The myth of responsibility and the lottery of life

This four-minute video on free will and responsibility, narrated by polymath Raoul Martinez, was posted by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA). Martinez’s point is one I’ve made here many times, and will surely get pushback from: determinism rules human behavior, and our “choices” are all predetermined by our genes and environment. To me, that means that the concept of “moral responsibility” is meaningless, for that implies an ability to choose freely. Nevertheless, we should still retain the concept of responsibility, meaning “an identifiable person did this or that good or bad action”. And, of course, we can sanction or praise people who were responsible in this sense, for such blame and praise can not only reinforce good behavior but is salubrious for society.

I have a few issues with the short video, one being that Martinez discards the idea of “responsibility” when he should be discarding “moral responsibility”, but it’s clear he means the latter. In addition, he imputes people’s life outcomes to “luck,” when what he means are deterministic but unpredictable factors that are outcomes of the laws of physics. There really isn’t any such thing as luck—save a positive outcome that’s the result of true quantum indeterminacy.

Martinez is also somewhat of a compatibilist, as he says that we do have free will if we define it as “the capacity to act in accordance with beliefs and values, to use reason and learn from our mistakes”.  Well, all that is shorthand for the way our neurological computer behaves—deterministically. Whether someone behaves in accordance with their values, or flouts those values, is also determined. Where is the freedom in that? To quote Sam Harris’s comment, which pretty much shows the flaw in all forms of compatibilism:

[Compatibilism] ignores the very source of our belief in free will: the feeling of conscious agency. People feel that they are the authors of their thoughts and actions, and this is the only reason why there seems to be a problem of free will worth talking about.

There are those who say there are no implications of the determinism of human behavior that’s being increasingly borne out by scientific research. These denialists are wrong. Because surveys show that most people are dualists, and believe in genuine “could have done otherwise” free will, and predicate much of their morality, politics, and beliefs on this erroneous concept, then there are surely implications for determinism.

 

The video above is extracted from Martinez’s 7-minute talk, “Life is just a lottery”

 

h/t: Tom Clark

128 Comments

  1. KD
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Should an amphibious plane to be taxed as a plane or a boat (assuming a difference in tax rates)?

    Is a post-operative transperson a man, a women, a third sex, or neither?

    Should one say “human” in the place where one formerly said “man”?

    I am not convinced that the answers to any of these questions are a result of genes or environment. Concepts are indeterminate, and are extended arbitrarily and by analogy (if not capriciously, e.g. there is often an end sought by a decision and the consequent imposition of a new rule).

    Thus, fundamental to law and language is the decision, or you are stuck with a silly and empirically false paradigm of language (as well as stupid papers in Anglo-American philosophy on what way is “up” in a parallel universe without gravity–you could clearly invent a use for the concept of “up”).

    Not to mention that most of what happens in life is random, indeterminate.

    I’m not sure about free will (in the Sam Harris metaphysical sense, not the common sense legal one), but the fickle winds of fortuna, and the strong will and weak will I cannot deny.

    The real question for Gerry Coyne is whether he calls for the abolition of laws against rape, as the notion of “consent” has no apparent meaning in his worldview? [The laws of contract are not far behind.]

    • Posted December 13, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      The construction of those concepts, and whether or not people agree with them, and how they answer the questions, are all determined behaviors. And what do you mean by saying “much of what happens in life is random, indeterminate”? Do you mean much of what happens in life is independent of the laws of physics? If so, what affects those issues? God?

      My name is spelled “Jerry”, by the way, and your snark about laws against rape is just ridiculous. You clearly don’t understand the concept of law, deterrence, punishment, and sanction, all of which make sense under determinism. That last question shows that you haven’t followed my writing (nor know my name), and know little about my views, and about determinism itself.

  2. YF
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    In my view this whole debate is misguided.

    1. There are genuine social, legal, and neurological differences between voluntary (“free”) and involuntary actions, and between actions done under coercion (giving money at gunpoint) and actions done “freely” (giving money to charity). These important distinctions are ignored by incompatibilists.

    2. Determinism vs indeterminism is irrelevant to the debate.

    3. The debate should instead be about mind-brain monism vs dualism, naturalism vs supernaturalism.

    • darrelle
      Posted December 13, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      1. No, incompatibilists don’t ignore those distinctions at all. That concept of free will and those distinctions are a different conversation to incompatibilists. Incompatibilists want to talk specifically about how dualistic and contra-causal concepts of free will are invalid and how determinism is strong evidence for that claim. Compatibilists want to talk about how the concept of free will that you describe in your No. 1 is the only concept of freewill worth talking about, and that it is vital that the label, “free will,” be retained.

      2. It should be, if you mean the debate between Compatibilists and Incompatibilists because both are supposed to accept that determinism rules human behavior (provisionally, as with all things), by definition. But, both positions are defined with respect to determinism for a reason.

      3. No arguments there but . . ., that’s also an incompatibilist argument.

      • YF
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        If the brain were fundamentally indeterministic, that still wouldn’t support the kind of ‘free will’ that incompatibilists are arguing against. It would just make our actions random (not “willed”). That’s why determinism vs indeterminism is irrelevant.

        And if it’s a ‘different conversation’ that compatibilists and incompatibilists are having then the debate is all the more misguided.

        • Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

          You’re right, the whole debate between incompatibilists and compatibilists is misguided.

          Incompatibilists persist in addressing compatibilists as though they were defending dualistic, contra-causal free will. They won’t accept the answer that they are not!

          • darrelle
            Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

            As I’ve said, I agree too. Can you also provide an example of a common misguided compatibilist argument addressed to incompatibilists?

            I’ll start. Compatibilists often argue that Incompatibilists address them as though they were defending dualistic, contra-causal free will.

            I’m a bit surprised at you here Coel. I’ve seen both sides make that argument against the other many times here and in virtually all instances it was nothing more than an attempt to make the other side look silly by concocting a chain of reasoning that was more or less specious and clearly contrary to their targets intended meaning.

        • darrelle
          Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

          Your 1st paragraph, I tend to agree. But then neither you or I had a hand in formulating the formal C and IC concepts. Both of which are defined with respect to determinism.

          Regarding your last, it certainly seems to me that Cs and ICs are very often arguing right past each other. They aren’t really arguing about the facts of the matter. It’s more like arguing about what facts of the matter are more important.

      • Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        and that it is vital that the label, “free will,” be retained

        I’ve never heard a compatibilist insist that it is “vital” that the term “free will” be retained.

        What they do say is that the term “free will” is *already* used in ways that accept determinism.

        The expression “did you sign the contract of your own free will or were you coerced?” is not about determinism or whether the laws of physics operated, it is about social coercion, and the question remains valid in a deterministic world.

        • YF
          Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

          Well put, Coel. I would think that when incompatibilists are not arguing about ‘free will’ they themselves use terms like “free” and “coerced” in their daily lives without even realizing the tension with their own views. To try to eliminate these real and important distinctions from daily life and our legal system is a quixotic aim.

          • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

            Agreed. When incompatibilists talk about “free speech”, I’m sure they don’t mean speech that arises contrary to the laws of physics, they mean speech that is not shut down by social coercion. 🙂

        • darrelle
          Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          Retained sort of assumes that the object it’s being pointed at is already in use. I think my characterization is quite accurate and it doesn’t contradict with what you wrote at all.

          I keep reading C arguments lately that express how the C position has nothing to do with determinism, or that determinism is irrelevant to it. Historically speaking that just is not accurate. Perhaps the C position is evolving, which is normal and fine. But let’s not pretend that the term Compatibilism doesn’t (or didn’t) mean that free will is compatible with determinism and that that was a key point in the concept of Compatibilism from early on. For example Dan Dennett.

          • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

            Copmpatibilism is not so much “nothing to do with determinism”, it is more, let’s concede and accept everything that incompatibilists are saying about determinism, let’s accept that it is a deterministic world, and now can we have a discussion about what “choice” means?

  3. Liz
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    What is an example of a positive (or any) outcome that is the result of true quantum indeterminacy? Or are all outcomes the result of quantum indeterminacy?

