My conversation with Sam Harris

A few weeks ago Brother Sam was kind enough to have an hour’s discussion with me about my new book. Well, that was the intention, but it quickly turned into a discursive conversation about many other things: Islam, political correctness, theology, free will, and so on. That was fine with me: after all, I’ll do plenty of talking about the Albatross in the next few weeks.

Sam’s posted the podcast on his site, and you can listen to it here. I won’t be doing that, as I can’t bear to hear the sound of my own voice in these situations! The audio (a Skype call) was wonky, but I suspect Sam has edited out the parts where I couldn’t hear him.

190 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I listened to it this morning. There were no parts I noticed where you couldn’t hear Sam. It wasn’t as bad as I feared when he gave the audio warning at the beginning. A good listen. Has Dan Dennett responded yet? 😉

    • Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      I’m hoping he doesn’t hear it . . .

      • Posted May 20, 2015 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Now I’m intrigued, wondering what I’ll hear in the next hour or so….

        b&

  2. Jeff Rankin
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I listened last night – really good! I did kinda lose interest during the freewill part at the end. Just not my cup of tea.

    I don’t like listening to the sound of my voice either Jerry, although I think you have a very listenable voice!

    • Mark Reaume
      Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      I like that part of the podcast the most 🙂

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 21, 2015 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      “I listened last night – really good!”

      Me too-& I loved it!

  3. Barry Lyons
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    That was a fun coincidence: I just finished listening to the podcast before seeing this link.

    Jerry, your new book should arrive in the mail today or tomorrow. I can’t wait to read it. In the meantime, I think I know what the subject will be for your next book.

  4. Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the posting. And thanks for not avoiding the Dan Dennett issue, though you’re kinder to him than I’d be.

    You and Sam talked a lot about the “sense of agency” that one has vis-à-vis free will. I think a lot of people get confused as to why there should be a sense of agency, so to speak, when from a determinist perspective, the sense has to be false.

    I’ve long thought that sense evolved as a way to coordinate one’s various sensory inputs as well as to save functioning time. Basically, one can only operate in real time, if one operates under the illusion that one is the author of one’s actions. If it weren’t that way, one would spend to much time in reflection and get eaten by the lion. Or the tadpole, or whomever is coming after you.

    I’m sorry you didn’t touch on Sam’s debate with Chomsky, although I can see the more delicate nature of that. Nonetheless, seeing the dangers of Islam doesn’t necessarily justify our taking military action in the Middle East; especially since our real reason for being there is oil, not human rights. Most of the bastards in the world we leave alone; it’s only when our economic interests are threatened, that we come out swinging; but there’s no way we can publicly state our goals are strictly economic, so we couch them in terms of liberation and democracy and human rights; but it’s no more about human rights than the Koch Brothers are interested in our rights. Violence begets violence.

    And I’d like to have heard you two consider how one derives morality in a secular world.

    • Posted May 20, 2015 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Re: “Sam’s debate with Chomsky”. It wasn’t a debate and Sam has repeatedly stressed that it wasn’t a debate. Calling it a debate kind of misses Sam’s whole point in publishing it.

      • Posted May 20, 2015 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        I’d call that a semantic quibble. It wasn’t a face-to-face debate, to be sure, but it’s an ongoing difference of opinion as to the causes and remedies of the struggle in the Mideast; and it should be aired. Sam and Jerry more-or-less patted each other on the back and didn’t get into the more vexing problems. It’s one thing to say Islam is a problem; it’s another to suggest what to do about it. If one is content with arguing the intellectual worth of Islam, that’s fine, but suggesting the one should go in with arms and impose one’s morality is dangerous, to say the least.

        • GBJames
          Posted May 20, 2015 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          “…suggesting the one should go in with arms and impose one’s morality is dangerous…”

          Shouldn’t that be directed at the Islamists who are imposing their morality with arms?

        • winewithcats
          Posted May 21, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

          Harris wished to debate, and explicitly stated as much. Chomsky did not wish to debate, and explicitly stated as much.

          Whatever else either of them wrote during the exchange, that was the sum total of their “debate”.

    • Curt Nelson
      Posted May 20, 2015 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      I’d be interested, too, in hearing what Jerry and others think of the Harris/Chomsky exchange. I’m basically flummoxed by how universally Harris is said to have “lost.”

      • Posted May 20, 2015 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        Breadth and depth of scope.

        Sam wields the hammer of atheism with a broad sweep and all nails look like religion to him; hence he has trouble seeing the broader picture of how religion is merely one tool in the public manipulation toolbox. It’s strong and should be faced squarely, but it is—from a government/ruling elite viewpoint—only a tool to achieve greater ends. To be sure, the participant doesn’t see it that way, and that’s where education comes in.

        The real debate is should we be in the Mideast at all, and is it really the terrors of Islam that we’re fighting or is it for control of the oil fields. It’s one thing to say we should work for human liberties and equality around the world; it’s another thing to say we should carry on an armed struggle to achieve that goal. Chomsky—and I think rightfully so—said no; that it was largely our interference there in the first place which caused the existing troubles; and that the best thing we can do is pull out. Sam disagrees. Besides, Sam thinks pacifists are immoral.

        Nobody disagrees that Islamic extremists do nasty things. The disagreements are over what caused the extremists to arise and what should be our reaction. I think Chomsky is saying that our sending troops to the Mideast for nearly a hundred years to control other people’s resources had significant influence on what’s happening today, including militant Islam.

        In the end, I think it was a debate about moral behavior, and Chomsky had the high road.

        But that’s just me.

        • Curt Nelson
          Posted May 20, 2015 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

          Thanks. That makes sense. I agree with you – Chomsky.

        • Jimbo
          Posted May 20, 2015 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

          Sam is right, pacifism IS immoral. If no one fights or actively resists the rapist, the sociopath, the psychopath then everyone in our society is at risk of exploitation, misery, and death (including the pacifist who occupies civil society). Pacifism makes the tacit assumption that ‘someone will fight to protect me from horrible, violent people but I won’t’.

          That doesn’t justify war mongering but there is such a thing as a just war. Destroying the Nazi movement comes to mind. What if Europe was populated with all pacifists in 1939–how would that have gone?

          • Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

            Whoops, jumping around there a bit. Starting off a discussion of pacifism by equating pacifism with non-acting in the face of rapists and sociopaths is disingenuous. Must we fight the straw dogs?

            • Jimbo
              Posted May 21, 2015 at 7:37 am | Permalink

              Not a straw man, simply an argumentum ad extremum. Please defend the moral position of pacifism. Should Tibetan Buddhists be protected from murder by Chinese actors? By whom? Non-pacifists, that’s who.

              Non-violence is to be admired and used whenever possible but pacifism risks genocide and the moral action is to suspend non-violent principles and fight.

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 9:25 am | Permalink

                What you’re asking, Jimbo, is whether or not America should send troops into Tibet to protect Buddhist monks from being “murdered by Chinese actors,” which sets up a curious picture in my mind of Chinese in grease paint chasing down berobed Tibetans. You’re asking whose responsibility is it to protect those monks and how should one go about doing that? You’re implying that non-pacifists should march into Tibet and put a halt to their depredations. You’re aware, of course, that we haven’t marched into Tibet to save anyone; we grumble from the outside. You’re suggesting we should take our world-policeman role seriously and go in and set things straight on top of the world. You’re suggesting, I presume, that we should extend that role everywhere. I mean, who will protect those people if not non-pacifists; and you’re nominating them to be authorized by the international community to go in and straighten out messes wherever we find them. That’s sort of what we pretend to do now, but we really only go into places to “protect human rights” if we have a strong economic interests. We are not fighting ISIS out of concern for the civilian population, as you know.

                Maybe you’re asking that there should be an armed force outside of our economic interests that should go around the world liberating oppressed people. That’s sort of what the UN was set up to do. I presume you’d want them to be more active.

                Like protecting the people of Tibet prior to the Chinese incursion. Tibet was a feudalistic, misogynist, oppressed society caught in the throes of extreme religion. By your rights, if China hadn’t intervened, we should have. Needless-to-say, whenever we go and “liberate” people, like those of Iraq, say, we murder tens of thousands of innocent civilians as a result of “collateral damage,” but that’s different than the murder by Chinese actors. As Sam Harris would have it, it’s a matter of intentions. We don’t intend to kill those bystanders, they just got in the way. The Chinese, on the other hand, intended to kill the people they killed, so it’s much worse. It’s just dumb luck that some of the people we liberate end up dead. We’re terribly sorry, and had no intention of doing that, but accidents will happened; it’s just part of the cost of saving the world.

                You aren’t, by chance, one of those who thinks that pacifists can’t defend themselves if directly attacked, are you? That’s a little silly, but it’s dragged out all the time. We don’t have to go there.

                The “moral position of pacifism”? Violence shouldn’t be used as a tool to control people. That’s pretty simple, and, of course, there are a zillion nuances; but that’s it in a nutshell.

                The basic moral premise is that all members of a species constitute a single entity, and that all members of a species deserve equal protection and access to resources. Killing has no role in that, no place to fit in. Control by systemic violence in not good for the health of a species (for the most part), ours included.

                People who are against pacifism are saying that they’d rather I fight on their behalf and at their discretion. Pacifists are merely saying we shouldn’t use violence as an instrument of foreign policy. They’re saying that such violence only begets violence. Experience has shown that to be true. They’re saying that non-pacifists can be very dangerous when deciding upon whom they should level their violence, whom they should “protect” with the sword.

              • Jimbo
                Posted May 21, 2015 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

                You went off a bit there. I’m saying nothing about the implementation of foreign policy. I was using Tibet as an example of pacifism in practice, not that the US should intervene. I think it is morally irresponsible for Tibetans not to defend themselves–they would rather self-immolate to gain worldwide attention. Sounds like a bad strategy and from your argument, evidently a futile one.

                Violence does beget violence but non-violence against violence begets extermination.

                Chomsky isn’t wrong about the US but I agree with Harris that he takes non-intervention way too far. Should Clinton have intervened in the Balkans to avert genocide? Obama the Yazidis? Should anything have been done about Rwanda? How about WWII Germany?

                Good intentions never prevent collateral damage but non-intervention never protects the innocent and vulnerable.

        • josh
          Posted May 20, 2015 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

          This is simply inaccurate. The discussion, such as it was, wasn’t about whether or not the US should have gone into the Mideast. It was about the ability to distinguish (or not) the morality of something like the al Shifa bombing from something like the 9-11 attacks. Chomsky acquitted himself quite poorly by accusing Harris of misrepresenting him, then preceding to express exactly the sentiment Harris had attributed to him. Chomsky also threw out a huge non-sequitur about all villains having good intentions that shows he simply didn’t understand the question. This is all coming on top of his completely speculative claims about secondary deaths resulting from the al-Shifa bombing. (One person died in the attack itself.)

          None of this is to say that the al-Shifa bombing was justified, much less any other Mideast/anti-terrorism intervention. I don’t even know exactly where Harris stands on those questions because he wasn’t able to make any progress towards a useful discussion. So I don’t know if I agree with him but this exchange has largely convinced me that Chomsky is a moral poseur.

          People who don’t like Harris have been declaring Chomsky some kind of victor but generally don’t seem to have read the substance.

          • Posted May 21, 2015 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for this. That’s about what I would have said if I had time to get back to it sooner.

        • Kurtis Rader
          Posted May 20, 2015 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

          Well stated. I’ve been listening to “The History of the Medieval World; From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade”. That book makes it very clear that rulers frequently employ religion cynically as a means of consolidating their power. Which is especially pernicious given the imprimatur that religion gives to otherwise morally objectionable actions.

        • Posted May 21, 2015 at 7:48 am | Permalink

          I’ll pose this again.

          In the end, I think it was a debate about moral behavior, and Chomsky had the high road.

          The key argument in the piece (IMO) was this: Does one consider the Al Shifa bombing more or less morally reprehensible than the 9/11 attacks, and why?

          I don’t think Chomsky’s argument holds water*.

          Please provide your answer and the reasons for it.

          *Al Qaeda set out to, and did, slaughter as many innocent civilians as they possibly could, given the tools at hand. If they had had 4 nuclear weapons, they would have used them (does anyone doubt that? New York, Boston, L.A. and San Francisco by small boat anyone?) to even greater effect. Clinton bombed a factory, at a time when is was believed no one was there (I agree that it was a stupid thing to do). The long term effects of that are open to debate. (Chomsky seems to think he has exact answers to that; but I am skeptical of his assertions. Does he know all the factors bearing on life in the Sudan, the other sources of medicines and external aid, the politics around all that?) Certainly the intents of the acts were extremely divergent.** And the point Sam was making is that intent is critical when judging the morality of acts (all of our legal system is based on this). All Chomsky could say to that is: You think you know the motivations of the actors (e.g. Clinton) but you don’t. Well, Chomsky thinks he knows their motivations too. Chomsky refused to comment on Sam’s thought experiment, which was intended to get at the motivations and effects of certain relevant acts.

          ** The debate about “collateral damage” is a separate one, one that has to be argued within the circumstances of each event. (e.g. did you approve of the first Gulf War? Any US or UK war since WWII?)

          • Posted May 21, 2015 at 9:50 am | Permalink

            What Chomsky is saying is that, because intentions are inherently unknowable, they shouldn’t be used in parsing a person’s actions. It reminds me of the kid in Los Angeles (I believe) who was charged with murder for shooting a person to death. The kid argued that he shouldn’t be charged with murder, because the shooting of this person was accidental; he was really aiming at this other dude, missed, and accidentally hit the guy who died; but seeing as his intentions were to kill this other dude, this death was—well—collateral damage, that stuff you think counts differently.

            Chomsky is also talking about where we are fighting and about the weapons at hand. He’s saying we’re not there fighting for freedom and democracy and protecting women’s rights, etc.; we are there for oil and have been there for oil for a hundred years. So, that’s what the battle in the Mideast is about, it has nothing to do with religion or human rights, it’s all about oil and money. The difference is, we’re fighting for someone else’s oil; it doesn’t belong to us, but we’re over there fighting for it anyway.

            Chomsky is also saying that we know that thousands upon thousands of people from those regions will be killed because of our fight for their oil, but we go in anyway. Chomsky is also saying that the indigenous population of the Mideast, in protecting their turf, don’t have our weaponry and will use whatever weapons they have at hand to combat us; religion is a huge weapon, and they wield it effectively. Sam thinks our intentions are better than those of the indigenous peoples of the Mideast; he thinks they use immoral tactics; that drones are better than suicide bombers. But he doesn’t question our moral right to be there conducting the war at all. He doesn’t question our right to use arms to protect our economic interests wherever we go. Sam stops thinking about the issue once he gets to religion; he doesn’t see the bigger picture.

            • GBJames
              Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:08 am | Permalink

              “…He’s saying we’re not there fighting for freedom and democracy and protecting women’s rights, etc.; we are there for oil and have been there for oil for a hundred years.”

              How is this not using intentions to parse people’s actions?

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

                This stuff reminds me of the infamous Dawkins tw**t about, “Saying X is bad, and Y is worse, is not an endorsement of X.” Many Chomskyites (for lack of a better term), seem to think that if Sam says, “The US often behaves badly, but ISIS, etc. behave worse,” that Sam is endorsing US bad behavior. He is not. Also, the Chomskyite logic seems to result in thinking, “If the US behaves badly, anything opposing the US is good (or at least less bad).” And then they do explicitly endorse the “less bad” position.

