Sean Carroll on free will

In the tweet below you can hear two minutes of Official Website Physicist™ Sean Carroll discussing free will on the Freethought Prophet show.  In his tweet, host John Hamill says he was ” very deservedly schooled” by Sean, but I don’t think so. That is, Sean tried to school him, and Hamill might have felt persuaded, but I don’t think he was schooled in the sense of actually being corrected.

To my mind, Carroll’s remarks, though well expressed, seem misleading, though I know many readers will disagree.

First of all, the difference between compatibilism (free will is compatible with determinism) and incompatibilism (free will is NOT compatible with determinism) really is semantic, despite what Sean says.  When he says “nobody is offering new definitions,” he’s wrong. There are many new conceptions of free will being offered, all to support compatibilism (Dan Dennett has offered a couple, for example). But the different definitions are incompatible with each other! (Some say it’s “lack of coercion,” some say it’s “the complicated input into our brains”, and the list goes on.) Which concept of free will is “right”?  The fact is that, in surveys, most people conceive of free will as dualistic (libertarian) free will: you really could have done otherwise at a given moment. That notion is of course incompatible with the laws of physics. Despite the ruminations of philosophers, that’s what the definition of free will IS to most people. And those people don’t think their choices are governed by the laws of physics. Shouldn’t we be telling them this? If you say “no”, I think you’re misguided. Dennett, for instance, has said that it’s dangerous to tell people that because it could affect their behavior in a way that’s bad for society.

Carroll’s compatibilism rests solely on the fact that we talk as if we had dualistic choices, even if we don’t. As he says, “I can sensibly think of myself as an agent making choices.” Yes, of course he does, as do we all, for it does seem to us and others that we could have chosen otherwise. But we couldn’t have. The notion that we could have is an illusion. Anybody who claims that it’s not important whether this is an illusion is ignoring the real-world implications of determinism, instead giving succor to the many who, without having thought about it or studied it, really are dualists. I have little patience for those who say that grasping and accepting the physical determinism of behavior has no implications for society.

So yes, we can use language about “choice”, but that simply buttresses the many people who think that their choices aren’t really determined by the laws of physics (or aren’t affected by quantum indeterminacy, which still doesn’t give us any agency).

Carroll says this with a chuckle:

“The most hard-cord deterministic free will denier is constantly talking about choices. They try to persuade you not to believe in free will. Why would they be doing that if everything is determined?

I’ll tell you why they do that. They do that because they themselves are determined to try to persuade you.  And it’s foolish to think that arguments can’t affect someone else’s thinking. We’ve seen that happen many times, and it’s completely consonant with determinism.

Sean is right that determinism reigns, and he’s right to say that “we do treat each other as decision-making agents with volition.” But underneath that, we need always remember that there really isn’t that kind of libertarian volition, and we need to realize the reign of determinism when we are thinking of, say, punishing criminals. When it comes to the judicial system, any social improvements will come from determinism, not from pretending that a miscreant could have done otherwise.

Even incompatibilists like myself realize that punishment is needed to deterrence, for rehabilitation, and for keeping society safe. It adds nothing to say that the criminal could have “chosen” not to commit a crime; in fact, that corrupts our judgment. Does it improve our justice system if we say, falsely, that someone who pulled the trigger could have chosen not to do so at that moment? I don’t think so. And this means the implications for the concept of “moral responsibility” are also profound.

Regardless, the important issue to me is not what you call free will, but whether you could have done otherwise at any given moment. And here everyone, including Sean, is a determinist. That view alone has enormous implications for social policy, especially in the judicial system. Why, I keep asking myself, does everyone ignore determinism—which nearly all philosophers and scientists agree on—and quibble about semantics? Compatibilism sweeps away a whole host of social issues that need to be addressed—sweeps them under the rug in favor of making people feel as if they have free will, or of formalizing misguided language that everyone uses.

 

h/t: Grania

191 Comments

  1. mikeyc
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I accept what you have to say about determinism and our justice system. You say, for example;

    “Even incompatibilists like myself realize that punishment is needed to deterrence, for rehabilitation, and for keeping society safe. It adds nothing to say that the criminal could have “chosen” not to commit a crime; in fact, that corrupts our judgment.”

    Fair enough. I can agree with that. But, what next? How do we use this concept of free will to make “social improvements”? We put criminals in jail, as you say, for punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation and keeping society safe. In regards to the justice system, what tangible ways would realizing that the criminal’s moral responsibility is constrained by the laws of physics be played out?

    I guess I’m asking, how is this concept actualized in the real world? Shorter sentences? But we wouldn’t have to fall back on free will arguments to justify that. Less harsh conditions? Perhaps, but that’s a judgement call and anyway shouldn’t society also seek some measure of retribution for crimes? After all, you suggest as much above when you say that deterrence is a factor to consider.

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      We start by realizing that the principle of “if you hurt us, we’ll hurt you” accomplishes little except to multiply hurt.

      The way you put that into action is to adopt a criminal justice system such as the one in Norway, where offenders get a clean, safe, comfortable place to work on their education and job skills, and receive treatment for mental health and substance abuse problems. Where, oddly enough, the recidivism rate is a fraction of that in the U.S., and where prisons are being shut down for want of customers.

      That’s a start, but it’s only a reaction to criminal behavior. Addressing its causes would be money well spent: financial insecurity, nutrition, early childhood education, domestic violence, and comprehensive health care including mental health.

      And I don’t care if “society” demands retribution for crimes — if it did any good, fine, but the staggering incarceration rate in the U.S. is ample evidence that the system is a failure.

      • mikeyc
        Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Thanks. It seems to me none of what you suggest as ways to promote a better justice system (nor the litany of failures in our system) requires a deterministic view of free will.

        With one exception, though. Your very first paragraph is, I think, where the answer to my question lies. The benefits of understanding crime from a deterministic point of view is that we change our concept of how we treat offenders, criminal or otherwise.

      • Matt
        Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        Those all sound like good things, but I don’t see how they are connected to determinism. What is it about indeterminism that justifies retribution in your opinion?

        This is the part I feel like is missing from these discussions. To say we have to change our justice system because of determinism, it seems like you first have to show that what we have today is the logical result of indeterminism.

    • Greg Geisler
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Here’s a NY Times piece on the penal system in Norway:

      And here’s an excerpt from Michael Moore’s movie Where to Invade Next:

      No, we should not seek retribution for crimes. We should protect the public by incarcerating dangerous people. In the Norway model, their ‘punishment’ is taking away an individual’s freedom.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Retribution and deterrence are not congruent concepts. Retribution is concerned with an eye for an eye, with ensuring that an offender receives the “just deserts” of his crime.

      Deterrence is about dissuading others from engaging in the same or similar criminal conduct, by demonstrating that those who do are investigated, adjudicated, and punished (or in dissuading the offender himself from engaging in future unlawful conduct).

      What our host is saying, as I understand it, is that under a deterministic regime there is no point to punishment for punishment’s sake, that punishment ought be meted out only to serve some higher societal purpose, such as deterrence, or incapacitation, or rehabilitation.

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Of the three — deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation — only incapacitation is consistent with determinism. The others require choices.

        • Randy Bessinger
          Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          So you do believe in free will? I am nit sure I follow.

          • Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

            I can’t answer that. On the one hand, if I accept the fundamental laws of physics as the be-all everything, there doesn’t seem to be any room for free will. On the other hand, if I acknowledge that the fundamental laws of physics leave a great deal to be explained (emergent phenomena), even in a purely naturalist, materialist philosophy, then I’m not so sure.

            • Randy Bessinger
              Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

              Ok, thanks. I am not sure either but I lean toward free will being an illusion. My sense is that it is impossible for me to choose being anyone other than me. All else follows even though sometimes I would like to be different.

        • darrelle
          Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:59 am | Permalink

          I don’t see why deterrence and rehabilitation require more than the ability to respond to stimuli and perhaps some ability to remember.

          • Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

            Threats of punishment to deter future acts (deterrence), or rewards to encourage better behavior (rehabilitation), presuppose choices. The person under thereat of punishment or lure of reward can do one thing, or another. That’s not determinism.

            • Randy Bessinger
              Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think the second sentence logically follows the first. To me, the second sentence should say..under the threat of punishment and lure of reward and all thhings that have happened before make it such that my “choice” is an illusion. I have no choice.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

              Your misunderstanding choice and determinism. Lack of free will means that we are subject to influences based on whatever state our brain is in at the time, which in turn is influenced by biology and experience. Stimuli cause you to behave one way based on those things (which can have millions of variables)and your brain is bound by the laws of physics. What isn’t happening is there is a ghost in the machine of your brain – a being perched behind your eyes – deciding what to do irrespective of the laws of physics.

      • mikeyc
        Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        Ok, so how is this actually done? In what way would this system be different? I am asking how these concepts would be put into practice. I see others have said, essentially, that the Norwegian system is the way to go. Well, I’ll read up on that. But in the meantime, what are your ideas? We are not Norway. How do *we* do it?

        • yazikus
          Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

          We could stop incarcerating non-violent offenders and children, to start with. We could reign prosecutorial discretion. We could stop jailing people for life for pretty minor infringements. We could spend more time educating prisoners so that they might reintegrate once released.

          • mikeyc
            Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

            None of that requires a deterministic view of free will. We can do that and still be dualists. In fact, I would wager that most people who are in favor of those policies are dualists. That’s presumably because those issues are more to do with compassion and common humanity – not issues of free will.

            After seeing these few comments, it seems clear that a deterministic view of free will can make those kinds of reforms easier to adopt.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

              However, dualists believe you could have done otherwise and chose not to. It’s only recently that we have started accepting mental illness as a physical issue rather than a choice to behave a certain way (snapping out of it if you are depressed). Understanding determinism applies that to all things do you do not incarcerate because someone must be punished given that they could have done otherwise but chose not to, but to rehabilitate them, deter them and others and/or project others from them.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

                excuse the typos: “so” not “do” and “protect” not “project”. I have no excuse as I’m on a keyboard. The laws of physics are against me.

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      It’s worth noting that one can evolve the justice system into a Norwegian-style one without first having a big argument about “free will”. Indeed, that’s what Norway did!

      (Being less religious, on the other hand, does help a lot).

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        I think accepting determinism is the bigger thing. Having semantic arguments about free will is one thing but simply accepting determinism over dualism will probably get us further.

        • darrelle
          Posted August 29, 2018 at 7:51 am | Permalink

          Agree 100%.

    • Jason Nyberg
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Q) “How do we use this concept of free will to make “social improvements”?”

      A) By preparing people’s _decision-making processes_ so as to result in better decisions. I.e. “education”.

      The difficulties people have with (lack of) “free will” completely evaporates when you start thinking about the _decision-making process_ people have, rather than _decisions_ people make.

      I.e. hold people accountable for the decision-making process they have developed, rather than the _products_ of their decision-making process.

      Rehabilitation is the process of training people to make better decisions.

      Punishment must be seen as _input_ to the decision-making process, as a deterrent to making bad decisions… and punishment would be a poor deterrent if it was never carried out.

    • Bob
      Posted August 29, 2018 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      We do not put people in prison “for punishment.” Rather we put people in prison as punishment.

      At least that’s what the reason is supposed to be.

  2. Hal Scher
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    what does it mean to say you could not have done otherwise at any moment?

    not much, in my view….of course what you decide ultimately follows from millions of physical processes that preceded in the split seconds before….but what do those processes represent?

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      Right. Without actually knowing what decisions those physical processes lead to, determinism tells us nothing. Knowing that the universe is deterministic is different than knowing what is determined.

    • rom
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      In that case it does mean much to say we have free will or to say we don’t have free will.

      Most of the time I go about happily oblivious to the constraints that determine my choices. Does the ignorance of my constraints make me free?

      Is this ignorance freedom?

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        Yes, ignorance does give us freedom. Many people routinely choose not to know something as it would affect their choice or make them feel bad about the choice they plan to make anyway. (I’m thinking about Trump voters that get their disinformation from Fox News here.)

        Since we have no access to our predetermined choices due to physical determinism, it represents the ultimate in ignorance and, therefore, freedom. Since we can’t know what our decisions will be based on determinism, we are free to make our choices otherwise.

        • Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

          “Ignorance does give us freedom.”

          That is so wrong. Ignorance only gives you the illusion of freedom, but not real freedom.
          When Stone Age people believed that their rain dances were calling the rain, and they thought it was up to them whether it was raining or not, then they have only succumbed to the illusion of their freedom of action.

          • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

            I disagree. The rain dancers had freedom but their theory of what causes rain was simply wrong. They certainly had freedom of action.

            • rom
              Posted August 28, 2018 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

              Freedom of action is not free will.

              The dances were constrained by the wills of the dancers which in turn were constrained by a myriad of influences (aka the universe).

  3. hazur
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    You acknowledge “… he’s right to say that “we do treat each other as decision-making agents with volition.” ”. That’s the whole point, I think. Or, as somebody else pointed out (Carrier, I think), free will is about psychology, not physics.

  4. Sastra
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    . I have little patience for those who say that grasping and accepting the physical determinism of behavior has no implications for society.

    Then you’ll have little problem explaining the practical difference between a physical determinist who rejects metaphysical free will, and someone who believes in a metaphysical free will but acknowledges that people’s choices are primarily determined by their genetics, their biology, their environment, their upbringing, and their circumstances.

    I suspect that the important issue is the one on the ground regarding how well we take into account and weigh the background of the individual when we analyze behavior and responsibility. Metaphysical arguments which deal with Ultimate Causes seem to me to be too remote and rarified to be pragmatic, whether it’s dealing with physics or spirits.

  5. Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Deterrence is predicated on the proposition that the threat of punishment affects people’s choices.

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      That’s the proposition, all right. But I volunteer in a prison and I have several prisoner pen-pals, and from what I’ve seen, people generally aren’t soberly weighing the risks and benefits of their actions when they commit crimes.

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        It’s reasonable and consistent to argue that deterrence is ineffective. It’s not reasonable and consistent to argue that deterrence is compatible with determinism.

        • Liz
          Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

          +1

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

          Does a white rat in a Skinner box pressing a bar in response to positive and negative reinforcement have “free will”?

          • Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

            Are you suggesting that criminal justice does, or should, follow the logic of behaviorism? That does seem to follow from determinism because, like behaviorism, determinism leaves no room for the mind.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

              No, I’m suggesting that deterring or encouraging behaviors can take place in the absence of free will. You seemed to be suggesting the opposite — that deterrence is entirely dependent on the existence of free will. Is that not your position?

              • Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

                The way we THINK about deterrence is dependent on free will. We’re saying “If you do X you’ll suffer consequence Y, so don’t do X”. There’s no training involved. No operant conditioning. It’s a mental thing. A concept.

              • Liz
                Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

                Deterring or encouraging behaviors can take place in the absence of free will. Deterrence existing within determinism, though, with both using “could have done otherwise” in two different ways, is counter-intuitive. We couldn’t have done otherwise according to the laws of physics even during deterring and encouraging behaviors. It doesn’t feel that way, though. It doesn’t work well to argue that deterrence works and also determinism is true even though that is the case.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

                @Stephen:

                The way some people TALK about deterrence presupposes free will. That doesn’t mean deterrence itself actually depends on free will.

                For example, painting a hallway a garish color will prevent people from congregating there. That deterrence is not dependent on anyone saying “if I hang around this hallway, then I’ll have an unpleasant visual experience.”

                Determinism simply holds that all deterrence actually occurs at this level — whether or not someone engages in an internal “if … then …” monologue. Indeed, determinism holds that the “choice” resulting from such a monologue is precisely what’s illusory.

              • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

                While a person doesn’t have to say they’ll have an unpleasant visual experience in your hallway, they definitely have to think it (consciously or unconsciously) for your deterrent to be effective.

                Choice is illusory not in the sense of being imaginary or non-existence. It just isn’t what it seems.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        I would say the main thing people think is – I’m not going to get caught. They know perfectly well that what they are going to do is illegal but they are simple not going to be caught, until they are. Example – Manafort. He does fraud in the form of tax fraud and bank fraud all the time. But until he gets caught, he is sure he won’t. Same with those who lie to the FBI. Yes, they know the penalty but surely I will not get caught.

        • Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

          Thought experiment: If the IRS announced that they would no longer audit anyone or enforce tax laws, how many more people would cheat on their taxes?

          Answer: Lots.

          The power of deterrence keeps MOST of us honest on our taxes. Manafort and similar scum bags are outliers.

          • yazikus
            Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

            Answer: Lots.

            Can we be sure of this? Would you? I think those inclined to cheat already would, but I don’t think most folks are inclined to cheat.

            • Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

              I disagree. Many people would cheat on their taxes if they didn’t worry about being caught. I’ve witnessed many a conversation in which the participants talk freely about cheating on their taxes. They think of it as a victimless crime. After all, the government has lots of money, right?

              There are many people that take cash “under the table” for work they’ve done in order to avoid reporting it as income and paying more tax. My sister did that for her art work and her own son turned her in to the IRS! I don’t think anything happened as a result.

              I also have an acquaintance that routinely votes Republican solely because they promise to lower his taxes. I have no doubt that he also cheats on his taxes.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

                My sister did that for her art work and her own son turned her in to the IRS! I don’t think anything happened as a result.

                I assume she isn’t a Jack Vettriano money making machine – how petty. I don’t want to imagine family get togethers. Baby sitters in his area be warned!

              • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

                He imagined himself as a future member of the FBI — a law and order type. For all I know, he is now in the FBI. My sister has no contact with him. Petty or mentally challenged. I am not sure which.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps he put ‘tittle tattling’ on his CV under Skills. This is where I resist fulfilling Godwin’s law – or does writing “Godwin’s Law” fulfil it?

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

                Makes me want to figure out the Latin for “I’m telling” but it’s so colloquial. Maybe the literal would just be funny like putting it as “dico” which could also be saying but the world “dic” is in it which is penis-y.

              • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps the FBI has a screening test for jerkism and he didn’t get in.

            • Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

              I think there is plenty of evidence that deterrence works. Of course it doesn’t work perfectly so some people transgress anyway either because they think they can get away with it or because other motivations swamp any fear of the threatened consequences of transgression or because in the heat of the moment the deterrent simply gets forgotten. It’s also true that the reason many people do not commit crime is not down to deterrence but to other factors including a sense of public but the truth of these things does not mean that deterrence is pointless just that it is not a perfect tool and will never be entirely effective.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

            I suspect you are partly correct. Even though the fact of getting audited is very low many people think it is better to not cheat because of this low likely possibility of audit. However, there are also many who pay up because they think or are taught it is the right thing to do and has nothing to do with deterrence. Of course the Manafort and Trump types are in neither of these categories.

          • Randy Bessinger
            Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

            Actually, I believe alot of people do cheat. Some unknowingly, others in minor ways. Thought experiment. If a speed limit is posted, how many people cheat either because they know they won’t get caught or they know that they can get by with a little cheating.

            • Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

              I typically cruise at 5mph over the speed limit because I know I can get away with it, and I know that at 10mph over the speed limit I’ll eventually get a ticket. It’s somewhat odd to think that Schrödinger’s wave equation is causing that behavior.

              • Randy Bessinger
                Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                Yea, me too.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

                If by “somewhat odd” you mean counter-intuitive, then sure. The results of the double-slit experiment are counter-intuitive, too. Do you reject those results on that basis?

                Physics is not bound by our intuition.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

              I sometimes think that is partly cultural. It’s accepted that you will go over the speed limit by so much and this isn’t deterred because police don’t pull you over unless you are going so far over the speed limit. I suspect this varies from culture to culture. When you introduce speed cameras (if they are not defeated), people will slow down because the deterrence is now that you are fined for going any speed over the limit.

  6. Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    “Could I have done otherwise?” Nope, once I have made a choice, the decision process is done and the outcome determined. Natural law does not allow mulligans. Is not the right question, can I DO otherwise?

  7. Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    One way of thinking about it is to deflate the need for a contra-causal freewill which is, as Prof Cat says, impossible and (as Dennett says) unnecessary to drive all the things we actually want (such as an enlightened picture of moral responsibility).
    This happens all the time –that philosophically or scientifically unpacked concepts are somewhat incompatible with common sense
    Well, so much the worse for common sense.
    I dont understand what extra work a “could have done otherwise” picture would give us. I don’t want to have been able to do otherwise at “point of sale” (microseconds before action).
    I want my actions to proceed logically from things like reasons.
    My problem is that they usually dont (because Im often stupid or weak)–not that my actions are are uncaused.

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      “I want my actions to proceed logically from things like reasons.”

      There are no actions which are not result from underlying reasons such as neuronal activities. etc.
      If you wish to be without weaknesses and mistakes, then you would have to turn into an non-human, a cyborg for instance.

  8. JohnE
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    “The fact is that, in surveys, most people conceive of free will as dualistic (libertarian) free will: you really could have done otherwise at a given moment. That notion is of course incompatible with the laws of physics.”

    Isn’t it also incompatible with simple logic? If you went back to a prior moment in time when you chose A rather than B, and you are contending that you nonetheless COULD have chosen B, you need to explain WHY you would make a different decision — what would cause you to make a different decision if all other things are equal? If your response is “I don’t know, but I still might have chosen B,” then at best you’re suggesting that your decision-making is random, which is not the same as libertarian free will.

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      Cf. Douglas Hofstadter’s dialogue “Who pushes who around the careenium?”

      Or almost everyone in the FW course I took taught by Paul Russell at UBC 18 years ago: we effectively all agreed that it reduces to problems of philosophy of mind.

  9. JorgeRojas86
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    1. Is it incoherent to say that people do have and behave according a kind of free will they don´t recognize they have? I mean: can most people see themselves as dualits but actually use the kind of free will that compatibilist defend?

    2. Haven´t you thought that maybe the “could have done otherwise” principle is a philosophical illusion as Dennett says (here: https://philosophy.as.uky.edu/sites/default/files/I%20Could%20not%20have%20Done%20Otherwise–So%20What%20-%20Daniel%20Dennett.pdf)? I really find that CDO principle so irrefutable and simple that makes think something must be wrong. If I decided A, How can I prove I could have done otherwise?

    3. J.T Ismael´s book “How Physsic make us free” (a dense book and what you would call “ruminations of philosophers”) makes good points for what really determinism entails that make space for a kind of free will. So, what if we really have a kind of free will that we do exercise? Isn´t really dangerous to tell people they do not have free will at all?

  10. rgsherr
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    bump

  11. Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Determinism strikes me as one of those beliefs that can only be arrived at by way of defending a preconceived world view—specifically, a materialistic one. If one takes seriously the claim that only matter exists, then certain corollary propositions must be defended, propositions that would never occur to anyone from observation or even common sense.

    The same is true of idealism—e.g., Berkeley’s claim that matter doesn’t exist and that what appear to be ordinary objects are only collections of ideas, which are mind-dependent. Indeed, part of the appeal of determinism—the notion that what appears to be free choice really isn’t—is that, like the corollaries of idealism, it can’t be logically refuted. (Samuel Johnson, of course, famously rejected Berkeley’s idealism by “striking his foot against a large stone, till he rebounded from it—‘I refute it thus.’”)

    Conversely, if determinism is rejected based on common sense or even Occham’s razor, then all sorts of thorny challenges to materialism follow. Hence the ordinary perception that we have free will must be nipped in the bud as an illusion, regardless of what mental gymnastics are required to do so.

    This is merely my opinion, of course, and I’m aware that on this site it will seem heresy—though not, I hope, disrespectful.

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Does this view lead to a belief in God (large G)?

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        “Does this view lead to a belief in God (large G)?”

        I don’t see why it should. There are both atheists and theists who believe in free will, and there are both atheists and theists who don’t.

        • Randy Bessinger
          Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

          Only in the sense that it is a central tenet of most religions.

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      “Conversely, if determinism is rejected based on common sense or even Occham’s razor, …”

      Why do either of those argue against determinism?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      “… propositions that would never occur to anyone from observation or even common sense.”

      I think you’re confusing observation and commonsense with intuition.

      We all, it seems, intuitively feel we make “choices” that could have been otherwise. But if you’re asserting that some non-material dimension actually intercedes to break the chain of physical causation in the material world thereby allowing you to make such a “choice,” then I think you bear the burden of offering some evidence — or at least of putting forth a plausible explanation — for how this interaction between the material and non-material dimensions occurs.

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        Ken,

        I have no problem in replacing “common sense” with “intuition.” I do have a problem, however, with accepting the burden of providing evidence for the proposition that we have free will.

        As with idealism, which goes against observation and intuition, it would seem to me that the person arguing that things are not as they intuitively appear bears the burden of providing evidence for same. As with idealism also, once you accept the challenge to provide evidence that the material really exists, you might as well throw in the towel (not that there really is a towel).

        As far as I can see, the only thing determinism has going for it is that it bolsters the claim that the non-material doesn’t exist. That doesn’t persuade me, but if you can come up with a different or better reason why anyone would believe in it, I’m all ears.

        (Speaking of ears, it’s always good to hear from you. 😊)

        Gary

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

          We have strong evidence that the material world exists. We also have solid empirical evidence that that world operates according to the laws of physics. Per those laws, the state of the universe at any given time is entirely dependent upon its earlier state (plus random, quantum effects).

          We have no evidence for the existence of a non-material world, and we have no need to hypothesize a non-material world to explain our observations in the material world. (We can always, of course, hypothesize the existence of a non-material world that does not interact all with the material world — just as we can hypothesize objects like Russell’s teapot that lie beyond our detection within the material world — but why should we, other than wishful thinking? It has no explanatory function, and Occam’s razor cautions against it.)

          Under such circumstances, it seems appropriate that anyone proposing the existence of a non-material world at least undertake the initial burden of describing its properties, including the ways (if any) that it interacts with the material world, so that those of us interested in such things might be able to propose experiments for detecting its existence.

          The entirely undetectable and the nonexistent are asymptotically equivalent.

          (Always good to hear from you, too, Gary. 🙂 )

          • rgsherr
            Posted August 29, 2018 at 9:11 am | Permalink

            +1

            • Posted August 29, 2018 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

              “We have no evidence for the existence of a non-material world, and we have no need to hypothesize a non-material world to explain our observations in the material world.”

              In other words, the laws of physics adequately explain the physical world. No disagreement there. As for there being no evidence for the existence of a non-material world, some would say that the very topic we’re discussing—i.e., free will—constitutes such evidence: from our observations in the material world it would seem that we make choices. This isn’t a hypothesis, it’s an observation, and as such hardly qualifies as “entirely undetectable.” The only reason we would have to deny or explain away this observation would be if we have a stake in hypothesizing an exclusively material world. In this scenario, free will gets translated into molecular signaling pathways that occur between neurons—this despite the fact that the basic premise of consciousness being a biological process itself hasn’t been established.

              Hence, the materialistic explanation is “It looks like free will, it acts like free will, but it’s really nothing more than a retroactive inference generated in an attempt to transmute an unconscious process into a conscious one.” The non-materialistic explanation is, “It’s free will.” According to Occam’s Razor, which you invoke, the more assumptions you make, the more unlikely an explanation. I leave it to you to compare the above two explanations and tell me which is simpler and which makes more assumptions.

              In this case at least, explaining away the non-material is far more of a stretch than accommodating it. That said, I’m not trying to convince you of anything other than the fact that scientific materialism doesn’t begin to account for the world as I experience it (a point that’s not arguable, by the way). It doesn’t even come close; too much gets lost in translation. If it satisfactorily accounts for the world as you or others experience it, I’m happy for you. Truly. The difference may be nothing more than a matter of temperament.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 29, 2018 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

                … some would say that the very topic we’re discussing—i.e., free will—constitutes such evidence: from our observations in the material world it would seem that we make choices.

                That’s simply the god-of-the-gaps argument by another name. History is rife with examples of our intuition on such things being belied by scientific evidence, dating back to before Galileo showed that heavier objects drop no faster than lighter ones. Hell, our intuition tells us that the earth is flat and unmovable, and that the sun traverses a quotidian path across its sky. Why should we think that our intuitions about “choice” are any more reliable?

                What’s missing from your response, Gary, is any suggestion of how your hypothesized non-material world interacts with the material world such as to interrupt the physical chain of causation to allow for “free will” (and by which we might one day hope to test that hypothesis).

              • Posted August 30, 2018 at 12:07 am | Permalink

                “What’s missing from your response. . . .”

                Inadequate though it may be, that was my best shot. 😊

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      “… propositions that would never occur to anyone from observation or even common sense.”

      I think you’re confusing observation and commonsense with intuition.

      We all, it seems, intuitively feel we make “choices” that could have been otherwise. But if you’re asserting that some non-material dimension actually intercedes to break the chain of physical causation in the material world thereby allowing you to make such a “choice,” then I think you bear the burden of offering some evidence — or at least of putting forth a plausible explanation — for how this interaction between the material and non-material dimensions occurs.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Are you saying that we do not have sufficient evidence of the existence of the material world?

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        “Are you saying that we do not have sufficient evidence of the existence of the material world?”

        Hi, Dianne. I’m saying that an idealist would make that claim and that we would be hard-put to refute it. People smarter than myself have tried—most famously Kant, who argued that our perception of time and motion establishes an external world, since we can only know motion in comparison to something stationary and that, because consciousness is always in motion, it can’t be the source of that which is stationary. This, of course, was before Einstein established the relativity of motion.

        Moreover, Kant’s argument is convoluted as only an argument against idealism can be. He’s on a fool’s errand. We have no good reason to doubt the external world, but the fact remains that neither Kant nor anyone else has proven that its existence is indubitable.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

          So if we have no good reason to doubt the external world then we have no good reason to doubt the laws of physics and as Ken put very well, “per those laws, the state of the universe at any given time is entirely dependent upon its earlier state (plus random, quantum effects)” then arguing against determinism is pretty difficult as it is the null hypothesis.

          • Posted August 30, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

            “. . .then arguing against determinism is pretty difficult as it is the null hypothesis.”

            I’d say that arguing against determinism is well nigh impossible if one accepts the underlying premise that you and Ken K. are implicitly asking me to accept—namely, that only those things detectable/testable by the methods of science are real (a premise, by the way, for which there is no evidence). I reject that premise, which leaves us very little to talk about intelligently.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 30, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

              So then you reject that science works? That science is our way for determining if something is real? What is your testable way of proving something is real? Can your way also ensure that airplanes fly, vaccines work, and GPS gets us where we want to go? You have a lot of work ahead of you to do so.

              • Posted August 30, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

                “So then you reject that science works? That science is our way for determining if something is real? What is your testable way of proving something is real?”

                To question one, no; science does what it’s designed to do better than any tool in human history.

                To question two, yes; I reject that science is our only way for determining if something is real?

                To question three, your requirement that any other way must be “testable” and result in “proving something” indicates that you’ll still accept only the methods of science to verify that there are valid methods other than those of science—a form of begging the question.

                All of which, again, leaves us very little to talk about intelligently.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 30, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

                Yes, sorry but science is the only way to know something is true about the natural world, which is the whole world. It’s proven that. You still haven’t answered my question – how do you know something is true in another way? Is there another way to know how to launch a rocket to the moon or a satellite to Mars?

              • Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:01 am | Permalink

                I rest my case.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 31, 2018 at 10:20 am | Permalink

                So you don’t want to talk about this because I’m asking you to clarify your position and reconcile it with how science has figured out reality….so that makes me unable to have a “intellectual conversation”…..okay then.

              • Posted August 31, 2018 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

                First, “intelligent” and “intellectual” are not synonyms; they may in fact be antonyms.

                Second, why would I try to clarify my position to someone who has categorically declared that my position is wrong?

                Maybe another time.

              • Posted September 9, 2018 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

                “Maybe another time.”

                Dianne, see my comment on the DUCK-umentary thread.

                https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2018/09/09/weekend-movies-a-duckumentary/#comments

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 10, 2018 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

                I think what you describe as experience is part of determinism. Experience is just another input into the information your brain has. I don’t see this as “another way of knowing” but just a different set of data.

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      Materialism is the only view compatible with science: dualisms run into problems with conservation laws, as even Descartes appreciated. He had an out – understanding of conservation of momentum was the only such law he knew, and then only partially. (He did not realize that momentum is conserved, not the scalar product of mass and speed.)

      As for the question then of determinism on top of it: what are the laws in question? Well, either one is a Bohmian, and non-local but deterministic laws “apply” everywhere, or one is a conventional interpretation of QM person. Then one gets “roulette wheel”. Robert Kane’s book (_The Significance of Free Will_) is an attempt to split off a third possibility, but has not explained how his proposal is anything but a randomizer.

  12. Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    “The most hard-cord deterministic free will denier is constantly talking about choices. They try to persuade you not to believe in free will. Why would they be doing that if everything is determined?“

    Because they can’t help it; they have no choice.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      You’re mixing up “determinism” with “fatalism”.

  13. Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    I still do not fully buy into determinism. I suspect that we program ourselves to make certain kinds of decisions in certain circumstances … and when the choices do not distinguish themselves greatly, there is chance and mistakes that get made frequently. I have used and continue to use the decisions made in the game of poker. Watch a game on TV and then tell me all decisions were determined from physical circumstances. I do not see how. I do not believe we have the processing power to make such decisions, which is why we always want to get our say in last because people’s thinking is dominated by what they heard last. (That says “small buffer” to me, which means we have a process to make decisions that is based upon chance, whim, personal preference, etc, that is determinism, but it is hardly distinguishable from free will.) Our will has never been completely free but I do not see how it is that determinism helps.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Determinism is simply saying that one thing causes another thing. It is complicated because there are so many things causing other things that cause all kinds of things. You typically are not aware of the causes such as the chemistry in your brain, your physical biology, all your experiences up to each moment in time. All those things influence your brain when it does anything. Therefore, you cannot go back and choose otherwise because all the things influencing your brain (including your brain biology) would be exactly as they were when you did whatever you did….so you have no choice but to do what you did.

  14. Rod Wilson
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to jump into the Lion’s Den here and say that I believe in a limited notion of freewill, though I haven’t had the patience to trace through all the implications.
    Some of the ‘simplest’ complex-systems, that follow simple rules can have outputs that are completely unpredictable. If minds are composed of many layers of such systems then one doesn’t need to invoke quantum mechanics to have non-determinism.
    It seems to me that the ability to conceive of a future with alternate possibilities is an emergent property of mind, the essential feature of which is the ability of the output of the system to feedback on the inputs and internal workings -changing the output etc etc. For what its worth I think this is what free will is.

  15. Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Most ancient Romans believed that the essential feature of romantic love was being shot with an invisible arrow by the god Eros. But there is no such thing as the god Eros. Therfore there is no such thing as romantic love!

    Once you understand what is wrong with the logic of the above argument, you can see what’s wrong with Jerry’s argument about what people believe about free will. You cannot derive the definition of a term from observing a few beliefs that people have about the concept.

    But wait, there’s less. Jerry says the idea that “you really could have done otherwise at a given moment … is of course incompatible with the laws of physics.” Well, no, it’s incompatible with some ideas that most people have about the laws of physics, but those ideas are wrong. Most people think the laws of physics are time-asymmetric and future-directed, marching from a fixed past into the future and pushing the future into an equally fixed condition. But that’s not how it works. All that the laws of physics do is describe patterns. They say that, if you do X now, the past will have been Y and the future will be Z. They do not appoint one of these conditions to be “master” and the other ones “slaves”, no matter how much laymen might believe it to be so.

    Gotta get back to work now. More later.

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      How does consciousness play into the free will vs. determinism argument? Since we don’t know how that evolved, it seems to me that needs to be a first step.

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Well I don’t buy into the “versus”; I’m a compatibilist. But here’s my answer how consciousness plays into the argument:
        1. People project their consciousness, specifically their ability to *make* things happen, onto inert matter (systems that have neither beliefs nor desires), without noticing the mistake.
        2. Since human consciousness is oriented in a particular time-direction (we think of the past as “behind” us and “fixed) we also tend to project that feature onto physics in general.
        3. We notice that the above two features we *imagine* to belong to causality, seem to conflict with our ideas about free will. If the past is “fixed” and past events “make” future events happen, then the future (including our future) must be “fixed” too.
        4. We invent the free will “versus” determinism “problem”.

  16. Frank May
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    The subject of determinism vs. fatalism wasn’t raised in the original post, but I’d like to see some discussion here in the comments. I have read and watched videos (e.g., Sam Harris) that say they’re different, but these statements strike me as assertions. My gut feel is that they indeed are different, but I don’t understand how, specifically, this is so. At the moment I make a deterministic decision, how, in detail, is that not fatalistic?

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      I agree. This is why I think “arguments affect people” is incompatible with “determinism means we couldn’t choose otherwise”.

      • darrelle
        Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        I don’t understand why people think that arguments affecting people is incompatible with “determinism means we couldn’t choose otherwise.” It seems straight forward to me that if you supply some input to a computing device that that input could have an affect on the devices output. If it works that way for my phone why is it controversial that it works that way for people?

        • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

          It does work as you say but the question is your computing device’s interface with the underlying physics. If it is all determined, then so is the input and, therefore, the output. The person making the argument is subject to the same “cannot have done otherwise” argument as the argument’s audience. If everyone couldn’t have done otherwise, then there are no real choices being made by all involved.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

            That’s fatalism, not determinism. Things in the chain of causality affect the outcome.

          • darrelle
            Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

            Yes, just so. But it does all depend on what the words mean. Determinism simply means that events are bound by causality. As Sean Carroll points out this does indeed appear to be so, especially locally.

            So then what do we mean by choice? I think people are hung up on this word in precisely the way they are with the term free will. Strict determinists like Jerry say we don’t really have choice. Many Compatibilists seem to say that even though determinism does seem like it would preclude choice we must have it anyway for various things to make sense.

            From where I am sitting what determinism means is that choice isn’t exactly what we thought it was. That like free will there are real phenomena at play, but they don’t work like we thought they did.

            • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

              I mostly agree with what you say here, though I am a bit uncomfortable with:

              “Many Compatibilists seem to say that even though determinism does seem like it would preclude choice we must have it anyway for various things to make sense.”

              It sounds a bit too much like we Compatibilists are denying truth in order that it not upset our carefully arranged illusions.

              • darrelle
                Posted August 29, 2018 at 8:24 am | Permalink

                🙂

                I did not mean it that way, I promise!

                I actually was trying to brief while still getting the idea across, so I actually meant at least a couple of things.

                1) It seems some Compatibilists argue that despite what determinism seems to mean for choice that other evidence demonstrates that we have it and therefore our understanding of how the universe works is not complete enough and we are missing something.

                2) Some Compatibilists seem to argue that despite what determinism seems to mean for choice that at the level of human behavior we need to use the concept of choice simply because that’s the way humans are wired.

                Actually, I guess that number 2 is somewhat similar to denying truth in order that it not upset carefully arranged illusions, but not quite. My observation is not that determinism is being denied but rather at the level of human behavior choice is a necessary concept, or at least extremely useful, because of how human minds work.

                Just to clarify, when it comes to Compatibilism / Incompatibilism I don’t know what the hell I am. Much of the time it seems the debate is much ado about nothing except people arguing about what aspects they feel are more significant. On some things I tend to lean IC, in others C.

              • Posted August 29, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

                Starting at the end of what you wrote, I am also uncomfortable with the Compatibilist/Incompatibilist labeling. In my view, determinism and commonsense free will have little to do with each other and, therefore, their compatibility is not the central issue.

                On your #1, I am sure there’s a lot about the universe we have yet to learn but I don’t know of anything that will help us with the free will question. Of course, we don’t know what we don’t know.

                Your #2 conveys a sense in which we are deliberately abandoning truth in order to make things easier on ourselves or because we’re not smart enough to do otherwise. Perhaps some Compatibilists think this way but I don’t.

                Let me add a #3. What we normally call “free will”, I like to call “commonsense free will” or “everyday free will”. It refers to our ability to make decisions in our lives and it lives in the realm of human behavior. It is very much real, which is why it is different from #2. It operates at a much higher level of description. Although the human behavior level is implemented on top of the rules of physics, as everything in our universe is, we have no knowledge of the physics level so it plays no role in our decision making process other than to make it possible.

                I will admit that this information flow argument is lacking. However, I do think it’s important. Anyway, my real point was to make the case that we aren’t simply denying the truth by accepting commonsense free will.

            • Posted August 28, 2018 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

              I agree that the phenomena don’t work like we thought they did, but I think the mistake comes entirely from the wrong-ideas-about-physics side. So, most people may think that choice is incompatible with physical causation, but that’s because they misunderstand physical causation.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      I usually supply this infographic or one similar when people ask these things.

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        According to that infographic Determinism allows us to affect future outcomes whereas fatalism doesn’t. I don’t follow how determinism allows us to have an effect on our future because if we can effect our future by our choices now, why doesn’t that qualify as exercising free will?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 28, 2018 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

          Determinism is simply causality. If you say something to me and I think about it that may effect what I do next. Fatalism says it’s all predetermined so no matter what you say to me, I’m going to do whatever is laid out for me to do.

          • Posted August 28, 2018 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

            That’s a statement that you believe in libertarian free will.

          • BethClarkson
            Posted August 29, 2018 at 8:26 am | Permalink

            I’m sorry, but I’m still not following. How is the process of thinking and deciding what to do next not the exercise of free will? How is that different than saying that you could choose to do otherwise?

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 29, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

              Because the “you” is not a separate being from your brain perched behind your eyes. The you is a thing subject to the laws of physics. Dualism sees the “you” as separate from your brain.

              • BethClarkson
                Posted August 29, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

                Thank you for your continued responses. I’m sorry to be so confused by this. While I agree that you are not a separate being from your brain, I’m not following how that is relevant to the question I asked.

                How is the process of thinking and deciding what to do next not the exercise of free will? If you could have chosen otherwise, then you were not fated or destined to have made the choice you eventually arrived at. But you seem to be saying that determinism is compatible with the ability to choose otherwise.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 29, 2018 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

                So firstly, some people think that free will is compatible with determinism….those people are compatibilists. Non compatibilists both accept determinism, which is simply that every event has a cause. What I’ve found is that everything between compatiblists and non compatibilists centres around the definition of free will….I actually find this argument tiresome as I think the more important thing to accept and understand determinism.

                So, if everything has a cause, for any event there is an event that precedes that event, and you could go all the way back to a point where you have no control over those events (like before you were born). Therefore there are no free events and there is no way that you could have done otherwise. It’s actually more complicated if you think of all the variables acting on each other in a huge chain of causality. As Ben said somewhere, it’s impossible to know all the causes though Laplace’s demon may be able to. So, in other words, even if you could travel back in time, you would be the exact same person you were at that time with all the chain of causality intact and all your brain states the same, so you could not choose otherwise.

              • Posted August 29, 2018 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

                Hey BethClarkson, I think you are asking the right questions.

                I agree with Diana that understanding determinism is the most important thing, but not that everything between compatibilists and incompatibilists centers on the definition of free will. There are a few compatibilists who base our main arguments on a proper understanding of causality.

                Diana’s premise, that events before you were born are “beyond your control”, is either irrelevant or mistaken. Let’s avoid the irrelevant version and concentrate on the mistaken one. So, I offer you the option of Betting On The Past:

                I have a slip of paper on which is written a proposition P. You can choose between two bets, or neither. Bet 1 is a bet on P at 10:1 for a stake of one dollar. Bet 2 is a bet on P at 1:10 for a stake of ten dollars. So your pay-offs are: Bet 1 and P is true, gain $10; Bet 1 and P false, lose $1; Bet 2 and P true, gain $1; Bet 2 and P false, lose $10. Before you choose whether to take Bet 1 or Bet 2 I should tell you what P is. It is the proposition that the past state of the world was such as to cause you now to take Bet 2

                I will actually send you a dollar via PayPal, Venmo, or an envelope in the mail if you take Bet 2, just to make the philosophy talk real here. (You can click on my name to contact me via my website.)

                Can you make P true just by taking bet 2? Of course you can.

        • Posted August 29, 2018 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

          It does. But both “libertarians” and free will deniers like to load up the core idea of free will with extra metaphysical baggage. The former because they like the baggage, and the latter apparently because they just wanna be against everything the first group are for.

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

        That infographic is a pant load. Determinism is in every important respect identical to philosophical fatalism: the view that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

        • Posted August 28, 2018 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

          Yes, but fatalism usually refers to a personal decision to do nothing to affect future events in one’s life. Determinism dictates what is going to happen regardless of whether you are a fatalist or not. Not sure how that jives with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

          • Posted August 28, 2018 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

            Fatalism is a loaded word. It has connotations of despair, and even refers to the mythical Fates. “Fatal” sounds nasty. No one would want to be called a fatalist.

            Philosophical fatalism is clearly defined: the view that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do. Jerry is a fatalist.

            • Posted August 28, 2018 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

              Ok, so then philosophical fatalism and causal determinism are pretty much two sides of the same coin. Though I suppose one could posit an alternate explanation for fatalism, such as a God that pulls the strings.

              • Posted August 28, 2018 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

                “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
                ATTRIBUTION: LEWIS CARROLL (Charles L. Dodgson), Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 6, p. 205 (1934). First published in 1872

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 29, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

              You can keep asserting this all you want but it doesn’t make the definition of fatalism anymore the same as determinism. Jerry and no other scientist who accepts determinism (which is most of them) feels that things are fated to happen outside causality.

              • Posted September 1, 2018 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

                I have a clear, unambiguous definition of fatalism from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

                You have a multicolored “infographic” full of incomplete sentence fragments with no support in logic or evidence.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 1, 2018 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

                Oh so you don’t like the infographic. Well you and I both know that I used that as a nice way to show what the difference between determinism and fatalism is (and there is a difference) and it’s rather a cheap shot to suggest that I’ve based my entire understanding of the difference on that graphic. Moreover, trying to pin on Oxford publication as your coup de grace to argue that anyone who accepts determinism(and that includes Dan Dennett by the way as compatibilists accept determinism),is really a fatalist who thinks all things were pre-determined and weren’t simply in the chain of causality, well that’s basic logical fallacy in the form of appeal to authority.

                But shall we play, my source is better than your source? Well let’s.

                determinism The doctrine that every event has a cause. For a precise formulation, see free will.

                biological The view that our genetic inheritance not only influences, but constrains and makes inevitable our development as persons with a variety of traits. At its silliest the view postulates such entities as a gene predisposing people to poverty, and it is the particular enemy of thinkers stressing the parental, social, and political determinants of the way we are. See also gene.

                Blackburn, Simon. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford Quick Reference) (p. 131). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

                Or you can listen to Dan Dennett explain that determined is not the same as inevitable around the 2:08 mark here The interviewer also starts with a definition of determinism at the beginning.

                Here is a lecture on determinism and free will from the University of Oxford. He speaks about determinism at the 0.54 mark and he defines it at 1.54.

                This is what fatalism is. It is not determinism. What you are calling determinism in saying that Jerry thinks everything is fated is this: fatalism The doctrine that what will be will be, or that human action has no influence on events. ‘Either a bullet has my number on it or it does not; if it does, then there is no point taking precautions for it will kill me anyhow; if it does not then there is no point taking precautions for it is not going to kill me; hence either way there is no point taking precautions.’ The dilemma ignores the highly likely possibility that whether the bullet has your number on it depends on whether you take precautions. Fatalism is wrongly confused with *determinism, which by itself carries no implications that human action is ineffectual.

                Blackburn, Simon. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford Quick Reference) (p. 175). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

                So, the thing is, I suspect you are arguing from the compatibilist position (the same as Dennett) in which you would accept casualty but you’ve mixed it up with fatalism. Or you reject determinism because of chaos and chance (which I don’t think is reason to reject determinism outright – even QM is deterministic) or you are really a libertarian/dualist who sees the brain as operating separate from the mind. But continuing to argue that fatalism and determinism are the same is rather silly at this point as no one is going to accept that definition.

              • Posted September 1, 2018 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

                “But continuing to argue that fatalism and determinism are the same is rather silly at this point as no one is going to accept that definition.”

                I agree that continuing to argue about definitions is silly. I don’t agree that no one is going to accept the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s definition of fatalism.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 1, 2018 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

                I think you need to review your sources. They may have updated their terminology.

                See here: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fatalism/ And note that causal determinism is noted as not being referred to as fatalism at all.

                Fatalism
                First published Wed Dec 18, 2002; substantive revision Fri Nov 7, 2014
                Though the word “fatalism” is commonly used to refer to an attitude of resignation in the face of some future event or events which are thought to be inevitable, philosophers usually use the word to refer to the view that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do. This view may be argued for in various ways: by appeal to logical laws and metaphysical necessities; by appeal to the existence and nature of God; by appeal to causal determinism. When argued for in the first way, it is commonly called “Logical fatalism” (or, in some cases, “Metaphysical fatalism”); when argued for in the second way, it is commonly called “Theological fatalism”. When argued for in the third way it is not now commonly referred to as “fatalism” at all, and such arguments will not be discussed here.

                Here is Stanford’s definition of determinism from the same site:

                https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal/

  17. Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Even if one shares Sean Carroll’s point of view on free will, as I do, the arguments for criminal justice reform still work. If commonsense free will is a variable when it comes down to individual decisions. If a gun is held to someone’s head to force a decision, they didn’t have commonsense free will. If someone is mentally ill such that they lack control over their decisions, they lack commonsense free will. Commonsense free will operates at a different level than determinism.

    I’m a computer programmer by trade. I think of free will much like I think about a program I wrote. It’s behavior is completely determined by the processor on which it runs which, in turn, is dependent on physics. However, none of that matters or helps when I am writing and debugging my program.

    • josh
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      “If a gun is held to someone’s head to force a decision, they didn’t have commonsense free will.”

      No, that’s exactly a case where one would have to have free will according to the traditional meaning of the term. The hostage could decide to risk the bullet. A heroic narrative about someone who dies for their principles is a cornerstone example of free will to the people who believe in it. I think you’re confusing the legal jargon “acted of one’s own free will”, with the philosophical concept.

      “However, none of that matters or helps when I am writing and debugging my program.”
      Of course it does, it tells you that whatever is going on with your program is the result of specific physical effects. Whatever the outcome, however complex, your program is following a set of rules and changing the outcome requires changing the structure that *determines* the output.

  18. Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    “Compatibilism sweeps away a whole host of social issues that need to be addressed.”

    I don’t buy this at all. Society worked on its problems and mostly improved things way before anyone knew about determinism. In fact, even after determinism was accepted by physicists (or not), progress goes on using the concept of commonsense free will. Virtually all the progress Pinker talks about in his recent books was done by people who knew nothing about determinism. They could have done otherwise, which is his book’s main point.

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      People can do things right, intuitively, even without knowing anything about the underlying realities or processes.
      People have learned agriculture without knowing anything about genetics or plant cells, by trial and error, by chance.
      Even monkeys are known to consume special plants for certain diseases. They have no idea of the active ingredients, but they know that chewing special leaves helps them with stomach diseases.

      But it usually depends on chance whether a useful knowledge will prevail. Thus the knowledge about new techniques (e.g. how to crack nuts) is only passed on exclusively over certain relationship lines from mothers to the children. There is no horizontal, equal knowledge transfer in those ape societies.
      If knowledge of the lack of free will were to prevail on a broad basis in society, then this would mean a departure from the sometimes arbitrary treatment of criminals, sinners and wrong-doers by society, the courts and judges. So much new suffering and misery is created by excessive hardship in the penal system, which is why it would be right to abolish long prison sentences for minor offences.

      • Posted September 1, 2018 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

        Think about what motivates you to want to reform the penal system. Is it really only based on your belief in determinism and lack of free will? How did you feel about it before you knew about determinism? Did it really change your point of view? If find that hard to believe.

  19. Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I have little patience for those who say that grasping and accepting the physical determinism of behavior has no implications for society.

    There are none. I always find that puzzling. “Implications for society” here assume a counterfactual, namely a society which does not “grasp and acccept” physical determinism. But this is impossible! If we cannot do otherwise, and everything is determined, then it follows that whatever happens, happens, including the non/acceptance of hard determinism. Therefore, there are no “implications” for society. Those implications are themselves part of the predetermined path, and however people grasp or not grasp is part of that determined timeline. It doesn’t matter from that vantage point.

    Of course it matters to us, but this “in-universe” view tacitly assumes a process can be influenced, that history is still being written as we argue, while the hard determinist perspective must see everything as already written, already decided. You, and many others constantly blend and switch between those two perspectives, which is inconsistent.

    There is no contradiction for a model dependent realist, like me. And however other people define compatibilism, I maintain free will in the “in universe” sense that my mind is computing what to do next, which looks like a decision making process hat is not coerced etc by other people. At the same time, reality as a whole can be determined. It’s not a contradiction to describe love as a feeling, and also as some complicated chemical process. These are simply different models.

    That we “cannot do otherwise” is also true in a second sense, we cannot do otherwise in a “same” scenario, because it is impossible to ever be in a literal same scenario (even if we had a time machine). Thus, the big free will debate quickly looks like the question about how many angels dance on a needle.

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Yes! Your argument seems right to me. It is the long, thought-out version of Carroll’s:

      “The most hard-cord deterministic free will denier is constantly talking about choices. They try to persuade you not to believe in free will. Why would they be doing that if everything is determined?“

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      “Therefore, there are no “implications” for society. Those implications are themselves part of the predetermined path, and however people grasp or not grasp is part of that determined timeline. It doesn’t matter from that vantage point.”

      ” it doesn’t matter” – is only valid from the point of view of the Laplaces Demon, who already knows the result of everything and can sit back bored.
      But the rest of us, all of us, do not know what the outcome of our activities will be. And this ignorance drives us, whether we argue for or against free will, we cannot do otherwise, we are determined to stand up for our convictions because the future is open to us. We can’t help it. We have to. Even if everything in a block universe should be preordained, we must do our task as bees in a beehive do their work. We are bio-robots, nothing more and nothing less, just like all other animals.

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        Well put! It is the lack of information from determinism that sets us free!

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      “while the hard determinist perspective must see everything as already written, already decided. You, and many others constantly blend and switch between those two perspectives, which is inconsistent.”

      It doesn’t matter whether the history is already written or not (maybe due to indeterministic processes) all that matters is: We don’t know and we will never know what happens next. That’s why there is no switching between two perspectives, we have only the one; the perspective of ignorance of what the future will be made of. You could say there would be a switching only if there was on the one hand a Laplace knowledge of the outcome and on the other hand a declaring of not knowing but that is not the case.

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      I’m still trying to figure out how “model-dependent” adds anything to “realism”, but your point about the “in-universe” view knocks it out of the park.

  20. Randy Bessinger
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    If free will exists, are humans the only ones that have it? Is there research that shows other mammals also have free will? Do you have to be “conscious” to have free will?

  21. Laurance
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear…I’m being a bitch…

    The illusion “I am” underlies all other illusions.

    (Sorry ’bout that…)

  22. Laurance
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Several years ago I read in the New York Times that there are judges who are thinking about all this and seeing the necessity of looking at criminals as those who could not do otherwise.

    And yes, that’s more humane, and I certainly hope that the judicial system will be reformed.

    But y’know…those judges are not acting from their own free will. Those of us who want to see the judicial system reformed are not coming from a position of our own free will. Society will not change its view from its own free will.

    Turtles all the way down.

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      I have not read the US legislation in detail, but the Canadian criminal law does seem to presuppose contracausal free will. On the other hand, the clinical psychology ethics code (if I remember correctly – it has been a while) seems to go with a “reasons responsiveness” type thing, a la Fischer and Ravizza. (And hence runs into a regress problem, as my colleagues and I discussed in the course above.)

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        (Ethics code for *Ontario, I should say.)

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        How is that a regress problem? It’s not like you need to have additional reasons for your reasons, in order to be reasonable.

        • Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          How did your reasons responsiveness get set up? Think of (say) someone with fetal alcohol syndrome.

          • Posted August 31, 2018 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

            Suppose you were born with high reasons-responsiveness.

            How is that a problem?

  23. BethClarkson
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    “it does seem to us and others that we could have chosen otherwise. But we couldn’t have. The notion that we could have is an illusion.” This is an unfalsifiable proposition. I suspect it may be an undecidable proposition under Gödel’s theorem. You can consider it an ‘illusion’ but it presupposes determinism is true.

    If you don’t assume determinism is true (and QM informs us that is isn’t), then there is no reason to think that the act of a human choosing an action is any more foreordained and destined than the path of butterfly as it flaps its wings in the wind.

  24. harrync
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I don’t have any choice in the matter, but I just don’t worry about whether I have free will or not. I just act like I do.

  25. Rosmarie Maran
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    This is a very interesting series of comments!
    Schopenhauer famously wrote that man can do what he wills but cannot will what he wills.
    The important message here is, in my view, that while Schopenhauer rejects free will, he obviously has no intention to reject the notion of will itself. Maybe the undeniable experience of having will is basically what we usually interpret as having free will?
    I also do suggest that consciousness itself would not have evolved in the first place if there had not appeared the necessity of making decisions in animals (basic decision of every organism capable of locomotion: should I stay or should I go?).
    I think that in some sense the undeniable existence of consciousness itself is a proof that the future must be open. And as purely physical systems human beings with their will and potential to make decisions incorporate this openness of the future.

  26. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    sub

  27. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I am mistaken, but what I know so far the data supports that the difference is philosophic semantic.

    There is no data that says that pointing out the “free will” illusion while being clear that it is an illusion will support dualism ideas. Or people would refer to it as a problem instead of a philosophic quirk.

  28. Avi
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Sean Carroll needs to stick to his field of expertise. His opinion on free will is meaningless. He studies the universe not the brain.

  29. Posted August 28, 2018 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    If you’re serious about determinism, banking on the fundamental laws of physics, you have to admit several things:

    There is a wave equation for the universe, it’s deterministic (but indeterminate), and it’s time symmetric. There is no arrow of time in this equation. Everything is reversible. In a real sense there’s no causality in this description of the universe. Things just are.

    The universe began in an inexplicably low entropy state, and that explains the arrow of time. That’s Sean Carroll’s thesis. There is no good theoretical reason this should have been so, but that’s the way it was. We find ourselves in a kind of entropy Goldilocks zone: not too low and not too high. This leads to fantastically complex emergent phenomena, such as life, and the fundamental laws of physics are useless to explain them.

    • Dino Rosati
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. If free will is incompatible with the time symmetric laws of physics then entropy itself is also incompatible. You can’t *explain* high level emergent phenomenon like free will, creativity, consciousness etc with low level laws like quantum mechanics, that just tells you how particles move. Can’t even derive entropy law from QM without introducing arbitrary probabilistic concepts like microstates and macrostates which aren’t part of QM.

  30. Posted August 28, 2018 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Hey, y’all! All is good. Just a quick drive-by, not subscribing, haven’t read the comments.

    “Free Will” as Sean is attempting to describe it is very, very similar to another of his favorite subjects: entropy.

    To a physicist, entropy is the ratio (not simple; there’s a logarithm in there) of the count of microscopic states with indistinguishable macroscopic states.

    There’s a mind-boggling number of ways to arrange the cards in a deck such that they appear to be well-shuffled; however, there’s only a very few ways (maybe only one, depending on your definition) to arrange them such that they’re in something you’d call “suit order.” A well-shuffled deck therefore has high entropy; the ordered deck has low entropy. You can easily distinguish between the ordered deck and a shuffled one, but you can’t easily tell the difference between two shuffled decks.

    Of course, on closer inspection, it’s trivial to tell the difference between two shuffled decks: one might start with the Jack of Clubs, the other the Three of Hearts. It’s just that that difference doesn’t have significance to you. (But maybe it will as the game unfolds!)

    So it is with the sorts of scenarios in which we say that our “Free Will” is at play. When you go the the ice cream counter, there already exists microscopically-distinguishable states which will, very clearly and unquestionably, determine if you’ll have the chocolate or the vanilla; it’s just that you typically can’t discern what the actual microscopic state of affairs actually is. There’s too much entropy for the answer to be clear — at least, as far as mere mortals are concerned. Laplace’s Daemon would wonder what the fuss is all about….

    In such situations, the fuzzy everyday language of choices and decision-making and the like are “good enough” approximations. Similarly, you don’t need to know the position of all the atoms in the Earth and the Sun in order to approximate the Earth’s orbit with astonishing fidelity. That you “feel like” chocolate because it’s been some time since you had any, so that’s your choice…that’s a similar “not bad” shorthand summary of the very, very, very complex goings-on in the neural circuitry of your brain.

    In actuality, we know that the Earth doesn’t follow Newton’s ellipses; it’s actually all the individual particles in the Solar System (and beyond) evolving as described by the Schrödinger Equation. Similarly, you aren’t actually making a choice; there’s all sorts of complex biochemical Rube Goldberg machinations going on (and, ultimately, more Schrödinger Equation). But we couldn’t tell the difference even if we could observe it, which we can’t, so the “good enough” and “not bad” of everyday language is…well, not all that bad, and actually good enough.

    So long as you don’t mistrake that “close enough” map for actual reality — which is what the compatibilists do — you’re good. Know your Newton for orbital mechanics, and carefully ponder your decisions. Just don’t forget that those are abstractions of abstractions of abstractions, and certainly don’t insist that your “close enough” is actual reality!

    Cheers,

    b&

    • BillyJoe
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      Nail on the head regarding Sean Carroll’s view on “choices” and “decisions”. Another way of stating it is that there are just different “levels of description”. There is the quantum level, the chemical level, the neurobiological level, and the behavioural level. “Choices” and “decisions” are fine to talk about at the behavioural level and doesn’t deny determinism at the chemical and neurobiological level, or weighted randomness (probability) at the quantum level. In other words, if you accept that determinism at the chemical and neurobiological level emerge from probability at the quantum level, then why the concern about “choices” and “decisions” at the behavioural level emerging from the neurobiological level. I’m just loathe to call it “freewill” with all its historical baggage.

    • Posted August 29, 2018 at 12:37 am | Permalink

      You’ve told a nice story but I think we are still stuck making decisions the old-fashioned way and thinking that we could have chosen otherwise. It may be an illusion or an approximation to reality but determinism really doesn’t provide a practical alternative. We have no access to what the hypothetical demon might tell us. What we experience, or think we experience, may be an approximation to reality but, unlike your orbit calculations, we have no chance of getting closer to it.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 29, 2018 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        I don’t think we are looking for determinism to do anything. It just is. We are subject to the laws of physics and causality.

        • Posted August 29, 2018 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          My point is that we might as well talk about it being turtles all the way down as talk about how determinism, regardless of whether we accept or reject it, affects human behavior. Although what fundamental physics describes is the substrate upon which everything in the universe runs, human behavior included, it provides no useful information as regards decisions we will make — or have made in the past for that matter.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 29, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

            I think accepting determinism is key to how we deal with, say, people with mental illness. If you are a dualist, they could choose to behave differently and, for example, not be depressed. That was the thinking for a long time. Or if you accept determinism, then you see them as ill and not a separate entity from their body that can change their state of mind at will.

            • Posted August 29, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

              People who are mentally ill often cannot choose otherwise, just as people who are physically sick can’t simply choose to be well. Dualism and/or determinism really doesn’t enter into it.

              Our decision-making ability has a limited scope. It’s a brain mechanism that affects some of our behavior but certainly not all of it. A normal human being can make decisions and act on them but most of us can’t directly affect our heart rate or force a bowel movement. This mechanism can be compromised by illness, physical damage, and various other circumstances.

              It’s probably a good idea that our criminal justice system allow some of these compromises to be used as an reasons for reducing or elimination punishment, as well as informing rehabilitation efforts. However, we should not allow criminals to escape punishment because determinism made them do it. Everyone could use that old excuse!

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 29, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

                I completely disagree that dualism has nothing to do with how people have treated the mentally ill. When someone tells a depressed person to “snap out of it” they are doing that because they legitimately see them as having a being/soul/will separate from their physical body. It is only through education about mental illness that this attitude has changed and in that education, they had to stress the physical nature of mental illness, but it has not changed toward other less obvious illnesses like chronic pain, for example (just go for a walk about you’ll feel better, it’s “all in your head”). Until we except that we are not a ghost in the machine, we won’t change our attitudes.

              • Posted August 29, 2018 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

                If I were to tell a depressed person to “snap out of it”, I would be encouraging them to think more positive thoughts or to get some physical exercise. Both of these have been shown experimentally to help with depression. None of this has to do with “a being/soul/will separate from their physical body”.

                I do recognize that there are problems when we encourage people with depression or chronic pain to just “snap out of it”, even if we have experimental evidence that it sometimes works. Sometimes it does not work. We need to better recognize such cases and try other remedies. Again, soul has nothing to do with it. It’s completely analogous to how we treat a minor cut with a band-aid but must recognize that it won’t work for severe injuries. Mental illness and chronic pain are just much harder to diagnose because they are, in fact, largely in our head (brain). It doesn’t make them less real and we have to adjust our science and culture to recognize it. There’s no “ghost in the machine”, just an amazingly complicated brain inside a skull that makes it hard to tell what’s going on.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 29, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

                My reply went to the bottom for some reason
                ————-
                You’re dodging around my point. I’m not even going to touch how awful it is for a depressed person to be told to go get some exercise. Regardless of how you see things when dealing with depressed people, the reason it was something with such stigma for so long is because people held depressed people as responsible for their condition because they could choose otherwise. They arrive at that conclusion because they see them as separate from their bodies…a mind or soul or will vs a body and brain. That is classic dualism and most people out there today are dualists.

    • peepuk
      Posted August 29, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Thanks, didn’t view Sean Carrol’s compatibalism in that light.

      But to me the choice of ice cream is not the problem.

      The problem is we live in a world where the bad properties of free will dominate our societies.

      (To avoid confusion when I say free will I mean libertarian free will and when I say compatibalism I mean compatibalism.)

      When Sean says free will is as real as the game of baseball, I think he is wrong. It maybe similar to the realness of a baseball game, but the big difference is that the belief in free will gives us justification to act morally, and it supports and justifies to treat humans badly. The game of baseball usually does not have these properties.

      So I think, compatibalism is a bad abstraction of free will because it’s unclear or leaves out a relevant fact about free will.

      For me compatibalism is at best a good approximation/description of how free will feels like, or a bad approximation of things we desperately want to believe.

      Emergent phenomena are things not yet explained by science and humans are biological robots just like all other animals and plants. The feeling of having free will is an emergent phenomenon, free will itself not.

      P.S. I have no doubt of the good intentions of most people who believe in compatibilism.

      • Posted August 29, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps the problem here is that “the feeling of having free will” is somehow treated as unreal because it all happens inside our heads. Perhaps the inability to understand the Compatibilist (hate that word) point of view is similar to how people dismiss depression as “all in the head”.

        The mechanism by which our brains operate is completely explainable using physics and biology. Although we don’t yet know the details, there is no “ghost in the machine”. I believe we’ll figure it all out one day.

        Decision making is merely a brain mechanism. It is part of how the brain works. Culture is the collective effect of many brains making decisions and communicating them between individuals. We can call that an emergent phenomenon but that seems to make it hypothetical or tentative, which it most definitely is not.

        And, yes, we Compatibilists have good intentions. Why would you think otherwise?

  31. Hemidactylus
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone here have any self-control, capacity for understanding what they are doing and potential consequences of their acts, or ability to ruminate on past mistakes where they couldn’t have done otherwise in that very unique and contingent moment? People can dwell on the past where they see the causal nexus that made them a passively buffetted tumbleweed and/or learn from mistakes and transgressions and say prospectively that they will actively try to do otherwise in the future even if the same exact circumstances cannot possibly obtain. Knowledge, deliberation and self control count for something. Libertarian free will is out the window. Free will may be a poorly put notion, but our big brains with all the consequent byproducts make us categorically different from tumbleweeds buffeted by winds or animals lacking self-awareness or capacity for informed decision.

    Would someone who discounts personal authorship and responsibility feel weird being praised for a good blog post or book? What’s the point of book reviews or awards? The authors are not responsible for their works and deserve no merit as they lack personal agency. Merit is a vacuous concept as works write themselves.

    As “Bandura” “writes” in *Reconstrual of “Free Will” From the Agentic Perspective of Social Cognitive Theory* in *Are we free? : psychology and free will* by John Baer, James C. Kaufman, Roy F. Baumeister:

    “But eliminativists do not portray their own cherished treatises as the product of automatic writing by their neural network under illusory personal authorship.”

  32. FB
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    If accepting determinism is the big issue what we need is a book for teenagers, because most people never think about free will and determinism.

    A short book with lots of quotes from philosophers and scientists. Tentative title: “You don’t have free will, idiot”.

  33. Howiekornstein
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    The incompatibility argument over “doing otherwise” seems always predicated on the premise that the point of decision was my made microscopically immediate to the decision made. This is totally untrue – it was predicated on innumerable forming process which occurred in earlier life which established desires, volitions and values that form the SELF of the individual agent. It is these that form the basis of choice. We come to the issue of RESPONSIBILITY for forming these decision criteria. It is the self…. the entity that entered into each and every of these forming events. The formed self could indeed have constructed it’s values so that it would indeed have done otherwise at the point of decision. This is compatible with determinism and fully in accord with a a freedom of will to do otherwise.

    • Hemidactylus
      Posted August 29, 2018 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      Selfhood is problematic. At what point does something coherent emerge intact from the influence of parents, peers, culture and early genetic inputs during brain development? Maybe deliberative and effortful selfhood comes from this, but from a different angle effortful input devolves into construction of automated habits and character formation. The result is a sort of procedural memory based autopilot, where there may be “elbow room” for “free won’t” when red flags go off. Change course, she’s about to run aground!

      I rather like Dennett’s notion of centered narrative gravity for selfhood as useful fiction. There may be some overlap with the poststructuralist trope “death of the author” (Barthes etc) where one sees the agentic “homunculus” removed in literary criticism. Eliminativism would forego 1st person introspective feels and intent (sensu Searle’s ontology) and focus on 3rd person interpretation. We decouple the overt “lived text” from the so-called author. Paging BF Skinner.

      How does the elimination of authorship not result in a form of nihilism? The overlaps between cognitive eliminativism and poststructuralism are palpable and amusing. There is a *reductio* to be had here. Bandura (quoted above) supplied his own.

      Interestingly I read some stuff not too long ago where Zizek compared and contrasted Derrida and Dennett. Dennett at least tries to salvage something workable out of volition, though he seems to be losing fondness for “free will” itself. See his preface to the recent edition of Elbow Room.

      • Posted August 30, 2018 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        As you appear deeply into this subject let me provide my own rather complex counterargument. Regarding the objection you make on selfhood Hemi, I certainly accept that external inputs (parents, peers, culture etc.) come into play in forming the selfhood but this is certainly not ALL that’s involved in its formation. The self develops as we grow from childhood. We acknowledge this in the way we eventually hold children responsible for their moral behaviour – setting a mark near adulthood where we deem the fully person morally responsible. Why do we do this? Because by that time we expect that selfhood is sufficiently developed. Now let us examine exactly how this self forming takes place. First let me point out that what is ALWAYS present in a self forming episode…. is the present state of the self. We are in, as Douglas Hofstandter states it, a “Strange Loop”. We are, in digital systems terms a “State Machine. There is a combinational input on the input side – the external events at time t PLUS the feedback of the present state of the self at time t. This leads to the formation of the next iteration of the self at t+1. We are also “self reflective” – i.e. we can, and do, oftentimes consider the present state of the self as a only input to the state machine and form a new iteration of the self. Now you might argue that each such iteration is totally deterministic – the result therefore pre-determined. But the reality is that the causal chain is broken – not just by quantum effects but by system noise and in variability of neural sensitivities (which are hybrid and not just digital). This is all engineering speak – but Robert Kane describes these mechanisms clearly in philosophical terms (as does Dennett). In summary to a sufficient degree we form ourselves – our volitions, desires, and values. We have free will. We have RESPONSIBILITY for our actions… and in developing actions we “could do otherwise”. As for moral responsibility both Dennett and Peter Van Inwagen argue once we have a role in setting our volitions and desires we have moral responsibility along with that free will.

        • Posted August 30, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          I think a determinist would claim that system noise, etc. is also determined. What is considered noise is usually in the mind of the beholder. Scientists and engineers routinely find causes of noise and incorporate them into their models. There’s always some noise left but can’t that be regarded as input about which we have no knowledge rather than input without a cause?

          • Posted August 31, 2018 at 9:24 am | Permalink

            Sorry Paul… it just won’t play.
            Noise is random just as quantum unpredictability. Neural function itself, as I said, is a “hybrid” signalling – part digital and part analog. Anything analog is particularly susceptible to noise influence. If everything was truly unalterably deterministic the incompatibilists would win this argument – but neural behaviour is influenced by random effects – so the “causal chain” is broken. The argument that randomness can’t really allow for freedom is invalid in the case of self forming… just as with the argument that random mutation could never lead to evolved complexity. In both cases SELECTION comes into play – in Evolution it’s natural selection, and in free will it is the SELF that sets selection.

            • Posted August 31, 2018 at 9:32 am | Permalink

              Science has no idea what neural signals mean other than a few obvious ones close to sense neurons. The best it can do at this point is to document correlations. Mixed digital and analog seems safe though as it covers all (ie, both) the bases. This pretty much puts the rest about causal chains, etc. in the category of pure speculation.

              • Posted August 31, 2018 at 9:42 am | Permalink

                You don’t need to understand what the signals mean to know that the circuitry carrying them are susceptible to noise influences. Determining that susceptible nature is EASY.

              • Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

                Not necessary to know what they *do* to know that (a) they are consistent with fundamental physics [e.g., conservation laws] and (b) how they originate and propagate. Consequentently one is still caught in the same dilemma.

              • Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

                I would be the last to suggest brains don’t follow physical laws. I take that as a basic assumption.

              • Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

                Following physical law involves randomness. This lies at the very foundation of modern physics. Here we do have indeterminacy. And indeterminacy breaks direct causal chains with external conditions. You cannot rewind the clock a million times to the same set of initial conditions and always get one specific inevitable outcome. In as much as physical law holds we certainly have determinism – but not causal rigidity in possible outcomes.

    • Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Where does the self come from? Is it responsible for itself? How do the forming events work? Why are they different simply because they occurred earlier?

  34. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Huh?

  35. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    You’re dodging around my point. I’m not even going to touch how awful it is for a depressed person to be told to go get some exercise. Regardless of how you see things when dealing with depressed people, the reason it was something with such stigma for so long is because people held depressed people as responsible for their condition because they could choose otherwise. They arrive at that conclusion because they see them as separate from their bodies…a mind or soul or will vs a body and brain. That is classic dualism and most people out there today are dualists.

    • Posted August 29, 2018 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      You are misrepresenting my position. I am not trying to recommend exercise and think-positive as a general cure for depression. I thought I made that clear. However, those things have been recognized by professionals as helpful in alleviating depression. Do you really dispute that? I recognize again that there are people who are depressed so severely that those remedies are ineffective and inappropriate.

      I also recognize that there are dualists in the world who believe as you say and that it affects what they say to depressed people. This is best dealt with by talking them out of a belief in dualism. Since I am not a dualist, it doesn’t apply to me.

      I suspect telling depressed people to get some exercise is an ancient folk remedy and it’s survival as a meme is because it sometimes is effective. I don’t want to make my argument about me personally but I think exercise is effective in fighting my own occasional bouts of depression. Here’s a Mayo Clinic article on the subject: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 29, 2018 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        No, I don’t dispute the evidence, but I do think when people say that to someone it comes across as dismissive of their issue. I had a person tell me to “snap out of it” and told me I was “selfish” when I was severely depressed because I was “stressing her out”. I also had a person that told me my migraines were nothing as whenever she gets a headache, she just goes for a walk because sunshine on her face makes it better. What I’m saying is saying that to someone is not something a clinically depressed person needs to hear most of the time, even if you are trying to be helpful and even if you have read the research because to them, it is not taking their situation seriously.

        But this is way off topic from what we were talking about regarding determinism. It’s dangerous to think in a cartesian dualist way and doing so denies determinism and materialism and everything that is real. The results are catastrophic.

  36. Posted August 29, 2018 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I agree with what most folks are saying about the justice system. It’s just that I don’t see that we really NEED determinism in order to reform the justice (punishment) system.

  37. Tim HANRAHAN
    Posted September 7, 2018 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    There are two possibilities:

    (1) Libertarian Free Will is real.
    (2) The universe – moment by moment – is playing out as it inevitably must: everything that anyone has ever felt, thought, said or done was, is and always will be entirely unavoidable. There is no “should”.


%d bloggers like this: