all. You can’t really be disputing that word-meaning is conventional – can you?

                No one’s inferring the scientific facts from consensus – only the (non-technical) definitions.

              • Johan Mathiesen
                Posted April 28, 2015 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

                Well, yeah, I can be disputing the conventional nature of the meaning of words. For one thing, many words have several meanings, so we have to hone down which one we’re talking about. Sometimes, the most popular definition or meaning is not relevant or accurate. Classic case: how many people have told you that a tomato is not a vegetable, it’s a fruit? A zillion, right? They think they’re clever pointing out the scientific distinction. Yet, if you’re a cook, a tomato is a vegetable. Are the cooks wrong? No, they have their own definition. So, just because a definition is popular or even scientific doesn’t make it correct or incorrect; it depends on usage and context. But if you’re deciding on what free will is—when popular conception is really one of freedom of choice, not will—then we have to know that’s what you mean. But we—or at least I—are not talking about the offerings, we’re talking about the process of making a choice. I don’t know how you think that is accomplished. What I gather from what you’ve written is that the process of making a choice is mysterious.

                I’m still happy to hear your definition of free will. From my vantage, you confuse freedom of choice with free will. You equate the two. I don’t understand why people have difficulty seeing that a process is involved in making a decision. There is no debate about this; how else could it be? A process is not free, a process is structured. No one, yourself included, has explained where the concept of “freedom” can be intruded into the process. In fact, no one has even tried; they ignore the question altogether. If you’ve explained it elsewhere, I’m sorry to have missed it.

                I don’t think there is a scientific dispute. There’s the one-plus-one group, and there are the mystics; but I don’t take the mystics seriously. I always know I’m into woo-woo, if suddenly I have no idea what the other person is saying.

                On Tue, Apr 28, 2015 at 4:29 PM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

                > paultorek commented: “Johan, The free will debate involves both > definitional and scientific disputes. (Scientific disputes especially > between libertarians and free will skeptics, both of those being > incompatibilists.) Except for theoretical words (“electron”) introduced for > “

              • Posted April 29, 2015 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

                Johan,
                I’m a compatibilist about the tomato. It’s both a fruit, and a vegetable 😉

                I still think “freedom” applies to the fact of a choice and the fact that the choice makes a difference. The process that you emphasize, is where the “will” part comes in.

                To answer your question: My understanding of how the process is accomplished, is your typical compatibilist one, i.e. your typical determinist one. In a paradigmatic adult choice, the person makes a rational assessment of the options according to their beliefs and goals. This consists of an extremely complex algorithm implemented by the neural network that is their brain. The process is indeed (finely! highly!) structured. That’s compatible too.

              • Posted April 30, 2015 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

                As usual, I can’t figure out compatibalists worth beans. I’ve listened to guys like Daniel Dennett and Sean Carrol on compatibalism, and they both manage to fall off the deep end without any logical explanation. I think of them as the mystics of free will: totally unexplained, yet mightily professed. Logically, determinism outlaws free will; there’s no way around it. Or if there is, no one has yet been able to draw the logical steps. I’ve watched Dennett make his little diagrams, but every time he simply leaps off into space and expects us to believe he won’t hit bottom. Each time I look, the poor guy is splayed out on the ground, whimpering, “Don’t let the little people know the truth.”

                As far as precise definition, lead me to it; to date, it’s passed me by.

              • Posted April 30, 2015 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

                If it’s true that “Logically, determinism outlaws free will,” you ought to be able to produce the deduction. You know, this kind of thing:

                1. All humans beings are mortal (premise)
                2. Socrates is a human being (premise)
                3. Socrates is mortal (1,2, universal instantiation)

                Only with the premises being determinism, and some non-question-begging definitions. And the conclusion being no free will.

              • Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

                If it’s true that “Logically, determinism outlaws free will,” you ought to be able to produce the deduction.

                Oh, that’s trivial.

                1. Choice depends on being presented with a variety of options. 2. Because of determinism, only one set of options is ever actually presented in reality in any setting that ever comes to pass. 3. Therefore, there is no choice but the one dictated by the set of options that is actually realized.

                All those various options you imagine having available that you could pick and choose from?

                They only exist in your imagination, not in reality.

                b&

              • Johan Mathiesen
                Posted May 1, 2015 at 12:09 am | Permalink

                You want a syllogism that produces “no free will”? Don’t you have that backwards? How would you fit free will into any syllogism?

                Can we agree that determinism is essentially the syllogism: if A then B; if B then C; therefore, if A then C? C being determined by A? That work for you? Tell me what free will is and how you get there from determinism. That’s your job. I’m not denying it; I’m trying to make sense of it.

                That brings us to the “non-question-begging definitions.” And what would those be? Is that where you finally define free will?

                Once again, I emphasize that you confuse freedom of choice with free will. Where is the freedom of will? Freedom of choice is pretty obvious: you can choose either A or B? Making the choice is a matter of will, but where does freedom come into it? You lose me there. “Free” and “will” are, essentially, opposites; one negates the other. No, that’s not quite right; they aren’t even talking about the same thing. “Will” is a felt direction; being free has nothing to do with it. It makes as much sense to say, “That pitcher has free pitches.” Well, sure, he’s free to throw the ball wherever he (she) wants. Yeah, but to talk about the pitch being free or not makes no sense; it’s not a quality of a pitch. (Unlike, say, being wild; now that does have a meaning, when it comes to pitches.)

                Perhaps what I should have said is that there’s no place for freedom as a concept when discussing desires. It is meaningless. (You’re free to have any desires you want? Huh?) But if you think otherwise, give explaining it a shot.

                By the way, how do you think decisions are reached; what is the process? When you gives the steps, could you point out where in the process the freedom comes in? How is the freedom handled neurologically? Thanks.

              • Posted May 2, 2015 at 6:01 am | Permalink

                Johan,
                Regarding freedom and desire, read Vaal’s comment about learning to love exercise. Because human beings and a few other Great Apes are self-conscious, we can target and modify our own motivations. Free will: the advanced course.

                You say I confuse freedom of choice with free will. I say these terms are synonymous. I don’t know how to settle that dispute.

                Neurologically, choice involves representations of multiple actions, which are then evaluated in light of their likely consequences. All of which is a deterministic process of spreading activations in a neural network. You can’t see the freedom (but you can see the “will” part) just looking at the brain: you have to look at the relation between the organism and environment. If the person is in jail, his decision “I will go shopping now” is stymied – even though his brain process may be molecule-for-molecule identical to his twin brother’s, and the twin is free.

                It’s not up to the compatibilist to define free will, other than ostensively. It’s up to the incompatibilist to give definitions, or at least necessary conditions, in order to demonstrate that the ostention fails.

              • Posted May 4, 2015 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                You say I confuse freedom of choice with free will. I say these terms are synonymous. I don’t know how to settle that dispute.

                Hello Paul,

                Yes, that’s an insurmountable wall. Of course, they are nothing the same, because they are the perspectives of different actors: one to whom the options are offered, and the one perceiving the offerings, independent of the action; the performer and the spectator. If in your world those are the same, we are, indeed, at an impasse. We know what freedom of choice is: it’s having options. We don’t know what free will is. It’s not merely having options; it a conception of how options are decided upon.

                From my perspectives it’s like you’re debating about what route to take, but you don’t have a horse yet. I think we should take a little time to unpack the language.

                A will—in the sense we’re using it here, a desire—is an emotion, pure and simple. A desire to do something, have something, be somewhere, etc. One has no control over the origin of one’s desires, one’s wills, one’s emotions.

                Needless-to-say, no one is a single emotion—albeit sometimes single emotions can temporarily dominate a person—rather they are a cluster of competing emotions that balance together to direct you, the person, to act. When you have the desire, say, to kill your neighbor, it’s not rational thought which prevents you from doing so; it’s competing desires: to not be imprisoned, executed, abandoned by your friends and family, etc. When you punish a miscreant, for example, you do so, not to give them the information about the consequences of their actions, but rather to instill in them a desire to avoid that punishment in the future. You’re working on changing the rank of a person’s emotions.

                Regarding all those competing desires, though, the very concept of “freedom” makes no sense. One is not free to not have desires; they arise no matter what you think you want. Replace the word “will” in “free will” with “desire”: “free desire.” See, it makes no sense. “Free emotion,” what could that mean? We’re talking apples and screwdrivers here.

                A phrase I hear connected with compatibalists is that “one could have done differently.” It’s one of those phrase that’s hard to comprehend, because one doesn’t know what one is taking about when bandying around phrases like that. It seems such a poorly thought out statement that I have a hard time believing that people actually say it; so I presume they must understand it quite differently than I do. It seems to me that what they’re saying is that history could have been different, that history was a matter of choice. (These are the sort of people who ask, “If you ran across Hitler as a child, would you kill him to save the world the horrors of WWII?” as if Hitler caused the war or the atrocities. That is a naive understanding of the arc of history.)

                To be sure, the volcano could have not exploded, the Ice Ages could never have happened, John Wilkes Booth could have missed. History could have been different.

                But it wasn’t. And our history, the history of the universe, couldn’t have been any different than the one we’ve had. Hypotheticals are not the stuff of philosophy, they’re they stuff of speculative fiction. To say that someone could have acted differently is to say something one could not possible know; only by being that person in that situation again with those same thoughts and experiences could you recreate history; but then you’d only have Bill Murray all over again.

                No, there was never a possibility of doing things a different way, that’s self-righteous speculation. What the person is really saying is that, “In that situation, I would have acted differently.” No, they wouldn’t have.

              • Posted May 4, 2015 at 10:51 am | Permalink

                Regarding Vaals comment:

                For instance, I was out of shape for a while and didn’t desire exercise. Now, I WANTED TO DESIRE to exercise, but I didn’t have the desire to exercise, hence I preferred to sit on my butt. But since I had a desire to be healthy, and exercise would be necessary for that goal, I knew I had to overcome my lack of desire for exercising. I knew from past experience, as many people have learned, that I could develop the desire to exercise…by starting to exercise.

                A bit of sophistry here: “wanted” is the same as “desired.” No, it’s not that he desires to desire to exercise. He already has the desire to exercise. He also has the desire to sit around on his butt, and that desire has the upper hand, so to speak. He’s waiting, not for new desires, but for the balance to shift. It’s not a matter of willpower, it’s a matter of priorities. He may have a desire to shift his priorities that’s not as strong as his desire to do nothing.

                It asks whether we are free to act on our will.

                Another silly, IMO, concept: “free to act on [one’s] will.” As if one were free to not act? As if there were only one will operating at a time? It seems hubris to think that humans are rational in their behavior whereas gnus are not.

                I don’t yet have a desire to meditate. But I recognize that I have other desires that might benefit from aspects of mediation, and so developing that desire is something I might pursue.

                What he’s really saying is that he has a modest desire to meditate and that he has a fantasy about it becoming manifest; but his fantasy desire doesn’t yet outweigh his inertia (which is the desire to remain still).

                I think Vaals problems are largely linguistic.

              • Posted May 2, 2015 at 6:35 am | Permalink

                Ben,
                Premise 2 is false. When a person contemplates options, they have representations R1 … Rn referring to (real or hypothetical) actions A1 … An. A genuine option is one with the following causal power: the person’s endorsement of Ri would cause Ai to occur.

                Adam is in jail. He debates between R1 “I will go shopping now”, R2 “I will use the toilet now,” and R3 “I will do some pushups.” The shopping is not a genuine option. If he endorses R1, no shopping will occur. But R2 and R3 are genuine options. Endorsement of R2 has the causal power to bring about A2; similarly R3. Causality is not an obstacle to genuine options, but underwrites them.

                Having only one genuine option isn’t implied by determinism. That would be fatalism.

              • Posted May 2, 2015 at 11:39 am | Permalink

                Paul, shopping is obviously not an option.

                But he can only use the toilet or do pushups at this moment in time. (And excluding an obviously unpleasantly messy alternative.)

                So, he will either use the toilet or do push-ups…and which he does will likely depend almost entirely on the current volume of his bladder.

                Can you construct hypotheticals in which there might be a situation in which the urge to do pushups is more urgent than the urge to empty a full bladder? Of course…

                …but, if that particular set of circumstances comes to pass, the prisoner will have no choice but to do the pushups instead.

                Again, you’re not describing the real world; you’re describing an imaginary space with an infinite array of prisoners, all identical (“all else being equal”) save for factors relating to the desire to pee or do pushups. In this imaginary space there exists unlimited possibilities of choice — but that space is imaginary.

                In the actual prison cell with the actual prisoner?

                Just one and only one of those imagined sets of conditions actually applies, and the decision inevitably follows from that set of conditions. “Well, sure, if I knew the Warden was going to give me time off for good behavior if he saw me doing pushups, I’d have waited to take that piss. But I didn’t know, so how could I have done otherwise?”

                b&

              • Posted May 2, 2015 at 11:18 am | Permalink

                Paul,
                Re: Reply (Apr25 1.54pm)
                Modern science may say that time and causality are theoretically bi-directional but, as I heard it, even Sean Carroll says this only occurs at microscopic levels and doesn’t happen at levels of human dimension.

                Re your latest reply (May2) to Ben:
                My interpretation of Determinism and hence its affect on choice cannot be the same as yours. Mine is that the choice of one of several real options has a cerebral cause, conditioned by perceived pertinent circumstances these being affected by the state of one’s body/brain, relevant memory recall and finally one’s reasoning powers. In that sense the final choice is the only possible effect of those combined causes. It probably cannot be accurately guessed beforehand, let alone be *known*. It is the only decision in fact that one can make.

                Nevertheless, it has to be a voluntary and conscious decision as far as the actor is concerned and he will not necessarily be aware of the above conditions as constraints on his decision or that there is only one possible action nor what that action will be. Because such a decision has to be a conscious action, made with intent and, certainly on the face of it probably does feel like freewill on his part, DOES NOT make it the actor’s truly-freely-taken action, -whether that be to rob a bank, to crash a jet or to refuse to eat meat as a point of principle.
                Is the divergence just that you differently conclude:
                Because such a decision has to be a conscious action, made with intent, DOES make it the actor’s truly-freely-taken action, -whether that be to rob a bank, to crash a jet or to refuse to eat meat as a point of principle.
                Thereby obtaining a sense of control that you feel (but I do not feel) is denied by Determinism.

              • Posted May 3, 2015 at 8:22 am | Permalink

                Ben,
                Let’s say the guard really does give time off for good behavior, where exercise counts as good behavior. So Adam does pushups, for good reasons. How does this nullify his options?

                A salt crystal sits on my dry kitchen table. The salt crystal is soluble. It has the causal power to dissolve in water. It has this causal power even while it is dry and causally determined to be dry. It has this power in the real world, not just an imaginary one. The imaginary world in which the salt is wetted is just our mental representation of the power that the salt, independently of our thoughts, has. This real power – which consists in certain arrangements and properties of the atoms – is what explains the fact that the salt crystal later, when the table is finally washed, does dissolve.

                Adam has the causal power to use the toilet. This consists in certain arrangements and properties of his neurons and muscles. He does not lose this power just because he decided to do pushups instead. He does not lose that power because he had good and sufficient reasons to do pushups instead.

                “The prisoner will have no choice but to do the pushups instead” is a non sequitur. You seem to be heading down the road to requiring an infinite regress. If Adam has to first choose to have his particular reasons to do pushups, before he can have a choice to do pushups, then something has gone wrong with your definition of choice.

              • Posted May 3, 2015 at 10:07 am | Permalink

                Paul, let’s take a less messy example than the prisoner for a moment, and then apply it back to the case of the prisoner.

                Imagine dropping a ball over a mountain ridge. Drop the ball far to the west of the ridge and the ball will inevitably wind up in the valley on the west; drop it far to the east and it comes to rest in the eastern valley.

                The closer you drop it to the actual ridge, those probabilities shift closer and closer to 50% / 50%, but never actually get there. Maybe you drop the ball perfectly aligned with the centerline of the ridge, but a slight breeze nudges it the one way. Maybe the ball bounces off the edge of the ridge, and the weight of the valve stem is enough to nudge it to that side.

                The same is true of the prisoner. Maybe he just woke up in the middle of the night with a full bladder and it doesn’t even occur to him to do pushups. Maybe five minutes later the guard sees him and threatens to shoot him if he doesn’t start doing pushups. In either case, the ball has been dropped miles to the east or west of the ridge and there’s no question about which action the prisoner will take with the circumstances being entirely in control. The poor guy, I think we would all agree, has absolutely no choice in either case.

                You’re arguing that free will magically enters the picture the close he gets to the ridge, where the slightest breeze could push him to the east or the west. Yet, it should be obvious that you’re confusing chaotic unpredictability with choice. Just as it was the imperceptible breeze that tipped the ball off the knife edge, it’s some other practically=trivial something-or-other that influences the prisoner’s ultimate course of action.

                Again, we all readily imagine an infinite array of options and can easily navigate that imaginary space from the one to the other. And that act of navigation is what you’re referring to as “exercising your free will,” but that navigation only ever happens in your imagination, never in the real world.

                You cannot, in fact, start to do some pushups and wish you had instead decided to pee first and jump to that alternate history where you really had started to pee first, only to discover that you would have been off after all in the history where you started with the pushups so you go back to that one. You can do that in your imagination, but not in reality.

