Is there evidence for libertarian free will? Part 1.

I’ll try to put up two posts on this topic today as a single one would probably be too long, falling into the TL; DR category.

About two weeks ago, kvetching about the Templeton Foundation’s incursion into and corruption of philosophy and biology, I wrote about Dan Dennett’s criticism of Templeton. This came up when Dan reviewed a book by Alfred Mele,: Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will (2014). At the end of his review, Dennett “threw shade” on Mele for taking so much money from Templeton. (Mele responded, of course). But because Dan liked the book, and it’s short (less than 100 small pages), I went ahead and read Free. I’m going to ignore Templeton here and concentrate on Mele’s book. I’ll just say that Mele’s conclusion, that contracausal free will may be pervasive, is clearly something Templeton would throw money at.

I wasn’t impressed with the book. Mele does point out a few alternative interpretations to experiments like Benjamin Libet’s which apparently show that some decisions can be predicted with accuracy of up to 80% by brain-scanning as far as ten seconds before the actor is conscious of having made a decision. Some of Mele’s criticisms are useful, while others are not. Mele’s main objection is that the real decisions we make are based on rational pondering and consideration, and these decisions are very different from the simple binary choices predicted by brain-scanning studies. To that I reply “so what”?

First, it’s possible that you can engage in complex reasoning before making a binary decision, and I can think of lab experiments that could see if those decisions could also be predicted by brain scanning. (It would be harder, since training the subject to do the experiment beforehand would be more difficult.) More important, “reasoning” and “cogitation” are just complex computer processes that go on at various levels in many species of animal, and why should those be independent of the laws of physics? The input may be complex, but the output is still limited.

Mele’s conception of free will in this case is similar to that of Dennett’s in Freedom Evolves: free will is the fact that when an agent arrives at the ability to ponder different scenarios, cogitate, and then make a “rational” decision, that process constitutes free will, regardless of whether (as Dennett believes), such decisions are purely deterministic. This is a form of compatibilist free will, in which “free will” is conceived as something that is perforce compatible with determinism. (By “determinism, I mean “obeying the laws of physics, including purely indeterministic phenomena like quantum mechanics”.)

But Mele actually considers two forms of free will. The one above he calls “modest free will”, defined as “having the ability to make—and act on the basis of—rational informed decisions when you’re not being subjected to undue force” (p. 78).

The other form, which is libertarian, he calls “ambitious free will”, requiring what he calls “deep openness”. In this form of free will, says Mele, “free agents have open to them alternative decisions that are compatible with everything that has already happened and with the laws of nature” (p. 79). This is clearly contracausal or “you-could-have-done-otherwise” free will.

Which one does Mele adhere to in his book? Well, it’s not clear, since he lays out different varieties at the outset, and the last paragraph of his book implies that science has refuted neither of the two versions described above. He’s wrong about “ambitious” free will.

Mele:

So, you ask, does free will exist? If you mean what I call modest free will, I say yes without hesitation. If you mean what I call ambitious free will, I say the jury is still out. In fact, this point about the jury is the main moral of this book. Scientists have most definitely not proved that free will—is an illusion. For all we know now, ambitious free will is widespread. If it isn’t, at least modest free will is.

That’s a pretty weaselly statement. What I would say is this: “For all we know now, ambitious free will—contracausal, you-could-have-done-otherwise free will is NOT widespread.” That’s because such free will requires violating the laws of physics in such a way that at a given point in time, with every molecule in the same place and everything leading up to a “decision identical”, you could have decided differently. Now the only thing that could create such different behavior is quantum mechanics, and we don’t know if quantum mechanics can even play a role in human decisions. And even if it can, that is not “free will” in the sense that an agent you, would be making the decision instead of an indeterministic movement of a particle.  If you are going to promulgate the idea that at a given point in time you can really make “alternative decisions”—decisions that you (rather than an errant electron) decide, then you are suggesting that humans can flout the laws of physics. This is magic.

