The Free Will thread


Some people on the open thread, which is mainly about socializing, are complaining that it’s been taken over with tedious philosophizing about free will. There’s an easy solution: here’s a new thread just for anybody to talk about free will. Stick it here.

Myself, I don’t believe in free will — I think it’s an obsolete concept that confuses rather than clarifies, and would rather stay out of it.

Comments

  1. says

    That people make confused comments like this

    I’ve decided not to participate in this conversation.

    Oh, drat!

    is indeed good evidence that it confuses rather than clarifies.

    Compatibilists should be run out of town on a rail.

  2. Sqrat says

    Myself, I don’t believe in free will — I think it’s an obsolete concept that confuses rather than clarifies, and would rather stay out of it.

    What makes you say that?

  3. Father Ogvorbis, OM says

    real quick, and then I promise that I will continue to fail at staying out of these conversations:

    Walton:

    I cannot speak for others, but, though I live as if I, and others, have free will, I am cognizant of chemical, legal, economic, and environmental factors which limit the choices available to the individual. Were I in a position to judge, I would be far harsher on a rich white guy who swindles money to make himself richer than I would a poor man who has stolen to support a drug habit. The RWG has far more options open to him in which he can make choices than does a poor man who, through lack of education, abuse, and hopelessness, finds solace in mind-altering substances. My belief in free will does not negate the lack of choice available to the disadvantaged and saying otherwise seems, well, cruel.

  4. says

    It’s built on a peculiarly limited and originally dualistic concept of self, for one thing.

    And I said I wasn’t going to get into it!

  5. miles670 says

    Free will is often used as an excuse for the vil that God supposedly allowed into our world. I’m told a lot that bad things have to happen because we are given the gift of free will to make our own decisions, I’ve since challenged a number of religious people to riddle me the following:

    If evil exists because god gave us free will, and heaven is perfect without evil, doesn’t that mean that we have to give up free will to enter heaven?

    I haven’t received a competent response yet, figured I’d look for it amongst the snakes here.

  6. says

    Those who want to take the compatibilist position can make themselves more interesting by relying on the better writers. Here’s this free book chapter from Dennett that might serve as a stand-in for Freedom Evolves, since he has basically been saying the same thing about this over and over for decades.

    To that, about two thirds down the page, Thomas W. Clark responds (ctrl-f for Dennett will get you there).

    +++++
    And for the sake of making everyone who believes in free will look like a jerk, here is Dennett with blood on his hands:

    We ought to admit, up front, that one of our strongest unspoken motivations for upholding something close to the traditional concept of free will is our desire to see the world’s villains “get what they deserve.”

  7. Glen Davidson says

    Free will was invented in order to pretend that the individual is entirely responsible for what said individual does, to blame the individual. It is not an inevitable illusion, as reading ancient texts often indicate that people felt controlled by the gods (God hardened Pharaoh’s heart).

    But there’s really no way for most of us not to feel that others are responsible for their actions, which they are in a meaningful sense, unless they’re seriously ill. After all, their attitudes toward others is what often is responsible for their “good” or “evil” acts. In an absolute and ultimate sense, though, I’d say no one is responsible.

    Glen Davidson

  8. curtnelson says

    I believe we are what our brain does, that there is nothing else to us – just brain activity, conscious and unconscious. Does that make me a believer in free will or not? I honestly don’t know.

    If it means I don’t believe in free will (which I suspect), then it is a stupid question. Instead the question should be: Do we have souls? (or whatever term you like that means there is a part of us that survives our brain).

  9. you_monster says

    Ain’t no free will. If determinism is true, all actions are dictated by sufficient prior causes, and there can be no possibility of robustly “choosing” between different possible futures. If indeterminism is true, how would random events help create any meaningful free will?

    The self/mind/consciousness exists purely as a function of the brain. Unless materialism is false, I don’t see how there is any room for free will.

  10. says

    We make decisions based on information at hand, a desired outcome, and a modeling of possible consequences of our actions. Free will, as described, is entirely indistinguishable from this process. Whether a “choice” is determined entirely by the inputs and the processing thereof or not is irrelevant. In both models, the inputs and the results are the same; so “free will” is indistinguishable from pre-determinism.

    As we have not yet experienced the future, it makes no difference if that future is pre-determined or not. Not morally, not philosophically, not pragmatically.

    That’s what I have to say. And I said it.

    I couldn’t help myself.

  11. Sqrat says

    And I said I wasn’t going to get into it!

    If that was directed to me, you didn’t have to, PZ. I make ze leetle joke….

  12. you_monster says

    On a side note, it bugs me when people bring up quantum indeterminacy to justify free will. First of all, like I said above, the introduction of a random cause into the causal chain would result in a choice being the result of chance. Secondly, unless i am mistaken (please correct me if this is incorrect*), quantum indeterminacy is purely at the micro-level and does not effect any macro-level events.

    *Are there any examples of events outside of micro-level quantum effects which have been shown to not be deterministic?

  13. Blondin says

    That people make confused comments like this

    is indeed good evidence that it confuses rather than clarifies.
    Compatibilists should be run out of town on a rail.

    I’m not a compatibilist, I’m just a smart-ass. Even PZ couldn’t stop himself from participating.

  14. says

    Why compatibilism is bad and wrong and is currently misleading people, right here at Pharyngula:

    The Laughing Coyote takes the first opportunity he sees to assent to what someone else said about compatibilism, and call it free will as far as he’s concerned, claiming it’s all he ever believed in the first place.

    Ha, I’m so glad I (mostly) ‘stuck the flounce’ regarding the free will thing.

    It makes more sense to me now that I see it better explained. Which is still utterly indistinguishable from my understanding of ‘free will’ as it was. I like to ‘believe in the soul’ as a useful metaphor, but I didn’t believe there was anything about my brain that was somehow above physics to begin with.

    Somehow, the perfectly natural physical processes of my brain give me the ability to make choices about how I interact with the world around me. That’s free will to me.

    All the philosophical jibberjabber did was confuse me. :/

    But this is not true. He’s still confused, he doesn’t really understand the compatibilism, and now he thinks he’s entitled to keep on judging the world as if we all have free will.

    Earlier he contradicted compatibilism, and he has not yet indicated that he understood his error.

    I assume your idea of free will implies that for at least one choice you’ve made, you could have chosen differently than you did. This is not true.

    Not true as in ‘this isn’t how free will is defined’, or ‘not true’ as in I couldn’t have chosen different? Because I could very easily have made different choices in my past.

    No, it is impossible for anyone to ever have chosen to choose differently than they did.

    This absolute impossibility is what compatibilism in fact means, and yet they go on calling it “free will.” This is terribly misleading.

    The compatibilists have misled Coyote into continuing with his erroneous belief that he could have chosen to choose differently in the past,

    +++++
    Perhaps compatibilism does give people what they really want after all: the opportunity to lie to themselves by not looking too deeply at the implications of the position they’ve chosen.

  15. says

    “It’s built on a peculiarly limited and originally dualistic concept of self, for one thing.”

    I don’t particularly believe in free will either, and I know you said you don’t want to get into this, but could you elaborate on the above statement? I don’t get it. And the first person who calls me stupid gets my pre-determined kick-to-the-
    crotch response.

  16. davidlee says

    B.F. Skinner settled all this in the 1950s. We are mere billiard balls on the green felty cushion of life. All choices you make are based on your reinforcement history.

  17. davidlee says

    Chas: do you think that makes a difference to your history of reinforcement? Do you explain how to run a maze to a rat?

  18. says

    consciousness razor replied to me earlier:

    He and Dennett can call that free will if they want to, and I will call my coffee cup the law of identity.

    I don’t think Dennett’s doing anything quite so drastic. I have mixed opinions about it. Everyone’s just desperate to have this vital commodity they’ve heard about called “free will,” despite having no clear idea what it is. Since that doesn’t exist, he redefines it to mean things which do exist, so people will at least have the cheap toy version to play with, hopefully without feeling completely ripped off. He makes it clear that you don’t have libertarian free will or a soul, that you can’t change the future, etc. So, while redefining it adds to the confusion a bit, at least people who have read his take on it aren’t completely misinformed.

    But KG, who has read Dennett and presumably understood him, went ahead and told Coyote that Coyote’s understanding was correct. This is surely due to KG not reading Coyote’s earlier comment, of course; KG wouldn’t knowingly mislead him.

    The big problem with compatibilism, is that the compatibilist writers do not do enough to continually emphasize that it was never possible for anyone to have chosen to choose differently. They more or less imply as much, but they do not hammer it home.

    If anyone, coming away from a compatibilist reading, still thinks they could ever have chosen to choose differently, then the compatibilists are doing it wrong. This misunderstanding seems to be rampant among those who are not self-identified with one position or another beyond the vague statement “I believe in free will,” and I don’t see the compatibilists doing enough to shake it out of their readers.

  19. you_monster says

    “It’s built on a peculiarly limited and originally dualistic concept of self, for one thing.”

    I don’t particularly believe in free will either, and I know you said you don’t want to get into this, but could you elaborate on the above statement? I don’t get it. And the first person who calls me stupid gets my pre-determined kick-to-the-
    crotch response.

    The dualism behind it is that “free will” is tacked on as some property above and beyond the mere physical brain.

    Material monism is that the consciousness and decisions are generated entirely by the physical operation of the brain. Material dualism asserts both a physical brain, and some immaterial “man pulling the strings” concept.

    I just don’t get it, if there is some free will that i can assert independent of external causes, in what sense is any choice I make as a result of it meaningful?

  20. joed says

    just seems to me there is a lot going on that i’m not aware of, yet i function and seem to make decisions with the info i am aware of. often, it seems, we humans fill in the blanks and then “decide”.
    if i am not sure i just ask meself if i am hurting anyone.

  21. says

    you_monster,

    Secondly, unless i am mistaken (please correct me if this is incorrect*), quantum indeterminacy is purely at the micro-level and does not effect any macro-level events.

    I was saying something vaguely like this recently and I’ve been persuaded by Alethea that I was probably on the wrong track. I’ll be cutting that out of my argument in the future.

    Nevertheless, as you say: “If indeterminism is true, how would random events help create any meaningful free will?”

    +++++
    I’ll share something from Colin McGinn which I’ve edited slightly for clarity:

    “The argument is exceedingly familiar, and runs as follows. Either determinism is true or it is not. If it is true, then all our chosen actions are uniquely necessitated by prior [moments], just like every other event. But then it cannot be the case that we could have acted otherwise, since this would require a possibility determinism rules out. Once the initial conditions are set and the laws fixed, causality excludes genuine freedom.

    On the other hand, if indeterminism is true, then, though things could have happened otherwise, it is not the case that we could have chosen otherwise, since a merely random event is no kind of free choice. That some events occur causelessly, or are not subject to law, or only to probabilistic law, is not sufficient for those events to be free choices.

    Thus one horn of the dilemma represents choices as predetermined happenings in a predictable causal sequence, while the other construes them as inexplicable lurches to which the universe is randomly prone. Neither alternative supplies what the notion of free will requires, and no other alternative suggests itself. Therefore freedom is not possible in any kind of possible world. The concept contains the seeds of its own destruction.”

  22. says

    Free will in the traditional sense is incoherent. An indeterminate universe doesn’t get one around this (unless one deliberately misunderstand quantum mechanics or are satisfied with what isn’t free will in any meaningful sense). Compatibilism simply redefines free will. I see nothing wrong with that because, again, the non-compatibilist (libertarian) definition is incoherent.

    But then there are the implications of free and that’s what I’m interested in. One the one hand, even if a hypothetical, omnipotent entity could predict what you will do, you cannot predict what you will do and be unable to change the outcome. People are not leaves blowing in the wind. When they are expected to act responsibly, they tend to do so. On the other hand, there’s really no intrinsic value in punishment or reward. These things are only good insofar as people are incentivized to do good and not do bad.

  23. jaybee says

    Of course it matters how you define “free will.” If you take it to mean an entity that exists independent of the physical world yet somehow manages to influence the physical world through pulling the strings of your synapses, then no, there is no free will.

    But if you imagine a person as a black box without consideration of what is going on inside, and use something like the Turing test which says if this entity acts as if it has a free will, then it has one, it can be a useful abstraction.

    I’ve had people tell me that if there is no free will in sense that I dismissed it in the first first paragraph, then nobody is guilty of anything, there is no morality, and anything goes. But using my Turing version of free will, we still need to act as if there is a free will and mete out punishments for violating social norms in order to make the black box behave in a selfish way that ruins the experience for everyone else. If you want to call that a moral decision or simply the cold calculus of tit-for-tat game theory, I don’t care.

  24. SplendidMonkey says

    I accept that my next move is fully determined by the preconditions in the universe a picosecond ago. Someday a machine may be able to look at my local conditions and predict my next decision not unlike how machines today predict the weather with some success.

    Free will is an illusion that I will never be able to escape and I’m not interested in trying.

  25. Sqrat says

    I’ve had people tell me that if there is no free will in sense that I dismissed it in the first first paragraph, then nobody is guilty of anything, there is no morality, and anything goes. But using my Turing version of free will, we still need to act as if there is a free will and mete out punishments for violating social norms in order to make the black box behave in a selfish way that ruins the experience for everyone else.

    Or perhaps we are simply compelled to mete out punishments, so it’s not really our fault.

  26. you_monster says

    Thus one horn of the dilemma represents choices as predetermined happenings in a predictable causal sequence, while the other construes them as inexplicable lurches to which the universe is randomly prone.

    Exactly. The free-will dilemma seems damning to me. I truly cannot wrap my mind around how free-will would supposedly work.*

    *Unless you start equivocating between the various senses of “freedom”, “free will”, or “choice”**, redefining them to mean ” complete lack of coercion” or “the ability to enact one’s desires, whether determined or not, free from some minimum level of manipulation.

    **classic compatibalist move

  27. says

    Ogvorbis,

    The RWG has far more options open to him in which he can make choices than does a poor man who, through lack of education, abuse, and hopelessness, finds solace in mind-altering substances. My belief in free will does not negate the lack of choice available to the disadvantaged and saying otherwise seems, well, cruel.

    If I’m understanding what I’m reading lately (this is an iffy proposition in itself), beliefs like these are typically studied as locus of control, not free will per se.

    That’s rather unfamiliar jargon, so I’m going to go with what I said earlier. When we’re talking about important differences in people’s lives, like you brought up there, we should be using other terms which are not metaphysical: diminished capacity opportunity, power, ability, privilege, and similar terms.

  28. carlie says

    We are mere billiard balls on the green felty cushion of life. All choices you make are based on your reinforcement history.

    Who made your reinforcements and what made them decide to use those on you? Is it turtles all the way down?

  29. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    So, since we’re starting this relatively fresh, can someone please link to an explanation of what y’all philosophers really mean by “free will”? Because the actual philosophical ideas underpinning the idea are extremely counterintuitive to what uneducated folks like me think of when they hear the term “free will.” Basically the history of the idea points to the fact that for centuries, the phrase “free will” has referred to an idea that is dualist bollocks, and those of us who aren’t versed in the history of “free will” may not be aware of that.

  30. says

    Who made your reinforcements and what made them decide to use those on you? Is it turtles all the way down?

    Of course not!

    It’s positively and negatively charged billiard balls virtual particle pairs all the way down.

  31. Anonymosity says

    You’re spelling it wrong. And in anycase, I’m pretty sure that Mr. Wheaton charges.

  32. says

    the history of the idea points to the fact that for centuries, the phrase “free will” has referred to an idea that is dualist bollocks, and those of us who aren’t versed in the history of “free will” may not be aware of that.

    That’s a fair point (and I did already link to Dennett back at #12 so the compatibilists would have a crib sheet). Here’s Thomas W. Clark:

    [I]magine that we do indeed have some sort of contra-causal free will, and see if it could improve on the deterministic situation we actually find ourselves in. I leave aside here the various sorts of indeterminacy that might be shown, eventually, to play a role in generating behavior, since these do not give us free will, they merely introduce randomness.

    Let us suppose then, that whatever my desires are at a given time, I am not bound to follow those desires. That is, my behavior isn’t completely the result of the competition of various motives and inclinations, but instead is at least partly a function of something independent of such influences. So, for instance, let us suppose I must decide between spending a thousand dollars on charity or on my own amusement. What would the role of this independent factor be in such a decision? Presumably, the story goes, one’s free will makes the decision about which desire should win out, the desire to help others or the desire to amuse oneself. But, on what grounds does this independent arbiter make its choice? Why would it choose one way and not another?

    If indeed the free will is uninfluenced by one’s circumstances, such as desires and motives, then it simply has no reason or capacity to act. Without an inclination pushing in one direction or another there can be no movement. Of course, one can (and usually does) consider the consequences of one’s actions, which has the effect of making one course or another seem more or less desirable. But this sort of rationality isn’t in the least separate from the influence of desire, rather it permits the more effective calculation of how a desire might be fulfilled, and of what might happen were it fulfilled. Nor is the choice to undertake such consideration “free,” in the sense of being uninfluenced, for if it were, the same problem would arise: why would the self choose to be rational – to consider consequences – unless there were some determining motive or desire to be rational?

    The “best” course – the decision taken – is that which wins out in the competition between motives as illuminated by rationality. If the self were truly free to choose between alternatives, uninfluenced by motives in some respect (whether such motives be altruistic or selfish) the choice would never get made. Likewise, if the self were truly free to choose between being rational or not, the operation of rationality would be haphazard and unreliable. As it stands, however, the self is nothing over and above the reliably coordinated system of desires and dispositions out of which decisions are generated. We don’t stand apart from, or direct, the rationally mediated competition of our motives. If we had some capacity to act independently of motives or of the consideration of consequences, that capacity would give us absolutely no power over circumstances. Why? Because that very independence renders such a capacity irrelevant to decision-making. In fact, it would immobilize us, not empower us.

    (SallyStrange does seem to be an exception, but) I will say again that even many of those who are claiming not to be dualists are implicit dualists nevertheless, as they believe that there was at least one moment in their past when they could have chosen to choose differently than they did.

  33. you_monster says

    SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu,
    From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “free will”,

    “Free Will” is a philosophical term of art for a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives.

    How I understand it, the “free will” being debated about by the philosophers is the capacity choose between distinct possible futures.

  34. says

    Most of what people mean by “free will” is something that we have, so to deny “free will” is in effect inviting a misrepresentation of humanity. It’s one of those ideas where conceptual nitpicking is actually a valuable exercise, because our intuitive sense of what it means and what the lack of it would mean often leads to missing the point.

  35. Azkyroth says

    The evidence that humans have both intention and the ability to make choices is overwhelming, and all the hairsplitting about whether that “really” counts as “free will” is merely an object lesson in the foundational misconception of philosophy, namely the denial of the fact that not every grammatically correct string of words is a meaningful description of a discrete, coherent concept.

  36. says

    I do not believe in free will in the sense that we are free to do whatever we want at all times. I do believe in it, in the sense that of the viable choices I have at any given point in time, I am the agent which gets to make the choice.

    For example, I am choosing to post this right now when I could be doing other things.

    Earlier, I chose to buy a great big jar of pecan butter, I could have not bought it, but I chose to. You could argue that my choice was a product of my circumstances, but I’m still the one who evaluated my circumstances and made the decision, even if it is partly based on them.

    Deciding to buy an $18 jar of pecan butter was influenced by the circumstances of having disposable income and being married to someone who will react to pecan butter by getting really excited and making it part of some larger dish.

    If I lacked money, I wouldn’t have been able to buy the pecan butter, but that doesn’t really violate the concept of free choice, as at that point, purchasing pecan butter wouldn’t have been a choice available to me.

    If I lacked a wife who likes pecan butter and cooking with strange ingredients, I may not have have purchased the pecan butter, but that would have been my choice based on my circumstances at the time of choosing.

  37. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    The evidence that humans have both intention and the ability to make choices is overwhelming, and all the hairsplitting about whether that “really” counts as “free will” is merely an object lesson in the foundational misconception of philosophy, namely the denial of the fact that not every grammatically correct string of words is a meaningful description of a discrete, coherent concept.

    This pretty much sums up the whole “free will” debate.

    My main takeaway from this is that I should always remember to put “free will” in scare quotes.

  38. says

    Most philosophers accept compatibilism (the claim that freedom and moral responsibility are compatible with determinism).

    Most philosophers are right.

    My defense of it is here.

  39. victimainvictus says

    I find it rather useless to claim that free will does not exist. I’ll explain.

    The normal argument against free will is as follows:
    1) If the universe is deterministic, then free will does not exist, because our actions are merely the product of prior causal events.
    2) If the universe is not deterministic, then free will does not exist, because our actions are merely the product of random chance.

    On first glance this seems to be a strong argument against free will, but on closer examination it turns out to be a tautology. In putting forward this argument, you define an action made from free will to be “an action which is not caused, but neither is it uncaused.” So congratulations, you’ve proven that something cannot be both caused and not caused. You’ve defined “free will” as a meaningless concept – but I have no idea why you would define free will to mean “both caused and not caused.” It doesn’t prove anything to refute a non-idea, and it’s totally divorced from what is usually meant when someone says “free will.”

    For example:
    Someone who has been forcefully abducted cannot be said to have gone with their captors of their own free will. Whether the universe is deterministic or not has nothing to do with this: if you argue that going somewhere because you wanted to and being forcefully kidnapped are both equally “unfree,” you’re completely missing the point. When people say “free will,” 90% of the time they are referring to people’s desires and their ability to carry them out. If you insist on defining “free will” as something that is both “caused and not caused,” then you can say it doesn’t exist, but your definition is divorced from any useful meaning of the phrase.

  40. cybercmdr says

    Interesting. So when a troll enters the debate on Pharyngula, they are not deciding to be a troll but instead must play that role. The unique way that Pharyngulites respond to trolls then provides conditioning that, based on the troll’s prior conditioning, either makes them leave or reassess their position.

    That brings an interesting light to this forum, because for all the intense responses that can be levied against the trolls, IDiots and the like, at some level these people are mental wind-up toys who have no choice. The question is whether they have the backgrounds and mental resources to alter their programming.

  41. says

    Kel

    Most of what people mean by “free will” is something that we have, so to deny “free will” is in effect inviting a misrepresentation of humanity.

    But one thing people usually mean by free will is that for at least one moment in the past, they could have chosen to choose differently.

    And this, they do not have.

    So to affirm free will without hammering this home—like the compatibilists do—is certainly to invite a misrepresentation of humanity.

    +++++
    Physicalist

    Most philosophers accept compatibilism

    That’s possible, but it’s an empirical claim. Can you point to any counts or surveys of philosophers?

    Most philosophers are right.

    We’ve seen multiple unpleasant reactions on TET to the realization that a person never could have chosen to choose differently than they did.

    I contend that these unpleasant reactions demonstrate the compatibilists are wrong; compatibilism is not how most people naturally conceptualize free will, therefore compatibilism is an affront against language. Compatibilism is only sophistry.

  42. you_monster says

    SallyStrange and Azkyroth,
    Not everyone has to enjoy the philosophical free will debate. PZ created this thread for those who do though. Save the “philosophy is useless” commentary for another thread*.

    Perhaps I will take you’re side in that debate as well, but as it is, haven taken the time to learn and think about this possibly useless topic, I am compelled to enjoy a good verbal tussle over it.

  43. says

    But one thing people usually mean by free will is that for at least one moment in the past, they could have chosen to choose differently.

    That’s getting very meta, I think my mind imploded ;)

  44. says

    On first glance this seems to be a strong argument against free will, but on closer examination it turns out to be a tautology. In putting forward this argument, you define an action made from free will to be “an action which is not caused, but neither is it uncaused.”

    victiminvictus, you are quite mistaken. That is not what the standard argument against free will does.

    The standard argument against free will takes “a freely willed action” to mean an action which is proximately caused by the individual’s will, if the individual’s will is not determined via a causal chain that begins beyond the individual.

    Obviously such cannot exist in a deterministic world.

    In an indeterministic world, there can be actions which are not determined via the causal chain, but then these actions are not proximately caused by the individual’s will; they are instead proximately caused by randomness.

    +++++
    What many people want from free will is quite simple: that they ever could have chosen to choose differently than they did.

    They cannot do this.

    To make them understand this, is why we must have this conversation.

  45. you_monster says

    reposted to fix ridiculously embarrassing typo,

    SallyStrange and Azkyroth,
    Not everyone has to enjoy the philosophical free will debate. PZ created this thread for those who do though. Save the “philosophy is useless” commentary for another thread*.

    *Perhaps I will take you’re side in that debate as well, but as it is, haven having taken the time to learn and think about this possibly useless topic, I am compelled to enjoy a good verbal tussle over it.

  46. says

    So to affirm free will without hammering this home—like the compatibilists do—is certainly to invite a misrepresentation of humanity.

    It doesn’t take away that they made a choice at a particular time, weighing up the option of potential futures and acting upon it. One might not be able to have chosen differently from what they chose, but that doesn’t stop there being choice in the first place. If there’s a fire in a house and one rushes to save the baby at the expense of another child, that is a choice at the time, and they may live to regret it even though they could not have chosen otherwise. But they still made a choice and acted upon that, and that counts for something.

  47. says

    That’s getting very meta, I think my mind imploded ;)

    Heh. There’s a reason for that.

    It’s a rewording of Schopenhauer — “we may do what we will, but we may not will what we will” — which by trial I have hardened against John Morales.

  48. Ichthyic says

    I totally believe in free will.

    I have no choice in the matter.

    I find this to be both concise, and accurate.

    +1

  49. says

    It doesn’t take away that they made a choice at a particular time, weighing up the option of potential futures and acting upon it. One might not be able to have chosen differently from what they chose, but that doesn’t stop there being choice in the first place. If there’s a fire in a house and one rushes to save the baby at the expense of another child, that is a choice at the time, and they may live to regret it even though they could not have chosen otherwise. But they still made a choice and acted upon that, and that counts for something.

    I largely agree with this. I’m not entirely comfortable with the C word, as I explained to Bill, but if the word choice has any coherent meaning at all, then your use would here would be the coherent one.

  50. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    compatibilism is not how most people naturally conceptualize free will, therefore compatibilism is an affront against language. Compatibilism is only sophistry.

    Excuse me, but I was unaware that stupid philosophers had already assigned an arbitrary, silly, dualist definition to the two-word phrase “free will.” I wasn’t engaging in sophistry. I won’t call “the capacity to choose and learn from choices and choose differently in similar, but not identical situations in the future” free will anymore, but only because the weight of history is against me on that. It doesn’t stop me from thinking that if there were another name for what you are calling “free will” right now, say, “indeterministic essentialism” or some other blather like that, there’d be much less of a kerfuffle. As it is, there are actually two competing definitions of free will, one that has history behind it, and one that actually makes sense. This debate really does need to revolve around the actual definition of free will if it’s going to get anywhere.

  51. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    I forgot who said it, maybe Kant, but I loved the whole bit that a strong disbeliever in free will shouldn’t get upset when someone kicks the shit out of them.

    That was a paraphrase.

  52. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    I am compelled to enjoy a good verbal tussle over it.

    I take issue with the idea that enjoying a good verbal tussle over a concept is incompatible with pointing out how worthless said concept is.

  53. victimainvictus says

    @ahs

    The standard argument against free will takes “a freely willed action” to mean an action which is proximately caused by the individual’s will, if the individual’s will is not determined via a causal chain that begins beyond the individual.

    So you’re saying that for it to be free will, the action must not be determined by a causal chain – therefore, the action must be not be caused.

    In an indeterministic world, there can be actions which are not determined via the causal chain, but then these actions are not proximately caused by the individual’s will; they are instead proximately caused by randomness.

    So you’re saying that for it to be free will, the action must not be random – therefore, the action must not be uncaused.

    I don’t understand how that differs from what I said. If you argue that an action cannot be both cause and not caused, then I agree with you, but I don’t know why one would ascribe the meaning “both caused and not caused” to a “free action.”

  54. The Laughing Coyote (Papio Cynocephalus) says

    Ahs: I was confused on what everyone meant. Further discussion clarified it for me. You still haven’t convinced me that what I originally envisioned free will as, IE the ability to make decisions about how we react to the environment around us, is wrong. I’m still not 100 percent sure what ‘chosen to choose otherwise’ even means.

    And that’s kind of what it boils down to. My education stopped after graduating an alternate high school, and I’ve never even been within shouting distance of a philosophy course. You can’t exactly expect me to just get that by ‘no free will’, you mean ‘no soul’ or ‘your brain is under the laws of physics just like everything else in the universe’. Determinist? Compatibilist? These terms have only the vaguest meaning for me, mostly gleaned from reading these very threads.

    I’m not sure I so much ‘changed my answer and claimed that’s what I believed all along’ as came to a bit of a better understanding of the claims being presented.

    But this is not true. He’s still confused, he doesn’t really understand the compatibilism, and now he thinks he’s entitled to keep on judging the world as if we all have free will.

    Earlier he contradicted compatibilism, and he has not yet indicated that he understood his error.

    I’m not a compatibilist. I’m a tool using, clothes wearing, pot-smoking ape.

    I still don’t get this part.

    and now he thinks he’s entitled to keep on judging the world as if we all have free will.

    I didn’t even get to any commentary on how this free will/no free will stuff translates into walton’s views on criminal sentencing and the justice system. Where does this ‘judging the world’ thing come from?

  55. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    “we may do what we will, but we may not will what we will”

    This just seems like common sense to me. Am I really such an outlier in that regard?

  56. Crow says

    Compatibilism seems to be just a redefinition of what it is for an action to be free that loses most of the emphasis of what we actually mean when we want to say we have free will.

    In that sense I am an incompatibilist.

    The tricky part for me is the strong intuition I have to preserve moral responsibility in spite of living in a deterministic world.

    I want you to be responsible for the fact that you are an ignorant fool so I can be responsible for demonstrating what a fool you actually are and be praiseworthy for such a demonstration.

    So the question for you is: How do you preserve moral responsibility in a hard determined universe?

    Anyone? Bueler? Bueler?

  57. says

    SallyStrange

    I wasn’t engaging in sophistry.

    Maybe you weren’t, because you weren’t aware of the traditional view which compatibilists are currently trying to redefine. Fair enough.

    Dennett and company, by subverting language they’ve studied thoroughly, are engaging in sophistry.

  58. says

    I want you to be responsible for the fact that you are an ignorant fool so I can be responsible for demonstrating what a fool you actually are and be praiseworthy for such a demonstration.

    So the question for you is: How do you preserve moral responsibility in a hard determined universe?

    You’ll get almost as far as you want with strict consequentialism.