                In reality, you land on the one side of the ridge or the other, with any “do-overs” being utterly irrelevant to previous experiences.

                b&

              • Posted May 3, 2015 at 9:42 am | Permalink

                mogguy,
                Sean Carroll is a compatibilist. This isn’t an argument from authority – there are smart people on both sides of C vs IC – but might suggest that entropic irreversibility, which he understands deeply, doesn’t refute compatibilism. If you want to continue this sub-thread, please watch the video by Jenann Ismael (0:54-1:39) on irreversibility and causality, because I can’t explain this stuff on my own. I’ll violate The Roolz with excessive verbosity, while doing a bad job of it to boot.

                Regarding my later comment, it is true as you say, the final choice is the only possible effect of those combined causes. But by the same fundamental causal laws – and more usefully! – those combined causes are the only possible earlier events derivable from the final choice. So go ahead and make your choice, being confident to let the earlier chips (have) fall(en) as they may. The earlier events will have gone along for the ride.

                Is the divergence just that you differently conclude:
                Because such a decision has to be a conscious action, made with intent, DOES make it the actor’s truly-freely-taken action

                That’s only part of it – the other part is that the decision is actually effective. It makes a difference what the person decides.

              • Posted May 5, 2015 at 5:31 am | Permalink

                Ben,
                In my scenario it’s already 100% certain (to an observer with sufficient evidence at hand) that Adam will do pushups, because he cares far more about the prison’s “time off for good behavior” policy than a brief bladder discomfort. Let’s also stipulate that Adam agrees in retrospect that, if you put him into the same situation a million times, he’d make the same choice every time. (I feel that way about some of the choices I’ve made – especially the best ones.) He still made a choice. The way to pushups leads through choice.

                (Now, if he hadn’t considered one of the options, he wouldn’t have made a choice. A choice is a weighing of options. But he’d still have had the option, and your premise 2 was about having options. You still haven’t rescued premise 2.)

                It’s not about trying to sneak probability through the back door! For goodness sakes, we compatibilists are compatibilists about determinism. How many times do we have to repeat that?

              • Posted May 5, 2015 at 9:13 am | Permalink

                Let’s also stipulate that Adam agrees in retrospect that, if you put him into the same situation a million times, he’d make the same choice every time.

                I fail to understand how the concept of “freedom” or “choice” can even hypothetically apply in a setting where all are agreed that there is only one possible outcome.

                As an infamous man once said, you can have your choice of any color you want, so long as it’s black.

                Again, your “freedom” is the “freedom” of the puppet to be happy with the direction it’s being pulled by the strings. If you’d go where your strings are pulling you, you’re free. If you’d prefer a different direction, you’re not free…but you’re still going in that direction, like it or not. How even this formulation of “freedom” is coherent I’m not sure…but, you must admit: it’s an awfully unfree freedom, no?

                b&

              • Posted May 5, 2015 at 9:28 am | Permalink

                Repeating what I’ve said elsewhere, the idea that one could have acted differently is rationalization for one’s feeling superior to another. It’s the excuse compatibalists give for making people “accountable,” whatever that may mean. There is no science behind compatibalism, it’s a religious position; it’s the way some people wish things to be to justify their behavior.

              • Posted May 5, 2015 at 11:51 am | Permalink

                I haven’t explored that alley of the discussion very much…it’s rather dark. I’d like to think Dennett is beyond that sort of thing, but I have a difficult time reconciling such hope with some of his other statements about the consequences of people realizing they don’t have the type of free will that’s not worth having….

                b&

              • Posted May 5, 2015 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

                Dennett is exactly the person I had in mind when I wrote that. I find him insufferably arrogant. (I presume he doesn’t read this.) He’s the guy going around telling the little people, “You can’t handle the truth,” as if he knew what the truth was. Anybody who believes in emergence has their own version of living through faith. What I can’t understand is how physicists tend to get caught up in emergence; “Look, guys, a new property emerged. We have no idea how it got here. Let’s say it was a miracle and call it ‘emergence.’”

              • Posted May 6, 2015 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

                Johan,
                Sorry I’m late getting back to you.

                Remember those physics diagrams of vectors? They had a dot representing the origin, with a line sprouting out of that, tipped with an arrowhead. Will is like a vector, with its origin dot in desire/emotion, just as you say, but its arrowhead is in action. The origin-point for a particular decision may be beyond the person’s control, but the arrowhead-point can still be free.

                I agree that when people shape their own desires, what this means is they shape their future desires. Based on their present desires – just as you say. No problem.

                We don’t need to choose our starting-point in order to choose our end-point. That would lead to an infinite regress. Acts of will start from desires, sure. Well, what else should they be based on?

                You say the history of the universe, couldn’t have been any different than the one we’ve had. But it could – the state of the universe at any one time is a boundary condition, not a law of physics. And if any state were different, then all other times would also be different (given determinism).

                Assertions of “couldn’t have” involve you in hypotheticals just as much as assertions of “could have” do. You can’t do modal logic without hypotheticals. And you can’t identify natural laws or causality, without modal logic.

              • Posted May 6, 2015 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

                Will is like a vector, with its origin dot in desire/emotion, just as you say, but its arrowhead is in action. The origin-point for a particular decision may be beyond the person’s control, but the arrowhead-point can still be free.

                There’s that word “free” again. Sort of undefined again. In this case, it means that the end point is as yet unknown. That doesn’t mean that it is free in any sense. “Not being known” is not synonymous with “free.” Will does not have its origin in desire/emotion, it is synonymous with desire/emotion. It’s another word for the same force. The concept of “free” has nothing to do with wills/desires/emotions, nothing at all. A desire can’t be free or not free; they aren’t qualities that it can have. It’s meaningless in that context. It’s like asking, what is the color of pain?

                Assertions of “couldn’t have” involve you in hypotheticals just as much as assertions of “could have” do.

                That’s an illusion. We know how the universe is; it had to be this way; anything else is hypothetical, but not the way it is. It is the way it is. To say that it could have been any other way, is meaningless. It could only have been the way it was. What is allowable under the known laws of physics is irrelevant to what actually happened; and about that there was, and is, not choice. Reality has always only been one way; there are no options to the way things turned out. Nothing in the universe, from an exploding star to your morning dump could have been avoided or any other way. Nothing in the universe has ever had two results, theory be damned. It just hasn’t happened. What you see is what you get.

                “Modal logic”? What in the heck is that, and what does it have to do with free emotions? I have a hard time believing you’re still arguing for free emotions. But then again, you haven’t responded to the problems distinguishing between observer and participant in an action; that was covered in earlier notes. Apparently, you don’t see that as a fatal flaw in your comprehension. The very essence of why having options is not that same as having unhindered choice. You, apparently, remain under the illusion that, if presented with a task of choosing a card from a deck of fifty-two, that the selector could choose any of the fifty-two; when, of course, only one card can be chosen. No matter what card gets chosen in the end, it’s the only one that could be chosen; that’s they way history works: it’s perfect as it is and could only have happened that way. To think that one knows how it could have been different is hubris. One can’t possibly know anything of the sort; one can only know what happened.

                I agree that when people shape their own desires, what this means is they shape their future desires.

                But you are aware that when “people shape their own desire” that it is another desire which is doing the shaping, right? One can’t manufacture the desire to have a desire.

                When I see you respond to me or ben or mogguy, I see you looking in from the outside. I see you viewing action from a distance and making pronouncements on how you think it could have gone otherwise. I think what the rest of us—me, at least—are trying to tell you is that things look different from the inside; it’s that difference between being the observer versus the participant. If you’re able to see from both sides, you can see that having options is not the same as the options having equal value. Even for those fifty-two cards, one had a value above all the others; it’s the one that got chosen. You’ve stated that you can’t see the difference, and I believe you; but I’m at a loss as to how to help you understand it. It’s as if I’m trying to explain color to a color-blind person. If one can’t see the colors, there’s no way they’ll understand their reality.

              • Posted May 7, 2015 at 6:10 am | Permalink

                You say to Johan: “And if any state were different, then all other times would also be different (given determinism).”
                Let’s rearrange that:
                Given determinism, all other times would be different IF any state (i.e. boundary condition) were different.
                That’s a mighty big IF, isn’t it? I don’t see how such a flight of fancy rationally challenges Johan’s concept that the Universe is how it IS because that’s how it WAS.

                Referring to Sean Carroll’s blog you linked: “Free Will Is as Real as Baseball”
                http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/07/13/free-will-is-as-real-as-baseball/
                Two statements from it
                1. “The microscopic laws of physics (as far as we know) are perfectly reversible; evolution forward in time is no different from evolution backward in time.”
                As far as we know!?
                2. “But the macroscopic world is manifestly characterized by irreversibility.”
                Since human behaviour is ALL macroscopic what is the relevance of Statement 1. to freewill anyway?

              • Posted May 7, 2015 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                I did go read Sean’s blog as linked to:

                We can be perfectly orthodox materialists and yet believe in free will, if what we mean by that is that there is a level of description that is useful in certain contexts and that includes “autonomous agents with free will” as crucial ingredients. That’s the “variety of free will worth having,” as Daniel Dennett would put it.

                Ya gotta hand it to Sean Carroll for being one heck of a likable guy. Even reading him, you can hear his cheery voice and pleasant countenance. No wonder we send him out to battle for atheism.

                But he does carry on. He, too, likes to throw out undefined terms with hopes that we’ll all quietly agree that we know and he knows what he’s talking about. “Autonomous agents with free will”; sounds good, doesn’t it? “Autonomous agents,: that’s us. “Free will,” that’s, that’s,… What the heck was that, again? Where is the “free” in that “will,” Sean?

                Oops, he skipped that part. Well, we all know what “free” is, right? No? You mean there might be confusion? Aren’t we right back to that “free emotion”? How can there be “free emotion”? Sean’s a physicist, not a linguist.

                Free will as an emergent phenomenon can be perfectly compatible with an underlying materialist view of the world,

                If we don’t know what “free will” can possibly mean, we always have “free will as an emergent phenomenon.” If one undefined term is good, two are better. “Emergent phenomenon.” Oh yeah, isn’t that where Sean says, “We have no fucking idea where this phenomenon came from, so we’ll just say it emerged. That oughta cover it.”

                Someone ought to tell the physicists (and cosmologists) that those little fundamental laws only cover the micro world; other than that, they don’t explain diddly. To toss everything else off as unexplained “emergence” is ducking the question. Oh yeah? Emerge from where? How? What’s the mechanism? Just “emerged”? That’s good enough for you?

                Muddled talk? Meaningless gibberish? “Free will worth having”? Come, come, guys! Free will is worth every penny you’ve paid for it.

                Earlier times are fixed, while we can still influence later times.

                Oops, he just stepped off another cliff. What he wants to say is that we don’t know what happens in later times (sometimes called “the future”). Exactly who or what is influencing those later times, is not as well understood. “We” is, perhaps, a little too vague a term. But if you leave the phrase as Sean has written it, it leads almost automatically into the individual having conscious control over the future. Maybe, maybe not. It becomes a problem when you begin to base further arguments on loose assumptions such as this. If we don’t know exactly what he’s taking about here, how can we trust his later conclusions?

                Given our lack of complete microscopic information, the question we should be asking is, “does the best theory of human beings include an element of free choice?”

                No, we shouldn’t be asking that question until we know what he means by “free choice.” How does the concept of “free choice” fit into a theory of human beings? A theory of human beings? What does that mean? This slope is not only slippery, it’s getting greased.

                I’ll quit here; you get the picture. As I said, I like Sean; but sometimes I have no idea what he’s talking about.

              • Posted May 7, 2015 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                Johan,
                “Will” has two related meanings. In one, it’s just desire. That’s the one you focus on. In the other meaning, it’s a choice of an action. That’s the meaning I’m focusing on, precisely because “free will” makes more sense with that meaning. I think that, given a choice of how we interpret people who use a word or term, we should take the interpretation that makes more sense!

                You say “In this case, [‘free’] means that the end point is as yet unknown.” It does imply that, but it means more than that, it means that it’s up to you. Your action has a cause, and the cause is you. And if you haven’t decided yet, that is why the end point is yet unknown. If you don’t yet know enough about the cause (i.e. about yourself) you can’t predict the effect.

                I enthusiastically agree that the observer perspective differs from the participant perspective. But I think you have it exactly backwards how this affects free will judgments. From the participant perspective, free will is especially clear, and so is its compatibility with determinism. Since I as a decision maker know that I am a key cause in bringing about my future action, I know that no action can happen without my consent. If someone gave me a prediction, supposedly based on a deterministic causal calculation, that X is what I will “inevitably” do next, I could defy that prediction.

                It’s only from the observer’s perspective, that it can seem that I “have to” do X. The observer can think this, if he makes a subtle logical mistake. He knows that he has to conclude that Paul will do X, if he has sufficient information about the prior state of the universe and knows the causal laws, and can calculate X. So he is compelled, if he wants to get it right, to (silently) predict X. But I’m not. Suppose I announce my decision out loud. If I announce I’ll do X, I’ll do X; if I announce I’ll do Y, I’ll do Y. Unlike the observer, I have a choice. What is true of the observer need not be true of the participant.

              • Posted May 7, 2015 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

                What is true of the observer need not be true of the participant.

                Are you channelling Deepak Chopra?

                Because what you wrote, especially that last sentence, comes across exactly like one of his “we are the authors of our own realities” deepities.

                Do you agree that there is but one objective reality, regardless of the fact that different perspectives can cause it to appear different in different settings?

                Because, if there really is one and only one objective reality, then that ultimate sentence of yours that I quoted can’t possibly be correct.

                And, indeed, it’s both the most oft-repeated conclusion and most significant assumption of science: universality. We’ve yet to actually find evidence of a breakdown of universality, and so much of what we know would be invalidated were universality to not hold. If we are to learn anything from science, it is that what is true of the observer must be true of the participant.

                Yes, even in different frames such as in Relativity. Clocks tick slower in the high-energy frame than the low-energy frame…but, if you’re in the high-energy frame, you see the clocks ticking as much faster in the low-energy frame as somebody in the low-energy frame sees your high-energy frame’s clocks tick slower; it’s just two different perspectives on the exact same reality.

                b&

              • Posted May 7, 2015 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

                “Will” has two related meanings. In one, it’s just desire. That’s the one you focus on. In the other meaning, it’s a choice of an action.

                I’m one of those “yeah, but” guys. But the example you gave doesn’t distinguish kinds of will. One makes a choice because one desires one choice versus another; it’s still a desire, just like any other desire. Making a choice is expressing a desire, simple as that.

                From the participant perspective, free will is especially clear, and so is its compatibility with determinism. Since I as a decision maker know that I am a key cause in bringing about my future action, I know that no action can happen without my consent.

                I beg to differ. I don’t see where free will is evident to the participant. I see where making a choice is necessary, but I see a process in making a choice. Process implies no free choice. The freedom comes from the observer who doesn’t have to make the choice and just sees what happens. They have no idea what process the participant used. As far as they’re concerned, the choice was freely made, because they don’t know how it was made. The participant, on the other hand, is acutely aware of having to weigh and balance things; and in the end, it’s their subconscious which makes the decision, anyway, and all the deliberation was just window dressing.

                All behavior is innate and unconscious. Consciousness is merely a tool that evolved for real-time functioning. Consciousness is merely the input and output devises; the real work is invisible.

                It’s only from the observer’s perspective, that it can seem that I “have to” do X. The observer can think this, if he makes a subtle logical mistake. He knows that he has to conclude that Paul will do X, if he has sufficient information about the prior state of the universe and knows the causal laws, and can calculate X. So he is compelled, if he wants to get it right, to (silently) predict X. But I’m not. Suppose I announce my decision out loud. If I announce I’ll do X, I’ll do X; if I announce I’ll do Y, I’ll do Y. Unlike the observer, I have a choice.

                I’ll confess, you lost me here. The observers never have sufficient information about the state of the universe to make predictions. They can never predict what Paul will do. Paul can’t predict what he’ll do, either. He may not know until he actually makes the choice; and even then he’ll not know why he made the choice he made. Paul, of course, had no choice; he followed whatever his desire told him to do. Hopefully, he desired a good choice, but not necessarily. And of course, for that functionality I was talking about, Paul has to think that he made the choice; but we know that’s an illusion; we know that Paul can’t see himself think.

                So, we’re back to square one: you can’t choose your desires; you can’t will your will. To be sure, many desires operate at the same time, so none is guaranteed victory; but the victor will be a desire, an emotion, not a logical conclusion. One may use logical conclusions to boost or verify a desire, but not to create one; they operate by themselves.

              • Posted May 7, 2015 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

                Ben,
                The fact that there’s an objective reality doesn’t mean we’re all in the same situation. If you go see a dance show, does that necessarily mean that you, the observer, are also dancing?? Talk about channeling Deepak Chopra!

                When I say the participant has a choice and the observer doesn’t, that’s no more contradictory than saying the dancer has a dance and the observer doesn’t.

                Regarding your other comment,

                I’m sorry…but if there’s only one actual outcome, doesn’t that, by definition, mean that any other outcomes are impossible?

                Compare this “logic” pondered by Aristotle (cited here):

                Two admirals, A and B, are preparing their navies for a sea battle tomorrow. The battle will be fought until one side is victorious. But the ‘laws’ of the excluded middle (no third truth-value) and of noncontradiction (not both truth-values), mandate that one of the propositions, ‘A wins’ and ‘B wins’, is true (always has been and ever will be) and the other is false (always has been and ever will be). Suppose ‘A wins’ is today true. Then whatever A does (or fails to do) today will make no difference; similarly, whatever B does (or fails to do) today will make no difference: the outcome is already settled.