                This shouldn’t surprise me, since the general reaction to Dawkins’s original tweet was basically, “HOLY SHIT! DAWKINS DOESN’T THINK X IS SO BAD!”

  5. Bob Lundgren
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Listened to it last night. The sound started out a bit wonky but seemed to get better as it went along. Maybe I just got used to it. Your voice sounds just like my favorite professor in Architecture School, so enjoyed listening to the tone (and the content) very much. Also started the book last night. So far so good, but I’m a slow reader.

  6. matt
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    this is really great! so glad it wandered into the free will stuff. interesting throughout, though. excited to read the book!

  7. Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    It had downloaded to my phone from his site. 1hr 6 mins – so that’s about 12% of my Friday afternoon drive covered….I guess there are still a lot of Freakonomics episodes I have not heard 🙂

    I understand the listening to yourself thing – video is even worse, I’ve seen myself giving talks a couple of times and I hate it. It should be a useful learning tool, but I can’t get past the cringe factor.

  8. Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed listening to the podcast earlier today, and I got a lot out of it.

  9. Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed the talk enormously.
    You guys are spot on re Islam, on its dangers, and yet the curious fact that it’s out of bounds to criticism by the Left, with some brave and honourable exceptions….
    And also spot on re Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her disgraceful treatment by the Left and even by feminists.
    I hope you enjoy your retirement, Jerry, and that it gives you more time to blog!
    (From an Aussie living in Hong Kong, who finds he is just two weeks younger than yourself!)
    Best,
    Peter F.

  10. Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Coincidentally, I listened to the interview this morning. It’s very good, and my earphones greatly improved the audio.

    In addition to what was discussed, I think the basic trouble between science and religion is that they depend on completely different types of currency and thought processes. Real money is used in the world of science while religion continues to use shells, sequins and beads. I wholeheartedly agree that there is too much undeserving weight and virtue attached to faith in the realm of religion. Immediately, that alone gives a false advantage to ignorance and delusion. The most ‘faithful’ and pious are erroneously regarded as the most righteous.

    • Posted May 20, 2015 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      I should also add that the trinkets are what are doled out to the congregations of unreasoning faithful. Many in leadership of certain religious orgs have no qualms about feathering their private nests with real money.

  11. Posted May 20, 2015 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Enjoyable exchange. In your closing comments you made a reference to “agency.” I found it interesting that apparently you do NOT agree you can have “agency” in the absence of so-called “libertarian” free will? I’m a causal determinist/mechanist too but I accept agency (i.e., can-do power) of the agent in the game of life. Difference is understandable though, as “agency” has never been popularly understood and spoken of in the evolutionary biological community. Anyways, keep the charge and congrats on the latest book. Thx.

  12. rickflick
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Listening to the determinism segment I realize that vindictiveness and retribution are really emotional impulses. They do not come from a reasoned analysis of behavior such as we hear in this podcast. I’d suggest that these emotions are related to feelings such as anger and are probably very basic to our human nature. They must have evolved from earliest times as an adaptation to social life. Displaying vehemently your displeasure at the actions of others puts them on alert that the situation is very important and should not be ignored. The adaptive advantage to both sides of a is clear.
    So, overcoming that inclination is difficult. We should not expect everyone to respond to calls to drop the notion of moral responsibility.

  13. Randy Schenck
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    The conversation was very good. Like minds in many ways and certainly so on the topic of religion. It will be nothing but beneficial to us if you are out there informing and educating the public as time permits.

  14. Posted May 20, 2015 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Well worth a listen. I’m just finishing off the first chapter of the book and so far it’s a great read.

  15. Larry Cook
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Most of my life I had a problem listening to the sound of my own voice, so I understand how you feel. And it never helped when somebody told me that I sounded fine and he or she liked my voice. Regardless, I wouldn’t say this just to make you feel better – your voice is pleasant sounding and easy to listen to and lots of us are interested in anything you have to say. I received notice about the interview from Sam Harris’ site and started listening to the interview last night and plan to listen to the rest in a couple of minutes. So far you’ve been easy to listen to and, as always, intelligently well spoken.

    • Posted May 20, 2015 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Same thing with musicians…one of the most powerful tools for self-improvement is to play back recordings of your own playing…but damn do we all hate doing it. You hear every little imperfection…and most of the imperfections are painfully obvious, not little….

      b&

      • darrelle
        Posted May 20, 2015 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        This is precisely why I have such little sympathy for people with no skills or talent who try out for the shows like The Voice, American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, etc., who obviously have not invested any significant effort into “their” art and yet are so cocky and confident, and then are so distraught when they are rejected.

        Have you ever listened / watched yourself? Why the hell not? You mean you have and you still came and expected to be praised or even to be selected?

        • Filippo
          Posted May 20, 2015 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

          “Have you ever listened / watched yourself? Why the hell not? You mean you have and you still came and expected to be praised or even to be selected?”

          Narcissism abounds and abides on the planet. Re: Anne Manne’s book (and video on Youtube) about narcissism. (She references Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism” from some years ago.)

  16. Markus Koebler
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    good stuff as expected (with the exception that Sam calls this Web site a blog :-). Who has the youtube link where Taleb makes a fool of himself?

    • Randy Schenck
      Posted May 20, 2015 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      I think it can be found by just going to you tube and typing – Taleb in Mexico. It is over two hours so good luck.

      • Markus Koebler
        Posted May 20, 2015 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        thx, I found it:

        Taleb starts at 47m40. You will never buy any of his books again.

        • Jeff Rankin
          Posted May 20, 2015 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

          Yikes!

        • Posted May 21, 2015 at 7:51 am | Permalink

          Thanks for the time-stamp!!!

  17. merilee
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    sub

  18. Posted May 20, 2015 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    “[That we do not have free will is] as frightening as the idea that we’re going to die.”

    Yes; I do believe you’ve nailed it.

    …and then Sam so neatly ties together compatibilism and NOMA….

    b&

  19. Posted May 20, 2015 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    An excellent conversational exposition of the issues of faith and science… and then unfortunately at the end the conversation goes downhill. As usual the issue is free will.
    It does no good whatsoever to brand and compartmentalise others, who though they also hold entirely to the scientific viewpoint and to free inquiry in reaching their conclusions, as necessarily being the victims of wishful thinking when those conclusions don’t agree with one’s own particular view on an issue. Dennett doesn’t deserve “our sympathy” he deserves our rational consideration.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted May 20, 2015 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. This portion of the conversation would have been a lot more interesting if Dennett had been there to defend himself.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted May 20, 2015 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        In particular, I think Dennett would vehemently object to the accusation that he thinks people should be shielded from the truth. Rather, he’d argue that they’re entitled to the whole truth about what our sense of agency means, where it comes from, and how it affects our behavior, and that nebulous hand-waving about “the laws of physics” or “genes and environment” is not the whole truth by any stretch.

        • Posted May 20, 2015 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

          That’s not what Dennett said in the conference on naturalism that Sean Carroll moderated. He went on at length about the dangers of letting the general public know abut determinism.

          Out of curiosity, now that you’ve brought it up, where do you think our “sense of agency comes from”? What do you think its evolutionary function is?

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted May 20, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

            I haven’t seen those talks, but I’ll be surprised if Dennett puts it in those terms. In the talks I’ve seen or read (such as his Erasmus speech), he’s always careful to distinguish between the truth about determinism (which he does not propose to hide) and misleading half-truths that can be harmful if taken at face value.

            But I’ll look up the naturalism conference and get back to you.

            • Posted May 20, 2015 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

              [Dan is] always careful to distinguish between the truth about determinism (which he does not propose to hide) and misleading half-truths that can be harmful if taken at face value.

              Were that the case then he and Jerry would be in violent agreement. You can hear Jerry and Sam make that exact point in this podcast: that determinism most emphatically does not entail fatalism or depressed incapacitation.

              But Dan’s clearly going beyond that when he speaks of why we not only have “free will,” but that we should be happy that we have it as well.

              b&

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted May 20, 2015 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

            Regarding our sense of agency: I’m not an evolutionary psychologist, but I’d guess that it plays a supervisory role in our decision-making process. We need some way of prioritizing and focusing attention on decisions that need to be made — a sort of meta-decision process, if you like — and that focus of attention is what we call agency.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted May 20, 2015 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

            OK, I’ve watched the first hour-an-a-half of the naturalism free will discussion, including Dennett’s presentation, and so far I don’t see him saying what you say he says. Here are some things he did say:

            There are varieties of free will that people recognize and deal with every day. They make distinctions on the basis of it. These are robust concepts of free will that have zero to do with determinism, and are perfectly consistent with determinism.

            There’s a perfectly robust distinction in the manifest image between people who have enough free will to sign a contract and those who don’t. There’s the senile, the impaired in various ways, small children — they don’t have the competence to sign a contract, but we do.

            I’m saying that free will is quite properly seen as falling right out of political facts which are available in the manifest image. None of us want to live without it. If you go around saying “Free will doesn’t exist, free will is an illusion” you’re actually undercutting the very glue of civilization.

            In other words, society depends on making a distinction between morally competent volitional behavior for which a person may legitimately be held responsible, and other sorts of behavior for which we are deemed less responsible. He made the point that a Martian anthropologist studying humanity would readily discern this distinction; it’s a real phenomenon of human behavior.

            The danger to society then comes from trying to pretend this distinction doesn’t exist, not from truthfully expounding the facts of physics and neurobiology.

            At one point Jerry put up a slide with a quote from Dennett: “We certainly don’t want people disabling themselves with bad science…so I think this is a very serious issue.” But Jerry completely blew off the “bad science” part, which is the very core of Dennett’s argument, in order to accuse him of making a Little People argument. And here he is doing it again in this conversation with Harris.

            • Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

              If you go around saying “Free will doesn’t exist, free will is an illusion” you’re actually undercutting the very glue of civilization.

              I don’t know how much more clear one can get. Dan’s not saying that free will exists; he’s saying that if you say it doesn’t, you will undercut the very glue of civilization. If that’s not saying the hoi polloi can’t handle the truth, I don’t know what is.

              I don’t have the energy to wade through the sessions again to find other relevant quotes, but that one is a doozy. Thanks.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

                Read it again. “There are varieties of free will that people recognize and deal with every day.” How is that not saying that free will exists?

                From the context it should be clear that Dennett doesn’t think “free will doesn’t exist” is the truth. On the contrary, it’s the “bad science” he’s warning against.

                The only way to read this as “you can’t handle the truth” is by deliberately misinterpreting his words using definitions he doesn’t subscribe to.

            • Posted May 20, 2015 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

              There’s a perfectly robust distinction in the manifest image between people who have enough free will to sign a contract and those who don’t.

              I’ve had this discussion with Coel. Uncle Dan should instantly recognize the invalidity of what he’s pulling, for it’s a true deepity.

              There is a legal term of art, “of one’s own free will,” that refers to whether or not somebody’d got a gun to your head. Trivial but true.

              And that’s entirely separate from and irrelevant to the question of whether or not the philosophical notion of “free will” is even coherent in the first place. Profound-seeming bullshit.

              At one point Jerry put up a slide with a quote from Dennett: “We certainly don’t want people disabling themselves with bad science…so I think this is a very serious issue.” But Jerry completely blew off the “bad science” part, which is the very core of Dennett’s argument, in order to accuse him of making a Little People argument.

              That’s because Dan is the one guilty of bad science. “Free will,” of the definition used within the scope of philosophy and theology, isn’t even self-coherent. It’s bullshit.

              But, just as the fact that the gods are also bullshit doesn’t mean that we must do the opposite of what the ancient texts have the gods saying we should do out of spite, the fact that “free will” is bullshit doesn’t mean that we should just lay down and give up.

              It does mean that it’s high past time we grew up and stopped holding on to superstitious blankies and embraced reality for what it is, without any of the baggage left over from theology and philosophy.

              b&

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:04 am | Permalink

                There is a legal term of art, “of one’s own free will,” … Trivial but true.

                And that’s entirely separate from and irrelevant to the question of whether or not the philosophical notion of “free will” …

                No Ben, you’re wrong on this, as always.

                The “philosophical notion” of “free will” is **NOT** just about the dualist, violating-physics conception of FW, it is about **all** conceptions of “will” and “freedom”, and thus the way the words are used in the legal sense are entirely relevant.

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:17 am | Permalink

                it is about **all** conceptions of “will” and “freedom”

                Then it truly is incoherent. Were it coherent, it would pick a single definition and stick with it. Because you’ve just now confirmed that no-charge estate planning — a “free will” — is part of compatibilism.

                b&

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:42 am | Permalink

                Nice joke, Ben, but that sort of “will” is not what we’re talking about it!

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

                So, which is it? All conceptions of freedom and will, or just some?

                b&

                >

        • Posted May 20, 2015 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

          Then why phrase the cognitive decision-making process in such profoundly religious and incoherent terms as, “free will”?

          Jerry’s got this one perfectly right. Just as there’s no need to “salvage” any other theological construct in the name of “whole truth,” there’s no need to “salvage” “free will.”

          When you die, you’re dead; that’s it. But it’s also true that you “live on” in the memories of your families and friends and possibly other ways if you’re sufficiently famous, such as Gaius Julius Caesar. But it’d be ludicrous to suggest that that represents some sort of “afterlife worth wanting.”

          There are no gods, no powerful entities with our best interests at heart who somehow control our lives and who brought us into existence in the first place. But we all had parents, and many of them are indeed admirable role models who wielded great power and who had much responsibility for us when young. Yet who would claim that our parents are “the only gods worth wanting”?

          So why on Earth should we reify the entirely banal decision-making process with mystical contracausal essences as “the only free will worth wanting”?

          b&

          • Posted May 20, 2015 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

            Well Ben, your own response here is a perfect example of what is wrong with with the way compatibilist argument is often countered -NOT with reasoned logic but with superfluous invective and hyperbole. Why must decision making be “banal”, why “mystical”?? You seem to think that if you throw enough grandiose verbiage at the wall some of it will stick, and that nobody will notice that you havn’t put forward any real rational counterargument whatsoever.

            • Posted May 20, 2015 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

              Howie, the very heart of the problem is that the compatibilists wish to insist that the decision-making process is special, that there’s something about it that’s deserving to be described with the theological term, “free will.”

              In reality, we know that there’s no difference between the workings of a thermostat, a pocket calculator, a smartphone, a supercomputer, and an human. The latter in each instance is more complex and more difficult to thoroughly map out than the former…but that’s it; that’s the only difference.

              Compatibilism can only make sense if it either insists that there is a fundamental difference between a thermostat and an human, or if it insists that thermostats have “free will.” The former we know to be false; the latter is clearly an abuse of language.

              Any claims that that observation isn’t profound or useful or whatever are irrelevant appeals to consequences.

              If you wish to make sense of human cognition, great; few academic pursuits are more deserving of our attention. But just leave the mysticism at the door, okay? Deal with reality as it actually is, not as you want it to be or as you think it should or must be or as you think you need to lie to others that it is in order to keep them in line.

              b&

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:07 am | Permalink

                … compatibilists wish to insist that the decision-making process is special, …

                No, actually, they don’t. It’s the exact opposite.

                Compatibilists wish to insist that the decision-making process is very mundane and normal. It is what computers do; it is — stripped down to the simplest case — what thermostats do.

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:21 am | Permalink

                Coel, your definition of “free will” is truly unique. I’ve yet to encounter anybody else, in any context, who thinks that thermostats have “free will,” whatever it is they think it is.

                Do me a flavor? Get Howie and some of the other compatibilists to agree with you that thermostats have “free will,” and then the lot of you can gang up on me.

                It’s painfully clear from observation that there are at least as many “free will”s as there are compatibilists (of whatever flavor) — just as there are at least as many gods as there are theologians. At most, only one of all y’all could be right, and the odds that you’re that one are as close to nil as makes no difference.

                b&

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:41 am | Permalink

                Ben, I didn’t say that one thermostat on its own has “free will” — any more than one molecule of H2O on its own does “wetness”.

                The themostat is one *unit* — a logic gate if you like — which, when combined with lots of others does “computing” and “decision-making”. And ideas such as “will” and “freedom” are about those decision-making computational devices.

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                Never mind that you’re now contradicting yourself…umpteen brazilian thermostats wired together in any kind of configuration you care to propose are going to be every bit as much non-free and just as inescapably predictable as one will. Zoom in on any of them, and it’s still doing the same old non-free thermostat thing it always has and always will. You just have a mental limit to how many thermostats you can imagine operating at once. When you lose track, your brain fills in the gaps best it can, like with the persistence of vision that lets you see a movie as a motion picture.

                By insisting that “free will” is real, you’re mistraking your cognitive illusion for reality.

                b&

                >

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

                “Zoom in on any of them, and it’s still doing the same old non-free thermostat thing”

                Yessiree…. and zoom in on any particular electron and all you’ll find is a probabilistic cloud exhibiting a negative charge external to a nucleus. Investigate millions of other electrons and you’ll find exactly the same thing. Proving that life is therefore impossible.

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 7:59 am | Permalink

                This is a brief reply to Coel [21-May-2015 at 5:07 am]:

                Compatibilists wish to insist that the decision-making process is very mundane and normal. It is what computers do; it is — stripped down to the simplest case — what thermostats do.

                If it’s, “what computers do … what thermostats do” then why would one call this “free will”? Computers and thermostats have no freedom in the sense that people use when they are referring to human “free will”.

                The fact is, humans have no idea where their decisions come from, what are their antecedents in their own brains (and the antecedents are there). How does one (in the interest of truthfulness and clarity) call such decisions “free”?

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 8:00 am | Permalink

                Total html fail, apologies.

                The bottom paragraphs should have appeared thus:

                If it’s, “what computers do … what thermostats do” then why would one call this “free will”? Computers and thermostats have no freedom in the sense that people use when they are referring to human “free will”.

                The fact is, humans have no idea where their decisions come from, what are their antecedents in their own brains (and the antecedents are there). How does one (in the interest of truthfulness and clarity) call such decisions “free”?

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 9:08 am | Permalink

                jblilie,

                “Computers and thermostats have no freedom in the sense that people use when they are referring to human “free will”.”

                Yes they do. When we ask: “did you sign that contract of your own free will or were you coerced”, that question makes perfect sense in a fully deterministic system.

                The “freedom” is about *one* *sort* of constraint that feeds into the deterministic decision-making.

                And computers do indeed have “freedom” in *that* sense.

    • peepuk
      Posted May 20, 2015 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      I did find that part interesting.

      When you read Daniel Dennett’s 1984 book “Elbow Room” and compare this with the views of Sam Harris and Jerry; these are almost 100% compatible.

      The major disagreement is that Daniel Dennett thinks the world will fall apart when there is no believe in free will.

  20. Posted May 20, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Jerry,

    Have you mentioned your upcoming retirement on WEIT? You’ll be able to spend more time writing and posting on WEIT! (And travel of course.)

    • Posted May 20, 2015 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      He’s mentioned it before, a number of times….

      b&

      • Posted May 21, 2015 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        I must not have read those posts carefully!

  21. peepuk
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed this talk very much. The audio was a bit apollo 11, but nonetheless good to follow, though I didn’t get the mindfulness thing at the end.

  22. quiscalus
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Perfectly enjoyable podcast, your voice isn’t bad at all, although there were multiple microphone pops or whatever they call them. a little more post-production might have helped in the first 25 minutes or so (if that’s possible, I don’t know anything about making a podcast)

    I must say that I felt a bit sad when you talked about retiring. Even though I know I’d never be able to attend your university, take your class, I felt a little pang. not that you don’t deserve retirement, I’m just being selfish. Guess you’ll just have to write a lot more books, a whole colony of albatrosses!

  23. Posted May 20, 2015 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    “Compatibilism can only make sense if it either insists that there is a fundamental difference between a thermostat and an human, or if it insists that thermostats have “free will.” The former we know to be false;”

    NO…. there is a very significant difference between a thermostat making a decision in its realm of operation, and a human in his. This difference involves the level complexity and sophistication in the decisional processes at work. The human has complex functions such as abstraction, associative reference, learning, pattern recognition, language, phenomenon modelling etc. in its decisions and humans exhibit the higher facilities of self recognition and consciousness. At this level of sophistication there are emergent capabilities in the decisional processing that can be relevant. You are being (as always in this matter) grossly reductionist. But we have been over this ground many times – the last being https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/05/03/simon-conway-morriss-new-book-once-again-claims-that-the-evoluton-of-human-like-creatures-was-inevitable-hes-wrong/
    where I must say you faired very poorly in making your case.
    I do not wish to necessarily go over all that ground once again here, I only am asking that incompatibilists have a proper respect for the quality of minds such as Dennett’s and refrain from classing them as emotionally driven or having thinking equivalent to the the religiously dogmatic. This is totally disingenuous.

    • Posted May 20, 2015 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      This difference involves the level complexity and sophistication in the decisional processes at work. The human has complex functions such as abstraction, associative reference, learning, pattern recognition, language, phenomenon modelling etc. in its decisions and humans exhibit the higher facilities of self recognition and consciousness.

      All utterly irrelevant to the question of freedom v determinism. Might as well claim that the complexity and self-organizing characteristics of a tornado make it worthy of description as the willful embodiment of Aeolus.

      Or, more charitably, you are reifying software and ignoring the fact that software doesn’t actually exist, only hardware. Software is a most useful means of describing the actions of the underlying hardware, but it is, at absolute most, simply a description of the geometry of the computer.

      b&

      • Posted May 20, 2015 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

        “Software is a most useful means of describing the actions of the underlying hardware, but it is, at absolute most, simply a description of the geometry of the computer.”
        Good grief Ben…..absolutely NOT. Although software can utilise a hardware base of a computer to exhibit its properties, software in itself is NOT a reflection of that hardware. It is an entity in its own right. You are saying, in essence, that Mozart’s piano concerto n. No. 21 is just a property of a piano.

        • Posted May 20, 2015 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

          You are saying, in essence, that Mozart’s piano concerto n. No. 21 is just a property of a piano.

          That’s actually an excellent analogy to probe — but it supports my position, not yours.

          A piece of music can be represented by blobs of ink on a piece of paper. Obviously, the inkblobs and the paper are not the music…though a musician can look at the blobs on paper and mentally reconstruct the music as easily as you can read these words and “hear” how they would sound if spoken.

          The musician can also follow the instructions encoded on the blobby paper and perform the music. But there, the performance itself only exists in the form of transient pressure waves in the air and various synaptic firings in the brains of those present.

          You can record the performance onto, for example, magnetic tape…but then it only exists as a pattern of magnetic fields encoded into the ferrous plastic. If you play it back, it sets up electrical pulses in a wire that can be amplified in such a way that it can move an electromagnet attached to a paper cone in such a way that the speaker produces a reasonable facsimile of the original acoustic environment of the performance…but, again, you’re just back to sound pressure waves impinging on eardrums getting converted into neural impulses and so on.

          When you search for the music, all you ever find is various patterns of material states with logical equivalences between them.

          Including, most especially, electrochemical patterns in your own brain.

          All you’re doing is privileging the electrochemical patterns in your own brain — understandable considering the intimacy with which you experience them…but they’re still just patterns of matter, no different in principle from the ones on the plastic tape, the ones in the sound waves, or even the blobbed paper.

          And we know this for certain because Claude Shannon demonstrated it so emphatically. Information is nothing more nor less than patterns of matter, and to transmit information you must do so at rates strictly governed by hard physical limits.

          It’s all about moving bits of stuff around, even if the stuff is as insubstantial as a photon.

          b&

          • Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

            This post of yours Ben, brings to mind Pauli’s observation “Not only isn’t this right, it isn’t even wrong.”
            Where to begin? Well lets start with Shannon. Information is absolutely not a representation of anything physical, it is an totally abstract mathematical measure of a quantitative amount needed to represent and distinguish a particular symbol in a set of symbols. After your grossly incorrect definition of information the quality of the rest of your comment goes downhill. Let’s get back to music. You seem to believe that the symbolic representation of something IS that something. This is the same as saying that the word “elephant” is exactly the same as an elephant. Which means that the word elephant would smell like an elephant.

            You seem desperate to reduce everything to the lowest possible physical level because I suppose you think that this somehow supports your argument. But this is nothing but incorrect reductionist error… no, I take that back- it is not even good enough to be an incorrect reductionist error.

            • Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

              Okay, Howie.

              Demonstrate how you can have information without a physical substrate, and how you can communicate that information without being constrained by the physical laws described by Shannon (and Nyquist and the rest). Show us how, after you’ve removed the physical entity in which the information resides, the information somehow still remains.

              And you also seem to know what a piece of music actually is, so let’s have it. Is it the sheet music? Is it the physical act of performance? Is it the sound waves produced during performance or the playback of a recording? Is it the plastic-and-aluminum disc on which the recording is fixed on a CD? What is it, exactly?

              You’re pretty clearly aiming for both information and music being some sort of Platonic ideal, and that is something that can painfully obviously be dismissed peremptorily along with the platonic ideal rabbit which Creationists would have us believe is the representative of the Baramin that was to be found on the Ark.

              b&

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 12:02 am | Permalink

                Your problem Ben, is the problem of the reductionist. You cannot accept that an emergent phenomenon can not be solely expressed in terms of the properties existing only at a lower levels of structure. You cannot for example express capillary attraction in terms of quarks and leptons. In a similar fashion you cannot deal with the issue of free will without even recognising the abstract mental processes from which free will can possibly emerge. You desperately cling to discussing things at the level of synapses.

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:13 am | Permalink

                Howie, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from science, it’s that reductionism is the key to understanding reality.

                And I think your own example of a musical work perfectly demonstrates the point.

                If you’d like to convince me otherwise…explain what, exactly, it is you have in mind when you refer to a particular piece of music.

                Pick any example you like — the piano concerto I think it was you originally mentioned, or a favorite pop tune, or whatever. When you’re pointing to that musical work, what, exactly, is it that you’re pointing to?

                For real things, it’s a trivial example. I have a particular laptop I’m typing this on. There’s a dime on the table to my right, and a water bottle next to it. There’s the sound of the pressure cooker cooking oats on the stove; I can identify that sound as both the pressure waves in the air and the psychoacoustic phenomenon of my experience of them.

                Those are all very real things that I can readily identify.

                What’s not real is some Platonic idealization of a laptop computer, of a tenth of a dollar, and so on. There’re all sorts of computers that we would classify as laptops, but things get fuzzy around the edges. And is a broken laptop still a laptop? Same with money; if I find another nine dimes, most people would be willing to give me a $1 bill in exchange for them, and my bank will make a change in my balance if I give it to them…but that bank balance is just a record on a computer, and that record on the computer is just a particular patterning of (presumably) electromagnetic fields.

                So, Howie: Where’s the music?

                b&

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:50 am | Permalink

                I was pointing out Ben that because something can be encoded symbolically the decoder of the symbol is not the thing itself, and moreover the symbolised thing can have extended properties which are not at all encoded. Nor is the entity DEPENDENT on the symbolisation. An “elephant” will smell and the word elephant won’t. A mathematical equation held as an algorithm on a computer has properties that are related only to the equation and not the transistors and gates that comprise the computer. The playing of a recording of The Felice Brothers number “Take This Bread” is not a property of my stereo – it does not NEED my stereo or any stereo or any encoding whatsoever to exist. These things are entities in themselves. The message is NOT the medium.
                Ok?

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

                The playing of a recording of The Felice Brothers number “Take This Bread” is not a property of my stereo – it does not NEED my stereo or any stereo or any encoding whatsoever to exist.

                Prove it.

                Propose to me an experiment by which I (or some other entity) might come to know or otherwise experience “Take This Bread” by The Felice Brothers through non-physical means.

                If it helps, I don’t believe I’ve heard of either the band or the song, and I have no intention to do so until after you’ve indicated how you wish to demonstrate its existence without recourse to physical transmission.

                b&

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:57 am | Permalink

                “Howie, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from science, it’s that reductionism is the key to understanding reality.”
                Well then Ben why don’t you explain echolocation in bats in terms of synapses? It is absolutely certain that synapses are involved.

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

                Well then Ben why don’t you explain echolocation in bats in terms of synapses?

                Bats are a bit beyond the current state of the art. Would you settle for a worm, though?

                http://www.nature.com/news/video-reveals-entire-organism-s-neurons-at-work-1.15240

                b&

              • Posted May 22, 2015 at 7:35 am | Permalink

                “Bats are a bit beyond the current state of the art. Would you settle for a worm, though?”
                No Ben,… what is shown in this study shows nothing of the kind. It shows circuit activity. We do exactly the same thing in studying the electrical activity in an integrated circuit of a computer. TOTALLY the same sort of thing, but even better. But looking at the signals does not say anything about the nature of the set of simultaneous equations the computer may be solving at the instant. So answer the question- show me how you can explain echolocation at the level of synapses?

              • Posted May 22, 2015 at 8:24 am | Permalink

                But looking at the signals does not say anything about the nature of the set of simultaneous equations the computer may be solving at the instant.

                Sorry, Howie. You couldn’t be more wornger. Ask any EE. Used to be the oscilloscope that was the tool of choice for hardware analysis, but there’re now highly sophisticated logic probes, and the R&D teams have the coolest such toys you can possibly imagine.

                It’s also how hardware hackers are able to do all sorts of stuff, like recover “unrecoverable” encrypted keys.

                Hell, there’re even some damned clever hacks that work on modern systems that stress certain subsystems so as to cause physical leakage of currents in unintended ways and thereby figure out “protected” memory registers based on the timings of other things because delays get introduced as the circuitry reacts.

                You really need to get past your love of Platonic idealism. It’s every bit as primitively superstitious as the religions, such as Christianity, which base their assumptions upon it.

                b&

              • Posted May 23, 2015 at 7:06 am | Permalink

                “Sorry, Howie. You couldn’t be more wornger. Ask any EE. Used to be the oscilloscope that was the tool of choice for hardware analysis, but there’re now highly sophisticated logic probes, and the R&D teams have the coolest such toys you can possibly imagine.”