    We can treat you as functionally praiseworthy for such a demonstration, because treating you as such is likely to produce still more preferable outcomes in the future.

    Whether or not you’re truly morally praiseworthy, your limbic system doesn’t care. You’re still going to enjoy the praise.

  59. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Since everyone acts as if they have free-will, does this conversation really matter?

  60. says

    Coyote

    Ahs: I was confused on what everyone meant. Further discussion clarified it for me. You still haven’t convinced me that what I originally envisioned free will as, IE the ability to make decisions about how we react to the environment around us, is wrong.

    Because that’s not wrong.

    This sentence was wrong: “I could very easily have made different choices in my past.”

    You can make the decisions you make. It’s just that’s all you could have done.

  61. says

    I didn’t even get to any commentary on how this free will/no free will stuff translates into walton’s views on criminal sentencing and the justice system. Where does this ‘judging the world’ thing come from?

    If you also believe that other people could have made different choices in the past, then you will judge them as such.

  62. says

    Since everyone acts as if they have free-will, does this conversation really matter?

    It has been empirically demonstrated that people act differently based on their own beliefs in free will or not. A bit of googling will clear that up for you, or you can dig through the recent TET threads to find it.

  63. Crow says

    ahs @72

    Agreed. My misgivings about strict consequentialism is that it’s a little too close to the Xian mindset of “I want it to be that way so I’m just gonna say it is that way and act accordingly.”

    It would make me feel better if it weren’t simply a pragmatic view based on my preference for receiving praise.

    Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t cater to my wishes and I may just have to accept that moral responsiblity is ultimately unreconcilable with the world as we know it.

  64. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    “I could very easily have made different choices in my past.”

    Not necessarily wrong, it just depends on what you mean by “could.”

    If you mean, “I could have chosen differently, even if all things were exactly the same,” then obviously it’s wrong.

    If you mean, “I could have made different choices, if X, Y, or Z were slightly different,” then it’s a defensible statement.

    The second interpretation of the statement is the one I would go to. The first one seems nonsensical to me. Obviously if all things were the same then I would have no motivation to choose differently. Duh. So, which one did you mean, Coyote?

  65. alkaloid says

    If people don’t really have free will, then wouldn’t a lot of the criticisms that people here have made of others for religious intolerance, homophobia, and misogyny be irrelevant-because they’re only acting in accordance with their environments?

    Personally, I haven’t really decided whether I think free will exists or not, but the kind of question that I asked above seems particularly relevant to me.

  66. says

    So you’re saying that for it to be free will, the action must not be determined by a causal chain – therefore, the action must be not be caused.

    No, I said something else, very clearly, which you are distorting.

    The standard argument against free will takes “a freely willed action” to mean an action which is proximately caused by the individual’s will, if the individual’s will is not determined via a causal chain that begins beyond the individual.

    So you’re saying that for it to be free will, the action must not be random – therefore, the action must not be uncaused.

    No, there is left open the possibility for the action to be caused a causal chain which is wholly willed by the individual.

    That’s what everyone who’s ever argued for traditional free will has meant by it.

    You can’t accuse those who respond to the traditional notion of free will of defining it oddly. We are only taking the traditional view seriously. If the traditional view of free will turns out to be incoherent, as Clark argues, that is not our fault. That is the fault of those who proposed free will in the first place.

  67. says

    Not necessarily wrong, it just depends on what you mean by “could.”

    If you mean, “I could have chosen differently, even if all things were exactly the same,” then obviously it’s wrong.

    But of course that’s what it has to mean, because he’s not talking about hypothetical alternate universes. He’s talking about the real history of this universe.

    And in this universe, at every point in history, he necessarily must have faced circumstances identical to the circumstances he faced.

  68. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    ahs ॐ says:

    It has been empirically demonstrated that people act differently based on their own beliefs in free will or not.

    What do you mean differently? I thought we didn’t have a choice. Also, how differently? Would someone be angry that I beat the shit out of them? I understand they would feel pain and be sad, but angry at me for doing it, even though I had no choice?

  69. anteprepro says

    victimainvictus:
    Yes, free will is both caused (by will itself, directly)) and uncaused (by causes/effects independent of will). What is your magical definition of free will that couldn’t be disputed in the same fashion as that of your meta-strawman?

  70. says

    alkaloid,

    If people don’t really have free will, then wouldn’t a lot of the criticisms that people here have made of others for religious intolerance, homophobia, and misogyny be irrelevant-because they’re only acting in accordance with their environments?

    No, because by criticizing them we are altering their environment, which may condition them to act differently in the future.

  71. says

    So the question for you is: How do you preserve moral responsibility in a hard determined universe?

    Part of that “hard determined” universe is brains that have the capability to reason morally, that try to predict potential futures and act upon them, and have the capacity to think about these potential futures from the perspectives of others. We have responsibility because we have the capacity to reason and act in regards to others.

    I think part of the problem with any of these discussions is that there are several levels we could look at the problem from, and much of the discussion is whether top-down effects nullify bottom-up effects (or vice versa). Meanwhile the level of the phenomenal is the level we are most acquainted with, adding a new complication. We can describe the relationship in many different ways, and some of ways can fail to meet our expectations of what we expect free will to be – and thus, based on those, we write it off as illusory.

  72. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    alkaloid says:

    If people don’t really have free will…

    You don’t even have to go that far. Rephrase it thusly:

    For the people who don’t believe in free will, wouldn’t a lot of the criticisms that they have made of others for religious intolerance, homophobia, and misogyny be irrelevant-because they’re only acting in accordance with their environments?

  73. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    No, because by criticizing them we are altering their environment, which may condition them to act differently in the future.

    You are sounding like you believe you can make choices which effect others. You behave as if you believe in free will.

  74. says

    What do you mean differently? I thought we didn’t have a choice.

    Even disregarding the C word, if I teach you that the optimal tax system is a progressive tax, you’re going to behave differently than if I teach you the optimal system is a regressive tax.

    Would someone be angry that I beat the shit out of them? I understand they would feel pain and be sad, but angry at me for doing it, even though I had no choice?

    I don’t know. Argue with your emotions sometime. Some monks seem to claim that they have subdued anger. If they’re telling the truth, it seems like a difficult task.

  75. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    if I teach you that the optimal tax system is a progressive tax,

    Again you are sounding like you have a will and can use it to decide to effect my behavior.

  76. you_monster says

    You are sounding like you believe you can make choices which effect others. You behave as if you believe in free will.
    Recognizing that your actions are one of the stimuli determining other peoples’ actions does not require free will.

  77. you_monster says

    Sorry, block quote failure.

    Wishful Thinking Rules All,

    You are sounding like you believe you can make choices which effect others. You behave as if you believe in free will.

    Recognizing that your actions are one of the stimuli determining other peoples’ actions does not require free will.

  78. anteprepro says

    If people don’t really have free will, then wouldn’t a lot of the criticisms that people here have made of others for religious intolerance, homophobia, and misogyny be irrelevant-because they’re only acting in accordance with their environments?

    It’s irrelevant.
    1. Such things remain morally wrong in terms of fairness/harm regardless of whether agents are free to make the choice of doing morally wrong actions.
    2. Criticism and punishment of such agents are fully within the range of things that can change behavior. They thus remain justified, even if the agent had no choice but to do the thing they are criticized/punished for. The only thing we should keep in mind is the harshness of the punishments we may use if we truly believe that the people who commit immoral acts couldn’t have helped it.
    3. Even if it is not possible to change the agent’s behavior, criticism of the attitudes/actions in question may positively affect the attitudes/behaviors of observers and punishment (such as prison sentences) of very harmful agents that will not change will at least prevent others from suffering due to their tendency towards immoral actions.

    Moral issues still stick and still warrant action even if people aren’t truly able to choose between immoral and moral activity. As for acting as if we have free will: That’s how decision-making works. The issue is whether we could have made different decisions than the ones that we have already made, given identical situations at the point of making that decision. That is what is necessary for free will to be true, and that is what remains to be demonstrated.

  79. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    ahs ॐ says:

    “You are sounding like you believe you can make choices which effect others.”

    I do sound that way.

    “You behave as if you believe in free will.”

    No, that does not follow.

    Sure it does, and I don’t have to read shit. I can see what you are saying here, and even you agree that it appears you believe you can make choices which effect others. If you truly did not believe this you wouldn’t be trying to convince people.

  80. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    Not necessarily wrong, it just depends on what you mean by “could.”

    If you mean, “I could have chosen differently, even if all things were exactly the same,” then obviously it’s wrong.

    But of course that’s what it has to mean, because he’s not talking about hypothetical alternate universes.

    Really? Did you ask him that? Including the caveat, “if X, Y, or Z was different” doesn’t automatically translate to alternate universes in most people’s minds, even if that’s what they effectively mean by it.

  81. says

    Whether free will does or doesn’t exist (or we can get an accurate conception of it), it’s hard to deny that it’s a useful concept. If people believe they are in control of their lives and destiny, they tend to act with more control. So if someone is to argue that there’s no free will, such an argument would change those who embraced it in a negative way. While this may not show one way or the other that free will exists, it does make for an interesting dilemma. If we want people to have more control, then it’s important to make people think they have control. Free will, whether or not exists, is a very useful concept to believe exists. Are we doing a disservice by dissolving free will into incoherence, or removing free will as something people have?

    If free will doesn’t exist, it is necessary to invent It. ;)

  82. says

    Wishful Thinking Rules All,

    Sure it does, and I don’t have to read shit.

    Thanks for announcing, in yet another thread, that you are a troll.

    I can see what you are saying here, and even you agree that it appears you believe you can make choices which effect others. If you truly did not believe this you wouldn’t be trying to convince people.

    Indeed. It’s just that that’s not what free will means. I can convince others, although none of us have free will.

  83. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    you_monster says:

    Recognizing that your actions are one of the stimuli determining other peoples’ actions does not require free will.

    I didn’t say it required it, I said everyone acts like they have it. Your actions are your actions and you have no choice in the matter for any of them for your entire life. Same with everyone else. Fine. So then, why does essentially every single fucking person I’ve ever read on this site, act as if though everyone has free will? From complaining about dumbass religious folk, to yelling down trolls, to insulting people they disagree with, every single time I see either the explicit or implicit assigning of blame, as if the target of their ire is responsible for being a troll or a dumbass or just plain wrong on an issue.

  84. Ichthyic says

    Since everyone acts as if they have free-will, does this conversation really matter?

    only for those who choose for it to have meaning to them.

  85. says

    It’s just that that’s not what free will means.

    Yet a lot of people take it to mean that. It might be useful to distinguish between the blanket use of free will and contra-causal free will.

  86. says

    Really? Did you ask him that? Including the caveat, “if X, Y, or Z was different” doesn’t automatically translate to alternate universes in most people’s minds, even if that’s what they effectively mean by it.

    He said “I could very easily have made different choices in my past.”

    “My past” necessitates that we are talking about the real history of what happened. In “his past” he necessarily must have faced circumstances identical to the circumstances he faced.

    It’s as simple as eating either Food X or Food Y for one’s most recent meal. If he chose Food X, then he must mean he could have chosen Food Y instead. This is a fair reading because this is intuitively what most people mean by choice.

  87. says

    So then, why does essentially every single fucking person I’ve ever read on this site, act as if though everyone has free will? From complaining about dumbass religious folk, to yelling down trolls, to insulting people they disagree with, every single time I see either the explicit or implicit assigning of blame, as if the target of their ire is responsible for being a troll or a dumbass or just plain wrong on an issue.

    Because assigning blame, and then treating people as blameworthy, is itself a mechanism of conditioning others’ future behavior.

  88. says

    Yet a lot of people take it to mean that. It might be useful to distinguish between the blanket use of free will and contra-causal free will.

    It won’t be useful with this particular troll, who refuses to even read the basics.

    He is best dealt a thumpin’.

  89. you_monster says

    So then, why does essentially every single fucking person I’ve ever read on this site, act as if though everyone has free will?

    You have a misperception about what acting with the belief that people don’t have free will entails.

    Sure it does, and I don’t have to read shit.

    And I see you have no intention of trying to remedy that.

  90. anteprepro says

    even you agree that it appears you believe you can make choices which effect others

    Really? I thought that the kind of scenario that ahs is presenting implied that certain causes/effects dictate our choices rather than “will”. And these causes/effects would include other people’s behavior. Am I wrong?
    I also would think that the idea of other people’s choices/actions changing the choices of other people would be inconsistent with a strict definition of free will, and not with lack of free will.

  91. says

    You may appreciate Is Free Will a Necessary Fiction?

    “Saul Smilansky thinks that belief in contra-causal free will, which he concedes doesn’t exist, is necessary to provide essential support for morality, meaning, and the worth of human beings. I argue that he is mistaken on all counts, and that we would be better off morally and existentially without believing the falsehood that we have free will.”

    Contra-causal free will died a long time ago, it really should be off the table in this discussion. If anyone comes to argue the libertarian position, then it might be relevant to point out the problems. But I think most of us here are working with brains and brain processes and aren’t worrying about whether or not there’s some magic force outside doing the controlling.

  92. says

    Kel,

    If we want people to have more control, then it’s important to make people think they have control. Free will, whether or not exists, is a very useful concept to believe exists. Are we doing a disservice by dissolving free will into incoherence, or removing free will as something people have?

    I have recently argued, to Ogvorbis and to SallyStrange, that we need to divorce the concepts of inner strength, or locus of control, from the metaphysics that necessarily come along with the discussion of this term “free will.”

    Basically we need to learn to use terms with are not so laden with controversy when we want to give people confidence in their ability to be the proximate causes of their futures.

    Hard work! But we can’t get started soon enough.

  93. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    ahs ॐ says:

    Thanks for announcing, in yet another thread, that you are a troll.

    You arrogant fucktard. Let me rephrase – I don’t have to read your homework assignments when you couldn’t get off your ass to write anything on that one point in that post. Jesus Fucking Christ.

    I can convince others, although none of us have free will.

    But you aren’t really doing anything, are you? All of what you have done has not been determined by you, so why use language which implies you are responsible for anything? Eh? Once again you are behaving as if you have free will.

    Let’s look at your sentence fragment in more depth. Namely the word “I” and the word “can”. If you act as if you have free will, then you would say something like “I can convince others”, since it implies that sometimes “I cannot convince others”. But with no free will a person gains additional inputs from their environment which necessarily spit out one and only one response. There is no “can” or “cannot” it just is. You are not responsible, they are not responsible.

  94. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    from the Phillip Johnson thread, Dr. DMFM says:

    I think Walton does this a lot – he takes a philosophical argument and explores its logical consequences till he runs into a brick wall. He then proceeds to destroy the brick wall, but it’s too thick, so he gives up sometime…

    I endorse this tactic.

  95. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    ahs ॐ says:

    Because assigning blame, and then treating people as blameworthy, is itself a mechanism of conditioning others’ future behavior.

    Wow, really, fucktard? That’s your answer? Let’s rephrase it so it includes your dumbass premises:

    By assigning blame, I am not behaving as if people chose their actions, no I am blaming them er… because… er…. they’ll change their behavior if I do it. Yeah, that’s it. I will pretend they are to blame, but by doing that, I won’t be pretending they have free will. Just because. Uh huh. Yup.

  96. says

    Given the platform…

    I remember mostly agreeing with this article, Is Neuroscience the Death of free Will?, but can’t recall if there was anything I specifically disagreed with.

    Anyway, I see organisms as purely mechanical machines, like vastly complex computers, strictly physical (deterministic machines operating in a vast stochastic sea of quiet noise), collecting giant quantities of information and performing a lot of computation to produce the optimal outputs. But I think that such systems are a fair characterization of what people mean when they use the term free will.

  97. says

    But I think most of us here are working with brains and brain processes and aren’t worrying about whether or not there’s some magic force outside doing the controlling.

    We all seem to think we are, yet at least four people in TET recently have taken noticeable disturbance from the notion that they couldn’t ever have chosen to choose differently.

    I think there’s a strong social reinforcement for atheists to say of course there’s no dualism and everything’s in the brain, without considering this to its logical conclusions.

    I hate compatibilism because I think that because humans naturally use language metaphorically, excusing the use of free will in polite discourse is going to encourage people to bring their unexamined dualist baggage along with them. Much like allowing pantheists to redefine the unthinking universe as God.

  98. says

    I’m done conversing with the troll.

    If anyone else has questions similar to those from “Wishful Thinking Rules All”, I will be happy to answer those questions for them.

    No need to restate them, even. You can copy and past his questions, and I’ll answer them for anyone else.

  99. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Ichthyic says:

    Since everyone acts as if they have free-will, does this conversation really matter?

    only for those who choose for it to have meaning to them.

    Heh.

    Seriously though for all his* fancy pants talk, ahs ॐ, still talks and acts as if he has free-will, no matter how much he protests otherwise. Because that’s what everyone does. I am actually surprised because I figured this would be an obvious point agreed to by all.

    * Yes I am sexist in that anytime I interact with an a-hole online, I assume first it is male.

  100. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    ahs ॐ says:

    I’m done conversing with the troll.

    If anyone else has questions similar to those from “Wishful Thinking Rules All”, I will be happy to answer those questions for them.

    No need to restate them, even. You can copy and past his questions, and I’ll answer them for anyone else.

    Wow, you are an incredibly large piece of shit. Why don’t you respond to what I last said, for the benefit of the lurkers? Heck you can even ignore me after that. Running away like this is outright pathetic. But I wonder, in your head, did you feel like you decided this course of action? I bet you did.

  101. says

    I have recently argued, to Ogvorbis and to SallyStrange, that we need to divorce the concepts of inner strength, or locus of control, from the metaphysics that necessarily come along with the discussion of this term “free will.”

    I think this goes back to what I said in comment #48: “Most of what people mean by “free will” is something that we have”. The more we try to divorce out free will from these concepts, the less we’re talking about what people mean by free will.

    When I say we have free will and you say we don’t, the difference it seems is what each of us mean by free will. Given our discussion so far, I’d say that you and I are pretty close in what we see are the abilities and capacities of individuals, but the difference is whether or not those are relevant to the concept of free will. I’d argue they are, as they’re the concerns people have surrounding free will – as typified by this discussion. But there’s that other baggage too, dualism and the notion of our wills being exempt from the universe, and that’s important to address because it can lead to nonsense claims.

    Anyways… While we’re sharing free will discussion resources, here’s a lecture by Dan Dennett

  102. says

    codyreisdorf,

    Anyway, I see organisms as purely mechanical machines, like vastly complex computers, strictly physical (deterministic machines operating in a vast stochastic sea of quiet noise), collecting giant quantities of information and performing a lot of computation to produce the optimal outputs. But I think that such systems are a fair characterization of what people mean when they use the term free will.

    I think that gets to most of what people mean by it. I think Ing had a clear summary of the intuitive, working concept of free will that most people usemost of the time. But I find that many people also expect free will to mean that at least once in the past, they could have chosen to choose differently than they did; this error indicates that many people’s working concept of free will is, when examined, factually wrong and not in accordance with reality.

  103. consciousness razor says

    Dennett likes to quote Lee Siegal talking about his book on magic:

    “I’m writing a book on magic,” I explain, and I’m asked, “Real magic?” By real magic, people mean miracles, thaumaturgical acts and supernatural powers. “No,” I answer: “Conjuring tricks, not real magic.” Real magic, in other words, refers to the magic that is not real, while the magic that is real, that can actually be done, is not real magic.

    So I guess the question is: what do you think you can do? How do you know that? Are you sure you aren’t mistaken? You probably wouldn’t consider it “magic,” but you could still be wrong about what you are and are not capable of doing.

    Perhaps it just seems obvious to you that if you were in the same situation again, you could have made a different choice — that’s the only way you could coherently say you “chose” one action rather than another. That isn’t the case. Being in a specific situation means you can only take one specific action. Your choices could not have been any different than they were. Nothing you do changes the future in any way. You can only imagine futures which will not and cannot happen, just like you imagine different versions of the past which never happened and could not have happened, but it’s not entirely obvious to everyone that these are only imaginary because they don’t think of it in these terms. You’re also not a sort of prime mover, who can cause your choices all on your own, without being caused yourself, and it doesn’t happen because of no cause whatsoever.

    These are the sorts of misconceptions people often have about their actions, though they may not realize it or think through their implications. Whatever convoluted definition of “free will” you might want to use, you still have to contend with the facts and talk about them coherently. There are certain things you simply cannot do. Those are, at best, simplistic intuitions which are false, but which are hard to overcome without studying the issues in depth because they are reinforced by society. At worst, they are supernatural beliefs about souls or what-have-you, or come with the demand we believe this sort of nonsense anyway, in order to justify punishing people for their actions.

    In any case, it’s irrational to demand that we ought to do something if we cannot do it in the first place. Likewise, it’s irrational to punish someone for doing something, when they could not have done anything else. These are impossible demands and irrational responses to harmful behavior, which serve no purpose except to cause even more suffering. So we have to get people to really think about their place in the universe. It matters not just because we ought to know the truth and be honest with ourselves about it, but because it often does have moral and legal implications.

  104. says

    ahs:

    I hate compatibilism because I think that because humans naturally use language metaphorically, excusing the use of free will in polite discourse is going to encourage people to bring their unexamined dualist baggage along with them.

    But the experience of the mind is dualistic. I don’t mean there is any other process going on — it’s all just electrical and chemical processes in a meat substrate. But our experience is not one of neurons firing and synapses sparking. It’s dualistic. The experience of consciousness is removed from the brain like the experience of a gamer is removed from the logic and graphical models that create the game itself.

    I’m not defending compatiblists*. I’m just not sure it’s useful to think entirely in terms of the fundamental reality, any more than it’s useful to use quantum mechanics to model a thrown snowball. It seems the emergent processes themselves form another level of reality, whether it’s atoms and molecules and packed ice crystals, or the experience of the meat-based processes that make up the mind.

    But I’m missing something about your argument, aren’t I? I can feel it. I just can’t put my finger on it.

     

    * I daresay I might be a compatiblist. I think that any practical description of “free will” will be indistinguishable from any practical description of “neurological determinism.” I’m not saying free will exists, or even that it’s a coherent concept. I’m saying that, like qualia, it’s a word that’s used by philosophers to distract you from that fact that it is indistinguishable from naturalistic reality.

  105. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Since ahs ॐ, has, by all appearances, chosen to act like a spineless weasel, can someone else explain to me how one can assign blame and responsibility for a person’s actions without behaving as if free-will exists?

  106. anteprepro says

    Consciousness razor:

    Likewise, it’s irrational to punish someone for doing something, when they could not have done anything else.

    Not if you use punishment as used in operational conditioning: to change future behaviors of people who have proven that their behavior needs changing.

    These are impossible demands and irrational responses to harmful behavior, which serve no purpose except to cause even more suffering.

    It is not impossible/irrational to expect learning and future change if we provide the means for them to learn and change their behavior. (Lack of free will might mean you can’t choose, but it doesn’t mean your typical array of choices can’t be altered by changing the influences that dictated previous choices).

  107. Crow says

    The short answer is that while true responsibility requires the ability to do otherwise, we can still assign praise/blame and reward/punish behavior because it will encourage/discourage future action regardless of moral responsibility.

  108. says

    I think there’s a strong social reinforcement for atheists to say of course there’s no dualism and everything’s in the brain, without considering this to its logical conclusions.

    Perhaps there is this tendency, or even perhaps there’s something in the brain that makes us feel the need to have such control – there’s definitely a distinction to be made between an action we “freely” choose and an action that’s made for us against our will (putting a gun to my head and ordering me to eat an apple is vastly different from me “freely” choosing to eat an apple). But that strong reinforcement, be it cultural or neurological, isn’t enough to just dismiss the discussion surrounding determinism and free will prima facie. If you say that free will has to be an illusion while people put many cognitive processes we have into free will, that’s going to lead people to reject just what the mind can do – or reject that we have determined minds.

    I hate compatibilism because I think that because humans naturally use language metaphorically, excusing the use of free will in polite discourse is going to encourage people to bring their unexamined dualist baggage along with them. Much like allowing pantheists to redefine the unthinking universe as God.

    Redefinition, sometimes, is useful. The philosophy of mind, for example, has a dualist history going back to Descartes. Are we to reject any notion of the self because the Cartesian self is nonsensical? Are we to accept epiphenomenalism because the material description leaves out experience? There’s a point where we should be trying to redefine what we mean by certain things to keep them in line with what they describe, and in doing so we should be careful as to what baggage needs to be discarded or what baggage survives. It’s pretty hard to take seriously people to say there is no self when what they mean is that the Cartesian sense of self is gone, because self in ways that matter is not lost with the Cartesian descriptor of it.

    In other words, sometimes it’s the explanation / description of the concept that needs casting away, not the concept itself.

  109. you_monster says

    Wishful Thinking Rules All ,
    What the fuck are you going on about? For those of use who don’t believe in free will, the idea of acting to influence another is perfectly coherent. ahs outlined one reason for action, the fact that our actions are part of the causal chain which produces actions in others.

    Since ahs ॐ, has, by all appearances, chosen to act like a spineless weasel, can someone else explain to me how one can assign blame and responsibility for a person’s actions without behaving as if free-will exists?

    I agree that you are a troll, but I’ll answer you anyways. One can assign responsibility to peoples actions because there is utility in doing so. Essentially, you praise or punish people to condition their future responses, to effect 3rd party observers actions (to deter or encourage), or to quarantine them to protect others.

  110. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    Since ahs ॐ, has, by all appearances, chosen to act like a spineless weasel

    ahs ॐ is mostly correct in his assessment of you. I’ve seen your behavior on some other threads.

    can someone else explain to me how one can assign blame and responsibility for a person’s actions without behaving as if free-will exists?

    I’ll have a go, just to test to see if I understand this: in a deterministic universe, all actions are determined by a combination of chemical reactions, historical conditioning, and external stimuli. Assigning blame and responsibility is just changing the external stimuli. It may well have the effect of changing the pattern of actions taken by another person, but that person has no influence over whether or how s/he responds to said external stimuli. If you define “free will” as being able to choose regardless of external stimuli (which is a stupid way to define free will, but apparently philosophers have been doing this for years), then this is not free will. Someone assigns blame and responsibility to you; you have no choice about whether to respond to that stimulus or not. Even the choice of how to respond to said stimulus (ignore it, or, feel guilty and try to make amends) has been predetermined by your life’s experiences and your neurobiological architecture.

  111. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Crow says:

    The short answer is that while true responsibility requires the ability to do otherwise, we can still assign praise/blame and reward/punish behavior because it will encourage/discourage future action regardless of moral responsibility.

    First, thank you for not acting like an arrogant asshole. Second, sure you can do it, but when you supposedly ‘pretend’ people are to blame, and that they are responsible for their actions, you are also necessarily pretending free-will exists. Maybe you can convincingly argue to me that in this one instance, you, as the blamer, are not behaving as if there is free-will, but your entire plan requires that all the blame-ees and everyone else in society believes and behaves as if there is free-will. You are using the idea of free-will as a useful, tool, to control the masses. Much like an atheist who decides to create a religion to keep people in line.

  112. says

    Likewise, it’s irrational to punish someone for doing something, when they could not have done anything else.

    I’d argue otherwise. What’s irrational, at least to me, is failing to recognise that humans can and do act on potential futures and potential consequences. By removing punishment, you’re removing one of the variables that people act on.

  113. says

    But the experience of the mind is dualistic. I don’t mean there is any other process going on — it’s all just electrical and chemical processes in a meat substrate. But our experience is not one of neurons firing and synapses sparking. It’s dualistic. The experience of consciousness is removed from the brain like the experience of a gamer is removed from the logic and graphical models that create the game itself.

    Yeah, naive dualism is often the way of things. But it’s not always like this. I’ve been hit in the head pretty hard, and had some other dissociative experiences; the veil between the worlds gets thinner at these times.

    But I’m missing something about your argument, aren’t I? I can feel it. I just can’t put my finger on it.

    It’s gone unstated thus far in this thread, less so in TET.

    I think implicit dualism encourages conceptualizing other people especially as having an essentialist nature, even if this is not called a soul. Like how the fundamental attribution error drives us to think of others as nearly immutable: that person acts that way because that’s just the kind of person she is, while I acted this way because I was responding to circumstances.

    We’re more aware of our own circumstances and situational influences, so relatively we’re more able to think of ourselves monistically.

    I just want to attack essentialism on all fronts, even where it’s very difficult, as I agree it is here.

  114. consciousness razor says

    Not if you use punishment as used in operational conditioning: to change future behaviors of people who have proven that their behavior needs changing.

    I have no problem with conditioning behavior. I meant punishment for the sake of punishment. I should probably have put it in terms of retributive justice; but then I’m not entirely clear on the use of the term in legal philosophy, so I probably would’ve confused or obscured the point anyway (more than I may have already done). Hopefully what I meant was clear enough, but I admit I could use some clarification on that front myself.

  115. says

    WTRA:

    …can someone else explain to me how one can assign blame and responsibility for a person’s actions without behaving as if free-will exists?

    That’s easy.

    First, it’s important to understand the model by which our behaviors are determined. Simply, as individuals, we have desired outcomes. We have information about current conditions. We have the ability to model the consequences of our actions, at least to a certain extent. We “choose” the actions that best help us reach our desired outcomes.

    This is a very simple model, of course, but it is effectively the process we all go through when making a decision. Note that the process is identical whether you believe in free will or not. Ask someone how they exercise free will, and it will be something similar to what I just described, with more or less detail.

    The determinist (that’s me) would say that, if you were to rewind time to a certain point, you’d have the same desired outcome, the same information about the current situation, and the same model by which you judge the efficacy of your actions. You’d have the same emotional triggers. You’d behave the same, as the inputs that went into the decision to act are identical.

    As each person is expected to behave in an acceptable manner (this is part of our model), we assign certain punishments for specific social infractions. These punishments are well-known, and so should be part of everybody’s model of the efficacy of their actions. If someone transgresses, it’s because either their model is wrong, their ability to judge the current situation is wrong, or their desired outcome is wrong. (And by “wrong,” I simply mean, goes against the rules of social interaction.)

    Therefore, you can hold someone responsible for their actions. It might not be their fault, inasmuch as their desires (for instance) are incongruent with the good of society. But, it’s important to ensure they are responsible, to ensure everyone else has a model that includes punishment for social transgressions. Further, it is better for society to take those who transgress and attempt to “fix” the part that is not congruent with the rules of social behavior, if at all possible. From that, it’s easy to conclude that punishment should consist primarily of rehabilitation, if practical.

    This is all very pragmatic rather than moral, but it is a model that works.

