A new movie on free will

The new movie Free Will Documentary—presumably an interim title—won’t be released until next year, but I’m looking forward to it eagerly. And that’s not just because I was interviewed for it, but because it touches on a topic dear to my heart, because the four filmmakers (Mike Walsh, Jeremy Levy, Mitch Joseph, and Edward Tasick) are professionals who had educated themselves deeply about the controversy before they picked up their cameras, and because I want to hear what the interviewees have to say about it.  I believe I was filmed dilating on the topic for over two hours, and they used one quote from me in the blurb, and give “teaser” videos from other people (see below).

You can read about the film and its mission here. It seems to be an open-minded presentation of all points of view, which is good: it acquaints viewers with the controversy and helps them achieve a point of view. The mission statement:

Amazingly, there’s never been a major documentary dedicated entirely to the free will debate, despite the importance that the concept has to our sense of identity, and the numerous books written on the topic in recent years. “Free will” seems to be a trending subject that everyone now has an opinion on.

That’s where we come in. 

Having studied the subject matter for years we will offer what is perhaps a unique perspective. So we’re gathering the best minds available on every side of the issue—libertarians, determinists, compatibilists, theists and non-theists alike—to offer the best arguments from each side. The mission will be to educate the viewer on all aspects of free will, the arguments, and the evidence, so that they will be able to approach the subject matter with a level of reasoning far beyond a lay person’s understanding. In a sense, we want to change the cultural zeitgeist on its understanding of free will.

Participants include Gregg Caruso, Dan Dennett, Dan Barker, Derek Pereboom, Robert Kane, Massimo Pigliucci, Coleman Hughes, Nitin Ron, and me, as well as voices from the past (Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein) and—something that should be fun—interviews with people in Times Square about whether they believed in free will.

There are some short videos on their site, and I’ll show three: my intellectual opponent Dan “I’m Not Through With You Yet” Dennett, some interviews in Times Square, and a quote from Einstein with a blurb by producer and writer Mitch Joseph.

Here Dan explains why compatibilism is the most popular view of philosophers: some notion of free will is necessary for people “to live civilized lives in close quarters.”

Surprisingly, several of the people interviewed on the street don’t accept free will:

Einstein was right, of course. . .

 

And the film has an Instagram Page.

I’ll keep you updated as the film’s release approaches. Apparently it’s “feature length”, which means more than an hour. Now I don’t know how much this topic will interest a public weaned on Batman and Mad Max films, as it’s really an intellectual voyage, and how many movies are there like that?  But if any film like that has a chance, this one does. (There seems to have been an Italian movie about the topic two years ago, but I haven’t seen it.) I can’t tell you how impressed I was with the filmmakers’ questions when they interviewed me. They had done months and years of groundwork.

Some self aggrandizement:

 

h/t: Paul

53 Comments

  1. Posted August 17, 2019 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    “It’s harder to convince an atheist of the truth of determinism …”

    Is that really so? Most of the disagreement with PCC-E on this forum is from compatibilists, who of course fully accept determinism. There are few atheists here arguing for a dualistic soul or anything such.

    • Tim Reichert
      Posted August 17, 2019 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      Compatibilists claim to accept determinism but their arguments for compatibilism belie this claim.

      • Posted August 17, 2019 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        I would suggest, then, that you’ve not understood compatiblism.

        Nearly every anti-compatibilist argument here is along the lines: “you’re hankering after some form of dualistic, contra-causal free will that negates determinism, and you can’t have it because …”. Which entirely misses the point.

        • Tim Reichert
          Posted August 18, 2019 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          Indeed I do not understand compatibilism nor do I understand Catholicism.

          • Vaal
            Posted August 18, 2019 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

            Tim, surely you understand the difference between, say, a man imprisoned in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison, and NOT being in that situation, like you and the rest of us here?

            There are obvious difference to identify in the range of desires the prisoner can fulfill, and those of us not incarcerated. Right? I have far, far more options to take if I want to <—important! – than the prisoner whose "freedom to do as he wants" is far more restricted.

