SMBC on dualism and free will

Reader jsp sent me this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip (creator: Zack Weinersmith); it’s on dualism. tri-ism, quadrism, and then the final panel bit’s on free will.

The character is clearly based on Dan Dennett (see photo at bottom), but I’m a bit puzzled about the last panel. Given the rest of the strip, is this a critique of compatibilism?

Now Dan would never make an argument as dumb as that in the first six panels, so it’s hardly fair. And I do consider him a loyal pal despite our one philosophical difference. But I’ll never forget the last six words he said to me after a three-hour drive from Stockbridge to Boston (song reference here), during which he tried with all his might to convince me that we do have a form of free will and that it gives us moral responsibility. I was not moved and fought back. As he let me out of the car in Cambridge, his big, booming voice announced these words: “I’M NOT THROUGH WITH YOU YET!”

Dan the Man

156 Comments

  1. BobTerrace
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I’ve met Dan and even attended a lecture he gave at Tufts University (his home base). He is the most personable man I have ever met.

  2. Stephen Barnard
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a question. Why do we all act like contra causal free will dualists every waking moment?

    Why do we have a feeling of agency, bogus though it may be?

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted July 17, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      We have a feeling of agency because we make decisions and observe their consequences. Our thoughts have causal power to affect the external world. Recognizing that fact isn’t acting like a dualist; denying that it’s us making those decisions is.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        Maybe I’m missing something, but in my understanding of a deterministic world we don’t make decisions. We are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do. We THINK we make decisions, which is the point of my question.

        • Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

          … in my understanding of a deterministic world we don’t make decisions.

          You are thinking about a “decision” the wrong way. Think of a chess-playing computer, an entirely deterministic device following a deterministic program. It evaluates all the information and arrives at a “decision” of which move to play. Its deterministic program evaluates that “king to d4” will result in the best position so that is what it does.

          That’s what a “decision: is; that’s what we’re doing when we make decisions.

          And yes, in exactly the same situation the program will always make the same decision. But it’s the process of evaluating the different situations that a program can find itself in that we call “making a decision”.

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

            I hope you’re not suggesting that a chess-playing machine has a sense of agency. From a previous comment I understand that you claim not to have a sense of agency. I don’t believe you.

            • Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

              I hope you’re not suggesting that a chess-playing machine has a sense of agency.

              If you’re asking does it have a *sense* of agency, is it *conscious*, then no, I don’t think it does. But does it have agency? Yes, I think it does. An ant or termite also has agency, though I doubt they are conscious (I may be wrong on the latter.)

              From a previous comment I understand that you claim not to have a sense of agency.

              No, I do have a sense of agency. But I don’t associate agency with dualistic, contra-causal will, instead I associate it with deterministic devices such as brains or chess-playing computers, anything that is goal-oriented.

              [Oxford English Dictionary: “Agency”: “A thing or person that acts to produce a particular result”.]

          • Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

            It must be noted that what you describe is a Rube Goldberg contraption, with precisely as much decision-making power as a thermostat (except it’s a lot more complex, of course).

            That is literally the textbook example of what basically everybody will go to as an example of something that lacks “Free Will,” whatever “Free Will” is supposed to be.

            Find me a statistically significant number of people who would agree with the statement, “A thermostat has Free Will,” and I’ll eat my…thermostat. Same thing for a chess computer.

            So, if you wish to declare something to be exactly that which everybody else thinks it isn’t and therefore claim the nonexistent is real…go for it. Just don’t expect anybody else to be able to make sense of whatever it is you’re going on about.

            Cheers,

            b&

            >

            • Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

              It must be noted that what you describe is a Rube Goldberg contraption, with precisely as much decision-making power as a thermostat (except it’s a lot more complex, of course).

              In other words, vastly more decision-making power than a thermostat!

              That is literally the textbook example of what basically everybody will go to as an example of something that lacks “Free Will,” whatever “Free Will” is supposed to be.

              No it isn’t. To a compatibilist, “free will” is something that evolves (cf Dennett). Being a product of evolution it must be something that is a continuum, not binary. A continuum has a bottom end; the thermostat is that bottom end.

              Whether one then wants to use the label “free will” for the bottom end of the continuum is pure semantics. [In the same way, “intelligence” is a continuum, though we would not usually use the word “intelligent” for the bottom end of the continuum.]

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

                No it isn’t. To a compatibilist, “free will” is something that evolves (cf Dennett). Being a product of evolution it must be something that is a continuum, not binary.

                Again again, you’ve redefined it to be exactly that which it is not.

                The question is never, “How much Free Will do people have?” but, rather, “Do people have Free Will?”

                I get that you and maybe half a dozen other people have this definition of “Free Will” that means exactly what it doesn’t mean for anybody else. That’s fine. It just means that you’re not communicating.

                What I don’t get is why you’re spending so much energy trying to communicate by not communicating.

                b&

                >

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

                We are aware that compatibilist free will is not the same thing as dualist contra-causal free will, and we are happy to emphasize that point.

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

                THEN, FOR THE SAKE OF ALL THE BLOODY GODS, STOP CALLING IT “FREE WILL!”

                Call it “the decision-making process.” Call it “Fred.” Call it late for dinner — I don’t give a damn.

                Just stop calling it “Free Will.”

                Seriously.

                Pick any other phenomenon and do this same thing to it — you’d be furious, no? Re-define “Heaven” as “a damned fine slice of cheesecake served with a great cup of coffee.” Re-define “Soul” as “Belly-button lint, but only if there’s both red and green bits in it.” Re-define “Jesus” as “That guy with a built-in suntan who doesn’t charge enough for landscaping.”

                Would you defend any of those redefinitions with the vigor that you’re defending your Orwellian black-is-white redefinition of “Free Will”?

                Is the only sort of Karma worth having the type that’s a gooey warm sauce poured over ice cream?

                b&

                >

              • BobTerrace
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

                I am partial to calling it bacon. But I do not believe in free will.

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                I believe in bacon! Had a few slices with breakfast, and a few crumbles with the leftover roasted Brussels sprouts for lunch….

                b&

                >

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

                But Ben, the compatibilist sense of “free will” also has a very long history, and so is not a “redefinition” away from the “proper” meaning.

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

                I know it never makes a difference in these discussions, but let me point out for what must be the tenth time that “free will(ingly)” is merely the Germanic translation of Romance voluntary. No supernaturalism implied.

                So no, compatibilists are not redefining anything.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

                Why isn’t “amount of free will” a continuous quantity rather than a binary one? Even believers in free will might recognize that there are degrees of freedom.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

                What Alex SL said.

                Coel (and Dennett) raises a good point about evolution and a continuum. People often debate concepts as if they were binary when they are really a continuum, e.g., do dolphins have language? In the case of free will, there are various stories – the Greek goddesses the Fates, or Skinner’s behaviorism, or Libet (if you ignore his “free won’t” part) – that would radically overturn common sense. Asking “do people have free will” is basically asking “do you believe one of those radical stories?”

                Then there is the story of “causal determinism”, where the “causality” involved is understood in an intuitive, Aristotelian-physics kind of way. That story has a long history in philosophy. Sadly, it took approximately until Bertrand Russell to see the glaring flaw in the story, and until very recently for philosophers to see the general outlines of the solution. Of course those philosophers were kind of playing catch up to physicists, but, par for the course.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          What role do you think the brain plays in governing behavior if it makes no decisions? Clearly there’s a lot of calculation going on; what’s the point of that calculation if not to rule out some options and green-light others? A brain that did none of that calculation would be powerless to do anything.

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

            I’m not denying (for the sake of argument) that the brain ticks along in strictly causal, deterministic, predetermined way, like some biological computer (although I some reservations about that). I’m granting the full determinist position. Yes, the brain makes decisions, like computers and thermostats make decisions. You want to grant these the status true decisions. I don’t. At a fundamental, determinist physical level a brain and a computer are continuous dynamic systems, solutions of a vast system of partial differential equations.

            The question is, Why do we feel that we could decide otherwise? What’s the point of that?

            And I don’t buy the “illusion” argument. If it is an illusion, why do we have it?

            • GBJames
              Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

              What does “having it” have to do with whether something is an illusion? If an illusion is a useful mechanism in some contexts I would imagine that evolution would happily allow it to spread widely. (Assuming the illusion was at least partly based on a heritable trait this would be standard Darwinism. If it is spread culturally, the same would be true.) Utility and existence-in-reality aren’t the same thing.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

                You seem to be saying (I hope I’m not reading too much into it) that the sense of contra causal free will and agency has adaptive value and is selected for. I have a hard time accepting that. In my view of determinism the conscious, subjective feeling of free will and agency can’t feed back into the “real” world and affect events is any way. That would be dualism.

                You could get rid of all subjective, conscious experience and the universe and the brain would evolve in exactly the same determinist way.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

                Stephen, you’re committing the same error as Ben by claiming that you could get rid of all subjective, conscious experience and people would still go on talking about subjective, conscious experience in exactly the same way.

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

                I’ve never written that, and I’m pretty sure Stephen never has, either.

                What I’ve consistently written is that the mind is quite different from how most people subjectively and instinctively understand it to be. Which should not be either surprising nor radical. And, from that, it should be surprising that those whose characterizations of mental phenomena are a close match for the folk understandings of them are equally incorrect.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

                Stephen just did say that, when he said “the brain would evolve in exactly the same determinist way”. That necessarily entails producing exactly the same speech behavior.

                Your notion of consciousness as impotent observer is logically equivalent to Stephen’s claim.