  116. says

    nigelTheBold, something on the essentialist characterizations of others:

    Moral Character, Motive, and the Psychology of Blame (PDF here) Abstract:

    Blameworthiness, in the criminal law context, is conceived as the carefully calculated end product of discrete judgments about a transgressor’s intentionality, causal proximity to harm, and the harm’s foreseeability. Research in social psychology, on the other hand, suggests that blaming is often intuitive and automatic, driven by a natural impulsive desire to express and defend social values and expectations. The motivational processes that underlie psychological blame suggest that judgments of legal blame are influenced by factors the law does not always explicitly recognize or encourage. In this Article we focus on two highly related motivational processes – the desire to blame bad people and the desire to blame people whose motive for acting was bad. We report three original experiments that suggest that an actor’s bad motive and bad moral character can increase not only perceived blame and responsibility, but also perceived causal influence and intentionality. We show that people are motivated to think of an action as blameworthy, causal, and intentional when they are confronted with a person who they think has a bad character, even when the character information is totally unrelated to the action under scrutiny. We discuss implications for doctrines of mens rea definitions, felony murder, inchoate crimes, rules of evidence, and proximate cause.

  117. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Oh dear. I guess I should have said outright that I don’t believe in free will. I believe in materialism and determinism and blah blah blah.

    My one point is that people behave as if free will exists. Even the ones, like me, who don’t believe in it. People take the blame, and society accepts that blame is given out, because we as a society believe (or at least pretend to believe) that everyone is mostly responsible for their own actions. Sure there are some “mitigating circumstances” that may reduce responsibility, but for the most part, people are considered responsible. If this was not the case, then there would be no need for blame or responsibility, but only punishment, to ‘deter’ future behavior.

    The people who claim they never ever ever behave as if free will exists, still write their arguments as if free-will is necessary. They even sometimes, like that a-hole ahs ॐ, speak as if they are making decisions for themselves. When they should really say something like “my personal history, all of the inputs into my brain leading up to this moment, have been processed, and now the following action will occur: ….”

  118. Crow says

    WTRA @129

    Just because we reward/punish people for their actions does not imply that we are pretending free will exists.

    To put it another way, our motivation for blame/praise is not because of the fact that the person is responsible for their behavior. (Not in the true morally responsible way that requires free-will).

    Instead, the motivation for praise/blame is to affect future actions by that person. Praising and blaming is a useful tool for encouraging or discouraging future actions but is not done because the person is responsible for their act. Indeed, we’ve already admitted they are not responsible for their act.

  119. says

    ahs:

    Like how the fundamental attribution error drives us to think of others as nearly immutable: that person acts that way because that’s just the kind of person she is, while I acted this way because I was responding to circumstances.

    Wow. My wife said something almost identical to this last night. She realized she’d been reacting to people at work as if they were stereotypes of themselves, rather than individuals with good and bad days, difficult situations and freak outs and days of euphoria.

    Thanks for the clarification. It helps my understanding.

  120. you_monster says

    The people who claim they never ever ever behave as if free will exists, still write their arguments as if free-will is necessary.

    And the god-botherers will continue to insist that even those who don’t believe in god are acting as if god exists. Pure failure of understanding.

  121. anteprepro says

    Consciousness razor:

    I meant punishment for the sake of punishment.

    Ah, then I guess you and I agree on the matter, because that was the only part of what you said that I thought was a bit fishy :)

  122. eigenperson says

    #135 WTRA:

    Your argument is like complaining that people standing on a beach in the evening are ACTING as though they are geocentric because they say “Look at the sun sinking into the ocean. Isn’t it beautiful?”

    Of course, they should really say something like “Isn’t it beautiful how the earth has rotated to the extent that a path, of minimum length after taking refraction into account, between the sun and my eyes is tangent to the surface of the ocean?”

  123. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Abbot nigelTheBold of the Hoppist Monks says:

    Therefore, you can hold someone responsible for their actions. It might not be their fault, inasmuch as their desires (for instance) are incongruent with the good of society. But, it’s important to ensure they are responsible,

    It took you an extremely long time to get to responsibility in your post, as you spent many lines discussing punishment, and only punishment. Punishment does not require blame or responsibility in your scheme. It is actually completely unnecessary. If you argue it does, then you are arguing for behaving as if free-will exists.

    If people are not truly to blame for their actions (every choice they made so far in their life could not ever have been made differently), then why pretend they are to blame? Why say they are responsible? It is ridiculous. Just punish them so that others will receive the environmental input that a given behavior will result in an unpleasant outcome for them.

  124. says

    But that strong reinforcement, be it cultural or neurological, isn’t enough to just dismiss the discussion surrounding determinism and free will prima facie.

    Of course. I’m dismissing it because of what I’ve noticed about how people behave, and the way that hearing “you could not have chosen to choose differently” makes so many people reject that statement, though they previously claimed everything was in the brain and having everything in the material brain was sufficient for what they called free will. If it was sufficient, then they should not reject that statement.

    If you say that free will has to be an illusion while people put many cognitive processes we have into free will, that’s going to lead people to reject just what the mind can do – or reject that we have determined minds.

    I understand; that’s why I’m proposing we use terms which are not so metaphysically laden. We are still proximate causes, our actions still matter, we still have more or less capacity, locus of control, opportunity, power, ability, privilege, and similar terms.

    Redefinition, sometimes, is useful. The philosophy of mind, for example, has a dualist history going back to Descartes. Are we to reject any notion of the self because the Cartesian self is nonsensical?

    Maybe. ;) I’m really as yet undecided about that particular example, though I agree on the potential utility of redefinition.

    In other words, sometimes it’s the explanation / description of the concept that needs casting away, not the concept itself.

    I’m reading an experiment while I’m arguing lightly here; hopefully I’ll have something substantial as an answer to this later tonight when I take it all in.

  125. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    you_monster says:

    And the god-botherers will continue to insist that even those who don’t believe in god are acting as if god exists. Pure failure of understanding.

    Except quite a few people in here have been arguing that folks be BLAMED and held RESPONSIBLE for actions which they had no choice over (note how these two terms are different and distinct from the third which is ‘punish’). Hell, I could even say the theme of many a post here has been “free-will, it’s the opiate of the masses. I am a genius, I don’t need it, but society does.”

    I am not failing to understand. Some of you are, at best, speaking so imprecisely, and being so stubbornly dumb about it, that it is truly upsetting.

  126. says

    WTRA:

    They even sometimes, like that a-hole ahs ॐ, speak as if they are making decisions for themselves. When they should really say something like “my personal history, all of the inputs into my brain leading up to this moment, have been processed, and now the following action will occur: ….”

    But that’s what a decision is: the discrimination of correct and incorrect information, the processing of alternate actions for a desired outcome, all processed through a model of reality applicable to the situation. How is that not a decision?

  127. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    eigenperson says:

    Your argument is like complaining that people standing on a beach in the evening are ACTING as though they are geocentric because they say “Look at the sun sinking into the ocean. Isn’t it beautiful?”

    1) Your analogy implies I am correct. Thank you for that. Many here seem to disagree for some incredibly odd reason I have yet to discover.

    2) Your analogy is not accurate in the sense that I am speaking of a broad all encompassing issue, and you have given one tiny example – it is a matter of degrees. The sun setting is one figure of speech. Folks here are using language all over the place which implies free-will, and even worse, are arguing for plans which require most to believe it exists. I am fine with people using a figure of speech here and there, but having pretty much ALL of their speech (and actions)? Nope. I call foul on that.

  128. says

    WTRA:

    Punishment does not require blame or responsibility in your scheme. It is actually completely unnecessary. If you argue it does, then you are arguing for behaving as if free-will exists.

    How so? Perhaps my understanding of “responsibility” is not congruent with yours. For instance, a storm might be responsible for many downed trees. This is in-line with the definition as:

    Being the primary cause of something and so able to be blamed or credited for it.

    When you discuss “punishment,” there must be a cause for punishment. Otherwise, it is arbitrary. In context, “responsibility” is nothing more than the recognition of a causal relationship.

    If the term carries a more significant moral weight, then I apologize.

  129. eigenperson says

    #144 WTRA:

    There is no such thing as free will. But there are such things as desires, beliefs, intentions, and actions. If a person takes an action in accordance with that person’s intentions, desires, and beliefs, why shouldn’t that person be considered blameworthy for that action?

  130. you_monster says

    Except quite a few people in here have been arguing that folks be BLAMED and held RESPONSIBLE for actions which they had no choice over

    Yes, they have. And they’ve explained why.

  131. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Abbot nigelTheBold of the Hoppist Monks:

    But that’s what a decision is

    Do you really think when people think of the word “decision” they think that one and only one outcome can ever occur? No, the word itself implies choices can be made. One can decide to do A, or decide to do B.

    From Wikipedia:

    “A decision is the selection between possible actions.”

    But there is no POSSIBLE. There is the action, that will occur. A person who does not believe in free-will, who does not EVER behave as if there is free-will, should not use the words decision or decide.

    Do you agree?

  132. says

    Thus one horn of the dilemma represents choices as predetermined happenings in a predictable causal sequence, while the other construes them as inexplicable lurches to which the universe is randomly prone. Neither alternative supplies what the notion of free will requires, and no other alternative suggests itself. Therefore freedom is not possible in any kind of possible world. The concept contains the seeds of its own destruction.”

    The other way of nailing down the coffin lid is to point out that if we are the result of deterministic processes (with little probabilistic branches on things like nerve potentials and whatnot) and are beings that evolved the brains that we have, with the capabilities that we have in order to survive, then the function we perceive as “making a choice” could simply be another one of the brain’s little lies it has been evolved to tell us – just like our “3D vision” and “sound” and other senses. If we assert that our sense of “free will” is just another brain-originated lie it all makes sense: we’re meat robots – we’re just meat robots that are programmed to think we make choices. Indeed, we argue that the notion of “choice” is incoherent given what we understand of physical law – “choice” is just the word we use to describe the illusion our brain presents us the meat robot’s monitoring loop.

  133. eigenperson says

    #146 WTRA:

    1) Your analogy implies I am correct. Thank you for that. Many here seem to disagree for some incredibly odd reason I have yet to discover.

    Your analysis of my analogy implies that you are incredibly obtuse. There is no sense in which a person standing on the beach and talking of suns sinking into the sea is acting as though he or she is geocentric, and it would require an incredible amount of stupidity to believe that there is.

  134. eigenperson says

    To elaborate, just because someone uses a WORD which is in your mind associated with a particular point of view (e.g. “sink” and geocentrism, or “responsibility” and free will) does not in ANY way mean that the person is ACTING as though that point of view is correct. Otherwise, you would have to jump on every physicist who used the term “centrifugal force.”

  135. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Marcus Ranum says:

    Indeed, we argue that the notion of “choice” is incoherent given what we understand of physical law – “choice” is just the word we use to describe the illusion our brain presents us the meat robot’s monitoring loop.

    That would be a good definition for “choice” but right now, that ain’t it’s definition.

  136. The Laughing Coyote (Papio Cynocephalus) says

    Of course. I’m dismissing it because of what I’ve noticed about how people behave, and the way that hearing “you could not have chosen to choose differently” makes so many people reject that statement,

    I rejected that statement because it sounded like just a philosophically dressed up version of ‘could not have chosen differently’. Clearly it’s not, clearly it means something else, because as we’ve seen on this thread, people who have rejected free will still have much the same sense of ‘right and wrong’ and ‘responsibility for their actions’ as anyone else who still ‘believes in free will’, whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean.

    And also, though I don’t exactly approve of WTRA’s unnecessary rudeness, I sympathize with his frustration. Honestly, a lot of this feels like a ridiculous game of intellectual ‘gotcha’. I know I’m probably only feeling that out of frustration, which is why I’m trying to stick with this even though it’s obnoxious and dull, but I definitely sympathize with WTRA.

    Saying ‘there is no free will’ because we’re all just physical beings and chemical reactions underneath it all, to me, still feels about as useful as saying ‘this piece of glass isn’t really solid’ because down at the atomic particle level it’s not an actual solid surface.

  137. says

    I understand; that’s why I’m proposing we use terms which are not so metaphysically laden. We are still proximate causes, our actions still matter, we still have more or less capacity, locus of control, opportunity, power, ability, privilege, and similar terms.

    So, perhaps, it would be better not do deny free will, but to focus on the specifics of what we have and what we do not. Because, as you can see, people are taking the denial of free will to mean a whole host of things that you aren’t denying, yet you have reason to deny certain aspects that do come along with it.

  138. John Morales says

    Marcus,

    “choice” is just the word we use to describe the illusion our brain presents us the meat robot’s monitoring loop.

    Leave me out of your “we”.

    Choice is the word I use for the outcome of the process of determining which alternative to select, when the set of alternatives contains more than one member.

  139. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    igenperson says:
    2 December 2011 at 5:20 pm

    To elaborate, just because someone uses a WORD which is in your mind …

    All the dictionaries are in my mind? Oh no, wait, those words do mean things, and actually can be associated with points of view. Again, a few figures of speech here and there, ok, but using language all over the place, which is defined in the dictionary and used by just about everyone in the same way, is repeatedly used? Yeah, I am going to sound the alarm.

    Making a decision is choosing between possible actions / outcomes. You cannot do that if you believe there is no free-will. If you never want to act like there is free will, you should never say you have made a decision. I am sure there are 100s if not 1000s of other examples that could be given here. So again, unlike a figure of speech here and there, your language is overflowing with pro-free-will statements. Which doesn’t mean you believe in free will, it means you often act like it does. Unless you are the rare bird who has written his own dictionary, using common words but writing completely different definitions for them.

  140. eigenperson says

    #158: A decision is a selection between alternatives, as you point out. I do not know where in that definition you find the implication of free will.

  141. says

    WTRA:

    From Wikipedia:

    “A decision is the selection between possible actions.”

    But there is no POSSIBLE. There is the action, that will occur. A person who does not believe in free-will, who does not EVER behave as if there is free-will, should not use the words decision or decide.

    Do you agree?

    You realize this discussion can only devolve into arguing over semantics, correct?

    I agree with you. I also claim a selection occurs. The selection is inevitable, based on the state of the brain as it enters the decision making process. The fact that the process is inevitable does not mean that no discrimination between options occurs. It just means the process will happen identically no matter how many times you rewind and reply the scenario, because the inputs and current state of the brain are the same.

    You are claiming there are no options because, at the end, it all results in a single inevitable action. I claim that the process, the selection, still occurs.

  142. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    John Morales says:

    Choice is the word I use for the outcome of the process of determining which alternative to select, when the set of alternatives contains more than one member.

    But for those who do not believe in free will, there is no alternative. The action/outcome is singular. It is a fiction to say you determine which action to take, out of a group of possible actions.

  143. says

    If we assert that our sense of “free will” is just another brain-originated lie it all makes sense: we’re meat robots – we’re just meat robots that are programmed to think we make choices. Indeed, we argue that the notion of “choice” is incoherent given what we understand of physical law – “choice” is just the word we use to describe the illusion our brain presents us the meat robot’s monitoring loop.

    So what’s the difference, then, between the illusion of choice of a meat robot’s monitoring loop, and the cognitive processes of a meat robot? In other words, if our brains have the capacity to think and make decisions, then how is choice illusory?

  144. says

    Marcus Ranum:

    Indeed, we argue that the notion of “choice” is incoherent given what we understand of physical law – “choice” is just the word we use to describe the illusion our brain presents us the meat robot’s monitoring loop.

    Just as love is an illusion. And hate. And frustration. They are all illusions. And, as you say, all the inputs of all our senses are illusions.

    Yet they are useful illusions.

  145. eigenperson says

    Let me it another way (I do apologize for these repeated posts).

    This is a decision:if (x == 0) {
    print "Decided on alternative A";
    }
    else {
    print "Decided on alternative B";
    }
    The fact that the value of x is completely determined by the rest of the algorithm is not relevant.

  146. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    eigenperson says:

    #158: A decision is a selection between alternatives, as you point out. I do not know where in that definition you find the implication of free will.

    Wikipedia says “A decision is the selection between possible actions” but either way, it implies a CHOICE can be made. Hell, it doesn’t even imply it, as the word SELECT is defined as choosing something.

    We’d have to use a minor, and almost never used in day to day life, definition of select, to get out of this problem. As in natural selection. The unchosen kind of selection. If you try to use that definition out on the street when discussing your own personal decisions, everyone is going to think of the major definition instead of the minor one, and misunderstand you. Outside of this conversation on free will, *I* would misunderstand you if you did that. Because no one talks that way.

  147. says

    John Morales writes:

    Choice is the word I use for the outcome of the process of determining which alternative to select, when the set of alternatives contains more than one member.

    I’m sorry; my use of “we” wasn’t intended as a statement of what everyone believed. I meant it in the sense of “…whether or not we realize that’s what we’re doing…”

    And, sure, your use of the word “choice” above is more or less what I’m talking about. What if that ‘process’ is simply an illusion presented to you by your brain? You may feel like you’re doing something (making a choice) but it’s just how your brain interprets its own signals. The part of you that you understand as your consciousness may happen before or after the part of you that you interpret as choosing – in some cases, like when your spinal nerves jerk your hand away from a flame, it may happen afterwards and in others it may be the result of a more cumbersome process which is so complicated that it’s easier for your brain to lie to itself than to spin in an endless loop trying to figure out why it did what it was always going to do. After all, where’s the survival value in the brain’s having a built-in understanding of its own function?

  148. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Abbot nigelTheBold of the Hoppist Monks says:

    You realize this discussion can only devolve into arguing over semantics, correct?

    Isn’t that like 95% of philosophy? :P
    Still, it is important people speak precisely, and not in a way that tricks 99% of the population.

    I agree with you. I also claim a selection occurs. The selection is inevitable, based on the state of the brain as it enters the decision making process.

    I agree with you. But like I said a minute ago, and will now broaden, most people, probably almost no one, uses the words “decision” “decide” “select” and “chose” like they have been defined here to escape their currently massively pro-free-will usage.

  149. eigenperson says

    #167: We are using the perfectly ordinary, everyday meaning of “selection.”

    Take the algorithm I gave above. Suppose that x is zero when the conditional is reached. Then Alternative A is selected. Now, you might say, “Selecting Alternative B was not possible; therefore, no selection occurred.” This is false, because Alternative B would have been selected if x were equal to 1.

    That is what makes it a selection.

  150. says

    Yet they are useful illusions.

    Yep. We evolved in a way that our survival was greatly enhanced by illusions such as 3d vision, love and choice and “right and wrong” and, recognizing that, we can dispense with free will to about the same degree that we can dispense with 3d vision: knowing it’s a lie doesn’t mean we should stop using it!

    I understand that my free will is an illusion but this meat robot that is programmed to think of itself as “me” also is programmed to think it makes choices, and, conveniently, that has allowed me to live a pretty decent life. I can still talk about “choosing pizza for dinner” the same way I can feel that I have fallen in love because they’re behaviors this meat robot is built to have.

    In a sense, I have no choice but to feel that I have free will even though I know it’s just another of my meat robot brain’s clever tricks.

  151. says

    Marcus Ranum:

    You may feel like you’re doing something (making a choice) but it’s just how your brain interprets its own signals.

    But that’s just it: the brain has to make a selection. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s going to select a specific action based entirely on its state, which is itself determined by the outcomes of prior actions, and the actions of others. The brain is presented with many options, even if the outcome is determined by the current state of the brain.

    To claim otherwise is to claim that the brain has pre-selected from all the options since the day you were able to process information, which is ludicrous. The process occurs, and so is a choice.

  152. says

    Coyote,

    Of course. I’m dismissing it because of what I’ve noticed about how people behave, and the way that hearing “you could not have chosen to choose differently” makes so many people reject that statement,

    I rejected that statement because it sounded like just a philosophically dressed up version of ‘could not have chosen differently’.

    That’s what I thought about why you rejected it. It is what you take it to be.

    It does mean that if you had Food X and Food Y in the cupboard, and for your most recent meal you ate Food X, you could not have chosen differently than to eat Food X.

    Clearly it’s not, clearly it means something else,

    It does not, and I’m not sure exactly where you’re getting this impression from.

    because as we’ve seen on this thread, people who have rejected free will still have much the same sense of ‘right and wrong’ and ‘responsibility for their actions’ as anyone else who still ‘believes in free will’, whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean.

    Yes, many of them do. It’s a matter of much debate whether these notions of responsibility are coherent. I’m pretty much agnostic on that; I don’t care about intentions anyway, and I’m willing to apply an electric shock to the subject to get the results I want.

    But the fact that people disagree about responsibility and morality does not imply that you could have willed yourself to have Food Y instead.

    You could not. (And so I am still upset with compatibilism, because it has misled you.)

    Saying ‘there is no free will’ because we’re all just physical beings and chemical reactions underneath it all, to me, still feels about as useful as saying ‘this piece of glass isn’t really solid’ because down at the atomic particle level it’s not an actual solid surface.

    But we can explain why the glass has the property of solidity at our scale. And we can explain why solidity should be understood as having structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume.

    At no scale or level of abstraction is there any explanation for how you could have willed yourself to have Food Y instead.

  153. says

    If it’s all an illusion, then what is it an illusion to? It seems were sneaking in unconscious dualism about the self.

  154. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    you_monster says:

    Except quite a few people in here have been arguing that folks be BLAMED and held RESPONSIBLE for actions which they had no choice over

    Yes, they have. And they’ve explained why.

    No, they have not explained why. Pay attention. They explained why people should be punished. I accept and agree with their explanation. However, they have failed to explain why people should be blamed for their actions, or be held responsible for actions of which they had no actual control over.

    You need not be blamed to be punished. You need not be responsible for your actions to be punished for those actions. Do you agree? If so, why have many here advocated for blame?

  155. says

    It’ll be a goddamn miracle if Marcus Ranum gets something right for once in his life, but this thread is probably his best chance for ever doing so.

    I suppose I shall make popcorn.

  156. eigenperson says

    #171: Really? You feel like you have free will?

    Personally, I am not sure I know what having free will is supposed to feel like.

    I certainly have the feeling that my decisions are based on my intentions, desires, and beliefs, but that is not the same thing as free will. (Or if it is, then free will exists.)

    I also have the feeling that my intentions, desires, and beliefs result partially from my previous intentions, desires, and beliefs, but I am quite aware that this is not the only source. For example, I saw on the news that Clinton is in Burma. Now I have that belief. It didn’t result from my previous intentions, desires, and beliefs.

  157. says

    So what’s the difference, then, between the illusion of choice of a meat robot’s monitoring loop, and the cognitive processes of a meat robot? In other words, if our brains have the capacity to think and make decisions, then how is choice illusory?

    It’s illusory in the same way that I don’t really see things in 3D. I think I see things in 3D. I think I make choices. Just because I think I make choices doesn’t mean I do; it just means I’m programmed to think I do. That’s where all the confusion comes from: the illusion is just as intense as the illusion of 3D vision. Even if you understand how the brain assembles its 3D auto-zoom infinite-focus lie about our visual capabilities, it doesn’t mean you suddenly have your visual field fall apart and the illusion stops working. (though you can play with it, if you try, just as you can play with your illusion of ‘choice’ if you try)

  158. says

    It’s illusory in the same way that I don’t really see things in 3D. I think I see things in 3D. I think I make choices. Just because I think I make choices doesn’t mean I do; it just means I’m programmed to think I do.

    But the question is, how can you distinguish you from your brain? What is the I that thinks they make choices, and how is that different to the brain actually making choices?

  159. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    eigenperson says:

    #167: We are using the perfectly ordinary, everyday meaning of “selection.”

    Take the algorithm I gave above…

    Wow, you failed quickly. Almost no one refers to algorithms in their day to day life when interacting with people, certainly almost no one refers to them when discussing the choices they themselves make. I cannot believe you are arguing with me on this. The everyday meaning of “decision” is selecting (aka choosing) between options, with all of those words holding their normal everyday usage, implying more than one outcome is possible, implying the existence of free will.

    I am not claiming those words cannot be used differently. I am just telling you how almost everyone uses them. Let it go, man.

  160. says

    Really? You feel like you have free will?

    Yeah, depending on how you define ‘free will’ – I was being sloppy; can we just say that my brain makes itself think ‘I’ have choices? I don’t have free will; I just feel like I make choices because it’s a convenient lie that my brain gives itself as part of an evolved survival strategy.

    There was some really cool research I remember from years ago where a bunch of guys were trying to reverse-engineer cockroaches’ flight algorithms. It turned out that if you did various things to scare a roach, its reaction was extremely predictable. But there’d be no point to a roach evolving an ability to convince itself it was “deciding which way to run” – it just runs in accordance with the behaviors that are evolved into it. What if the roaches eventually get more and more complicated responses? There’s still no point in the roach evolving the ability to assess and comprehend its own rules, but if the roach gets complicated enough that it starts thinking of itself as an entity (it’s self-monitoring loop is now able to monitor itself monitoring itself: self-awareness) it might short-cut and avoid infinite regress by lying to itself that it made a choice.

    I also have the feeling that my intentions, desires, and beliefs result partially from my previous intentions, desires, and beliefs, but I am quite aware that this is not the only source.

    Sure! There’s the environment, as well. Our brains are doing stuff with internal stimuli (like, I have to go pee, right now and my brain just made me feel like I ‘chose’ to finish this comment before I do that…) as well as external stimuli (like, the tea-kettle is screaming, and my brain just made me think I prioritized things as ‘get up, make tea, then go pee’) But if I sit here and thnik about it I realize pretty quickly that presented with that set of inputs I’ll always take the same actions. Always? Hm. Yeah. I think so.

    I have to go make the tea, and pee now. :)

  161. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Kel says:

    But the question is, how can you distinguish you from your brain? What is the I that thinks they make choices, and how is that different to the brain actually making choices?

    I take it you mean “your mind” up there, or to put it better “your brain processes.”

    Anyway, someone pull up that study which shows that the brain makes choices before people were conscious of them. Granted, you can say the “I” includes the subconscious, but it sure doesn’t feel like you when you aren’t even aware of it happening.

    Then there are those poor split-brain folk, whose hemisphere’s cannot talk to each other anymore. The “spokesman” part of the brain on the left, sure feels like the “I” but there is that whole right hemisphere trying to do its own thing, which is a part of the person, which would be part of the “I” feeling if the brain was connected properly.

    I don’t know where the hell I am going with this. To get back to what you said, the brain makes “choices” in that it takes input and spits out a response. But with a given set of inputs and a given brain state, the “choice” will always be the same. It all comes down to how you define “choice.” Choice is an illusion, a fiction, or it is always occurring, depending on how you define it.

  162. says

    WTRA:

    Isn’t that like 95% of philosophy? :P

    Well, all right then. We are definitely in agreement on that.

    Still, it is important people speak precisely, and not in a way that tricks 99% of the population.

    Absolutely. I think that’s were some of our disagreement has arisen, is in very subtle differences in understanding of meaning.

    I think I understand your arguments a bit better. I’d claim (and argue) that “blame” and “responsibility” are useful social constructs, even in their current form. As I believe morality is derived from human interaction (and therefore, itself a social construct), this makes both “blame” and “responsibility” viable moral constructs as well.

    But, I have to go pick up the wife and head home, so I don’t have any more time to argue tonight. So I’ll bow out of the discussion for now.

  163. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Marcus Ranum says:

    Yeah, depending on how you define ‘free will’ – I was being sloppy; can we just say that my brain makes itself think ‘I’ have choices? I don’t have free will; I just feel like I make choices because it’s a convenient lie that my brain gives itself as part of an evolved survival strategy.

    Indeed. Just as all of the varying components/processes of the brain come together to give a feeling of “I”, the brain gives us the illusory feeling that we personally get to decide our fate. We look back on the past, and imagine that we could have made a different decision. We think of the present, and believe there is more than one possible outcome of our “deliberation.” Everyone does this, even if people like us often realize afterwards that it is bunk.

    On this level, everyone behaves as if free-will exists. For how can we not?

  164. eigenperson says

    #180:

    I can’t believe you’re arguing with me about this, especially because your argument is profoundly stupid.

    I understand that your position is that the word “possible” (or, more precisely, the CONCEPT of possibility, because as I understand it your argument does not depend on the particular word) implies some underlying indeterminacy in the universe. This is the part of your argument that is stupid. No one, and I mean NO ONE, ever uses the concept of possibility this way. (Except maybe you, when you’re making stupid arguments.)

    Let’s say it’s election day. There are two candidates in the election. I haven’t seen the opinion polls. After the polls close, you ask me what I think the possible results of the election are.

    I am not going to say, “There is only one possible result, but I do not yet know what it is.” That is stupid. I’m going to say “There are still two possibilities.” But it seems like you do not accept this definition of the term “possibility.”

  165. says

    nigelTheBold:

    …this makes both “blame” and “responsibility” viable moral constructs as well.

    Uhm, just to avoid accusations of a fallacy of composition here, they are moral constructs because they are part of human interaction, and it’s the human interaction that drives morality.

    Now I’m really gone.

  166. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    But, I have to go pick up the wife and head home, so I don’t have any more time to argue tonight. So I’ll bow out of the discussion for now.

    Heh. I don’t actually say this, which I guess means I am an inconsiderate a-hole, but I actually need to leave for awhile too. Damn real world.

  167. eigenperson says

    Sorry — I meant “it seems like you do not accept this USAGE of the term ‘possibility.'”

  168. The Laughing Coyote (Papio Cynocephalus) says

    But we can explain why the glass has the property of solidity at our scale. And we can explain why solidity should be understood as having structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume.

    At no scale or level of abstraction is there any explanation for how you could have willed yourself to have Food Y instead.

    And almost everyone here has, in their own ways, explained why at ‘our scale’, they still make choices about how they interact with their environment.

    Which was my conception of free will pretty much from the start. I dunno if anyone’s gleaned from my general posting in TET, but I’m a pretty simplistic creature, at home with my tool-using ape identity.

    The philosophical crap was just confusing. I’m well aware that I’m very uneducated compared to most of the hoarde, which is why I’m still trying to stick with it and ‘learn something’, but you still haven’t really convinced me that my glass analogy doesn’t work.

    At our level, we ‘make choices’ by weighing past experience and consequences along with our ability to learn from others and all the wonderful complexities of the ‘human experience’, and that’s all I’ve ever really thought ‘free will’ was. Now I find out, according to philosophy, free will means some kind of metaphysical concept or something.

  169. says

    But the question is, how can you distinguish you from your brain?

    I don’t!

    “I” is an illusion my brain presents (or rather I’d say it’s an emergent property of my brain) I won’t bother scare-quoting ‘I’ but it seems to me that that some animals have got brains that are complicated enough (does that come with socialization and rudimentary language? this ‘I’ that calls itself “Marcus” isn’t qualified to guess…) that their self-monitoring loop starts to group details into increasingly high-level abstractions to make it easier for itself to process its own inputs and eventually it winds up feeling like it’s looking over its own shoulder, as it were. But it’s all lies, all the way down. For one thing, if this brain suffers a stroke, ‘I’ get all fucked up in all kinds of ways and can no longer function the way ‘I’ do now; newer ‘I’ with different capabilities might result from what’s left.

    Earlier I said “I have to go pee” – that’s a high-level way of my monitoring loop propagating some signals from my bladder and the muscles around it and so forth. This process of abstracting things so that the monitoring loop (it’s not really a loop, since we’re massively parallel not sequential, but I’m an aging C programmer…) can simplify them gets all tangled up in language. It seems to me that the way we use language to produce increasing levels of abstraction in words, might mirror some of what we call consciousness. I suppose I may have just said that Chomsky was onto something.

  170. eigenperson says

    #181: You feel like you make choices because you actually do.

    When you go into a restaurant, your brain takes stock of several factors, including your current level of hunger, the amount of money in your pocket, and your preferences, and then chooses an item of food based on that. (Let’s grant that the choice is entirely deterministic.)

    In what way is this not a choice? Or, alternatively, in what way are you not making it?

  171. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    I am not going to say, “There is only one possible result, but I do not yet know what it is.” That is stupid.

    But that is true! Sure you will sound weird and half-insane to most people, but that’s where talking very precisely as a non-free-will believer will get you. LOL.

    In the context of free-will, even BEFORE the election it is more accurate to say that phrase. But I don’t want to get bogged down in the details on one word, nor do I want to repeat myself. All the words we have been tussling over imply free-will, when used as most people used them. Now I gots to go, so that is all I am a gonna say on that one. Fo shizzle.

  172. eigenperson says

    But that is true! Sure you will sound weird and half-insane to most people, but that’s where talking very precisely as a non-free-will believer will get you. LOL.

    Well, that is indeed a persuasive argument for talking that way.

  173. says

    Coyote,

    And almost everyone here has, in their own ways, explained why at ‘our scale’, they still make choices about how they interact with their environment.

    Yeah, the C word is squishy in that regard. That’s why I told Bill I’m not wholly comfortable with it.

    But ask them, compatibilists and incompatibilists alike: “do you believe that you could have chosen to eat something different for your most recent meal?”

    you still haven’t really convinced me that my glass analogy doesn’t work.

    If you accepted that you couldn’t have chosen differently for your most recent meal, I’d hardly be interested in your glass analogy.

    I see little reason to focus on an analogy when you are apparently getting the fact itself wrong. Do you understand that you could not have chosen Food Y instead?

  174. says

    But with a given set of inputs and a given brain state, the “choice” will always be the same.

    Indeed, but the brain is a dynamic organism where a good part of those brain states are determined by things like knowledge and experience. Action is undertaken by an understanding of potential consequences – throwing a rock through a window might be completely determined in the brain, but the action is only possible given knowing how rocks and windows behave, and knowing how the window owner will react.

  175. anteprepro says

    Well eigenperson, I at least believe that your algorithm example was very good. I was under the impression that there could be something that we could accurately call “choice, decisions, etc.” while still having it be in a situation where the “choice, decision, etc.” made was predetermined. The algorithm example did a fairly good job at illustrating that idea, imo.

  176. says

    On this level, everyone behaves as if free-will exists. For how can we not?

    Exactly.

    And I feel that my way of thinking about it – that it’s a lie our brains tell us (more precisely: it’s an abstraction our brains use to simplify something that is too complicated to make useful sense) like 3D vision, is why we have so much trouble dealing with it. I can tell you all day that 3D vision is a lie but that won’t make you stop “seeing in 3D!”

    I really like the 3D vision way of thinking about this problem because we can see that brains that don’t have 3D vision (like my friend Peter, who only has one eye) try to figure it out anyway! Because the illusion of 3D has tremendous survival value. What Peter does is ducks his head from side to side – but his brain once again takes all that complicated input and tells him: “you sort of have 3D vision.” It’s too much processing going on below the conscious level, simply because there’s no point in wasting perfectly good conscious thought doing it, because that’d be overwhelming.

    When I’m driving along at 80mph in a 55mph zone, as I usually do, there’s no advantage I’d have in having my brain make all those distance calculations be part of my conscious self-monitoring loop. At the level of ‘I’ I’m dealing with abstractions; meanwhile the lower levels are making all kinds of decisions for ‘me’ – it’s all a matter of layering abstractions. The highest level abstraction sees all this as making a choice but actually some of the ‘choices’ were made very predictably at lower levels and were asserted upward.

    I said earlier that the idea of ‘choice’ seems to be incoherent, what I meant was that if we really “make choices” at what level does “choice” enter into things? I have conscious control of my breathing, where I put my feet, my fingers on the keyboard as I type, the Killians I just took a slug of, etc, etc, etc, etc. If someone wants to assert “choice” then at what level does “choice” matter? If one wants to say they have free will, I want them to own the “choice” of every muscle that they shift that’s not autonomic. But of course that’s not how it happens – ‘decisions’ at that low level get made automatically and reported up the stack. At some point the self-monitoring loop goes, “AhA! time for me to pee!” or whatever. It’s all a great big illusion.

    Have any of you ever played with overloading your self-monitoring loop, BTW? It’s tremendously interesting and can help generate some insights. Try driving while txting and listening to something interesting on the radio while arguing with someone in the back seat – or whatever it takes to overload your self-monitoring loop with dangerous and interesting things. My experience of having that happen is that ‘I’ disappear. It’s as if I overload my own self-awareness bandwidth. This makes me think that my sense of self is also a convenient lie. Also, that explains where my “self” goes when I’m asleep: it disappears into its constituent pieces.

    By the way, before someone asks me [citation needed] this is all just some stuff I’ve been thinking about the last few decades. Some of it is based on neuroscience, some of it is pure conjecture. I offer it only for entertainment purposes.

  177. eigenperson says

    Actually, I have a better example (although this one goes to the word “possible” rather than to the word “choice”).

    * * *

    “Holmes,” said I, with a shudder, “I really cannot begin to understand this case.”
    “My dear Watson,” said Holmes, “for once I must confess I share your befuddlement. Take, for example, the demeanor of the lady of the house, Mrs. Talliot.”
    “But Holmes,” said I, “I did not perceive anything abnormal in her demeanor!”
    “Tut, Watson,” said Holmes. “Think! Did you not observe the remarkable expression that appeared upon her face when I commented upon the books in the window of the small bookshop near her flat?”
    At once a monstrous thought emerged into my mind. “Holmes,” I said, “surely you do not think that Mrs. Talliot is implicated in the murder?”
    Holmes waved his long fingers dismissively. “It is certainly possible,” said he, “but I do not think it is probable. In fact, I could write down for you seventeen alternative explanations for the behavior of Mrs. Talliot. But not one of them satisfies me.”

    * * *

    Now, does Holmes use the word “possible” in the sense that at a previous time in history, some nondeterministic event occurred in such a way that Mrs. Talliot is not actually a murderer, but would have been had the event occurred in a different way (that was nevertheless physically possible given conditions at the time)?

    No.

    He means that his knowledge about the state of the world is not sufficient to determine the true facts of the strange case involving Mrs. Talliot. And that, I submit, is the normal concept of “possibility”.

  178. Dhorvath, OM says

    Marcus,
    I seek out loss of I regularly, it’s a worthwhile endeavour, at least for me.

  179. says

    Coyote,

    Ahs: No, I suppose I really don’t.

    Okay. :) See, I knew you hadn’t fully turned to the compatibilist side of the force.

    You’re still functionally an incompatibilist, just one who believes in free will. We agree on the incompatibilist part.

    I’m not all that articulate myself, so the best I can do is keep pointing to my selections from Colin McGinn and Thomas W. Clark and my response to Peter Voss.

    I suspect you understand that when your circumstances and motivations are exactly the same, you must do the same thing; and when your circumstances and motivations are different, you may do different.

    I suspect you’re not grappling with how, in the timeline you’ve lived, at every point in history, your circumstances and motivations must necessarily have been identical to the circumstances and motivations you experienced at that moment.

    +++++
    If you can’t be convinced, you can’t be convinced. This in itself is not a big problem. What bothered me more was how the compatibilist writings had led you to think you understood a coherent formulation of free will, when you apparently did not accept their own determinist premises.

  180. says

    eigenperson@191:
    When you go into a restaurant

    OK, so the brain is unable to fully process causality, so it draws arbitrary lines at distances that made evolutionary sense. Why did you pick “when you go into a restaurant” as the limit of causality in this situation? What if I was with some friends and they insisted (because one of them had the car keys) that we go to one of their favorite vegan restaurants? My brain is constantly offering me a simplified model of causality that is within the limits of what it can track in a way that can make sense to it – and it offers me the idea that I have “made choices” but really it just lied to me by circumscribing my perception of causality. Or, more precisely, it gave me as much causality as we’re evolved to handle. The long form is that we went to the restaurant we went to because of The Big Bang. But, sure I might have a learned behavior in which I browbeat everyone that we always go to my favorite sushi place: in which case I have an assload of albacore and a tuna roll and 2 sapporos. And my brain tells me I “chose” the restaurant but actually there was no choice since I hate vegan food and love sushi and all that stuff gets processed below my conscious level anyway.

    So my brain presents me with the lie that I chose the tofu-munchee sandwich. And it gets away with that lie because I am it, and it is me, and – as the immortal philosopher said, “’cause the lie becomes the truth”

  181. anteprepro says

    Coyote:

    No, I suppose I really don’t.

    Let me see if I can help by fleshing things out more (though I admit this explanation may not be consistent with ahs’s opinions).
    Say you were given a choice between eating a taco (Food X) and a cheeseburger (Y). Let us factor in the following:

    -You have only hard shells but prefer soft shells for tacos. (Small favor Y)
    -You have only Swiss cheese but prefer American on cheeseburgers. (Small favor X)
    -You have most of the condiments you usually use on a taco, but only half of the ones you would use for a cheeseburger. (Moderate favor X)
    -It will take more dishes to clean later to make a taco. (Moderate favor Y)
    -You have a hankering for something spicy. (Moderate favor X)

    Net result: Factors lead to favoring X, the taco.

    Factoring in all of these and more, you chose to eat a taco over a cheeseburger. If you were put in the same exact situation, with none of the factors considered changed at all, you would be trapped to choose taco again, for the same reasons that you did originally, because the factors that originally led you to choose it would be the same to pressure you to choose it all over again. How would you possibly be able to choose the hamburger when brought back, somehow, to the situation, the same as it was before? We have no evidence that you would, have no mechanism by which you could, and it would only be plausible if the factors were perfectly balanced in such a way that either choice was equally likely/appealing or choice was determined by something random. The other way that it would be plausible that you could choose differently is if you considered the factors differently, which is just another way of altering the situation (since it requires a change in the process of weighing of the options before the choice is made, which effectively changes the sequence of experiences leading up to the choice).

    In so many words: There is no good reason to assume that you could choose differently and there a few plausible ways that it could be the case that we could.

  182. The Laughing Coyote (Papio Cynocephalus) says

    Anteprepro: That makes somewhat more sense, and lacking a rewind button for the universe, it still only mildly deviates from my conception of ‘free will’ as before.

  183. eigenperson says

    #202 Marcus Ranum:

    There isn’t a line of causality being drawn anywhere. All that’s going on is that we’re looking at the proximate cause. There is a chain of causes running backwards through time, but this does not somehow make the proximate cause an illusion.

  184. anteprepro says

    Anteprepro: That makes somewhat more sense, and lacking a rewind button for the universe, it still only mildly deviates from my conception of ‘free will’ as before.

    Glad to hear it. Now I’ve just got to hope that I’m not way off fucking base :D

  185. says

    but this does not somehow make the proximate cause an illusion.

    The proximate cause is not an illusion, but our brain’s deciding what is the proximate cause is something that seems to happen at a level below our consciousness, no? Otherwise, is part of your choice a conscious determination of the proximate cause? I doubt that.

  186. says

    Anteprepro: That makes somewhat more sense, and lacking a rewind button for the universe, it still only mildly deviates from my conception of ‘free will’ as before.

    No worries about lacking a rewind button; the principle applies at all times.

    Going forward into the future, the next time you have to choose between french fries and onion rings, you will be unable to will yourself to apply more or less importance to your various preferences and circumstances at that moment.

  187. a0ray0in0dilbert0space says

    I am afraid I fall into the “free will is an illusion” camp for the simple reason that for there to be free will, some portion of me must act deterministically on the world without in turn having he world act deterministically on me. I know of no physical mechanism whereby that could work–and as I think the world is all physical…well for me that about wraps it up for free will.

    I believe with Schoepenhauer that a man can do what he wants, but cannot want what he wants.

  188. consciousness razor says

    Marcus Ranum:

    Have any of you ever played with overloading your self-monitoring loop, BTW? It’s tremendously interesting and can help generate some insights. Try driving while txting and listening to something interesting on the radio while arguing with someone in the back seat – or whatever it takes to overload your self-monitoring loop with dangerous and interesting things. My experience of having that happen is that ‘I’ disappear. It’s as if I overload my own self-awareness bandwidth. This makes me think that my sense of self is also a convenient lie. Also, that explains where my “self” goes when I’m asleep: it disappears into its constituent pieces.

    I think it might get the point across more clearly if you refer to awareness of being a self as a representation or a model that the brain creates. You’re basically right, I think, but for some reason it’s clearer to me what’s happening when I think of it that way. You could think of it as a lie, but it’s a useful lie because it simplifies the work the brain has to do. It isn’t useful most of the time to be aware of the fact that you aren’t seeing in 3D, or that “you” are just a representation, seeing the representation of a predator your brain is creating, who is about to eat “you.” That would require a whole lot of work and wouldn’t do us a whole lot of good; in fact it would be detrimental almost all of the time. It’s interesting that we can sort of think of ourselves in these abstract terms, but that we can’t be aware of it the same way we’re aware of everything else. That just doesn’t seem to be one of the tricks our brains can do. Or at least not mine.

  189. eigenperson says

    #210: I think the discussion has gotten confused.

    Of course the decision-making process does not incorporate a causal analysis of the events that brought about the need to make the decision.

    I do not understand why this is relevant, though. My observation is that when you “make a decision”, the proximate cause for that decision to come out the way it does is your intentions, desires, and beliefs. To me, that is what makes that event a “choice” or an exercise of will. It’s not merely an illusion — it’s ACTUALLY TRUE that the decision was rooted in your intentions, desires, and beliefs.

    For the alternative, suppose you are having brain surgery, and the surgeon touches a particular part of your brain, which causes you to say “I want a Coke.” The proximate cause of this decision to ask for a Coke is not your intentions, desires, and beliefs — it’s the brain surgeon’s electrode. Nevertheless, it is documented that you may have an illusion that the decision was caused by your intentions, desires, and beliefs.

    I see no evidence that this is true in the ordinary, non-brain-surgery situation, however.

  190. says

    consciousness razor:
    I think it might get the point across more clearly if you refer to awareness of being a self as a representation or a model that the brain creates.

    I like that. Uploaded. Calling it an “emergent property” sounds too WIRED-magazine-esque so I’ve been using “lie.” Mostly because calling myself a “lying meat robot” amuses me.

    but it’s a useful lie because it simplifies the work the brain has to do

    Exactly. It would make absolutely no sense if the brain presented the “self” with all of the ‘choices’ that were being made by the vision centers, the gut, the cerebellum, etc. Which is a problem for those who believe we “make choices” – at what level do those choices “matter”?

  191. says

    I don’t know why anyone talks dismissively about rewind buttons for the universe anyway. It’s embarrassing to watch.

    When you talk that way, you’re saying you don’t grasp that at any moment in time, circumstances must necessarily be identical to the circumstances at that moment.

    You are saying you cannot comprehend the law of identity: X = X

  192. victimainvictus says

    @anteprepro

    Yes, free will is both caused (by will itself, directly)) and uncaused (by causes/effects independent of will). What is your magical definition of free will that couldn’t be disputed in the same fashion as that of your meta-strawman?

    When someone says one “acted by their own free will,” it usually means something along the lines of “said person was able to use their actions to work towards their desired goals.” In a deterministic universe, said actions would be part of a causal chain, however, I don’t see how that makes them any less free.
    What is “by will itself, directly” supposed to mean? Please explain how my argument was a strawman.

  193. a0ray0in0dilbert0space says

    Eigenperson: “My observation is that when you “make a decision”, the proximate cause for that decision to come out the way it does is your intentions, desires, and beliefs. ”

    Why do you think your intentions, desires and beliefs are acts of volition in and of themselves. They are synapses firing in your brain, electrochemical reactions, and as such deterministic.

  194. says

    eigenperson:
    Of course the decision-making process does not incorporate a causal analysis of the events that brought about the need to make the decision. I do not understand why this is relevant, though.

    How do you “make a decision”? Well, there are inputs into your choice, and crucial among those inputs are external factors that may or may not have been caused by the individual. Right? So if I go to a sushi restaurant and ‘decide’ to have my usual order, my decision is fake to the extent that my decision was almost completely influenced by the decision to go to a sushi restaurant, ad infinite recursion… What seems to me to happen is that our brains tell themselves that they’ve made a decision, but it’s based an arbitrary notion of ‘proximate cause’ which is convenient to the brain’s making the decision that it would have made; our “choice” is post-facto justification, in other words.

    My observation is that when you “make a decision”, the proximate cause for that decision to come out the way it does is your intentions, desires, and beliefs. To me, that is what makes that event a “choice” or an exercise of will. It’s not merely an illusion — it’s ACTUALLY TRUE that the decision was rooted in your intentions, desires, and beliefs.

    Sure! And my suspicion is that those things you consider to be the proximate causes are convenient and arbitrary abstractions that were presented to you by your brain, below the level of your conscious control. So your “decision” was so much influenced below your conscious awareness as to hardly merit the name. But, because it’s all a process occuring with your brain acting on itself, it’s another convenient abstraction for your brain to pat itself on the lobe and say, “there, there, now, good choice…”

    The proximate cause of this decision to ask for a Coke is not your intentions, desires, and beliefs — it’s the brain surgeon’s electrode.

    I think this convenient notion of proximate cause is another one of those little abstractions (lies!) our brains offer us. It’s the level of causality that can be made sense of without taxing itself; it’s an arbitrary line with “The Big Bang” at one end and the surgeon’s electrode at the other. Why do we say the surgeon’s electrode is the proximate cause, and not the surgeon’s deciding to come to work that day? Or my signing the waiver to be an experimental subject? Or my boss’ decision to volunteer me as a subject? etc. “Proximate cause” is arbitrary and ill-defined and if you’re relying on it as a crucial factor in your making a “choice” then I’d say “proximate cause” is an inadequate explanation of causality.

    I guess what I’m saying is that our feeling we’ve made a “choice” is our brain’s way of abstracting causality for us. It saves the brain from having to solve infinite regress, which has no survival value for the brain, at all.

    I see no evidence that this is true in the ordinary, non-brain-surgery situation, however.

    I will say for the record that I’m not arguing based on evidence. If I were arguing based on evidence I’d simply point out there’s no evidence of free will, given the randomness or determinism dilemma, and adopt a skeptical posture. I’m just informally airing some ideas about how our brains may conspire to make us feel like we have “choice” ‘for our own good’ and some of the consequences of that conspiracy.

  195. consciousness razor says

    Calling it an “emergent property” sounds too WIRED-magazine-esque so I’ve been using “lie.” Mostly because calling myself a “lying meat robot” amuses me.

    Heh, yeah. How it emerges and from what is sort of difficult to answer. You didn’t do this, but it bugs me when people call something “emergent” as if that were an explanation on its own. May as well just call it a “property” and leave it at that, if you can’t explain it*.

    *Obligatory: Tides go in, tides go out….

  196. says

    Given some particular circumstances C, you exhibit behavior B.

    At some particular moment in the future F, you will experience some particular circumstances; we do not know yet exactly what they will be, but we know they will be your circumstances at that moment, C(F).

    Given these circumstances C(F), you will exhibit some behavior B(F).

    Your circumstances in that moment are necessarily identical to your circumstances in that moment: C(F) = C(F).

    Your behavior therefore will be identical to your behavior: B(F) = B(F).

    For every F there is a C, and for every C there is a B. Always and forever.

  197. says

    BTW – the reason I find the notion of “proximate cause” to be interesting is because I’ve seen some people rather obviously search back and forth through causal chains in order to find a “proximate cause” where they were less likely to be blamed (or more likely to be credited)

    Another thing that people seem to do when thinking about causality is to simplify it into nice, neat cause->effect->effect chains where none exist. To your example of the brain surgeon zapping me with the electrode, there’s one chain of cause/effect that put the surgeon there, then, and another that put me there, then, and another that put the chair there, etc, ad infinitum. When we talk about cause/effect we tend to simplify it tremendously in order to be able to talk about it at all. But really, we know that every human cause/effect is interrelated by (as a proximate cause) events in Kenya millions of years ago and as a slightly less proximate cause by events possibly involving Pikaia Gracilens and – eventually the Big Bang. It’s not a chain, it’s an absolutely crazy mesh.

    Btw: why did the chicken cross the road?
    The big bang.

  198. says

    When someone says one “acted by their own free will,” it usually means something along the lines of “said person was able to use their actions to work towards their desired goals.” In a deterministic universe, said actions would be part of a causal chain, however, I don’t see how that makes them any less free.

    If you want to be a compatibilist and call that freedom, you’re welcome to. You’re just defining terms as you like. Have at it.

    The problem is when you start accusing those who argue against free will of being the ones who defined free will. We did not. We are responding to the traditional meaning of free will, which requires the self to be in some sense an uncaused causer.

    Please explain how my argument was a strawman.

    victiminvictus, it was explained already at #80.

  199. John Morales says

    ahs:

    We are responding to the traditional meaning of free will, which requires the self to be in some sense an uncaused causer.

    Rubbish.

    What it always referred to, except in arcane philosophical discourse, as the absence of coercion by others when making choices.

  200. John Morales says

    Marcus,

    Btw: why did the chicken cross the road?
    The big bang.

    Nice summation of the “no free will” position.

  201. says

    me: “I don’t need a rewind button to understand that your circumstances were identical to your circumstances.”

    Ken Ham: “Were you there?”

  202. anteprepro says

    Vv, your argument was a strawman in that you were suggesting that the only good argument against free will was itself a strawman of free will. That isn’t the case. But whether it’s a strawman of a strawman is not really relevant. What is relevant is your explanation of why that meta-strawman argument failed.

    It is obvious that when one says free will actions must be both caused and uncaused, it must be “caused” solely by willpower, and thus “uncaused” by sources beyond someone’s immediate will to perform the action. Attributing actions to random events or a series of contingent events means that it isn’t “caused” by someone’s will. This is not intentionally trying to put the free will proponent into a quandary by saying “show me something caused AND uncaused!”. It is asking for the proponent to show these actions are caused ONLY by will and uncaused by anything else. That is the important distinction that you (possibly intentionally) overlook, in lambasting that mean hypothetical anti-free willer.

    Also, you might want to look into other definitions of free will, because yours seems a little suspect. It almost seems as if you got it from the popular conception of “free will” (i.e. actions not done against one’s will) compared to the admittedly garbled philosophical concept of “free will” (i.e. choosing with minimal constraint and other outside influence).
    To clarify:
    You could be considered to do something “of your own free will” in the first sense if you made a choice that was consistent with all sorts of psychological biases and were under various pressures (hunger, financial, social expectations, moral considerations) to make the decision you arrive at, as long as you are not directly required or coerced into making that decision by other people.
    In the second sense, if you were directly required to or coerced into making a choice, you would still be considered to have had free will with respect to that choice if you make the one they required of you. If you have free will at all, you would have been just as free to obey (make the required decision) as disobey (make a different decision). The coercion just is another factor to consider. However, the various pressures and biases that were irrelevant for the first example DO infringe upon this kind of free will, in that they systematically constrain the decisions you make.

  203. mikelaing says

    ahs ? says:
    2 December 2011 at 7:49 pm
    Given some particular circumstances C, you exhibit behavior B

    All you are saying is what happens, happens. There is cause and effect.

  204. John Morales says

    [further to my #226]

    Bleedingly obvious, really, if you consider how and when the phrase “of my own free will” has been historically employed (generally, in oaths and in last testaments).

    [erratum] I carelessly wrote ‘as’ rather than ‘is’ back there, I now notice. (Whoops)

  205. anteprepro says

    Marcus,
    Btw: why did the chicken cross the road?
    The big bang.

    Nice summation of the “no free will” position.

    On that note:

    -Why did the chicken cross the road?
    -Because the truly unconstrained Ghost in the Machine decided it was tired of moving its chicken body via teleportation.

  206. John Morales says

    [addendum]

    As for the sentiment expressed in “I could have chosen differently”, there’s an implicit “were I other than who I am, because there I had alternatives” there.

    (There’s nothing dualistic about it)

  207. says

    What it always referred to, except in arcane philosophical discourse, as the absence of coercion by others when making choices.

    The common person now talks about it because the law cares about it; the law cares about it because the church insisted upon it. It’s metaphysics all the way down.

  208. John Morales says

    ahs:

    The common person now talks about it because the law cares about it; the law cares about it because the church insisted upon it. It’s metaphysics all the way down.

    Weren’t you invoking proximate and ultimate causation, earlier? :)

    (There’s nothing metaphysical about caring to meet legal requirements; pure pragmatism, that is)

  209. says

    All you are saying is what happens, happens. There is cause and effect.

    That is all it comes down to, yes.

    +++++

    As for the sentiment expressed in “I could have chosen differently”, there’s an implicit “were I other than who I am, because there I had alternatives” there.

    Coyote’s #195 demonstrates this implicit meaning is not always present, as does Bill’s fear of clockwork back on TET.

  210. says

    (There’s nothing metaphysical about caring to meet legal requirements; pure pragmatism, that is)

    Of course, but the law has come to be this way because of the church. There have been earlier legal systems which did not account for intent.

    The modern care for free will is proximately caused by the ostensibly secular law; my objection is to this:

    We are responding to the traditional meaning of free will, which requires the self to be in some sense an uncaused causer.

    What it always referred to

    The traditional meaning is the church’s one; it is as best misleading to say “what it always referred to” was the secular, as though there was a non-philosophical interest that preceded the philosophical one.

  211. John Morales says

    ahs:

    Coyote’s #195 demonstrates this implicit meaning is not always present, as does Bill’s fear of clockwork back on TET.

    I don’t think so.

  212. John Morales says

    ahs:

    The modern care for free will is proximately caused by the ostensibly secular law

    Hardly ostensible; when any parent ‘lays down the law’ to a child, both they and the child are fully conscious that the child’s free will is being restrained.

    (Can you restrain what ain’t there?)

  213. mikelaing says

    Coercion does not limit free will, only 100% constrain does.

    Also, the fact that our brains register activity that predicts our choice 57% of the time, also shows free will, just not that we always have it. The study only shows that some level of thinking, more precisely, brain activity, takes place before we are consciously aware of it as thought, however, our perception of conscious choice may be a process that developed along with that decision making thought process as a necessity for learning.

    Yet another: We can will what we will. How do you explain deciding ahead of time to make sure we do something different next time, or assume a different attitude when faced with similar, or identical situations in the future? Then you ask, well if e did will our will to be different, we can’t will our will to will our will to be different.
    It’s turtles all the way down.
    Shopenhauer fails, it is a moot point.

    Obviously, I am a 100% ‘we have free will’ guy. We don’t have free will? I refute it thus

    Ha ha , no changed my mind ag

  214. John Morales says

    ahs:

    The traditional meaning is the church’s one; it is as best misleading to say “what it always referred to” was the secular, as though there was a non-philosophical interest that preceded the philosophical one.

    Really.

    So, to take a specific example, the “I will never surrender of my own free will.” in the Code of the U.S. Fighting Force (3a) means what the church means by free will, rather than free of coercion?

    (That’s an example of an oath)

    So, when a last will and testament uses “of my own free will and accord and in a sound condition of mind”, it refers to what the church means by free will?

    (That’s an example of a testament)

    [levity]

    So, when Frank Sinatra sang “My Way”, it referred to the church’s meaning? ;)

    (“And more, much more than this, I did it myyyyyyy way.”)

  215. says

    I don’t think so.

    His #195 comes after my #173, #101, #81, #74, #20.

    I do not think he is still confused about the question itself, which has already been noted to exclude “were I other than who I am, because there I had alternatives”. The difference has been clearly articulated for him by another at #78. I believe he understands this.

  216. says

    Obviously, I am a 100% ‘we have free will’ guy. We don’t have free will? I refute it thus

    Ha ha , no changed my mind ag

    Yeah, haha, wow.

    mikelaing, when you can argue against Colin McGinn and Thomas W. Clark and my response to Peter Voss, do try again.

    Yet another: We can will what we will. How do you explain deciding ahead of time to make sure we do something different next time, or assume a different attitude when faced with similar, or identical situations in the future?

    You answer your own question:

    Then you ask, well if e did will our will to be different, we can’t will our will to will our will to be different. It’s turtles all the way down.

    It’s cause and effect all the way down, yes. You seem to think this is an awesome insight on your part, but you’re arguing the other’s case.

    What you’d need to show is how the individual’s will is not determined via a causal chain that begins beyond the individual.

  217. eigenperson says

    #220 arids:

    Why do you think your intentions, desires and beliefs are acts of volition in and of themselves. They are synapses firing in your brain, electrochemical reactions, and as such deterministic.

    I didn’t claim they were anything else. I don’t think they’re “acts of volition”, whatever that means.

    #221 Marcus Ranum:

    I think this convenient notion of proximate cause is another one of those little abstractions (lies!) our brains offer us. It’s the level of causality that can be made sense of without taxing itself; it’s an arbitrary line with “The Big Bang” at one end and the surgeon’s electrode at the other. Why do we say the surgeon’s electrode is the proximate cause, and not the surgeon’s deciding to come to work that day? Or my signing the waiver to be an experimental subject? Or my boss’ decision to volunteer me as a subject? etc. “Proximate cause” is arbitrary and ill-defined and if you’re relying on it as a crucial factor in your making a “choice” then I’d say “proximate cause” is an inadequate explanation of causality.