            That's why we have terms like being "freed" from prison. Being "free" instead of not a slave, etc.

            Now, no doubt you want to say "but we aren't free to want what we want." Put that debatable claim aside for the moment, and at least please answer the above.

            Isn't it true that even given we are part of a deterministic system, there are still important differences to identify in terms of people in positions to take actions they want to take, vs those who want to take actions but are restricted from "being able to do what they want?"

            How would that actually be confusing, given like everyone else you no doubt use this concept in your everyday understanding of assessing people's ranges of "freedom?"

            • Tim Reichert
              Posted August 19, 2019 at 10:38 am | Permalink

              Vaal, you are confusing “free will” with “free action.” Jail restricts your ACTION but your WILL is equally determined whether you are in jail or out of jail. Think about it. If you had free will you could choose to want to stay in jail and then it’s not really jail right? If you want to be there then you’re not being held against your will. So why don’t people in jail just choose to want to be in jail? Wouldn’t they choose to do that if they had free will? Of course they would. It would make their life so much better. I’ll tell you why they don’t choose to do that. It’s because their will is not free. Both their actions and their will are restricted while they are in jail. Once they get out of jail their actions will now be more free but their “will” is still every bit as restricted by determinism as when they were in jail.

              Do you have any other examples? I love these.

    • Posted August 17, 2019 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Yes. I think PCC should have said “It’s harder to convince an atheist that determinism implies there is no free will…”. That seems to be the rub.

      • Posted August 17, 2019 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        The way Jerry would define “free will”, all compatibilists would agree that, yes, that sort of free will does not exist.

    • Posted August 17, 2019 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      What I meant here was that if an atheist isn’t a determinist to begin with, it’s harder to change his/her mind than it is to change the mind of a religionist about God’s nonexistence. I suspect that most atheists, at least those with a scientific bent, are determinists and thus don’t need to be argued with.

      • Posted August 17, 2019 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        As often happens in these discussions, “religionist” and “someone who believes in God” are presented as co-equal. While it may well be true that all religionists believe in God, not all people who believe in God are religionists. E.g., I believe in God but have no use whatever for religion. I wish this important distinction would be more widely acknowledged.

        • Posted August 17, 2019 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

          Simple belief in “God” is tantamount to religion. I suppose if it were possible to believe in a god and quarantine that belief from any behavior it might bring that belief to a level just slightly below the threshold of religion.

          It’s quite possible to be a “religionist” without believing in any god since there are other supernatural things one can believe and/or worship.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted August 17, 2019 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        Hey, but if you feel fab…!

      • Vaal
        Posted August 17, 2019 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the clarification.

        Though it does leave me a bit puzzled. In my experience it’s quite rare to encounter a fellow atheists who is not “determinists” in the sense that is relevant to the free will debate. That is those who would not have accepted that our actions, like any other physical entity, are “sufficiently determined” by physics.

        Sure I have seen some argue somewhat pedantically against a strict determinism by appealing to quantum indeterminacy etc. But then that seems to be more an argument about the nature of physics than free will. When the topic is free will, few atheist argue quantum physics grants us free will.

        So I’m not sure why they are such a target of interest for that quote.

        Which is why it seemed at first best interpreted as it being tough to convince an atheist of the *consequences of determinism to free will.*

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted August 17, 2019 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

          For me the point about quantum indeterminacy is that it means those who want to define free will as “could have done otherwise” need to clarify their definition. If physics permits alternate outcomes, but that doesn’t count as “doing otherwise”, then what exactly is “could have done otherwise” supposed to mean?

          • Posted August 17, 2019 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

            Hi Gregory. I am happy to see you posting again.

            What does “doing otherwise” mean? To me it means choosing otherwise among the alternatives we could have done in the virtual reality of our minds when we make a decision. Ultimately, we do a certain thing, but we realize we had other choices. But given the same conditions, we’d do the same again. To me “doing otherwise” is like a counterfactual history.

            • Vaal
              Posted August 17, 2019 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

              Yes.

              I worked out with the 25 lb weights, but I *could have* lifted the 50 lb weights *if I’d wanted to.*

              This counterfactual thinking is built in to our knowledge gathering and it’s how we reason our way to rational actions in the real world.

              • Ralph
                Posted August 18, 2019 at 2:19 am | Permalink

                And where does this “choosing” or “wanting” to do something else magically arise from, under precisely the same conditions? What is this if not a denial of determinism?

              • Vaal
                Posted August 18, 2019 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

                “And where does this “choosing” or “wanting” to do something else magically arise from, under precisely the same conditions?”

                From the physically determined workings of my brain. See. No magic. You are imagining magic, not actually pointing towards any magic in the compatibilist position.

                My brain is part of a physical, causal chain no doubt stretching back to the Big Bang, all of which led up to my making the choice, or wanting what I wanted. But my brain, what I want and what I decide are of course an indispensable part of that causal chain that explains the outcome of my choice.

                With enough knowledge you could in principle predict what decisions I am determined to make.

                But what you can’t do is leap right to the outcome of a decision – e.g. an action I’ve deliberated about – without including ME and MY brain and it’s deliberations in the chain.

                You could predict every painting Picasso painted. But you wouldn’t get those paintings without Picasso. You can’t remove his thoughts from the chain. So the best you can say is that his brain works in a physically determined way just like the rest of the universe that led up to his making decisions.

                Accepting that all things are determined in no way rationalizes “treating every determined thing” the same! Physical entities have different properties. That’s why you’d be upset after paying for a new car if they delivered you a banana. “What’s the problem? It’s all just physics and determinism, right?”

                So GIVEN DETERMINISM we have to talk about what type of things human brains can do that other entities like rocks or insects can’t do. Our brains allow us to have desires, goals, wants, allows us to make mental models of the environment as well as our physical capabilities, allows us to deliberate and reason about which actions are more or less likely to get the outcome we want, etc. And
                we have to acknowledge HOW we gather and convey “knowledge” about our physical world – what type of concepts WITHIN A DETERMINED SYSTEM allow us to understand “what is possible, or not” in this world. Which of necessity includes what actions are possible or not for us to take. That’s why “If/Then” and counterfactual reasoning is a necessary feature of our reasoning about the world.
                Otherwise we literally couldn’t conceive of any truths to help predict the world. We’d be stuck with only ever talking about “what happened” not what COULD happen…IF…we do X or Y.

                So before hitting the weights in the gym, to say “I COULD lift that 50 lb dumbbell IF I want to” isn’t to make a claim about something that has in fact as happened. This is just how we use our past experience of how the world is, and what we are capable of. Given I am strong enough, have lifted that weight many times before, and I’m suffering no unusual physical restrictions, then it’s “true” (or a reasonable inference) to say I could lift the dumbbell if I wanted to.

                If I chose instead to run on the treadmill I can still say “I could have lifted that dumbbell IF I wanted to.” That’s the same If/Then reasoning used to justify the previous claim. Just as my claim “I could lift that dumbbell” isn’t tied to that action actually having happened, saying “I could HAVE lifted that barbell” isn’t tied to THAT actually having happened. It’s just a normal way of understanding “what I am capable of doing” IF I want to do it. This method of apprehending truths about how the world operates, understanding what is possible, isn’t in opposition to determinism; it’s exactly how we’d HAVE TO THINK in order to know the world…GIVEN DETERMINISM.

                “What is this if not a denial of determinism?”

                If you can in fact point out where the above denies determinism, be my guest.

                I think what you really mean to say is that the compatibilist “denies the logical consequences of determinism in regards to choice/options/free will.” Well, obviously, we do disagree on that, but who can make the better argument that coheres with and makes sense of the widest range of our experience?

                The problem I find with hard incompatibilists is the start treating everything like an “illusion” – choice, agency, freedom, possibilities/could do otherwise etc. And this makes an incoherent mash of much of what we actually take to be empirical reasoning. (They just don’t seem to follow these implications out far enough to notice it).

                GIVEN determinism, would you deny the validity of reasoning about “possibilities” in the world? If so..you’ve got quite a job ahead of you to make sense of science and much of the basis of our reasoning.

              • Ralph
                Posted August 18, 2019 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

                Sure, personally I prefer not to express matters the way Jerry sometimes does, in saying that “we do not choose”. There is obviously a phenomenon called “choosing” in the functional sense. Choosing is data processing that takes place inside our brains, it accepts inputs and generate outputs. Choosing is simply computation that obeys the laws of physics.

                But deterministic computation is not free will.

              • Vaal
                Posted August 18, 2019 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

                Thanks again Ralph, but your reply is skipping over precisely the point of what I wrote.

                We both agree our choice-making is a deterministic form of computation.

                What I’m talking about is looking at what it IS that we are “computing”, when we are doing it. That is, what is the nature of our reasoning, the concepts involved, what form does it take and why? We need to understand that before dismissing things like “saying I could have done X” as denying determinism, or being untenable within determinism.

                That is the point of identifying that our computation must be about “possibilities” in order to know truths about the world and allow us to reason about “what is most likely to happen if we take X or Y action.”

                So the question remains: is the “if/then” hypothetical and counterfactual reasoning I pointed to valid given determinism or not?

                If it’s not valid, how would it be possible for us to reason about the world? How would this not totally undermine science and empirical inference in general? What could you replace it with?

                But if we need to understand “possibilities” in the way I have outlined given determinism, then would you admit that my case does not “deny” or contradict determinism as you initially implied?

              • Ralph
                Posted August 18, 2019 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

                I think you’re making an argument from consequences.

                Deterministic computation is what our brain does, and that’s not free will. If you dispute that, then make your argument in direct terms against it. If not, then you simply have to accept it, even if that means rethinking your worldview. Even if it is very weird, and even if it means that we must rethink our prior intuitions about what it means to choose, to reason, to think counterfactually, to do empirical science, whatever else.

                I don’t see anything in what you’ve said other than an assertion that consequences of a realization that we have no free will just seem too strange and difficult to accept.

              • Vaal
                Posted August 18, 2019 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                “I think you’re making an argument from consequences.”

                ONLY in the sense that all arguments appeal to consequences: the consequences to consistency, coherency, explanatory power, etc.

                You would be making precisely the type of appeal-to-consequences in making a counter argument.

                For instance, you claim that deterministic computation is what our brain does and that is not free will. That of course completely begs the question. But putting that aside, why am I supposed to accept your conclusion? No doubt you are appealing to some form of consequences for consistency and coherency, e.g. “computers do the same thing and we don’t think of them as free. If we accept that computers are not free because their computation is deterministic, we ought to accept our computation isn’t free because it is deterministic.

                Something like that, right?

                What if I just replied “Sorry, but all I see there is some appeal to consequences, that it would be too strange and difficult that we are free while computers are not free. Maybe you should just accept this weirdness and change your worldview.”

                That wouldn’t be actually engaging with the point of your argument, right? You are using the normal type of reasoning anyone does in an argument “if you accept A proposition over here yet reject it over there, these seem to be the consequences – inconsistency/incoherence – not to mention the consequences of being this inconsistent spread way out in to the validity of your other reasoning, given how inconsistent you are willing to be.

                I’m doing the same thing. I’m pointing out how you actually do accept hypothetical/counterfactual If/then reasoning as valid and giving true accounts of the world, why this is, and why you HAVE to accept it. The consequences of rejecting it are utterly profound and actually reach back to make your own stance self-contradictory. (Will you ever appeal to science at all in your argument against free will – e.g. our understanding of physics? Well then how will you do so without accepting precisely the type of reasoning I’ve described, which is used by science?).

                I’m just trying to get you to actually keep thinking through the consequences of what you think you are rejecting, so you can see them. When you talk in generalities of “maybe we have to change what it means to reason” you’ve left all your work ahead of you. You’ve undone empirical inference, the basis of science, and think “meh, so much for that, I know I’m right about this nonsense talk of possibilities though!”

                So, again, I understood you to claim that my use of a hypothetical “IF I wanted to I could have lifted that weight” as “denying determinism.”
                I’ve made the case for why it is actually required within a deterministic system of reasoning. Can you address that?

                Are you actually prepared to abandon the validity of talking about “possibilities” as a way of understanding the world? Have you truly thought through those consequences?
                For instance, can you actually convey truths, knowledge, about “how physics works” without using the concepts of If/then hypothetical inferences I’ve argued for? How in the world could you describe all the characteristics of, say, water – e.g. how it freezes, how it remains liquid, how it boils, how it evaporates, etc WITHOUT appealing to various “if/then” states of affairs of exactly the same nature I’ve been arguing for?

              • Ralph
                Posted August 18, 2019 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                “ONLY in the sense that all arguments appeal to consequences: the consequences to consistency, coherency, explanatory power, etc.”

                No, that’s not what an appeal to consequences means. It means refusing to accept something because you don’t like what it implies, rather than because you have any substantial argument that it is not true.

                “For instance, you claim that deterministic computation is what our brain does and that is not free will. That of course completely begs the question.”

                Of course it doesn’t beg the question. By definition, deterministic computation is not “free”. Except perhaps to a compatibilist who is determined to obfuscate the issue by redefining what “free will” means in some bizarre way, because he doesn’t like the consequences of its absence.

                “So, again, I understood you to claim that my use of a hypothetical “IF I wanted to I could have lifted that weight” as “denying determinism.”
I’ve made the case for why it is actually required within a deterministic system of reasoning. Can you address that?”

                Nonsense. Your denial of determinism lies in magically supposing that you could have CHOSEN to do something different under precisely identical conditions (identical external conditions, identical brain configuration). This kind of magical could-have-done-otherwise freedom has nothing whatsoever to do with what someone theoretically has the potential to do in general terms of physical strength or intelligence, or whatever else. Given a set of apparent possibilities, it’s about what we then CHOOSE to do – and since our choices are deterministic computation, the actual choice that we make is not free to be anything other than what we actually do.

                And the fact that you criticize me by claiming that I have not thought through the consequences of the absence of free will pretty much proves my point that you are making an appeal to consequences. Whether I or any else fully appreciates the consequences is irrelevant.

              • Vaal
                Posted August 18, 2019 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

                It means refusing to accept something because you don’t like what it implies,

                I know that’s what it usually means and what you meant. That is precisely why I qualified it “only in the sense of.” Because what YOU meant by arguing from consequences was not in fact how I was arguing. At all. Again…you are just ignoring the arguments presented to you.

                “Of course it doesn’t beg the question. By definition, deterministic computation is not “free”.

                No, that’s a perfect example of begging the question.

                Both hard incompatibilist and compatibilist accept that our thinking and choices are determined. (A form of “determined computation” if you will).

                The debate between the hard incompatiblist vs compatibilist is ABOUT whether notions of freedom/choice/could do otherwise are COMPATILE with our choices being determined or not.

                Therefore each side has to provide ARGUMENTS in support of our position.

                What you have just done is say “since our thinking is determined, therefore it’s not free.”

                That’s not an argument. That is simply stating the CONCLUSION you are supposed to argue for…the very reason for the debate. It’s picture perfect Begging The Question.

                Compabitibilism argues for why it still makes sense to say “I could have done otherwise” and “we have forms of freedom it makes sense to call free will” WITHIN a deterministic system. Therefore to say “it’s deterministic” doesn’t settle anything!

                You should grapple with the arguments given, instead of pretend you don’t see them. Why for instance won’t you answer whether it is coherent, as I’ve argued, to comprehend the nature of reality by understanding “what is possible” via hypothetical/counterfactual and if/then reasoning? I challenged you with specific examples like how to explain physics or water WITHOUT appeal to such concepts. It seems very telling that you just won’t engage this problem to answer it. If you ever did so, you’d start to see the problems you’ve got yourself in to.

                Nonsense. Your denial of determinism lies in magically supposing that you could have CHOSEN to do something different under precisely identical conditions (identical external conditions, identical brain configuration).

                This is completely pulled from your imagination.

                I and other compatibilists have explicitly denied we can do what you just claimed we accept…over…and over…and over…and over. You will not find one shred in what I’ve written to you that even suggests it. That’s the WHOLE REASON I’ve been talking about hypothetical/counterfactual reasoning!

                I just don’t understand this complete refusal to actually read what someone expounding a counter position actually writes, or at least attempt to understand it. It is hard not to conclude that the compatibilist often seems confronted with an intransigent intuition on the part of hard incompatibilists (and intuitions can be wrong, remember!), rather than reason and argument.

                Yes, I know, that’s how you feel too about compatibilists. But I think the number of times hard incompatibilists wantonly misrepresent compatibilists as accepting ideas we have consistently, clearly denied, suggests it’s the incompatibilists who are less willing to consider the challenges to their intuitions. (Prof CC btw has, I’m happy to see, become ever better at discussing and describing compatibilism! Though…with caveats…)

                Oh well. So much for this conversation.
                Cheerio.

          • Posted August 18, 2019 at 5:12 am | Permalink

            Good question!

        • Kosmos
          Posted August 18, 2019 at 6:11 am | Permalink

          There certainly is a fair share of atheists who have never reflected properly on free will and thereby can find the absence of libertarian free will to go against their folk notion of agency.

          And then there are objectivists who are both atheists/naturalists and believe in some form of libertarian free will. They view libertarian free will as self-evident by introspection and consider it would be self-refuting to deny it based on the argument that determinism would render it impossible for us to trust our reasoning. How we are supposed to have this power is of course never explained.

    • Posted August 17, 2019 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      It’s a neat and acceptable polemic however! My criticism of both Jerry and Dan Dennett is that ought, could, might and so on become unintelligible under a stickler’s version of determinism — the kind of person that is offended when we use certain words, like “free will”.

      All suggestion, all imperatives, all hypotheticals must collapse into a state of affairs, as if we saw all of human activity already completed at the end of time.

      We can only cast the workings of this magnificent, terrible machine into convenient narratives that contain influences, and wishes, and urges, but all of these are human-made models, just like “Free Will”, imposed on an incomprehensible machinery. In other words, if we name some aspect of our self “urge”, or “values” or “wish” (any and all of them), we might as well call the forward-looking determining part our “free will”, wherein “free” refers, as do all the other ideas, to a common notion. In this case, “voluntary” as opposed to coerced. These concepts are also just models from a stickler’s view, as the coercing person is also going through motions, influenced by yet other causes (and people) and so on.

      But for us, things didn’t happen, and we couldn’t do otherwise, which in actuality means we do whatever was determined. I can write that I wish Jerry changed his mind on this, and he might because of convincing comments — but from a stickler’s determinist view, a position Jerry often adopts, that’s all ultimately smoke and mirrors. I write what I write, he reads what he reads, and he maintains views determined when time itself came into existence.

      For this reason, I find the whole stickler’s determinist view unproductive. You can add determinism to any discussion, on how to ride the bike or whether or legal system is just. By its very nature, determinism doesn’t add or remove anything — it’s wholly irrelevant.

      • Posted August 17, 2019 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        If “determinism means that it’s useless to try and change people’s minds,” then what is the point of
        trying to change people’s minds though discussions such as this?

        I don’t understand this apparently grey area where we must “defend” determinism because it’s true, when we’re all just following determinism’s script.

        • Posted August 17, 2019 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          That’s the thing: our actions are still part of the machinery. We just can’t help ourselves. But that’s what I mean by stickler’s version. If you’re insisting on dropping “free will” (which is how it looks to us, determining our course), it’s inconsistent to keep other concepts.

          • Vaal
            Posted August 17, 2019 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

            “If you’re insisting on dropping “free will” (which is how it looks to us, determining our course), it’s inconsistent to keep other concepts.”

            You mean like: declaring we have no free will because choice is an “illusion,” yet not bothering to come up with a workable substitute for our notions of “choice” and just maintaining the notion anyway?

            🙂

            • Posted August 18, 2019 at 5:15 am | Permalink

              No.

              • Vaal
                Posted August 18, 2019 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

                “no.”

                Ok, I thought I’d had an inkling of what you were referring to but apparently not.

                You’d written that if you drop free will it’s inconsistent to keep other concepts.

                Can you give an example of the “other concepts” you had in mind?

              • Posted August 18, 2019 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

                On re-reading you were on the right track what I mean, but with caveats 🙂 Choice is one such concept, but a tricky example. There are clearly choices, as in options, as in “could be picked” and they are not illusions (it depend exactly what we mean by illusion etc.)

                The deep problem is how we carve up reality. Where begins our mind, even in a physical sense? How long must electron patterns, ideas, exist in our brain/mind until we say they are ours?

                If a person forces us at gunpoint, and they are themselves forced by all sorts of forces, including “higher up” states in our human realm, say, wanting to pay bills (which is all part of the computation and chain of events), how is even intelligible to carve up anything that is not a concrete, material entity?

                We can clearly say that the cat on the mat is a particular lump of matter. But what is anything in the realm of influences, possibilities, wishes, wants, desires, choices and so on. We can come up with some purely deterministic-materialistic definition for them, but then why stop at “Free Will”?

                That’s all part of it. The other part is that since we can’t do otherwise, determinism creates the paradox that we can’t do otherwise, and things are going as they do, yet we still must go through the motions (which we do) to get there. This leads me to belief that the discussion is a “dualistic model” which, like a neckar cube can be seen in two ways, and everyone flips back and forth them. Hence why Jerry has a beef with Free Will, but not with all the other things that rest on the firmly entrenched view that people can choose “freely”.

        • Ralph
          Posted August 18, 2019 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          The fact that we don’t have free will is certainly a bit weird. But in saying “what’s the point” you’re making an argument from consequences here. The fact that the consequences of its absence are quite weird and difficult to accept is not evidence that free will exists.

          Our brains have a deeply ingrained illusion of free will, perhaps evolving this way because we make better decisions under this illusion. And I’m not going to go around fighting that illusion, any more that I will fight the illusions that underpin (say) our visual perceptions. I think about the weirdness, and ultimately just shrug my shoulders and get on with using my brain the way I always did.

          EXCEPT for the one very significant consequence that I now believe the criminal justice system needs to be reformed.

  2. Tim Reichert
    Posted August 17, 2019 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Every little bit of educating the public on this subject helps. Hopefully this will be a big bit.

  3. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted August 17, 2019 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Einstein was right about a lot of things, of course, but the specific sort of determinism he advocated — local hidden variables — is decisively ruled out by Bell’s Theorem. There is as yet no consensus among physicists about what to replace it with.

    • Posted August 17, 2019 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Yes, Einstein was a pure determinist about all of physics, but he was still right that there’s no room for free will.

    • Vaal
      Posted August 17, 2019 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      And of course the quote contains the dubious equivocation “over which we have no control” which to hard incompatibilists tends to be equivalent to “We have no control.” (A different proposition).

      It’s the usual way of making the agential/decision-making process “invisible” in the chain of causation. Just talk about the causes leading up to our cogitation, skip the cogitation or at least just say “it’s determined” and move to the result, to declare “see, WE didn’t control the outcome.”

      But the “causal history” leading up to me
      doesn’t “make decisions.” I do. Without me making a decision…no decision occurs. It’s my cogitation, in the chain of causation, that reaches the decision, causing the outcome.

      And it makes sense to identify situations and decisions where we can acknowledge our control, vs those we can’t control.

      I’m pretty sure there’s a very substantial difference to be found in whether I am “in control” of my car’s trajectory, or not, especially driving on a crowded street.

      • Posted August 17, 2019 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

        We can now add “control” to all those subjective phenomena that no-will” hard determinists tell us are just “illusions”, including “will”, “consciousness”, “choice”, “self”, “could have done otherwise” and others. Soon we will be told “color” and “pain” are just illusions.

      • Posted August 18, 2019 at 6:20 am | Permalink

        Right, this is a very important point. “The event is determined by forces over which I have no control” does not imply “I have no control over the event.” In order to control the pressures on components in the steering linkage, I would have to know about them. But even if I’m an automotive ignoramus, I can still control the direction of the car. The fact that the pressures in the steering linkage are counterfactually dependent on my actions, plus my knowledge of the action:car-turning correlations, suffices to grant me control of the car.

        Given the laws of physics and the design of the car, if the car travels at velocity V and the steering wheel is in position S, the pressure on a certain face of the steering knuckle will be P. That is why the linkage pressure counterfactually depends on my actions. Counterfactual dependence isn’t the same as causation, but all causation involves counterfactual dependence.

        But the actual laws of physics are bidirectionally (in time) deterministic. So by the above logic, the detailed microscopic properties of past events are also counterfactually dependent on my present actions. Although at the macroscopic level where we live and where thermodynamic irreversibility applies, past events don’t counterfactually depend on our actions. Which is why incompatibilism looks plausible.

  4. rickflick
    Posted August 17, 2019 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    I’ll be looking forward to seeing the film.

  5. Posted August 17, 2019 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Curious bit of trivia. One could advance an argument that — if Biblical prophecies were ever to come true — that would at the least weaken the notion of free will and lend support to determinism.

    I don’t know how well you could make that argument — but I think it could be rationally advanced.

    • Vaal
      Posted August 17, 2019 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      Not on a compatibilist account of free will.

      On compatibilism, our having free will is perfectly compatible with a Being who had sufficient knowledge to predict our actions or know the future.

      The tension between a God’s foreknowledge and free will has long bedeviled theists and they have come up with various attempts to get around the problem, including some forms of compatibilism (some of which still maintain a type of libertarian free will, others which accept our actions are determined yet compatible with God’s foreknowledge).

      • Posted August 19, 2019 at 1:41 am | Permalink

        You make some good points, Vaal. Thank you. I am going to withhold agreeing with them until I have more time to think them through though. I am not wholly confident yet what all would be involved in a deity’s being able to consistently predict the future with complete and total accuracy.

        • Posted August 23, 2019 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

          “I am not wholly confident yet what all would be involved in a deity’s being able to consistently predict the future with complete and total accuracy.”

          One thing that would be involved is that such a God would not be a Creator, but an engineer. Creators never know “with complete and total accuracy” what their creations will look like.

          Free will in humans is not unlike free will in fictional characters–it’s what keeps things interesting. As Frost said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

      • Posted August 19, 2019 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        One might want to try to ask Mark Ravizza’s take on this – he’s well known as a compatibilist in the literature – and a Jesuit. (I do not know if he has written much without his often-coauthor, John Fischer.)

        • Posted August 20, 2019 at 5:12 am | Permalink

          Thanks Keith! How do I contact him?

          • Posted August 20, 2019 at 11:26 am | Permalink

            I have no idea, unfortunately.

            Fischer did tell me that their book (_Responsibility and Control_) was written (largely) metaphysics-free to accommodate their different views there. Unfortunately, this is precisely in my view what is needed: a clear discussion of mechanisms.

  6. dabertini
    Posted August 17, 2019 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    “Now I don’t know how much this topic will interest a public weaned on Batman and Mad Max films, as it’s really an intellectual voyage, and how many movies are there like that?”
    You can always count on wit and humour from PCC(e) even when dealing with serious topics.

  7. Posted August 18, 2019 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    Since the film features Massimo Pigliucci, I have some hope for it.

  8. Posted August 19, 2019 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Looking forward to the film as well! Perhaps you can also link to my promo?

  9. Posted August 19, 2019 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I heard about this from another source and this post and it makes me wonder:

    Another employment idea from BA undergraduates? Making films on topics of public interest from the academic field in question?


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