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

                No; you’re misunderstanding Stephen.

                We know from physics that it just unfolds according to certain patterns, like pebbles in a rockslide falling downhill and bouncing off each other.

                The pebbles can’t do anything to change the path they take; nor can we.

                Part of the unfolding includes our minds making symbolic representations of reality. And those mental maps have the concept of agency built into them…but even that concept of agency is itself just another pebble bouncing off another boulder.

                No map is perfect. Why should we expect our own to be so?

                b&

                >

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

                No, I’m not claiming that. I’m claiming something much stronger. I’m claiming that from a fundamental (in the sense of physics) determinist view conscious experience can’t make any difference. It can’t change the outcome of physical events. It has no causal potency. The future is predetermined.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

                I posted this reply to Gregory Kusnick and it ended up in the wrong place. (I think it’s WordPress’s fault.) So I’m trying again with faint hope.

                No, I’m not claiming that (what Ben Goran is claiming). I’m claiming something much stronger. I’m claiming that from a fundamental (in the sense of physics) determinist view conscious experience can’t make any difference. It can’t change the outcome of physical events. It has no causal potency. The future is predetermined.

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

                We’re making different but compatible (and, I think, complementary) claims.

                At least, I’m definitely buying into your claim that causality is ultimately a matter of “matter in such-and-such a configuration evolves to this other configuration.” Whether or not you’re buying into my characterization of the particular configurations I’ll leave to you….

                b&

                >

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

                But to say that consciousness can’t affect the outcome of physical events is to say that consciousness is not a physical phenomenon. That’s dualism.

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

                A lot of this is going to boil down to definitions of causality. Is the water boiling because of the heat from the fire, or because you want a cup of tea?

                The physicist would note that, at bottom, it’s quantum fields behaving according to Schrodinger’s Equation, and higher levels of understanding (atomic / chemical / biological / social) are a consequence of low entropy — namely, the count of macroscopic states with indistinguishable numbers of microscopic states.

                In one sense, the argument isn’t so much over whether or not there’s such a thing as, “Free Will,” but how best to understand the fact that nature is deterministic. “Causality” is a rather poor model in all but the most abstract / highest-level cases.

                (And, of course, the other part of the argument is over whether or not humans have magical power to affect outcomes different from all other forms of matter.)

                b&

                >

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

                Reply to Gregory Kusnick:

                I take determinism seriously. If it means anything, it means the future is predetermined. From the big bang to the present to the heat death of the universe, it’s predetermined.

                I’ll grant that subjective experience and consciousness is physical. I’m not a dualist. I’m saying it seems pointless in a deterministic world, and that’s a puzzle.

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

                A peacock’s tail seems rather pointless, too. Or the giraffe’s recurrent pharyngeal nerve, or the human appendix. Until, of course, you understand the evolutionary pressures behind it. Is it such a leap to understand that consciousness is the process of evolution, even if we’re still not sure what it is, let alone its evolutionary history?

                (Again, I’m leaning towards it being an inevitable byproduct of language — but I’m obviously not the sort of expert one would quote on the matter.)

                b&

                >

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

                For what it’s worth, my own personal suspicion is that what we consider the self, the non-stop voice-over narrator, is a spandrel of the ability to speak and to use symbolic language.

                Especially consider that so much of the most basic forms of communication are a matter of expressing your own condition: you feel angry, hungry, amorous, whatever. With language you express that to others. And you understand the expressions of others. Kinda hard to have all that in place and not also understand your own self, at least as you’re trying to let others know about it.

                It’s possible to have a non-verbal awareness of phenomena, but it’s often only fleeting before the narrative forms and verbally overwhelms the more-raw sensory experience. You might, for example, feel the expansion of your chest as you draw in a breath…but then the narrator very quickly comes in and says, “That’s the chest expanding as I breathe in.” Focus your attention just on the sound of the breath past the nostrils…and, again, the narrator supplies the commentary almost (but not quite) as quickly as you can experience it.

                Have I mentioned? These are the sorts of things you can observe directly for yourself through the exact type of non-woo mindfulness meditation that Sam Harris keeps banging on about….

                b&

                >

              • BobTerrace
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

                I think about this the same way.

              • GBJames
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

                Somehow my “having it” doesn’t mean it is accurate thread got hijacked!

                I have no idea if I was replied to or not!

            • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

              “Why” questions are either really “how” questions or teleology.

              The “how” version of this could be answered either with the evolutionary origins of it, which remain opaque, or with the neurophysiology that underlies it…which also remain opaque, but the broad outlines of which are pretty clear. As I wrote before…alien hand syndrome, split brain patients, direct observation (using the techniques of mindfulness meditation), and so on.

              Cheers,

              b&

              >

            • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

              Yes, the brain makes decisions, like computers and thermostats make decisions. You want to grant these the status true decisions. I don’t.

              So the only “true” decisions are the type that doesn’t exist, and the types of decisions that do exist are not “true” ones? Weird use of the word “true’!

              The question is, Why do we feel that we could decide otherwise? What’s the point of that?

              What do you mean by “could do otherwise”? Are you asserting that we feel that, if absolutely everything about ourselves and our state were utterly identical, then we could do otherwise? Because I don’t feel that.

              What I feel is that, if the situation were somewhat different, though still within the usual range of variation, or if my mood (= brain state) were slightly different, *then* I could decide differently (= my brain machinery could compute a different output state). And that is true!

              In other words I feel that in *some* situations and *some* moods I could choose to order the chicken for dinner, and in other situation and other moods I could choose to order the steak. And that is also true.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 7:33 am | Permalink

                The very concept of a decision is incoherent in a deterministic universe. If everything in the future is determined, how can one make sense of a decision? we THINK we make decisions (under determinism) but we don’t.

                Sometimes I think that determinists aren’t fully aware of the radical consequences of their position.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 7:41 am | Permalink

                This is simply silly. Of course we know that everything is caused by chance and necessity. This also applies to anything happening in a court of law, for example.

                It is you, who would like to have another universe for morality, responsibility, maybe even God. In our universe free decisions are caused by chance and necessity.

                It’ll dawn on you, when you reach Dan Dennett’s age 🙂

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

                Stephen:

                How can computers be said to calculate, if the output is predetermined?

                The answer is that you can’t get to that output without doing the calculation; the calculation is what determines the output.

                The same goes for brains and decisions. Behavior doesn’t happen by reading some script laid down in advance. There is no script; there’s only the ongoing calculations performed by our brains, and those calculations are what determines our behavior. Decisions are just the output of those calculations.

                That’s not an illusion; it’s what actually happens (unless you want to argue that everything above the level of quarks is an illusion).

              • Vaal
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

                Sometimes I think that determinists aren’t fully aware of the radical consequences of their position.

                That is my impression of many of the incompatibilists here. They don’t seem to come to some place such as you have arrived at “Hey, if determinism is true we don’t really make choices or decisions!” and stop there, without noting how incoherent this leaves much of their behavior and beliefs.

                So, take for example your conclusion that if determinism is true we don’t *really* make decisions.

                The first question to ask is: are you going to abandon using the word “decision” or “choice?” If those words refer to something that doesn’t exist, and only perpetuates believe in something that doesn’t exist, shouldn’t you want to get rid of them, just as Jerry rails against using the term “Free Will?”

                But then how do we understand and communicate about what we formerly called “choices” and “decisions?” All day long we are asking one another what reasons we had – or have – for choosing one course of action over alternative. And the reasons we give seem to be informative as they can help us predict future actions. If I tell you “the reason I chose steak over fish at the restaurant is because I hate seafood, then this will help you predict that I will make similar “decisions” when faced with seafood as an option.

                So that language of “choice” and “decision” seems to be referring to real world phenomena we want to describe. Now, is the phenomena they refer to not real? Then you’ve pulled the rug out of all this talk about reasons for doing anything – and your day will be filled with the most bizarre contradictory and incoherent behavior whenever you try to reason, or ask for reasons why to do X instead of Y.

                But presumably (hopefully) you recognize there IS something going on. There IS something to identify in the real world that our brains are doing, that a rock isn’t doing. What is our brain doing that allows us to build civilizations and technology etc, that non-sentient entities like a rock aren’t doing?

                Don’t we need words to refer to this? And if “decision” and “choice-making” aren’t those words (they seem to have evolved to describe just such behavior)…won’t we need words that end up meaning the same thing anyway?

                See, from my point of view, if you don’t just stop thinking at “determiminism means decision-making is an illusion” and keep thinking through to the other side to end up at a coherent understanding of human behavior…you end up looking like a compatibilist. But thus far you have stopped at what seems to be in-coherency.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

                The first question to ask is: are you going to abandon using the word “decision” or “choice?” If those words refer to something that doesn’t exist, and only perpetuates believe in something that doesn’t exist, shouldn’t you want to get rid of them, just as Jerry rails against using the term “Free Will?”

                Were decisions the same as “Free Will,” we wouldn’t have two different terms. Or, at least, there’d be general agreement that they’re synonyms.

                I don’t think anybody disagrees that computers make decisions. Nobody will bat an eye if you said of your smartphone’s chess app, “That was an interesting choice of opening move.”

                Only the compatibilists, who represent less than 0.000000001% of the population, would claim that a computer has “Free Will.”

                b&

                >

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

                “I don’t think anybody disagrees that computers make decisions.”

                Stephen Barnard disagrees, in the comment to which Vaal is responding:

                “The very concept of a decision is incoherent in a deterministic universe.”

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

                We’re talking about computers at two different levels of abstraction. If you want to call it a “decision” when the input to a logic gate causes a bit to flip from zero to one, fine, but that’s not the fundamental level. At the fundamental level the computer and its state is just a deterministically evolving wave function.

                This isn’t silly because the deterministic objection to free will depends on this fundamental physical level, not on the level of logic gates and flip flops.

              • Vaal
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                Stephen Barnard,

                I’m curious if your most recent comment was meant to cover my questions to you as well (because they don’t).

                Were you intending to answer my questions about the use of terms “decision,” “choice?”

                Thanks.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

                Sorry I missed your comment.

                We’ll never get rid of the notions of “decision” and “choice” just as we’ll never get rid of the notion of free will, illusory though they may be from a determinist position. That’s because we’re wired to think and behave as though they exist.

                To be clear, I’m not a compatibilist nor an incompatibilist. I don’t even rule out contra causal free will. I’m an agnostic. I just don’t know.

                What interests and perplexes be is the disconnect between the radical implications of determinism and the actual behavior of determinists.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

                What interests and perplexes be is the disconnect between the radical implications of determinism and the actual behavior of determinists.

                Start with the willing suspension of disbelief we all engage in when enjoying a work of fiction. That’s actually how we live our entire livesagt1rf ””””””””;

                \

                …ah, sorry ’bout that…kitten on the keyboard.

                “That’s actually how we live our entire lives, all of us, determinists and supernaturalists and everybody else alike,” is what I was in the middle of typing.

                You can, to varying degrees, become more or less aware of the flickering of the projected scene or the wagon-wheel effect or even the beam of light overhead and the projectionist’s booth behind you and the folding seat and sticky floor underneath you.

                But even the most knowledgeable scientists and mindful meditators still get lost in the story…and why not? Isn’t the story what matters most to us, the characters on the screen?

                b&

                >

              • Vaal
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

                Stephen Barnard,

                We’ll never get rid of the notions of “decision” and “choice” just as we’ll never get rid of the notion of free will, illusory though they may be from a determinist position. That’s because we’re wired to think and behave as though they exist.

                But that simply stops at exactly the “unexamined” point you had stopped at before, leaving everything I asked about unexplained.

                As I said, we need some way of talking about the things “choice” and “decision” refer to, and if not those words…what? If you say we are simply “stuck” with them, then it implies we are stuck constantly talking nonsense and untruths whenever we use these words to communicate. But that can’t be true, because we use those words to successfully impart information to one another, which helps us predict future actions. The theory that you imply, that what “choice” and “decision” would refer to is illusory and untruths simply doesn’t explain this. It’s a bad theory. In fact it renders this very conversation incoherent. If I ask you why you believe that “decisions are incoherent on determinism” rather than my position that it is not incoherent, I presume you will give me reasons why you accept your position, and reject my alternative position.

                If, instead you just throw in the towel and say “because I couldn’t believe otherwise” then all such conversation and “reason giving” – reason itself – is rendered moot. Which makes your very participation here absurd. And it makes your belief absurd and unjustified.

                This is why I suggest you have not thought through the implications of where you are on this issue. You’ve stopped at the wrong point.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

                I fully agree that it’s a bad idea, but don’t attribute it to me. I’m just following the logical implications of determinism, not endorsing them.

              • Vaal
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

                I fully agree that it’s a bad idea, but don’t attribute it to me. I’m just following the logical implications of determinism, not endorsing them.

                But those aren’t logical implications.

                Let’s say the universe IS deterministic, as you allow (as an agnostic) it may well be.

                Then we’d still have the same data to account for. It doesn’t go away. We would still have to account for the use of words like “choice” and “decision-making” and STILL have to account for how those words convey useful information that leads to successful future predictions.

                Your reasoning stops far short of making sense of all this, even given determinism.

                Whereas compatibilism makes sense of it, IMO.

            • rickflick
              Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

              Dennett’s model of consciousness, as best I remember, holds that the brain operates like many operating systems, each trying to dominate the mind. I may desire ice cream, based on some hunger and pleasure seeking modules. At the same time, I may have areas responsible for health concerns making a move to abandon the ice cream parlor. They each clamor for attention and eventually one out shouts the other and we make our final move. All this is pretty hidden from some of our other brain modules which deal with reflections on our moods and status. After the fact, a story is confabulated which helps to convert what is really a chaotic process into a narrative which is what we would tell someone if asked about how the decision was made.
              By the way, I went for the ice cream. 😎

      • Craw
        Posted July 17, 2017 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

        Yes. Ben Goren’s suggestion is a good one. Just call it the decision making process, because that is what free will means. If I am pushed out of an airplane I fall and there is no free will involved. I am just a physical object. If I have a parachute I can choose, that is decide, to pull the rip cord. I am not just a physical object in this case, but a physical object that processes information and makes decisions.
        That is ALL that free will means: I as a computational unit make a relevant decision. There is NOTHING here about being free of causality. As Coel explains, deterministic chess programs make decisions.

        Now in the past people did not use that language, but that is isomorphic to how the notion has been used historically. Some god talkers do try to lard on top of that some extra baggage, which implies freedom from causality, but the error is here not in the notion that we make decisions.

    • Posted July 17, 2017 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Why do we all act like contra causal free will dualists every waking moment?

      Well I don’t, I act like I’m a determined being. Honestly, I do, that’s really how I feel!

      Why do we have a feeling of agency, bogus though it may be?

      Because a feeling of “agency” is compatible with determinism! We are programmed to want things. That “wanting” is a feeling of agency. Where’s the problem?

      (I really do feel that it’s the INcompatibilists who haven’t yet come to terms with how determinism operates in everyday life; they’re the ones who — erroneously — say that they act as though they were dualists.]

      • Posted July 17, 2017 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. Determinism is what gives rise to our desires. Incompatibilists would say desires are illusions.

    • Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      The feeling of agency is an illusion, just like the appearance of depth in a 3-D movie. It sure seems like there’s stuff flying about you in the movie theatre, but there isn’t.

      Take a favorite scenario: ice cream flavor at the ice cream shop. You’ve got all those flavors arrayed before you, and it seems like you could pick from any of them. In reality, you’re only picking one (or three or whatever). And, if you pay close attention to your thought process as you deliberate, you’ll see how you’re actually on a perfectly-constrained roller-coaster ride.

      If you pay even closer attention to your mind, you’ll discover that your thoughts are entirely disconnected from the decision-making process. You have an internal monologue going on all the time, like a voice-over narrator in a movie. But it’s just reporting the weather…even as the voice is saying that it’s the decider in chief….

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        How is it possible for your fingers to transcribe what the voice says if the voice is entirely disconnected from the process that controls your fingers?

        • Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

          How is it possible for court reporters to do dictation without repeating aloud the words they type?

          It might help you to warp your head ’round the idea…you know all those studies (like, every single one) that show how the brain is not a monolithic entity but rather an highly interconnected network of distinct processing centers? Are you familiar with split-brain patients and alien hand syndrome and the like?

          That’s not just hypothetical theoretical stuff. It really is now your mind works. What happens is the verbal / voiceover part of the brain repeats a narrative of a coherent whole constructed by another part of the brain.

          An even better cognitive neuroscience example is how researchers will stimulate, for example, the grasping reflex part of the brain and then ask the subjects why they grabbed for the glass of water. They’ll insist that they did it because they were thirsty (or whatever), utterly oblivious to the fact that it was the electrode that initiated the action.

          Or: the purpose of the mind (and the parts of the brain that create the mind) is to tell ourselves our own stories — and we believe that these stories are true.

          Cheers,

          b&

          >

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

            So if I understand you right, you’re saying there’s a process in our brains that constructs narratives, in English sentences, and is fully interconnected with the processes that control our behavior (hence our ability to transcribe those sentences).

            But this process, you claim, is not the voice we hear in our heads. No, there’s a separate process for that, one that takes fully-formed sentences from the first process (over a strictly one-way connection) – and does what with them, exactly? Reads them “aloud” inside our heads? To whom and for what purpose?

            Coel (below) has already proposed a more parsimonious model, in which the process that constructs the narrative is the voice we hear in our heads. This accounts for both our subjective experience and our ability to talk about it. I don’t see how introducing an extra layer of impotent observer adds any explanatory power.

            • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

              I’d be cautious about how to describe the division of activities.

              What I can tell you is that, when I pay close attention to the running narration, it is always a short interval behind the decision-making process — at which point there’s a separate “I’m doing this because of such-and-such” that gets constructed and subsequently narrated.

              You know those studies Jerry is so fond of reporting about how you only become conscious of the decision of which button to push so many milliseconds after the signals get sent down the arm to push the button? Pay close enough attention, and you realize that that really is what’s going on.

              Listen to Sam Harris talk sometime on the subject, and he may very well say something along the lines of, “I don’t even know how I’m going to finish this sentence until the words have already come out of my mouth.” Unless you’re reading from a script, the same is assuredly true of you, too.

              Cheers,

              b&

              >

      • Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        … and it seems like you could pick from any of them.

        Ben, you, like many INcompatibilists, seem to think of the “me” as something different from the brain machinery, some sort of detached observer.

        If the brain machinery had been in such a state that it arrived at “I want the chocolate chip” then it really could have picked the chocolate chip. Honest, it could!

        You seem to think of the “me” as a detached observer thinking “I want the butterscotch flavour” and not being able to have it because the brain machinery is in a “I want the chocolate chip” state. But the “you” **is** the brain machinery. If it wants one of the choices, it can ask for it!

        If, however, what you’re saying is that the brain machinery cannot pick the butterscotch if it is, instead, in the “I want the chocolate chip” state, then yes indeed, but that’s basically a tautology.

        And, if you pay close attention to your thought process as you deliberate, you’ll see how you’re actually on a perfectly-constrained roller-coaster ride.

        No! Your thought processes are not some sort of detached process that is just going along for the ride. What do you think is doing the computational choosing?

        If you pay even closer attention to your mind, you’ll discover that your thoughts are entirely disconnected from the decision-making process.

        What???

        Dualists: we have a little homunculus that controls things.

        INcompatibilists: “We” are a little homunculus that is a mere impotent observer.

        Compatibilists: We are our (deterministic) brain machinery.

        • Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

          The homunculus is the perfect characterization of what the self subjectively feels like.

          Can you see your head right now? Can you maybe see your nose and your cheeks? Close your eyelids halfway — you can see them, right? But not your neck (unless you’re morbidly obese!), especially not the back of your head?

          Is that not exactly like what it would feel like to have a pair of video cameras mounted in those positions live-streamed to your homunculus self sitting in the lounge chair? Seeing really is a very cinematic experience when you pay attention to your visual field in that way. And the other senses are no different!

          The way to make sense of this is that your mind is a self-contained virtual reality. Your entire universe is your mind. And, if I may (stay with me!) riff off of Chopra, “The Moon” to you is not the objective hunk o’ rock almost a million miles away, but your symbolic mental construction of that hunk o’ rock. Your mind has zero access to the hunk o’ rock; all it has access to is that mental model. And, in that sense, when you stop thinking of the Moon, that model vanishes from your mind and gets shoved away somewhere that, as far as your mind is concerned, literally doesn’t exist.

          Where Chopra fails spectacularly is in mistraking your personal map of the Moon for the actual hunk o’ rock. With an hat-tip to any conspiracy theory you might be fond of (brains in vats, the Matrix, whatever), we can be as certain as makes no difference that the hunk o’ rock persists even when you’re not thinking about it, and has persisted for a few billion years and will continue to persist for a few more billion years.

          …but, again…your mind can’t directly interact with the hunk o’ rock, and can only access its mental map of the hunk o’ rock.

          The same is true for everything else, including the computer monitor you’re reading these words on. The monitor itself is not in your mind; rather, a mental reconstruction of it is in your mind, and it’s that reconstruction where your mind is reading these words.

          A last suggested experiment — at least for the moment. You can hear these words, right? As if I were sitting next to you reading them? And, in practically the exact same way, you can hear your response that you’ll be typing, no?

          Who is speaking these words?

          When you can find the speaker of these words (pro tip: you won’t find the speaker), you’ll understand the concept that Sam Harris describes of not having a self.

          It probably will take some practice, just like it takes some practice to see the shark in the random dot stereogram. But it’s plain as day once you finally “get” it, and always accessible thereafter (and, as with anything requiring practice, increasingly easily so with time).

          Cheers,

          b&

          >

          • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

            First, I associate the “me” with my whole brain, not just the “conscious” aspects of it.

            Second, if our consciousness really were just a causally inert homunculus, rather than an integral part of our brain machinery and decision making, why would evolution have bothered to provide us with it?

            Your proposal amounts to the claim that a p-zombie is in-principle possible. I don’t accept that claim.

            • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

              If you are your whole brain, what’s the current state of your left temporal lobe?

              Fact is, you have exactly zero awareness of your brain. It is entirely outside your consciousness, save in highly contrived and sophisticated situations such as certain forms of imaging or surgery.

              Indeed, the closest you can get to awareness of your brain…is through the techniques of mindfulness meditation. You’ll then become increasingly aware of, for example, the fact that you’re counting, or that you’ve got a tune / earworm running through your head, or that you’re sensing pressure in your right big toe, and so on. All those things we know are typically going on in certain localized areas of the brain — and a skilled neurosurgeon could probably help you build a mental map of where, physically, those various things are going on.

              …but you’d still have less awareness of your brain than you probably do of your fingers….

              Cheers,

              b&

              >

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

                If you are your whole brain, what’s the current state of your left temporal lobe?

                I didn’t claim that information on all aspects of my brain is accessible to the “consciousness” module and to the various modules that send messages to my fingers to type replies to Ben!

                Fact is, you have exactly zero awareness of your brain.

                Well not quite zero, but yes, my consciousness lacks access to many (most) aspects of my brain. Even so, I don’t associate the “me” solely with my consciousness.

                For example, I sometimes type a word different from the one I am consciously thinking of. For example, I might type “planet” when my consciousness intends “plant”. This is not just a matter of accidentally hitting the wrong keys, it’s done by non-conscious circuits in my brain. But it is still “me” doing it.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

                “Fact is, you have exactly zero awareness of your brain.”

                I guess you’ve never had a hangover.

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

                No, but I’ve had headaches.

                And it’s been my head that aches — not my brain….

                Try it for yourself, right this very instant.

                Sit still, and focus your attention on the breath. It’s very easy to do momentarily, though basically nobody can do it for more than a single breath or so before getting lost in something that’s not the breath.

                (Observing how that happens is the very first lesson in mindfulness meditation — and the second is how to simply begin again, to recognize that you got lost in thought, recognize what you were lost in, and return to the breath. It’s not a breathing exercise, but an exercise in focussing attention.)

                While sitting, you can also focus your attention on the fact that you’re sitting; “Sit, and know you’re sitting.” Feel the weight of your body on your bottom, feel the way your spine is carrying the weight of your upper body — even do an entire scan from forehead to toes (or vice-versa), methodically feeling every sensation in your body. Maybe your left ankle is tingling because it’s about to go to sleep on you? What’s that feel like? What’s it feel like when you move your feet to relive the discomfort?

                If you’re particularly still, you can feel your heartbeat.

                You can hear everything reaching your ears, smell whatever reaches your nose, and so on.

                But can you find your brain anywhere in your awareness? Even if you’ve got an headache?

                Best you’ll likely be able to manage is to visualize textbook images of generic brains, and imagine that your brain must be something like that. But that’s no different from imagining a pink elephant floating a few feet from your face….

                b&

                >

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

                Wow. This thread clarifies that yes, at least Ben Goren is a mind-body dualist. That is some evidence towards my hunch that the same may apply to all incompatibilists.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

                It’s no more dualism than the software / hardware distinction typically made in computing. Or than modeling a collection of atoms in a bottle using the Ideal Gas Law. Or performing a statistical analysis of a bunch of coin tosses and drawing a Gaussian bell-shaped curve from the result.

                The mind is the symbolic virtual reality created by the brain. If you can understand how the characters in a video game are perfectly isolated from the real world even as they’re fundamentally created by billions of real-world nanometer-scale switches flipping at gigahertz frequencies, then you should have no trouble understanding how the mind is distinct from but made by the brain.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

                The question is still, what are you? And I am not an abstract idea of my mind, I am the whole human body, and the same for you. When my body needs surgery, I need surgery.

                You can talk about software and simulations all you want, but you cannot refute the statement “the software runs a simulation” by saying that the computer runs a simulation, because the term “the software runs a simulation” is simply defined in a way to make that sentence correct.

                The same here; you cannot refute the statement “I have made a choice/decision” by saying that really my body made the decision for me, because I am my body, and the words choice, decision and, for that matter, free will, are defined in precisely such a way that the sentence is correct. In fact there is no coherent meaning for any of the three that makes the sentence incorrect, and if you were to purge our language of them (which of course is never going to happen anyway) then people would have to reinvent new terms to describe the very same events, and you’d have to start over.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

                The question is still, what are you?

                Indeed, that is the question.

                And people, overwhelmingly, are not what they think they are — at least, not in they way that they think of it.

                Are you a fingernail or some hair? Clearly not; you have them, but you also have clothes and a job and a favorite food, but none of them are you.

                Nor are you your limbs, as an amputee will be quick to assure you. You sure as hell don’t want to lose any of your body parts, but you’d still be you if you did, obviously. The “you” right after the accident or surgery or whatever is the same person, we’d all agree.

                …by which logic, we’d also be the same person as children and octogenarians.

                But are we, really? The you as a suckling infant could hardly be more different from the you reading these words — and the Alzheimer’s-cursed you in the future is as radically different again from both.

                To cut to the chase…”you” is an illusion. The “you” reading these words is different from the “you” before you read these words; your current “you” has access to the memory of reading these words, whereas your previous “you” didn’t. That’s not much of a change in this example, but it’s trivial to construct a different case where it would represent a radical difference — such as reading of a spouse’s untimely demise.

                Each “you” at each moment in time is its own self-contained entity. There is certainly continuity with your infant and ancient selves, but they aren’t you; you only exist right here, right now, in the ever-present present moment.

                You’re probably sitting right now, reading these words, perhaps in eagerness to respond. That cluster of thought patterns constitutes your self; it’s who you are. Later today, you’ll be eating dinner, which is who you’ll be at that moment. When you’re sleeping, you probably won’t be much of anything most of the time, but the you who wakes up in the morning will (perhaps) be reflecting on dreams of the night before. All are different entities, even as they, again, share a certain continuity.

                You’ll note that this perspective, again, demonstrates the self to be an illusion. There are many coherent perspectives that come to the same conclusion, but no coherent perspective that paints a picture of the self as anything like the Christian soul or popular dualistic analogues — even as most people are almost always lost in dualistic thought patterns.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

              • Posted July 19, 2017 at 3:32 am | Permalink

                Hear, hear!