                You are wrong Ben. Not just wrong, but laughably wrong. I AM such an electronic engineer and with specialisations in computing. What you say is utterly incorrect – completely without merit = and totally false. Even with the most sophisticated test equipment there are no such “magical logic probes” with such properties. At Intel where I worked, and through my whole career, I was involved with analysis of signals at “lower levels”. They show nothing about what a higher structure functionality – they show what the logic circuit is doing and if it is “working to spec” as a logic circuit. It is impossible for such a device to exist. You can do “top down” analysis of what is to be expected, you can NEVER do “bottom up” to infer what a computer is processing or what it means.

                You never responded to my argument of how the properties of a set of simultaneous equations executed by a computer could be determined from looking at transistor of gate level signals even if you had such a super-magic-probe. The thing about emergence is that is not POSSIBLE to infer properties of a much higher level from a lower level. For one thing you don’t know what you’re looking for and given the permutations of WHAT it all could mean (numerically greater than the number of atoms in the universe) you wouldn’t know which “guess” in the vast array of possibilities was nonsense and which singular one was relevant.
                You talk of encryption – perhaps the best example of a decryption project was Turing’s at Bletchley Park. He KNEW what he was looking for. He even had an enigma machine and knew the operational model of the encryption method. He knew the probability of which symbols were more frequent. He only had success when it could be determined that certain phrases were always present in certain messages. Top down in every instance!

                Ben -at this point I’d like to make a friendly suggestion. You obviously like to debate – you certainly post a lot. But you also seem far too desperate to win every point discussed even to the point of making repetitive ill-informed statements or just stonewalling in general. I don’t think this tactic fools anyone. And it discredits the entire side of the argument you are supposedly supporting – which is in a way an injustice to others taking that same side as yourself.

              • Posted May 23, 2015 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

                They show nothing about what a higher structure functionality – they show what the logic circuit is doing and if it is “working to spec” as a logic circuit. It is impossible for such a device to exist. You can do “top down” analysis of what is to be expected, you can NEVER do “bottom up” to infer what a computer is processing or what it means.

                Howie, the most charitable response I can give is that you’re offering up a Platonic deepity — specifically, that a full characterization of the current state of a computer won’t reveal to you the programmer’s intentions when she wrote the source code that got munged through several layers of interpretation and compilation before being executed.

                But that’s no different from a Creationist arguing that a DNA sequence of an organism doesn’t tell you anything about what God intended for that organism’s true ultimate destiny.

                It’s very tedious to manually wire up the hardware of a computer, but that’s just what the first computers required — something akin to a telephone operator’s switchboard with wires going everywhere that you plugged into jacks, and so forth.

                The advancement of computer hardware has been the miniaturization and multiplication of the switches and assorted additional circuitry, and the advancement of computer software has been the increasing abstraction of the configuration of those switches.

                Used to be, you had to actually wire up the right kinds of vacuum tubes to create logical AND and OR (etc.) circuits, and gang them together in just the right way so that, when you turned on the power, all the switches would send their cascades of voltages this way and that way and, just like a Rube Goldberg contraption, output a particular voltage pattern on the light bulbs at the other end that you had decided would represent your answer. “2 + 2” in the one end from your configuration of the switches, and you read “4” in das blinkenlights.

                With such a primitive computer, you could pretty easily stick a voltmeter at any junction along the way and thereby reconstruct exactly what the computer was doing — high voltage here, low voltage there…and, assuming no broken wires or burnt-out tubes or what-not and with the caveats that “high voltage” might mean anywhere from 6V – 8V and “low voltage” from 1V – 2V rather than any sort of hard-and-fast “on” and “off” and so on…it was a perfect match for the logical pathways you had constructed.

                Then we started making things easier on ourselves. Rather than moving wires around, we wired up flip switches, and then cards with holes in them and switches that would open and close the respective connections based on the locations of the holes in the cards, much like a music box. Rather than das blinkenlights, we hooked up electric typewriters.

                At about this stage, you could still get in there with a much smaller voltage meter and trace each and every switch position and tube voltage and the rest, and it was still a perfect one-to-one match for the way you programmed it — only now it was a lot easier to do the programming.

                After that came transistors and then microprocessors, and teletype terminals, and video display terminals, and magnetic storage, and so on…at which point nobody makes voltmeters that can physically get to the requisite leads inside the computers — besides which, there were so many tens of thousands of circuits and transistors that you can’t build a mental map of them all at once the way you can when there’re only an handful of them.

                And, rather than directly flip the switches, you pressed a keyboard key that flipped several switches at once that corresponded with the key you pressed, meaning you can much more easily encode the alphabet and numbers and what-not. That opened the door to having circuits that translated switch flips corresponding with English words into switch flips that corresponded with the “do stuff” things you built the computer to do in the first place…rather than wire up tubes do add two and two, you could press, in sequence, “2,” “+,” “2,” “=” (or some variation on the theme, like, “PRINT SUM(2, 2)”) and there would be circuits that would translate those switch flips into the same original configuration of wires and tubes that did the math…and another set of circuits that would read the output and translate that into the voltage pattern that caused the teletype’s printer to make the “4” character strike the page.

                Jump forward to today…and you have programmers writing C# that gets compiled into JavaScript that the Web browser compiles on the fly to operating system function calls that the operating system compiles into assembler instructions that the CPU translates into its own bytecode and finally executes — and, obviously, each of those steps also requires their own trips to executed bytecode.

                So, if your point is that a modern logic probe isn’t going to reveal to you the whiteboard notes that the Web developer riffed off of when she was writing C#…obviously. But, first, that logic probe coupled with other tools (such as, perhaps an electron microscope to read the contents of the hard drive) will be able to reveal to you the complete state of the computer at that moment in time…with the caveat that such moments are fleeting and the computer changes faster than your analytical devices can keep up. But that state could be completely physically modeled, and the physical model translated back into a virtual machine point-in-time snapshot…and said snapshot would be logically identical to the original. You could examine any part of the computer at any level of abstraction you wanted, including reading files off the (simulated) disk, and so on. You wouldn’t necessarily have the source code the Web developer originally wrote, but you’d have whatever her Web server deigned to send to your browser, and so on.

                Again, we don’t necessarily have tools today that could operate in real time like that with today’s state-of-the-art hardware, but it’s both trivial to do so in real time with sufficiently ancient hardware and we should expect that future tools will be able to analyze today’s hardware in such a fashion when the tools have sped up enough.

                When you realize that today’s computers, magical as they seem, are really just incredibly complex and sophisticated versions of EINIAC, and it’s still just high and low voltages moving around depending on the state of the circuitry…that’s when you’ll truly understand that there is no software, only hardware.

                And, as an EE with a specialization in computers, you have no excuse for failing to realize that.

                b&

              • Posted May 23, 2015 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

                What you have said Ben in no way addresses the problem I set for you. The problem -how do you predict an emergent phenomenon from looking at lower levels of physical activity at gate/transistor level. The specific problem example -how do we know that a computer is solving a set of simultaneous equations – the further problem how do we then know the properties of such simultaneous equations.
                I have a limited time tonight so I’ll just spin off a few of the multiple problems that come to mind. Remember we must work from “bottom up” to discover emergence. It’s EMERGENT property we are looking for. Now, remember my example of Turing breaking enigma code – IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR YOU ARE NOT SEEKING THE EMERGENT PROPERTY, YOU ALREADY KNOW IT!!!
                Let’s look at the computer working on the equations. Suppose we have the most super magical logic analyser that can work at any speed. Does this really help??
                Some problems off the top of my head…..
                1. We know nothing of the particular computer structure -we don’t know if we are probing the control unit, the I/O unit, the ALU or the memory, etc – so we don’t know what the bit patterns mean re: their functionality as bits
                2. We don’t know the instruction set of the computer. We don’t know where or how instructions are decoded. If we don’t know the instructions how can we know the program. This is an encryption problem of the greatest magnitude. Especially if we don’t know the problem being addressed
                3. For the memory (of course we don’t know what constitutes the memory) we don’t know what is program and what is data. Everything is changing, but we dont know what these changes mean.
                4. We can’t determine sequencing – for example the common use of a pushdown stack for processing becomes a complete mystery. we dont even know if the gates we are looking at ARE a pushdown stack
                6. We don’t know the numeric precision so we can’t understand the variables involved. this hardly matters as we can’t even distinguish the variables
                7. We don’t know where is the program being solved and where is the supervisory executive program – or the I/O program – everything looks the same
                8. Even if by some miracle we could determine the mathematical problem being treated we have no clue to the general mathematical properties of such equations
                9. We don’t know and can’t infer the type of solution being attempted even if we could solve problem 8

                These are just a very few of the problems that come easily to mind

                So: HOW DO YOU SOLVE THIS LIMITED SET OF PROBLEMS I HAVE OUTLINED BEN – EVEN WITH THE MAGICAL LOGIC ANALYSER I HAVE ALLOWED FOR.

                For once Ben, admit that you are on the wrong track…
                For once earn a little respect for the quality of rational argument that you adhere to..

                Cheers
                Howie

              • Posted May 23, 2015 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

                HOW DO YOU SOLVE THIS LIMITED SET OF PROBLEMS I HAVE OUTLINED BEN – EVEN WITH THE MAGICAL LOGIC ANALYSER I HAVE ALLOWED FOR.

                Howie, I already addressed that. In detail. You’re just adding on layers of complexity beyond what you can simultaneously hold in your head and inserted a miracle in that gap.

                Once again: strip it down to a single logic gate. No trouble knowing exactly what that does, right? No magic required, no questions about encoding, and so on.

                Now two logic gates. Still no problem, right?

                Skipping ahead…ENIAC. Still just tubes and wires and relays and what-not. Still no magic there, and just barely at a level of complexity that humans can kinda-sorta manage to internalize.

                And, would you believe it?

                http://www.historicsimulations.com/eniac.html

                There you go. There’s a real-world computer whose hardware is simulated in exactly the manner I’ve been describing.

                So, either your objections are irrelevant expressions of your own personal ignorance or that ENIAC simulator doesn’t exist.

                As to your objections about not knowing encoding and the rest…again, irrelevant. You can trivially figure out the encoding of a single circuit, and build it up from there. You may well get to a level of complexity beyond what you’re capable of understanding…

                …but your fault lies in concluding that because you don’t understand it, it’s therefore magic. Need I again remind you? That’s exactly the argument of the Creationist: we don’t have a rock-solid theory of abiogenesis, we don’t have a complete family record of every individual from humans back to the MRCA with chimps or any other species; ergo Free Will. Er, Cheeses Fried. Whatever.

                b&

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                “You desperately cling to discussing things at the level of synapses.”

                Please explain how any decision making can be performed without changes in the brain synapses?

                And, if it happens because of the changes in the synapses, which we do not experience directly, how can you assert that there is some kind of freedom to control those synapses?

                Other synapses (which you don’t experience directly) will be controlling them? A little man directing those synapses?

                No one knows where their decisions come from. You don’t know their antecedents in the brain’s synapses.

  24. Filippo
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Up at 3:30 a.m., unable to sleep, so listened while I cleaned up the kitchen, swept the floor, straightened up here and there, mainlining coffee, and otherwise acquiescing to my inner control freak Puritan.

  25. Vaal
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    First, that was an excellent conversation between two people I look up to very much.
    I agreed with everything I heard. Except…not surprisingly…when I heard that one of the subjects was free will, I expected to hear compatibilism reliably mischaracterized and misdiagnosed, and I wasn’t disappointed 😉

    Jerry says compatibilists like Dennet just use “semantic tricks” and “semantic games” by “re-defining” free will.

    Yet Jerry simply defined free will in the contra-causal-defy-physics way that dismiss any other version by definition. How is this not a “semantic game” as well (if one is casting stones). To say, well that just IS what free will means, or it’s what it means in the way that most people use it or find it important, just begs the question, since that what is under dispute between compatibilists and incomptabilists. And if we are talking about direct empirical studies of what people take “free will” to mean, then there have been conflicting results – usually dependent upon how the question is asked. So even on empirical-study grounds, it’s hardly fair to talk as if this is settled in one’s favor.
    Not to mention the incompatibilists either have to remove “choice” from our lexicon or re-define it to mean something other than what most people mean by the term.

    Then Jerry (with Sam’s agreement) goes into diagnosing the “real” reasons motivating compatibilists. Compatibilists will tell you they think free will is a tenable concept on the basis that it strikes them as the most reasonable conclusion from observation/evidence and reason. But this is apparently too hard to believe for Jerry and Sam. So instead, they look for OTHER reasons. The REAL reasons the compatibilist argues for free will aren’t the reasons they give, but rather they are “largely because” compabilists find the idea that we are “wet robots” too frightening – that “your brains are reflecting the laws of physics – and so they reject it.”

    The first thing to note is that this is just entirely wrong – certainly in regards to Dan Dennett, any compatibilist I’ve read, or anyone arguing for compatibilism on these pages. None believe our brains “aren’t reflecting the laws of physics.” No one is frightened by this. That is a given, a very starting premise, for every compatibilist I know of. It’s why the term even EXISTS. I can’t understand why this mischaracterization can still occur after all this time.

    The second thing to note is this is a glaring inconsistency that I’m amazed escaped either of their notice. Given the context of the very conversation Jerry and Sam were having leading up to their Free Will conversion. They bemoaned the fact that on the subject of motivations, “accommodationists” just won’t accept religious people’s reports of what they actually believe and why; instead they go looking for some other reasons. Sam and Jerry note how inconsistent this is; that we don’t do that when people express the reasons they do or believe something in any other sphere.

    And then Jerry and Sam turn RIGHT AROUND and do exactly what the accommodationists do! They reject the reasons compatibilists give for being compatibilists – that they think the arguments for compatibilistm are the most sound! – and go looking for other “real” reasons and motivations instead. My jaw hit the floor at that inconsistency.

    (To the extent some Dan Dennett quotes have been used as “evidence” supporting this characterisation, these have been uncharitable/distortions of Dan’s overall vie)

    • Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

      You have described the situation quite perfectly Vaal. Well said.

    • Posted May 20, 2015 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      Yet Jerry simply defined free will in the contra-causal-defy-physics way that dismiss any other version by definition. How is this not a “semantic game” as well (if one is casting stones). To say, well that just IS what free will means, or it’s what it means in the way that most people use it or find it important, just begs the question, since that what is under dispute between compatibilists and incomptabilists.

      Sorry, but you’re just playing the same game as sophisticated theologians like Karen Armstrong do when they complain, “Well, that’s not the real god!” Never mind that the overwhelming majority of the population believes that “God” refers to “God the Father” who had a son, name of, “Jesus Christ,” and so on; no, that common and instantly-recognizable definition is to be ignored because it’s not sophisticated enough for the sophisticated theologian.

      Those same people who think that God really is Jesus’s father? Ask them what they think “free will” means and they’ll give you an answer indistinguishable from Jerry’s.

      b&

      • Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:13 am | Permalink

        Ask them what they think “free will” means and …

        … and you get disparate and inconsistent answers depending on the context and the phrasing of the question.

    • Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:12 am | Permalink

      Yep, spot-on Vaal.