    • Liz
      Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      I suppose to preface those questions, I am wondering if quantum indeterminacy is referring to:

      1.Objective collapse theories: “Objective collapse theories…are an approach to the interpretational problems of quantum mechanics. They are realistic and *indeterministic* and reject hidden variables. The approach is similar to the Copenhagen interpretation, but more firmly objective.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objective_collapse_theory

      (Unlike the Many-World interpretation that is *not* indeterministic. “Many-worlds reconciles the observation of non-deterministic events, such as random radioactive decay, with the fully deterministic equations of quantum physics.”)
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation

      or

      2.Quantum indeterminacy as described here: “Quantum indeterminacy is *the apparent necessary incompleteness in the description of a physical system*, that has become one of the characteristics of the standard description of quantum physics.” “In *classical physics*, experiments of chance, such as coin-tossing and dice-throwing, are *deterministic*, in the sense that, perfect knowledge of the initial conditions would render outcomes perfectly predictable.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_indeterminacy

      Any clarification would be wonderful.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 14, 2017 at 2:53 am | Permalink

        Liz. Sean Carroll almost discusses your question IN THIS 2011 ARTICLE or he exactly discusses it. It depends what you mean by “positive (or any) outcome that is the result of true quantum indeterminacy” I have problems with “positive”, “any” & “true” in your question.

        • Liz
          Posted December 14, 2017 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          Thanks so much for sharing, Michael. Everything in quotes is from Sean Carroll’s article On Determinism in Discover, December 5, 2011.

          “…none of this amounts to “free will” over and above the laws of physics. (Which is true, even if, as I’ll mention below, quantum indeterminacy can propagate upward to classical behavior.)”

          “Quantum mechanics…says “the probability of an outcome is the modulus squared of the quantum amplitude,” full stop. Just because there are probabilities doesn’t mean there is room for free will in that sense.”

          If that’s true, then what is the relevance of discussing:

          1. The loopholes in classical mechanics. “We can think of certain situations where more than one future obeys the equations of motion starting from the same past. This is discussed a bit in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on causal determinism. But I personally don’t find the examples that impressive.”

          2. Global and local determinism. “Much more importantly, these kinds of GR phenomena are very far away from our everyday lives; there’s really no relevance to discussions of free will. GR violates global determinism in the strict sense, but certainly obeys local determinism; that’s all that should be required for this kind of discussion.”

          3. The inability to deterministically predict the outcome of a quantum state when we make an observation. “When a quantum state is happily evolving along according to the Schrödinger equation, everything is perfectly deterministic…” “But when we make an observation, we are unable to deterministically predict what its outcome will be. (And Bell’s theorem at least suggests that this inability is not just because we’re not smart enough; we never will be able to make such predictions.)”

          4. Interpretations of quantum mechanics. (including many-worlds) “If I were keeping a tally, I would certainly put this one in the non-determinism camp, for anyone interested in questions of free will.” (many-worlds)

          5. This sentence. “For everyday-life purposes, we can’t get around the fact that quantum mechanics makes it impossible to predict the future robustly.”

          The laws of physics are definitely deterministic? Or whether or not they are deterministic or indeterministic, the probability of an outcome being “the modulus squared of the quantum amplitude” is deterministic and/or rooted in math? If that’s correct, it sounds good to me. I would say I’m a determinist and an incompatibilist still. There are so many interesting points to consider, though.

          • Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

            Bell’s theorem (and its experimental validation) tells us that the “influences” are non-local (if there are any) or that the “time arrow” of processes is relational. Smolin (last I checked – I haven’t read his latest) is one who is still in the “hidden variable” camp. Stenger (the late …) and Huw Price are two partisans of the latter camp.

            I for one tend to the latter, but I have no real opinion as yet. The “mainstream” interpretation is as stated in the items above.

            The “loopholes” in classical mechanics are interesting to my mind because they are like the “0” case in a lot of theories – they may be just artefacts of the model with no real physical significance. But how does one rule this out without (male fide?) ad hoc hypotheses. (See Bunge, _Finding Philosophy in Social Science_ for the distinction between male fide and bona fide ad hoc hypotheses. Gist: the latter are testable independently of the hypothesis they are protecting.)

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

            HI LIZ – MY COMMENTARY IS IN CAPS. SORRY!

            If that’s true, then what is the relevance of discussing:

            1. The loopholes in classical mechanics

            NO RELEVANCE. ESPECIALLY BECAUSE WE DON’T LIVE IN CLASSICAL MECHANICS UNIVERSE WHERE, FOR EXAMPLE, MASSES CAN ACCELERATE TO ANY VELOCITY WITHOUT A SPEED-OF-LIGHT RESTRICTION.

            GOING OFF PISTE JUST FOR THE HALIBUT: SOMETHING THAT FASCINATES ME KNOWN AS “THE 3-BODY PROBLEM”. LET’S TAKE THE MOVEMENT OF THE EARTH & MOON AROUND THE SUN & LET US SUPPOSE THERE ARE NO OTHER BODIES IN THE UNIVERSE FOR SIMPLICITY. SUPPOSE WE KNOW THE EXACT POSITIONS, MASSES [& GRAVITATIONAL FORCES] & VELOCITIES OF ALL THREE BODIES [NO MEASUREMENT PROBLEM]… IT TURNS OUT THERE’S NO EXACT MATHEMATICAL PREDICTIVE SOLUTIONS FOR SUCH A SIMPLE SYSTEM! WE HAVE TO USE NUMERICAL ANALYSIS APPROXIMATIONS WHICH WE TAKE TO THE LEVEL OF ACCURACY WE REQUIRE. FIERCE.

            ANOTHER MIND BLOWER: PHYSICIST VLADIMIR KRIVCHENKOV USING THE 3-BODY PROBLEM AS AN EXAMPLE, SHOWED THE SIMPLICITY OF QUANTUM MECHANICS IN COMPARISON TO CLASSICAL MECHANICS [NOT THAT WE ESCAPE FROM NUMERICAL-SOLUTIONS-ONLY HELL UNDER QM THOUGH]. IT IS MY UNEDUCATED, LAYMAN OPINION THAT A CLASSICAL UNIVERSE IS IMPOSSIBLE IN REALITY, BECAUSE THERE’S NO GRANULARITY TO POSITIONS OR VELOCITIES, THUS IT WOULD REQUIRE INFINITE INFO TO PRECISELY DESCRIBE EVEN A FINITE UNIVERSE.

            UNDER QM WITH 3 PARTICLES [SAY IN AN ATOM] WE ARE STILL HAVING TO COMPUTE, IN NON-TRIVIAL CASES], THERE’S NO PORTABLE LITTLE FORMULA

            2. Global and local determinism

            AS CARROLL SAYS – NOT RELEVANT

            3. The inability to deterministically predict the outcome of a quantum state when we make an observation

            NOT RELEVANT

            4. Interpretations of quantum mechanics. (including many-worlds) “If I were keeping a tally, I would certainly put this one in the non-determinism camp, for anyone interested in questions of free will.” (many-worlds)

            I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT CARROLL MEANS BY THIS. I DON’T SEE HOW THIS ASSISTS THE NON-DETERMINISTS

            5. This sentence. “For everyday-life purposes, we can’t get around the fact that quantum mechanics makes it impossible to predict the future robustly” WELL OBVIOUSLY THAT SENTENCE ISN’T RELELEVANT TO FREE WILL

            The laws of physics are definitely deterministic? Or whether or not they are deterministic or indeterministic, the probability of an outcome being “the modulus squared of the quantum amplitude” is deterministic and/or rooted in math? If that’s correct, it sounds good to me. I would say I’m a determinist and an incompatibilist still. There are so many interesting points to consider, though

            I AGREE WITH YOU!

            TO BE HONEST & OPEN: I FIND THIS FREE WILL STUFF UNSATISFYINGLY TIME-WASTING, BECAUSE I THINK IT’S SUPERNATURAL NONSENSE & THE TERM “FREE WILL” IS AS POORLY DEFINED, ALMOST, AS “CONSCIOUSNESS” – BOTH SUFFER FROM NOT BEING PROPERTIES WE CAN DETECT OR EXPERIMENT WITH. CAN’T RUN EXPERIMENTS MULTIPLE TIMES ETC.

            • Liz
              Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

              “IT TURNS OUT THERE’S NO EXACT MATHEMATICAL PREDICTIVE SOLUTIONS FOR SUCH A SIMPLE SYSTEM! WE HAVE TO USE NUMERICAL ANALYSIS APPROXIMATIONS WHICH WE TAKE TO THE LEVEL OF ACCURACY WE REQUIRE.”

              This from Sean Carroll as noted in the previous post: “Quantum mechanics…says “the probability of an outcome is the modulus squared of the quantum amplitude,” full stop.”

              Both of the above sound like numerical analyses are responsible for the fact that, whether or not physics is deterministic or indeterministic, the laws of physics are still deterministic. If that’s true, why use the word indeterministic at all? If I even have that right, I think the indeterminism would still fall back somewhere in “quantum amplitude”.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted December 14, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

                The laws are deterministic, but ‘events’ are not.

                It is almost certainly true [IMO] that hidden-variables are wrong, thus indeterminacy is an objective, brute fact description of our universe

                i.e.

                [1] It isn’t that we don’t have the knowledge – the reason we can’t know both an electron’s position & momentum is because electrons do not have simultaneous determinate positions & momentums

                [2] In QM ‘events’ don’t have causes as in radioactive decay. The QM probability is real, even though there is no real cause for an individual case of radioactive decay.

              • Liz
                Posted December 14, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

                “The laws are deterministic, but ‘events’ are not.

                It is almost certainly true [IMO] that hidden-variables are wrong, thus indeterminacy is an objective, brute fact description of our universe.”

                So then wouldn’t events, like the firing of a neuron, be indeterministic? Or maybe at what order of magnitude is an event indeterministic?

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

            TAKEN FROM THIS WIKKI ON KRIVCHENKOV

            As an example of the superiority of quantum mechanics, Krivchenkov usually cited the 3-body problem. The 2-body Kepler problem has an analytic (“exact”) solution, which is periodic. The quantum-mechanical analogy corresponds to the Hydrogen atom, which also has an analytic (“exact”) solution in closed form, described with the Coulomb wave function. The addition of a third particle Helium atom still admits analytic estimates that can be performed by a 3rd-grade student. However, the classical analogy becomes so complicated that it is not even included in a university course of astronomy […] quantum mechanics is a self-consistent deterministic theory that does not need any interpretation

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

            THE WIKI ON THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM So how did we get to the moon, which is more than a 4-body problem? Well it’s a special case in that one of the four bodies [the Apollo 11 fuelled up launch vehicle] has no gravitational field worth considering & the Sun is 400 times further away than the moon, so we can ignore that too. Thus we have an easy two body problem:

            Moon Mass: 10^18 Apollos
            Earth Mass: 10^20 Apollos
            Sun Mass: 10^26 Apollos, but too far away to worry about

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 14, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        “So then wouldn’t events, like the firing of a neuron, be indeterministic? Or maybe at what order of magnitude is an event indeterministic?”

        An ISS astronaut can ‘see’ individual cosmic particles hitting a photoreceptor in her retina. Computers experience memory bit flips [“soft errors”] caused by a single high-energy particle that’s travelled for maybe billions of years.

        So macro-objects [Eyes/brains & laptops] are effected by a chain that leads back to some indeterministic [uncaused] QM event. The astronaut must have had some neurons change their state for her to have ‘seen’ the flash in her eye. The ripple effect of neurones changing state presumably ‘compete’ with other cascades of neurones changing state – perhaps that high energy particle results in her being aware of a different thought stream. Thinking about rabbits instead of cats.

        Unfortunately there’s no experiment that can test such ‘what ifs’ – we can’t reliably rerun her life with one element changed

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          And Sean Carroll believes a vast multitude of ‘worlds’ split where she thinks of rabbits & another vast multitude for thoughts of cats, rats, “must file for that divorce” etc. Extravagant & untestable!

          • Liz
            Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

            “The ripple effect of neurones changing state presumably ‘compete’ with other cascades of neurones changing state – perhaps that high energy particle results in her being aware of a different thought stream. Thinking about rabbits instead of cats.”

            So then wouldn’t her thinking about rabbits instead of cats, something that “leads back to some indeterministic [uncaused] QM event” be an indeterministic activity? Then what do we say if she decides to adopt a rabbit instead of a cat? Would that be a choice or activity that is, in fact, indeterministic? As in, that indeterminism “allows” for that distinction (with the distinction being indeterministic) between thoughts of rabbits and thoughts of cats? Still, here, I don’t see any room or way to say that the individual herself was the “cause” of “some indeterministic (uncaused) QM event”. The thought would just be a part of that ripple effect. As would the action of adopting a rabbit.

            Or does this indeterminacy leave room for “some indeterministic (uncaused) QM event” to happen in the brain. Meaning the “indeterministic (uncaused) QM event” is actually, and referencing what you said – (“neurones changing state presumably ‘compete’ with other cascades of neurones changing state” )– the “winning” of one state over another in that “competition”?

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted December 14, 2017 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

            Here’s Carroll’s response to “extravagant & untestable”.

            • Posted December 15, 2017 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

              And don’t forget this one. The “weight of your wheelbarrow” comment is hilarious, and on point.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      I was trying to use indeterministic to mean “uncaused” & nothing else
      I wasn’t using indeterministic to mean say “too complex to predict”
      I’m sorry if I have this wrong, but you seem to be using “indeterministic” in more than one way here or I’m thick. I am having difficulty parsing your post, but that could easily be me! 🙂

      Could you, will you write something simpler please?

      • Liz
        Posted December 15, 2017 at 7:52 am | Permalink

        This helps clarify.

        “I was trying to use indeterministic to mean “uncaused” & nothing else
        I wasn’t using indeterministic to mean say “too complex to predict””

        1. Are both of the above definitions of “indeterministic” used by people when talking about determinism and free will?
        2. Similarly, is deterministic meant to mean “caused” or is it meant to mean “able to be predicted”?

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted December 15, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

          Thanks Liz – that helps & here’s my best, most humble layman’s attempt at a response or it’s a start anyway. What do you think? I’ve left out free will because I don’t believe it’s a coherent concept.

          TRUE STATEMENTS:

          [01] Our macro-world is sufficiently reliable to allow you & your cat to go to the moon with basic equations of motion & a soupçon of calculus [the latter to account for the changing mass of your spaceship as the propellent is burned].

          [02] We are confident that if we launched Apollo 11 through to Apollo 111 every single mission would behave identically according to the equations – there would be absolutely no significant deviation in the calculated, predicted Newtonian orbital mechanics.

          [03] We live in a macro-world that is sufficiently predictable to be described [by philosophers] as ‘adequately determined’ [statistically predictable].

          [04] Statements [1], [2], [3] above have led us to believe for most of our intellectual history, that we live in a well behaved, well ordered & understandable universe, but this is actually an approximation of the truth. It’s ONLY a sufficiently adequate illusion!

          [05] It’s sufficiently adequate in the sense that our hand-wavy understanding is close enough for us to successfully forage, hunt, & do Moon landings, but there’s strong evidence that we need to push past the inadequateness of our hunter-gatherer mentality. For example we have a serious problem with language. Our language doesn’t have the words to discriminate the finer details…

          [06] Mathematics is proclaimed as powerful, useful & a successful means of describing & taming our world, but we have only ‘cracked’ a sliver of reality involving three [ish] unknowns. Nearly everything about the physical world isn’t illuminated by maths [as we know it] & this is because it is probable that there isn’t a simple maths of dynamic processes.

          [07] Example of a language problem: “Indeterminism” & “unpredictability” are not necessarily synonyms.

          [08] Another example of a language problem: “indeterminism” [uncaused] is NOT the opposite of “determinism” [predictable].

          [09] QM is a self-consistent deterministic theory – it is deterministic in the “adequately deterministic” sense of we can calculate the probabilities of the various outcomes occurring

          [10] While QM is “deterministic”, as per [8], it is also “indeterministic” because QM events are uncaused.

          FALSE STATEMENTS [from otherwise intelligent people]

          [01] “The properties of all the particles & fields immediately after t=0 [13.7 billion years ago or more] lead Michael Fisher inevitably to write this post now.”

          [02] “Totally random indeterministic [uncaused] quantum events don’t interfere in any significant way with the ‘adequate determinism’ of our macro-world.”

          • Liz
            Posted December 20, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

            “[08] Another example of a language problem: “indeterminism” [uncaused] is NOT the opposite of “determinism” [predictable].”

            This is helpful. This is important to clarify when talking about determinism/indeterminism.

            “[09] QM is a self-consistent deterministic theory – it is deterministic in the “adequately deterministic” sense of we can calculate the probabilities of the various outcomes occurring”

            “…we can calculate the probabilities of the various outcomes occuring.” – It would be good to see examples of this.

            “[10] While QM is “deterministic”, as per [8], it is also “indeterministic” because QM events are uncaused.””

            Same comment as under 8.

            “”False statements”

            FALSE STATEMENTS [from otherwise intelligent people]

            [01] “The properties of all the particles & fields immediately after t=0 [13.7 billion years ago or more] lead Michael Fisher inevitably to write this post now.”

            [02] “Totally random indeterministic [uncaused] quantum events don’t interfere in any significant way with the ‘adequate determinism’ of our macro-world.””

            Thank you and very helpful.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted December 20, 2017 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

              “[09] QM is a self-consistent deterministic theory – it is deterministic in the “adequately deterministic” sense of we can calculate the probabilities of the various outcomes occurring”

              Liz request:

              “It would be good to see examples of this”

              THE COLLAPSE OF THE WAVE FUNCTION
              The wave function of a single particle in the Twin Slit experiment is the simplest example I can think of. It is the wavy line at the top of this DRAWING

              If we make the entire area under that wave [down to the horizontal black line below it & almost touching it] equal to “1” then the value of the area under the wave between any two vertical lines, represents the probability that any particle will hit between those two lines.

              • Liz
                Posted December 21, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

                Thank you, Michael! So interesting.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted December 21, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

                You are too kind Liz *blush*

                Bear in mind I only have physics pre-19 yo, so there’s probably errors all over the place.

                BUT the one thing I’m sure of is ‘indeterministic’ [uncaused] & random quantum events DO leak into the macro-world, thus rerunning our universe from t=0 x times, with identical initial conditions, WILL produce x different worlds at t=today. The effect of quantum events are akin to the “butterfly effect” where “small causes can have larger effects” much later on [with the diff that the former is indeterministic/random while the latter is deterministic]

  4. D.H.
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    One argument I have often seen is that without free will retaliatory punishment goes out of the window.

    However, this presupposes that there is some concept of free will under which retaliatory punishment really does make sense. I do not see it.

    • Posted December 13, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      “One argument I have often seen is that without free will retaliatory punishment goes out of the window.”

      How so? Irrespective of free will, doesn’t society have a right to punish offenders beyond reforming them? If we can’t, is justice even possible?

      • D.H.
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        Basically, because you use precious resources that could be used to do good things in order to uselessly torture a person instead.

        • Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

          Wow. Who said anything about torture?

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        Hang on! What has retaliation got to do with punishment? Surely punishment is about (a) protecting society from people who might do it again until they are reformed; (b) imposing the penalty on transgessors that is prescribed by society through laws; and (c) deterring the transgressor and others from doing it in future. Retaliation should have no place in the criminal justice system.

        • Posted December 13, 2017 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          I guess I’m not getting it. Isn’t confinement in prison retaliation? IOW, isn’t (in the legal system) punishment a synonym?

          • Steve Pollard
            Posted December 13, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

            Well, I would say not. Incarceration is (or should be) to deter, to protect society, and to remove the perpetrator from society for a spell (in part to demonstrate society’s disapproval). And, of course, to provide an opportunity for reform. Retaliation for me has overtones of “an eye for an eye”, which I don’t think should be part of the criminal justice system.

            • Posted December 13, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

              Oh I agree. I guess I was using the word wrong. And I see where D.H. came up with torture.

              And anyway, you and Coel answered the intent of my question below.

  5. Vaal
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    [Compatibilism] ignores the very source of our belief in free will: the feeling of conscious agency. People feel that they are the authors of their thoughts and actions, and this is the only reason why there seems to be a problem of free will worth talking about.

    Well, given that the most prominent compatibilist philosopher, Dan Dennett, has spent his career both on explicating the nature of consciousness and it’s illusions, along with his work on Free Will…I’m not too inclined to take Sam’s claim too seriously. It re-enforces the caution to never rely on the other side’s characterization of an argument.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Harris is also guilty of a double standard here. He rejects the intuition that we are authors of our thoughts, while accepting at face value his own intuition of consciousness as a kind of homunculus, a passive passenger in the brain that observes thoughts without participating in them.

      • Vaal
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        I also find he seems guilty of special pleading when he claims we can’t account for where our thoughts arise. There seems to be no description of the provenance of a thought – e.g. this sentence arose from my desire to discuss Harris’ special pleading – that he would accept as an explanation. He seems to raise an unnecessarily high bar for “an explanation” only in the case of providing reasons for our choices.

  6. Posted December 13, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    On free will, Raoul Martinez does express compatibilism; that we do have free will. But he denies we are “truly responsible”. I think he commits a dizzying number of non-sequiturs in his short talk. I think YF is on the right track. I’ve argued before that in common discourse, ‘free will’ is not taken to refer to ‘contra-causal free will’. In fact, I question the hard determinist’s and libertarian’s contention that we intuit that we have such contra-causal free will. Using an ordinary-language analysis, I’ve tried to show that a ‘free will’ is an unencumbered will and that free will is restricted in four types of situations: coercion, manipulation, addiction and mental illness. Examining these situations, I’ve distilled four requirements that must be met for an act to be considered as resulting from a free will. These constitute my 4C theory of free will and are: 1. absence of Compulsion; 2. absence of Control by third party; 3. consonant with agent’s Character; and 4. Cognitive capacity to reason. I’ve argued that, in fact, these four criteria underpin jurisprudence, forensic psychology and our ordinary moral intuitions and our practice of praise and blame. I’ve laid out my views on free will here > http://www.RationalRealm.com/philosophy/metaphysics/freewill-compatibilism.html

    • Posted December 13, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      You may argue that for most people “free will” is not taken to be contracausal free will, but the study of Sarkissian et al. shows that, in surveys of people in four countries, between 65% and 85% of people thought that we live in a world in which free will is contracausal.

      As for your views, I’ll just say that compulsion by a gun is no different, neurologically, from compulsion by the brain.

      • Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        ” I’ll just say that compulsion by a gun is no different, neurologically, from compulsion by the brain.”

        Very catchy phrase, I’ll use it on occasion (and I can’t help it, as you know)

      • YF
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        But there is a substantial neurological difference between voluntary and involuntary actions; between actions that are done in accordance with one’s desires (which in daily conversation we call “free”) and actions that are done under duress (which in daily conversation we call “forced”). How we legally judge and treat criminals should (and indeed does) very much depend on these important distinctions.

        • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

          ” actions that are done in accordance with one’s desires”

          are not free one’s because nobody has the choice to choose its own desires.

          Your desires are made up by your genes, all things you experienced in the past till this very moment in which you are doing something.

          • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

            are not free one’s because nobody has the choice to choose its own desires.

            But “freedom” is not the ability choose ones desires, it is the ability to *act* on ones desires.

            Take the difference between a “free man” and a slave, or between a prisoner and someone recently freed from jail.

            If such a person desired going to McDonalds for lunch, and was able to act on their desire, then they are “free” to do so in a way that the slave or prisoner would not be.

            That is how the word is used in just about every every-day usage (all usages, indeed, other than threads on incompatibilism versus compatibilism, wherein the ICs start constructing quite other meanings for the common words “choose” and “freedom” 🙂 ).

            • Posted December 13, 2017 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

              “But „freedom“ is not the ability choose ones desires, it is the ability to *act* on ones desires.”

              The ability to act according to one’s own desires only concerns the question of freedom of action.
               
              Freedom of action is categorically different from free will.

          • YF
            Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

            Let me ask you, did you write this last comment voluntarily (i.e., “freely”), or did someone force you to write it with a gun to your head?

            Do you honestly think that this is not a genuine and important distinction?

            • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

              Of course, there is one important difference, but the most important one is the fact that these are different categories that you just do not can compare on one level:

              Not being able to act according to his wishes means not having “freedom of action”, the slave, the beggar, etc.

              That one could not act differently than one acted, only this question is what free will is all about.

          • Vaal
            Posted December 13, 2017 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

            Your desires are made up by your genes, all things you experienced in the past till this very moment in which you are doing something.

            No, that’s a very poor hypothesis that doesn’t hold up. It doesn’t have nearly the explanatory power you seem to presume it does.

            New desires arise all the time – specific desires that are not “in our genes” – via the process of thinking.

            What “gene” can you point to that explains my decision to learn to play the saxophone and join a jazz band? Is there a “saxophone desiring” gene?

            Or which “genes” explain why I bought all the ingredients to make a certain Beef Wellington recipe? There are a LOT of separate desires involved in making even a recipe, that you will not find “in the genes.”

            There aren’t genes for the multitude of *specific desires* that we arise in our minds: most desires arise from our own reasoning about how to get what we want.
            Even if you start with some desire arising from a basic need that may be in our genes, you quickly get to multiple new desires – I want to get fit, so I’ll join X gym, do Y exercises, on Z schedule etc.

            Genes don’t think.

            Brains do. Brains come up with new desires.

      • Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        Hi Jerry,

        I’ll just say that compulsion by a gun is no different, neurologically, from compulsion by the brain.

        Are you really suggesting that there is no difference in brain state between handing over $1000 to a mugger at gun point, and handing over $1000 to a worthy charity, and that no brain scanner could in-principle discern the difference?

        The difference between those two is highly important to humans and their social interactions, and it is that sort of social interaction that many human-language concepts (about “choice” and “will” and “freedom”) are actually about.

        • Vaal
          Posted December 13, 2017 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I’m rather taken aback by Jerry’s statement. It essentially runs roughshod over every difference that would seem to matter.

          It seems to embrace the common fallacy that if you can point to a shared characteristics between A and B, well then they are “really no different.”

          But both a child and a stick of wood are “just atoms in a physical state following the laws of nature.” But is it reasonable to conclude “therefore there’s no difference we have to worry about between throwing a child on to the bonfire vs throwing the stick of wood?”

          Of course not.

          Similarly, being demanded to do something at gun-point vs doing something we want without threat are both reflected in our neurological states. But that hardly argues for there being no difference between what those brain states represent!

          And “compulsion by the brain” seems to be a strange statement. I’m not sure how to make sense of it, in regard to our making decisions. I am what my brain does. I’m not something separate that is “compelled” to do what my brain does. If I decide I want to get fit and then go through all sorts of cogitating about actions likely to fulfill that desire…in what sense is this “compulsion” in any way that matters?
          How else *could* I arrive at rational decisions that would reflect my desires and beliefs????

          • Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

            There’s a paper from 20+ years ago which tries to tease out the distinction (at the neural level) between a self-initiated action and one prompted from the outside. I’d love to see an update on this research and a neuroscience-friendly philosopher discuss it, but …

            (“Willed Action and Its Impairments”)

      • Posted December 15, 2017 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        Sarkissian et. al. find that most people believe that human beings act contra-causally. But that doesn’t show that the contra-causal bit is truly prerequisite for the free will bit. Compare consciousness: most people probably believe that a purely material being, without an immaterial soul, couldn’t be conscious. But what happens if you convince them there’s no soul? Do they say, “Oh well, I guess we’re all zombies”? Or do they, instead, say: Hey, it turns out that mere matter can give you a subjective viewpoint on the world!

      • Posted December 16, 2017 at 12:05 am | Permalink

        Hi Jerry. I hope your trip is working out well. You point to the Sarkissian et al 2010 psychological study as support for your view that most ordinary folk take “free will” to indicate contra-causality. I heavily criticized the methodology of this particular study as priming the subjects to an incompatibilist frame of mind before asking for responses. You can read my comments on this particular study here > http://www.RationalRealm.com/philosophy/metaphysics/psychological-research-free-will-intuitions-page4.html

        Over the four studies I do review, I conclude that of the four studies, two studies strongly support compatibilism while two studies weakly support incompatibilism. You can read my summary conclusions here > http://www.RationalRealm.com/philosophy/metaphysics/psychological-research-free-will-intuitions.html

        Couple that with my review at http://www.RationalRealm.com/philosophy/metaphysics/freewill-compatibilism.html of the etymology and lexicography of “free will”, my look at how the term is used in ordinary discourse and in the law courts (as opposed to accepting without question how theologians want us to use the term), I think the conclusion is clear: ordinary folk are metaphysically agnostic and use the term in a way that is compatible with causal closure.

        Regards your comment that “compulsion by a gun is no different, neurologically, from compulsion by the brain”, I see that a number of other contributors have already pulled you up on the falsity of your claim. I’ll only add that if neurologists put you in a brain imagining machine when you hand over $1,000 in these two different circumstances: (a) voluntarily donating the money to charity, and (b) handing it over at gunpoint, with (b) the fear centres of your brain would light up like a Christmas tree.

        When you think more about it, your claim sounds like a piece of nonsense. We can envisage being held up at gunpoint by a criminal who compels us to do what we really don’t want to do. But it’s hard to imagine us coming across a brain in our daily goings on that compels us to do what we don’t want to do. When I try to imagine it, I must admit, it does conjure up for me some rather comical images.

        • Posted December 16, 2017 at 7:28 am | Permalink

          Yes. I can make a difference between your brain and the gun. But I can’t, that is my brain can’t, make a difference between your brain and you. Because I’m an atheist.

    • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Free will is defined by a single question:

      Could someone have acted differently than he did at a certain time?

      If you affirm the question, then you confirm the possibility of free will.
      If you negate the question, you exclude the possibility of a free will.

      If there is no free will and there is no free will, then there is no need for forensic, psychological, psychiatric, or other expert opinions to investigate and establish the question of guilt.
      Because without free will there is no guilt, because nobody could act differently than he acted
      However, there will be further medical reports, namely on the question of the danger of the offender, in order to make a prognosis about whether further offenses are to be expected.

      • YF
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        “Free will is defined by a single question:

        Could someone have acted differently than he did at a certain time?”

        This question is not really relevant. Let’s say that determinism is false and quantum indeterminacy rules. We therefore could have acted differently. Would that then give us the ‘free will’ that incompatibilists are arguing against?

        • Posted December 13, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

          Of course, if there were quantum effects in the brain that had an impact on decision-making processes at the neuronal level (which is only a hypothesis so far), then of course this would not create freedom of will, just as a purely deterministic causation does not create it.
          So far we have only evidence of the existence of determinism.
          Thus, the question of acting differently can only apply to the deterministic view of all events.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted December 13, 2017 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

            Here is a display of colored blocks generated by a quantum random number generator. Viewing that display alters your brain state in a non-deterministic way. This indeterminism propagates to subsequent brain states, and we can’t rule out the possibility that it will subtly affect decisions downstream.

            This is just one way that quantum noise can be amplified to macroscopic perceptibility. Flickering fluorescent tubes, beeping smoke detectors, and low-light digital photos are others. So the claim that “could not have done otherwise” holds at the level of brain function seems unfounded.

            And like YF, I don’t see what that claim buys you. How does an ideological commitment to determinism make the case for penal reform more compelling than a purely consequentialist argument?

            • Posted December 14, 2017 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

              ” So the claim that „could not have done otherwise“ holds at the level of brain function seems unfounded.”

              Even if there were quantum mechanical effects in the nerve cells, nothing would be gained for the free will.
              Random processes leave no room for free will, nor does brain activity based solely on deterministic laws.
              The statement that no one else could have done otherwise is based on the realization that we – creatures of the macro level – without exception are subject to the laws of physics, be it the basic physical forces of the macrophysics or of the microphysics. So far, we know nothing about possible influences from the quantum mechanical field in the macrophysical area, so that this hypothetical possibility does not necessarily have to be emphasized in the subordinate clause, especially not because it would not change the question of whether a free will could theoretically be possible.

  7. Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    “as he says that we do have free will if we define it as „the capacity to act in accordance with beliefs and values, to use reason and learn from our mistakes“.

    I have heard this meaningless definition so often by philosophers or so-called compatibilists: it serves only to maintain an as-if discussion.
    Similarly it is with believers who have a modern form of faith: although they can no longer believe in any god of the Bible, they are not yet ready to understand themselves as atheists. They try to cling to something that allows them to continue to believe in the possibility of a god, even if their idea of god is no longer compatible with the foundations of the Christian faith.
    They can not let go of the idea of god because they grew up with this idea.
    Likewise the compatibilists: they can not let go of the idea of free will, because they grew up with this idea, which gave meaning and direction to their understanding of life.

    • Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Likewise the compatibilists: they can not let go of the idea of free will, …

      Whereas to me the compatiblists have let go of *that* conception of free will long ago, and are now trying to move the conversation on.

      • Vaal
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        + 1.

        (Sigh….)

      • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        Yeah and the scientists are trying to move the question on, too. I realize that compatibilists are determinists, but think that they’re misguided in concentrating on what “free will” means instead of working out the consequences of determinism. To me, at least, the latter are far more important than confecting some academi conception of free will that nobody will read anyway. In contrast, changes in the judicial system effected by determinism will have massive effects on real lives.

        And philosphers could play a big role in promoting and thinking about the consequences of determinism. Sadly, the compatibilists all avoid this. I wonder why.

        • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          Most of the changes you want in the judicial system are already implemented in some Scandinavian and European countries.

          That’s more because they are much less religiose than the US, not so much as a consequence of major debates over determinism.

          Beyond the level of US vs Scandinavian differences, I don’t think that accepting determinism would change the judicial system that much.

          That’s because I see the judicial system as de facto pragmatic. You might change the *commentary* somewhat, but not much more.

          Thus you might lock a murderer up for deterrence and the protection of the public, instead of locking them up for deterrence, protection of the public, and retribution, but you’re still going to lock them up.

          • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

            “Most of the changes you want in the judicial system are already implemented in some Scandinavian and European countries.”

            List a few, please. This will help me see what it is you all are getting at.

        • YF
          Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

          Again, I really don’t think determinism vs indeterminism is all that relevant, whereas the distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions is highly relevant, socially and legally speaking.

          To me the central question for our judicial system is: should we treat criminality as a moral/religious issue (e.g., USA), or as a societal mental health issue (Scandinavia)?

          • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

            I don’t see why it’s an “or” question. Why can’t we treat criminality as a moral AND a “societal mental health” issue (whatever that means)?

            If we accept determinism in toto that is, if our legal system embraces the idea that no one is actually guilty, then where does society find justice for the crimes committed against it? Does justice in such a place even have meaning?

            I’m not trying to pin you down on this, YF. I’m interested in your -or others- thoughts, as I am having some difficulty tracking the issues.

            • Posted December 13, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

              My position is that we *can* have moral responsibility in a deterministic world.

              To me, “moral” responsibility simply means susceptible-to-social-opprobrium responsibility.

              We hold someone “morally” responsible if we try to deter someone but fail.

            • Steve Pollard
              Posted December 13, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

              How about:

              Society determines that (say) killing other members of society is unacceptable. Society says that the consequences of such an action will entail a degree of punishment, in order to protect other members of society, deter similar acts by the perpetrator or others, and attempt to reform the perpetrator. The precise punishment may depend on whether there are any mitigating circumstances.

              Everyone is presumed to understand those consequences (“ignorance of the law is no excuse”), and therefore to have incorporated that understanding into their brain states, which causally determine what they do. So if they go ahead anyway, society is justified in taking the actions prescribed by the law.

              I am sure this is over-simplified but we have to start somewhere.

              Of course, I have carefully not defined what “society” means in this context, or how it arrives at its prescriptions. That is another discussion entirely.

              • Posted December 13, 2017 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

                Thanks, Steve. I think Coel covers this well in his blog post, but yours is helpful too.

                FTR, I follow the gist of the C/NC debate fairly well (I think), I’m just not sure how it plays out in the meat world.

                How, for example, do we accord our achievements if, like our criminal behavior, we could not do otherwise? If we live in a deterministic world, from whence comes creativity?

        • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

          You wonder why philosophers refuse to deal with the consequences of determinism?

          Because that would be a dirty business, an illusion-poor endeavor, in which you can not gain any merit, because it would no longer allow great social drafts, or heartwarming tracts about the great and the good in man. If everything, including man, is determined, this ultimately means nothing other than that man is calculable.
          Philosophers were always sales of ideas and understood themselves as bearers of hope, alongside or with religion.
          In the age of predictability of everything human, they would, rightly! see their role as geat explainer of man disappearing. That’s why they avoid to deal with the important and life affecting consequences of determinism.

          • Vaal
            Posted December 13, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

            It would be hard to come up with an analysis as wrong as that one, IMO.

            One of the major characteristics in philosophy is getting underneath our assumptions and exposing illusions, often of our most cherished notions and intuitions.

            (And if you think philosophers are merely in the business of “hope,” try listening to Sam Harris’ recent conversation with the philosopher who concludes life is not worth living).

            Given the amount of time philosophers have devoted to the question of determinism and free will, I’m sorry but it’s just silly to claim philosophers are avoiding dealing with the consequences of determinism.

            You seem to continually ascribe poor motivations to the other side of the debate, where I think actually answering their arguments would be more productive.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted December 13, 2017 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

              I agree whole-heartedly with your last sentence.

        • Vaal
          Posted December 13, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

          And philosphers could play a big role in promoting and thinking about the consequences of determinism. Sadly, the compatibilists all avoid this. I wonder why.

          Compabibilism of course is a conclusion about the consequences of determinism for free will and responsibility.

          Many compatibilist philosophers write quite a bit about the consequences of determinism and the law.

          One prominent example being Gary Watson.

          http://gould.usc.edu/faculty/?id=68897

          Or how about compatibilist Harry Frankfurt’s work, e.g. books like “Freedom and Criminal Responsibility in American Legal Thought”

          There’s Professor Stephen J. Morse, a well known authority on law and neuroscience,“ who has written quite a bit about what he sees as the mistaken inferences about people’s lack of responsibility – i.e. what he calls ”
          The Fundamental Psycho-Legal Error.”

          And Dan Dennett has often written about/discussed the implications of determinism/compatibilism and the Law:

          https://thesituationist.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/dan-dennett-at-harvard-law-on-free-will-responsibility-and-the-brain/

          So compatibilist are often thinking, writing and speaking about the consequences of determinism to free will and The Law.

          It would seem, then, that the real problem lies in the fact they didn’t reach the same conclusions incompatibilists like yourself have regarding the consequences of determinism.

          Well, yes. That’s why they are “compatibilists.” They don’t agree will all the consequences you and other incompatibilists draw out of determinism in terms of agency, responsibility, etc.

  8. Al Hiebert
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    If Raoul Martinez, Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris, et. al. are merely speaking words, sentences, papers, etc. that are the product of their genes and environment, then why should anyone believe those words, etc. as conveying true ideas?

    • Posted December 13, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Ummm. . . because our programmed brains are evolved not to lie unless it’s necessary for our reproduction, and, in general, to convey truth? Come on–you’re saying that it takes dualism (or God) to prevent us from constant lying?

      You must be a dualist. WHere do our choices come from, then? From God?

      • Al Hiebert
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

        Choices come from personal agency–always a creative act.

        • Posted December 13, 2017 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

          You didn’t say whether you think someone could have chosen otherwise, and whether personal agency is independent of the laws of physics. In other words, are you a dualist?

  9. Rosmarie Maran
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to ask (once more): how, in a perfectly deterministic world, something like the perceived possibility of a decision between alternative actions could even arise in the first place. How would we even get the idea that something could happen this or that way? If it is true, that we have no choice at all in our decisions and actions (and how about deliberately random decisions?) the world itself also has no choice at all. The concept of “possibility” itself would be nonsense. The world as we know it just would not exist, I am afraid.

    • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      There appear to be many compatibilist determinists here, and I wonder why THEY aren’t answering these questions. I can’t deal with all of them, so you compatibilists have a crack.

      No? WHy not?

      • rom
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        The answer is quite simple … I am god. First cause generator extraordinaire.

    • Vaal
      Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure what stance you actually take, but it *seems* to me your question is meant to draw out the same paradox I keep going on about, in regards to the incompatibilist position.

      If we accept ourselves as part of a deterministic reality, what kind of reasoning would we have to evolve in order to infer truths about reality, think about those truths, and communicate those truths?

      The way we communicate these things tends to be via the concepts and language of “possibilities.” If this normal way of talking about possibilities is, in fact just “false” then all the knowledge associated with this way of thinking is destroyed. All such talk conveys falsehood. And yet, this is precisely the way we think and talk to successfully navigate the world.

      It seems obvious, then, that any conclusion that relies on flatly denying possibilities as being a falsehood, has to have gotten something seriously wrong. It just does not account for how we can convey truth and predictability via saying things like “you could have planted your crops over there instead” or “you COULD take X route instead, which would be faster” or “you could use use glue or alternatively, screws to attach that piece of wood” or “you can lower your risk of lung cancer by quitting smoking” etc.

      If talk about alternative possibilities is false, how does one make sense of the above?
      But if normal talk about alternative possibilities conveys truth…then we have to be very careful about claiming determinism upsets our normal ideas about “could have” and thinking about alternative possibilities.

    • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      We all have imperfect knowledge of the world. Thus, even if one outcome is determined, we don’t know what that outcome is.

      The word “possible” refers to the range of possibilities that are in line with our limited knowledge.

      Thus if we say “it is possible that it will rain tomorrow” we are admitting that we don’t know enough to compute for sure what the weather will do.

      Thus it is true, from our point of view, that “it is possible that it will rain”, even if it were the case that an omniscient genie could compute the answer right now.

      And if we ask someone to “choose” whether to have red wine or white wine, well an omniscient genie could just use their perfect knowledge to compute what the person wants and give it to them. But we have limited knowledge, we can’t do that, so we ask them to report their desire to us.

      • Rosmarie Maran
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

        I am producing automatic drawings since years, just by fun – should I seriously believe that my always next move with the pen is determined by “my genes and the environment”, or that any perfectly knowing entity could have predict every single move? Really? This might look like a ridiculous example. But it is not. If determinism rules, it must rule a l w a y s . Right?
        And one can think of many more completely everyday examples of things that can go this way or the other way, just because it is possible. And as we are completely physical objects, also we can in most instances go this way or that way – just because it is possible.

        • Posted December 13, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

          should I seriously believe that my always next move with the pen is determined by “my genes and the environment”, or that any perfectly knowing entity could have predict every single move? Really?

          Yes. Really.

          [In the longer term, deterministic chaos means that no prediction could be done, but in the short term it could be.]

          • darrelle
            Posted December 14, 2017 at 7:45 am | Permalink

            I agree completely with your explanations here to Rosmarie. What frustrates me most about these C vs IC debates is that going by what various people have written there are many self-identified Incompatibilists that agree with your explanations here and there are many self-identified Compatibilists who disagree.

      • Vaal
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

        Coel,

        At least at first blush your knowledge argument would seem to account for our conception of possibility.

        But it seems to me it doesn’t get us all the way there. If we are accounting for determinism, our concept of “possibilities” has to be coherent both forward and backward in time. Because our next choice is just as determined as the one we just made.

        So, to use my favorite example, we talk about what is “possible” in regards to water. If you have a glass of water you can say it’s “possible” for it to remain liquid but also “possible” for it to be frozen solid and “possible” for it to be evaporated over heat.

        This isn’t really a question of not having the knowledge of the outcome. The outcome is for all practical purposes certain. It’s just the conceptual scheme we use to describe the nature of things in the world.

        Further, our talk of possibilities still makes sense applied to past outcomes about which we have certain knowledge.

        If we are looking at a glass of water that is liquid, it’s still true to say “it was possible for the water to have been frozen solid by placing it in the freezer.”

        That’s just a way of conveying truths about the nature of water. Having been told what “was possible” in regards to water gives you knowledge that will predict the results of future actions: now you know if you place water in the freezer, it will turn solid.

        That’s why I prefer to analyze the nature of “possibility talk” as not just a question of lack of knowledge about the future, but more as a wide-ranging scheme for understanding reality; a necessary one for beings like us, traveling through time, and thus our inferences have to be built up “through time” and in that sense be independent of “any one instance of time” to talk about the past or future. (Which is also why the idea that freedom would require contra-causality to “get out” of the causal chain of some frozen moment in time just isn’t terribly relevant).

      • Posted December 15, 2017 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

        Even though we’re both compatibilists, I disagree with your definition of “possible” in this context. (It’s appropriate for other contexts.) Instead, “possible” means the range of outcomes that *depend on our decision*. Of course, that also means we won’t know which one will happen, until we make the decision. But the ignorance is secondary.

        • Posted December 15, 2017 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

          I see that Gregory Kusnick beat me to it. Well, what he said.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 13, 2017 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      If we’re talking about our own behavior, then the possibilities we conceive of aren’t predictions; they’re assessments of our own competences. What do I know how to do? What can I afford to do or have the means to do? These are the “possibilities” from which we select our course of action. We don’t know what that course of action will be until we’ve thought it through, because it’s the thinking that determines it (even if much of the thinking happens below the level of consciousness).

      In my view, saying that it’s determined by “genes and environment” is unhelpful, since it seems to exclude thinking as a causal factor. If you take the eccentric view that “environment” includes internal brain states, then you end up with the vacuous claim that behavior is caused by “genes plus everything else”, which explains nothing.

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

      You provided the answer yourself with the words “perceived possibility”.

  10. Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Of course our “choices are all predetermined by our genes and environment”. Everything in universe is determined. This doesn’t entitle the following category mistake.

    First you tell us “the concept of moral responsibility is meaningless”, but after a few words, before the next period in fact, you maintain that “we should still retain the concept of responsibility”. Now, how is this responsibility not “moral”, if your argument is that “blame and praise can not only reinforce good behavior but is salubrious for society.”

    How, in fact, will you make us believe you really think “we should” do this or that.

    I’m sorry but determinism simply has no relevance to judicial considerations. Every act in a court of law is as determined as anything else. We have to make choices, no matter how they are determined.

    • Posted December 13, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Sorry but you’re wrong. Courts already assume a kind of libertarian free will, and if you’re found to have acted under the compulsion of insanity or other factors (like being abused), you’re judged differently. Have you heard of “not guilty by reason of insanity”?

      I’ve discussed what I mean by “moral” before, and am not going to do it here. I’ve also discussed what I mean by “should”.

      • Vaal
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        Not sure I follow that.

        A libertarian view of free will is that you could have made a different decision than you did, given the same causal state of affairs.
        The courts do not seem to operate on that premise of human freedom and responsibility.

        Courts, as you indicate, recognize “compulsion” to be exculpating, recognizing differences in “responsibility/accountability”
        in terms of insanity, and taking into account when a criminal action was coerced via threats. How is that upholding the libertarian view of free will? It seems just the opposite: recognizing the distinguishing circumstances that compatibilists talk about.

        • Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know what it is like in the US, but I think the Canadian Criminal Code can be read as requiring “could have done otherwise”.

      • Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        I believe the incompatibilist view has something to do with the admirable motive of improving the extremely backward American judicial system.

        This doesn’t make the view any less silly. Laplace was wrong, Gödel was right. Research is only possible if you believe in one reality with laws of nature, but no person and no machine can calculate the universe, even in principle.

        There is no contra causal free will, but decisions have to be made.

        The US of A believes in death penalty and even restricts voting rights of many adults.

        In Finland everybody has a right to vote after turning 18. And I mean everybody, including insane mass murderers and people with severe cognitive restrictions.

        Where would you draw the line? OK, there’s the age requirement. People are already discussing lowering it to 16. How about 12? Or the day after you’ve written your first word. In fact, I might go for 16.

        All the decisions in a court of law will always be arbitrary in some respect, but lines will have to be drawn. I’m all for enlightenment and Enlightenment and I believe even the US of A is capable of it.

        But all determinism concerning the judicial system is compatibilist.

  11. Posted December 13, 2017 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    One thing always confuses me. I think everyone agrees that even in a deterministic universe there is a thing called morality, even though it is a human construct. And we all agree, it seems, there is responsibility. So why can there be no “moral responsibility?”

    • rom
      Posted December 13, 2017 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      You think incorrectly, I think.

      I for one don’t believe morality exists. The concept certainly does.

  12. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    I had some thinkings of late, wanted to put them up for bashing – not really “does free will exist or not”, but :

    Blinking, breathing, maybe walking, … etc..

    These are activities which I’d argue we perform without deliberation, but are unlike processes like digestion, blood flow, oxygen transport in that we cannot suddenly decide to manipulate them. I’d propose they are like a drinking bird toy, or one of those garden fountain fixtures that pours water out – they operate on their own, but at some point we can notice them and walk over and move them about with some variation.

    It seems to me that this could explain the illusion of free will (or, as Harris suggests, the illusion of the illusion of free will) because these activities – blinking, breathing, the drinking bird – operate on their own without our apparent agency, yet, we can go over and manipulate them (using our free will), but …

    Anyways, this is getting long, ….

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted December 13, 2017 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      Sorry – we CAN manipulate blinking, we CANNOT manipulate … oxygen transport …. at the same rate anyways, …errrmmmm….

    • Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      I’ve sometimes thought about how to have “degrees” of responsibility, and one way to possibly cache that out would be to find out how the different “routes to action” work. I am not convinced that this approach will work, but those who are in favour of moral responsibility should allow that it comes in degrees. (As Dennett, for example, does.)

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        Sure, I give that a [thumbs up], but not sure what to say…. except…

        … some more brain percolation:

        Thinking along these lines… the “free will” idea – it seems to be … what’s the word – “my own personal experience of existence”-centric? You go around and pick up a pencil, you can say “I get a glass of water now” and do it and it happens. Sounds like free will, you are the person driving your body around the town, looking out of the windshield of your visual field.

        But this ignores plain facts: the glass, the pencil, the water – those are all there for some other reason – the glass maybe you bought a year ago, but where’d the money come from? How’d you get to the store? Why was there a sale on the glasses? The water was processed by the local town water facility that you paid for, but then again…

        So to wrap up:

        Free will is proportional to how much money you have?

  13. Stephen Barnard
    Posted December 13, 2017 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Have a good trip.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted December 13, 2017 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

      Meant to post this on the “I’m Packed” thread. 🙂

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted December 13, 2017 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

        There – you see?

        No free will.

  14. Dale Franzwa
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    Great debate. loved all of it. Should be published somewhere.

  15. Posted December 14, 2017 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    “The myth of responsibility and the lottery of life”

    In a certain sense I agree with the argument for physical determinism. But I think much of the subjective sense of responsibility is related to one’s specific cultural milieu.

    Still some part of social responsibility is universal or nearly so, and that would be evidence for determinism.

    When I ask myself, “Why do you feel responsible in this situation?” my response is sometimes, “I am a primate and this is part of my biological heritage.”

  16. Matti K.
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    What’s the difference between (behavioral) determinism and fatalism?

    • Vaal
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Fatalism is the concept that whatever you do doesn’t matter, the end result will be the same. In principle you could have libertarian free will, but some force guiding destiny will ensure you have the same fate at the end of it all.

      Determinism in contrast recognizes that what you do matters; the outcome is as dependent on what you do as anything else.

      • Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        In fact, the great Greek tragedies seem to be precisely about this: Oedipus *freely chooses* to murder Laius and so on, but yet “that’s what’s going to happen, because the gods are bastards”. Do the Greek poets think that Oedipus had *libertarian* free will? Probably, since Aristotle seems to think we do.

  17. Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this Jerry, and safe travels!

    At about 5:30 in the video Martinez says:

    “At the very least [a rational justice system] would put an end to retribution, it would employ the logic of deterrence sparingly, and only within strict humanitarian limits, and most importantly it would prioritize rehabilitation, which decades of research has shown to be the most efficient way to lower re-offending rates.”

    He reaches the conclusion against retribution by questioning the idea of ultimate responsibility rooted in contra-causal free will: that we could have done otherwise in actual situations in a way that makes us more responsible than under determinism. And his conclusion about limiting deterrence is based in the precept that achieving utilitarian aims (e.g., deterring would-be offenders) should be balanced against respect for our autonomy rights, e.g., that individuals should not be subject to the infliction of any and all harms simply to achieve a social benefit.

    I’m wondering if anyone besides retributivists would take issue with these conclusions about what a rational criminal justice system would look like.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      I don’t take issue with his conclusions as far as they go, but I don’t agree that a rational system of justice requires us to embrace the notion that “our ‘choices’ are all predetermined”. I also don’t see how you can build an effective system of rehabilitation on the denial of individual choice and responsibility.

      Nor does it seem very likely that retributivists who remain unmoved by “decades of research” showing rehabilitation to be “the most efficient way to lower re-offending rates” will suddenly be swayed by abstract arguments about how “genes and environment” absolve offenders of responsibility.

      • Posted December 14, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

        Yes, one needn’t be a strict determinist to agree with the criminal justice reform Martinez recommends, but accepting that we aren’t ultimately self-caused helps to undercut retributive attitudes, so helps to motivate reform in that respect.

        Martinez doesn’t deny that we make choices, or say that we can’t be held responsible, only that we’re not morally responsible in the way that justifies retribution. So to whatever extent rehabilitation depends on choice-making and being held responsible, his proposal carries through.

        I agree that retributivists generally remain unmoved, even though to my way of thinking they don’t have good justifications for retribution. My diagnosis is that the retributive, retaliatory impulse, strong as it is, will continue to generate figleaf philosophical defenses for itself. Too bad!

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted December 14, 2017 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

          Here’s how I think about self-causation.

          As a software engineer, it’s often been part of my job to take over development and maintenance of a body of code I didn’t write. At first, any bugs in that code can be blamed on the previous owner, but after a year or two that doesn’t work anymore. By then I’ve rewritten much of the code so that it’s genuinely mine, and the rest I’ve essentially given my imprimatur by declining to rewrite it. So what started out as uncaused by me became effectively my work due to the passage of time and the chain of decisions I made.

          I think self-causation is like that. We don’t choose our genetic endowment or the circumstances of our upbringing, so we can’t be blamed for those. But as adults we assume responsibility for the maintenance and further development of our character. If there’s any legitimate sense in which we can be said to make choices and bear responsibility for them, then choices that affect our moral growth are not exempt. The upshot is that wherever we started from, we’re at least partly responsible for where we end up, either by choosing to overcome whatever bad hand we’ve been dealt, or by our failure to so choose. The fact that we aren’t ultimately self-caused is moot, lost in the noise of incrementally accumulated responsibility.

          • Posted December 15, 2017 at 8:21 am | Permalink

            As much as some compatibilists would like to bury it, the fact that we’re not ultimately self-caused very much remains and needs to be communicated to the wider culture. Likewise the fact that each choice of moral self-formation depends on a self that is completely traceable to non-self factors. We can certainly *assume* responsibility for being who we are (Bruce Waller covers this in his book Against Moral Responsibility, see link below), but that socially-approved act (don’t pass the buck!) is a matter of an already-formed character. To say that these facts are moot (debatable, open to question) gives space for attributions of ultimate responsibility, for singling out the agent and downplaying the causal roots of character that extend beyond the self, as compatibilists are wont to do.

            There is a “legitimate sense in which we can be said to make choices and bear responsibility for them,” but Martinez’s critique of the myth of ultimate responsibility, like Waller’s, keeps that sense from going off the rails and being recruited to justify retributivism.

            http://www.naturalism.org/resources/book-reviews/singling-out-the-agent


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