    “Proximate cause” isn’t really arbitrary at all, because in this nonlegal sense I’m merely using it to refer to the nearest (i.e. proximate) events to the action in question. Let’s say you are in a restaurant and the action in question is you ordering a Coke. We can trace the chain of causation backwards to the motor synapses which cause you to utter the sentence in question, then back further to the synapses within your brain where your food preferences are stored, then even further back to a fairly unknowable collection of events that includes more brain activity, as well as the light reflecting off the letters “C-O-C-A C-O-L-A” on the menu entering your eyes and the nerve impulses from your internal organs informing you about your hunger, and even further back to the motor impulses that led you to walk into the building, and further back to the conversation with your friends which caused you to go to the restaurant in the first place, and so on back to events that were occurring around the time of your birth and before it. In this way the chain of causation weaves into and out of your brain (and in particular, the conscious regions of your brain, as opposed to the brain stem), eventually remaining entirely outside your brain as we go back far enough in time.

    By proximate cause I just mean to refer to what is happening fairly early in that chain of causation. For a normal decision-making process, this consists of activity taking place inside your brain deriving from the portions of your brain in which your intentions, desires, and beliefs are stored. Before that, there are other causes. But I claim that this is the part of the causative chain that we care about for all practical purposes.

    In the abnormal process (i.e. the brain surgery example) this portion of the causative chain does not exist. There is no time at which the chain of causes leading to your utterance lives in the portion of your brain where your intentions influence your behavior. Now, the reason it is necessary to say PROXIMATE cause is that the chain of causes could wander around the universe a bit, returning to your brain at an earlier time. For example, earlier in that day, perhaps, you had the desire to drill a hole in your head. The failure of this procedure is what led to your brain surgery. So it is fair to say that the chain of events that caused your utterance eventually intersects with your desires again — namely, your desire to drill a hole in your head. But there is a lot of stuff in the middle that is not at all related to your desires or to your brain at all (it is related to the drill, the ambulance that took you to the hospital, and so on).

    This is a qualitative difference between the two scenarios. It’s not merely an illusion or abstraction.

  218. says

    Really.

    So, to take a specific example,

    you should try to find a specific example that precedes in history the religious interest in free will.

    I just acknowledged that secular interests now are proximately caused by other secular interests.

    Again, I spoke of the traditional meaning. You responded by complaining that there are other meanings. Indeed there are. But the traditional meaning was the church’s.

  219. John Morales says

    ahs, let me get this clear.

    You’re claiming that the traditional (ordinary) meaning of the expression ‘free will’ is that one can act against one’s nature, while I dispute that, by claiming that it’s a choice made free of coercion.

    No?

  220. consciousness razor says

    John Morales, are you honestly suggesting most people are comfortable with the notion that they are deterministic meat machines? In my experience, many tend to find that somewhat disconcerting. I’m fairly sure that, for however long that idea has been around, most were just as repelled by that as the notion of being coerced by some other agent.

    Again, I have to wonder what your point is. You cite examples of “free will” in one sense, but what does that have to do with the other?

  221. John Morales says

    consciousness razor:

    John Morales, are you honestly suggesting most people are comfortable with the notion that they are deterministic meat machines?

    No, I’m disputing the notion that most people think ‘free will’ refers to other than the ability to choose freely — that is, according to their desires.

    Again, I have to wonder what your point is. You cite examples of “free will” in one sense, but what does that have to do with the other?

    Wonder no more: my point is that this discussion is about a philosophical point most people don’t care about, but which is held to be the real sense of ‘free will’.

    (cf. jaybee @31 for a good summary of this)

  222. victimainvictus says

    @anteprepro
    If you strictly define “free will” as latter, “philosophical” sense – “free” defined to mean “caused only by will and uncaused by anything else” and “will” defined to mean “that which is not attributable to random events or a series of contingent events,” then I agree with you: “free will” does not exist.
    However, refuting this conception of “free will” is as trivial as it is meaningless. It is logically impossible for something to be not attributable to random events or a series of contingent events, and therefore “will” is a non-idea. It follows then that “free” as you have defined it is a non-idea also, because something cannot be caused by “will.”

    The problem is that saying “free will does not exist” is highly misleading – if I may borrow a term from Daniel Dennett, “free will does not exist” is a deepity. If you mean by “free will does not exist” that actions cannot be caused by something that is neither contingent nor random, then this is true, but trivial. However, if you apply any meaningful or useful conception of the word “free” and the word “will” then this does not hold true.

    Saying “free will does not exist” conflates the first meaning with the second meaning – the the first meaning is true but tautological, and the second meaning is false, but would be earth-shattering were it true. “Free will does not exist” is thus a highly problematic statement, because it can so easily be construed to mean “people do not actually have the ability to act on their desires.”

  223. says

    You’re claiming that the traditional (ordinary) meaning of the expression ‘free will’ is that one can act against one’s nature,

    something like that, by having a dual nature: one more animal and one more platonic ideal. The traditional notion is that one may subdue the other.

  224. eigenperson says

    #250: I think the reason this discussion is going on in the first place is that libertarians (in the philosophical sense) rely on the ambiguity of the term “free will” to advance their position that there is such a thing as a nonrandom, noncontingent event. Then they base a whole bunch of ideas on this impossible conception of free will.

    When this position is demonstrated to be incoherent, they then believe that they must reject all those associated ideas. So as a result you get the idiots who ask, in all sincerity, “If there’s no free will, then how can you justify punishing murderers?”

  225. says

    If you strictly define “free will” as latter, “philosophical” sense – “free” defined to mean “caused only by will and uncaused by anything else” and “will” defined to mean “that which is not attributable to random events or a series of contingent events,” then I agree with you: “free will” does not exist.

    However, refuting this conception of “free will” is as trivial as it is meaningless.

    The good saint Dennett disagrees with you about its alleged meaninglessness: «We ought to admit, up front, that one of our strongest unspoken motivations for upholding something close to the traditional concept of free will is our desire to see the world’s villains “get what they deserve.”»

  226. John Morales says

    ahs @251, ok. Then, surely you agree that its usage in the first two examples of my #242 doesn’t match that meaning?

  227. says

    ahs @251, ok. Then, surely you agree that its usage in the first two examples of my #242 doesn’t match that meaning?

    I do.

  228. consciousness razor says

    John Morales, are you honestly suggesting most people are comfortable with the notion that they are deterministic meat machines?

    No,

    Okay, then you agree people care about it, whether or not they understand all its philosophical underpinnings or its implications.

    Wonder no more: my point is that this discussion is about a philosophical point most people don’t care about, but which is held to be the real sense of ‘free will’.

    See above. I could care less about the “real” meaning of the word.

  229. says

    The problem is that saying “free will does not exist” is highly misleading – if I may borrow a term from Daniel Dennett, “free will does not exist” is a deepity.

    No more so than saying “God does not exist.”

    I’ve heard of noncognitivist arguments that claim to show it is a deepity, but honestly I have never been able to follow them.

    Saying “free will does not exist” conflates the first meaning with the second meaning – the the first meaning is true but tautological, and the second meaning is false, but would be earth-shattering were it true. “Free will does not exist” is thus a highly problematic statement, because it can so easily be construed to mean “people do not actually have the ability to act on their desires.”

    No, it doesn’t. It’s you compatibilist goons who are conflating the two. ;)

    If you’d get off the metaphysics and just go around saying “people can act on their desires” then we wouldn’t have to argue with you.

  230. John Morales says

    consciousness razor:

    Okay, then you agree people care about it

    Nope. Whatever made you think that?

    See above. I could care less about the “real” meaning of the word.

    If you grant that there is more than one meaning, you must understand that the proposition that whether it exists or not must be applied to each particular meaning and, therefore, one cannot just give a blanket answer as to whether or not it exists.

  231. John Morales says

    ahs @255, then you consider that those two examples aren’t typical of the sense in which the expression is normally used in ordinary life, no?

  232. victimainvictus says

    @ ahs

    In that quote Dennett is acknowledging a cognitive bias, not abandoning the entire concept of free will. If you did your research, you would know that Dennett is actually a compatibilist. Relevant:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Utai74HjPJE

    However, this is immaterial. I don’t give credence to appeals from authority – just because I find a term someone coined to be useful does not mean I have to agree with everything he or she has ever said.

  233. says

    ahs @255, then you consider that those two examples aren’t typical of the sense in which the expression is normally used in ordinary life, no?

    Ordinary life is very muddled. We’re talking about a population which is mostly theistic, and most of them believe in souls. They explicitly hold dualism to be true. Therefore, it’s hard to know, without extensive surveying, just what they hold the implications of “free will” to be.

    What I do know is that the traditional meaning of free will required the self to be in some sense an uncaused causer, and it was by later secular law that the newer meaning has come into wide discussion.

  234. says

    No more so than saying “God does not exist.”

    Given that a lot of what people mean when they say free will clearly exists, and no part of what people meant when they say God clearly exists, how can you justify such a statement? Seems like massive false equivalence; especially given our earlier back and forth!

  235. says

    In that quote Dennett is acknowledging a cognitive bias, not abandoning the entire concept of free will.

    Indeed. I wonder why you think I’m saying otherwise.

    If you did your research, you would know that Dennett is actually a compatibilist.

    If you did your research, you would know that I offered a reading from Dennett back at #12 explicitly so that the compatibilists here would have a competent writer to rely upon.

  236. says

    Given that a lot of what people mean when they say free will clearly exists

    I just don’t accept the claim that this is sufficient to justify use of the term. It so often implies, as it has to some believers in free will right here in this thread, that we could have chosen to choose differently than we did. I consider that this is a fatal flaw in the terminology, and the widespred existence of this misunderstanding is evidence that compatibilism is sophistry.

  237. John Morales says

    ahs @260, do you mean this? Everyone’s just desperate to have this vital commodity they’ve heard about called “free will,” despite having no clear idea what it is. Since that doesn’t exist, he redefines it to mean things which do exist, so people will at least have the cheap toy version to play with, hopefully without feeling completely ripped off.

    Because if so, that’s sustaining my claim that this argument is about a putative ‘real’ meaning.

    @262,

    What I do know is that the traditional meaning of free will required the self to be in some sense an uncaused causer, and it was by later secular law that the newer meaning has come into wide discussion.

    I grant you that, if you further quantify it as the “traditional [theological/philosophical] meaning of free will”, and if you do, then we are in agreement.

    (But then, that’s not really applicable to the masses (i.e. CR’s “most people”), is it?)

  238. consciousness razor says

    If you grant that there is more than one meaning, you must understand that the proposition that whether it exists or not must be applied to each particular meaning and, therefore, one cannot just give a blanket answer as to whether or not it exists.

    That’s why people often qualify it by claiming people don’t have “libertarian free will” or “contra-causal free will.” That should make it abundantly clear which proposition we’re talking about. There’s no need to spell it out when it ought to be clear in context, as it should be in this thread.

    If we were in a different context, well, then things would be different, wouldn’t they? Perhaps someone would be holding a gun to our heads and quibbling over our imprecise language.

  239. anteprepro says

    It is logically impossible for something to be not attributable to random events or a series of contingent events, and therefore “will” is a non-idea.

    Can you read? Those events are supposed to be EXTERNAL to will. Will is the conscious mind capable of decision making. It is only free will if that conscious mind is doing that decision making without its decisions being dictated by external random events or a series of external causal events.

    The problem is that saying “free will does not exist” is highly misleading – if I may borrow a term from Daniel Dennett, “free will does not exist” is a deepity. If you mean by “free will does not exist” that actions cannot be caused by something that is neither contingent nor random, then this is true, but trivial.

    You’re fucking obtuse and it’s starting to piss me off. It should be “Actions cannot be caused by something OTHER THAN THE ACTOR’S OWN DECISION TO PERFORM IT that is either contingent or random”. This is not trivial: This is the entire fucking point of free will. Read, goddammit. This is the fourth time you’ve essentially spewed the same argument, immune to all correction.

    free will does not exist”… “people do not actually have the ability to act on their desires.”

    Here’s the rub: Using “acting on their desires” as the criteria for free will is actually itself shooting the philosophical conception of free will square in the fucking face. Why? Because “desire” to take one choice over another would be a constraint on truly free choices. It’s just one more constraint among many, and yet you tack it on like it’s a fucking necessity. It’s actually a little amusing.

    Anyway, I don’t conflate the two senses of free will. You have, because you don’t know better. Fix that.

  240. alopiasmag says

    Free Will sucks. But until we improve our education system and allow EQUAL opportunities for all, and figure out how to effectively treat people with “dysfunctionalities”, we have to hold people accountable.

    Maybe a poor man has way fewer choices than a Rich White Dude, and ends up in drugs, and later on kills an innocent person to get a “fix”. It was society’s fault, we need to improve our education and our fellow citizen’s opportunities so we reduce the amount of people that fall in that line… But he still needs to pay for what he did.

    That said… I think I am gonna watch some TV now.

  241. John Morales says

    consciousness razor:

    There’s no need to spell it out when it ought to be clear in context, as it should be in this thread.

    Well, then: out of context, we can definitively say that free will both exists and doesn’t exist, depending. :)

    [meta]

    Where the hell is Walton?

    (He’s been all over other threads with his people are not to blame (oh, sorry, not to ‘blame’!) for their actions, due to free-will considerations, but has notably avoided this one)

  242. says

    I just don’t accept the claim that this is sufficient to justify use of the term.

    The problem is that a lot of other people do, and as you have seen from the reaction here, you’re having to put in qualifications and ask for certain factors to be excluded from the definition in order to keep your point. That to me suggests that the concept still has some utility, and thus false equivalence.

    It so often implies, as it has to some believers in free will right here in this thread, that we could have chosen to choose differently than we did.

    But that’s only one aspect of what people mean by free will, that’s not the entire concept as people are using it. Is this the same with God? Show me this isn’t making a false equivalence.

    I consider that this is a fatal flaw in the terminology, and the widespred existence of this misunderstanding is evidence that compatibilism is sophistry.

    So if many people who supported evolution but didn’t understand it, that would be evidence that evolution is sophistry? Come off it!

  243. anteprepro says

    Slight correction, and others can feel free to correct me if I am describing this wrong: I believe “will” should be “the part of the conscious mind responsible for decision making” and that this should mean that “external events”, both random and contingent upon one another, are only external relevant to the part of mind making decisions. The external events may be internal, with respect to the physical body or the rest of consciousness.

    (Note: You are probably too daft to realize, vv, but I don’t even know if the non-determinism prong of the meta-strawman refutation of free will even works. So don’t accidentally stumble into believing that I am trying to make that argument work. It’s just that I’m showing that entire argument isn’t self-refuting, like you are pretending it is. Just to let you know)

  244. victimainvictus says

    @anteprepro

    It is only free will if that conscious mind is doing that decision making without its decisions being dictated by external random events or a series of external causal events.

    Why? How would this square circle non-scenario be any more free?

    You’re fucking obtuse and it’s starting to piss me off.

    My, I’m not making you angry am I? I suggest doing some breathing exercises, or perhaps taking a walk.

    It should be “Actions cannot be caused by something OTHER THAN THE ACTOR’S OWN DECISION TO PERFORM IT that is either contingent or random”.

    The actor’s own decision must necessarily be contingent or random, so we are back to the same dilemma.

    Because “desire” to take one choice over another would be a constraint on truly free choices.

    Why would desire be a constraint to freedom? What strange definition of “free” are you using?

    Anyway, I don’t conflate the two senses of free will.

    Yet you are…

  245. mikelaing says

    ahs ? says:


    2 December 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Obviously, I am a 100% ‘we have free will’ guy. We don’t have free will? I refute it thus
    Ha ha , no changed my mind ag

    Yeah, haha, wow.
    mikelaing, when you can argue against Colin McGinn and Thomas W. Clark and my response to Peter Voss, do try again.

    I will go read them, but seeing you are so sure they make sense, you must understand what they are saying 100% and could just as easily tell me what they say. I am not going to argue phantasms in your brain, and I am not going to look for something that takes me a great deal of time to find if I don’t know specifically what I am supposed to be looking for.
    Okay, I just read your response. Now what? It has nothing to do with what I am talking about, FFS, so what ARE you talking about? Besides that compatibility is wrong. You should have deduced that by saying it is turtles all the way down, I mean we either have free will, or we do not, there is no such thing as compatibility, and Schopenhauer, as I understand it, is the main proponent of thus viewpoint of dualism of cause, C.
    Do try again.

    Yet another: We can will what we will. How do you explain deciding ahead of time to make sure we do something different next time, or assume a different attitude when faced with similar, or identical situations in the future?

    You answer your own question:

    Then you ask, well if e did will our will to be different, we can’t will our will to will our will to be different. It’s turtles all the way down.

    It’s cause and effect all the way down, yes. You seem to think this is an awesome insight on your part, but you’re arguing the other’s case.
    What you’d need to show is how the individual’s will is not determined via a causal chain that begins beyond the individual.

    No, I am arguing that if you are going to insist on a cause, you had better know what is being caused. Our free or not will is a function of the processes in the brain. Another word for this is mind.
    So, if you know what exactly our mind is, and how and why we are cognizant of it, it is a moot point to argue about free will.
    C(F) = mind/unknown*C(F) (or whatever, your inductive argument fails by definition because you conclude an absolute)

    For every F there is a C, and for every C there is a B. Always and forever.

    So what? This says zero about free will, or anything, for that matter. Maybe free will = C.

    Why don’t you respond to my actual brilliant(eyeroll) insight, that we are not consciously aware of our free will at the exact moment that our will is obtaining.

    Again, though, how can whether or not we have free will be relevant if we don’t know what will is?
    I don’t mean a decision based on a desire, I mean the phenomenon that we perceive our mind/awareness to be? Our understanding of what our mind exactly is, FFS?
    It is unknown. How the fuck can we argue about cause and effect if the major link in the process is undefined?

    That is why I introduced the concept that somehow we can be consciously controlling our decisions even though our motor activity indicates otherwise!!

    WE don’t exactly know what is going on in our mind because we don’t know exactly what is going on in our brain, for that matter. Sure, regions light up that we associate with the decision making process, but that is only a vague correspondence with what’s actually happening because knowing a region of the brain corresponds to something, even if it is shown to be a 100% causal relationship, like ‘making a certain decision x’, we don’t know why we are aware of a sense of deciding to act in a certain way.

  246. says

    Kel,

    The problem is that a lot of other people do, and as you have seen from the reaction here, you’re having to put in qualifications

    Such as?

    and ask for certain factors to be excluded from the definition in order to keep your point.

    No, it’s the compatibilists who are asking that the damn simple criterion of whether or not a person could have chosen differently be excluded.

    That’s a basic part of what most people mean by have free will; that’s why Bill frets over compatibilism: «It’s not so much a matter of disagreeing with it, as much as I can’t make any sense out of it: Every definition of choose that makes any sense to me involves the possibility of choosing otherwise. To the extent that “we may not choose what we choose” implies that every “choice” is predetermined, the very sense of choose/choice is negated, and the assertion that “we may do what we choose” becomes nonsensical.»

    His trouble with the C word is understandable. But it is the compatibilists that insist he should keep that word even in the face of the evidence that he never could have chosen otherwise. I have no objection to dropping it from our vocabulary, if folks find it unworkable.

    But that’s only one aspect of what people mean by free will, that’s not the entire concept as people are using it. Is this the same with God? Show me this isn’t making a false equivalence.

    Some people have been using God as inclusive of real things at least since Spinozism. But if you prefer, I’ll say that “saying free will does not exist is like saying UFOs do not exist.” UFOs certainly do refer to real phenomena, but I think it’s coherent to say that the term is misleading and UFOs should still be said not to exist.

    So if many people who supported evolution but didn’t understand it, that would be evidence that evolution is sophistry? Come off it!

    I think this is a false equivalence now, since free will began as a theological notion, and from the beginning referred to something which did not exist.

    Compatibilism is an attempt to secularize a broken concept, and the term “free will” ought to just be replaced with words that are not at the front lines of philosophical dispute: diminished capacity, opportunity, power, ability, privilege, etc.

    Since these other terms are more well defined, if we see someone using them wrongly, it will be trivial to correct their usage. Good luck getting the average Christian to use free will the way you want.

  247. says

    mikelaing

    I will go read them, but seeing you are so sure they make sense, you must understand what they are saying 100% and could just as easily tell me what they say.

    Not just as easily, come on. Be serious. That’s a lot of writing. It’s easier to link.

    Okay, I just read your response. Now what? It has nothing to do with what I am talking about, FFS, so what ARE you talking about?

    It’s not at all clear what you’re talking about, mikelaing. I’m sorry, but this is your problem. If you want better responses, you’ll have to provide something more sensible.

    No, I am arguing that if you are going to insist on a cause, you had better know what is being caused. Our free or not will is a function of the processes in the brain. Another word for this is mind.

    I’m nodding but I’m not sure when I should start backing away slowly.

    Why don’t you respond to my actual brilliant(eyeroll) insight, that we are not consciously aware of our free will at the exact moment that our will is obtaining.

    Yeah, I’m aware of the Libet experiments and responses.

    I use them for FUD, but to be honest, I really don’t understand what’s so attractive about them to some people either way.

    McGinn demonstrates free will cannot exist at the physical level; Clark demonstrates it cannot exist even as a philosophical construct. Neuroscience is way late in the game.

    Again, though, how can whether or not we have free will be relevant if we don’t know what will is?
    I don’t mean a decision based on a desire, I mean the phenomenon that we perceive our mind/awareness to be? Our understanding of what our mind exactly is, FFS?
    It is unknown. How the fuck can we argue about cause and effect if the major link in the process is undefined?

    That is why I introduced the concept that somehow we can be consciously controlling our decisions even though our motor activity indicates otherwise!!

    WE don’t exactly know what is going on in our mind because we don’t know exactly what is going on in our brain, for that matter. Sure, regions light up that we associate with the decision making process, but that is only a vague correspondence with what’s actually happening because knowing a region of the brain corresponds to something, even if it is shown to be a 100% causal relationship, like ‘making a certain decision x’, we don’t know why we are aware of a sense of deciding to act in a certain way.

    You are an interesting fellow, though.

  248. says

    The problem is that a lot of other people do, and as you have seen from the reaction here, you’re having to put in qualifications

    Such as?

    “I have recently argued, to Ogvorbis and to SallyStrange, that we need to divorce the concepts of inner strength, or locus of control, from the metaphysics that necessarily come along with the discussion of this term “free will.””

    No, it’s the compatibilists who are asking that the damn simple criterion of whether or not a person could have chosen differently be excluded.

    That’s not the only relevant factor as conversation in this thread has demonstrated. If you need free will to mean having to have some magic property then by definition it doesn’t exist and we’ve won a trivial victory over a word. But, again, it’s not how people are using free will – it’s only a subset of the discussion on free will. And while you deny free will and say it doesn’t exist, all you are doing is saying that what you mean by free will doesn’t exist, and at best are compelling others to do the same. It’s arguing over the extent to which a conception can correspond to a definition; that’s hugely different from God and it’s very disingenuous of you to pretend otherwise.

    I think this is a false equivalence now, since free will began as a theological notion, and from the beginning referred to something which did not exist.

    That’s making the genetic fallacy. Should we abandon the notion of mental causation on the grounds that it was first articulated by a dualist? Or does that mean that we’re left biting the epiphenomenalist bullet in order to stay away from the dualist origins of the philosophy of mind?

  249. says

    The question is, ahs, why it’s okay for you to rest the concept of free will solely on whether one could have done otherwise, but not okay for others to use free will in such a way that it looks at the cognitive capacities and abilities of our species? Why does free will need to rest on the way you defined it?

    From my perspective, what you’re saying is true but trivial. Meanwhile there’s plenty of issues surrounding will and the freedom to act that are directly relevant to the discussion being totally ignored thanks to the way you’re defining free will. And because of that, it’s important to look into conceptual re-examination and see what can and can’t be salvaged. You can’t do that with God and come out with anything coherent, doing that with free will you can.

  250. anteprepro says

    Why? How would this square circle non-scenario be any more free?

    Because that’s the fucking definition of free will, you putz. If you think it contradicts reality, congratulations: you agree with everyone you’re trying to disagree with. If you think that the definition of free will is anything but trivial if our decisions are ultimately and almost entirely dictated by things other than our mind, then I would love to see your justification for that stance.

    The actor’s own decision must necessarily be contingent or random, so we are back to the same dilemma.

    No, we aren’t. We don’t need to believe, a priori, that the decision to perform is based at all on these random/caused events, and the decision itself can be “contingent” without being directly caused by a series of contingent events (i.e. the fact that it is “contingent”, in that it is based on the situation that they are making a decision about, and this could be irrelevant as long as it mostly unconstrained). The fact that we have found that this is probably not the case is not our problem: it’s free will’s.

    Why would desire be a constraint to freedom? What strange definition of “free” are you using?

    Depends on the type of desire. Taking a willy-nilly “desire is what I want to choose” approach to the word, which is not what I had in my mind but I realized it afterward, it is not a constraint. However, I thought of desire as less trivial of a term, and more deeply as a psychological drive. As being driven by arbitrary preferences, physiological needs, or a combination thereof. The desire to eat something greasy, the desire to have some intense sex, the desire to buy knick-knacks, the desire for everything you own to be blue, the desire to drink a Gatorade, the desire to sit down and take a breather. They are things nagging at you before you even get to the point where you can make a decision regarding them. They are urges over long periods, not delineated choices existing right at the points where choices are made. These are all constraints on behavior, in that they bias one towards certain decisions that they would not have made if it weren’t for the desire being in effect (if you weren’t hungry, weren’t horny, didn’t have a history of buying kitsch, weren’t raised with everything being blue, weren’t thirsty, or weren’t tired). And, of course, that this form of desire is not generally under your conscious control.

  251. says

    “I have recently argued, to Ogvorbis and to SallyStrange, that we need to divorce the concepts of inner strength, or locus of control, from the metaphysics that necessarily come along with the discussion of this term “free will.””

    Don’t you think that would be a useful thing to do, though? You certainly seem to think the substance of those other terms is useful: «If we want people to have more control, then it’s important to make people think they have control. Free will, whether or not exists, is a very useful concept to believe exists. Are we doing a disservice by dissolving free will into incoherence, or removing free will as something people have?»

    (And no, I do not accept your bizarre assertion that I had to introduce any qualifications there. You complained about what the loss of free will will do, and I offered how we could retain some of the things you like. It’s not putting qualifiers on free will at all.)

    That’s not the only relevant factor as conversation in this thread has demonstrated.

    No shit but it is a relevant factor as conversation in this thread has demonstrated.

    So just what is your point? I have shown that there are concepts bound up with free will which are false, and I have offered alternative ways of talking about the concepts which are real.

    You want to hang on to a term which has these false concepts so often bundled into it. I want to get rid of it, and at least I provide a case for why we ought to do so.

    If you need free will to mean having to have some magic property then by definition it doesn’t exist and we’ve won a trivial victory over a word.

    I don’t “need it” to mean anything. I have demonstrated that that is what it means to Coyote, and to Bill. Go rummage through TET if you want to see the disaster that’s in rorschach’s head; I can’t even begin to describe it.

    But, again, it’s not how people are using free will

    You can keep asserting this, but you’re already proven wrong. People are using it to mean that they could have chosen differently than they did.

    Are you going to deny that that’s what Coyote or Bill was doing?

    And while you deny free will and say it doesn’t exist, all you are doing is saying that what you mean by free will doesn’t exist

    It’s amazing what that bullshit compatibilist dogma has done to you, Kel, such that you can’t even see that it’s your own fellow believers in free will who are stumbling here because of the compatibilists’ “nuance”.

    It’s arguing over the extent to which a conception can correspond to a definition; that’s hugely different from God and it’s very disingenuous of you to pretend otherwise.

    Whatever this means. The definitions are all over the place. The concepts and associations people have of the term are clearly something we can study.

    That’s making the genetic fallacy.

    If this is what you want to insist, then I declare that the Spinozans understood God properly to include the universe itself. Now I can say coherently that “free will does not exist” is no more a deepity than saying “God does not exist”.

    If you object to my adoption of the Spinozan usage, then you’re committing the genetic fallacy.

  252. says

    The question is, ahs, why it’s okay for you to rest the concept of free will solely on whether one could have done otherwise, but not okay for others to use free will in such a way that it looks at the cognitive capacities and abilities of our species?

    Because I’m not resting it solely on that, Kel. You are merely asserting that I am. I have never denied that popular notions of free will include what you want to include.

    What I am saying is that there are other ways to get to what you want to keep, without packaging it in this terminology which is heavily correlated with religious use.

    Why does free will need to rest on the way you defined it?

    I didn’t define it that way. I demonstrated that this is how people are using it, to mean that they could have chosen differently than they did. Look at Coyote’s responses, look at Bill’s. These are my evidence. Why do you ignore my evidence?

    And because of that, it’s important to look into conceptual re-examination and see what can and can’t be salvaged. You can’t do that with God and come out with anything coherent, doing that with free will you can.

    I doubt you can do anything to salvage free will while the Christians are still around, and by the time they’re gone we’ll hopefully be done with this middling nonsense anyway.

  253. says

    There is an adage in biology that goes something like this; that once you’ve established the parameters and variables of an experiment, the organism will do what it damn well feels like.

  254. says

    Because I’m not resting it solely on that, Kel. You are merely asserting that I am. I have never denied that popular notions of free will include what you want to include.

    And for fuck’s sake, really, try to hold yourself to the same standard.

    Why is it okay for you to rest the concept of free will on what compatibilists say about it, but not okay for incompatibilists to say that it means something else?

    That’s the whole debate; some of us are compatibilists and some of us are not. We necessarily think the other has the wrong definition of free will, and you’re just complaining that it’s not fair for an incompatibilist to say so.

  255. John Morales says

    Kel @279,

    The question is, ahs, why it’s okay for you to rest the concept of free will solely on whether one could have done otherwise, but not okay for others to use free will in such a way that it looks at the cognitive capacities and abilities of our species? Why does free will need to rest on the way you defined it?

    I think that ahs is sticking to his declared traditional Western formulation as the only relevant one; one which was (as he has hinted) derived from theological considerations — specifically, the justification of sin and of Judgement.

    The consideration is this: surely one can’t be held responsible for something if they could not possibly have done otherwise, but if this were true, there’d be no such thing as sin (moral culpability). Since Scripture is infallible, they worked backwards: by knowing sin exists, moral responsibility must be real, and therefore people must have been able to have done otherwise than they did do.

  256. victimainvictus says

    I fear we’re arguing over semantics rather than substance. I think we both agree on the objective facts, but we’re framing them differently – I argue that one definition of “free will” is more useful and you argue for a different one. Ultimately this isn’t a question of “does free will exist?” but rather “what is meant by free will?” We could go back and forth over this for hours, but it would probably be fruitless.

    I concede that, using your terminology, “free will” does not exist – I think I’ll save the debate over what the words “freedom” and “choice” should mean for another time.

  257. says

    So just what is your point?

    My point is the same as it was in my original post #48: “Most of what people mean by “free will” is something that we have”. You can’t simultaneously play the game of denying free will and saying it’s not a useful concept. One or the other, either it’s a concept that’s false and needs to be discarded on its falsity, or that it’s got true, false, or irrelevant components to it, which should all be separated and discussed individually.

    It’s amazing what that bullshit compatibilist dogma has done to you, Kel, such that you can’t even see that it’s your own fellow believers in free will who are stumbling here because of the compatibilists’ “nuance”.

    What the fuck?

    That you’re describing compatibilism in religious terms is incredibly demeaning to what was meant to be a conceptual discussion. I could describe the fervor by which you are going after free will in religious terms, but what good would that do other than serve as an act of poisoning the well?

    I’m not sure what I can add to this discussion, I’ll think I’ll go play some Skyrim, install a new HDD into my PC, and leave you all with previous attempts to explain my thoughts on free will.

  258. John Morales says

    [addendum]

    And Walton inverts that: knowing that people can’t do otherwise than what they do, he rejects the very concept of moral culpability.

  259. says

    I have accepted that there can be an internally consistent compatibilism.

    My argument, back at #26, is that the compatibilists need to get their house in order:

    The big problem with compatibilism, is that the compatibilist writers do not do enough to continually emphasize that it was never possible for anyone to have chosen to choose differently. They more or less imply as much, but they do not hammer it home.

    If anyone, coming away from a compatibilist reading, still thinks they could ever have chosen to choose differently, then the compatibilists are doing it wrong. This misunderstanding seems to be rampant among those who are not self-identified with one position or another beyond the vague statement “I believe in free will,” and I don’t see the compatibilists doing enough to shake it out of their readers.

    If I didn’t see people trying to take (and give!) refuge with Dennett without even understanding (or, respectively, explaining) the implications of determinism, I would hardly care to complain.

    At least the incompatibilists against free will are easy to understand: “there is no free will”, we say, and then we dig in and prepare for the objections: “How do you preserve moral responsibility in a hard determined universe?”

    The compatibilist doesn’t have to do this. “Free will exists”, they say, and the average person nods. There is no trial by fire, so there is no need for clarification.

  260. anteprepro says

    Please note to the naysayers here: Refuting free will in the form that it is being addressed is what is necessary to annihilate any form of free will that could possibly be used in Christian apologetics.
    If we are thoroughly constrained by:
    physiology (neurological issues, physiological needs, current illness)
    physical environment (sensory exposure [light, sound, smell], atmosphere)
    medical history (previous illnesses, drugs taken, diet, genetic predispositions)
    social history (childhood rearing, success in past social interactions, culture of birth)
    social environment (current make-up of people in room, group size, socioeconomic status, current culture)
    human psychology (heuristics, perception errors, self-serving/confirmation biases, group dynamics)

    then God’s hands being tied in providing us with free will becomes a moot point and his right to punish for our decisions goes right down the drain. The arguments against this kind of free will should be cherished by atheists, because thwarting this brand of free will is all that is needed to topple the kind of free will used by theopologists. The alternative form of free will, “freedom to do as you want/need to do”, is still not a sufficient form of “free will” if one establishes the constraints up above as true, in that what “you want to do” is itself out of our control, thus leaving us in a position where divine punishment is still unwarranted. The “free will” exists, but it isn’t “free” enough to justify punishing actions still.

    VV:

    I fear we’re arguing over semantics rather than substance. I think we both agree on the objective facts, but we’re framing them differently – I argue that one definition of “free will” is more useful and you argue for a different one. Ultimately this isn’t a question of “does free will exist?” but rather “what is meant by free will?”

    Agreed. For clarity: I believe that your definition is of more practical use, and is probably the more popular conception of free will. I feel that it is fairly limited but it does exist. But I also believe that the other definition is more relevant philosophically and in application to Christian apologetics, is abysmally wrong (which you agree with, it seems), and that any retreat that an apologist makes to the kind of free will you had in mind would be nothing but equivocation. Which is why I feel it is more relevant to address the kind of free will I had in mind, even if it is the more patently ridiculous of the two.

  261. says

    My point is the same as it was in my original post #48: “Most of what people mean by “free will” is something that we have”. You can’t simultaneously play the game of denying free will and saying it’s not a useful concept.

    This is confused.

    You deny that the incompatibilist’s concept of free will is a useful concept, you say it doesn’t exist as thus termed; but the incompatibilist concept of free will also includes your precious examples like saving a baby from a burning house as morally meaningful.

    My concept of free will is probably a superset of yours. But obviously you can deny that my version of free will exists, while admitting that it contains useful concepts.

  262. says

    You deny that the incompatibilist’s concept of free will is a useful concept, you say it doesn’t exist as thus termed; but the incompatibilist concept of free will also includes your precious examples like saving a baby from a burning house as morally meaningful.

    But then all that’s left to say is whether or not is whether we call what we have “free will”, which is a fucking pointless conversation. If you want to call me confused, fine, but I think I’ve made clear my position – it’s not whether or not what word we use but what is meant in conveying the word. And the word, as its conveyed carries some things that make sense and are coherent, as well as things that don’t make sense and are incoherent. Look at what I said, I didn’t say that we have free will. I said that many of the things that are associated with free will are true. That’s a different claim!

  263. says

    I said that many of the things that are associated with free will are true.

    And, so what? We can talk about those things without metaphysical terminology.

    This whole time my contention has been that we’re better off doing so, because misuse of clearer terms like diminished capacity, opportunity, power, ability, and privilege can be corrected. They are often very clear on their face, while we frequently don’t know what all is bound up in someone’s notion of free will; they could be primarily concerned with justifying eternal damnation.

    Get rid of free will and we can keep the stuff we want while subverting Christian equivocation.

  264. Gorogh says

    Late in the thread, so I have nothing much to add…

    I might emphasize that however I feel about the question itself (and I strictly deny the possibility of free will), the more important question is, what follows? Are there binding (or at least obvious) ethical consequences from either assumption? In my opinion, assuming that there is no free will does not change the corresponding phenomenology for ourselves (just as KG indicated, even though consciousness, love, etc. may be founded on a neuronal substrate, they are valid categories given the right level of description), but it does change the way we appraise our behavior retrospectively, and especially, how deal with others. It primes us to look for the internal and external reasons for a behavior and to rationally deal with it, instead of vaguely appealing to the indeterminate (in the sense of “free”, not “determined-even-in-the-quantum-realm”) “self” of someone in order to change the behavior.

    Just as it is right – meant according to my value system, as usual – to make people, who profited from the conditions of their upbringing, repay some part of their income to keep up those favorable conditions, it is wrong to accuse someone of being lazy, fat, or even a criminal, by only by referring to a virtual self which does not really exist (I know, redundancy). Nothing makes me more angry than hearing colleagues of mine talk about their overweight patients as if they somehow malignantly sabotaged their therapy – they have very good and sufficient reasons to behave the way they do, and the role of a psychologist should be, to find out those reasons and counteract them, not to judge them. The same judgmental attitude is what bothers me about retributive justice – no one, really no single person, is responsible for their actions per se. They can and must be made responsible, and some sort of punishment is conducive to learning, but which punishment is most productive, should be decided after a utilitaristic equation in the “light” of said constraints (i.e., the nonexistence of free will). If this equation results in a favorable outcome of retributive justice, so be it – but not so in my ideal world.

    Just one or two cents, too early in the morning (for a weekend).

  265. says

    We can talk about those things without metaphysical terminology.

    You’re right, we can. But when you deny free will, you’re denying the baggage that comes with it unless you can convince others that free will only means what you’re denying. I think you’re confusing the issue more than clarifying it this way, as the conversation has gone on here has shown.

    Certain issues should be knocked down, but one needs to be really careful about such grand pronouncements in the face of people who won’t get it. Look at how Michael Ruse denying morality has gone among Christian circles. William Lane Craig makes a point to ridicule Ruse in his presentation on morality, using Ruse to make the case against atheist morality then using Ruse to make the case for objective moral values. Ruse has fairly clearly laid out what he meant in both circumstances, labelling the notion of morality as some intrinsic property of the universe as absurd and arguing that morality has to do with our evolution. Yet Christians take Ruse as being confused on the issue, that he’s denying morality at the same time as affirming it. When people have that understanding of concepts, denying it might sound profound but all it’s going to do is lead people to think that there’s something fundamental missing from an opponent’s position.

    The point being that you’re not going to just destroy the metaphysical notion by denying the concept, especially if there’s an importance put into the concept.

    Get rid of free will and we can keep the stuff we want while subverting Christian equivocation.

    This feels like fighting substance dualism by casting away the notion of self… But, hey, as long as we can subvert Christian equivocation!

  266. Gorogh says

    p.s.: Rereading, I just realized some confusion in my post (295) regarding the words “self” and “free will”. I do not deny a self in the sense of more or less stable, more or less coherent response characteristics; but a self in the sense of a dualistic soul.

  267. mikelaing says

    ahs ॐ says:

    You are an interesting fellow, though.

    Thanks, so are you.

    It’s not at all clear what you’re talking about, mikelaing. I’m sorry, but this is your problem. If you want better responses, you’ll have to provide something more sensible.

    Sheesh, I look at some of my posts and I can’t even figure out what I was trying to say. I am working on that.
    .
    .
    .

    McGinn demonstrates free will cannot exist at the physical level; Clark demonstrates it cannot exist even as a philosophical construct. Neuroscience is way late in the game.

    I agree pretty much with what McGinn says, but I have a problem with Clark’s conclusion:

    The “best” course – the decision taken – is that which wins out in the competition between motives as illuminated by rationality(1). If the self were truly free to choose between alternatives, uninfluenced by motives in some respect (whether such motives be altruistic or selfish) the choice would never get made(2). Likewise, if the self were truly free to choose between being rational or not, the operation of rationality would be haphazard and unreliable(3). As it stands, however, the self is nothing over and above the reliably coordinated system of desires and dispositions out of which decisions are generated. We don’t stand apart from, or direct, the rationally mediated competition of our motives(4). If we had some capacity to act independently of motives or of the consideration of consequences, that capacity would give us absolutely no power over circumstances.(5) Why? Because that very independence renders such a capacity irrelevant to decision-making. In fact, it would immobilize us, not empower us.(6)

    1. He doesn’t take into account, for instance, mental illness. These cases exhibit irrational decisions. Never the less, if by rational, he means the least painful, or most rewarding emotionally ie selfishness, then internal rationality may indeed mediate our decisions. I think this is Ayn Randian, myself.
    But, it is very difficult to argue against our decisions ultimately being rational on some level, but I maintain that it is emotional consequences that drive the decision. It is rational to pick that which provides the best pay-off emotionally, but that pay-off may not make sense to another person whatsoever. It is internally generated. I still don’t agree that logic must be part of every single decision.
    2. Non sequitor.
    3. Again, this is unsupported. We could choose to be rational or not, or more to the point, arbitrary, any time we want to, or choose any specific instance to be rational. He yet fails to make a congruent argument, only presenting arbitrary constraints the results of our decision making process, or the fact the we actually partake of such a process in the first place.
    4. This hinges on the fricking definition of self. (I know, I know! It is like the definition of free will discussion up above somewhere!) I don’t see how this statement is even relevant, actually. Why would one have to separate from the process to mediate it? I can sit down and observe my thoughts, I don’t know how else to put it, and I seem to mediate it, but just because I seem to, is like saying I seem to have free will, I suppose.
    He definitely does not go deep enough here.
    5. Bullshit. How does being able to do something equate with having to do it? Is he talking about … no, I can decide to follow what someone tells me to do, like listening to a sponsor in a twelve step recovery program, and not have control over the consequences, and I can also not have control over the resulting circumstances. Anyways, who cares, I must be missing something here, because, being able to operate without consequences emotionally is what some psychotics do, and being able to operate without understanding consequences is what some mentally ill people do and they seem, or are, unable to control their circumstances. As a matter of fact, isn’t taking risks the definition of not being able to control circumstances?
    6. Having a capacity to act in a certain way does not override everything else to the exclusion of not being able ‘not use’ that capacity. How would it immobilize us?

    As I say, there is something seriously wrong here. Either I am not getting what he is saying, or he is badly mistaken, AFAIK. All he is saying is that because we can argue that determinism may indeed govern our decisions, it is true because it seems that we couldn’t do any better if we had free will because that free will means we would be immobilized in some kind of an infinite loop?
    He starts off just fine, evaluating how we make decisions, but his trying to deduce why we make them, leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth.

  268. Gorogh says

    How is rationality even an issue? The way I see it, stimuli are being perceived, perceptions beget patterns of secondary (not necessarily “higher” or cortical) neuronal activation (conscious or not – consciousness is irrelevant, IMHO just a question of threshold crossing), and those patterns – with a number of internal and external action possibilities actualized – are “flavored” with somatic markers indicating “good” or “bad”. Every behavior is rational according to this standard, for never will the worse actualized path of action be chosen.

    This does not preclude that there might have been better ways to respond to a situation, only that those ways have not been perceived by the agent. The criterion of rationality, as it is usually meant, implies “knowledge” (sufficient activation of the corresponding neuronal patterns) of all those alternatives.

  269. mikelaing says

    Everything is meaningless if we don’t have free will, not just rationality.

    So why would we need to evolve the perception of free will, or even consciousness, if there is no such thing as free will? Why would our brains need to be self aware to act in a determined manner?

    We wouldn’t have any survival advantage over lesser critters if our perception of free will was just an illusion, because we would act the same without it.

    Obviously we have free will, that’s not really the question, because we wouldn’t need self awareness if we didn’t have free will.

  270. Gorogh says

    IMHO the illusion of free will, or even consciousness, was not selected for, but is just an epiphenomenon of a highly evolved neuronal system. When we perceive something consciously, we do so because the neuronal activation crosses a certain threshold (making consciousness more of a dimensional than a categorical concept) – humans might have a larger (temporally, and in terms of content) consciousness than other animals because of a more complex nervous system, but there is not genuine advantage of it. Isn’t it dualistic to assume otherwise – to assume consciousness implies something perceiving our neuronal processes?

  271. says

    IMHO the illusion of free will, or even consciousness, was not selected for, but is just an epiphenomenon of a highly evolved neuronal system.

    Don’t you find something a little screwy with talking about the epiphenomenon of consciousness? ;)

  272. Gorogh says

    Don’t you find something a little screwy with talking about the epiphenomenon of consciousness? ;)

    As Walton has pointed out, it is very difficult dealing with these matters without resorting to semantics which have been shaped by the selfsame process they now try to describe… if that’s what you mean. But yes, I do find my thoughts screwy now and then :/

  273. says

    I’m not trying to hide this in semantics, though I was trying to say it in a more jovial manner than just coming out and saying there’s something really absurd about the notion of a discussion of the epiphenomenalist nature of consciousness. In other words, we have a situation where there’s something being expressed about the nature of experience without having that experience being part of the causal chain.

    Whatever consciousness turns out to be, we really can’t divorce the phenomenology from cognition without coming up with something so absurd. This is the reason Frank Jackson abandoned the Knowledge argument.

  274. mikelaing says

    If our consciousness is only an illusion, how do we know that?

    I don’t know what is more screwy, trying to answer little kids when they sat, “Why?” after everything you say, or realizing that it ends up with you trying to explain either the Big Bang or consciousness?!

  275. Gorogh says

    In other words, we have a situation where there’s something being expressed about the nature of experience without having that experience being part of the causal chain.

    That’s exactly my take on it, that consciousness does not become an experience, but is just an the phenomenological expression of a state of neuronal activation. It does not “feed back” to the system. If this is objectionable in epistomological grounds, yes, there probably is no easy solution. I for one find it highly plausible. Either way, thank you for your input, I might have heard about Mary’s room but never read any details, which I will (later, though).

  276. Gorogh says

    @mikelaing, hehe… well, better to try and fail, right? The actual mystery will probably evade us, and might not be so important after all. However, if it remains an article of faith, we should look at the respective consequences of either (or any) point view, and see if they incline us to incorporate one or the other.

  277. gravityisjustatheory says

    Glen Davidson says:
    2 December 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Free will was invented in order to pretend that the individual is entirely responsible for what said individual does, to blame the individual.

    ahs ॐ says:
    2 December 2011 at 8:25 pm

    The common person now talks about it because the law cares about it; the law cares about it because the church insisted upon it.

    Can I ask for a source for both those assertions?

    It seems to me that – whether it exists or not – belief in free will would be primarily the result of us having the appearence of free will, and the (apparent) ability to make meaningful choices to our actions.

    If religion has redefined or hijacked the concept of free will for its own ends, then that doesn’t in itself mean that the concept of free will in general is wrong (any more than religion redefining or hijacking the concepts of “life” or “morality”).

    I’m not sure what “sophisticated theology” has to say about free will, but most of the times I’ve seen Christians invoke free will (or “Free Will!”) is as a cheap get-out to the problem of evil. But in my experience at least, that isn’t what most people mean when the ues the term. It is usually used to mean either (as John Morales said) “the absence of coercion by others when making choices”, or alternatively, “able to make choices based on more than instinct, or with more consideration than simply “me hungry – must eat / me angry – must fight”.

  278. Gorogh says

    Thanks, Kel. I actually know it’s hard, my mind revolves around this for hm… for a long time now. Sadly, I am severely hampered by my decaying mnestic capabilities and intellectual and motivational shortcomings, so I bring more intuition than academia into this.

  279. consciousness razor says

    mikelaing, #298:

    I don’t think you understand that quote from Clark there. Gah. I just don’t even know what to say anymore….

    All he is saying is that because we can argue that determinism may indeed govern our decisions, it is true because it seems that we couldn’t do any better if we had free will because that free will means we would be immobilized in some kind of an infinite loop?

    His basic point is just that if nothing causes our decisions, we can’t make decisions (at least not in this universe). Some people believe in souls. Even if they don’t, they still have this tendency to distance themselves from their own cognitive processes, just like you were describing in your point #4. That’s effectively substituting the idea of a soul, which is what many would claim cause their choices, but since those don’t exist, we’re left with no cause whatsoever which is absurd. (And even if souls do exist, there’s no viable mechanism by which they ever could cause anything.)

    ========

    Don’t you find something a little screwy with talking about the epiphenomenon of consciousness? ;)

    Hmm, even if Gorogh does think is seems a little screwy, being conscious of it won’t help, since consciousness (as an epiphenomenon rather than a phenomenon) doesn’t cause anything, right? :)

  280. says

    Hmm, even if Gorogh does think is seems a little screwy, being conscious of it won’t help, since consciousness (as an epiphenomenon rather than a phenomenon) doesn’t cause anything, right? :)

    touché

  281. roquetin says

    Compatibilists should actually be called apologists for free will. They twist and turn the concept to unrecognizable extents and yet keep the name. I’m all for Dennett and the likes’ view that we are complicated “avoiding machines”, but it’s more than misleading to call it free will. Dennett dismisses this problem by saying that although there may be multiple kinds of free will, his is only one worth wanting. That may be true, it may be worth wanting, but it’s not the same thing anymore. He could avoid loads of confusion by just saying that we don’t have free will and it’s not worth wanting anyway. Then he could just as easily say what we have and why it’s not a problem.

  282. John Morales says

    consciousness razor:

    since consciousness (as an epiphenomenon rather than a phenomenon) doesn’t cause anything, right? :)

    Wrong; epiphenomena aren’t outside of the causal chain.

    (I suspect you’re thinking of epiphenomenalism)

  283. consciousness razor says

    (I suspect you’re thinking of epiphenomenalism)

    Yes, that is what I thought Gorogh meant by it.

  284. Gorogh says

    Is this really a difference? Looking up the term in Wikipedia, I was apparently arguing along the lines of strong epiphenomalism (“In strong epiphenomenalism, epiphenomena that are mental phenomena can only be caused by physical phenomena, not by other mental phenomena.”). It might be a petty thought – since we’re obviously talking about the same thing -, but isn’t epiphenomenalism just the framework, or a specific concept of the characteristics of epiphenomena and their interaction – calling consciousness itself an epiphenomenon being a valid expression, as well?

  285. says

    eigenperson:
    I’m merely using it to refer to the nearest (i.e. proximate) events to the action in question. and By proximate cause I just mean to refer to what is happening fairly early in that chain of causation.

    That’s so arbitrary it’s practically begging the question.

  286. John Morales says

    consciousness razor, I now think I was being too general, given the context, in my retort to you — clearly you are speaking about philosophy of mind.

    So I retract my claim that you were wrong, because I’m unsure of it in that context, and I can’t think of a way to argue that point.

    (My bad)

    Gorogh, I wasn’t disputing that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, rather that epiphenomena cannot cause further effects.

    For example, I think that a visual illusion is a phenomenon, because it’s caused by a physical mechanism (it’s the input to your consciousness, whether via the light entering your eyes or your neural processing), but a cognitive illusion is an epiphenomenon, because it’s not caused by a physical mechanism, but is rather a by-product of a functioning mind; however, in either case they can certainly affect behaviour, the which is a phenomenon.

  287. Gorogh says

    I understand you, but I’d disagree: Consciousness does not affect behavior, if categorized as an epiphenomenon. At least not in how I meant it/how it is meant in “strong epiphenomalism” (as I just learned) :)

    Well… I see you speak of cognition, not of consciousness – but you mean the same thing? Either way, both definitely are caused by physical mechanisms, if you are not a dualist. That, or I don’t get it.

  288. Gorogh says

    *scratches head*

    Uh hm… well, @John Morales (320), how about an optical cognitive illusion? I mean, all illusion implies cognition somehow, at least if, well, higher order perception processes are involved; I’m just leaving the lab so I don’t have time to really look it up, but a clear-cut definition seems hard to formulate…

    Anyway, have a nice day!

  289. John Morales says

    Gorogh,

    Either way, both [cognition and/or consciousness] definitely are caused by physical mechanisms, if you are not a dualist.

    Sure. But they’re not phenomena, because they’re not objectively observable, but instead either subjectively experienced (by oneself) or by inferred from behaviour (in others).

  290. curtnelson says

    It is the deterministic phallusy that creates the illusion we regard as cannibalism – it is neither real nor filling. Why then not live one’s life fully?

  291. Gorogh says

    @John Morales, if you agree that cognition is physically caused,

    but a cognitive illusion is an epiphenomenon, because it’s not caused by a physical mechanism, but is rather a by-product of a functioning mind

    sounds contradictory. A “functioning mind” has a physical substrate, has it not? Proposing consciousness as an epiphenomenon does not render it objectively inaccessible – given a strong enough correlation, by observing neuronal activity of a certain type, you observe consciousness. If you do not observe this sort of activity, there is no consciousness.

  292. mikelaing says

    Also, if you remove portions of your brain, it destroys parts of your mind. Conversely, if you destroy parts of the mind, it must change the brain. I’m sure this has been shown; it has been shown that prolonged meditation changes certain brain functions.

    I got that idea started here – Ideas of Michael Lockwood, by Text

    I forgot about the idea that if something exists in time, it necessarily exists in space.

    Something that struck me reading this page. It was a hokey woo-woo title, Mind, Brain, and the Quantum, but it was really very good. In it(an listed at this link), Lockwood also challenges the standard interpreation of quantum mechanics. He finds no good reason for believing in the collapse of the wave function.

    I think there are very good reasons for not believing in it. The first is the fact, noted by von Neumann, that there doesn’t appear to be anything in quantum mechanics itself to say where, in the measurement chain, the collapse should occur. Some extra deus ex machina is called for; and considerations of theoretical economy suggest that we should avoid introducing such new elements unless we are forced to do so.

    (Mind, Brain, and Quantum Mechanics, p.207)

    Didn’t I just read this week about the wave function thing being an actual entity that does not collapse?
    Not that this has anything to do with sub atomic phenomena being able to somehow translate into macroscopic, large scale phenomena, just that it’s very interesting he deduced this. I think I’ll get a copy of that book again. At the time it came out, it was over my head, but I still remember it as my favourite book of all time.

    (I’d like to apologize in advance, if I am ignorant of so called common knowledge that addresses much of this, and other things, I say. I have never read about most of the things we talk about on Pharyngula, and the internet, to any degree past Scientific American type magazines. I have no education past high school(in the 70’s) and a very failed attempt at University(Chem, Physics) when I chose addiction as the primary motivator in my life, until recently. I really thank you people for links and explanations, and your patience! John Morales, consciousness razor, Gorogh, and Kel especially for the link Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness, ahs ॐ, and many more here. I have to go now, for the weekend, but this discussion is my idea of fun, FFS!)

  293. John Morales says

    Gorogh,

    sounds contradictory. A “functioning mind” has a physical substrate, has it not? Proposing consciousness as an epiphenomenon does not render it objectively inaccessible – given a strong enough correlation, by observing neuronal activity of a certain type, you observe consciousness. If you do not observe this sort of activity, there is no consciousness.

    I don’t think it is contradictory.

    You’ve just rephrased my “inferred from behaviour (in others)”, specifically, inferred it from neural activity*, i.e. you’re not observing a consciousness (the epiphenomenon), you’re observing electro-chemical activity (the phenomenon).

    * And only because you already know that a particular type of activity correlates with consciousness, the which information was acquired by examining such the activity of known conscious beings. :)

  294. Gorogh says

    Kel, maybe you are still reading this. At second glance (at only the Wikipedia article; your other links I’m going to read later), I am not at all impressed by Mary’s Room; I just find it to be a bad thought experiment. It is obvious that declarative knowledge about a subject is not identical with the actual experience (cf. Acquaintance hypothesis – to use a clearer example, complete knowledge about execution methods does not grant you the experience of getting decapitated). Premise 1, “Any and every piece of physical knowledge in regards to human color vision has been obtained (by the test subject, Mary) prior to her release from the black-and-white room. She has all the physical knowledge on the subject.”, must imho be wrong. No qualia or consciousness “feedback” required here.

    At least, that is what I’d have to say, were I to cling to my epiphenomenalist position, which I’ll try.

  295. consciousness razor says

    Gorogh:

    It is obvious that declarative knowledge about a subject is not identical with the actual experience (cf. Acquaintance hypothesis – to use a clearer example, complete knowledge about execution methods does not grant you the experience of getting decapitated).

    That’s only “obvious” because you personally don’t have “declarative knowledge” about other people’s experiences (or even your own, as soon as you forget something or go into an altered state) right now.

    What if, say, someone else’s brain could be scanned and their experiences implanted into your brain? At what point would the factual bits of “declarative knowledge” suddenly become “actual experience” (whatever those are supposed to mean) to you? And were they not “facts” during the time they were stored in the computer or whichever interface was used to transfer the information? Do you think this scenario is impossible, or just that we can’t do it today?

    Premise 1, “Any and every piece of physical knowledge in regards to human color vision has been obtained (by the test subject, Mary) prior to her release from the black-and-white room. She has all the physical knowledge on the subject.”, must imho be wrong.

    Why must that be wrong? Do you not in fact have experiences? Are those experiences not in fact physical interactions? Is there not a fact of the matter about them? Is there more than one kind of “fact”?

    No qualia or consciousness “feedback” required here.

    If you say so. Then what is required?

    By the way, you might get something out of this if the subject interests you: Dennett, Quining Qualia

  296. Gorogh says

    Thanks, consciousness razor, for the input (as usual, I save the link for later – just came back from the chocolate market, too much thinking is not what I want right now). It might clarify things a bit if I explain what I meant by the juxtaposition of “declarative” and, well, “experiential”, even though I take into account the possibility you are aware of it, and still object.

    … or so I intented. But, just now I realize that I actually was referring to semantic memory, not declarative (which includes both semantic and episodic memory, i.e. “specific personal experiences”); sorry for the confusion. Anyway, semantic items of knowledge do not suddenly become episodic, even if you were able to transmit their neural substrate to another brain. Those are memories of how things work, not of how things work on you (cf. my execution methods-example). Even if it was possible for you to transfer items of knowledge of your area of expertise (apart from episodic memory/experiences) into my brain, it does not suddenly become biographic.

    As to your second comment, this is – in my opinion – solved along the same lines. Knowledge about something does not necessarily include experience with something. Trivially, knowledge about robotics does not make me have a robot’s “experiences”; why should knowledge about the visual system from photon to tertiary cortical areas include experience with the color red? The premise is formulated correctly (and insofar not “wrong”, my bad), but yes, the meaning of the word “knowledge” shifts between the premises.

    Then what is required?

    Required for what? An explanation of why Mary might still be surprised? Nothing is required to explain that, except the notions explained above.

    p.s.: Please forgive me if I used words such as “It is obvious…” – at best, it appears obvious to me, but for readability’s sake, I do not always add that qualifying remark.

  297. consciousness razor says

    Gorogh:

    What do you thought of the brain-scanning experiment I asked you to consider? Do you think it’s physically or logically impossible?

    Trivially, knowledge about robotics does not make me have a robot’s “experiences”; why should knowledge about the visual system from photon to tertiary cortical areas include experience with the color red?

    Because knowledge is knowledge is knowledge, facts are facts, and everything is everything.

    Apparently what you mean by “knowledge about robotics” is not all the knowledge there is to know about it, or else you mean that there is something non-factual and/or non-physical about having a robot’s experiences. Where would get a silly idea like that?

    Here’s the premise again:

    Any and every piece of physical knowledge in regards to human color vision has been obtained (by the test subject, Mary) prior to her release from the black-and-white room. She has all the physical knowledge on the subject.

    Granted, this is a thought-experiment. No human being has all knowledge, even on any one subject, so you have to take it on face value that this means exactly what it says. There’s no reason to think Mary’s color experience isn’t one of those pieces of physical knowledge.

    But since you’re claiming that isn’t right, you’d have to explain what you do think it is. This is what I had in mind when I asked what was required: you have to explain what, if anything, makes first-hand experience different from any other knowledge.

    The premise is formulated correctly (and insofar not “wrong”, my bad), but yes, the meaning of the word “knowledge” shifts between the premises.

    Perhaps that is your problem. Unfortunately, we don’t get to shift meanings around in the premises or the conclusion. Although I’m sure that would make our jobs much easier, so I may have to reconsider it.

  298. Gorogh says

    consciousness razor, I believe it is technically impossible to transplant single memories into another brain. You cannot just “take out” the neuronal substrate of a memory – especially given the dynamic nature of it, de-centralized oscillatory activity or whatnot – (stemming from input from a different sensory system, encoded within a different neuronal system under specific circumstances) – and transplant it into someone with a crucially different organ. I said “technically”, because I assume that an omnipotent neurophysiologist could make the right synapses grow and activate the correct messenger cascades and etc. etc., so a specific external or internal stimulus might cause the correct memory to appear. Still, depending on how, well egosyn- or -dystonic the respective memory is, it might just not fit. This more or less answers the logical question, as well – at least in the case of episodic memory, it is unlikely to impossible. In the case of semantic memory, congruency is not as large an issue, so I can imagine that better. Still, it is highly unrealistic.

    Otherwise, alright, if Mary actually is in possession of “everything there is to know about vision, *including [biographical] experiences*”, she must have effectively seen red (I’d be with Dennett here), and there is no issue about qualia. It seems really difficult for me to grasp this experiment, though, because it is so absurdly academical in nature.

    Consequently, I’d no longer be trying to distinguish semantic and episodic memory here – if she has both, fine. Makes no sense at all, but okay (I mean, what is perfect biographical knowledge of “red”? Having seen it once, 50 years ago? Having seen it every day for the last 50 years? etc.). Apart from that, first-hand experience differs from other experience in so many aspects it should not need explanation – sensory, spatial, emotional, cognitive; and consequently neuronal.

    Unfortunately, we don’t get to shift meanings around in the premises or the conclusion.

    I am aware of that ;) and that is exactly why I find it a bad thought experiment. Premise 1 and 2 do not go together – if she has all knowledge (translate as “all that which can be neuronally encoded regarding the visual sensory modality”), no new knowledge is gained @2, and vice versa.

  299. Gorogh says

    Note of caution: By “cause the correct memory to appear” I mean, “cause the correct pattern of neuronal activation, the epiphenomenon of which being said memory”.

  300. says

    My interest in this argument is largely driven by the fact that 1/100 of US adults are subjects of the prison industry. I am thus primarily interested in how attitudes about and around “free will” affect people’s attitudes toward punishment.

    I’ll summarize what I’ve found relevant from Belief in Free Will: Measurement and Conceptualization Innovations by Richard F. Rakos, Kimberly R. Steyer, Sarah Skala, and Stephen Slane, 2008.

    They describe their tests:

    Free Will and Determinism Scale: The 22 Likert-type items on this scale use a five-point range from “not true at all” to “almost always true,” resulting in scores that span from 22 (most deterministic) to 110 (most libertarian), with four items reverse scored. Fourteen items assess personal beliefs about other people having free will and form the General Will subscale with a range of 14 to 70. The other eight items assess beliefs about free will related to oneself, forming the Personal Will subscale with a range of 8 to 40. Appendix A identifies the specific items that comprise each subscale. Internal reliabilities were reasonable: .72 (entire scale), .59 (general will subscale), and .65 (personal will subscale).

    This is a longer scale, so I haven’t reproduced it here, but the PDF should be available to anyone who clicks on my link above. Please let me know if it’s not working for you, and I’ll make it available some other way (it’s licensed for non-commercial distribution, so I won’t even be pirating this one).

    I’ve scored the scale myself with a simple Y/N for each item, according to my own incompatibilist position against free will, and the internally coherent compatibilism I’m aware of from reading Dennett and the more articulate compatibilists here at Pharyngula. (I took care to reverse the four reverse-scored items.)

    My position ends up 7/22 toward the free will answers, and the compatibilist position gets 16/22 toward free will. I’ve been generous to the compatibilists, scoring them away from the free will answer when it’s not perfectly clear how they’d answer. If I were giving half-points, they’d get 18/22 instead.

    Attitudes Toward Punishment Scale: This six-item instrument was created for the present study to measure the extent to which punishment is viewed as deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution. The five-point Likert-type items range from “not true at all” to “almost always true” and are divided into three subscales that each contain two items (See Appendix B). Thus, the scores for Attitudes Toward Punishment-Deterrence, Attitudes Toward Punishment-Rehabilitation, and Attitudes Toward Punishment-Retribution each range from 2 to 10, with higher scores indicating stronger belief.

    Here’s the scale itself:

    Deterrent Attitude subscale.
    : The possibility of serving time in prison should be used to deter people from committing crimes.
    : Punishment should discourage people from committing crimes.

    Retribution Attitude subscale
    : Punishment of criminals should provide comfort to the victims of the crime.
    : Punishment should provide a strong penalty for committing a crime

    Rehabilitation Attitude subscale
    : A criminal’s time in prison should focus on rehabilitation and treatment.
    : Prisoners should receive treatment while in jail.

    Unfortunately, the rehabilitation subscale is not useful to me, because the items are not worded to indicate whether a person would be willing to initiate punishment for the sake of rehabilitation. Perhaps so few people think in those terms that the study’s authors couldn’t even imagine it themselves. So I’m stuck with considering only the deterrent and retribution scales to gauge whether a person’s attitude, expressed as judge or juror, would tend toward more or less punishment.

    +++++
    I was ambivalent about their Free Will And Determinism Scale before I scored it myself. But the difference between my 7/22 and the compatibilist 16/22 is striking, and even with half-points giving the compatibilist 18/22, there is still room to take a much more unreasonable stance than any well-informed compatibilist would.

    (more in a moment)

  301. says

    From their results:

    Extent of endorsement of free will

    Both samples strongly and similarly endorsed the concept of free will. The mean on the Free Will and Determinism Scale was 87.6 for adolescent high school students and 87.2 for adult college students. These means represent approximately 79% of the maximum free will score of 110. The two samples supported notions of General Will and Personal Will in comparably strong manners as well (high school: 55.9, 35.7, respectively; college students 54.8, 32.3, respectively), with all subscale scores also representing approximately 79% of the maximum free will scores.

    Relationship of belief in free will and attitudes toward punishment

    For high school students, beliefs in free will and in general will were significantly correlated with a view of punishment as retribution, r = .28 (73), p<.011, r = .36 (83), p<.002, respectively. For college students, belief in free will correlated positively with all three attitudes toward punishment: deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution, r = 0.35 (83), p<.001; r = .32 (83), p<.003; r = 0.33 (83), p<.002, respectively. Personal will was significantly positively correlated with a rehabilitative attitudes towards punishment (r = .28 (84), p<.009), while general will was associated with views of punishment as rehabilitation, deterrence, and retribution, r = .30 (83), p<0.005; r = .40 (83), p<.001; r = 0.39 (83), p<.001, respectively.

    From their discussion:

    This investigation documented a considerably stronger endorsement of free will than has been obtained in previous research. In rough quantitative terms, participants in the present study produced scores that were consistently in the vicinity of 79% of the maximum free will score. In contrast, earlier studies produced scores that ranged from 61 to 72 percent of the maximum possible free will score. Because all but one of the earlier studies, unlike the present research, exposed participants to discussions and/or definitions of free will and determinism, the data suggest that, contrary to Russell (1955), the endorsement of free will is stronger when persons are not sensitized to the topic through prompts and other discriminative stimuli. In other words, a generalized libertarian belief in free will is the “default” philosophy of most persons; when environmental stimuli direct attention to compelling external determinants, people rationally adopt a compatibilist position, much like Bandura has advocated over the years (Bandura, 1989, 2006).

    [A]n adolescent’s strong sense of free will may also be less complex than an adult’s. For instance, adolescents who strongly endorse free will tend to view punishment in terms of retribution, while adults with a similar sense of free will incorporate a multidimensional perspective on punishment – recognizing it can serve the purposes of retribution, rehabilitation, and deterrence. Where adolescents see only accountability for moral blameworthiness, adults may also perceive opportunities to change or prevent blameworthy behavior.

  302. says

    My scorings of the compatibilist answers at 73% (16/22) or 82% (18/22) are very near the students’ average of 79%, and much higher than my own 32%.

    As higher scores are positively correlated with willingness to use punishment for both deterrence and retribution, I believe this study supports my view that public advocacy of compatibilism, whether well understood or not — and of course it will most often not be well understood — will contribute to more and longer prison sentences.

    Compatibilism is thus bad for America, and bad for secular humanism.

    Even in its internally consistent form, public advocacy of compatibilism will produce destructive outcomes that we cannot afford. We should entirely abandon notions of “free will” and stop “holding people accountable”, and instead move to a strict consequentialism of getting our laborforce out of prison and back into productive work.

  303. Gorogh says

    Very interesting, ahs ॐ – I’ll look a bit more into it tomorrow, hopefully (curses, too much to read, too much to write…), but thank you, already.

  304. says

    Here are my scorings of the Free Will and Determinism Scale, found in Appendix A.

    All 1’s are toward free will, all 0’s are away from free will; I’ve already reversed the reverse-scored items. So, for example, item 2 has been scored as if it asked “Each person’s decisions are [not] guided by a larger plan”, and both incompatibilists and compatibilists get a score of 1 on this item, since the atheists here all reject the notion of a “plan”.

    The format is Question number: my Incompatibilist answer, my expectation of the Compatibilist.

    Q#. I C

    02. 1 1
    10. 0 1
    12. 0 1
    14. 0 1
    15. 0 0
    16. 0 1
    18. 1 1
    20. 1 1
    21. 0 0
    23. 1 1
    24. 0 1
    26. 0 0
    29. 0 0
    32. 0 1

    01. 0 1
    05. 0 1
    07. 0 0
    08. 1 1
    11. 0 0
    27. 1 1
    31. 1 1
    33. 0 1

  305. says

    Kel,

    You’re right, we can. But when you deny free will, you’re denying the baggage that comes with it unless you can convince others that free will only means what you’re denying.

    Not true, or not true in the way you insinuate.

    What happens when an atheist denies God to a listener who believes God is the source of love?

    The worst that happens is the listener refuses to stop believing in God. The best that happens is that the listener stops believing in God but keeps on believing in love. In no case does the listener stop believing in love.

    Situations of great and immediate danger, like a fire, are precisely when people report “I didn’t think, I just acted […] When it was all done with and I calmed down, I remember thinking, ‘Wow that just happened.'”

    Whatever it is, it’s almost certainly not a belief in free will that allows people to act this way.

  306. says

    Whether free will does or doesn’t exist (or we can get an accurate conception of it), it’s hard to deny that it’s a useful concept. If people believe they are in control of their lives and destiny, they tend to act with more control. So if someone is to argue that there’s no free will, such an argument would change those who embraced it in a negative way.

    This is too simplistic, and does not align with the available evidence.

    As I mentioned to Ogvorbis up at #38, a person’s “belief that they are in control of their life” is not at all synonymous with “belief in free will”.

    This is bizarre, I admit, but earlier studies like Waldman 1983 have found only a weak correlation between belief in free will and internal locus of control.

    (tbc)

  307. says

    And the Rakos study I’m dissecting here actually finds a negative correlation between belief in free will and internal locus of control:

    Abbreviated 11-Item Rotter IE Scale (Valecha, 1972): This measure of perception of individual control over positive and negative reinforcers (Robinson & Shaver, 1973) is composed of 11 items modified from Rotter’s Internal-External Locus of Control Scale (Rotter, 1966). Respondents select one of two response options and then indicate if that choice is “much closer” or “slightly closer” to their own opinion. Scores on the measure range from 11 (external locus of control) to 44 (internal locus of control). The scale has demonstrated reasonably good internal consistency (r = .62), and it closely resembles the original Rotter scale in terms of distributional characteristics and reliability (Valecha & Ostrom, 1974).

    Relationship of belief in free will and locus of control
    Senior high school students did not associate beliefs in free will, general will, or personal will with locus of control. College students, on the other hand, produced a significant negative correlation between belief in free will and locus of control, r = -.22 (81), p<.048. Similarly, belief in personal will was also negatively correlated with locus of control, r = -0.33 (82), p<.002. These data support our hypothesis that the belief in free will is not identical to an internal locus of control.

    Both the negative correlation obtained for college students between endorsement of free will and locus of control, and the absence of any relationship between these variables for high school students, are consistent with previous research indicating that a strong belief in free will is not synonymous with having an internal locus of control. The former may function like an overall philosophy and the latter as an experientially-derived self- assessment, similar to self-efficacy (cf., Bandura, 2006). Thus, Western adults believe in their own agenic potential even if it is not manifested in everyday life. The emergence of an inverse relationship between these two variables in college students suggests that the impact of external influences on behavior is more readily discerned with increasing life experience.

    Well, that’s a possible explanation.

    At the least, we now have reason to think that we can knock down the belief in free will while maintaining people’s locus of control and sense of self-efficacy.

  308. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    http://www.radiolab.org/2011/oct/04/repeat/

    From a Radiolab show: the second part of this piece of audio introduces listeners to a woman who experiences a type of amnesia that leaves her unable to form new memories. Confronted with the same stimuli, she reverts to the same questions, and the same reactions to the same questions. It may be illuminating for those who are still wondering what exactly is meant by “no free will.”

    Interestingly, today StrangeBoyfriend used the phrase “free will” spontaneously to refer to our capacity to change our environment/inputs/knowledge set in order to change our patterns of behavior in the future.

    We still don’t have a satisfactory replacement label to refer to that valuable process.

  309. says

    We still don’t have a satisfactory replacement label to refer to that valuable process.

    Don’t we?

    Practice, learning, rethinking, taking the path less traveled (and for activists, changing the paths of least resistance), change of scenery, thinking outside the box, a new perspective, walking in another person’s shoes, getting out of a rut, changing your situation, cracking the thesaurus.

  310. says

    What happens when an atheist denies God to a listener who believes God is the source of love?

    They’re wrong, because the source of love is not God. What people mean by free will, on the other hand, is found in the notion of will.

    There are plenty of examples you could use that are more apt than God. For starters, you can deny there’s such thing as life because that’s what essentialists use to promote their pseudoscience; you could get rid of such silly notions as Ki and undermine nonsense like acupuncture – and ridicule any “lifeist” who wishes to keep the notion of life as something important in the universe.

    Likewise, you can fuck right off the notion of self. There is no single irreducible self in the universe, this notion of me cannot be found in anything in the universe, and it leads to dodgy thinking such as souls and the stupid notion of life after death.

    And while you are at it, deny any notion of there being mind or mental causation. For we know now that there is no mind, only brain – and mind has an implicit dualist as claimed by Descartes that leads people to see the notion of mental causation as a distinct force.

    Then, to top it all off, deny morality. To feel that there’s right or wrong, or to have any notion of what we ought to do is so metaphysically tainted by divine command theory that the only reasonable thing to put it out of its misery. That people may approve or disapprove, or that an action causes harm or benefit – those might still be true, but whatever you do you mustn’t call that morality!

    Honestly, ahs, I’m really surprised at how much you hinge around a label. Reconceptualisation is something we often do, because the descriptions we have are often inadequate or misleading. Call it free will, call it atoms moving around in an organised way based on an organisation of atoms ordered to parse information and reach decisions in the best interests of the organism including processes that reason about other similar organised and are shaped and modified by rogue cultural variants that stem from the actions of other similar organised atoms including those organised atoms capacity for the same kind of processing. It seems easier for me to just refine and confine what is meant by “free”, but apparently that makes me as swallowing the compatibilist dogma…

  311. says

    They’re wrong, because the source of love is not God. What people mean by free will, on the other hand, is found in the notion of will.

    So the really-existing parts of what people mean by free will are actually found in this other thing, will. Which of course we keep, every incompatiblist keeps.

    And the not-existing parts of what people mean by free will, the part where they think they could have ever done otherwise than they did, you compatibilists aren’t really trying to disabuse them of that mistake.

    You have just conceded victory to me. God is not the source of love; free will is not the source of will. Thanks for that.

    There are plenty of examples you could use that are more apt than God.

    But why would I? My point is that free will does not exist. Therefore there is nothing inconsistent in my choosing a comparison with something else that does not exist.

    Once again you are just whining and whining that I am not arguing from a compatibilist position, and this is somehow unfair.

    Honestly, ahs, I’m really surprised at how much you hinge around a label.

    After all that explanation from the Rakos study.

    After all that explanation of how compatibilists aren’t keeping their own house in order.

    After all that explanation about how using metaphysical terms leads to unnecessary argument precisely when we need precision.

    After all that explanation about the problems of metaphorical language.

    If you’re surprised then you’re just not listening.

    And you’re being a particularly whiny WATB about it.

  312. says

    “I’m really surprised that you don’t want to be a compatibilist!”

    Honestly, ahs, I’m really surprised at how much you hinge around a label.

    Really, what a weird complaint.

    Do you have such a hard time understanding that some people are not compatibilists?

    I give plenty of reasons why am an incompatibilist. Do you imagine that if you whine long enough and loud enough that I will buy your pretty dogmas?

    I’m really surprised that you won’t be a pantheist and define the universe as God. Then God will really exist! And won’t that just make everyone happier? Then we can all play with the same cheap toy!

  313. says

    Oh, fuck off!

    Bawww. You deserved a good “fuck off” when you asked

    ahs, what are you, exactly?

    but I humored your baiting. You can dish it out well enough.

  314. John Morales says

    So, ahs, you clearly consider that people bear no moral responsibility for their freely-chosen actions, since you think this refers to a non-existent concept.

    Do you therefore think moral responsibility is also nonsensical, as apparently Walton does?

    Do you concomitantly consider people bear any moral responsibility for any actions at all? If so, which?

  315. says

    Do you have such a hard time understanding that some people are not compatibilists?

    No, I understand perfectly well. What it seems, however, is that you can’t see how people could be compatibilists without lacing your assessment with irrationality.

    Do you imagine that if you whine long enough and loud enough that I will buy your pretty dogmas?

    Again! Could you please desist with this poisoning the well?

    I’m really surprised that you won’t be a pantheist and define the universe as God.

    Could you please stop with this false equivalence? I’ll go back to what I said at #48 “Most of what people mean by “free will” is something that we have”, show that it’s anything other than a cheap poisoning the well trick to continue with this poor analogy.

    ahs, just stick with the argument. Surely you don’t need to resort to such dishonest rhetorical tactics to convey your point.

  316. julian says

    Oh and I like movies with Matt Damon. -ahs

    You had me up to there, man.

    Somethings I just can’t look past.

  317. says

    Bawww. You deserved a good “fuck off” when you asked

    It’s a legitimate question in this discussion, not baiting but trying to tease just how it is you can separate yourself from what your brain does.

  318. Gorogh says

    It’s a late comment since you seem to have switched the topic already, but one or two things which came to my mind regarding the study, ahs: Correlation does not imply causation (d’oh), so we cannot say for sure if belief in free will is detrimental to anything else. Difficult to conceive an experimental design for proving causality here, though, since there are so many variables involved; I figure empathy to be a very likely confounder, for example. Another thing I found interesting was the question of why young people tend to be in favor of retributive justice, while adults have a more sophisticated view. Could be because of lack of experience/examples; could be because adolescents are – physiologically or intellectually or whyever – stuck on some lower level of Kohlberg’s moral ladder (I don’t know if this has still any relevance in developmental psychology, btw); or maybe they are even more exposed to, and dependent of an environment which upholds these values, if only for educational purposes. Very intriguing.

    A short note to @John Morales, neither do I believe in moral responsibility in the general sense. Contrary to whomever-said-it-in-the-Johnson-thread, I see *no* difference whatsoever between a dictator, a mass murderer, or some selfless individual sacrificing him- or herself for others. Hitler and Gandhi (or Albert Schweizer, or whoever) both acted to the same internal moral compass, namely, a reinforcment (a rewarding “sensation”, or avoidance of punishment) generated by their nervous system. Internally, we are all the same. Surely, we have some sort of innate “moral”/social tendency, and this does not preclude conferred responsibility from entities such as society, or parents, or peers, which infuse us with our reinforcers in the first place. And where some sort of consensus is reached, the consenting party may exercise pressure on dissenters/reward or punish. To me, none of that really equals the sort of moral responsibility as it is usually meant.

    Just a first thought…

  319. Gorogh says

    @Kel (349),

    Call it free will, call it atoms moving around in an organised way based on an organisation of atoms ordered to parse information and reach decisions in the best interests of the organism including processes that reason about other similar organised and are shaped and modified by rogue cultural variants that stem from the actions of other similar organised atoms including those organised atoms capacity for the same kind of processing.

    – what a sweet comment. Definitely goes into my list of pharyngula quotes :D

  320. John Morales says

    Gorogh:

    A short note to @John Morales, neither do I believe in moral responsibility in the general sense.

    Neither do I, other than as a construct that some people, societies or philosophies have.

    I do believe in responsibility, though. ;)

  321. says

    John: those hard questions are on my to-do list. I will let you know.

    +++++
    Kel

    No, I understand perfectly well. What it seems, however, is that you can’t see how people could be compatibilists without lacing your assessment with irrationality.

    This is bullshit, Kel. You’re just desperate now. Look: I have accepted that there can be an internally consistent compatibilism.

    Let me know when you’re ready to retract it.

    +++++
    Gorogh: I’ve got comments from 100 ago that I still need to reply to. Don’t worry about being late.

    Correlation does not imply causation (d’oh), so we cannot say for sure if belief in free will is detrimental to anything else.

    It’s easy to imagine how compatibilist leanings could be causing a willingness to punish. It’s easy to imagine how a desire to punish could be causing compatibilist leanings. It’s easy to imagine a causal feedback loop. There are probably some obvious candidates for third cause of both.

    What we can say is that there’s some reason to expect that manipulating belief toward incompatibilism without free will would result in less willingness to punish.

    There’s some reason(s) why those less willing to punish lean toward a lack of belief in free will. And the belief-set itself is a reasonable candidate for manipulation. With 1/100 adults in the prison system, there’s a good case for trying everything that might work.

    I figure empathy to be a very likely confounder, for example.

    For sure. Also one’s score on the RWA scale, I’ll bet.

  322. says

    ahs, just stick with the argument. Surely you don’t need to resort to such dishonest rhetorical tactics to convey your point.

    It’s just fucking amazing how dishonest you think you can be while asserting the same of others, Kel. You are a real piece of work.

    Again! Could you please desist with this poisoning the well?

    You are a dogmatist. I see no reason not to acknowledge this. And a WATB.

    Could you please stop with this false equivalence?

    Could you please stop whining?

    You just get so upset with the mention of God. But I have made a reasonable point. Your complaint was that people have certain associations with “free will” which may get unduly disturbed. Fair enough, but then it doesn’t matter whether free will exists; your point is what it is. My response is that people have certain associations with “God” which may get unduly disturbed. It doesn’t matter whether God exists or not. People do in fact get disturbed either way.

    People do define God as including the whole universe. This breaks your argument about how “free will” must be preserved because it refers to some things which are real. Under pantheism, — and let’s not forget, there are real pantheists out there; Dawkins talks about them at length in TGD — God includes some things which are real. You cannot coherently argue that you get to insist on preserving free will for some reason which is not logically equivalent to my insistence on preserving the pantheistic God.

  323. says

    Kel,

    Correct me if I’m wrong — you’ve got kind of an honor code about not comparing another atheist’s belief to religion? Because if you do I should just say I don’t and if I’m ever convinced to adopt such it won’t be today.

    If that’s not it then I think I’ve sufficiently explained why I think the talk about God is logically justified. Or at least done some work that you can swing at. If there is something genuinely wrong with my comparison, it is simply not obvious to me.

    I am much more interested in talking about the damn Rakos study than whether my metaphor is good. So if I have to stop the God talk to avoid being called dishonest, I’ll probably do it temporarily. I’m not for sure whether you’re being dishonest; it’s possible that you think I am.

    There is benefit of the doubt, so I retract that my allegation of dishonesty against you. I smoked some theory of mind and realized it was based on flimsy insight and I think your equivalent allegation is as well.

    This is not something I’m all that interested in getting as riled as I am about. If I wear myself out, I won’t have any more rile for the paper.

  324. says

    John,

    I think I’ll have a really hard time with those questions because I’m very biased about them. I have my own self rules and I’m not terribly concerned if others are not as strict. I think that most people can be argued toward a pretty reasonable consequentialism on aesthetic grounds because their own moral responsibility is a source of internal reward. I still want the worst shit to be illegal, most of society on my side agrees.

    (There is a factor of six items scored as moral responsibility. I picked up two points there.)

  325. says

    Let me know when you’re ready to retract it.

    I retract it. But what purpose has it served to describe compatibilism or people arguing even remotely to the compatibilist position to describe it in such religious terms? Saying things like “It’s amazing what that bullshit compatibilist dogma has done to you” is poisoning the well, plain and simple. Not very fruitful for a discussion…

    It’s just fucking amazing how dishonest you think you can be while asserting the same of others, Kel. You are a real piece of work.

    Where am I being dishonest?

    You are a dogmatist. I see no reason not to acknowledge this. And a WATB.

    *sigh* Show me where I’m being dogmatic…

    Your complaint was that people have certain associations with “free will” which may get unduly disturbed. Fair enough, but then it doesn’t matter whether free will exists; your point is what it is.

    I don’t know how you how you think those two sentences follow. Free will matters, my point is that what we mean by free will shifts, just as it shifts for notions like morality or self. We’re not going to deny consciousness, surely, because of the implicit dualism or the explicit history of dualist thought – the reworking of consciousness into a physicalist understanding of the brain is a much more accurate means to convey the changing of ideas as it is to deny consciousness. My argument with free will is that, like consciousness, the redescription of what is meant will lead to a more accurate conception than to deny it altogether. Free will, I am arguing, is better served by trying to pin down what is possible in terms of human cognitive capacity and action. I’m very interested in that question; what I’m not concerned about is whether or not one calls that free will. Notions like what is the self and how consciousness / unconscious unfolds into identity and action are important discussions to have. Whether or not one calls that free will is an issue of marketing…

    My response is that people have certain associations with “God” which may get unduly disturbed.

    I’d invoke J.L. Mackie at this point, and ask whether what they’re saying has the right to be called God. Even Dawkins described such a position as “sexed-up atheism” – hardly a ringing endorsement of the point you are trying to make. That people define fingers as thumbs doesn’t calling fingers thumbs. Likewise, describing God as the universe itself only serves to break the understanding of what God is. You can’t say that for free will as much of what is part of free will is wrapped up in notions of self, will, choice, etc. All things that are part of our experience.

    You cannot coherently argue that you get to insist on preserving free will for some reason which is not logically equivalent to my insistence on preserving the pantheistic God.

    My charge is false equivalence, that’s a matter of degree rather than of form. One shouldn’t ban guns because one can also kill with a pillow and a pillow is legal is logically equivalent, but the comparison is unfair because of the degree to which it applies.

  326. says

    Correct me if I’m wrong — you’ve got kind of an honor code about not comparing another atheist’s belief to religion?

    You’re wrong. What I have, and I’ve expressed this many times, is a distaste for hyperbole, emotional excess, and psychologising in argument. Occasionally they’re called for, but in general they are antithetical to reasonable discourse. I wouldn’t call that an honour code (treating people engaged in reasonable discussion reasonably hardly goes beyond the most basic politeness) nor would I say it applies just to atheist beliefs (I find it problematic in any circumstance, really).

    Make of this what you will… fuckface ;)

  327. says

    It’ll be a goddamn miracle if Marcus Ranum gets something right for once in his life

    Working a blog-grudge is pathetic. Is that the best you can do? It probably is.

  328. says

    Marcus Ranum, it’s certainly the best I want to do. You didn’t earn any worse in this thread.

    +++++
    Kel,

    My charge is false equivalence, that’s a matter of degree rather than of form. One shouldn’t ban guns because one can also kill with a pillow and a pillow is legal is logically equivalent, but the comparison is unfair because of the degree to which it applies.

    That is some powerful stupid.

    The degree of badness of free will has not been asserted to be equivalent to the badness of God. There would be religious wars even if all sides believed in no free will. I have a hard time imagining the reverse. What free will does is put people in prison. That is serious bad, but not as bad as God.

    As another matter of degree, people may be more attached to God than free will. Calvinism at least suggests this.

    None of my comparison ever depended on degree. If that was your objection, then you missed the target.

    Now get off the metaphor and deal with the evidence.

    My argument with free will is that, like consciousness, the redescription of what is meant will lead to a more accurate conception than to deny it altogether.

    But your argument isn’t an argument. It’s a mantra. You have no evidence for it.

    I have provided evidence against your mantra, and you ignore it, preferring instead to recite your mantra. That’s why you’re a dogmatist.

    Free will, I am arguing, is better served by trying to pin down what is possible in terms of human cognitive capacity and action. I’m very interested in that question; what I’m not concerned about is whether or not one calls that free will.

    This contradicts your previous statement. If you aren’t concerned about whether we call the stuff that’s kept free will, then you have no business complaining about my insistence on redefining that stuff.

    I insist that words matter. Free will, as a blatantly metaphysical term, invites unnecessary confusion precisely when we need clarity. This term is demonstrated to retain huge misunderstandings even among atheists in a way that self and mind do not; here in the land of reason those two are not known for any error on the level of whether or not a person could have chosen differently.

    And as the Rakos study indicates, the concepts in and around free will are probably more safely handled by my incompatiblist position.

    If it is now your contention that words don’t matter, then perhaps you should bow out of this argument now. I’ve been arguing from the beginning that compatibilism is wrong because it uses words misleadingly. That sums up the entire compatibilist v incompatibilist debate, actually. If you don’t want to have that debate anymore, fine, get out, but don’t complain that that’s the entirety of the debate.

    Notions like what is the self and how consciousness / unconscious unfolds into identity and action are important discussions to have. Whether or not one calls that free will is an issue of marketing…

    Hello, my point. What are you doing on Kel’s keyboard?

    I’ve given lots of arguments now, and backed up some with evidence, for why we should not be using compatibilist marketing tactics. If you don’t want to deal with my evidence, fine, but at least quit repeating your empty mantras.

  329. says

    I’ve given lots of arguments now, and backed up some with evidence, for why we should not be using compatibilist marketing tactics.

    Have you noticed that not once in this thread I’ve called myself a compatibilist?

    “Most of what people mean by “free will” is something that we have, so to deny “free will” is in effect inviting a misrepresentation of humanity.”
    “It doesn’t take away that they made a choice at a particular time, weighing up the option of potential futures and acting upon it.”
    “Part of that “hard determined” universe is brains that have the capability to reason morally, that try to predict potential futures and act upon them, and have the capacity to think about these potential futures from the perspectives of others.”
    ” It might be useful to distinguish between the blanket use of free will and contra-causal free will.”
    “When I say we have free will and you say we don’t, the difference it seems is what each of us mean by free will. Given our discussion so far, I’d say that you and I are pretty close in what we see are the abilities and capacities of individuals, but the difference is whether or not those are relevant to the concept of free will. I’d argue they are, as they’re the concerns people have surrounding free will – as typified by this discussion. But there’s that other baggage too, dualism and the notion of our wills being exempt from the universe, and that’s important to address because it can lead to nonsense claims.”
    “If you say that free will has to be an illusion while people put many cognitive processes we have into free will, that’s going to lead people to reject just what the mind can do – or reject that we have determined minds.”
    “So what’s the difference, then, between the illusion of choice of a meat robot’s monitoring loop, and the cognitive processes of a meat robot? In other words, if our brains have the capacity to think and make decisions, then how is choice illusory?”

    And so on… or is perhaps focusing on actual ability a compatibilist marketing tactic? If so, I think they have it exactly right. Focusing on whether you call it free will or not is an issue for how it’s going to be taken by those who are listening to your point. And at some point, you’re arguing over semantics irrespective of the conceptual issues that are at the heart of the problem. Notice that I never said free will exists, I said “Most of what people mean by “free will” is something that we have” which is a different claim – and one I feel much much much more fruitful and arguing over a damn label. It confuses rather than clarifies.

  330. says

    I expect everyone here is aware that belief in genetic causation of same-sex attraction is related to support for gay rights.

    Five categories were presented; ranging from almost all to almost none of the causation for homosexuality being genetic. The more that genetics was attributed as a cause of homosexuality, the greater the support for rights of homosexuals (r = .77). The effects largely remained in multivariate analysis (B =.69).

    That’s from Genetic Causation Attribution and Public Support of Gay Rights; C. E. Tygart; 2000; doi 10.1093/ijpor/12.3.259

    No surprise there; that’s what we’d all expect to find.

    What’s interesting is that this study also measured belief in “free will”, separate from beliefs about genetic same-sex attraction. The author found that decreased belief in free will also predicts more support for gay rights, and this effect does not reduce to beliefs about genetics; it is independent.

    In a random national sample of 600 English-speaking adults, aged 18 and over, the greater the degree to which these subjects attributed the causes of homosexuality to genetics, the greater was the support for extending homosexual rights in the areas of legalized domestic partnership and homosexual marriages. The effects of genetic causal attribution for extending homosexual rights seem to benefit from other ideologies: having a deterministic rather than a free will world view, and political liberalism as well as conservative libertarianism. On the other hand, the effects of religiosity were eliminated at the multivariate level of analysis. […]

    [R]eligiosity did have a modest relationship with support for extending gay rights at the bivariate level. However, when the interrelationships of religiosity and the other variables are analyzed, this initial relationship became so small that the occurrence could have resulted from random sampling variations. In other words, religiosity contributed no additional support for homosexuals. Those whose religious views were more libertarian or less traditional usually had political ideologies, other orientations or views which were more sympathetic to gay issues. The latter rather than religion were the determinants of these subjects’ views concerning homosexuality.

    The effects of free will vs. determinism and political ideology were the opposite. When interrelationship are taken into account, most support for extending gay rights remained. That is to say, both a determinstic orientation and liberal or libertarian views contribute to support for gay rights on their own.

    This suggests that no matter how successful we can be by informing people about the genetic influences on same-sex attraction — and I think we’ve been noticeably successful at this already — we can be even more successful by also informing people about how free will does not exist.

  331. says

    Whinybutt Kel,

    Have you noticed that not once in this thread I’ve called myself a compatibilist?

    So what? It’s not a huge deal what you call yourself. The problem is that you’re defending the use of the term “free will”. If you’re going to argue that we should salvage the term yet deny that you’re a compatibilist, have fun; what I’m still arguing against is salvaging the term.

    “Most of what people mean by “free will” is something that we have, so to deny “free will” is in effect inviting a misrepresentation of humanity.”

    And this is wrong. See #345.

    “It doesn’t take away that they made a choice at a particular time, weighing up the option of potential futures and acting upon it.”

    See #63

    ” It might be useful to distinguish between the blanket use of free will and contra-causal free will.”

    How many times do I have to tell you they’re all bad?

    “When I say we have free will

    Bolded for emphasis.

    And so on… or is perhaps focusing on actual ability a compatibilist marketing tactic?

    Calling those things “free will” is a compatibilist marketing tactic, as you well know. My argument is — and here I will note you should not have failed to notice this — that we should focus on actual ability and not assign metaphysical terms to it.

    So no, you don’t get to claim this ground for yourself. I was already here. You are conceding victory to me yet again.

    Focusing on whether you call it free will or not is an issue for how it’s going to be taken by those who are listening to your point.

    Why do you suppose I brought up the Rakos study?

    (BTW, if you’re going to whine like this, you should do so more specifically. Vague qhining is the most annoying type.)

    And at some point, you’re arguing over semantics irrespective of the conceptual issues that are at the heart of the problem.

    Don’t be so stupid. My contention is that words matter, language is metaphoric, and semantics have moral implications.

    See Rakos.

    See what I said to Ogvorbis; this being what, the fifth time I’ve directed you to it?

    See what I said to nigelTheBold, this being at least the third time.

    And now see Tygart.

    Notice that I never said free will exists

    Bolded for emphasis.

    I said “Most of what people mean by “free will” is something that we have” which is a different claim

    And one I addressed, oh lazy whiner.

    – and one I feel much much much more fruitful and arguing over a damn label. It confuses rather than clarifies.

    It might confuse you since you’re so lazy and incompetent that you can’t deal with any of my evidence.

    But I have given arguments and some evidence for why the words matter.

    (You can save your next response. I already know what it’s going to say: “whine whine whine whine semantics whine whine whine whine whine”.)

  332. mikelaing says

    ahs ॐ says: “My contention is that words matter…”

    How? Nothing matters if everything is determined, if there is no free will. How can our reactions or perceptions influence anything at all if it is already pre-determined?

    It is just a fucking ride. Calling names is pointless, everything is pointless. If you realize that you have zero free will, you would not bother getting excited or reacting in an emotional manner.

    And…. I don’t care if some study says this or some fucking philosopher covered ‘x’ to death already. You want to link to shit without explaining it, fine, cause I like the education, but I am not going to play along with the fallacy of convolution(I just made that up, although it might not be original) and spend hours reading and ultimately refuting what someone else postulated, just to return 40 comments later to restate why I disagree with your position.

    I’m back where I started with you, and that is calling you on this pedantic smokescreen of yours. And calling you on your hypocrisy. You have to explain what exactly our mind is, physically, or you are like an compatabilist, lol. It is undefined, and until it is demonstrated reproducibley, step by step, you cannot know if we have free will or if it is a illusion because this perception is real and it is our mind that does it.

    I fucking read Bohr, Einstein, Podelsky, Rosen, Bell, Shoppenheimlich, Mary had a little lamb, etc., and it is all trivial because we do not, I repeat, DO NOT, know what is the precisely exact nature of reality in any single defined or proposed conception of it. There is always some mechanism that is not fucking known, it is a watch face. You can take the smallest event in 1 planck length and time, you can narrow down every conceivable variable to one, and you still have the hidden variables “why is it that way?”

    That is why I refute it thus, because you are partaking. You are acting and reacting, or you are a turing device of the utmost supreme order, to me, and I refute that thusly as well because your builder would have far fucking better shit to be doing with his miracle(ha ha) machine, thus I spake!

    Do you understand this? Do I? (I’m guessing that none/zero/naughtta of anything I ‘independently’ think up has not been covered to boring irreducible miniscuality 100 times before exaggerated, and exasperated, for benefit). Show me that it is not possible for you to have free will and still keep responding in the manner that you do, ie exhibiting emotion and expecting others to chose to learn to understand or agree with you.

    Quasi compatabilist, that’s it!

  333. John Morales says

    [meta]

    mikelaing, you gotta understand that, unlike you or I, ahs is not arguing for the sake of it or to exchange viewpoints, but for a consequentialist reason; he is a psycho-social activist and dogged at it.

    (cf #338-340)

  334. says

    How? Nothing matters if everything is determined, if there is no free will. How can our reactions or perceptions influence anything at all if it is already pre-determined?

    mikelaing, I direct you to How Determinists Cross the Street.

    What it means to be a proximate cause, rather than an ultimate cause, is that the eventual outcome (predetermined or not) occurs through our reactions.

    You seem to have succumbed to the Idle Argument for fatalism:

    “If it is fated for you to recover from an illness, then you will recover whether you call a doctor or not.
    Likewise, if you are fated not to recover, you will not do so whether you call a doctor or not.
    But either it is fated that you will recover from this illness, or it is fated that you will not recover.
    Therefore it is futile to consult a doctor.” (as worded at Wikipedia)

    +++++
    But, even if everything is predetermined (and randomness from QM means it’s not, but even if it were) then it might be predetermined that you could only recover by going to the doctor.

    It’s never the case that the same thing’s going to happen regardless of how you act in the universe; you are part of the universe, and history happens via you.

  335. says

    If you realize that you have zero free will, you would not bother getting excited or reacting in an emotional manner.

    This is a silly and stupid argument, which you must already know is false.

    Everybody knows that automobiles have no free will, yet we still have emotional reactions to their breaking down, even if it’s just about the money we’ll have to spend and the immediate inconvenience of being late to our destination.

    I’m back where I started with you, and that is calling you on this pedantic smokescreen of yours. And calling you on your hypocrisy. You have to explain what exactly our mind is, physically, or you are like an compatabilist, lol. It is undefined, and until it is demonstrated reproducibley, step by step, you cannot know if we have free will or if it is a illusion because this perception is real and it is our mind that does it.

    No, you are making the mistake of thinking that free will could have anything to do with the mind. I’m sorry you can’t get off that error, but it is your error, and not mine.

    “The argument is exceedingly familiar, and runs as follows. Either determinism is true or it is not. If it is true, then all our chosen actions are uniquely necessitated by prior [moments], just like every other event. But then it cannot be the case that we could have acted otherwise, since this would require a possibility determinism rules out. Once the initial conditions are set and the laws fixed, causality excludes genuine freedom.

    On the other hand, if indeterminism is true, then, though things could have happened otherwise, it is not the case that we could have chosen otherwise, since a merely random event is no kind of free choice. That some events occur causelessly, or are not subject to law, or only to probabilistic law, is not sufficient for those events to be free choices.

    Thus one horn of the dilemma represents choices as predetermined happenings in a predictable causal sequence, while the other construes them as inexplicable lurches to which the universe is randomly prone. Neither alternative supplies what the notion of free will requires, and no other alternative suggests itself. Therefore freedom is not possible in any kind of possible world. The concept contains the seeds of its own destruction.”

    +++++
    In a deterministic universe, your mind cannot create free will.

    And in an indeterministic universe, your mind cannot create free will.

    By the law of excluded middle, those are the only options.

    I fucking read Bohr, Einstein, Podelsky, Rosen, Bell, Shoppenheimlich, Mary had a little lamb,

    I’m especially sorry that you got distracted into reading about Mary’s Room. Dennett and his goddamn compatibilists will try any distraction they can find. It wasn’t me that sent you off to waste your time on that one.

    we do not, I repeat, DO NOT, know what is the precisely exact nature of reality in any single defined or proposed conception of it. There is always some mechanism that is not fucking known, it is a watch face. You can take the smallest event in 1 planck length and time, you can narrow down every conceivable variable to one, and you still have the hidden variables “why is it that way?”

    *nods*

    But what we do know is that McGinn and Clark have already demonstrated free will to be impossible in all possible worlds, so you won’t find it even at the planck length.

    Do you understand this? Do I?

    You clearly do not understand why free will is impossible in all possible worlds. I have done my best to explain it to you. You keep, for some reason, thinking it has something to do with the nature of your mind.

    I think that’s probably because there are compatibilist scum around these parts, talking about the mind as though it has anything to do with the possibility of free will, and so you’ve understandably conflated the two issues.

    +++++
    It wouldn’t matter if I was a Turing machine! If free will was possible, then there’s no reason why Turing machines couldn’t have it. The nature of consciousness, and the possibility of ever having chosen to choose differently, are completely independent issues.

    (I suppose that there will be conscious AI within the next 300 years if global warming doesn’t collapse civilization. All the more reason to get rid of the notion of free will as soon as possible, else some bigots will mistreat these AI based on the error that we have free will and they don’t.)

  336. Gorogh says

    @ahs, I like the quote,

    I suppose that there will be conscious AI within the next 300 years if global warming doesn’t collapse civilization. All the more reason to get rid of the notion of free will as soon as possible, else some bigots will mistreat these AI based on the error that we have free will and they don’t.

    Somebody surely brought it up already, but the issue is with animal rights (PZ being wary of them activists or not), as well.

    @John Morales,

    ahs is not arguing for the sake of it or to exchange viewpoints, but for a consequentialist reason; he is a psycho-social activist and dogged at it.

    expressing oneself is necessarily within a psychological, and – in most occasions – within a social context. Thus, most expressions become some sort of psycho-social activism, for always is an internal state expressed, the expression becoming instrumental for the actualization of one’s “intentions”. ahs might profit more than others, motivationally, from spreading his memes regarding the topic free will – but his behavior is fundamentally the same as “exchanging viewpoints”. Indeed, he has a wider scope for the permeation of his ideas (rather societal than social), but that’s a difference in degree.

    I just came to wonder if my latter paragraph contributed anything meaningful or was just blahblah, but what the hell.

  337. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Gorogh, it was meaningful enough. Perhaps I should’ve made it explicit that ahs is doing so consciously and deliberately; he makes no bones about it, any more than I hide that generally, I just like to argue.

    (Frankly, I don’t care one way or another whether this philosophical free-will concept is true or not — it would make no difference to me or my behaviour)

  338. Gorogh says

    p.s.: Actually, the consequence I have drawn from all considerations regarding free will, and my subsequent dismissal of the concept, is an instrumental ethics. I have brought lack of free will in connection with moral relativism before and have been criticized for it (by whom I can’t remember, was it Ichtyic?), but since I cannot remember being convinced I’ll repeat the statement – if the values we have individually were shaped by various external factors (from nature to nurture), they are all we have. To be able to question those values is a value itself (“I believe it is valuable to question my values”), so one cannot escape not being free. Consequently, there is no “objective” right to argue about values, no moral absolute, but merely the consensual systems of our respective environments. To contribute one’s own values – be it subversive (as in ID), open to the degree of being “activist”-like, by force or however (the choice being a value judgement, too) – is how the consensus shifts, allowing you greater or lesser freedom in actualizing your own values. Meme wars.

  339. Gorogh says

    Frankly, I don’t care one way or another whether this philosophical free-will concept is true or not — it would make no difference to me or my behaviour

    Fair enough :) well, the truth of it really is irrelevant; not so the belief regarding the truth (which really *is* the truth in a pragmatic sense). I’m inclined to say, to “a good person”, it really makes no difference. But what could be meant by “good” is obviously a matter of a (personal, as I tried to explain above) definition. It probably is true, though, that a great number of people do not meet those criteria for goodness – those might as well profit from addressing the issue.

    Not impossible that some might even become worse :/

  340. says

    I will endeavor to restrain my retributive impulse, and seeing no consequentialist case for lashing back in this instance, bid you good day. :)

    Fuck you, ahs. Just remember, I’m not responsible because I couldn’t have done anything but. I deliberated on not doing this, thought of all the possible reasons not to do it, but it had to be done this way. No choice in the matter – if you hold any begrudgement or ill-will, just remember that such feelings are holding me accountable for that which is beyond my control. For, although I had a voice in my head telling me this was a bad idea, I could not have done otherwise.

    Fuck you, you piglet-raping retard.

  341. consciousness razor says

    Fuck you, you piglet-raping retard.

    Could you avoid making a joke out of rape in the future, as well as using “retard” as an insult? Given the incentive to not be thought of as a complete asshole (by at least some people like myself), I think you could do that.

  342. says

    How’s that a joke? The joke is thinking that I could have done anything other than I did. I would hope I’m not making light of rape, and I could say that I won’t in the future, but I can’t no more account for my behaviour in the future than I can for the desire not to make light of what is a very serious issue. But still, I’ll try, though when I say “I’ll try” you’ll have to understand that it’s so far as I can do otherwise – or that the factors that ultimately dictate my behaviour allow for me to change.

    (besides, how is piglet rapist any worse than what many people here say to do with porcupines?)

  343. Gorogh says

    You’re being capricious, Kel – of course, you can’t help being so, but that does not preclude the possibility of pointing it out to you, and your according change of behavior to one less tedious :D

    Otherwise, I agree that it is very cumbersome to use a very accurate language in this regard. This is why shortcuts (such as “I agree…”) are okay when rather peripheral issues (such as your use of insults) are being dealt with.

  344. says

    Could you avoid making a joke out of rape in the future

    For the record, I got the term piglet rapist from my fellow Pharyngulites. If it’s deemed unacceptable now, please accept my apologise and replace my piglet comment with one about what ahs can do with a porcupine.

    but that does not preclude the possibility of pointing it out to you, and your according change of behavior to one less tedious

    There’s always that possibility, but that’s got nothing to do with me. It’s like praying to an omnipotent God… ;)

  345. consciousness razor says

    How’s that a joke?

    Well, I didn’t think it was funny either. I guess that makes two of us. Since you presumably don’t actually think ahs rapes piglets, you could easily retract it and come up with another insult. Or maybe you could continue to accuse people of rape disingenuously whenever you find it a convenient rhetorical tactic. Let me just say this: having been raped, I don’t appreciate whatever it is you were doing, whether you think it was a joke or not. And having known a lot of great people with mental disabilities, I don’t appreciate the “retard” part either.

    I like you, Kel, but as far as I’m concerned you can fuck right off, if that’s how it’s going to be.

    The joke is thinking that I could have done anything other than I did.

    Since that’s also ahs’ point, as well as mine, I’m still not sure what the point of your comment was. Whatever. You don’t have to use “retard” as an insult or lie about people being rapists in order to make whatever your point was supposed to be. Whatever you’re angry or frustrated about, please try to direct it to the right things. If that isn’t motivation enough to retract it, you might notice it’s distracting me from addressing whatever your points about free will were supposed to be.

  346. says

    If that isn’t motivation enough to retract it, you might notice it’s distracting me from addressing whatever your points about free will were supposed to be.

    How come ahs can throw insult after insult into his posts, but when I do it I’m the one who is going too far and whose point is being distracted from? And if I highlight this, it’s me whining. So people can keep throwing insults and dismissing my arguments, but no matter what I say I’m the one people come down on.

    I apologise for any trivialisation of rape, I would have hoped the piglet comment would be taken for the absurdity it is, but it was not my intention or desire to make light of rape. I mistook the zeitgeist, borrowed the wrong phrase (where were you telling those people off?), and now it’s been taken the wrong way.

    I like you, Kel, but as far as I’m concerned you can fuck right off, if that’s how it’s going to be.

    Fair enough. Adios.

  347. says

    And, consciousness razor, do you really feel it fair to blame me for something I didn’t have any other choice but to do? I can understand a distaste and a wish to avoid me in the future over my comments, but any sense in which I can be blamed or responsible for what I’ve written is illusory. We have no more free will than a rock, and it’s absurd to blame the rock from flying through the window.

  348. mikelaing says

    You know, I just came across another rape of piglets reference a few hours ago. I can’t remember where, but here on FTB or Inspiring Doubt, or Alethian, or Zingularity. I can find it right now because my internet connection is fucked and I can’t load pages very good.
    No one freaked about it. It wasn’t directed at anyone personally present, I think it was used sort of like ‘that’s a raping piglets mentality’ or such.
    My point is, having just noticed the grief people are putting Kel through, what’s the huge fucking deal?
    I see this as hypersensitivity to anything that could remotely construe to misogyny, but is going way to far.
    And it is ironic that people arguing against moral judgement because we have no free will, are making moral judgements, and hysterical ones at that.

    It is fine to completely disrespect and try to vehemently humiliate someone on here, but fuck an animal? As a figurative epithet? Sure it is crude, and rude, but many of us fuckers were laughing and joking about the 72 virgins in heaven reward for Islamic martyrs, and discussing the subtleties of whether they stayed virgins after repeated fucking, how long it would take to get bored with them all, and more, FFS.

    I just want to say that it didn’t bother me, Kel, not when it is in reaction/retaliation/response to insult and boorish behaviour.

    Ahem:

    PZMeyers – Remind me, once Ken Ham dies, that I have to start a campaign to remember him as the person most responsible for popularizing piglet-raping. Truth doesn’t matter with Ham, so we can freely invent any crime we want and blame him for increasing its popularity. Anything goes, too — he’s certainly willing to stoop to any vileness to defame those he dislikes, so he can’t complain when he gets santorumed.

    firemancarl | February 21, 2008 3:37 PM – So, creationist fundies are pig rapers now eh? Sheesh, I knew they hated science, but going so far as to rape pigs. Now they have gone to far! Stop piglet raping now!

    #18 Posted by: stoat100 | February 21, 2008 4:00 PM –

    It’s true about Ken Ham raping piglets.I got intel off a piglet (It squealed).


    #27 started spreading lies (or better yet — inconvenient truths) about him… thing is, they gotta be believable. As funny as piglet-raping is, that just seems hyperbolic.

    #39 It’s true about Ken Ham raping piglets

    Of course it is! He’s a biblical literalist, called ken ham, & to ken is to know, & in the bible, to know is to have sex with, so his name means ‘having sex with pork’.
    QED

    I’m not looking at any more shite, this was the first link that came up on Google. Now that is funny, eh? Pharyngula was thee number one result on a search for the term ‘raping piglets’ and it shows not just PZ using the term, but multiple uses and references to it in a humourous and matter of fact fun/sarcastic way.

    If something has changed in the atmosphere at Pharyngula here, if some people find it incredibly insensitive and hurtful or malicious, please let me know, or please tell me why you folks find the term so offensive.

    On a personal note, I am noticing a distinctly adversarial and ‘shoot first, ask later’ bully type approach becoming more pervasive here than it used to be. I see simple misunderstandings immediately transformed into exchange of ad hominum and vicious mockery.

    It is fun, though. ;)
    Shaet, I didn’t even post what I came here to say!

    I will quote Bertrand Russel next, anti choicers!

  349. mikelaing says

    Fuck, I forgot the link!
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/02/ken_hams_new_book.php

    —–

    (Now I have to find this one!)
    A teaser, ahs,

    In all that we have said hitherto concerning philosophy, we have scarcely touched on many matters that occupy a great space in the writings of most philosophers. Most philosophers—or, at any rate, very many—profess to be able to prove, by a priori metaphysical reasoning, such things as the fundamental dogmas of religion, the essential rationality of the universe, the illusoriness of matter, the unreality of all evil, and so on. There can be no doubt that the hope of finding reason to believe such theses as these has been the chief inspiration of many life-long students of philosophy. This hope, I believe, is vain. It would seem that knowledge concerning the universe as a whole is not to be obtained by metaphysics, and that the proposed proofs that, in virtue of the laws of logic such and such things must exist and such and such others cannot, are not capable of surviving a critical scrutiny. In this chapter we shall briefly consider the kind of way in which such reasoning is attempted, with a view to discovering whether we can hope that it may be valid.

    There is much more important parts to –
    Project Gutenberg’s The Problems of Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell

    This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
    almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
    re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
    with this eBook or online at http://www.gutenberg.org
    I’m in heaven!! Praise Ali Babba!! The Analysis of Mind by Bertrand Russell

    Our Knowledge of the External World as a Field for Scientific Method in Philosophy by Bert ‘the Hustle’ Russell

  350. John Morales says

    [meta + OT]

    mikelaing:

    It is fine to completely disrespect and try to vehemently humiliate someone on here, but fuck an animal? As a figurative epithet?

    If something has changed in the atmosphere at Pharyngula here, if some people find it incredibly insensitive and hurtful or malicious, please let me know, or please tell me why you folks find the term so offensive.

    (sigh)

    I am hereby letting you know that this place (and the commentariat) ain’t static, and the gestalt consensus has moved on from 2008, even if PZ’s rules guidelines haven’t.

    This remains a free-speech zone; anyone can say what they want at anytime, subject only to PZ’s final judgement. This means people can freely respond to what others write, as CR did, as you have done, and as I am now doing.

    Anyway, to address your question:

    1. Disrespect you can do, humiliation you can only try to do.

    2. Rape ain’t funny, period.

    2a. Unjustifiably calling someone a rapist (whether thinly-disguising it by using an animal rather than a person as the victim or not) is very poor form, and what it indicates (at best) is intended malevolence.

    3. Figurative epithets only gain power when they’re apropos, else they rebound — as has happened here.

    3a. It’s clever* when dealing with Ham, not-so-much so when dealing with ahs.

    4. You are aware of the tu quoque fallacy, no?

    4a. Just because the examples you provided (and those to which Kel alluded) weren’t called out doesn’t mean they were unproblematic.
    I personally was not that amused, at the time, though I didn’t speak out.

    On a personal note, I am noticing a distinctly adversarial and ‘shoot first, ask later’ bully type approach becoming more pervasive here than it used to be.

    On a personal note, I think you’re wrong. I’ve been here since 2005, and haven’t noticed any increase on such adversarial approach recently (e.g. the “three comment rule” was instituted by PZ in 2006 — guess why?).

    I see simple misunderstandings immediately transformed into exchange of ad hominum and vicious mockery.

    It’s ad hominem, and mockery (as I’ve noted) needs to work else it rebound — use it at your peril. ;)

    Kel:

    How come ahs can throw insult after insult into his posts, but when I do it I’m the one who is going too far and whose point is being distracted from?

    You’re piss-poor at it, and your unimaginative plagiaristic usage fell under point 3 above.

    (Stick to what you know, or else get some competence at the art of being insulting. Hint: relevance is paramount)

    * Need I elaborate?

  351. John Morales says

    [meta + OT]

    PS mikelaing, you think we‘re adversarial?

    You’ve clearly never engaged truth machine. :)

  352. says

    You’re piss-poor at it

    Wait, I thought that people were offended at the content rather than the quality.

    or else get some competence at the art of being insulting.

    Fair enough, John. In the future, I’ll just stick to the safe option of telling people what they can do with porcupines. I’ll be more careful in the future which Pharyngula insults I dare to copy, lest I fun afoul of the insult police.

    And in the end, John, shouldn’t it be stressed that I had no will but to do what I did? How can I be blamed for something of which I had no choice but to do? Surely you understand!

  353. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Kel, I think you’re at your best when you stick to facts and reason.
    Your emotive techniques are nowhere as efficacious; you’re akin to Ruth (in the movie Paul) when she essays swearing, not having had the practice at it*.

    Also, your point is clear enough (and relevant, too), and it’s one I think has not been convincingly addressed.

    (cf. Crow @70 and my #356)

    * She’s quick on the uptake, though! :)

  354. says

    Kel, I think you’re at your best when you stick to facts and reason.

    Meh, sticking to facts and reason hasn’t ever worked for me. I’d like to see one example in the history of my conversations with anyone ever where I’ve had the slightest success in even helping people consider something in a slightly different light. Let’s face it, fact and reason is a pretence that any of us are actually making even the slightest bit of headway into hoping to explicate and further the intellectual pursuit; a point that’s about as equally valid as launching into an emotionally-laden burst of moral outrage where insulting is common stock and the important thing is that whoever is outraged is standing up for whatever it is we deem to be important. It’s undoubtedly

    Your emotive techniques are nowhere as efficacious; you’re akin to Ruth (in the movie Paul) when she essays swearing, not having had the practice at it*.

    But how am I supposed to improve if any attempt to even try is met with derision? ;)

    Also, your point is clear enough (and relevant, too)

    Yet my last few posts were a break from my normal approach of trying to have a reasoned and reasonable argument. So from my perspective, it seems me being sarcastic and confronting is working better than my tempered approach of trying to argue the point reasonably… :)

  355. pokealot says

    Hey PZ,

    Kel said:

    For, although I had a voice in my head telling me this was a bad idea, I could not have done otherwise.

    I hear voices too.

  356. John Morales says

    [OT + final]

    Kel:

    Meh, sticking to facts and reason hasn’t ever worked for me.

    I dunno, I suspect others might disagree, Kel (OM).

    (Once was capable)

    But how am I supposed to improve if any attempt to even try is met with derision? ;)

    Well, being properly insulting is both an art and a skill; you certainly lack aptitude for the former, but the latter you can practice assiduously so as to gain some modicum of expertise, via trial and error.

    (I don’t recommend that, but hey)

    So from my perspective, it seems me being sarcastic and confronting is working better than my tempered approach of trying to argue the point reasonably… :)

    Seriously? Because it’s not your points that are being discussed, but your feeble insults.

    (You really want to become trollish?)

  357. says

    I dunno, I suspect others might disagree, Kel (OM).

    My general impression is that my arguments are usually pretty good just as long as I’m arguing for the right side, but when I’m not then I’m either completely incapable or that I’m one misstep away from being completely incapable – and in either case not once have I ever been told I’ve had a good point or raised something to consider beyond those who already agree with me on that point.

    (You really want to become trollish?)

    Not particularly. I’m just tired of being told how much of a moron and an idiot I am, to the point I’m questioning why it is I bother to begin with. That facts and reason are my apparent strength? Hah!

  358. mikelaing says

    @John Morales: * Need I elaborate?

    Previously: It’s clever* when dealing with Ham

    Make bacon? Conferred.

    Okay, I get you, John, thanks.
    So, who should we pick on next? (JUST KIDDING!)

  359. says

    heh. mikelaing,

    Bertrand Russell on free will:

    The one effect that the free-will doctrine has in practice is to prevent people from following out such common-sense knowledge to its rational conclusion. When a man acts in ways that annoy us we wish to think him wicked, and we refuse to face the fact that his annoying behaviour is a result of antecedent causes which, if you follow them long enough, will take you beyond the moment of his birth and therefore to events for which he cannot be held responsible by any stretch of imagination.

    No man treats a motorcar as foolishly as he treats another human being. When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behaviour to sin; he does not say, “You are a wicked motorcar, and I shall not give you any more petrol until you go.” He attempts to find out what is wrong and to set it right. An analogous way of treating human beings is, however, considered to be contrary to the truths of our holy religion.

  360. John Morales says

    ॐ, your appeal to authority is amusing.

    When a man acts in ways that annoy us we wish to think him wicked

    When a man acts in ways that annoy me, I think him annoying; it is only when he acts wickedly that I think him wicked.

    (That would mean acting so as to cause harm for what I consider to be no justifiable reason)

    Whether he had free will or not is irrelevant, wickedness is wickedness.

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