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

                There is a massive non-sequitur when you write “to cut to the chase”. You could just as well argue that a house is an “illusion” because (a) it consists of parts, (b) it can lose some of those parts and (c) it was renovated in 1980. That is just not what the word illusion means.

                Do you seriously argue that I should be so floored by the revolutionary insight that human beings change over time that I should discard several useful everyday terms that we need to convey information and that in no way imply that humans do not change? Or, to get closer to free will, be so floored by the revolutionary insight that causes may have effects that I discard several useful everyday terms that we need to convey information and that in way imply magic?

                Sorry to say so, but if you want to see somebody who is lost in dualistic thought patterns I would suggest to look in the mirror. It is not the compatibilists who say things like “my brain made the decision for me” or “we are the helpless marionettes of our genes”. That, right there, is body-soul dualism at its finest, because it conceptually separates the me from brain, genes and overall body that actually are the me.

              • Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

                You could just as well argue that a house is an “illusion” because (a) it consists of parts, (b) it can lose some of those parts and (c) it was renovated in 1980.

                Yes! Exactly!

                As Sean Carroll is extremely fond of quoting, “in truth, only atoms and the void.”

                There are patterns in the atoms as they are arranged within the void — which is another way of stating that entropy is not (yet) maximized. And, when you have patterns, you can use a symbolic representation to create a compressed lower-resolution “map” of the whole.

                To use your example, there is a pattern which we describe with the word, “house.” There are billions of houses, from cardboard boxes under bridges to Versailles. All are different…but there’s enough similarity — enough of a pattern, low enough entropy — for the single symbol, “house,” to usefully apply to them all. The same applies for any given house across time; it is never the same, moment to moment, but there’s enough similarity (low enough entropy) from one moment to the next to use the same symbol to apply to it.

                The same, of course, is true of people.

                Where people get caught in the weeds is by assuming that “house” is a real thing. It’s not; it’s just a symbol — a symbol that also, it must be noted, is not constant and also changes. Plato famously thought that the symbols came first and the real objects were imperfect copies of the symbols. This is understandable, for consciousness and the mind is a virtual reality environment created by the brain, and that virtual reality is composed entirely of symbols, so we have the subjective perception of Platonic Idealism. But we’re just maps, and the territory is what it is, not our symbolic representation — an illusion — of it.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

              • Posted July 19, 2017 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                When Sean Carroll says “nothing but atoms and the void,” that just means that at one level of description, that’s all we need. It means that a house, or a person, is made of atoms and void and no other ingredients. It doesn’t mean that there are really no houses and no people – that contradicts the “poetic naturalism” that Sean is so keen to defend.

              • Posted July 20, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

                Sean is fond of using the example, “Baseball is real.”

                But that still leaves open the question: what is baseball?

                Is it the rulebook? Is it the set of all games past, present, and future sanctioned by MLB? Is a pickup game on the local park baseball? Stickball in a New York alleyway? A VCR tape with a recording of a game? A video game? A full-immersion virtual reality video game? A Science Fiction TV show where the characters engage in a full-immersion virtual reality video game of baseball?

                If you consider all the different phenomena to which one might be tempted to apply the label, “baseball,” you’ll discover a truly mind-blowing diversity so radically divergent that you really can’t justify calling them all the same thing.

                But there is a constant, aside from the word itself: a symbolic cluster in your mind that functions exactly like a Platonic ideal. That symbolic cluster, for you is baseball, and you compare real-world phenomena against it to see if they’re a “close enough” match to your own personal Platonic ideal to warrant equating the two.

                Taking a step back, I, too, have my own personal Platonic ideal of baseball. And, if we do a good investigation of everybody’s personal Platonic ideals of baseball, we find a good deal of congruity. But this, too, is simply another collection of phenomena; it just happens that there’s more congruity amongst the members of the pattern.

                Many patterns are superbly reliable. The Sun rises in the East. And, yet, even then…no two sunrises are the same! Never mind the clouds and the like; even the celestial direction changes, daily and yearly. For a clear proof, look at how no two eclipses follow the same ground track. Not to mention the other changes in the Earth’s surface.

                Another of Sean’s favorite subjects is entropy — the statistical count of microscopic states with indistinguishable macroscopic states. Everything I’ve written here could be summarized (another pattern!) by stating that we are in a condition of sufficiently low entropy

                All this, of course, is not to dismiss the importance of those patterns. Indeed, patterns are, literally, in any sense you might care to use the terms, the only things that actually matter. And physics is often characterized as the search for symmetries and their breakage — the patterns and that which doesn’t fit the pattern.

                And, ultimately…minds are purely symbolic entities of patterns — and your entire existence is entirely within your mind. You are fairly described as a self-contained recursive symbolic pattern that is created by your brain — with the important note that there is no pathway from the mind to the brain, even as the brain creates the mind.

                Once you recognize all this — and, really, there’s no scientific way to deny any of it — questions of the nature of the self and “free will” and the rest…they have as much significance as wondering where on the map is the cave that the Sun sleeps in during the night.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

            • Craw
              Posted July 17, 2017 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

              Zero awareness of my brain? I have awareness of some its *operations*. I call those thoughts, emotions, imaginings, desires, fears, hot, cold, rough, blue, red, yellow, and so on. Oh, and awareness. That’s my brain in operation too.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 6:47 am | Permalink

                On free will, Ben is the champion of making straw man arguments. He knows he can defeat the dualist everyday contra-causal definition of what free will is, so he says that that is what every compatibilist is talking about. Of course it is not. Ben is also a typical reductionist on this subject – essentially saying that if a neuron does not have free will a whole brain cannot. NO, the level of functionality of one neuron is not the level of functioning occurring at “brain level”. What is happening at brain level are emergent processes, not simple neural network fuzzy logic. What emerges are computational processes of incredibly advanced power – modelling, abstraction, language, associative memory, pattern recognition, learning, multi-threading, inference, recursive processing and self conceptualisation to just to name a few. At this EMERGENT level- the level from the combination of these advance facilities something we compatibilists call free will emerges. If we want to relate these combined processes to what we define as “decisions” we must acknowledge they are not the same sort of decisions that a tea kettle or a chess computer are involved. There is indeed a spectrum of decisional capability and somewhere along that spectrum “a line is crossed” in functionally what is happening. We define this functionality as free will. The reductionist desperately avoids talking of the level that the discussion really needs to be made.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

                No, that’s awareness of your mind. Your brain creates your mind, absolutely, unquestionably. But your mind has basically no access to the brain itself — certainly not like it has access to other organs (lungs, heart) or the limbs.

                Consider a computer analogy. Aside from maybe a temperature sensor and that sort of thing, a computer has no I/O access to the CPU itself, even as the CPU is doing all the analysis and synthesis of everything else. If your computer has a camera, it can display a live video stream from it or the raw RGB values of a single pixel from a single exposure…but it’s not able to tell you the current state of any of the transistors in the CPU. Programmers can get some glimpses into that with a debugger, but brains don’t have debuggers….

                b&

                >

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

                Ben: “No, that’s awareness of your mind. Your brain creates your mind, absolutely, unquestionably.”

                Wrong. A computer creates nothing. For example, take a Fourier Transform being calculated on a computer. Does the computer change the nature of the Fourier Transform? No… the transform is a mathematical entity with properties completely of its own. The nature of those properties have nothing whatsoever to do with the computer. It is a mathematical construct. Now you may argue that a computer is a mathematical machine. But so what? A computer is not even needed to for those properties to exist. At best we can consider that a computer, by using certain algorithms may SIMULATE the characteristics of this advance mathematical construct.
                Now a Fourier Transform is a grossly simple example, a simple construct. But the functional processes that occur in the human mind (some of which I previously listed) constitute the free will construct we are talking about – which in essence is the nature of the agency achieved under these functions. That level of agency IS free will. Nothing to do with computers at the gross level of reductionism you try to explain things by Ben. Of course I am not saying that we don’t need a brain to carry out human agency – nor are the properties of Fourier Transforms altered in any way when a human brain is doing that “computing” of the particular Fourier analysis

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

                A computer creates nothing.

                I can only buy into that if you’re aiming for a purely reductionist vision of determinism in which nothing is created. Or, perhaps, a more limited perspective in which humans don’t create anything, either.

                The rest of your post strongly suggests you hew to Platonic Idealism, at least with respect to math — that the Fourier Transform is really real in some sense, either created by humans or already existing and merely discovered by Fourier. Such Idealism has no foundation in observation, is unsupportable by modern physics, and is contradicted by all we understand.

                …and, yes. I know a disproportionate number of mathematicians are inordinately fond of Idealism. But once you understand that the mind is itself a symbolic construct that superficially bears a most striking semblance to Plato’s philosophy, that’s very easy to forgivingly tolerate. The mind has a symbol that, within the virtual reality of the mind, is a perfect circle against which all other circles are compared…but, in reality, it’s just a symbol, and the mind is comparing the territory against the map and finding the territory wanting.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

              • Posted July 19, 2017 at 8:27 am | Permalink

                There is not anything Platonic about it Ben, it’s just that we’re talking about totally different things. There is nothing about Fourier Transforms that is related to, or connected to the structure, hardware or software of a computer . There is no idealism in any of this, just plain fact. A computer can simulate the outputs resulting with these transforms because they are general purpose mathematical algorithmic machines- but knowing all there is to know about computers gives no insight whatsoever into the mathematical properties of the transform. Only “doing mathematics” can produce any insights and allow us to define some of the transforms properties. In a like fashion we need to look at the range of properties of human agency when we wish to interpret degrees and extent of freedom and where it arises within this complex. We are NOT talking about physics here. What we are analysing is scope, what we are dealing with is emergence.
                We may by chance be running the mathematical simulations on a machine. You Ben, are obsessed by the machine when in fact you should be studying the mathematics itself.

              • Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

                There is not anything Platonic about it Ben, it’s just that we’re talking about totally different things. […] You Ben, are obsessed by the machine when in fact you should be studying the mathematics itself.

                Physician, heal thyself.

                Mathematics is a purely symbolic representation of an imagined perfection — Platonicism reified. There is no math; in truth, only atoms and the void.

                See my immediately preceding post for a fuller exposition.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

              • Posted July 20, 2017 at 12:12 am | Permalink

                Ben you are beginning to sound exactly like Deepak. So Mathematics does not exist? How then do you explain an incredibly diverse range of physical systems that BEHAVE mathematically? Is that not proof enough of the reality of that math? How can one “symbolic” language that does not exist so accurately explain reality? Especially when that “symbolic system” does not arise from physical reality, but from a limited set of axiomatic propositions.

                You are floundering Ben. You need to return to the subject of free will, not avoid it.

              • Posted July 20, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

                Howie, see my reply to Paul.

                What, exactly, is “Mathematics”? Ultimately, it’s just a symbol in your mind for a certain set of symbols.

                Here, I’ll prove it to you.

                You’d probably agree that, “1 + 1 = 2,” is math. But how about, “1 + 1 = 3”? And I don’t mean funny games about redefining symbols — though the fact that such is possible should itself be a big clue. Is that unequal “equation” still math?

                But all these are simply squiggles on the screen — squiggles not of ink, but of patterns of bright and dark sections of your display. Where’s the math in the squiggles?

                In reality, what’s going on is that your mind matches the squiggle against patterns and finds a match for other patterns that have numerical significance. And those patterns trigger other patterns, and so on, in ways that are better or worse fits for your overarching pattern with which you’ve associated the “Mathematics” label.

                As far as returning to the subject of “free will”…is it not obvious how the mental pattern labeled, “free will,” is a map without a territory? That the phenomenon it purports to represent doesn’t exist?

                Indeed, the very concept is itself the ultimate married bachelor, a self-contained oxymoron. Freedom is the condition of lack of constraint, yet the will is that which directs us and constrains our actions. A will that is free is aimless and pointless. A freedom that is willfully guided has been chained to the rudder of the will.

                And you can observe for yourself how “free will,” whatever you think it’s supposed to be, is not how you actually operate. Make some trivial decision, and examine in close detail the mental processes, including analyses of internal and external stimuli, that lead to your ultimate decision. Sure, you might tell yourself a story like, “If I hadn’t just had chocolate I might have gone for it again,” but that’s a story you’re making up — no different from, “If I had some of Peter Pan’s faery dust, I could fly to Neverland.” In reality, you did just have the chocolate (plus all the other variables at play) and therefore had no choice but to go for the vanilla.

                This is a good thing! It means you are a willful agent, one with meaning, not freely and aimlessly wandering about at random. It means your entropy is still relatively low and yet to be maximized. Of course, when your entropy is maximized, you won’t know it, as the patterns of your mind that are “you” will no longer exist, and there won’t be anything to recognize the fact….

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        It’s that same thing I am feeling every time I hear D. Trump’s voice. I get very delusional and cannot be held responsible for my thoughts.

      • Vaal
        Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Take a favorite scenario: ice cream flavor at the ice cream shop. You’ve got all those flavors arrayed before you, and it seems like you could pick from any of them. In reality, you’re only picking one (or three or whatever).

        So on your view it only seems like you “could” pick from different ice creams, but in reality, you “could” not.

        Clearly, as always, this will reduce to what work the word “could” is doing in our language, and your claim above seems to depend on a not-fully-thought-through interpretation of “could.”

        So let’s say you are a Chef interviewing someone applying for a job as line cook in your restaurant. Obviously, you want to know
        about what the person brings to the table so you can ask:

        Could you dice vegetables quickly
        Could you cook sous vide?
        Could you create soup stock?
        Could you do a good bechamel sauce?
        Could you de-bone fish, meat, fowl?
        Could you work weekends?

        Etc, etc. (You can replace the word “could” with “can you” above, as they are functionally interchangeable).

        No, surely the answers to all these “could you” questions are informative – they impart real information, right? If the line chef answers “yes I could” to all your questions (presuming he’s not lying) then you’ve gained information allowing you make future decisions: if you put her on the line, and tell her to whip up a bechamel sauce for a dish, she “could” do it and this predict she will produce a bechamel sauce. That is, after all, the point of asking all those “could you” questions in the first place.

        (And it’s just as informative, and useful in predicting the future, to ask a line chef “could you HAVE done X, Y, Z” all those things, because that gives you similar information about their capabilities).

        So it’s very clear that when we ask “could you do X or Y” or someone says “I could do X or Y” we are asking about “what that person is capable of” and this is not information we could get if “could” meant only “at the exact same point in the universe, in precisely the same situation.”

        And yet, to make any sense of your denial that we “could” “in reality” choose between the ice cream flavors, we have to take “could” as meaning only “at the same point in the universe, in precisely the same situation.”

        Since this is clearly NOT what we normally express when using the word “could” or “could have” – it can’t be, otherwise we couldn’t impart information via those words and in fact we do! – your use of “could” in your example seems very non-standard and in the end, incoherent.

    • Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      On top of all the comments above, which I am compelled to think are very good, you feel like you are making a choice because you are not aware of most of the machinations in your brain that made your choice for you and pushed it into your consciousness. The fact that this is true means that you could not have really made the choice.

      • darrelle
        Posted July 18, 2017 at 8:45 am | Permalink

        Another observation I had of the comments above is that some of the participants may be confusing a philosophical conception of “determinism” with the physics conception of that word. Determinism in physics does not require and does not necessarily include “predeterminism.” A subtle but, I think, important difference.

        Another thing I noticed is the claim that our consciousness can’t have any affect on the natural world. I really don’t understand how someone could be so sure of that or that that conclusion flows necessarily from the premise of a deterministic universe. Actually it makes no sense whatsoever to me. Surely if our brains are complex calculating machines, or a collection of complex calculating machines, producing outputs from myriad inputs in a way completely consistent with the laws of physics as we know them, then why wouldn’t our consciousness, which is produced wholly by our nervous system, just be one more input?

        I don’t think this is an argument for or against either the Compatiblist or INcompatiblist view, I’m simply claiming that it seems obvious to me that our consciousness can and does affect the real world and that the way it could do that seems rather straight forward and wholly consistent with determinism.

        Much if not most of the issues at the root of this debate, in my opinion, are due to the fact that the phenomena involved are not as per our earlier conceptions of them. We’ve made enough progress to see that, but we still don’t have a clear or complete understanding of them.

  3. tubby
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m still boggled by Matt Dillahunty’s free will argument where he defines its features and then justifies it as real by saying it’s the only kind of free will worth having. Mogua fruit ice cream with huetrare nuts and utragwa swirls may be the only ice cream worth having, but that doesn’t make it real. It’s weirdly like an ontological argument and I can’t tell if it’s a shell game or I just don’t understand what he’s saying.

    Oh god, he’s going to school me in philosophy on PCC’s comment section, isn’t he?

    • GBJames
      Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      IMO, putting utragwa swirls in the ice cream just ruins it.

      • tubby
        Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        What are you talking about? Utragwa swirls are the best!

        • GBJames
          Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

          But not in ice cream! Everywhere else, yes.

      • tubby
        Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        I should probably add that, unless I’m misunderstanding Matt, his reply to your dislike of the utragwa swirls might be that it doesn’t matter since the only ice cream worth having has utragwa swirls by definition. Which is why it feels like the ontological argument to me.

        • GBJames
          Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

          I think of it as a gastronomical argument.

          • tubby
            Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

            The gastronomical argument for free will?

          • Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

            Gastronomical catastrophe, more like it. This argument goes on, it’s going to become violence for real….

            b&

            >

            • GBJames
              Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

              On a gastronomical scale! Utragwa swirls in ice cream. The very idea!

              • tubby
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

                Next thing we know this is devolve into how one should eat Neapolitan ice cream.

              • GBJames
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

                One should NEVER eat Neapolitan ice cream! 😉

              • rickflick
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

                You mean strawberries DON’T go with chocolate?

  4. Ted Burk
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Did the Berkshires seem dreamlike on account of that frosting?

  5. Sastra
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Is a beard, bald head, and glasses so distinctive that the philosopher can’t just be a “philosopher” — it’s got to be “Daniel Dennett?”

    It seems pretty generic to me. I know he’s lampooned Dennett’s arguments using this particular character in the past, but there’s a lot of satire to be had in the field.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      But the free will issue is central to Dennett’s whole career. I can’t imagine this not being him, and I’ve got a good imagination.

      • Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        Since Dennett is a monist and has written so much explaining why dualism is wrong, I cannot imagine why the cartoonist would try to lampoon him with something like this.

        • rickflick
          Posted July 17, 2017 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          Agreed. But the cartoonist may not know Dennett very well in spite of seeming to depict him.

        • peepuk
          Posted July 18, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

          Though he is sometimes a bit vague (could be me) on his intentional stance.

      • Sastra
        Posted July 17, 2017 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

        Free will is only one of Dennett’s many issues. My guess is that he’s focused more on mind and evolution.

        • rickflick
          Posted July 17, 2017 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

          What is mind? No matter.
          What is matter? Never mind. 😎

  6. Kevin
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Weinersmith’s characterization of Dennett, if that is a proper characterization, is terrible. It’s inadequate and confused.

  7. Michael Fisher
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    The below link contains Zach Weinersmith’s review, only three months ago, of Dannett’s 33 year old book “Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting” [1984]. So it’s possible ZW has only recently read it.

    I can’t make sense of the first three lines of ZW’s post compared with the last four lines:
    https://theweinerworks.com/2017/04/12/elbow-room/

    That said – ZW’s feelings about the book might be similar to mine – I felt conned by some dubious sleight of hand after slogging through the damned thing to the bitter end. The cartoon is clearly about Dennett & not Dennett’s philosophy on free will…

    Maybe ZW resents the time wasted too & he’s just giving Dennett a raspberry? I can see no other reason for that incoherent cartoon.

  8. eric
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Now Dan would never make an argument as dumb as that in the first six panels, so it’s hardly fair.

    Why is 2 or 3 any more dumb than one? Lots of theists believe in souls, which is a form of dualism. Some spiritualists believe plants and/or animals have spirits separate from the human soul. That’s tri-ism. The ancient Egyptians believed in a many-part soul. Weird, yes, but hey, that’s more consistent with different claims about OBEs, past lives, etc. than the single-soul-single-afterlife hypothesis.

    So the next time some believer spouts some vision of a tunnel of light at you, respond that that was the person’s Ba while people also having a Ka explains ghosts. And if they call that ridiculous, point out that it fits the evidence better than their idea. 🙂

    Yes sure, “zero” is more credible than any otehr answer. But I’d maintain that if we had to rank the other possibilities, I don’t see “one” being better than some higher number and in many ways, it’s worse.

  9. Ken
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    sub

  10. Steve Gerrard
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    Nice to see conscious humans having a nice discussion about whether or not they can decide to post a reply, or what to say when they post one.

    Most of them probably rely on a concept of self that includes some decision making ability, to ensure that they cover the bases and think carefully about what they say before posting it.

    How you think about a choice is part of the activity of your brain, and directly affects what choices you end up making. Thinking that you are responsible for the consequences of your choices is an effective way to make better choices.

    Putting it more neurologically, having the “I’m responsible” neural firing pattern active will steer the overall brain output towards better results, and you would get different (and probably worse) results without it.

    At least that is what our human cultures have been telling us for the last few thousand years, and it seems to be working.

    (I’ve been reading Dennett and Pinker lately, can you tell?)

  11. Stephen Barnard
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to lay my cards on the table. I think (physical) determinism has no explanatory power when it come to human culture writ large. In particular, it has nothing to say about our justice system.

  12. Fernando Peregrin
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    Naturalistic determinism. By Jean Bricmont, co-author wth Alan Sokal of Fashinable Nonsense

    http://emilkirkegaard.dk/en/wp-content/uploads/Fashionable-Nonsense-Postmodern-Intellectuals-Abuse-of-Science-Alan-Sokal-Jean-Bricmont.pdf

    Determinism, Chaos and Quantum Mechanics. A must read for everyone interested in dualism, free will and the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness.

    It requires a certain culture of Newtonian or classical physics and quantum mechanics

    http://www.dogma.lu/txt/JB-Determinism.pdf

    (Although Jean Bricmont is a professor at a Catholic university in Brussels, he is as much an atheist as I am)

    Interview with Bricmont (in Spanish)

    http://www.escepticos.es/…/elesceptico/numeros_pdf/EE_03.pdf
    (See pages 14 – 16)

    • Ken
      Posted July 18, 2017 at 4:25 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the links.

  13. Posted July 18, 2017 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    As everything is caused by chance and necessity, we are obliged to make choices. A form of will.

    It’s certainly a justification of moral responsibility. Whether the will is “free”, I don’t really care.

    I’m a determinist and a compatibilist. I’m an atheist and an agnostic. I can’t see the logical differences.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted July 18, 2017 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      This is an example of what I mean by determinists not fully appreciating the radical consequences of their position.

      I take determinism to mean that future microscopic states of the universe are uniquely specified by previous microscopic states. Chance plays no role. Every state occurs with 100% probability. When we observe macroscopic states chance appears to play a role, but that’s only because we have incomplete knowledge.

      • Posted July 18, 2017 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        I suppose that’s how the universe compels you to take the meaning of “determinism”. By chance, I see it differently 🙂

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted July 18, 2017 at 8:52 am | Permalink

          That’s called nondeterminism.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted July 18, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        Stephen, how do you account for quantum mechanics in your 100% deterministic model?

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

          It isn’t MY model. It’s THE model. Like I said before, I take determinism seriously. As soon as you allow for pure chance you’ve abandoned determinism. Quantum mechanics gives you no wiggle room.

          By the way, the Schrödinger equation is deterministic. The wave function (squared) gives the probabilities of observing different outcomes, but the wave function itself evolves in a deterministic way.

          • Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

            This is a point that few non-physicists get.

            There are two aspects to it.

            First, ever since LaPlace (the one who famously told Napoleon of the uselessness of the God hypothesis) reformulated Newton, the basic understanding of physics is that, given the complete state of a system and the rules by which it operates, all other states of the system, past and future, can be determined.

            There are insurmountable practical obstacles to performing such a determination — not the least of which is that we’re a tiny subpart of the system attempting to determine the entirety of the interconnected whole. Nevertheless, absolutely nothing gives any reason to suspect that this is not the case, and everything we do know overwhelmingly supports it. Might as well question gravity a determinism.

            Second, this holds just as solid for Quantum Mechanics, weird indeterminacy and all. The Many-Worlds interpretation is the most parsimonious “interpretation” of this fact, but the others are all equally determinate. Einstein was right; “God” does not play dice. All the cards are on the table, even if a lot of them are face-down.

            Cheers,

            b&

            >

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted July 18, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

              “but the others are all equally determinate.”

              Not true. Several are explicitly non-deterministic.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

                I’m not a Quantum Mechanic so I won’t try to pretend to be one. It had been my understanding that no indeterministic interpretations were still taken seriously, which is why I didn’t, either.

                For example, that Wikipedia article includes Wigner’s Chopra-esque consciousness-driven model, which I think it safe to dismiss with prejudice — especially since Wigner himself has abandoned it.

                The models presented after that one are equally fringe and / or dodgy. The ones presented before are all either deterministic or agnostic save for Copenhagen…and at least Steven Weinberg says that it’s “now widely felt to be unacceptable.”

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

            Yes, the set of possible futures was laid down once and for all at the Big Bang by the Schrödinger equation. In that sense quantum mechanics is fully deterministic.

            But the Schrödinger equation doesn’t select a single, unique future from among those possibilities; it doesn’t guarantee that “future microscopic states of the universe are uniquely specified by previous microscopic states” (unless you take “microscopic states” to include superpositions of divergent states).

            • Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

              But the Schrödinger equation doesn’t select a single, unique future from among those possibilities; it doesn’t guarantee that “future microscopic states of the universe are uniquely specified by previous microscopic states”

              Actually, it does. And Many-Worlds says that all microscopic states present.

              But this comes close to a discussion of entropy. It is the case that a great many microscopic states have indistinguishable macroscopic appearances…that there are patterns, in other words. And those patterns can be represented symbolically; you can make maps. Consciousness is one such map; science another.

              Being symbolic entities ourselves, we basically never give a damn about the actual lower-level states from which our patterns are made…but the patterns are emergent and have no causal power, even as the patterns themselves appear to be causal agents when analyzed by patterns.

              b&

              >

              • strongforce
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                +!

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

                I don’t see how it can be simultaneously true that the Schrödinger equation picks out a single, unique history and that all histories are equally real.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

                That’s the seeming paradox of Many-Worlds.

                All histories manifest, but you yourself are on a single branch of a single history — with mind-boggling numbers of other branches with very similar aggregates of quantum fields that constitute you yourself. Your waveforms are no longer entangled with the waveforms of those other similar-yous, so it appears to you that they simply don’t exist.

                b&

                >

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

                If “unique” to you means “mind-boggling numbers” of “very similar” histories, fine; I won’t argue the point further. But allow me to refer you to this comment of yours upthread.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

                Sorry; not seeing the disparity.

                A million Barbie dolls come off the assembly line during a certain production run. All are very similar, perhaps even to the point of being indistinguishable for all intents and purposes.

                Yet each doll is unique, distinct from all the others. Each has its own history.

                That’s even true if, for example, the broad outline of their histories are identical — say, all manufactured the same day, all destroyed in the same warehouse fire the next day.

                If nothing else, one was the first one to come off the line, the next the second one, and so on.

                It’s the same idea with all the many versions of “you” in the branches of the Many Worlds. There might not be enough macroscopic differences for humans to distinguish amongst huge swaths of them, assuming that such a comparison could be made (which it can’t). But the differences are just as real nonetheless.

                b&

                >

        • Posted July 18, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

          One way is Bohmian – as Smolin has alluded to recently.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted July 18, 2017 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

            Yes, Bohm is pretty much your only plausible option for a fully deterministic single history.

            But are we really supposed to believe that a naturalistic theory of ethics depends crucially on the truth of Bohmian mechanics? If not, then the whole debate about determinism and “couldn’t have done otherwise” is a red herring.

            • Posted July 18, 2017 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

              Indeed, it’s also worth noting that human-scale phenomena are overwhelmingly Newtonian. Quantum weirdness rarely manifests in significant ways. Yes, you could design a quantum lottery that would be very significant for the winners with worlds where everybody won — but we don’t do that. Yes, you can’t predict when a particular radionuclide will decay — but that’s basically never anything other than static. Yes, you need QM to properly explain a laser or a diffraction grating, but they’re functionally nothing more than efficient and focussed flashlights and very flat prisms, respectively, as far as people are typically concerned.