  26. Vaal
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Lastly…

    Jerry and Sam go on to agree that compatibilists are like accommodationists, in that they seem to hold to some “non-overlapping magisteria.” It is not made perfectly clear what they meant, but there is virtually no sense in which it would be accurate. Presumably they mean compatibilists believe there to be no-overlap either between “science” and “free will” or between “determinism” and “free will.” But, as usual, this is depiction bears no resemblance to what comatibilists actually argue. Again, the premise of compatibilism STARTS with accepting science/physics/determinism as the point from which a cogent understanding of free will emerges. Far from “not overlapping” the very position depends on and appeals to causation/physics/determinism as a foundation for free will. There could literally be no less accurate depiction of compatibilism than the one propounded by what Sam and Jerry.

    Jerry stated that he wished philosophers talking of compatibilism would spend less time on the semantic games and propound the implications of determinism on real world matters, like the judicial system and how we punish criminals. But what, really, could be the difference vs a compatibilist stance that derives from a physical/determined understanding of humans as well? Jerry thinks determinism has implications for how we SHOULD change our attitudes towards these issues.

    Ok, so in other words, you are saying “we could do otherwise than we are now doing? (Judicially)?”

    If the answer is “no, we can’t do otherwise” then the incompatibilist is speaking gibberish. “We should change our judicial behaviour…but we can’t do otherwise.” That just won’t work. It’s no wonder then incompatibilists would have a hard time making their case to the public. People immediately smell the inconsistency.

    Therefore you have to have *some* sense in which we could “do otherwise” upon which to begin recommending we *start doing otherwise.*

    And the thing is, once you get into how this “do otherwise” make sense within a physics determined context you end up (the compatibles will argue: if you are to make sense) in the same conceptual space that compatibilists are standing.

    The big take-away I always get listening to “the other side” discuss a position I hold – whether it’s theists explicating what atheists believe or incompatibilists characterizing compatibilism – is how reliably one side mischaracterizes the other side’s position. And this I think goes as a caution for all sides of any debated topic – human nature and all that. It reminds me: Always get your understanding of a position from the one who holds it.

    • Vaal
      Posted May 20, 2015 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      Upon submitting those two comments, I see they seem to be longer than I anticipated.
      I lash myself for this with cat-o-nine tails, and if Prof CC wishes to delete them for breaking roolz I understand. ( I’d submit a more terse version).

      • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        Good comments, no need for lashing. Unless you’re into that! 🙂

      • Diane G.
        Posted May 22, 2015 at 12:15 am | Permalink

        I always appreciate your comments, Vaal.

    • Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:18 am | Permalink

      Agreed again! It seems to me that the only way a determinist can take an anti-compatibilist position is to take absolutely no notice of anything compatibilists say, no matter how often it is said!

      After approximately 2000 comments on the matter, Ben still does not even understand what compatibilists are trying to say!

      Every single time he treats it is as a version of dualism or a hankering after dualism, and then launches into yet another anti-dualism spiel.

  27. Vaal
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Apparently I was determined to make many typos…

  28. Posted May 20, 2015 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Just a quick comment about what Sam was saying about mindfulness… It’s more of just noticing and ‘being in the moment’ or ‘stilling the mind’, as opposed to analyzing. It’s something that takes practice but can yield some health benefits, such as de-stressing and relaxing.

    • Posted May 20, 2015 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      It’s more than just that paprika, it’s something that all we atheists should learn about and practise ourselves as we are currently incapable of experiencing anything transcendent enough.

      • Posted May 20, 2015 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

        “Should” is farther than I’d go.

        It’s something that people should be aware of, and Sam’s most recent book is an excellent way to gain awareness of it.

        But you no more “should” strive to have those experiences than you “should” any others — and I’d especially include mind-altering substances in that set.

        I’d hope that you wouldn’t suggest that everybody “should” drop acid. If that’s something that interests you and you go into it with full informed consent, great; all the more power to you. But I have no interest whatsoever in dropping acid, thankyouverymuch, and I’m pretty sure that that’s not something I should do. Even if it may well be something somebody else should do.

        Sam’s meditative practices are far more benign than hard drugs, but they can still require a pretty serious commitment in terms of time and effort to attain the sorts of mastery he describes. Easy enough for him; he spent the years practicing…not so easy for novices. The basic relaxation techniques can have instant payoff for little effort, but, as with so many disciplines, the curve gets pretty steep after that. If you start down that path and you like it, great; follow it with great gusto. But if it doesn’t do all that much for you and you think you’d be better off spending the time, say, practicing a musical instrument, don’t beat yourself up; you’re one of the people who should be practicing a musical instrument rather than meditating. Or maybe your thing is spending time with your family, or watching or participating in sports, or some of all the above, or whatever.

        Point being…there’re only so many hours in the day, so many days in the life you should spend them doing what you think you should be doing, and that might or might not include Sam’s spiritual practices. Your call, and yours alone.

        b&

        • Posted May 20, 2015 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

          Ben, I was being ironic…maybe a little too tongue in cheek in this case I guess. I am in truth seriously at odds with Sam’s whole spiel on the subject of meditation. I find it grossly inappropriate and condescending. I really dislike how he disses fellow atheists for their “Einsteinian” type of spirituality as having inferior and inadequate transcendent feelings in comparison to his own.
          So it really irritates me even more when Harris chooses to attribute flawed motives to Dennett, when he himself exhibits such emotional bias in his pet pastime. Dennett has shown real courtesy and restraint in not calling Harris to task in this area.

          • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:33 am | Permalink

            In my opinion, Sam is advocating for the proposition that useful and pleasant mental states are attainable with practice and that they are worth the effort. And they are different from being on drugs (though similar in some ways). And that they can help one see reality more clearly.

            I don’t remember where he “disses fellow atheists for their “Einsteinian” type of spirituality as having inferior and inadequate transcendent feelings in comparison to his own”. Can you please provide a quote an citation?

            I think he does react to fellow rationalists who say there’s nothing to be had or seen in meditation (or similar practice) or the mental states it can evoke for some people: Move along everyone, this is just more religious nonsense. (Unfortunately, all the language we have describing altered mental states is either religious or drug-related.)

            I am no advocate for meditation. To me, it’s always seemed too freighted with Hindu/Buddhist religious baggage.

            But I am interested that a strong atheist and rationalist finds it important, useful, and worth writing a book about. That “perks up my ears” after having tossed aside all such things while looking into them during my university time.

            • Posted May 21, 2015 at 11:44 am | Permalink

              “I don’t remember where he “disses fellow atheists for their “Einsteinian” type of spirituality as having inferior and inadequate transcendent feelings in comparison to his own”. Can you please provide a quote an citation?”

              Well he starts in Chapter 1 of “Waking Up”

              “Scientists generally start with an impoverished view of spiritual experience, assuming that it must be a grandiose way of describing ordinary states of mind—parental love, artistic inspiration, awe at the beauty of the night sky.”

              Sam then goes on to define this as “Einsteinian” transcendence….
              as this is how I personally feel about the wonders of science and nature I find this personally insulting. Has Sam wired my brain to determine that my particular transcendence is shorter than his is?

              or

              “Few scientists and philosophers have developed strong skills of introspection”

              Sam also goes on about he finds so many of his rationalist acquaintances are emotionally impoverished .. if you’d like I can find the quote but I’m rather busy at the moment

              • Diane G.
                Posted May 22, 2015 at 12:20 am | Permalink

                Oh, man, that’s so disappointing. Sounds like just so many straw men…

              • Posted May 22, 2015 at 7:27 am | Permalink

                You’re way ahead of me, Howie, as I haven’t ordered Sam’s book yet. Out of curiousity, I’d prefer to read the whole thing myself than rely on a couple of excerpts, but I’ll take your forewarning and be careful.

                I’m curious too as to what drew you to read the book, given that the title was a dead giveway as to what was on offer? Did you get nothing positive out of it?

          • Posted May 21, 2015 at 11:29 am | Permalink

            Wow, you and I sure see Sam in a different light. What more can I say?

          • Diane G.
            Posted May 22, 2015 at 12:22 am | Permalink

            Whoa, can’t believe I didn’t catch the irony at first–guess I was too busy taking umbrage at “as we are currently incapable of experiencing anything transcendent enough.”

            😀

      • Posted May 21, 2015 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        Of course, it goes without saying that it’s much more than that. I wasn’t about to give Dr. C a lecture on mindfulness. I was just making a casual reference to the point in the interview where they were talking about ordering steak. It’s not about analyzing any given moment; it’s just about being self-aware and paying true attention.

        There’re tons of free stuff available on the net, if anyone has the interest. So I leave it to people to decide for themselves.

        As for me, just out of curiousity and because I greatly admire the man, I’ll be checking out Sam Harris’s book on Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.

        • GBJames
          Posted May 21, 2015 at 11:46 am | Permalink

          “…paying true attention…”

          Phrases like this make me anxious. It implies that unless someone pracices this habit one can only pay false attention.

          • Posted May 21, 2015 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

            You’re right, I worded that poorly. “Paying full attention” or “truly paying attention” might work better – not being distracted or operating on auto-pilot — that sort of thing.

  29. Tim Milburn
    Posted May 21, 2015 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Just a comment on the whole free will issue and Dan Dennett:

    So, we have this pattern where we have a traditional concept of X, most people believe that X exists, then things change and it doesn’t anymore seem reasonable to believe that X exists. Some people respond by “eliminating” X (I’ll call these people “eliminativists”), whereas others respond by altering the traditional concept of X to something that they can believe exists, and which is meant to perform a somewhat similar function (I’ll call these people “reformists”). Where X is “God” atheists are the eliminativists, and some Sophisticated Theologians are the reformists. Where X is “free will” Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne are eliminativists, and Dan Dennett is a reformist. The pattern might suggest that Dennett is thinking about free will in the same way that Sophisticated Theologians think about God.

    However, it’s not that simple. Where X is “Objective Morality”, Jerry Coyne appears to be an eliminativist, whereas Sam Harris and Dan Dennett appear to be reformists. Where X is “the conscious mind” all three appear to be reformists (though I’m not quite sure). A Sophisticated Theologian like David Bentley-Hart (and many other philosophers besides) might even claim that where X is “knowledge” Jerry Coyne is a reformist, when he really ought to be an eliminativist. The same might apply where X is “truth”, “mathematics”, “logic” or “intentionality (in the sense of aboutness)”. The philosopher Alex Rosenberg appears to be an eliminativist about all of these X’s. This is not to say that I agree with Bentley-Hart at all. Reformism about some of these X’s seems like a sensible option to me. These examples are meant to show that there are real decisions to be made about whether to be eliminativists or reformists in regards to each X. There are sometimes good reasons to be eliminativist about X (like when X is “God”), and other times when there are good reasons to be reformist about X (like when X is “the consciousness mind” or “knowledge”). The reformist path is not necessarily the irrational one. It all depends.

    • rickflick
      Posted May 21, 2015 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Good analysis, Tim. This idea has been struggling to find form in the back of my cranium for a while now. Thanks for structuring it so well.

      • Tim Milburn
        Posted May 21, 2015 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        Thanks! I hope this might help clarify things a little.

    • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      It appears that compatibalists rest their case on the concept of “emergence,” which hasn’t been discussed here much: the idea that new properties emerge out of the ether without any preconditions, small deus ex machinas. Which, of course, is merely saying we haven’t the foggiest idea where these new properties come from, so we’ll just say they emerge, and be done with it. That sounds scientific and rigorous. I find it interesting that physicists tend to get caught up in this; as if they believed their four laws were the entire operating manual for the universe. Anything else is emergence. God lives in physics, after all.

      And while it’s beating a dead horse, I feel compelled to point out that there is no operational explanation for free will; i.e. no one knows how it could possibly work or what it would mean. Where is there room for the concept of “freedom” in decision making? It’s not a matter of simply, “well, one could have made a different choice”; which is really saying that a different choice could have been made, not that one could have made a different choice. Some people can’t understand that distinction.

      A lot of philosophical nit-picking goes on over things which are irrelevant.

      • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        More to the point…emergence is a property of an aggregate that isn’t applicable to unaggregated constituent elements. Individual isolated water molecules aren’t wet nor dry nor sticky nor slippery or the like; those properties simply don’t make sense in that context. They emerge only when you put enough of them together such that their interactions create the properties.

        Individual water molecules do have mass, temperature, inertia, and so on. And aggregates of water molecules have those properties, too, either summed or averaged or multiplied or however it works out for that particular property.

        What you don’t get is anti-mass or anti-temperture or anti-inertia emerging from water.

        …yet, somehow, we get anti-determinism freely emerging in the will once you put enough neurons inside a skull….

        b&

        • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:35 am | Permalink

          …yet, somehow, we get anti-determinism freely emerging in the will once you put enough neurons inside a skull…

          Ben, Ben, Ben, you **still** think that compatibilism is a rejection of determinism, don’t you?

          You will never even begin to understand compatibilism until you realise that it starts with a whole-hearted *embrace* of determinism!

          • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:38 am | Permalink

            Then where is the freedom to choose?

            • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:45 am | Permalink

              jbilie, consider all of the many uses of the word “free” in the English language? How many of them mean “not obeying the laws of physics”? Almost none.

              The word “free” is not about violating the laws of physics. If I talk about the “degrees of freedom” of a system the term is about the ways in which that system can behave *within* the laws of physics.

              *That* is the freedom one is talking about in compatibilist-FW.

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

                You dodged the question.

                If “free will” is to be anything, it must at least somewhere include freedom of choice. If you don’t have that much, any and all other freedoms are irrelevant to “free will.” The dog may be free of the chain, but its will is not free.

                b&

                >

          • Vaal
            Posted May 21, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

            Yes it’s…amazing…

            • Vaal
              Posted May 21, 2015 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

              ^^^ Meant in reply to Coel about Ben/anti-determinism.

          • Posted May 21, 2015 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

            As soon as you stop describing your conception of “free will” in non-deterministic terms, I’ll stop accusing you of proposing non-deterministic free will.

            Hint: determinism ain’t free. At the least, you’re going to have to drop the “free” part of your “free will.”

            b&

            >

        • Posted May 21, 2015 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

          An individual molecule has none of those properties, you are right, because those properties are inapplicable to the individual molecule; but the capacity to create those properties when massed exists in the individual molecules.

      • Vaal
        Posted May 21, 2015 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        Johan Mathiesen aka DeadManTalking

        “It appears that compatibalists rest their case on the concept of “emergence,” which hasn’t been discussed here much: the idea that new properties emerge out of the ether without any preconditions, small deus ex machinas”

        “Emergence” is a messy area of discussion with various versions, but even within most concepts of emergence, I don’t recognize the description you just gave for “emergence.”

        That said, the reason I don’t need to stake compatibilism on “emergence” per se is this: The debate about emergence generally concerns how to describe and conceptualize phenomena that BOTH sides agree exist. Take the game of chess. Debates about emergence/reductionism tend to be about how to treat and describe “chess.” Can and should chess be described from the most basic level of physics that we can access – is that the most coherent and fruitful way to understand anything that “emerges” from those processes? Or is it more fruitful to understand “Chess” as a higher end “zoomed out” description of those underlying processes? Or is it more fruitful to understand “Chess” as an entirely NEW phenomenon, emerged but distinct from the underlying physics?

        Note that none of the sides in the debate deny that “chess” exists to begin with – it’s a real phenomenon that we are seeking the best way to describe.

        The compatibilist is likewise seeks to base the concept of free will on phenomena that, like Chess, exist and are observable, not denied by either party. Whether one is a strong, weak emergentist or a hard-reductionist, in no case does “chess-playing” disappear.
        Likewise, whatever your position, phenomena like “people having desires” “using reason” “taking actions” “being in positions of specific constraints” etc are real phenomena that don’t “go away” when appealing to the sub-atomic realm, so it’s a red-herring to get into that discussion. You just have to agree, as we all, do on whether things like “chess playing,” “cars,” “bats,” “The Superbowl” “Donkey-Kong” etc exist or not. And then who is being most consistent within this context.

        So that’s why I find the discussion of “emergence” to often be a red-herring; it’s not that a compatibilist can’t appeal to the concept of emergence, which he/she will have to explain; but even IF a compatibilist happens to appeal to the term, arguing against “emergence” per se will tend to miss much of what is actually appealed to in the compatibilist arguments.

        “I feel compelled to point out that there is no operational explanation for free will; i.e. no one knows how it could possibly work or what it would mean.”

        Well that either just ignores, or is ignorant of all those propositions that do answer that question. Have you read, for instance, the debates on this site about free will?

        Wikipedia has a decent page on Free Will. It starts with this:

        Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unimpeded.

        And:

        “Compatibilists often define an instance of “free will” as one in which the agent had freedom to act according to his own motivation. That is, the agent was not coerced or restrained.”

        As a basis, this requires that people have desires and goals that can motivate their actions, and that they can and do take actions. And that we can describe both “things that people can do” and circumstances in which *specific* constraints exist to impede actions people desire to take. And they have all these things – they are already studied scientifically from many angles.

        As I’ve said, the type of claims therefore involved in compatibilism are pretty mundane empirical claims about our capabilities; that I chose to lift the 45 lb dumbbells a the gym but “could have done otherwise, lifted the 50 lb dumbbells instead” is just a claim about my general capabilities in similar situations, which involve the exact same counterfactuals as employed in studying the nature of ANYTHING scientifically.

        Not that the 100th time of repeating this will make a dent 😉

        • Vaal
          Posted May 21, 2015 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

          html fail:

          The bolded text following the last italicized Wikipedia is my own writing.

        • Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

          Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unimpeded.

          Right. We’ve been here before. In the real world, there are always impediments. In your imagination, sure, you can seemingly run free in multiverses of your own creation — though, even there, what you imagine is as inevitably deterministic as a pebble rolling down a mountainside. But you get the illusion of being able to navigate a limitless world of endless possibilities…

          …all whilst actually barreling down the inescapably fixed gradient of entropy.

          b&

          • Vaal
            Posted May 21, 2015 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

            Vaal Wrote: “And that we can describe both “things that people can do” and circumstances in which *specific* constraints exist to impede actions people desire to take.”

            ^ *specific* constraints.

            *specific*….

            ….constraints

            It was even starred for emphasis, Ben.

            But you will again dogmatically assert that “free” isn’t “really free” unless it means “free of ALL possible constraints.”

            Why should we accept your assertion? No argument is really given, it’s just assumed.

            Compatibilists actually give arguments for the coherence of using “Free” within a determinist system, showing that we use the term all the time in ways that do not challenge determinism.

            On the other hand, all we get from you seems to be mere dogmatic assertion that “free could only mean free from all constraints” with no supporting argument why someone ought to accept your definition, and against how the word is actually used commonly, not just by compatibilists but by EVERYONE else.

            And every time you assert this is what “Free Will” HAS to mean…again is just dogmatic assertion and question-begging, given this is the very thing under dispute.

            Even assertions that “this is what most people mean on the topic of Free Will” is belied by actual attempts made so far to study people’s attitudes on free will, in which results have been inconclusive (because the issue, and people’s attitudes and thoughts on free will are more complex than you will allow, as reflected by actual empirical studies…a blinkering of yourself to empirical reality which is strange coming from an otherwise empirically minded person).

            But, since we know this has become an uncrossable impass…

            • Posted May 21, 2015 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

              But you will again dogmatically assert that “free” isn’t “really free” unless it means “free of ALL possible constraints.”

              Okay.

              I’ll free you of all constraints save for a ball and chain around your foot. Are you free?

              I’ll now free you of the ball and chain but surround you with land mines. Are you now free?

              I’ll free you of both but brainwash you such that the Stockholm Syndrome keeps you in place. Are you now free?

              Compatibist “free will” is only a little bit pregnant….

              b&

              • Vaal
                Posted May 21, 2015 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

                It depends on whether the ball and chain impedes a particular choice I want to make.
                If I’m watching TV with a ball and chain attached to me and I’m asked “Did you watch channel 22 instead of 21 of your own free will – were you free to do either?” I’d answer: Yes.

                Because, *as always in real world applications* one is talking to specific types of constraint relevant to the type of action under discussion.

                The ball and chain isn’t relevant to the question of whether I was free to choose one TV channel over another.

                But if the question were “Are you in that spot of your own free will – are you free to go elsewhere?” then the *specific constraint of the ball and chain is relevant to that specific question. The answer is likely “No, I want to leave this place, but the ball and chain is stopping me from doing what I want. In that sense I am not free to do what I want.”

                See how it works? This is everyday usage and logic. Why this baffles you…baffles me.

                Let’s say you’ve been told by some Prison Officials that “Ed” has finished his sentence and has now been “freed” from prison, is not a “free man.”

                Ben says: Oh, you mean Ed’s free so now he can jump all the way to the moon, breath water, and declare himself president of the USA?

                The prison officials look baffled: Of course not.

                Ben: But you said “free” and “free means free of ANY constraints…right?

                Prison officials: Uh…no. We didn’t say ‘free of any constraints.’ We are saying he is free from being held in the prison. We weren’t claiming he is free of physics or all sorts all other constraints.

                Ben: I’m sorry but you are just not making sense. Unless he is free of all possible constraints, your talking about his being “free” is like his being ” a little pregnant.”

                Prison Officials: Sir…is English your first language or….is there some medication you should be on at the moment?

                Ben, it’s not us compatibilists who are the outliers here in our understanding and use of the term “free.” 😉

              • Posted May 21, 2015 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

                It depends on whether the ball and chain impedes a particular choice I want to make.

                Right. We’ve been here, before, too. “Free will” is the love a puppet has for his strings.

                What on Earth should make you think there aren’t all sorts of other balls and chains that determine which channel you’ll watch? That you don’t find those particular constraints distasteful is of utter irrelevance to the fact that they constrain you.

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted May 21, 2015 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

                ^^ correction: ““Ed” has finished his sentence and has now been “freed” from prison, is NOW a “free man.”

          • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

            Note that Vaal’s definition of free will is circular.

        • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

          Or is it more fruitful to understand “Chess” as an entirely NEW phenomenon, emerged but distinct from the underlying physics?

          What you’ve done here is accentuated my wonderment at physicists in thinking their rules are the sum total of the rules of the universe. There are many forces at work in the universe that have nothing to do with the laws of physics, life is a good one; but everything emerges in its time and place from the very inception of the universe itself. But I feel there is a regularity to all the laws of the universe, those that govern chemical reactions, biology, etc. Where those laws are hidden within the universe, I have no idea, but to simply stop and say “they emerge” hardly seems very investigative. How does one become a scientist, if one is willing to stop at, “Well, it just appeared”?

          Chess? It’s pretty predictable, given human behavior. That it showed up at a particular point in time is necessary; everything has its emergence in the universe. But the invention of chess is no more mysterious than the explosion of a volcano.

          Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unimpeded.

          I’ve parsed that definition many times and find it interesting because it doesn’t say anything; it’s circular. “Unimpeded,” in this case, is synonymous with “Freely.” It doesn’t help us understand what “freedom” means, in the slightest. That’s still the view from outside, from the spectator; It’s not the view of the decision maker; for the decision-maker, there’s no such thing as unimpeded.

          Compatibilists often define an instance of “free will” as one in which the agent had freedom to act according to his own motivation. That is, the agent was not coerced or restrained.

          So, motivations are not constraints? It is logically impossible to have a decision-making process without constraints, parameters.

          As a basis, this requires that people have desires and goals that can motivate their actions, and that they can and do take actions. And that we can describe both “things that people can do” and circumstances in which *specific* constraints exist to impede actions people desire to take.

          You write this as if constraints were only from the exterior, but they exist with the person, as well. All decisions are emotional choices. One makes the decision one wants to make. “Want” is the operating word. No one is free to want what they want. One can want a different want, but one cannot control the want.

          I feel the same way about “no dents,” believe me.

          • Vaal
            Posted May 21, 2015 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

            Johan Mathiesen aka DeadManTalking,

            “How does one become a scientist, if one is willing to stop at, “Well, it just appeared”?”

            I’m sorry but….what are you talking about??? Is this supposed to have any connection with what I wrote, because I don’t see it.

            Wikipedia states: Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unimpeded.

            Johan replied: I’ve parsed that definition many times and find it interesting because it doesn’t say anything; it’s circular.,

            Johan, this is clearly a terse definition where “impeded” will apply to *specific impediments relative to any particular choice.* This is what compatibilists have been saying over and over again here, which should have helped interpret that Wikipedia statement. Don’t you think “Today my choice between playing 9 or 18 holes of golf was IMPEDED by the arrival of heavy lightning storms’…is a meaningful statement?

            I went on to elaborate on it as well, providing more, with the other quote you referenced.

            “So, motivations are not constraints? It is logically impossible to have a decision-making process without constraints, parameters.”

            Of course there *can* be constraints in our motivations, but most compatibilists don’t demand that we are in control of how every desire arises: the question is GIVEN a particular desire, ARE we free to act on it, or are we thwarted from fulfilling the desire? Compatibilists realize that it is impossible and impractical to demand that “free” mean “free of all constraints.”
            Look at the example I gave of “Ben” making crazy demands for the way “free” is used by the Prison Officials. It shows that if you demand that free only reference a situation of “no constraints” you end up not only with an idiosyncratic version of “free” but an unworkable one. So every time you want to say…”but…but…I can think of a different constraint” you will miss the point. The point is always the existence of *specific* constraints – e.g. physically restrained from going where you want to go, physically coerced/threatened etc.

            “No one is free to want what they want. One can want a different want, but one cannot control the want.”

            That’s simply not true. We can’t control or rationally motivate all our desires, but we can for a great many of them. I”ve gone through this before here.
            If I say “I chose to eat Cheerios but I could have chosen to eat Shreddies instead” that’s a claim not only about my physical capabilities, but about my ability to alter my desire, to navigate what I will. You can test this by putting in front of me both boxes of cereal. “I want to pick out Cheerios” (picks up Cheerios) “and now I want to pick out Shreddies” (picks out Shreddies). I will have demonstrated that I’m perfectly capable of altering my desire.
            If this *doesn’t* display some control of “what I want” then it’s clear you would be appealing to some concept of “control” that is impossible to satisfy in principle, and hence utterly impractical and not to be taken seriously. (And would not be taken seriously since it’s of no use to us in the real world. To “be in control” in normal real world use virtually NEVER references “being in control of EVERYTHING” it references specific instances of control – e.g. saying I can control my car is not a claim that I am in control of anything more than that, it’s not a claim that I control ALL THINGS or EVERY factor adjacent to my controlling the car. Language would be impossible, impeded by impossible demands).

            • Posted May 22, 2015 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

              That’s simply not true. We can’t control or rationally motivate all our desires, but we can for a great many of them. I’ve gone through this before here.
              If I say “I chose to eat Cheerios but I could have chosen to eat Shreddies instead” that’s a claim not only about my physical capabilities, but about my ability to alter my desire, to navigate what I will.

              Well, there’s altogether too much to get into. No, one can’t initiate desires; they are uncontrollable. New data can be added to the equation that can alter desires, but you can’t do the altering; that’s done internally, out of sight. Desires are not thought out; they are what keep us alive; they are motivations. But should you want to add data to alter the desire, you have to have a desire to do so, and you can’t control where that desire comes from. In the end, all answers are expressions of desires, of wants. Even the answer four to two–plus-two is given because one wants to be right. The want is controlling the decision making.

              I’ve seen you run through the Cherrios argument before, so I’m familiar with it. You start the example a little late. The sequence starts with you being hungry and your wanting to satisfy that hunger. That’s the initial motivation. You didn’t initiate a desire to be hungry, you were simply hungry and had an uncontrollable desire to stop the hunger. The options for assuaging that hunger, of course, are, effectively, infinite. You could go to Italy for a bowl of pasta. You could munch the grass off your lawn. You could pray that the hunger will go away.

              But no, you decided to have cereal. You had free will, in your terms, to satisfy that hunger any number of ways—suicide would be one—but you chose cereal. But, even though you had this putative free will, you had to make a choice. You had to have a reason for making the choice you made. Even should you have decided to flip a coin and make the choice random (which is hard for an infinity of choices), you would have had to had a reason to chose flipping a coin. There would have to be a reason for you to want to act randomly. To do anything, one must have the desire to do it. You’re going to have breakfast because you want to stay alive.

              You’ll note, we haven’t even gotten to the choice between Cheerios and Shreddies; we’re still working on why you chose breakfast-food to satisfy your hunger, and we haven’t found free will, yet. A lot of things went into your choice of breakfast food, a lot of non-free-willy kinds of things. Like it was morning; you’re an American and breakfast food is common fodder for Americans in the morning; it was quick and easy; you like cereal; it would take too long to get to Italy; etc., etc. So, while in theory you had the free will to have breakfast on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, or commit suicide, your choices were actually much more limited, not necessarily because of outside constraints, but because of one’s own desires: one doesn’t want to commit suicide, just to stop being hungry. At least not yet. One doesn’t want to postpone breakfast until one gets to Italy.

              But these are all competing wants/desires. And that’s how decisions are made: desires compete with each other and one of them wins out; no one is in control of the desires; if you want one desire to win, that want itself is another desire adding to the fire. There is no bottom place where there isn’t desire.

              So, after all that time and deliberation, and rejecting suicide and Vesuvius, you still have free will to choose those Cheerios or Shreddies, right? Wrong. Because, come what may, one of those will be chosen. One came quicker to hand, one had brighter packaging, one appealed to you more that day, you never liked wheat. While objectively it was true that either cereal could have been chose, only one was, and there were reasons for that. There are always reasons, There cannot not be reasons. Reasons obviate free will. Free will is, as you like to say, unimpeded. Reasons are impediments, no way around it, they are constraints by definition. So, to have a reason to do something—and nothing can be done without a reason—is to not have free will. If you want to make a different choice, you have to have a reason.

              Maybe if you thought of it as “free choice,” you could more readily see the impossibility. You may be free to choose whatever you’d like; but you have to have a reason for the choice you make; hence no freedom. It’s tautological.

              “I want to pick out Cheerios” (picks up Cheerios) “and now I want to pick out Shreddies” (picks out Shreddies). I will have demonstrated that I’m perfectly capable of altering my desire.

              No, you’re perfectly capable of desiring to alter your choice or of having your desire alter. You can’t alter your choice without so desiring. Ain’t possible. And you can’t create the desire to alter your choice. You can’t get out of the trap of desire, of having reasons. There’s no place for “free” to be meaningful in such a discussion.

              This is way too much; I’ll stop now. I think it’s hopeless. When one’s argument rests on not understanding something, that understanding is almost impossible to come by.

              • GBJames
                Posted May 23, 2015 at 8:01 am | Permalink

                That makes sense to me. Except that two-plus-two is four whether or not I desire it so.

              • Posted May 24, 2015 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

                Well, I’ll put to one side my argument that you really can change (or at least modulate) your desires (which I do believe) and instead counter your argument on a less contentious level. The issue, as I see it, is the nature of who or what is making the choice of Shreddies or Cherios , and how that choosing entity was “formed” , what established the decision criteria (the goals and values – and even dare I say it the “desires” to some degree). And so there is the crucial question “is that self in any way freed from absolute causation in the formation of those decision criteria”? Well it is certain that the “self” made the decision. There certainly is a self, and a conscious (self aware) one at that. Some pretty complex abstract processes are involved in the decisional process – modelling of the situation, abstraction, associative reference, learning, symbolic referencing etc etc. Why does this all matter? Well, it matters because the “self” is to a large degree “self formed”. Not entirely – there are many innate desires and imposed cultural influences. But in spite of this much of the self is formed by the self. This is know as “growing up” It is an long running iterative process. Every experience that has various possible interpretations, every decision made, every measure of the decisions results- positive or negative – produce modified and reformed values and new re-evaluated goals. But because there is no absolutely fixed causal chain (due to randomising influences) we essentially evolve these values –they are ours. We ADAPT and refine them again and again. What does this mean? That over time the RESPONSIBILITY for future decisions (non coerced that is) are primarily the consequence of the nature of the self (the self’s self made decision criteria and goals), and crucially the self is itself “self formed”. If you are a “Shreddies” person or a “Cheerios person” that’s principally determined by all these self formed actions compounded iteratively as you grew to be the unique person you are. Your values are YOURS. You have free will.

              • Posted May 24, 2015 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

                There certainly is a self, and a conscious (self aware) one at that.

                You are far too confident in that assertion. Pretty much all who study consciousness and the self will strongly lean towards the position that the self is an illusion, and that consciousness itself is much more of an observational phenomenon than a decisive one. There’re switches in your brain making decisions, but it seems pretty certain that the parts of your brain responsible for self-awareness aren’t the same parts making the decisions.

                I know you’re not a fan of Sam, but he gives a good overview of this in his latest book. But it’s not just his mystical side putting that forth; it’s also the general conclusion of neuroscientists everywhere, especially those who’ve worked with split-brain patients.

                But in spite of this much of the self is formed by the self. This is know as “growing up” It is an long running iterative process.

                By that same token, we could also describe crystals as forming themselves by growing up through running iterative processes. Iteration and recursion are powerful tools, yes, and they certainly seem mysterious and mind-blowing to novices…but there’s really nothing special or different about them at an operational level. Still just flipping switches in various patterns.

                b&

              • Posted May 25, 2015 at 11:48 am | Permalink

                The self is an illusion? Well this seems to me just another silly straw man argument. No rationalist feels there is something like a homunculus inside ourselves separated from the physical. But instead there is the capacity of the mind to function as an independent decisional agent, to be aware of that agency, and to be aware (conscious) of that “independence”. Of course this means we have a capacity that makes this all self-referential – which is, well- weird. A “Strange Loop” as Hofstadter puts it. But how can we even argue that SOMETHING (or rather SOMEBODY) is not the actor in all these decisions –be they totally determined or not so wholly determined.

                So we just need to analyse the functionality of this decisional unit -the self.

                “By that same token, we could also describe crystals as forming themselves”

                A totally wrong sort of analogy. If you want to choose an analogy for self-forming you need to choose Evolution. Now you could argue that our species (and all species for that matter) were totally pre-determined. Everything that has ended up species-wise is exactly the end product of the “direction of Evolution”. Random effects, mutations, natural accidents mean NOTHING in this because we ended up exactly as we are because of the subsequently determined results of even these random effects. This is the teleological sort of view of Evolution. And it is WRONG. There is NO DIRECTION to Evolution – there is just the activity of adaption. In exactly the same way our “self” and the specific decisional criteria within the self are evolved AND WE ARE THE PRINCIPAL “FORMER” IN THAT ADAPTIVE FORMATION. We are that self-referential iterative strange-loop. It may seem weird, but it is even weirder to say that it is only an illusion.

              • Posted May 25, 2015 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

                No rationalist feels there is something like a homunculus inside ourselves separated from the physical. But instead there is the capacity of the mind to function as an independent decisional agent, to be aware of that agency, and to be aware (conscious) of that “independence”.

                Howie, I cannot for the life of me distinguish between your self-aware independent agent and an homunculus separated from the physical. Everything you describe of the latter is also a typical characteristic of the former…and, indeed, the former is a good description of our subjective (and illusory!) conscious experience.

                But how can we even argue that SOMETHING (or rather SOMEBODY) is not the actor in all these decisions –be they totally determined or not so wholly determined.

                Just as there is no spoon, there is no actor. That’s the whole point of determinism. There are patterns that can be observed, and those patterns are often recursively self-reinforcing — just look at whirlwinds or snowflakes. But you are no more an actor than the whirlwind.

                If you want to choose an analogy for self-forming you need to choose Evolution. Now you could argue that our species (and all species for that matter) were totally pre-determined. Everything that has ended up species-wise is exactly the end product of the “direction of Evolution”. Random effects, mutations, natural accidents mean NOTHING in this because we ended up exactly as we are because of the subsequently determined results of even these random effects. This is the teleological sort of view of Evolution.

                NO! It is not teleological.

                Take a pocket calculator. It just sits there and does nothing until somebody comes along and starts pressing its buttons. There is nothing in the nature of the calculator that says that it must only display a particular number at a certain point in time. However, given the buttons that you press, it is inevitable that the calculator will display a certain corresponding number. The calculator has no choice in the matter; it simply carries out functions based entirely on its environment as processed through its internals.

                Your internals and your environment are much, much more complex than that calculator…but the fundamental nature is the same.

                You can even program many of today’s calculators — and certainly smartphones and more sophisticated devices — with all sorts of recursive self-modifying algorithms.

                Yet those algorithms remain functions: given any single actual input, only one actual output can possibly result. (And, please, before banging the “randomness” drum again, please please review non-deterministic Turing machines and especially their provable equivalence with the deterministic variety.)

                Evolution itself is no different. No super-entity consciously decided that humans would be the current state of life on Earth. However, it remains a function: given the actual input at each and every step of the way, the actual output was inevitable, and we are the cumulative product of all those minuscule inevitabilities. If those inputs had differed, yes, of course; the output, the end result, could well have differed. But that’s no different from saying that, if you press “2 + 3” on the calculator, it’ll output, “5,” as opposed to the “4” that it’d output if you instead press “2 + 2.”

                This is what determinism is, what it means. It most emphatically does not mean that there is some sort of goal in mind. It simply says that all inflection points are functions, with each input mapping to but a single output and never to multiple outputs.

                Reject that, and you reject determinism. Reject determinism, and you reject physics…and whatever you embrace in its stead is logically indistinguishable from spiritual dualism.

                b&

              • Posted May 25, 2015 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

                Ben, I am not arguing that free will does not exist in a deterministic world – after all, I am a Compatibilist. But in my example I show that just as the nature of a species is the “evolving entity” in evolutionary adaption, the principal composition of the self’s decisional criteria is the evolving entity in the “self” that is formed. And recursion allows the self to form itself to a large degree. The timescale in this case is the period of a humans ‘growing up”. We are looking for RESPONSIBILITY here in human agency (under levels of non-compulsion)..

    • Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      there are good reasons to be reformist about X (like when X is “the consciousness mind” or “knowledge”)

      No one (that I can see) is arguing that knowledge and consciousness don’t exist.

      • Tim Milburn
        Posted May 21, 2015 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        Quite right! No-one, apart from a few philosophers, argues that knowledge or the conscious mind doesn’t exist. But it could be said that we have reformed the concepts of “knowledge” and “conscious mind” in order to achieve this. What is required is that the old concept and the reformed concept have some affinity, play a similar role, and there is reason/evidence to believe that the reformed concept is actually instantiated in reality. Under these conditions, I think, the conventional word used for the concept can be kept, as long as one is prepared explain all this openly.

        So there shouldn’t be an automatic problem with, say, Dennett reforming the concept of free will. Such a move need not be seen as a failure of nerve in response to the advance of science.

        • Posted May 21, 2015 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          And science changes the definition of phenomena all the time to match new findings, an example being how a the definition of “wave” was modified when it was discovered that transmission really did not require a medium (the aether).

        • Vaal
          Posted May 21, 2015 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

          Yes, Tim. I believe we would be on the same page about this. I would only worry when someone takes “replacing X with a reformed X” equates to “replacing X with a totally new X.” People on that understanding would be motivated to say “Well, then you are just playing bait and switch – the new X isn’t the old X, so why use the same concept?”

          That’s usually what incompatibilists accuse compatibilism of doing, which is wrong.
          As you say, a reformed version of X” ought to account for some substantial element of what was referred to by the original X.
          Otherwise it’s not reformed so much as just new.

          This is why I continually harp on noticing the difference between “the explanation/theory for X” and “X itself.”
          That is, we have to be careful not to mistake the explanation for the phenomenon for the phenomenon itself – doing so implies we would have to throw away “what we are trying to explain” when a particular explanation is shown untenable.

          We have realized and avoided this folly many times – e.g. the often brought up example of “life” where it would have been folly to mistake a previous, mistaken explanation – a life force or “élan vital” – with the thing to be explained: “why things we call ‘living’ are observably different from ‘dead’ or ‘non-living’ things.”

          The thing is we (humans) are messy and not always coherent thinkers, and so it can often take various modes of investigation to TEASE OUT the various concerns people may have under any particular umbrella terms, like “free will.’

          It’s like morality. If you ask a single simple question of some theists “what is morality” you may get a simplified answer that doesn’t actually display everything they really think about the subject. The might say “Morality is dependent and grounded upon the existence of a Supernatural God who gives us commands.”

          But then push the subject a bit further. Suggest that morality could exist without God. What is a typical response from the theist? “Ok, if there is no God, WHY should I act good rather than evil? What reason would I have not to just steal your stuff or kill you if I feel like it?”

          Right there you can say “Stop, this has revealed something more about your assumptions concerning morality. What you are doing now is demanding REASONS for taking a good action over a bad action.
          So we see what your concept of morality acknowledges and requires that something is bad or good for the REASONS it is bad or good. So long as a reason for being lawful over stealing can be given, then what you ought to do is based on those reasons. Therefore your idea of morality actually requires that REASONS to do X over Y exist, not that a “Supernatural God” exists as the basis. The supernatural God part is, we can see, just an explanation for WHY A REASON EXISTS to do X over Y, it is not “morality” itself, even from your own assumptions about morality.”

          This is why ethicists, philosophers, and secular humans haven’t simply abandoned the concept of “morality” because supernatural ideas had been attached to it. When you look into the concept, you tease these issues out of it and you can see that a real-life basis can be given for the concerns
          that people had assumed God was necessary for.

          The compatibilists argue the same goes for Free Will. It is just far too simplistic to ask someone “do you think free will is a magic ability outside the laws of physics” and then think an answer like “yes” has covered the whole issue. Depending on how you ask, and the deeper you probe, you uncover that “free will” comprises, like morality, sets of concerns for which we can give a proper basis. The supernatural appeal is simply an ‘explanation’ for why
          free will would make sense, it is not “what free will is” any more than “elan vital” is “what living is.”

          • Tim Milburn
            Posted May 21, 2015 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I agree. The concept of “life” is another good example. As long as one openly and clearly explains the rationale for reforming the concept, and the reformed concept is relevant to any valid concerns which the traditional concept was attempting to address, one cannot reasonably be accused of “bait and switch”. A confidence trickster at a market might show you a real ipad, and then try to give you a piece of wood in a box. This is “bait and switch”. But if the seller in the market clearly and openly explains to you that they are selling you a tablet computer, which is not an ipad, but which can do much of what an ipad can do, and that’s what you get, there is no “bait and switch”.

            Also, recognisable terms such as “free will” are common points of reference in the public discussion. One can’t reasonably be expected to give them up, just because someone else feels proprietory over them in regards to their own theory. As long as the valid concerns above are met, such terms are important for effective public communication of new ideas.

  30. Posted May 21, 2015 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    “it’s just about being self-aware and paying true attention.”
    Good luck to you paprika.
    I’m perfectly happy with the amount of attention I already pay to eating my steak, and I kind of resent someone telling me that I don’t.
    Let me just make one other comment paprika – we atheists have fought long and hard to free ourselves of prescriptive personal advice from “authorities” and from preachers. All we expect to find in a fellow atheist or scientist is a skeptical view of all explanations, a demand for evidence and rationality, and a passion for factual knowledge. “Recommended spiritual practices” is not included in the list. Seeking some supposed better therapeutic practice is also not included. And demeaning how other atheists spend their time and their associated feelings of wonder as “impoverished” is totally unacceptable.

    • Posted May 21, 2015 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      “Impoverished” does seem to be overkill, and you’re entirely in your right to be offended.

  31. peepuk
    Posted May 21, 2015 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    What’s Dennet;s take on freewill :
    NW: So freedom, of the important kind, of the kind worth wanting, is freedom from being manipulated. It’s about being in control of your life, you choosing to do things, rather than these things being chosen by somebody else?

    DD: Yes. In order for us to be self-controllers, to be autono­mous in a strong sense, we have to make sure that we” re not being controlled by others. Now, the environment in general is not an agent, it’s not trying to control us. It’s only other agents that try to control us. And it”s important that we keep them at bay so that we can be autonomous. In order to do that, we have to have the capacity to surprise.

    http://www.salon.com/2014/12/28/the_truth_about_free_will_does_it_actually_exist/

    Some people have a better capacity to not being manipulated than others due to genes education, material wealth, land of birth, gender, race, hormones, gut bacteria, toxoplasmosis, aids, tumors ….

    Apart from the fact that everyone manipulates others, and is manipulated all the time, this freedom of being manipulated has really nothing to do with freedom of the will and we can even take no credit for it.

    Some are just more lucky than others and that’s it. We shouldn’t blame other people for being unlucky.

    • Posted May 22, 2015 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      And I don’t think this answers Kane’s (legitimate, given the tradition) worry about self-origination.

  32. Posted May 21, 2015 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    “Please explain how any decision making can be performed without changes in the brain synapses?”
    Well, what is happening at the level of my brain synapses is irrelevant to me with respect to the functional level I myself am operating at. What is happening at these higher levels is what MAKES my synapses fire or not fire. They are the “slaves” not me. Similarly it does not matter which transistors are conducting or not conducting when I make a call on my iPhone as long as I can make the call. Now I believe these synapses and transistors are all necessary, after all I am a compatibilist.

    BTW – just an aside for your information ….. synapses are a hybrid type of “circuit” i.e. partly analog partly digital. This introduces more randomising effects in their operation. This allows further breaking of an absolute causal chain
    The effects have been covered on the thread I have referenced…

    • Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      What is happening at these higher levels is what MAKES my synapses fire or not fire.