                The last sentence is a non sequitur. It involves a tricky logical mistake, discussed on that website, called the modal scope fallacy. I think you’re committing it.

              • Posted May 8, 2015 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

                When I say the participant has a choice and the observer doesn’t, that’s no more contradictory than saying the dancer has a dance and the observer doesn’t.

                That’s not where the contradiction lies.

                The contradiction is where you claim that there’s a choice to be had but admit that there is but one possible outcome.

                There is no possibility for any appearance of any digit other than, “3,” in the decimal expansion of the expression, “1/3.” What you’re doing is the equivalent of saying that a computer that is properly programmed to calculate that expression has a choice of the digits to report.

                And your example from Aristotle is a classic demonstration of fatalism. The Fates have decreed that A will win, even if A and B perversely conspire to thwart the Fates and ensure a win for B. I reject fatalism outright.

                The proper analogy is that of a Rube Goldberg contraption. You might not be able to tell what it’s going to do until after it does its thing, but there is exactly one and only one thing that it will do.

                b&

              • Posted May 7, 2015 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

                mogguy,

                I saw in another post that you’re a fellow gearhead. I got my MS in Mech Eng in 2001. No wonder I instinctively like you.

                Given determinism, all other times would be different IF any state (i.e. boundary condition) were different. Yes, that’s a big IF, but the human brain seems to be designed in part to ponder big ifs. If I attack this wild boar by myself, I could get killed. If I get my tribe to help, we’ll prevail easily, and there’ll still be plenty of meat for me. Option B it is! Every decision ponders alternate histories for the universe, at least the local part of the universe, which is enough to make it an alternate history. At most one of these histories will be realized, but which one it is depends on the very process of pondering them.

                And this choice-process must be doing something very good for us, from an evolutionary point of view. Else it would not have evolved. It sucks down way too many calories to be mere genetic drift.

                Every human action is macroscopic, but macroscopic irreversibility hangs on macroscopic descriptions like temperature, pressure, entropy etc where certain microscopic details are ignored. If we filled those details back in to our picture, and remembered about CPT invariance, we’d see that the detailed past is not independent of the present, any more than the present is independent of the past.

                What this has to do with free will is extremely tricky, and I’ve given up trying to explain it. (I don’t even know if Sean himself sees this angle.) Watch the Jenann Ismael video that I linked earlier, and especially the last few slides. And then think really hard about whether she’s right. I think she is.

              • Posted May 8, 2015 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

                Given determinism, all other times would be different IF any state (i.e. boundary condition) were different. Yes, that’s a big IF, but the human brain seems to be designed in part to ponder big ifs. If I attack this wild boar by myself, I could get killed. If I get my tribe to help, we’ll prevail easily, and there’ll still be plenty of meat for me. Option B it is! Everydecision ponders alternate histories for the universe, at least the local part of the universe, which is enough to make it an alternate history. At most one of these histories will be realized, but which one it is depends on the very process of pondering them.

                Yes, you’ve put your finger on the process that many equate with, “free will.”

                Your problem lies in two false assumptions.

                First, you fail to realize that all those alternate universes are entirely encapsulated within your skull and don’t exist anywhere else. That universe where you attack the boar without support and die is every bit as imaginary as the universe in which you develop godlike powers and strike the boar down with a thunderbolt.

                Second, you fail to realize that the very construction of those alternate universes in your brain is itself a purely mechanistic and deterministic process, simply the workings of a very elaborate Rube Goldberg machine.

                This analytical ability of being able to construct virtual realities in which we explore the supposed consequences of various actions before committing to one…it’s a very, very powerful tool. But, ultimately, it’s just a feedback loop and no more “free” than the squeal coming out of a speaker with a microphone held too closely to it.

                b&

              • Johan Mathiesen
                Posted May 8, 2015 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

                While it’s tangential to the discussion at hand, I’m intrigued by the interest and eminence of physicists and cosmologists in the free will debate, as the issue doesn’t rest on a knowledge of physics or even the physics being correct. In the end, it remains a linguistic problem: one of definition. By definition, emotions—which a “will/wish” is—cannot be free in any sense anymore than the morning breeze can be free.

              • Posted May 9, 2015 at 11:43 am | Permalink

                Johan and Ben,
                I’m combining replies because the subjects overlap, and I’m trying to be brief. As the only compatibilist left in a discussion that has a ways left to go, I feel like I’m contributing too much to one discussion, pushing the envelope of Da Roolz. I’ll try to wind this down, by saying less and less of what I’d want to say, each round.

                Johan is right that the observers never have sufficient information about the state of the universe to predict an action. At least, so far. But I think some incompatibilists reason that “the truth is out there”, to quote an old TV show. The information exists, even if it’s inaccessible. So the observer reasons, “if only I had access to that information, I’d have to conclude that Paul will do some particular thing, call it X.”

                But “have to” is situational. The observer has to predict one particular thing, because he’s tracking my decision (albeit at a different level of description, e.g. neural rather than biographical). His situation doesn’t apply to me. If he concludes “X is the only possible outcome, for everyone” – as Ben does – he’s overgeneralizing.

                In describing/deciding my own future life, I’m involved in so-called “paradoxes of self-reference”. Really there’s nothing paradoxical there. Even if the observer perfects his fMRI technology and brings me a computer printout which predicts my action, I can do whatever I want. If I believe he really can predict my action, I still do whatever I want, confident that that’s what the printout will say I’m doing. I can do this because I’m the cause of that action. Self-reference doesn’t require indeterminism.

                Johan says “Process implies no free choice.” I just don’t get that. “Process” is an extremely broad category.

                Ben compares an unchosen option to stab the boar with one’s spear without aid from one’s tribe, to an unchosen “option” to strike the boar down with a thunderbolt. But there’s a difference: the first is a genuine option, in the sense I defined previously. Yes, that scenario exists nowhere but in the decision maker’s brain, but that’s not exactly news, now is it? Imaginary scenarios are a powerful tool, and an important reason for the success of birds and mammals, as well as humans in particular.

                And no, I don’t fail to realize that the construction of scenarios in one’s brain is a deterministic process. That’s a given; that’s what compatibilism is about.

                Interestingly, Ben admits that I’ve put my finger on the process that many equate with “free will.” Here’s a simple elegant explanation for why many people make that equation: because that’s what free will means. At least, some hypothesis in that neighborhood, should be your go-to interpretation.

              • Posted May 9, 2015 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

                If he concludes “X is the only possible outcome, for everyone” – as Ben does – he’s overgeneralizing.

                That is most emphatically not my position. Indeed, it is the absolute opposite of my position. Either I’ve done an incredibly miserable job of stating my position or you’ve spectacularly misunderstood it.

                Of course different outcomes are not merely possible, but expected for different people. Alice like chocolate; Bob likes vanilla. Put Alice and Bob in two identical rooms with a choice between chocolate and vanilla, and Alice picks the chocolate and Bob the vanilla.

                This is no different from me explicitly rejecting the fatalism you’ve also accused me of. There are no fates who decree that you shall die at the hand of a man not born of woman who will see to that fact, even if you think you’ve successfully dodged all those born of caesarian section.

                I’ll try one last time. In any given actual (not imagined) instance, the combination of circumstances will result in a particular outcome without room for wiggle room. Different circumstances might result in a different outcome, but each set of circumstances will have its own singular outcome associated with it. It’s a true function; input this set of circumstances and you get the indicated outcome, and the only way to change the outcome is to change the circumstances. And all your own examples of how things could have been differently involve changing the circumstances, even as you protest that either the circumstances aren’t changing or that the change in circumstances is somehow irrelevant.

                Yes, that scenario exists nowhere but in the decision maker’s brain, but that’s not exactly news, now is it?

                So, “free will” exists solely in the imagination, not in reality — just like the gods. That’s exactly what us incompatibilists have been arguing from the beginning! That “free will” is not real, that it doesn’t actually exist, that it is, at best, a fantastic product of the imagination.

                Here’s a simple elegant explanation for why many people make that equation: because that’s what free will means.

                But this decision-making process isn’t at all free. It’s the married bachelor who turns out to never have gotten married after all, so why are we describing him as “married”?

                b&

            • Posted May 5, 2015 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

              Ben,
              We don’t all agree that there is only one possible outcome. There is only one reasonable outcome, which fits with the strength of Adam’s reasons in favor of each option, and that’s why he’d do pushups every time. And there is only one actual outcome, but that’s true regardless of determinism.

              From “100% chance of pushups” it doesn’t follow that “Adam can’t do anything else.” It only follows that he won’t do anything else. Which is different.

              Do you have a reference for Dennett’s alleged worries about what will happen if people find out they lack a kind of free will that isn’t worth wanting? I haven’t heard that one.

              • Posted May 5, 2015 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

                I’m not sure to whom you are addressing the question regarding Bennett as you’ve responded to my comments, but addressed your comments to Ben, so… And you haven’t responded to my previous note, so this may be getting out of order, but we’ll go with it anyway.

                By now you’ve figured out that there can’t be free emotions, free desires, or free wills; they don’t come in those flavors, so it’s pointless to keep hammering away at them. Free will is an undefined religious concept serving to justify one’s attitudes regarding others. It has no substantial reality. It’s a mythical concept like god; it has no real existence.

                But back to Dennett. The best laying out of his opinion that the little people can’t take the truth came at a two-day, naturalism conference that Sean Carroll organized (or at least moderated) a few years back. Another of the attendees was Jerry Coyne, which was the first time I ran across him. He was, I thought, the most lucid of the attendees. It’s a lot of watching for the entire two days, but interesting, if you like that sort of thing. If you do watch it, pay particular attention to how the seating arrangements change during the two days, and how people sit vis-à-vis the others; pay attention to their body language. That was much more fascinating that what was actually said. Jerry sat pretty much the whole time in the same chair and was somewhat isolated from the others. Dan Dennett did his best Burl Ives imitation, the kindly uncle out there to protect us little folk.

              • Posted May 7, 2015 at 10:54 am | Permalink

                We don’t all agree that there is only one possible outcome. There is only one reasonable outcome, which fits with the strength of Adam’s reasons in favor of each option, and that’s why he’d do pushups every time. And there is only one actual outcome, but that’s true regardless of determinism.

                I’m sorry…but if there’s only one actual outcome, doesn’t that, by definition, mean that any other outcomes are impossible? How could there be more than one possible outcome if only one outcome is actually possible?

                Do you have a reference for Dennett’s alleged worries about what will happen if people find out they lack a kind of free will that isn’t worth wanting? I haven’t heard that one.

                Not at hand, but Jerry’s made frequent reference to it here, pretty much any time the subject has come up.

                b&

              • Posted May 7, 2015 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

                The Dennett stuff can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ju4C_ITlBsU. It’s a two-day conference, so enjoy the wade through. Pay attention to body language.

          • Posted April 25, 2015 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

            Paul,
            I did not go to yours as this site still seems happy to allow us to contribute further.

            You say: “There is no One Right Answer, independent of his own decision, that the decision maker must get right.”

            There is only *One Answer*, -his causally-determined decision. Whether it is Right is unknown and in the future.

            And I, too, was puzzled by the difference you claim exists between the bad physics of intuitive causality and the good physics of modern science ditto in regard to evolved life and human behaviour especially and even macro events in general.
            With Ben, I would be interested to see the Sun un-rising other than by running a video backwards.

            • Posted April 26, 2015 at 8:19 am | Permalink

              mogguy,
              For the decision maker, there isn’t only One Answer. He could give either answer and be right. If he decides “I will water my lawn today” he will be correct: he will water the lawn. If he decides “I will not water my lawn today” he will be correct! The truth causally depends on his decision – which isolates him from the need to “predict” what “fate has in store”.

              Note that this does not apply to others predicting the gardener’s action. If you want to predict what he does, you need to learn the causes, and for you, there is only One Answer. Just don’t project your situation onto him.

              On time/causality, watch the short Sean Carroll video I linked for Ben. Better yet, read everything of Sean’s you can get.

              • Posted April 26, 2015 at 11:34 am | Permalink

                Paul,
                You give a peculiar meaning to “answer”.
                The gardener has two choices : he can either water his lawn or not water his lawn. He has a problem for which he can select one answer. If at 4.30pm he decides “I will water my lawn today” there is *the* answer. The other choice he rejects was not an answer.
                If in fact at 7.30pm he goes ahead and waters the lawn then what he decided at 4.30pm took place and at 7.30pm becomes historically true/correct.
                I fail to see how causal determination needs the decision-maker (at 4.30pm) to “predict” what “fate has in store” (from 7.30pm on). And any unexpected (external cause), e.g. a downpour of rain at 6.30pm, might affect his original determined decision: until he actually waters the lawn it hasn’t happened.

                None of which seems to help prove that his decision was made using his freewil.

              • Posted April 26, 2015 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

                mogguy,
                If you agree that the gardener can choose either to water his lawn or not, and you agree that the actual action depends on that choice, then you’re agreeing that he acts of his own free will – in substance, if not in name. You can call it “not free will” if you want but that’s what everyone else means by the term. The whole point of compatibilism, is that even if determinism is completely true, it does not undermine our self-concept as decision makers. The whole point is that causal determination doesn’t need the decision-maker to “predict” his own actions. He can still decide them.

              • Posted April 27, 2015 at 9:48 am | Permalink

                If you agree that the gardener can choose either to water his lawn or not, and you agree that the actual action depends on that choice

                Paul, that’s exactly what we don’t agree with.

                The freedom you describe only makes sense within the analytical construct of, “all else being equal.” However, all else is never actually equal — and it’s those inequalities that actually determine what happens.

                “All else being equal,” I’ll water the lawn today. It’s looking a bit dry, and there’s no sign of rain in the forecast. But maybe you get called away on some other urgent errand before you can actually grab the hose, or maybe there’s a freak rainstorm, maybe you get distracted looking up watering guidelines for grass and going down a Wikipedia rabbit hole into the differences between C3 and C4 metabolism, and so on. Or maybe you actually go ahead and water the lawn if none of the “elses” are more equal than your desire to water the lawn.

                “All else being equal” is a wonderful analytical tool…but it’s really just another spherical cow. Great for certain types of analysis — perhaps even the overwhelming majority of analyses. But it’s also one of those analytical tools that are patently obviously not accurate; merely useful.

                …just like a flat map you might spread on the table to use to aid you in navigating the fractally-dynamic oblate spheroid surface of the Earth….

                b&

              • Posted April 27, 2015 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

                Ben, I know you don’t agree with (either of?) the two points of agreement proposed, but it sounded like mogguy did.

  30. Posted April 23, 2015 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Good morning Johan,
    It seems, so far, we do satisfy “Da Roolz”: less than 10% (of a very long Post), less than 600 words/comment. I’m happy to keep going and hope that some others are at least interested even without participating on page.

    “mogguy”: my name is Arthur Morris, (bowing to Da Roolz), and way back at school, Moggy, (also commonly used for a cat) was my nickname. WordPress me asked for 6+ letters so I stuck in a ”u”.

    IMHO (I, too, feel that almost all of my statements should start that way) to say something is a value judgment is an academic philosophical euphemism for saying “That’s just an opinion”. IMHVJ one attraction of Jerry’s own contributions here and elsewhere is his forthright expression of his opinions.

    You said: “It’s not necessarily true, as Sam would suggest, that moral behavior is that which helps people “thrive.” That’s a value judgement, not a scientific one.”
    True, it’s Sam’s opinion but has not the way you express it carried an undertone that (IYHO) he is wrong?

    To say “It’s not necessarily untrue, as Sam etc.” is there not a slightly different nuance?

    That for a human to opine “It is desirable for the human species that the human species should thrive” cannot rationally be up for argument, can it? The problem is *what* will keep it thriving in the future.
    Since science helps build successful bridges which will work by using past experience I agree with Sam that a scientific approach to determining moral behaviour is credible. It *can* help to rationally determine what is likely to effect moral behaviour. Darwin was a well-built reliable “bridge”, a sadistic psycho is neither well-built nor reliable and is safer “closed off”.

    When I said “Throwing oneself off a cliff is morally worse than a medically-assisted easeful death.” I did not say they were *wrong*. I had chosen my words carefully but I overlooked the hidden nuance: should I have said “A medically-assisted easeful death is morally much better than throwing oneself off a cliff.”?

    I would like to pursue the nature of the difference between “emotionally” and “intellectually, -unconscious thinking and conscious thinking….

    • Posted April 23, 2015 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      As usual, we seem to be in agreement about most everything (so far).

      As to Sam Harris, it’s not so much a matter of my disagreeing with him about what would make people thrive; I just don’t believe everyone would say the same things make them thrive. I’m thinking, in particular of religious fundamentalists who might think that the most important thing for a person to do is prepare their way into heaven; which might include, just for instance, killing their apostate neighbor. One might ask are there better or worse ways to kill ones apostate neighbor? and science can weigh in there; but science can’t decide that it’s a good or bad idea to kill ones neighbor (yeah, value judgements are opinions). Sam didn’t cover all the bases when he made his judgement. Sam speaks as if he knew that there was an objective standard for thriving; and I don’t see that there is. He likes to compare it to being healthy, but I don’t find them equivalents. I think it’s a lot easier to get disparate people to agree on what’s healthy than on what “thriving” means. Sam’s statement is an unproven premise, and everything he says after that relies on that unproven premise. It doesn’t mean that what he says afterwards is necessarily not true; it just means it’s not proven to be true. He makes a logical slip; although, as far as I can tell, he doesn’t address that issue. I’ve asked him to, but he’s yet to respond.

      Perhaps you could expand on your final comment; “I would like to pursue the nature of the difference between “emotionally” and “intellectually”—unconscious thinking and conscious thinking.”

      Not that it necessarily impinges on the issue, but I question the separation between innate and “willful,” as it were. Is thought—conversation, say—less innate that pulling ones hand back in reaction to pain, say? In the midst of normal conversation, how aware is one of what they are going to say before they say it? Who has thought their way to a eureka moment? Are not the machinations which led to the eureka moment hidden from view? Choose a color. How did the color you chose pop into your head? Could there be non-innate behavior in a determinist world?

      • Posted April 25, 2015 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        Johan,
        You said (22Apr) “The moral overtone is an emotional response, not intellectual.”

        In fact I think moral overtones can be either or jointly both. These being two different forms of mental reasoning to output desired action, but both are comparable mental reasoning processes, both are “thinking”.
        (1) “intellectual” being complex, slower and conscious reasoning.
        (2) “emotional” being simple, rapid and unconscious reasoning.
        “Emotions” reasoned! How can that be?
        Simple: a rational choice has in fact been made.
        (1) Unconscious thought, from reflexes up to the most human of (basic) emotions are rapid urgent/vital body/brain survival one-only reactions, made in an instant, using an evolved, naturally-selected-inherited ready-made reason.
        (2) Conscious thought evolved in complex life where simple one-only reaction is inadequate, -even dangerous. It takes over in situations where several viable alternatives are available. It takes longer to perform when incorporating basic naturally-selected-inherited-memory and is moderated by learned-experience-memory. It can usually give better survival prospects.

        (IMHO!) It is this latter multi-selectional type of mental processing that we experience as “consciousness”. (An historic philosophical conundrum solved already?)

        Sometimes behaviour is just an instant and unconscious mentally-justified reflex. In humans, *moral* behaviour is more often a consciously mentally-justified (but nevertheless causally-determined) choice from alternatives.

        • Posted April 25, 2015 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think we have much of a debate here; it’s more a matter of perspective. Basically, I think people think about everything all the time. I don’t know how much other animals think or how they do it. I’m sure that it doesn’t start with us, but we complicate it vastly. So those “moral overtones,” or whatever they are, probably don’t start with us, either. I’m not sure how moral overtones differ from morals. In any event, we temper all our emotions with thought; sometimes not so much; sometimes too much. But the emotions precede the thought. Obviously, since many animals apparently have emotions, they probably have some sort of thought process to deal with them, as well. I don’t quite see that emotions lead to automatic responses, but they do arise spontaneously.

          In the long run, I feel that all behavior is innate; isn’t that a necessity of determinism? And in our consciousness, we simply see part of the thinking process; albeit only the results, not the mechanisms.

          As far as I can tell, consciousness is merely the monitor; it’s what happens after the brain has put together the inputs, but it’s not the putting together, itself. The reason why it evolved the sense of immediate self that it has, I suspect, is for functionality. It’s quicker, if the monitor thinks it’s doing the thinking; it saves the step of translation. I would think that from the very inception of life, there had to be a control mechanism to coordinate and make us of the various inputs. That’s what I think of as consciousness; I think it evolved along with the rest of life. As one moves up the chain, it becomes more explicit and manifest, but functionally it remains the same.

          I think. I think that, mainly because I can’t figure out an alternative.

          But I’d agree with your assessment.

  31. Posted April 27, 2015 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Ben, Johan and Paul
    We’ve been upstaged by Jerry’s new exhaustive post.
    May join you over there.
    Mogguy

  32. Posted April 28, 2015 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Paul,
    It might have sounded to your compatibilist ears that I had agreed but you were quite mistaken.
    Compatibilism is a precise definition and does not equate to its normal colloquial meaning. I will agree that the sun rises in the east knowing full well that it doesn’t.

    I still think it’s the way that we consciously select our choice from alternatives that this feels to us as though we are in “control”.

    Still pursuing Sean Carroll and two-directional Time(?) -interesting.

  33. Posted May 1, 2015 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    This thread system! I seem to be talking to myself here. I wished to agree with Johan’s May1 reply to Paul which is buried in a long thread that began on Apr16!(Comment 29: paultorek)
    As there is no “Reply” available immediately below Johan’s May1 this reply becomes ostensibly yet another fresh Comment on the Original Post.

    Johan (May1): agreed. Free causally-determined action seems a contradiction in philosophical terms.

    However-

    Compatibilism and Incompatibilism both accept a choice of action has been made and both accept there has been causality, so what’s the difference? Perhaps stating the obvious, from Jerry’s many Posts and most of the various Comments, the important difference is the outcome. That is, how one views and assesses the responsibility/accountability laid on the actor who acted as he did and what should be society’s appropriate response to deal with him and the action’s results.

    (1) The compatibilist stance “he could have done otherwise” will presently suggest, for some (most?) people, the actor can thus be held accountable.

    (2) The incompatibilist stance “he could not have done otherwise” will presently suggest, for some (most?) people, at least a reduced accountability, -even exonerates the actor completely.

    But should not both the opposing views 1 & 2 similarly allow for all mitigating circumstances to alleviate society’s responses and the appropriate treatment and/or meting the appropriate punishment?

    I can’t see why these alleviated responses should not be identical; neither opinion need necessarily endorse brutal inhumane punishment. At least, that should be the case for rational naturalists/secularists, -though it may not be the case for some people who hold un-naturalist irrational beliefs and use prescriptive faulty moral codes. But even when there were mighty few secularists around, Shakespeare wrote: “The quality of mercy is not strained, … it is twice blessed…”

    Social communal behaviour is paramount for our totally interdependent groupings to survive whatever beliefs and opinions one holds. Anti-social anti-communal behaviour is detrimental and any perpetrator is effectively an enemy of the rest of us. It hardly matters whether the action was freely-made & blame-worthy or determined & blame-free.

    • Posted May 1, 2015 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      Many thanks, mogguy, for trying to educate me. I am, unfortunately, one of the lesser-gifted lights and much slips past me.

      the important difference is the outcome. That is, how one views and assesses the responsibility/accountability laid on the actor who acted as he did and what should be society’s appropriate response to deal with him and the action’s results.

      I’m wondering if by “outcome” you meant “how the outcome is treated/considered”?

      Perhaps, where I get lost is in the use of the term “compatible.” Compatible with what? My understanding is that it means that “free will is compatible with determinism.” That those are what are compatible. But that entails a contradiction in terms; so I figure I must be interpreting it incorrectly.

      The compatibilist stance “he could have done otherwise”…

      That very statement denies determinism, as far as I can tell. If he could have done otherwise, his actions weren’t determined. It comes down to that I don’t see what the compatibilists are talking about at all, because I have no idea what free will could possibly be; so how can anything be compatible with something that’s incomprehensible? It’s gibberish to talk about free will, in my mind. I can’t figure out how it could possibly work. (I’m saying this thinking you’re an incompatibilist; I’m not arguing, just stating my comprehension, limited as it is.) (I think of the compatibalists as the mystic-naturalists.)

      So, it sort of comes down to the meaning of “accountable.” “Accountable” is different from “perpetrator,” it would seem. “Perpetrator” identifies who did the act, “accountable” seems to have an element of “fessing up” to it. It just seems to me that the issue of what causes crime is so complex that it’s best to not start out with the idea of accountability; because, usually, a lot of different parties are, or should be, accountable. Better to go for what works than for who’s to blame.

      Indeed, “Social communal behaviour is paramount for our totally interdependent groupings to survive…” I’m sure evolution selects for it.

      As I believe I’ve stated before but I’ll repeat myself, because I like to dribble on, I conceive of “crime” as deviance from the norm. Some deviances, like killing your mother, are frowned upon almost everywhere (in most cases); but others, like thumbing your nose at the President, are tolerated some places while being capital offenses in others. Some, like theft, might ultimately be a reasonable response to poor allocation of resources. Furthermore, I think we should consider the positive benefits of crime/deviance: why does it persist?

      The bottom line, IMHO, is that it’s more profitable to try and figure out how to solve the over-arching problem than it is to solve individual cases one-by-one. More profitable, that is, to the general society. The current system is more profitable for capitalism, apparently.

      Enough; I’ll quit.

      • Posted May 1, 2015 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps, where I get lost is in the use of the term “compatible.” Compatible with what? My understanding is that it means that “free will is compatible with determinism.” That those are what are compatible. But that entails a contradiction in terms; so I figure I must be interpreting it incorrectly.

        No, you’ve pretty much put your finger on it.

        The compatibilists confuse the infinitely-flexible multiply-optioned world of the imagination for reality. Because you can imagine lots of different settings in which you’d do different things…that qualifies to a compatibilist as “free will.” Never mind that, outside of the imagination, only one set of circumstances ever actually arises, that the serial imagining of different hypothetical possibilities is itself a straight-ahead linear causal chain, and so on.

        Or, as I still like to put it, “free will” only applies in the sense of “all else being equal.” Save all else ain’t actually equal, ever….

        b&

        • Posted May 2, 2015 at 7:57 am | Permalink

          Good-day Johan and Ben,
          Thanks to both; as usual I read your replies with interest and hurry to reiterate I am determinedly a hard determinist, no question!

          Johan, Expressing my thoughts (MHO’s) adequately I find difficult but often helps to formulate them; far be it from me to try educate you.
          My only academic achievement was obtaining a UK Ordinary Certificate in Mechanical Engineering by 3 years of Evening Classes over the 1940-50’s, the minimum requirement to get off the engineering bench into a drawing office.

          I said “Johan (May1): agreed. Free causally-determined action seems a contradiction in philosophical terms.”
          With hindsight that should have been
          “Johan (May1): agreed. Free causally-determined action IS a contradiction in PHILOSOPHICAL terms.” Better? And perhaps this way it makes the rest of my comment more sensible.

          Your, Ben’s, and my thoughts are in agreement about Compatibilism but I think it’s important to bear in mind that Determinism commonly has a depressing nuance to some (many?) people and in everyday usage, possibly it seems positively amoral.
          I do not agree that this misunderstanding is a ground to adopt Compatibilism as, for example, I have a strong suspicion that Prof. Dennett does.
          BUT
          This popular/colloquial rather emotive view can make Determinism feel mechanical, soulless, depressing, even that it denies choice of behaviour.
          This reaction largely stems from the strong persistence of (at least a sneaking or a required) belief in some form of supernatural background, justification or explanation for the mystery of human life and our abilities to question, to reason about and communicate about, our actions.

          The point I was trying to make that one’s opinion on supernaturism v. naturism is the far more important influence on Society’s action in handling (and can I say this without raising further side-line controversy) immoral behaviour. And of course religion and capitalism do make quite comfortable bedfellows in fact, even if they are not entirely similar in principle. Yet I doubt that atheism precludes all capitalist principles; for example, some degrees of an ownership right to property and its protection.

    • Posted May 3, 2015 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      mogguy,
      It’s cool that you’re starting a new thread, because your comment merits it. It’s a new point and a very good one IMO. Vengeful treatment of our fellow human beings is morally wrong quite independently of determinism or abilities to do otherwise. Note that Jesus, who didn’t lack for supernaturalistic and dualistic beliefs, still argued that we should be merciful. Ditto Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr.

      Robust compatibilists like me, who accept “could have done otherwise” (note: there’s a more restricted version of compatibilism that doesn’t) still want to make a distinction though. Consider Ann, who hears an angry commentator on the radio, while she is driving. The angry voice reminds her of her abusive father, and she has her first ever, sudden and severe, attack of schizophrenia. She loses control of her car and seriously injures a construction worker.

      Meanwhile Bob is texting while driving. He loses control of his car and seriously injures a construction worker.

      Bob could have done otherwise – and because of that, it’s appropriate to target him for “general deterrence”. We punish him to make sure that most people who ponder texting while driving will decide not to. Ann didn’t make a decision, and couldn’t have done otherwise. She should be confined only if she is a danger to others (which schizophrenics generally aren’t, by the way).

      • Posted May 3, 2015 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        Paul,
        Ann’s Case: not a conscious act but severe schizophrenia is a potentially-dangerous condition, to herself as well as others.

        Possible adverse outcomes for Ann:
        (1a) Ann gives up driving because of her unnerving “accident”.
        (1b) Ann gives up driving because of medical advice that she is at considerable risk of a repetition of this type of attack, -may be even enforced by law.
        (1c) She continues driving but aware of the risks.
        The subsequent effects will be due to her schizophrenic brain malfunction and all subsequent loss of personal mobility would still be a “punishment” on her. Exactly in the same way as the pain she would get breaking her own leg in a fall is a “punishment”. In addition to being a warning system indicating something needs attention, another important aspect of pain is evolved (retributive) punishment for wrong-doing and also a harsh deterrent against repetition in the future and.”” evolution totally ignores responsibility/culpability. Whether action is “intentional” or “accidental” it still hurts like hell! Evolution is a demonstration of cause->effect par excellence.

        Bob’s Case: texting was a conscious action which reduced proper control of his car and legally culpable if driving where a law exists against it.
        A person legally-entitled to drive knows this is potentially dangerous: most drivers, whose brains fortunately work differently to Bob’s, are correctly considerate of others. They will not text whilst driving or will stop to so.
        All this marks Bob as possessing a conscious brain which determines him as an inconsiderate risk-taker which potentially on the road is a bad characteristic, bad for all road users. Tis aforesaid conscious brain has been created by his genetic inheritance plus his accumulated cultural experience.
        His inconsiderate-of-others brain directly chose his decision to text rather than not to text. In common parlance people (NB. these are the same people who also might cheerfully accept freewill!) say “That madman Bob just couldn’t help himself”.

        Ann could not avoid her schizophrenia; Bob had an alternative (not to text) but, not being able to overcome his “Bob-ness”, chose to text. So neither Ann nor Bob were “able to do otherwise” at the moment of the action.
        Your elaborate scenarios, though demonstrating cause->effect, fail to demonstrate freewill->effect.

        • Posted May 5, 2015 at 5:04 am | Permalink

          mogguy,
          I’m not trying to demonstrate freewill here. Just addressing your point about punishment. Calling your attention to the fact that Ann and Bob deserve different “punishment” due to Ann’s having no alternative to the attack of schizophrenia, and Bob’s having good alternatives to texting while driving.

          • Posted May 5, 2015 at 9:21 am | Permalink

            As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, what you’re really saying is that you could/would have acted differently than Bob; but Bob at that point could not have done otherwise. It’s a conceit to think that history could have been any different than it was. It’s one thing to apply corrective measures where something has gone wrong; it is another thing to punish people for what they could not have otherwise done.

          • Posted May 6, 2015 at 7:36 am | Permalink

            Paul,
            You say: “the fact that Ann and Bob deserve different “punishment” [is] due to Ann’s having no alternative to the attack of schizophrenia, and Bob’s having good alternatives to texting while driving.”

            While I will agree that their two different cases do deserve different reactions, as I pointed out, the hard truth is that any likely punishment will be very similar. If anything, Ann’s may be the greater, -perhaps a “punishment” for the rest of her life if it is a sufficiently virulent condition of schizophrenia.

            Now, you state that their cases are different by this fact Bob had alternatives whereas Ann had none. True, Bob did have alternatives, but the crucial difference in your scenario is by the fact Ann’s brain was abnormally disturbed and her action was not her normal behaviour whereas Bob’s brain was working undisturbed and normally.

            Ann’s unavoidable abnormality might respond to medical treatment: if not, then her unfortunate propensity for violent abnormal behaviour needs control but, of course, this “punishment“ could not act as a deterrent either to herself or to otherselves.

            Bob’s avoidable action was a rashly-misused character trait. [NOTE: well-cialculated risk-taking can be a desirable, even essential, attribute for a competitive creature to have in some situations.] He was normally conscious and so his future behaviour needs his conscious correction and his “punishment” of a legally-imposed loss of personal mobility is likely to be both a future deterrent to him and a warning example to others.

            To sum up:
            (1) Both actions caused exactly the same harm to another person, -the same wrongdoing: the result was harm for the construction worker and by no fault of his own.

            (2) Ann’s action was bad but not by HER choice.
            Bob’s action was bad but by HIS choice.

            (3) Ann’s bad behaviour was determined by HER mental characteristics.
            Equally so, Bob’s bad behaviour was determined by HIS mental characteristics.

            Ergo: Neither had freewill.

            But I think that’s the “easy” problem. The “hard” problem of adopting Determinism is the difference in treatment deserved by human behaviour if it is totally “Determined”, totally un-free. This is the underlying and major cause of dissent between Freewillists (of all flavours) and Determinists.

            At odds to that of many/most Determinists, including many influential, world-renowned and highly-qualified people, my own opinion is that, as a totally interdependent communal species, our treatment of behaviour should be very little (if at all) affected by adopting physical Determinism but that is a whole long other contentious discussion!
            We are a totally interdependent communal group species and finally Da Roolz of Evolution are unavoidable: overall behaviour must be more communally-advantageous than not, -for our species to survive/prosper. The best we can do is to communally-select and then to prefer, even impose, the behaviour that we think/hope will be of greater advantage to our species.
            BTW. I would define this as behaving morally, -or behaving with a sense of personal “moral responsibility”.


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