While some people punt and say that you can have contracausal free will without flouting those laws, I don’t see how that’s possible. Such an attitude is profoundly anti-naturalistic given that are brains are made of molecules.  Compatibilist free will? “Yes”, of course, because you can define anything as free will so long as it doesn’t disobey the laws of physics. But the form of free will to which most people adhere is a contracausal free will, as surveys show. True, philosophers adhere to compatibilist free will, but I’m not so much concerned with what academic philosophers think about the topic than I am about what the average person thinks about free will. It’s just like I’m more concerned with what the average believer thinks about God than what Sophisticated Theologians™ like Karen Armstrong think about God.

But Mele’s “ambitious free will” does flout the laws of physics, and in that sense the jury, which is physics, has already decided against it. I am in fact surprised that Dan liked Mele’s book so much given that Mele leaves open the possibility of contracausal free will, something that Dan rejects.

There are other problems with Mele’s book as well. He uses as evidence for free will the fact that in some “identical” situations, such as Milgram’s famous “shock the subject” experiments, not everybody behaved the same way. Some people continued to up the fake shocks as the subject pretended to be in pain, while others desisted. In Zimbardo’s famous “prison experiment”, some of the guards were nasty to the prisoners, while others weren’t. As Mele argues:

If situations really did completely determine behavior, then everyone in the same situation would act the same way. But only some of the guards acted cruelly; others didn’t. This pessimistic view of decisions isn’t true to the facts.

Mele does this over and over again, ignoring the fact that the “situation” isn’t the same for everyone: the subjects have different genes, different life experiences, and had different experiences of the prisoners or subjects of these experiments. To say that determinism and a lack of free will predicts that everyone will act the same in an experiment is to evince shoddy thinking. And that, in fact, is the subject of the next post in this series, describing an experiment that Mele uses in his book to support “ambitious” free will.

Unlike Dan, I can’t recommend Mele’s book. It is tendentious, regardless of whether Templeton had a hand in funding the research (there’s a long and butt-kissy acknowledgement to the Templeton Foundation at the beginning). In fact, while reading it I felt that I was stuck in Fulsome Prison.

 

69 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 3, 2019 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Sub

    • GBJames
      Posted March 3, 2019 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Ya, sub.

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 3, 2019 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    First, it’s possible that you can engage in complex reasoning before making a binary decision

    Hell, I do that every time I pull out the delivery menus and try to decide between Chinese and Italian.

    • Posted March 3, 2019 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Have both. Order in Ciao Mein.

    • Posted March 4, 2019 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Years ago, Toronto had a “Marco Polo” restaurant to allow one to not have to make that choice. Unfortunately it wasn’t (from what I remember) very good at either cuisine …

  3. Posted March 3, 2019 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Furthermore, Mele’s assuming a neurotypical standard for cogitation that is no more “free” than someone cogitating from the impulsive mindset of a personality disorder. The personality disordered individual has little or no room for such modest “freedom,” while the neurotypical is merely basking in their self-satisfied ability to engage in more discursive exercises.

    • Christopher
      Posted March 3, 2019 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      If I had free will, I would choose to not struggle with depression or severe social and generalized anxiety.

      • Posted March 3, 2019 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        The compatibilist equation for mental health freedom: “Modest free will” occurs by ingesting selective serotonergic reuptake inhibitors. “Ambitious free will” occurs when the pharmaceutical company determines price setting.

  4. FB
    Posted March 3, 2019 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    What does the word “free” even mean? The words “random” or “deterministic” have a clear meaning. But “free” doesn’t mean anything that I can comprehend.

    Something that is neither random nor deterministic is not free: it’s irrational.

    Anything that is rational obeys the laws of physics or the laws of reason.

    “Anything” includes God: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/divine-freedom/

    • Posted March 3, 2019 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      What does the word “free” even mean?

      Oxford Dictionaries: “free”: “Able to act or be done as one wishes; not under the control of another”.

      Thus a dog on a chain is less free than a dog able to roam where it wishes.

      • FB
        Posted March 3, 2019 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, but that’s the everyday sense.

        • Posted March 3, 2019 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

          If determinism is true, that’s the only kind we have. I believe it’s the only kind that matters to us unless you are a theoretical physicist.

          • FB
            Posted March 3, 2019 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

            I think that the everyday meaning is different than the philosophical meaning. Example: “I’m free to express my opinion that free will is an illusion”. That’s not a contradiction precisely because the first “free” is different from the other.

            • Posted March 3, 2019 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

              Sure but when people are asked if they could have decided otherwise, they are not thinking about repeating an experiment in which all conditions are identical. Instead, they are thinking that if they made a similar decision again, they could make it differently. The experiment can’t be done as it is not possible to hold all conditions constant. The universe evolves from state to state such that the experiment the philosophers talk about is not possible. Everyday free will, on the other hand, easily allows us to make a decision differently when conditions change. After all, what would be the point in making a different decision if absolutely everything is the same?

              • Ralph
                Posted March 3, 2019 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

                Yet the question of whether you could have done otherwise under precisely identical circumstances is critical. That kind of free will is the basis for most major religions. It underlies the notion of “mens rea” and our criminal justice system. That kind of free will doesn’t exist, and that realization compels a major paradigm shift in practical ethics.

              • Posted March 3, 2019 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

                Good point. I was referring to the normal interpretation of “could do otherwise”. I agree that the criminal could not have done otherwise because we are talking about a single event in the universe, the decision to commit the crime. However, if we go that way then absolutely nothing we do matters anymore. We are all just automatons playing out the evolution of the big bang. While we ARE such automatons, assuming determinism to be true, letting it filter into everyday life changes much more than the criminal justice system. Nothing we decide could have been done otherwise. To apply it solely to the criminal justice system seems unreasonable. But if we apply it to everything, society would cease to exist as we know it. We shouldn’t laud Einstein for his accomplishments as he couldn’t have done otherwise. Surely you can see where this leads.

                (BTW, I agree that the criminal justice system needs reform but I think we have much better reasons than lack of free will. I also don’t think arguments from fundamental physics will be very compelling.)

              • FB
                Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

                I think that even if you could have done otherwise you still don’t have free will. I don’t see why using your reasoning faculties and doing whatever you want means that you are free, you’re not: you obey your own reasoning (and of course your reasoning can be wrong) or you’re irrational, therefore not free.

              • Posted March 4, 2019 at 11:47 am | Permalink

                Help, my own reasoning made me do it! I’m enslaved by myself!

                ???

              • Posted March 4, 2019 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

                The brainfart defense!

    • Posted March 3, 2019 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Actually, the meaning of random is not clearly defined. When we apply it to a deterministic process like the throw of a set of dice, it reflects our ignorance of the precise values of state variables. When we apply it to a quantum process, like the decay of a neutron, it relects an actual lack of causality.

      • FB
        Posted March 3, 2019 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        I agree. But in this context -a discussion about free will- I think the meaning is clear.

      • Posted March 4, 2019 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        It can mean something different in the first case – meaning a conflation of a whole bunch of causal lines. (This is similar to the “coarse graining” idea in physics.) Neither of these has to due with knowledge or lack of same, which is the point.

  5. Mark R.
    Posted March 3, 2019 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Did you mean Folsom prison (not Fulsome)? As in the Johnny Cash song? Either way, I liked the imagery and it made me chuckle.

    And why would anyone think that a controlled situation would generate the same response by different individuals. That’s one of the silliest arguments I’ve read.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 3, 2019 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      I too enjoy the idea of a “fulsome” prison. I actually dislike that word because where I work everyone uses it all the time.

      • Mark R.
        Posted March 3, 2019 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        Interesting, I never hear that word. Maybe I don’t get out enough.

        BTW, I like your new Gravatar…a wise choice. 🙂

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          Thanks re: gravatar – I enjoy an angry owl.

          I work in higher ed now so “fulsome” could be something endemic to it. I never heard it anywhere else & now whenever I hear it I cringe. It’s how I started to feel about “boil the ocean” and “analysis paralysis”.

  6. Ralph
    Posted March 3, 2019 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    If Mele is using the argument that “different people acted differently in different situations”, then he simply doesn’t understand the debate at all, which seems bizarre for somebody writing a book on the subject. It’s common for people FIRST encountering the debate to think that it’s about something like nature vs nurture, but of course it’s has nothing whatsoever to do with that.

    And on a more substantial matter, nothing in the free will debate really hinges on Libet or subsequent investigations. If it turns out that conscious computation precedes the decision, so what? It’s still computation, not magic. We can even stipulate mind-body dualism, and it doesn’t help the free will argument. It’s not a question of finding a physical mechanism or the “seat” of free will, there is simply no coherent LOGICAL account of the sequence of events in how contra-causal could-have-done-otherwise free will is supposed to work. If decision-making varies independently of “reasons”, if it is non-deterministic, then by definition it can only vary randomly. Nobody has pinned down this magical realm where outcomes are neither deterministic NOR stochastic.

    • Steve Gerrard
      Posted March 3, 2019 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Yes this.

      A deterministic self of necessity produces deterministic decisions. If they are made in the absence of external coercion, they are deemed free choices.

      A non-deterministic self, on the other hand, is a quivering blob of chaos with no discernible identity. That produces a free will which is emphatically not worth having.

      Do you really want to be free enough to wake up tomorrow thinking you are Oprah Winfrey? Didn’t think so (unless you are Oprah). Be thankful your self is deterministic enough that you can consistently be yourself.

    • Posted March 3, 2019 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      ” Mele is using the argument that „different people acted differently in different situations“, then he simply doesn’t understand the debate at all, which seems bizarre for somebody writing a book on the subject.”

      That were exactly my thoughts too.

      • Alex
        Posted March 8, 2019 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

        Well said.

    • Alex
      Posted March 8, 2019 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

      Well said Ralph.

  7. Posted March 3, 2019 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Why Dennett recommends Mele’s book?

    Because he himself is completely inconsistent in his statements concerning free will, and I think it can be said that this is an inconsistency that can be encountered on most representatives of compatibilism (usually philosophers): on the one hand there is lip service to determinism (one wants to demonstrate that one is at the height of the scientific age), on the other side there are all sorts of redefinitions and reformulations of what free will is. And these wordy efforts are nothing more than the use of a nebulising tactic for telling people what they want to hear: That they are somehow masters of their decisions after all.
    This is the same tactic that theologians and priests use when they talk about the compatibility of scientific perspectives and the possibility of God’s existence.

    • Posted March 3, 2019 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      … on the other side there are all sorts of redefinitions and reformulations of what free will is.

      Except that these “reformulations” have just as much pedigree as the “libertarian” interpretation of “free will”.

    • Posted March 3, 2019 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Redefinitions and reformulations are really how intelligent people discuss issues like “free will”. You calling them a “tactic” is an attempt to demean that process without engaging with ideas.

  8. Posted March 3, 2019 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t see any earthshaking significance to Libet’s findings to those who look for woo in how the brain works. Decision-making takes time for all computers, including the brain. The fact that we now have technology that can spy on the process and detect the decision being made before the subject knows it is not at all surprising. In fact, it would really be odd if these things happened all at once.

    Consciousness is clearly a mechanism that allows us to reflect on things over a period of time, unlike simple reactions where the behavior is produced as soon as possible after the triggering perception. This very nature disconnects in time from the simple reaction. Not only does it take time for a decision to percolate into one’s consciousness, that’s the whole idea.