      Sorry, Howie, but that’s what Dan Dennett calls a “skyhook.” The exact same logic you just put forth works equally well to “prove” creationism over evolution.

      b&

  33. Posted May 21, 2015 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    On the Chomsky thing, Sam became a victim of his own belief in objective morality. He thought he could play nice with Chomsky, who would have none of it, and started striking pious poses from the git go. Sam never recovered because he, too, believes that truth claims make sense when applied to things that don’t exist. It revealed the divide on the left of the political spectrum that I thing everyone here is already aware of. Salon and Massimo the Magnificent, among others, gloated over Sam’s “defeat.”

    • charlize
      Posted May 22, 2015 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      And don’t you also get the sense that Sam’s qualms (if they can even be termed that)about the occasional (Noam sees it as omnipresent and continuous criminal) heavy-handedness of the empire are not really all that heartfelt?

      He kind of recites them pro-forma out of the side of his mouth just to be seen doing so because it’s the proper thing to do while not believing for one minute the US has anything to atone for.

  34. Posted May 23, 2015 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    “I’m curious too as to what drew you to read the book, given that the title was a dead giveway as to what was on offer? Did you get nothing positive out of it?”
    Well, I often read Sam’s blog and I was pretty sure what I was “in for” so you could say I was predisposed to disliking it. My only defense is that I read Waking Up to fully understand his arguments, maybe I didn’t understand his points fully. I am an even greater follower of Michael Shermer e.g. as in his book “The Believing Brain” showing us how we tend to just reinforce our established impressions. I really try not to do that. I came out of reading “Waking Up” however feeling even more strongly that Harris crossed a line that never should have been crossed. Did I like anything? I liked the autobiographical parts -Sam’s got an interesting history.
    But now going against my advice that it is inappropriate to “psychoanalyse” motives (well – my excuse here is Sam himself uses his life to justify/illustrate his belief in meditation) I do believe that like all atheists he still holds a residual fondness and attraction for old beliefs. I do so with parts of Judaism which I have to “shake off rationally” from time to time. Sam, it is my belief, is still in the thrall of those early passions for Buddhism from his formative attachments, and he has created an artifice of atheism and Buddhism transcendentalism that he finds relevant to himself – and he thinks it should be universal to all we non-believers. I find this not only wrong minded and infuriating but sort of sad. Well that’s by 5 cents worth of psychology. I won’t do that sort of thing again!

    • GBJames
      Posted May 23, 2015 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      “…like all atheists he still holds a residual fondness and attraction for old beliefs.”

      Huh?

      You know this how exactly? (Speak for yourself, please.)

      • Posted May 23, 2015 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        I stand corrected GB.
        I should have said “some” instead of “all”

  35. Posted May 24, 2015 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Totally pathetic answer.
    Oops… totally pathetic NON-ANSWER.

    Just for my further amusement Ben now, given that by some absolute miracle one discovers the instruction set of the unknown computer, describe how you determine, using this miracle logic analyser, exactly what particular arbitrary high level language the programmer created the original programme in, and then what further miracle allows him to establish what mathematical construct was being addressed?

    Final question -how long does a person take to realise he is making a total fool of himself?

    Cheers

    • Posted May 24, 2015 at 12:55 am | Permalink

      “…but your fault lies in concluding that because you don’t understand it, it’s therefore magic. Need I again remind you? That’s exactly the argument of the Creationist: we don’t have a rock-solid theory of abiogenesis, we don’t have a complete family record of every individual from humans back to the MRCA with chimps or any other species; ergo Free Will. Er, Cheeses Fried. Whatever.”

      Right Ben… my apologies for my last response.. I should have not gotten personal but I was hoping for a more relevent response from you.

      In future I will not respond to any of your statements here and I would politely request that you do never respond to any of mine. This will allow me to have more productive conversations here and allow you to make your own creative efforts here in a way more rewarding to yourself

      Cheers
      Howie

    • Posted May 24, 2015 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Just for my further amusement Ben now, given that by some absolute miracle one discovers the instruction set of the unknown computer, describe how you determine, using this miracle logic analyser, exactly what particular arbitrary high level language the programmer created the original programme in, and then what further miracle allows him to establish what mathematical construct was being addressed?

      Howie, you just once again confirmed your love of Platonic idealism. I addressed that topic at length in the earlier post about Javascript that gets compiled to Javascript that gets interpreted and so on.

      You’re a diehard Platonist. I get it. But Platonism has no more bearing on reality than Christianity — and, indeed, Christianity itself rests on Platonism.

      b&

      • Posted May 25, 2015 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        “I addressed that topic at length in the earlier post about Javascript that gets compiled to Javascript that gets interpreted and so on.”
        No Ben, you didn’t address it. You continue to describe the characterisation/analysis of any emergent function as discoverable/describable from a bottom up analytic analysis. It is not. It is discussible only top down in terms not existing in levels below, and I’ve made that point clear many many times here.

        In my challenge to you, you KNOW the language is Javascript, and KNOW that it is interpreted….. you are giving yourself the information that you are seeking rather than finding it out. In the problem I posed you do NOT know the high level language, you do not have the information it is interpreted – it is in fact COMPILED – and most of all you cannot infer the properties of simultaneous equations just because some of them are being handled by the computers algorithm (even if by some miracle you could even find that this particular algorithm was being executed).

        Furthermore you don’t even seem aware of the categorization of what Emergence is…. in that a definition of it is that its properties cannot be reduced, but only simulated on a computer (see Bedau).
        And in our little problem we are not even DOING a simulation. Then there is the very simple fact that the emerged properties are nothing at all like the underlying micro properties of the system of components that allow the emergent property to exist. So why should we be so surprised when the emerged property exhibits behaviour we have never seen before at lower levels?
        You are on a hiding-to-nothing in your particular arguments Ben. You should stop smokescreening and address the real issues in an open minded way. That is what rational conversation is all about, isn’t it?

        • Posted May 25, 2015 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          In the problem I posed you do NOT know the high level language, you do not have the information it is interpreted – it is in fact COMPILED – and most of all you cannot infer the properties of simultaneous equations just because some of them are being handled by the computers algorithm (even if by some miracle you could even find that this particular algorithm was being executed).

          Again, Howie, I already addressed that. You’re arguing skyhooks.

          First, your facts are incorrect in typical real-world cases; for interpreted code the computer is going to have the source in original form in memory, and debugging compiled code, though not exactly easy, has a long and and ancient and most profitable history. You do know, do you not, that no form of “DRM” has even come close to standing the test of time, right?

          But, more importantly, you’re jumping into the middle of the problem. So the program was written in whatever language that we might or might not know about. Great. What does that tell you about the intentions of the programmer? Did she write that loop the way she did because she always does it like that, because she just learned about it and wanted to try it out, because she was having performance problems and this seemed to fix them? This bug over here — was it unintentional, or is it an intentional backdoor that she’s planning on exploiting? Did she sabotage it for personal gain, or because some foreign agent is holding her family hostage?

          All of that is both unknowable and irrelevant.

          And any arguments that you make will be exactly the same as a Christian attributing such-and-such a feature of an organism or a person’s character to Jesus. You don’t know the intentions of the programmer any better than you know Jesus’s intentions in creating you, so how can you conclude that you’re not doing exactly what Jesus wants you to?

          And in our little problem we are not even DOING a simulation.

          Why on Earth not!? Isn’t that the most obvious thing to do once you’ve mapped out all the hardware? Indeed, it’s the only way to do it. If it’s small enough and you’re smart enough, you can create your own simulator in your head, but most people would have trouble with that once it grew to more switches than they have digits. So you’d use a computer to do it for you.

          Indeed, that’s such an obvious fact that I’m dumbstruck as to why you would think that it wouldn’t be done or why I should have to mention that it’s what you would do. It’s like you’re saying that of course I don’t know what the food tastes like because I haven’t eaten it…um…what!?

          b&

          • Posted May 25, 2015 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

            Howie: “And in our little problem we are not even DOING a simulation.”
            Ben: “Why on Earth not!? Isn’t that the most obvious thing to do once you’ve mapped out all the hardware? Indeed, it’s the only way to do it.”

            At last a sensible question. Re: your statement:

            1. A full simulation entails a full knowledge already of the thing being simulated otherwise it is invalid
            a. We rarely have that depth of knowledge in complex systems
            b. This means simulation is TOP DOWN – so it describes something that is UNDISCOVERABLE knowing the properties of lower component levels. YOU Ben have been arguing Bottom Up -WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!
            3. Emergent properties are by nature new and unexpected with reference to lower levels microcauses
            2. An good simulation (say taking in all microcauses to the 10th possible level) only proves that new “unexpected” properties of a full system really do emerge. They DO NOT prove that the new properties cannot exist at the eleventh or the 100th. Quite the opposite.
            3. The emerged properties are only describable in terms of their own new emergent properties, NOT in the lower sub properties. So the simulation doesn’t to do anything to help talk about the wider implications of the emerged phenomenon.
            4. The world of problem solving on computers is hardly ever done with simulations. E.G. solving a set of simultaneous equations is NOT the same as exploring the entire nature and properties of simultaneous equations
            5. There are very many mental processes that we don’t even understand enough to simulate – automatic model creation, associative reference creation, learning, symbolic encapsulation, pattern recognition etc. Present attempts at these things are grossly primitive and fairly useless in modeling the human mind.

            Therefore in addressing the “nature of free will” by talking about synapses is an utterly futile thing to do.
            Even more important – thinking that we can’t have free will because we don’t see that phenomenon at layers of operation way below that at which it may emerge and occur is totally irrelevant and grossly the wrong way to do things. There is far too much of this sort of thinking on this thread.

            • Posted May 25, 2015 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

              Symbolic correction-
              for the first 3. read c.

            • Posted May 25, 2015 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

              Um, guys, not speaking personally or anything, but might this debate/ pissing contest not be getting just a tiny bit tiresome for the rest of us?

              • Posted May 25, 2015 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

                Sorry…I imagine you’re right.

                Howie, I’ll leave it at this, but I’d appreciate an answer from you if you consider humans to be deterministic functional computational devices and whether or not the word, “free,” is a reasonable one to use to describe such. You might not agree with my analysis of the consequences of those answers, but at least it’d make plain where each of us are coming from.

                b&

            • Posted May 25, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

              A full simulation entails a full knowledge already of the thing being simulated otherwise it is invalid a. We rarely have that depth of knowledge in complex systems

              Howie, that’s just an argument from ignorance — mind (of) the gap(s)!

              Further, it’s an invalid argument. We know what all the pieces are and we know exactly what those pieces are and aren’t capable of. What we don’t know is the actual arrangement of the pieces. But the pieces themselves have no freedom in their own actions nor their interactions with each other. Again, an assemblage of thermostats, no matter how you wire them up, has no more freedom than an individual one.

              Maybe we can short-circuit some of this.

              Would you agree that ENIAC only performs functions, in the sense that any given input is guaranteed to have an unique output?

              If so, would you describe ENIAC as somehow “free”?

              Now, would you agree that more sophisticated computers are again, in this sense, purely functional devices that have singular outputs for any input?

              And humans, too?

              It’s plain from physics that humans are, in this sense, functional computational devices. Any given configuration of inputs is guaranteed to result in a single deterministic output.

              Now, if you’d agree with all that but still insist that “free” can reasonably ascribed to humans but not to ENIAC…then we’re at the end of the line. Your “free” would be perfectly not free.

              But if you’d argue that humans are not functional computational devices, then we’re again at the end of the line, because, no matter what protestations you wish to make, that’s supernatural dualism.

              b&

              • Posted May 26, 2015 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

                “Would you agree that ENIAC only performs functions, in the sense that any given input is guaranteed to have an unique output?”

                Nope. Usually true but not always true. There the always the possible situation of computability – in the Turing sense. If we are demanding some sort of solution in some finite time (we don’t want to take forever in deciding having Shreddies or Cheerios for breakfast) we can produce differing results. Things get more uncertain with effects of noise and input measurement inaccuracies. Neurons are hybrid devices (not solely digital) so these effects are seriously magnified. Bottom line: an absolute causal chain is broken

                “If so, would you describe ENIAC as somehow “free”?”

                No, but that doesn’t matter. The operation of the computer is at too low a level in the hierarchy of emergence. It is software on the computer that matters more, and even more than software the things that can emerge from such a multiple interacting group of highly complex software processes. (some of which we don’t know how to even properly program yet), You may call this “mind of the gaps” but that is the pot calling the kettle black. YOUR arguments from levels of functionality much lower than where behaviours emerge are even MORE “gap ridden”.

                “Now, would you agree that more sophisticated computers are again, in this sense, purely functional devices that have singular outputs for any input?”

                Well, sophistication brings in many new problems of causation- particularly if it’s a multiprocessing system (as the brain is). But I’ll put this added difficulty aside – as I’ve covered the problems of even a simple computer in comments above… and shown singularity is neither certain or relevant.

                We must close now Ben, as other commenters are getting restive.

                BUT -One last point – which is peripheral to all of the factual stuff. You can call this an argument from POLITICS if you wish.

                We atheists want to see a better world created which is free of the horrible consequences of religious belief. To do this we need to convince the religious believer that there is no god. But atheists who say there is no god, and THEN say there is no SELF are doomed to failure.
                The certain counter:
                “Well you tell me there is no God, and I can see some of the points of your argument. But you also say there is no self. I may not be certain there is a God, but I’m bloody damn sure that I exist. You atheists are crazy. You just love to deny everything and anything. So I’m not even listening to any of your rubbish”

              • Posted May 26, 2015 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

                “Would you agree that ENIAC only performs functions, in the sense that any given input is guaranteed to have an unique output?”

                Nope.

                Then we disagree profoundly on the nature of physics.

                To be charitable, I’ll note that all of your exceptions fall precisely into the category of citations of how your imagined model of ENIAC is incomplete, but fail to take the next obvious step of adding those bits of incompleteness to the model. A simple and crude approximation to your breakfast cereal example is to wrap the evaluation in a counter and terminate execution when the counter runs out. A more sophisticated approximation would more accurately model the decision to terminate. Turing computability doesn’t apply to physical implementations, and can again be simulated by a counter that terminates execution when component MTBF figures are reached.

                But you again seem to be going beyond such mere details and instead have in mind that there’s a Platonic ideal of ENIAC which, of course, cannot be simulated…because it doesn’t exist!

                But atheists who say there is no god, and THEN say there is no SELF are doomed to failure.

                Sorry, but that’s just once again the “little people” argument from consequences. If there indeed is no self — and there’s certainly a great deal to be said for the argument that the self is an illusion — then academic integrity demands we honestly report as much, and simple courtesy similarly demands we not assume that we’re smart enough to figure that out but the rest of the poor schmucks aren’t.

                Besides which, you worry needlessly about the reaction to a rejection of the concept of self; exactly that is fundamental to many Eastern religions and one of the first things practitioners are taught. If the Buddhists don’t experience angst upon being told to seek Nirvana, why should they or other religionists experience angst upon being told they’ve already attained it?

                b&

              • Posted May 27, 2015 at 10:44 am | Permalink

                “..there’s certainly a great deal to be said for the argument that the self is an illusion — then academic integrity demands we honestly report as much”

                “Cogito ergo est illusio” eh Ben.

                Time to draw the curtain down on this particular thread but somehow I think the argument itself will continue to roll on

                Cheers

  36. Posted May 25, 2015 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Well, if it’s getting tiring for you just to read the arguments Mirelee, imagine how tiring it is to have to write them too 😉


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