              And we know as well as we know that the Sun rises in the East that brains are purely classical phenomena. They’re far too big, hot, and messy for quantum weirdness to manifest. Sure, maybe you need QM to fully account for the energy budget of a mitochondria or the like…but that’s not where cognition happens.

              …and there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Newtonian Mechanics is purely 100% deterministic, period, full stop, end of story.

              Cheers,

              b&

              >

            • Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

              Yes – both “roll the dice” QM and other (objectivist, i.e., potentially correct) versions have problems with any notion of “could have done otherwise” and “self origination” and all the other things in (non-compatibilist) free will.

      • Steve Gerrard
        Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        I don’t think this is the generally accepted meaning of determinism. For instance, it is simply a fact that the decay of radioactive isotopes is random, and it cannot be known which atoms will decay next. Determinism does not mean predestination, but only that all things that do happen are the result of physics in action. Exactly which things will happen cannot always be known or predicted.

        • Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

          I can arrange a deck of cards in a very orderly non-random determined manner and lay them out face-down on a table, yet you won’t be able to tell me which card you’re about to turn over.

          Quantum Mechanics is similarly unpredictable but deterministic.

          Many-Worlds makes this easier to understand. The cards get laid on the table in every one of the 52-factorial ways they can get laid out. 52-factorial identical copies of “you” pick a card. Each gets a different card. Each tries to attach existential meaning to why he picked that particular card.

          Incidentally, that’s not the numerically-best way to describe it…Quantum Mechanics follows what’s called the Born Rule — which is what Stephen mentioned: the odds of the observation are the square of the equation. My naïve example doesn’t do a good job of demonstrating how that works. The sums of a pair of dice (as opposed to individual die rolls) make that a bit easier to envision.

          Cheers,

          b&

          >

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

          Whether things can be known or predicted has no bearing on determinism. When you throw a die you can’t predict which face will land up, but it’s determined according to the laws of physics.

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

            This was supposed to be a reply to Steve Gerrard. I think WordPress is screwing up the comments.

  14. John Crisp
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    There is a sad case that is going through the UK High Court at the moment, which somewhat relates to these discussions. A man with motor neurone disease is appealing for the right to physician-assisted suicide. The essence of his argument is that he finds the idea of being “entombed in his own body” unacceptable. This expresses the kind of dualism that seems to come naturally to us, regardless of its objective validity. Whatever the nature of the pattern of brain functions that we call the “self” (or religious people the “soul”), we feel as though there is some distinct “entity” that is capable of seeing itself as “entombed” inside the body, as if the latter were a separate container.

    The philosopher Thomas Nagel, before succumbing to the temptations of panpsychism, tried to develop an evolutionary theory of (human) self-consciousness, suggesting that the emergence of an awareness of self allows the development of self-concern, which in turn has survival value.

  15. Stephen Barnard
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Some of these comments are shocking to me, in that some self-professed determinists don’t understand, or at least can’t agree on, what determinism is. The past determined the present. The present determines the future. Full stop.

    That’s the argument against free will, as I understand it. It’s a compelling argument because the fundamental laws of physics, as we know them, are deterministic. It’s compelling in light of experiments that show we make choices preconsciously. It may be true.

    I’m not buying it.

    • Vaal
      Posted July 18, 2017 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

      I’m confused, Stephen. What aren’t you buying? Determinism? Free Will? Compatibilism?

      Determiminism, as you’ve described it, is no barrier to compatibilists because, of course, the whole point is that compatibilists argue the important aspects of “choice” are retained in a deterministic context.

  16. Stephen Barnard
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    I’ve tried to understand this thing called “compatibilism”. For the life of me, I can’t. It sounds like confused, self dealing, special pleading mumbo jumbo. It claims to take determinism seriously, but it doesn’t.

    At least the incompatibilists (noncompatibilitists?) have a coherent position. They take determinism seriously. But it leads to unpleasant consequences — fatalism, that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do. I find that not only counter intuitive, but extremely distasteful. But it may be true.

    What both views have in common is the belief (It’s just a belief) that the universe is deterministic.

    • Vaal
      Posted July 18, 2017 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      Compatibilists do take determinism seriously…but I argue we follow it’s implications deeper and more widely than many of the incompatibilists.

      A feature of debating with Christians is that the Christian will take one problem, and reach a conclusion they think obviously follows, and then stop there. They don’t notice…or care…about the implications that conclusion has for many other of their conclusions. So it’s like they have a leak in their boat, plugged that one leak, and think “that’s all I care about” while other leaks spring all around them.

      I find the same thing when trying to discuss
      free will with a number of incompatibilists, and even yourself when you’ve argued the implications of determinism. In one narrow sense, you reached a conclusion you think obviously follows “if determinism is true, decision-making is incoherent and free will can not make sense” and then, well, that’s good enough. If the compatibilist points to all the other leaks springing around you, it doesn’t matter, the attitude isn’t “wait, this has made other things I believe incoherent, so much so the ship I thought I was saving is going to sink.”

      Instead the attitude is: “I’m quite sure I’ve got this right, and if it undermines much else that I believe, so much the worse for the rest of what I believe.”

      I admit I find this truly baffling from fellow atheists, who when they argue against religion, recognize that seizing on a belief at the expense of overall incoherence is a real problem. It’s always a signal you’ve gone wrong somewhere.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

      “But it leads to unpleasant consequences — fatalism, that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do.”

      If I punch 2+2 into a pocket calculator, it’s powerless to tell me the answer is other than 4. If I apply the brakes in my car, it’s powerless to do anything other than slow down. Would the world be a better place if cars and calculators had the power to defy our expectations and produce wrong answers at whim? If we don’t tolerate such irrational whimsy from our tools, why should we want it for ourselves?

      True fatalism would obtain if our desires and intentions had no effect whatever on the course of events. But that’s not the world we live in. At bottom, the message of compatibilism is that we should behave as if our decisions matter, because they do matter. We’re part of the causal web, not its helpless victims.

      And for the record, I don’t believe in the sort of Laplacean absolute determinism you seem to be talking about. Nor does compatibilism depend on such determinism; it’s perfectly compatible with an open future or a multitude of possible futures.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

        I’m mainly interested in incompatibilism, because I can’t make sense of compatibilism.

        “And for the record, I don’t believe in the sort of Laplacean absolute determinism you seem to be talking about.”

        Then you’re not a determinist. If you don’t believe in an “absolute” determinism, what kind of watered-down, diminished, conditional determinism do you believe in? Determinism is a matter of definition, not belief.

        “Nor does compatibilism depend on such determinism; it’s perfectly compatible with an open future or a multitude of possible futures.”

        That’s a very broad claim. Too broad, I think.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

          I said in a previous comment that it’s a belief that the universe is deterministic. I stand by that. I think it’s a reasonable belief, based on current knowledge, but not a settled matter.

          The DEFINITION of determinism isn’t a belief. It’s about as absolute as a definition can be.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted July 20, 2017 at 12:42 am | Permalink

            Let me rephrase, then. I don’t believe that Laplacean determinism is an accurate description of the universe we live in. Our universe is described by the Schrödinger equation, which evolves deterministically, but doesn’t (by itself) produce the 4D block universe and the single, fixed future beloved of hard determinists. What it produces is a very high dimensional Hilbert space containing a branching tree of possible futures.

            The precise branching structure of that tree is completely determined by its initial conditions, but as a Many Worlds partisan, I believe that all the possible futures described by the tree remain live options. We’re not on a fixed track to a single destination; we’re passing through an endlessly ramifying switchyard leading to a multitude of destinations. I believe this not as a matter of faith or ideological commitment, but because I’m convinced it’s probably the most accurate and parsimonious description of reality. For me that trumps any considerations of “absolute” v. “watered-down” determinism.

            I could be wrong, of course; Bohmian mechanics could turn out to be the right answer, in which case we’re back to the single track and the 4D block universe. But I think that’s unlikely, and that its appeal for some theorists amounts to a kind of nostalgia for the certainties of 19th century physics.

            • Posted July 20, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

              The precise branching structure of that tree is completely determined by its initial conditions, but as a Many Worlds partisan, I believe that all the possible futures described by the tree remain live options. We’re not on a fixed track to a single destination; we’re passing through an endlessly ramifying switchyard leading to a multitude of destinations.

              That’s not a particularly good portrait of M-W, as it still implies a singular entity traversing the tracks.

              Rather, there are entities at every location on all the tracks.

              Do you find it remarkable that, of all the moments of your life, you happen to be in this particular moment right now? Not the moment when you started reading this post nor the moment when you finished it, but this moment, now, in the middle of reading it? Clearly, you exist (with the caveats I’ve given elsewhere about identity) in all those moments — but why are you existing in this one particular moment right now with direct access to it and to no other moment?

              It’s exactly the same with M-W. “You” exist in both the “branches” where the electron was imaged on the left and on the right, but the one “you” is in that one series of moments after the blip showed up on the right and the other “you” is looking at the spot on the left. “You” can’t remember both for much the same reason that you can’t remember what you’re going to eat for breakfast tomorrow…

              …and that would be because of the entropic arrow of time. Which Sean Carroll has spilled many electrons explaining to popular audiences and which I shouldn’t do more here than point you to.

              Cheers,

              b&

              P.S. What happened to that moment of time when you were in the middle of reading this note? b&

              >


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