    • Posted March 3, 2019 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Consciousness is clearly a mechanism that allows us to reflect on things over a period of time

      Speaking from personal experience, I don’t think it is clear.

      But this supposed consciousness is completely determined as the chemical reactions that go to form it. So we are somehow redefining free will as an ability to ruminate and then act on the rumination. Ignoring the issue that the ruminations themselves are completely determined.

      • Posted March 3, 2019 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        It isn’t clear? My consciousness allows me to roll ideas around over minutes and even hours. We all run simulations in our minds in order to make some decisions. Should I have pizza or a sandwich for lunch? I prefer pizza but it has more calories. But perhaps I’ll skip dinner to compensate. Ok, pizza it is! To me, that’s consciousness. When I flinch when my cat jumps into my face, that’s unconscious. The past event is available to my consciousness but not the decision to flinch.

        • Ralph
          Posted March 3, 2019 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          No it’s not clear at all. How is it that after hours, or days of rolling ideas around, a decision suddenly emerges? How is that after years of knowing cigarettes are bad for me, one day I wake up and decide to quit?

          The “rolling ideas around” is part of what consciousness is, sure. But it doesn’t follow that any decision is made consciously. My intuition is the opposite.

          • Posted March 3, 2019 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

            You might be right in a sense. The kind of distinction you are trying to make here is outside our current knowledge of the brain. If we knew how the brain worked, we could presumably label various parts or states as “conscious” or “unconscious” which would make such questions concrete and answerable. Unfortunately, we’re not close yet.

            Even if I were to grant that the final decision to give up cigarettes was unconscious, certainly what you consciously thought about played a role in the outcome of that decision. So all we are differing on is whether a decision includes all the processing that led up to the final act or just the final act itself. I posit this is just a labeling issue.

  9. Posted March 3, 2019 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    “Mele’s conception of free will in this case is similar to that of Dennett’s in Freedom Evolves: free will is the fact that when an agent arrives at the ability to ponder different scenarios, cogitate, and then make a „rational“ decision, that process constitutes free will, regardless of whether (as Dennett believes), such decisions are purely deterministic.”

    If something is purely deterministically based – as in this case to make decisions – then it cannot in any way be free at the same time.

    There is even no such thing as a ” non-rational /irrational decision” .
    What even means “rational”? It derives from Latin ” ratio” which originally means “calculation”.
    Since each decision is based on algorithmic calculations of the neural network, the phrase “rational decision” is nothing but a tautology. ( That there are better and worse decisions has nothing to do with it, but it is mixed up with it by these philosophers ).

    And if Dennett makes such announcements, that deterministic decisions could also be free at the same time, and thus be expression of a free will, then one cannot take him seriously any more.

    • Posted March 3, 2019 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      “If something is purely deterministically based – as in this case to make decisions – then it cannot in any way be free at the same time.”

      Why not?

  10. alangrohe
    Posted March 3, 2019 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Dan Dennett continues to stir his semantic slurry around the free will question. Freedom “evolves” just enough to justify his own good fortune in this best of all possible stances. After all, we each must cultivate our vineyard.

    Candidly, it is a bit insulting that the compatibilists keep bringing up this gun-to-the-head analogy. Everything can be considered a gun as the wave function collapses into a decision: Cold room? gun. Hungry? gun. Dopamine receptors full? gun. Ancestry, past environments, mt DNA, actual gun? gungungungun. A million tiny triggers.

    Dennett’s academic reputation casts a long shadow over discussions of free will. The rapture monkeys use it to hide their vengeful god. Dennett himself seems to be scared of it.

    • Posted March 3, 2019 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      But a lot of human concepts are about interactions with other humans. So “freedom” is about a gun to the head or being put in jail, but not about past ancestry, just because the concept is about how one interacts with other humans in the here and now.

      • Posted March 3, 2019 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        An individual’s knowledge of ancestors and approval/rejection of their purported behaviors impact that individual’s decisions in the “here and now”. The individual’s life (including all prior contacts with people, sources of knowledge, decisions previously made, etc.) determine a decision made in the “here and Now”. The choices are neither unlimited or binary.

  11. BJ
    Posted March 3, 2019 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    “Now the only thing that could create such different behavior is quantum mechanics, and we don’t know if quantum mechanics can even play a role in human decisions. And even if it can, that is not “free will” in the sense that an agent you, would be making the decision instead of an indeterministic movement of a particle. If you are going to promulgate the idea that at a given point in time you can really make “alternative decisions”—decisions that you (rather than an errant electron) decide, then you are suggesting that humans can flout the laws of physics. This is magic.”

    I don’t understand why this idea would “flout the laws of physics.” It seems to me that physics — and, in particular, quantum mechanics, and how the different models that we have yet to be able to combine — are not nearly as well understood as is necessary to take an absolute, hard-line stance that there is no possibility of free will existing. So, I guess the question I’m asking is: why take an absolute stance rooted solely on classical physics when you know that there is much more that we don’t know? I understand that free will seems to violate the law of classical physics, but we have no idea if it violates the laws of quantum mechanics or an integrative model that has yet to be produced, to say nothing of the many other viable theories to explain the many things we still don’t know or understand about physics (e.g. multiverse theory which, if certain theories of it are correct, could be a mechanism that allows for free will).

    • Posted March 3, 2019 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      “It seems to me that physics — and, in particular, quantum mechanics, and how the different models that we have yet to be able to combine — are not nearly as well understood…”

      Cue Sean Carroll.

      http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/29/seriously-the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-really-are-completely-understood/

      • BJ
        Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        What I find interesting here is that he does admit that there are many unknowns, and he simply thinks that the most likely answer is that, ultimately, even if it takes decades, those answers will be explained by the laws we already have.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted March 3, 2019 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

          Sure there are unknown processes of physics. But as Sean Carroll has explained, they occur at the subatomic and cosmic levels and are, thus, orders of magnitude too weak to have an impact on everyday life, including to have in impact on human brain function.

          The only physicist I know of who argues that quantum effects might act at the level of brain function, is Roger Penrose, but his views in this regard have been roundly rejected by other physicists.

          In any event, even if Penrose is correct, that would appear merely to introduce uncertainty into the process, not provide a basis for the exercise of contra-causal free will.

      • Posted March 4, 2019 at 5:07 am | Permalink

        And cue Sean Carroll again:
        http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/07/13/free-will-is-as-real-as-baseball

        Physics precludes the libertarian misinterpretation of free will, but my advice is to stop barking up the wrong “free”.

    • Ralph
      Posted March 3, 2019 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      No, I think this is completely mistaken.

      I’ll grant you unknown physical processes. I’ll grant you mind-body dualism, souls, magic, whatever you want. Even when Harry Potter waves his wand, there’s a causal relationship between things.

      Free will does not inhere in determinism. Free will also does not inhere in randomness, in rolling a dice to make a decision. It’s simply an incoherent concept, it’s nonsense.

      What is the LOGICAL relationship between two events if it is neither deterministic nor random? Either A has some causal relationship to B or it doesn’t. Those two cases are mutually exclusive.

      You can’t rescue nonsense by invoking unknown physics.

      • BJ
        Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        Why can’t free will be encapsulated within randomness? Also, why does an an event have to be deterministic or random? Is it impossible that there is a third choice: that, every time we make a decision, we affect something material? And maybe one could even call that randomness, in which case I don’t see why free will cannot exist within a random world.

        Again, it is this hardline stance that bothers me. 80 years ago, the idea of the Higgs Boson would have been considered ridiculous. Then it was postulated, and improved, and then finally discovered.

        I actually believe that the deterministic view is the most likely, but I refuse to not leave room for free will. Just as Richard Dawkins has refused to completely close the door on the existence of a god, and in that case, that’s simply an idea that can have no explanation. Still, he refuses to completely close the door on it.

        I’m always bothered by surety in the face of uncertainty. I find it an arrogant position.

        • Kosmos
          Posted March 3, 2019 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

          But since contra-causal free will is logically incoherent we will NEVER be able to discover it even if it somehow does exist. So you will always have to take such free will on faith.

        • Posted March 4, 2019 at 5:09 am | Permalink

          You don’t need that third choice. Determinism is probably true, and every time we make a decision, we affect something material.

  12. Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    OT. Not exactly on topic but I have a thought experiment paradox on determinism and free will.

    Suppose you had a super-computer with complete knowledge—a Laplace’s demon—that could predict what I will do at some future date. That would certainly convince me that I don’t have free will. But if I knew what your super-computer predicts, then I could just do something different, proving that I do have free will. So somehow what your super-computer predicts would have to be kept secret from me. But if you have the technology to build a super-computer to predict what I will do, then I can build a super-computer to predict what your super-computer predicts that I will do, so again I’ll do something different. This means that your super-computer has to predict what my super-computer predicts and my super-computer has to predict what your super-computer predicts and so on in endless recursion (turtles all the way down.) I don’t know if this is relevant to the question of free will, but I thought it was interesting.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      But the Demon Super Computer (DSC) would predict that you’d do something different because it would know that you knew about its existence because it’s a DSC & it knows all the variables.

      Incidentally, the sci-fi book series, Hyperion addresses this but I don’t know if it does in the first book – a race of AI attempt to make Laplace’s demon that they would consider a god.

      • Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        But my (under my control) super-computer is a DSC as well, so I can use it to predict what another DSC will predict I will do so I will know the prediction and will act to contradict the prediction.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

          And the DSCs will already know of one another and every move they make so they will simply predict everything each other and everyone else will do.

          • Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

            But where does it end? It looks like infinite regress. Somehow I have to be kept from knowing the prediction or I’ll spite it.

            • Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

              I don’t see a Nash equilubrium.

              • Posted March 4, 2019 at 5:14 am | Permalink

                The Nash equilibrium is your DSC moves outside of the enemy DSC’s lightcone, so that the enemy can’t access its computations in time to make its prediction. Then your DSC can generate a random option for you and you win the prediction game an overwhelming majority of times.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted March 3, 2019 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think it’s being kept from but it’s simply everything is predictable by DSC so really you wouldn’t be able to outsmart it, even with your own DSC because you are all part of the laws of physics and the DSCs are all knowing.

              • Posted March 3, 2019 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

                I’ve got it! There can be only one DSC. Monotheism.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 3, 2019 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

                Monodemonism. 🙂

          • BJ
            Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

            All of this is making me think of Colossus: The Forbin Project. Not all that relevant, but still what came to mind.

            Man, I really need to watch that movie again. I haven’t seen it in a few years.

          • Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

            PS I like your new avatar.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted March 3, 2019 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

              Thanks – I decided to break down & finally just log into WP though I’m still getting grief on one device as it refuses to remember that I’ve logged in before.

    • Posted March 4, 2019 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Popper tried to argue the same way. It fails. (Why? Elliptically: look up fixed points in the dictionary of math. :))

  13. CAS
    Posted March 4, 2019 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    “Mele does this over and over again, ignoring the fact that the “situation” isn’t the same for everyone: the subjects have different genes, different life experiences, and had different experiences of the prisoners or subjects of these experiments. To say that determinism and a lack of free will predicts that everyone will act the same in an experiment is to evince shoddy thinking.” Yes!
    Not including the differences in the actor is so clearly wrong (never mind the total lack of truly identical external circumstances) that it’s silly! Is Dan losing a step?

  14. Posted March 4, 2019 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Putting an organism into “the same situation” again and again shows something other than “free will” – it shows memory. And even items like some metals have memory of a sort.


%d bloggers like this: