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Why I am an atheist – Michael A Pipkin

My journey to atheism started with a discussion with a coworker who also happened to be a Christian minister.

Although I was raised Catholic, I had long ago grown out of much of the dogma. I had no problem accepting science that conflicted with church teachings and I generally tried to be a good person without appealing to the Bible for instruction. However, I still clung to the belief that there must be a god, and that I needed to believe certain things or behave in a certain way in order to get my eternal reward after death.

One evening, I watched a fascinating documentary on the Discovery Channel about some of the creatures who were direct ancestors to the dinosaurs. The next day, I mentioned it at work, specifically bringing up how the show talked about the eventual evolution of the creatures of that period into the dinosaurs. I had no idea what kind of reaction it would bring. My minister-coworker retorted with “Oh, you mean how it never happened?” He then launched into a whole tirade about how we have no evidence for evolution, and the earth is not old enough… It was basically a lot of the nonsense from AiG, although I didn’t recognize it as such at the time.

Even though I was still religious at the time, I fully accepted an old earth and evolution. To be honest, I probably would have considered myself an intelligent design proponent, had I known the term, because I still believed that humans were somehow special. The most annoying part to me was that I had nothing with which to fight back. I just flat out didn’t know enough about evolution to make a solid argument. I decided then and there that I would not be caught in that situation again. I went out and bought The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins).

I was enthralled. I could not put the book down. I had no idea that we had naturalistic explanations not only for evolution, but for all of the processes that allow it to happen — all without having to appeal to any supernatural being. After finishing Watchmaker, I read Your Inner Fish (Shubin), and The Selfish Gene (Dawkins). I kept thinking to myself, “If we can explain how life evolved through purely naturalistic processes, what else can be explained in that way?” The next book I read was Atom, by Lawrence Krauss. Wow, we can explain just as well the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang through today as we can the evolution of life on Earth! That pushed me over the edge. Something hit me. I realized that all of my coworker’s arguments for the existence of god were appeals to the unknown. He didn’t understand these processes, so he used his god to fill in the gaps. Once I better understood how the universe worked, there were no (or at least far fewer) gaps to fill. We don’t need gods to explain any natural processes in our universe. That one single fact is so liberating!

There was still the spiritual side of things, but I was already rather thin there anyway. More reading, more walls falling. I read The God Delusion (Dawkins), The End of Faith (Harris), God Is Not Great (Hitchens), and Breaking the Spell (Dennett). The spell was, indeed, broken. For the first time, I truly saw religion as a curse, rather than a blessing. It was during that time that I decided that I was a good person regardless of my beliefs, not because of them. Truth be told, I am probably a better person today without any of that nonsense filling my head.

It makes me a little bit sad when I see or read interviews with prominent authors like those above, in which they bemoan that their works are primarily read by people who are already of like mind, and that they aren’t really making a difference. If I could say just one thing to them, it is that I am proof that they can make a difference, and I hope they never give up the fight.

Michael A Pipkin
United States

Comments

  1. joey says

    If we can explain how life evolved through purely naturalistic processes, what else can be explained in that way?

    Apparently not “free will”, so therefore free will must not exist. So your “decision” to become an atheist wasn’t really your “choice” at all, but simply physics taking its course. If you stayed a theist, then that would also have been simply the result of physics. Either way, praise (or blame) for the outcome can only be directed to pure naturalistic processes.

  2. concernedjoe says

    joey – I agree with you if you are saying “freewill is an illusion” – that we act – or essentially REact – based on stimuli (that is inputs into our system).

    So we act as our pathways honed via nature and nurture direct us to act based on the strength of signals – often contradictory – come into us. Very very complex – very very much like freewill is operating.

  3. KG says

    Apparently not “free will”, so therefore free will must not exist. So your “decision” to become an atheist wasn’t really your “choice” at all, but simply physics taking its course. – joey

    Wrong. There is no reason at all why a decision – no scare quotes needed – cannot be both a person’s choice and physics taking its course. Read Dennett’s Freedom Evolves.

  4. joey says

    Word concernedjoe. So I don’t understand why people got so riled up with the “irrationality” of religion and theism? It’s not like these people had any “choice” in the matter. Theists are guided by physics to “believe” what they believe, and likewise atheists are guided by physics to simply not believe. So either way, it’s no one’s “fault”. So we should all just go with the flow, because really we can’t “do” anything else.

  5. bernarda says

    Michael, as you referred to Lawrence Krauss, there is a great lecture by him at the TED site. You might also like books by Brian Greene such as “The Elegant Universe” and “The Fabric of the Cosmos”. I could go on with other authors, but I’m not at home so can’t look them up. Anyway, this is already a lot of reading.

  6. says

    “I read The God Delusion (Dawkins), The End of Faith (Harris), God Is Not Great (Hitchens), and Breaking the Spell (Dennett)”

    Those are all good books (Dawkins was the first I read, and which I credit with helping me to become an outspoken atheist) – but I find it a little bit embarrassing that they get lumped together almost as four ‘gospels’ of New Atheism. I suppose there’s nothing we can do about that, but it would be nice if other books came to rival them in popularity and influence so that we didn’t have that awkard parallel with the founding texts of Christianity.

  7. concernedjoe says

    joey I think some of us get riled up not at the believer per se but at the machine that reenforces the irrational (as in bad program) thinking.

    We are REacting to the stimuli of being drowned out and the deleterious effects we see and feel perhaps.

    And using your logic – it is not our fault we are riled up.

    We have enough stimuli (or in other terms impetus) to drive us to want to act to change behaviors. And also to cover all bases – we have wiring to react against difference.

    This is why we need laws and standards – things that eclectically evolved collectively – so that society can be better than itself as individuals on average.

    Opening up my flank for the volley and thunder :-) .

  8. says

    Nothing makes a writer happier than a reader. Great entry, Michael.

    .

    A friend of mine recently mentioned that her “born-again” mother was reading passages of my book aloud to her. (I apologized to her for such an inconvenience.) I haven’t heard which passages they were, but I like the idea that it moved her to orate to her daughter.

  9. Lars says

    Dismissing the significance of free will just because it is an illusion, only leads you into the blind alley of solipsism.

  10. concernedjoe says

    Lars – that is why I think as Hawking does that it is an effective theory – to me that means for most practical purposes we must judge actions as if they emanate from freewill.

    From a psychological view though that would be therapeutically negligent in my opinion.

  11. consciousness razor says

    So I don’t understand why people got so riled up with the “irrationality” of religion and theism?

    You don’t? Do you reject the concept of rationality? What’s with all the fucking scare-quotes?

    It’s not like these people had any “choice” in the matter.

    In some sense, that’s true: they didn’t choose to be in this world, socialized in a religious environment, ignorant of basically everything, etc. However, most people do have the ability to understand basic logic and science. So it is within their ability and thus their choice to think about their beliefs carefully.

    So we should all just go with the flow, because really we can’t “do” anything else.

    That is wrong. If we want to stop religious bullshit from causing harm, we can do something about it by influencing people to stop the bullshitting (or at least prevent the harmful results). The thing a lot of people somehow forget when they dive off the fatalism cliff is that we’re part of the “flow” that you’re talking about too, not just other people. Our actions are among the causes that influence how others behave, just like theirs influence us (like making us angry about their bullshittery). On the other hand, if people did have wills that were free from any physical influences, that would imply we couldn’t influence people, because nothing we could do could affect their decisions.

  12. truthspeaker says

    joey says:
    23 March 2012 at 8:02 am

    Word concernedjoe. So I don’t understand why people got so riled up with the “irrationality” of religion and theism? It’s not like these people had any “choice” in the matter.

    We have no choice but to get riled up.

  13. mikmik says

    KG says:

    Apparently not “free will”, so therefore free will must not exist. So your “decision” to become an atheist wasn’t really your “choice” at all, but simply physics taking its course. – joey

    Wrong. There is no reason at all why a decision – no scare quotes needed – cannot be both a person’s choice and physics taking its course. Read Dennett’s Freedom Evolves.

    There seems no room for agency in a world of neural impulses, chemical reactions, and bone and muscle movements. Even if we add sensations, perceptions, and feelings we don’t get action, or doing—there is only what happens.
    You might find this interesting: THOMAS NAGEL: FREEDOM AND THE VIEW FROM NOWHERE

    – – – And this:

    Martha O’Keeffe
    Chesterton had it right 104 years ago:

    “In passing from this subject I may note that there is a queer fallacy to the effect that materialistic fatalism is in some way favourable to mercy, to the abolition of cruel punishments or punishments of any kind. This is startlingly the reverse of the truth. It is quite tenable that the doctrine of necessity makes no difference at all; that it leaves the flogger flogging and the kind friend exhorting as before. But obviously if it stops either of them it stops the kind exhortation. That the sins are inevitable does not prevent punishment; if it prevents anything it prevents persuasion. Determinism is quite as likely to lead to cruelty as it is certain to lead to cowardice. Determinism is not inconsistent with the cruel treatment of criminals. What it is (perhaps) inconsistent with is the generous treatment of criminals; with any appeal to
    their better feelings or encouragement in their moral struggle. The determinist does not believe in appealing to the will, but he does believe in changing the environment. He must not say to the sinner, “Go and sin no more,” because the sinner cannot help it. But he can put him in boiling oil; for boiling oil is an environment.”

    Anyways, KG, I always agree with what you say in these matters, and the idea that free-wll is an illusion is not empirical, despite claims to the reverse by most reductionists.

    @Michael A Pipkin
    I share your gratitude for the books and authors you list. We can help to spread word of them to interested people, and we can learn how to present their ideas and science to the ‘faithful’ by asking questions of them instilling an attitude of openness to, and desire for, deeper understanding of what’s true.
    These days, we can also point people to stuff on the internet

    In any event, you “went out and bought The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins).”
    Aren’t you glad? I get no greater joy than searching and learning for myself, and I applaud your attitude!

  14. mikmik says

    concernedjoe:
    Lars – that is why I think as Hawking does that it is an effective theory – to me that means for most practical purposes we must judge actions as if they emanate from freewill.

    From a psychological view though that would be therapeutically negligent in my opinion.

    Wrong. First of all, no one in their right mind feels anything other than their ability to voluntarily choose their actions – volition. I don’t mean that we don’t feel strongly impelled in many circumstances, we do.
    You will never get people to believe and act like they have no free will, not in a million years, because we all observe our own decision making processes, and cognition, and whether it is an illusion or not, no one can act any different, and they won’t believe you anyways. No amount of hard evidence or rationality will change most people from believing in god, so how do you think they would react to something that is an empirical personal experience? The amount of converts, to thinking free will is illusory, you would get would be approaching zero for a much stronger conviction than even religion entails.
    Two things that are wrong from a psychological perspective stick out for me. I mean that I am sick of immature a-social whiners that never take responsibility for their actions and attitudes; it is always somebody else’s fault, they made me do it, etc. This is immature and dangerous emotional development, and unless a therapist can instill the believe in a client/patient that they can change by learning to take responsibility, you are fucking lost. All you are left with is deterrence, which will actually breed resentment and more anti-social behaviors, and even more feelings of powerlessness behind their actions.
    Also, when people are told to believe that they are without free-will, they act more irresponsibly and selfishly. Here is one of multiple references I have on this:

    Behavior: An Absence of Free Will, a Tendency to Cheat
    If there is no such thing as free will, do you really have to put that money into the office coffee kitty when no one is looking?
    A study suggests that when people are encouraged to believe their behavior is predetermined — by genes or by environment — they may be more likely to cheat. The report, in the January issue of Psychological Science, describes two studies by Kathleen D. Vohs of the University of Minnesota and Jonathan W. Schooler of the University of British Columbia.

    It is wrong morally, therapeutically, legally, and violates common sense.

    This is like religion – the more I look at it, the more I see the “free will is illusory” stance is wrong on many levels.

  15. generallerong says

    Thanks, Michael, I share your appreciation for atheist literature as a life raft of rationality in a sea of prejudice, ignorance, and unthinking belief.

    Am currently working through Greta Christina’s Why Are You Atheists So Angry? Try it, you’ll like it.

  16. concernedjoe says

    14 mikmik

    I understand you react as you do but the only evidence you provide is that for some reason you believe the absence of freewill – or the diminution of it – is abhorrent and might lead to bad things.

    That does not prove the concept of the illusion is WRONG – but that you for some reason (freewill?) you react very viscerally to the notion.

    I on the other hand find the diminution quite liberating. In no way in the sense of excusing and permitting deleterious societal actions – but rather in the sense that the energy put into judgement and punishment can be applied to more productive efforts – e.g., education,coaching, modification of behavior, etc. And we can start to hone in on more effective upbringing etc.

    I ask you this – if we think about it – and the mere fact that I ask you to think about it is an input stimulus to you … what do you do that under close examination somehow you do not feel compelled in you mind to do?

    We do not realize it – but we react (act) to some form of stimulus – hunger, need for sleep, a memory of pleasure, a nudge from your spouse, the hands of a clock, the tricks you perform on command to get a paycheck, the notion you have of the pleasure of material freedom, eating sugar, not eating sugar, etc. etc. The fact that it is way too complex to wrap ourselves around does not make the behaviorist model wrong. We react/act to stimuli as we’ve been wired and programmed, or rewired and reprogrammed – that is a provable fact.

    We are computers in the mind – super sophisticated ones but nevertheless computers.

    Think about your reaction to what I am writing – think about willing yourself to agree with me! Oh and no fair saying “I do not want to!” as an excuse – the point is you cannot will yourself too agree and you cannot will yourself to not agree – not because of want because of your very complex behavior patterns and wired biases. Think about it.

    Any clinical psychologists out there?

  17. joey says

    You don’t? Do you reject the concept of rationality?

    Yes! I do reject the concept of “rationality”…on the exact same grounds that free will is rejected. In a universe with no free will, how can there even be such a thing called “reason”. It’s just physics…nothing more. (By the way, it was physics that made me appear to “reason” my way through this post.)

    What’s with all the fucking scare-quotes?

    Because everything I put in quotes are illusions baby!

    We have no choice but to get riled up…

    Bingo! Now you got it!

  18. KG says

    Yes! I do reject the concept of “rationality”…on the exact same grounds that free will is rejected. – joey

    What do you mean, you reject it on… grounds?

  19. joey says

    KG, I simply mean that if free will is an illusion, then it must follow that reason itself is also an illusion. Everything simply becomes action/reaction…physics. No room for “reason” here. Is there any “reason” involved when a computer executes a program? Aren’t we all merely advanced biological computers, doing what we’re programmed to do given external stimuli?

  20. chrisdevries says

    Free will may not exist but that doesn’t mean we should just “go with the flow”. If all behavior is controlled by nature and nurture, genes and environment, then if prominent anti-theists like the people on whose blogs we post are moved to voice their own opinions to the world about religion, those opinions become part of some theists’ environments. So PZ, Dawkins, Harris, etc. are following their paths based on nature and nurture, and in doing so, their books, blogs, websites, etc. become part of the cultural landscape, that vast environmental influence on all our behavior. People like Michael here, the believers by birth, and not by strong conviction, have a place to go to find the answers to the questions that always plagued them about their religion, a place where they can be exposed to the scientific explanations for things religions explain poorly or not at all.

    Those of us who do “go with the flow” are doing so because they have been led to believe this is the most reasonable option, but remember, they too draw their environmental influences from the same cultural landscape. They too can be persuaded to take up the cause by those of us who argue that action is necessary to combat the poison of religion and dogmatic thinking of any kind. The fact is that individuals in the community of freethinkers may not have free will, but by birth and the circumstances of our lives, we see the value of rational argument, we seek evidence to support our opinions, and therefore, we can be persuaded to change our opinion which necessarily changes our behavior.

  21. John Morales says

    [OT]

    KG, I simply mean that if free will is an illusion, then it must follow that reason itself is also an illusion.

    Sigh. No, it doesn’t.

    Also, solidity is an illusion, too — things are mostly empty space, bits of condensed matter both bound and separated by forces.

    (But try to walk through a wall)

  22. mikmik says

    concernedjoe

    I understand you react as you do but the only evidence you provide is that for some reason you believe the absence of freewill – or the diminution of it – is abhorrent and might lead to bad things.

    What? For some reason? I cited research. Don’t kid yourself, you are evading the specifics of what I said, and substituting your opinion for factual argument.

    That does not prove the concept of the illusion is WRONG – but that you for some reason (freewill?) you react very viscerally to the notion.

    What are you talking about here, anyways. Number one, I never said it was wrong, though it sure seems patently ridiculous on a few levels, but it might be a misinterpretation(not illusion, per se). Number two, you don’t know how I reacted because for all you know, I am a computer that understands human reactions and I am behaving in a manner to elicit emotion in others. Never the less, even if I am emotional, it doesn’t mean what I say is wrong, or right, or mean anything, it is an ad hominem.

    I on the other hand find the diminution quite liberating. In no way in the sense of excusing and permitting deleterious societal actions – but rather in the sense that the energy put into judgement and punishment can be applied to more productive efforts – e.g., education,coaching, modification of behavior, etc. And we can start to hone in on more effective upbringing etc

    YES! I have4 been waiting for someone to say this.
    Let’s say that it is realized that the most effective response is rehabilitation, treating the cause of aberrant behavior instead of punishing the behavior exclusively. Now, the idea is to eliminate aberrant behavior, yes? Treat it, stop it. Yes?

    Well the aberration is caused in others as well, siblings, let’s say. So now, you will be compelled to admit that the aberrant individual was at least partially damaged by it’s upbringing, if not overwhelmingly.
    I mean, a little boy that is raped and humiliated can hardly be expected to grow up without some major fucking issues.
    Society gives him treatment. In order for him to understand that he is not at fault, and become receptive to cognitive and behavioral change.

    Already, we have a major dilemma. The onus is now on treating the father so that more depraved individuals are not created by his actions. But, they are not his fault, they were caused by his parents and mentors and miscreants in positions of power and authority over subject 1 upbringing. Perhaps S1 has genetic predisposition, or biological injury, that is also a factor.

    Where do you draw the line? Because, sooner or later, you have to arrive at the point where parents no longer raise their own kids anymore because the only humane thing to do is to make sure all children get the proper emotional and economical and healthy environment so that they all are prevented from becoming aberrant. Or, perhaps you have to be prohibitively vigilant and intrusive into the family environment to be able to correct deviance as early as possible.

    Either that, or what? Therapy, medication, neurosurgery? What does all this cost?

    Now, the dilemma. We already are incorporating the knowledge that people are bad or moral or treatable due to genetic, biological(genetic is biological, included with nutrition, injury, etc), and emotional circumstance anyways. In that case, what would be the difference in asserting that there is no individual volition in the first place? We already know how much environmental influence etc. causes people to become criminals anyway!

    What is your major reason for insisting that it be known that there is no free will in human behavior?!?

    I’m gonna leave it there, because I am already going in too many directions at once, here. Suffice it to say, that I will be highly impressed if you are able to competently show how you ascertain that we are merely matter doing the only one thing possible at all times.
    I will dumbfounded if you are able to prove that free will is an illusion, in the first place, let alone how knowing that would change the way we treat a-social individuals from the way we do now, and are learning about anyways.

    In a way, bothering to argue this stuff is a red herring, because things are very, very far away from determining what exactly is going on in our brains and bodies, how consciousness and awareness arise, what qualia and emotions are, let alone being 100% certain that we are predetermined to exactly do the only things that we do.

  23. consciousness razor says

    I mean, a little boy that is raped and humiliated can hardly be expected to grow up without some major fucking issues.

    So we’re going to use my life story. Okay.

    If this boy had free will, none of that would make any difference to us, because the free will claim is equivalent to saying nothing causes any of our choices. It’d be absurd to suggest that’s “common sense” like you did above, but the relevant point is that free will isn’t supported by science in any way.

    In that case, what would be the difference in asserting that there is no individual volition in the first place?

    It’s not that there’s no such thing as volition, but that volition is not “free.” We don’t make choices in a causal vacuum — they are all caused by other things, whether deterministically or indeterministically. We are not magical, and we do not exist in some other realm that physics cannot touch. Try to understand that first, then maybe we could discuss its implications.

  24. concernedjoe says

    thank you consciousness razor – bottom line said better than I could

    and sorry for your incident (understatement only because I do not want to dwell or probe)

    mikmik – read consciousness razor attentively..

    but to add my 2 cents … sighting “studies” that suggest if we do not have the stimulus of thinking we are in control other stimuli may be more predominate is not proof of freewill

    but to ask again .. will yourself to agree with me in the whole – I bet you cannot.. will yourself to really love someone you are not attracted to .. will yourself to kill your beloved puppy for no good reason..

    you cannot – not because you do not want to – but because you canNOT – that is the point.. ask a compulsive hand-washer what they WANT to do ..

    it is all the same – just a matter of degree how we feel about our obsessions and compulsions and how aberrant they are .. and how we learned to sublimate and/or to use other words let other stimuli in and trick ourselves to react differently

  25. concernedjoe says

    To add another two cents – I think most successful psychologists and psychiatrists have abandoned the freewill model; it just gets in the way of determining cause and then effective treatments.

    Most employ a mixture of Freud, Rogers, and Skinner – along with whatever modern neurophysiology and biochemistry can provide as clues and treatments.

    There may be some – but from what understand few experts feel people are just weak-willed and need to just will themselves out of whatever.

    Any clinical psychologists out there?

  26. anchor says

    That’s an encouraging testimonial Michael, and I’m with you 100% in thanking those prominent authors for their work and urging them onward in the fight. Their efforts really do make a big difference. While it’s obvious that their educational services is vitally important, it is also true that persuasion isn’t the sole justification for the expression of truth. It hardly needs repeating that in a hypothetically ideal world where everyone subscribes to reason it would not be unreasonable to hear and read words in favor of reason, and frequently so. It isn’t merely a matter of redundancy (which needn’t be despised) nor a matter of positive reinforcement (which nobody needs to be afraid or ashamed of) but there is nothing wrong with observing, practising and celebrating a way of looking at the world through the crisply clear pane of rationality. Human beings can be happy in their celebrations of their world and their real connection to it through their art and science. The beauty and order and elegance in nature is a pleasure to confront and bears recapitulation well. Its music to our ears.

    Back in the noisy real world where people insist on complaining they can’t see very far into it while wailing away at opaque walls, on the other hand, its easy to see one needs no free will to decide that joey’s argument is full of strawmen shaped and cemented together only from the most freshly moist and choicest aromatic bullshit. So, yeah, there’s a constant urgency for remedial education.

  27. concernedjoe says

    anchor

    Your comment #27 prompts me to write this – although I confess I am not clear on all you say – my reading comprehension failing perhaps.

    I am on record as a proponent that freewill is an illusion BUT also an effective theory.

    So I believe that at a very high level our circuitry and operating system, and its installed features and parameters and settings basically define our personality – who we are and it provides the meta-model for our decision making.

    That level can be tuned and modulated to some degree – but it becomes more and more costly as the degree of change from the set point increases. And new features can supplant old but also that is costly as upstream and downstream things certainly will be affected.

    As this level embodies our metamodel it defines how we approach things. Let’s say sake of discussion (not to be all inclusive or clinically rigorous) our proclivities and mode of dealing with things.

    Now in regard to rationality. At this base-level we are “born” (do not take that 100% literally) inclined toward a rational approach or toward a less rational. It also has our built-in abilities and limitations. I speak in brief so give me some leeway but I believe one can see early on who will be very “analytical” and who will be “more emotionally driven”.

    Now this metamodel is our base layer. There are other higher layers in the architecture. Again to be brief, we have more flexibility and control as we move up in the architecture.

    We make most of our “intellectual” (not totally reflexive) decisions at these higher levels. The base layer gives us our ultimate abilities, constraints and inclinations but the upper layers can make more or less use of what is within the model.

    So here is my punchline (finally you say and I do not blame you – sorry): I do not believe we have have freewill at a grant scale but we do make reasoned (or unreasoned) and conscious decisions within a framework yes but still with some latitude.

    That is why freewill is an effective theory – we are driven in a direction – and we are a stimulus-reaction engine – BUT we are also a “branch and bound” system! We test and probe and make CHOICES at the higher levels of our architecture.

    And these higher levels can be enhanced (modified) much easier and less costly than the lower levels – and they even can take over and “fool” the lower level to get around constraints or bad inclinations.

    We make decisions and for all PRACTICAL purposes it is essentially like “freewill” – our processes to analyze things and make decisions is again a “branch and bound” thing – and the more branches we nurture and evaluate – the less single threaded our reaction to stimuli looks – and the more rational it is.

    Nature – nurture at all levels. A teacher’s job is make the stimulus (the need to learn “school work” and be rational if I might say) evident and important to the brain and then to help the student nurture proper reaction and method and means.

    Lack of absolute metaphysical “freewill” does not preclude rational (or irrational) analysis and decision-making.

  28. joey says

    Sigh. No, it doesn’t.

    Show me that reason isn’t also an illusion if free will is.

    …its easy to see one needs no free will to decide that joey’s argument is full of strawmen shaped and cemented together only from the most freshly moist and choicest aromatic bullshit.

    Show me. (Oh, and if you have no free will, you can’t really “decide” anything.)

    Some of you guys want to have it both ways. Free will is just an illusion but reason is objectively real? WTF? Everything is physics, action/reaction…plain and simple. It’s like you guys believe that human beings have this magical ability to “rationalize” that no other living things have. Almost like religion, I tell you.

  29. concernedjoe says

    joey – you and I agree about a lot on this subject

    but think about branch and bounding – animals do it it too – and it can be very sophisticated .. I think you are confusing the FACT that we are responders to stimuli with “we must be single threaded in our response” – that is not true – even primitive computers evaluate and decide among alternatives.

    It is recognizing alternatives and including them in decision-making that makes us – AND LIONS BTW – rational.

    There is no magic – we are not special – but even lowly computers must be (and are) rational to some degree when they make decisions and evaluate.

  30. mikmik says

    So we’re going to use my life story. Okay.

    If this boy had free will, none of that would make any difference to us, because the free will claim is equivalent to saying nothing causes any of our choices. It’d be absurd to suggest that’s “common sense” like you did above, but the relevant point is that free will isn’t supported by science in any way.

    “equivalent to saying nothing causes any of our choices.”
    No it is not. Where in the world did you ever, ever, get that idea? Don’t fucking tell me what I am really saying, don’t use the pathetic false dichotomy dilemma.

    It’s not that there’s no such thing as volition, but that volition is not “free.” We don’t make choices in a causal vacuum — they are all caused by other things, whether deterministically or indeterministically. We are not magical, and we do not exist in some other realm that physics cannot touch. Try to understand that first, then maybe we could discuss its implications.

    You want to get condescending, I will make you look stupid.(This is just for this discussion. I generally think you make excellent posts and comments, and I enjoy them!)
    “We are not magical, and we do not exist in some other realm that physics cannot touch. Try to understand that first, then maybe we could discuss its implications.”
    No, you need the slightest tiny bit of comprehension of compatibility. You need to Read Harris, Dennet, Hume, Russell, Hume…

    Compatibilism
    Compatibilists believe freedom can be present or absent in situation for reasons that have nothing to do with metaphysics. For instance, courts of law make judgments about whether individuals are acting under their own free will under certain circumstances without bringing in metaphysics. Similarly, political liberty is a non-metaphysical concept. Likewise, compatibilists define free will as freedom to act according to one’s determined motives without hindrance from other individuals. In contrast, the incompatibilist positions are concerned with a sort of “metaphysically free will,” which compatibilists claim has never been coherently defined.

    Whoa, just found this: “Compatibilism: State of the Art
    Compatibilists believe freedom can be present or absent in situation for reasons that have nothing to do with metaphysics. For instance, courts of law make judgments about whether individuals are acting under their own free will under certain circumstances without bringing in metaphysics. Similarly, political liberty is a non-metaphysical concept. Likewise, compatibilists define free will as freedom to act according to one’s determined motives without hindrance from other individuals. In contrast, the incompatibilist positions are concerned with a sort of “metaphysically free will,” which compatibilists claim has never been coherently defined.”

    I mean, c’mon man, let’s not go there.

  31. mikmik says

    WithinThisMind
    But… running away and telling teacher was an ‘option’, and that is what we were supposed to do. Of course, it never actually solved anything, but it was the ‘correct’ reaction. He stopped doing it to me the day I turned around and broke his nose. I stood my ground.

    I also very nearly ended up in serious trouble for doing so.

    You should have just shot him, then no one would have fucked with you.
    In martial arts, the major philosophy is to avoid violence at all costs, including running away.

    Yes, I have been bullied, and yes, I ran away and/or learned to avoid those situations, but when that wasn’t enough, telling the teacher was a fucking excellent idea, because mister bully-pants got into trouble and/or expelled.

    Stand your ground is fucking pure bullshit, the very implication of having that law is that you can use excessive violence, and use violence in situations that do not warrant it. Phone the cops, get away, quit being such a fucking cry-baby weakling that you need to prove something instead of being mature and reasonable. You have a perfectly exploitable reason for unnecessarily wounding or killing someone already, and it’s been repeatedly pointed out. The self defense gambit.

    I mean, really, give your head a fucking shake, really. You are exactly the type of moro genius that I don’t want having access to, and possession of, lethal, medium range, toys. Anyone with your level of reasoning ability cannot be expected to behave appropriately in emotionally agitated states, let alone if you’ve been drinking.

    I don’t care how much there is something seriously fucking wrong going on inside of criminal and/or psychotic heads, adding weaponry to the mix … have you heard the phrase, “adding fuel to the fire?”
    Yeah, that’s it, take a screwed up situation, and make it more volatile, dangerous, and provide more avenues for escalation to result in lethal outcomes.

  32. mikmik says

    Fuck, wrong thread Something wierd here, this wasn’t even open. Oh well, so much for my credibility, LMAO! ;)

  33. consciousness razor says

    No it is not. Where in the world did you ever, ever, get that idea?

    That’s more or less what people have meant by it for centuries: contra-causal or “libertarian” free will. I don’t see you defining your terms; and since in nearly every case that’s what people are arguing about when free will comes up, I figured you probably would have made your point more clearly if you weren’t referring to an incoherent concept of free will.

    If you do agree with me that all of our choices are caused, then what causes them if not physical interactions?

    Don’t fucking tell me what I am really saying, don’t use the pathetic false dichotomy dilemma.

    If only some of them are caused, then what about the rest? (If that isn’t your argument, I don’t understand how you’re accusing me of a false dichotomy.)

    No, you need the slightest tiny bit of comprehension of compatibility. You need to Read Harris, Dennet [sic], Hume, Russell, Hume… [again!]

    I am a “compatibilist” in only a very loose sense of the word. I think it makes sense to say we choose actions. We can do basically everything a reasonable (and non-delusional) person thinks we can do, but the question is how those things happen. It simply isn’t the case that our choices are free in the deterministic sense, so I don’t use the very loose sense of “free will” of compatibilists like Dennett, because that is not what most people have meant by it since Descartes (and one could argue the idea in some form goes back to dualism with Plato).

    If it really makes people happy to use the phrase “free will” without referring to contra-causal free will, that is fine with me as long as 1) they’re clear about their meaning and 2) they can back up their ideas with evidence. I agree that political liberty and making non-coerced choices (i.e., those which aren’t forced by another actor or group with intimidation or aggression) are not at all the same thing as contra-causal free will. Those issues only superficially resemble one another, yet people sometimes use “free will” for any of them, which is why it’s important to make it clear exactly what one means, so we won’t have the silly contra-causal argument any more than necessary. Just recently (don’t remember where or when) I was tempted to use the phrase but said something like “non-coerced choice” instead, because like it or not “free will” carries a whole lot of metaphysical baggage with it that generally isn’t relevant to any real-world issue.

  34. John Morales says

    [OT]

    joey:

    Show me that reason isn’t also an illusion if free will is.

    Reason refers to the faculty of thinking rationally by employing inference and discrimination to propositions.

    (Where does it rely on free will?)

  35. joey says

    (Where does it rely on free will?)

    The part where you say that it involves thinking. Thinking implies that we have control over our thoughts.

    But if you consider that a computer could also “reason” or “think”, then I guess we’re not in total disagreement.

    But even if rationality is an objective reality, it’s not like computers have the ability to choose to be rational or not. And same applies with us humans.

  36. John Morales says

    [OT]

    joey:

    The part where you say that it involves thinking. Thinking implies that we have control over our thoughts.

    So, you now deny that thinking exists?

    But even if rationality is an objective reality, it’s not like computers have the ability to choose to be rational or not. And same applies with us humans.

    So you admit it doesn’t rely on free will, after all.

    (QED)

  37. concernedjoe says

    joey, what I am saying, and I think John Morales would agree with this, and you agree with this I am sure, is that that there is NO such thing in reality as the religious definition of Freewill which is essentially:

    human choices are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention

    Naturally we atheists have no conflict with accepting the “no divine intervention” part. But the actual definition includes “by prior causes” and there is a religious reason for that part too.

    It is important to the Abrahamic religions, at least the ones that I know sort of well, that they ensure that if you commit what they deem a sin it is ALL your fault.

    Now I know that religion is internally inconsistent and has many voices, but almost universally the official premise of their control mechanisms (Heaven and Hell being major ones) is predicted on swift and absolute judgement based on the actions of the human almost entirely. there is very little room for mitigating circumstances and certainly not any that could put their god in the hot seat.

    So if one has any notion that a Hitler for instance was driven on his course by things outside his control – and indeed by the physics of things – that the combination of his nature and nurture and by the happenstance of a particular time and situation in history determined his reactions/action – then a theist must admit that their god – who controls so much when they want him to have that control – is responsible for evil! Indeed that god and his wielding of his Plan mad Hitler.

    They have a box they are in – that god is all those “omni-” things yet has no part in the evil and ugliness and disorder we live with. Humans are totally free and individual agents – god directly or indirectly (like through the physics of things) has all hands off.

    We rationalists know that would be absurd if their god existed as they paint him. But rigorous and honest logic is not a hallmark of religion. Freewill for them has to exist so that their god can exist – so freewill exists.

    In the same fashion – for people like mikmik herein as I read her/him – the notion that people must be responsible for their actions and not society (or god) is important to her/his philosophy. It seems to me this overwhelms her/his intellectual recognition that the freewill is not really absolute. Our more “liberal” notion that people can be guilty but not totally responsible is anathema to a more “libertarian” view – thus freewill has to exist if not really at least as a noble lie.

    Now to our minor disagreement joey. I believe decision making as it gets more rational (that is as it examines more and evaluates alternatives better) is so much like freewill it is the effective theory in operation.

    In this process we begin to make our own INTERNAL stimuli. As we practice at being rational we on the fly start to put our own weight on things (our internal trigger points, our internal stimuli).

    There is no magic – and yes it is all chemistry and physics .. but it is a process and it has VARIABLES – variables that we subtly can control. Lack of freewill does not preclude rational thinking.. it is just a learned art in the physics of things.

  38. mikmik says

    In the same fashion – for people like mikmik herein as I read her/him – the notion that people must be responsible for their actions and not society (or god) is important to her/his philosophy. It seems to me this overwhelms her/his intellectual recognition that the freewill is not really absolute.

    Yeah, you just tell yourself that. I am overwhelmed by your powerful evidence that you back up your opinion with.

    I’m male, my name is Mike Laing. My mom is a doctor of Psychology, I am Scottish, like R.D.

    I, and 80% of philosophers (that responded specifically), hold the opinion that humans have free will, some surprisingly even mean libertarian, although that is pretty much equal to the number of theists, 14.6%.
    So, Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?
    Accept or lean toward: compatibilism 550 / 931 (59%)
    Other 139 / 931 (14.9%)
    Accept or lean toward: libertarianism 128 / 931 (13.7%)
    Accept or lean toward: no free will 114 / 931 (12.2%)

    Let’s see where I got that, shall we? I first read about it at one of the authors blogs, which I frequent, David Chalmers
    also,fragments of consciousness, and Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog, and Abnormal Interests

    The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.

    The PhilPapers Metasurvey was a concurrent survey of professional philosophers and others concerning their predictions of the results of the Survey. The Metasurvey was taken by 727 respondents including 438 professional philosophers and PhDs and 210 philosophy graduate students.

    BTW, a beginner lesson for you, from Georgetown U, How to Think:

    Making arguments

    Now that we know what an argument is, how do we tell if one is good or not? Let’s look at what a master of argumentation, Aristotle, had to say about the matter. In the Rhetoric, one of the great treatises on the art of persuasion, Aristotle wrote that “A statement is persuasive and credible either because it is directly self-evident or because it appears to be proved from other statements that are so” (Rhetoric, I:2). That makes sense. Any statement is believable if it is either (1) self-evidently true (“The blue ball is not red” is self-evidently true because we take being “not red” to be part of the definition of what it means for the ball to be “blue”), or (2) proven from other statements.

    It is in this second part—proving one statement by referring to other statements—that the art of argumentation comes into play. Making an argument means finding some way to link the thing we want to prove with another set of statements that seem to prove it. In Book II of the Rhetoric, Aristotle lists twenty-eight separate lines of argument that can be used for proving particular propositions. We won’t list and explain them all here, but let’s go over just a few of the more useful ones with some modern-day examples.

    Again, “It seems to me this overwhelms her/his intellectual recognition that the freewill is not really absolute.”
    It never fails to amaze me how people like you can never grasp that almost no one, and certainly not me, do not now, nor have ever, claimed that human free will is libertarian, absolute, or unconstrained. You are a fucking moron, and behaving as a troll.

    NOW, to lay other myths that non-free willists seem to believe, this is a beautiful site, and in fact would make an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the state of thinking today: AskPhilosophers. Some quotes:

    “But I don’t see any good reason to define free will as God-given or instantiated only in souls (and some of my work studying folk intuitions about free will suggests that most people agree with me). Rather, free will is the capacity to make choices and control actions such that one can be responsible for one’s actions. This capacity is extremely complex (and for a naturalist like me, it’s no surprise that it requires something as complex as the most complexly structured thing in the universe, the human brain–indeed, it’s hard to see how a soul, whatever that might be, has the right sort of complexity)”

    “I hope that you are wrong in your account of what Stephen Hawking writes in The Grand Design, because it is so obviously wrong and uninformed. There is no freewill, Hawking writes, according to you, and the reason is that stimulation of particular regions of the brain results in certain desires, such as a desire to move one’s right arm.”

    “There is not a prevailing consensus on the questions of (1) whether free will is compatible with determinism and (2) whether humans have free will. However, I would estimate that close to 2/3 of professional philosophers are compatibilists about free will and determinism (they think determinism poses no threat to free will), with the other 1/3 roughly split between libertarians (who are incompatiblists who believe that we have free will, and hence that determinism is false) and hard incompatiblists or skeptics about free will (who are incompatiblists who believe that we do not have free will because determinism is true and/or indeterminism would not help secure free will).
    it looks like about 85% of philosophers believe we have free will, which is almost as many as the 90-95% or so of non-philosophers who, in my surveys, say they believe humans have free will.

    “Now although most philosophers work their way into the problem of free will by considering whether freedom is compatible with determinism, there’s an alternative route, adopted, for example, by T. M. Scanlon in his magisterial work, What We Owe to Each Other: one might begin by getting clear about the nature of morality, and moral obligation, or moral practices, and then and only then turning to the question of what sort of freedom is required to underwrite such practices. The virtue of such an approach, to my mind, is that it keeps very clearly in focus just why it is we care about freedom–because we’re concerned about the viability of our moral practices–and then seeks to determine just what sort of conception is necessary for those practices to continue to function as they do.”

    If this doesn’t cover almost all the bases, I don’t know what will. As an aside, people like JAC piss me off with their smug pronouncements that the free-will concept is dead. Nothing could be further from the truth, and if anyone still doubts, I have tons of links to research and blogs by neuro-psychs, neuro-biologists, and etc. I’ve never read any neuro-scientists that says we can conclude that there is no free will.

  39. KG says

    But even if rationality is an objective reality, it’s not like computers have the ability to choose to be rational or not. And same applies with us humans. – joey

    Well no, it doesn’t. (Present day) computers cannot choose to be rational for many reasons, a sufficient one being that no such computer understands that it exists, or that the world exists, let alone what rationality is. But human beings, while it is not within their power to be completely rational, can indeed choose to be as rational as they can, and some do. You may say their choice was predetermined. So what? It’s still their choice.

  40. concernedjoe says

    Actually computers can learn things and adjust their criteria. Not just as they are branching and bounding but also when they should just give up trying to be rational (analyze and evaluate further)and go to fall back positions.

    None of this is freewill in the religious sense (see my definition above). It is neither magical nor non-material.

    However for humans, for animals, and yes even for computers, as learning dynamically – in a living breathing way – modifies decision making criteria and creates options available so does the semblance to what we call conscious decision-making.

    And within bounds of the “hardware and software” architectures intrinsic in the entity – all information can be used – somewhat freely – to decide action. That is to say freewill is an illusion but stochastic processes aren’t!

  41. joey says

    concernedjoe:

    There is no magic – and yes it is all chemistry and physics .. but it is a process and it has VARIABLES – variables that we subtly can control./

    You contradict yourself in one sentence. You say it’s “all chemistry and physics”, but then you say we can “subtly control” it. No we can’t.

  42. joey says

    KG

    Well no, it doesn’t. (Present day) computers cannot choose to be rational for many reasons, a sufficient one being that no such computer understands that it exists, or that the world exists, let alone what rationality is. But human beings, while it is not within their power to be completely rational, can indeed choose to be as rational as they can, and some do. You may say their choice was predetermined. So what? It’s still their choice.

    You seem to be implying that there is something magically different between a computer and a human being. Other than complexity, is there any fundamental difference? Does a higher degree of complexity mean the notions of “rationality” or “choice” suddenly come into existence?

  43. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    joey, I figure you’re right about more than half your statements here, which is pretty good. But your “go with the flow” thing indicates you might benefit from reading How Determinists Cross the Street (third essay on that page).

  44. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    You seem to be implying that there is something magically different between a computer and a human being. Other than complexity, is there any fundamental difference?

    KG enumerated what he considered the important differences to be. At this time, computers are not aware of their own existence, nor the rest of the world, nor what rationality is.

    Ignoring what he said while you quote it is vaguely trollish. As a fellow denier of free will, I must protest that I’d prefer you try harder to represent us better.

  45. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    Might as well use this as a dumping ground.

    Oliver R. Goodenough has an interesting argument about why people believe in free will. Which kind of free will? Not any specific brand, but whatever allows them to rationalize punishment.

    It’s often claimed that this isn’t any kind of mystery, that of course we believe we have free will, because we feel like we have it. I think this is a very weak argument; I see no reason why we couldn’t have the feelings and experiences we have without intellectualizing them, or without intellectualizing them nearly as much as we do re “free will”. To show this is possible, I point out there’s an emotion which was only recently named — Haidt’s elevation — which upon reading about, you’ll recognize, but you may not have thought about it before.

    Goodenough’s argument might do a better job of explaining the why. It’s a short article, six pages or so, and you can skip ahead to section four.

    Here’s a sample from Oliver R. Goodenough; “Responsibility and punishment: whose mind? A response“; doi 10.1098/rstb.2004.1548

    The law of criminal responsibility begins to make sense if we turn it inside out. Although the legal test for incapacity is phrased in terms of the psychology of the transgressor (and in terms that fall apart under the sophisticated scrutiny suggested in this issue by Sapolsky (2004) and Greene & Cohen (2004)), it is really a proxy for a theory of mind test by the punisher: does the transgressor fall within the class of agents on whom the strategic threat of punishment might have an effect? If so, then the punisher will maximize the effectiveness of the threat of punishment, by making both a personal and a public commitment to the strategic presumption that the transgressor is free to choose a course of behaviour in the face of such a threat—i.e. has a form of free will. To understand the law, and its arguably counterfactual psychology of responsibility, we need to look at different brains—the brains of the punishers.

  46. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    Azim F. Shariff, Joshua D. Greene, Jonathan W. Schooler; “His Brain Made Him Do It: Encouraging a Mechanistic Worldview Reduces Punishment”

    “Philosophers have long questioned the possibility of free will in a mechanistic universe, and recent neuroscientific research has intensified such concerns. Some have argued that a mechanistic understanding of human decision-making may lead to significant social changes including a rethinking of our approaches to moral responsibility and punishment. We examine this prediction in two studies. Study 1 showed that exposure to neuroscientific research highlighting unconscious and mechanical determinants of behavior reduced prison sentencing in response to a criminal justice vignette. Study 2 replicated this effect using primes focused more specifically on mechanism and analyses focused on retributive (rather than utilitarian) motivations for punishment. These studies speak to the psychological and social consequences that may follow from the brain sciences’ growing influence on the public’s understanding of human nature.”

  47. John Morales says

    ॐ,

    Oliver R. Goodenough has an interesting argument about why people believe in free will. Which kind of free will? Not any specific brand, but whatever allows them to rationalize punishment.

    Surely assignation of agency has wider uses than just punishment.

    (What’s the opposite of punishment?)

  48. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    Good point, John. I interpreted the scope of his insight too broadly. He is most interested in details of why criminal jurisprudence is what it is, and what function the notions of free will serve there. His hypothesis can do more work than that, but not as much as I first assumed.

  49. John Morales says

    ॐ, sure it ain’t worse than that?

    Don’t you advocate a form of normative ethics?

    (AKA how one ought to act?)

  50. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    Apropos of nothing,

    I do, but it doesn’t hang on free will.

  51. concernedjoe says

    joey – you do know I mostly am on your side. I only mention this so the forest and trees don’t obscure.

    What I am saying by “subtly control” does not preclude/contradict that it is all chemistry and physics. Can we not control how much force we exert in an action – say for instance, raising an arm, singing a note, thinking about something?

    We have programs in us – programs that become more and more stochastic as learning increases .. it may be deterministic but it becomes so complexly variable and the stimuli so many and varied – including that we be begin to render our own stimuli and weights to stimuli that it SEEMS like it is more than strictly deterministic in a hardwired fashion.

    Computers can learn and can alter weights and decisions paths for themselves. Yes as I pointed out in my comments above – it gets down to the limits and bounds of our architecture – but as we get to higher levels of the architecture more freedom is available.

    If computers can have mechanisms and means to do this why cannot we?

    I also defined the FREEWILL (caps for purposes of saying THE) I think is rubbish and you do too – is the religious kind. We say consciousness and reasoning and decision making is a sum total of chemistry and physics. I add also PROGRAMMING AND INFORMATION that exists thanks to chemistry and physics.

    Humans, animals, and computers have dynamic programs – they learn – they adjust action based on learning – their nature allows them a certain latitude – could be very little or could be significant.

    Why do you react differently than I do to this concept? whe are all the same physics and chemistry! Think about it.

    Respectfully yours.. CJ

  52. concernedjoe says

    Joey sorry but I m driven to add a comment to emphasize we’re mostly on same page.

    Please see my earlier comments if it interests you.

    Where I think we have either misunderstanding of viewpoints or disagreement is in how susceptible to learning and self generated weights we are.

    I think most people are heavily influenced by learning and reinforcement of behaviors within the bounds of their natures (lower level of their architecture). This gives me hope that teaching and coaching, and supplying facts and good information is useful.

    I also recognize though that some people may never come around (their nature too strong). I cannot hold that against them.

    What I do not go with the flow on is the systemic obstacles to a more rational world that society constructs. I think we are and should rile against the structures.

    People are what they are – some more plastic than others – but none are FREEWILLING themselves to be godiots or charlatans for that matter – any more than I FREEWILLED myself to be scientifically oriented or heterosexual.

  53. joey says

    lipstick:

    KG enumerated what he considered the important differences to be. At this time, computers are not aware of their own existence, nor the rest of the world, nor what rationality is.

    Ignoring what he said while you quote it is vaguely trollish. As a fellow denier of free will, I must protest that I’d prefer you try harder to represent us better.

    KG said the difference is that humans have the ability to choose while computers do not. KG a free will advocate.

    And BTW, I asked what is “fundamentally” different between computers and humans. Awareness and/or consciousness are words that don’t mean anything in the “fundamental” sciences. Just like how free will doesn’t mean anything in physics.

  54. joey says

    concernedjoe:

    I think most people are heavily influenced by learning and reinforcement of behaviors within the bounds of their natures (lower level of their architecture). This gives me hope that teaching and coaching, and supplying facts and good information is useful.

    You don’t have any more power to choose to teach/coach as other people have the power to choose to actually listen what you have to teach.

    The point is, atheists are atheist due to physics. Theists are theist due to physics. Everything is what is and does what it does according to physics. Nothing more.

    And if you believe there is actually more to it…such as free will, choice, consciousness, awareness, reason, you, or me, then you’re stepping out of the world of reality and into the realm of illusions.

  55. concernedjoe says

    joey said: “And if you believe there is actually more to it…such as free will, choice, consciousness, awareness, reason, you, or me,then you’re stepping out of the world of reality and into the realm of illusions.”

    freewill – as classically defined – an illusion – never exists

    choice – obviously not an illusion; we, animals, computer programs, make choices. Choice happens. Now why we choose what we choose is the rub.

    So many factors and variables involved we can not reliably peg even simple entities to what choice they will make.

    You see joey I agree with you that it is chemistry/physics – I just do not agree decision-making does not have plasticity.

    I need to eat – I am driven to eat – I am driven to crave protein – but if I find myself with equally appetizing chicken, beef, fish before me – I believe – and you apparently do not – that the choice I make has a lot of me in it.

    That is we weigh pros and cons dynamically – and actually work a process to decide.

    Yes is chemical/physics but still conscious – we create our own internal decision alternatives weights. I do agree that it is in an ultimate analysis of the final result predicable and really predetermined BUT not before the final result.

    It is stochastic and complex. Here the ILLUSION of FREEWILL is the EFFECTIVE THEORY. You do not agree – so be it – we agree to disagree on this nuance.

    To be specific I do not think lack of FREEWILL precludes rational decision-making.

    And you see all choices chosen as predetermined. I say they only are after they are made.

    That is unless one can predict reliably what choice will be made the choosing is either random or under some other control we cannot predict well.

    That other thing effectively appears to be the whims of humans and beasts and in complex computer programs even their whims.

    I wish an expert in brain mechanics would pop in here. I believe the brain has mechanisms to adjust weights and emphasis and in effect shift the paths enough to influence choices. All physics and chemistry but not all just like rolling a ball down a tube.

    Joey I rest my case – I agree with in you the main – I disagree only in that I cannot ignore that freewill in a broader sense is a very effective theory.

  56. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    joey,

    KG said the difference is that humans have the ability to choose while computers do not.

    He said “(Present day) computers cannot choose to be rational”.

    He did not say that they could not make trivial choices.

    He did not even imply that they will never be able to choose to be rational; he implied the opposite by specifying “present day”.

    I have some disagreements with him on this point, but you’re not even bothering to understand him.

    KG a free will advocate.

    He’s a compatibilist, yes. I’m afraid you don’t have the intellectual equipment to argue with him.

    the “fundamental” sciences.

    This is a big red flag that you’re a dumbass.

    The point is, atheists are atheist due to physics. Theists are theist due to physics. Everything is what is and does what it does according to physics. Nothing more.

    And physics is how theists are influenced to become atheists. Nothing less.

    +++++
    Sigh. Maybe concernedjoe would be interested in arguing.

    concernedjoe,

    I believe that compatibilists should be hunted, rounded up by paraphilosophical militias, and forced to publicly recant their errors. What do you think?

  57. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    the Basic Argument, by Galen Strawson:

    “(1) Interested in free action, we are particularly interested in actions that are performed for a reason (as opposed to ‘reflex’ actions or mindlessly habitual actions).

    (2) When one acts for a reason, what one does is a function of how one is, mentally speaking. (It is also a function of one’s height, one’s strength, one’s place and time, and so on. But the mental factors are crucial when moral responsibility is in question.)

    (3) So if one is to be truly responsible for how one acts, one must be truly responsible for how one is, mentally speaking — at least in certain respects.

    (4) But to be truly responsible for how one is, mentally speaking, in certain respects, one must have brought it about that one is the way one is, mentally speaking, in certain respects. And it is not merely that one must have caused oneself to be the way one is, mentally speaking. One must have consciously and explicitly chosen to be the way one is, mentally speaking, in certain respects, and one must have succeeded in bringing it about that one is that way.

    (5) But one cannot really be said to choose, in a conscious, reasoned, fashion, to be the way one is mentally speaking, in any respect at all, unless one already exists, mentally speaking, already equipped with some principles of choice, ‘P1′ — preferences, values, pro-attitudes, ideals — in the light of which one chooses how to be.

    (6) But then to be truly responsible, on account of having chosen to be the way one is, mentally speaking, in certain respects, one must be truly responsible for one’s having the principles of choice P1 in the light of which one chose how to be.

    (7) But for this to be so one must have chosen P1, in a reasoned, conscious, intentional fashion.

    (8) But for this, i.e. (7), to be so one must already have had some principles of choice P2, in the light of which one chose P1.

    (9) And so on. Here we are setting out on a regress that we cannot stop. True self-determination is impossible because it requires the actual completion of an infinite series of choices of principles of choice.’

    (10) So true moral responsibility is impossible, because it requires true self-determination, as noted in (3).”

  58. John Morales says

    ॐ quotes thus:

    (10) So true moral responsibility is impossible, because it requires true self-determination, as noted in (3).”

    So, the concept of degrees of moral responsibility is presumably also inapplicable by this appeal to true moral responsibility, no?

    (A bit like the true value of money)

  59. concernedjoe says

    Pit – my meager brain is not capable of arguing such lofty questions as “compatibilism – a capital offense?”

    And as for rounding up compatibilists and flogging them with wet noodles: only if we all can do it in our leathers and then all go out dancing (I don’t believe I just said that!?!?! damn the physics of it all :-) )

    Seriously – and I know I am admitting to being just a bloke on all this philosophical stuff. I do not know what camp I am in because I cannot get my arms around the jargon.

    I do know your post #59 resonated with me – and as I understand it I agree. For instance I think earlier I mentioned I thought someone can be guilty but not responsible (in a so called moral sense – not obviously in a physical sense).

    My belief: we haven’t metaphysical freewill – there are causes for all actions – and certainly there are no gods or spiritual forces. It all is physics and chemistry AND PROGRAMMING.

    Now here is where I think I differ for our friend Joey. I believe our PROGRAMS that operate at higher levels of our brain architecture (like in computers) are very much plaint – that is their functions are very susceptible to information and learning – and even dynamic real-time information and learning.

    That is why humans and animals and even some computer systems are very very hard to predict (what action/reaction will occur because of their processing of data, stimuli).

    It is all – in many important situations – very dynamic. It is a process in a “living and breathing” model (a model that is stochastic and subject to learning and variable inputs – and has degrees of freedom for action).

    So I say mental processes from which we cannot predict reliably 100% (accurately always) are essentially “freewill as an effective theory” processes.

    Yes it is all physics and chemistry. – and yes one can (assuming perfect technology and knowledge after the fact) reverse-engineer a result (decision) to say why a result (decision) happened. But still it is so dynamic and so subject to THE PROCESSOR (its state, its perceptions, its decision criteria weighting, etc.) that it looks like “it has a mind of its own”.

    No magic or metaphysics involved – but it is not balls rolling down a tube.

    Now to conclude – as I mentioned above – all this variability occurs within the bounds of the operating system and hardware of the entity. That is to say – an entity’s essential nature – a combination of nature and nurture. At the lower levels of our architecture we are what we are. More static than dynamic – and more predictable once the code is cracked.

    By example putting aside extreme duress (even there I’d like to feel no) or a brain injury (all bets off) I will never molest a immature child. Not my nature. But I am also sure someone who would would because of a nature they to are stuck with!

  60. joey says

    lipstick

    And physics is how theists are influenced to become atheists. Nothing less.

    Exactly!

    (10) So true moral responsibility is impossible, because it requires true self-determination, as noted in (3).

    Exactly again!

    So what is it with my position that you a disagree with?

  61. joey says

    concernedjoe:

    To be specific I do not think lack of FREEWILL precludes rational decision-making.

    The notion of “rationality” really only makes any sense in the context of free will. Take for example a computer that has been programmed to play chess at the master level. If an actual person moves the pieces for the computer and the computer dictates to the person exactly where to place each piece, wouldn’t you as an outside observer but aren’t aware of the computer behind the screen think that each move is the result of a “rational” decision?
    But after revealing the chess-playing computer controlling the person, would you rethink your opinion that each move was “rational”? I would. The outcome of each move is simply the computational result of a complicated algorithm given a set of external inputs. Is that “rational”? Where is the “reason” in that?
    Now, how is this chess-playing computer any different than a human mind? Do the natural laws of physics operate any differently between the two. If there is no difference, then what does that say about the concept of rationality? You have to except that either both the person and the computer are “rational”, or both are not.

  62. joey says

    concernedjoe:

    No magic or metaphysics involved – but it is not balls rolling down a tube.

    No, it really is just balls rolling down a tube. Just more complicated/complex balls and tubes, but operating under the same laws of physics.
    You’re running into the fallacy that greater complexity suddenly means the rules have changed. That’s creationist mentality.

  63. concernedjoe says

    joey – you and I are very much of like mind. I know this sounds self-serving but I think you misread me or I misread you a bit.

    Yes it is all chemistry and physics – and NO I do not think rules of physics change because the situation is complex (as you suggested I am saying).

    I am just saying that rational decision making is a function of branching and bounding – alternative evaluation. I don’t think I need freewill nor to suspend the laws of nature (physics, math, whatever) to do it.

    It is a program – a process – and it varies results with states and inputs (both internal and external).

    I your scenario I would say the computer is making rational decisions .. the fact (in your scenario) that the human is a puppet of the computer is ancillary – some entity is making decisions scholastically, etc.

    You would say the computer is just following its wires .. I would say – YUP – in a very clinical sense in an ultimate analysis after the fact!

    But I also say you cannot avoid the issue of variability and predictability. And this gets into freewill as an “effective theory”.

    Quacks like a duck, acts like a duck, looks like a duck, for all practical purposes is a duck. The duck is NOT the religious freewill concept (as I said many times) but it is those processes that are very specific to us as individuals – and shift and turn as we learn and assimilate info.

    The problem with this discussion is a do agree in the main with you – I just think my point of internally driven variability – which to me is not in the least incompatible with the laws of nature – cannot be ignored in one broad sweep of the broom. It is important to understanding humans especially and bettering our collective lot in life.

  64. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    John,

    So, the concept of degrees of moral responsibility is presumably also inapplicable by this appeal to true moral responsibility, no?

    Yes, because there’s no ground on which to start building other levels.

    (A bit like the true value of money)

    Nah. Whether or not money has value is an empirical matter. Value, like hatred, is evidenced by being just one degree away from what is properly basic.

    Responsibility, though, is formulated such as to need certain theoretical conditions before it can manifest. Thus it can be shown never to exist by showing that those conditions can never arise.

    +++++
    joey,

    So what is it with my position that you disagree with?

    You deny the existence of awareness. But awareness is properly basic; if I experience awareness, then it exists. And I do experience awareness. Therefore you sound like a dumbass.

  65. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    Error:

    Value, like hatred, is evidenced [to others] by being just one degree away from what is properly basic.

    It’s evidenced to the subject by being properly basic in itself.

    There are no theoretical conditions which must apply before something can be valued; someone either values it or they don’t. That’s why there’s a price to everything, because there’s a sucker born every minute. :)

  66. concernedjoe says

    And Pit – value to me is the “weights one applies to decision criteria”, as I proposed in my garbled posts above.

  67. joey says

    lipstick:

    You deny the existence of awareness. But awareness is properly basic; if I experience awareness, then it exists. And I do experience awareness. Therefore you sound like a dumbass.

    Can’t you argue the same thing about free will? If I experience free will, then it exits. And I do experience free will.

    I’m thinking about choosing to type this post, and alas I’m typing it. Therefore, free will exists.

    And what’s with the name-calling?

  68. consciousness razor says

    joey, you can reduce everything to physics, but you still have to talk meaningfully about large, complex physical systems. When climatologists study AGW, they don’t do it by studying individual bosons and fermions, or strings or whatever. They look at the whole Earth (as well as the sun) to see what that system is doing. Though it’s obeying physics, its properties are only meaningfully applied to the system as a whole, not its parts. This applies whether it’s a planet, a galaxy, a person, an organ, or whatever the system may be. Along similar lines, scientists make models of such systems to simplify things. They do this because the real thing is a huge, ugly mess which isn’t useful for explaining anything, because they actually want to do something useful, not just chant the mantra “everything is physics, physics is everything” over and over again.

  69. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    concernedjoe,

    And Pit – value to me is the “weights one applies to decision criteria”, as I proposed in my garbled posts above.

    Yeah, I think that’s consistent with common usage.

    +++++
    joey,

    Can’t you argue the same thing about free will? If I experience free will, then it exits. And I do experience free will.

    This is actually what compatibilists do, but they do it in a more sophisticated manner, by redefining free will.

    So we argue about what the term means. I argue that it must be understood to include certain things which the layperson expects it to mean, particularly the that for at least one action in their past, they could have chosen to choose differently. And that’s impossible, so free will is out of the picture.

    Compatibilists take things which we evidently do experience — like when our actions are consistent with our desires — and define free will to include only those things.

    It’s internally consistent, like saying “I define this coffee cup as God; this coffee cup exists; therefore God exists” is consistent.

    I just argue it’s terribly misleading, and frequently deliberately dishonest, to define terms away from what has been commonly meant by them, and then reintroduce those subtly different words into the social environment where they exist alongside, and generally indistinguishable from, their common cousins.

    Awareness, though, is not metaphysically contested like that. The common meaning of it is already that which is properly basic. To make it possible to deny awareness, you would have to redefine it away from the common and properly basic meaning. And that would be dishonest. And I don’t think that’s what you’ve been doing anyway; I think you’re denying the common meaning, which is properly basic, and that makes you look like a fool.

    And what’s with the name-calling?

    Welcome to Pharyngula!

  70. joey says

    lipstick:

    Awareness, though, is not metaphysically contested like that. The common meaning of it is already that which is properly basic. To make it possible to deny awareness, you would have to redefine it away from the common and properly basic meaning. And that would be dishonest. And I don’t think that’s what you’ve been doing anyway; I think you’re denying the common meaning, which is properly basic, and that makes you look like a fool.

    I understand what you’re saying, and you make good points.

    You’re right, maybe I am wrong to say that awareness is an illusion. But what exactly is awareness? The only thing about it that seems “properly basic” is that I know that I have it. My awareness exists to me. It’s not possible for me to prove to myself that you or anyone else has awareness, nor can you prove to yourself that I or anyone else has awareness. Likewise, it’s impossible to show that a dog, insect, or even a rock does not have awareness. Maybe they are aware. How can we know for sure?

    So going back to what you said about the differences between computers and people…that computers are not aware of their own existence, how can we know?

  71. joey says

    razor:

    Along similar lines, scientists make models of such systems to simplify things.

    Good post, and there is nothing in that post with which I disagree. My point is to show that the concept of rationality is also such a made up model used to simplify things.

  72. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    You’re right, maybe I am wrong to say that awareness is an illusion. But what exactly is awareness? The only thing about it that seems “properly basic” is that I know that I have it. My awareness exists to me. It’s not possible for me to prove to myself that you or anyone else has awareness, nor can you prove to yourself that I or anyone else has awareness.

    You can’t prove it in formal logic, but that hardly matters. Neither can you prove that you’re not a brain in a vat, or that you’re not God.

    All the evidence indicates that your awareness is a function of having a certain kind of brain, and other humans have that same kind of brain, so they’re probably aware too.

    Likewise, it’s impossible to show that a dog, insect, or even a rock does not have awareness. Maybe they are aware. How can we know for sure?

    Dogs have brains very similar to ours, and display behaviors we associate with awareness, so there is strong reason to think they’re aware too; it would be unusual and a violation of the mediocrity principle if awareness first evolved in humans even though other vertebrates give every appearance of being aware.

    Rocks have no brains and do not exhibit any behaviors, so there is strong reason to think they’re not aware.

    Insects present a hard case. (Rimshot)

    So going back to what you said about the differences between computers and people…that computers are not aware of their own existence, how can we know?

    Because the experts who are trying to make them aware say they haven’t succeeded yet.

    My point is to show that the concept of rationality is also such a made up model used to simplify things.

    The concept is a model, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t describe a real phenomenon. We talk about AGW using models, but it describes a real phenomenon.

    Anyway:

    So we should all just go with the flow, because really we can’t “do” anything else.

    This is an expression of fatalism, which is different from determinism, and is also wrong. That’s why I said you should read how determinists cross the street. Expressing anger at people is one way to influence them, and that includes theists. (I make no claim that it’s a particularly effective way, but your initial claim was clearly too strong.)

  73. concernedjoe says

    Pit re: are computers self aware

    “Because the experts who are trying to make them aware say they haven’t succeeded yet.”

    I guess they have a definition and criteria to evaluate success or failure against that definition. And on that grounds are justified.

    But I think there are degrees of self awareness and what does it mean anyway to us practically.

    OK I guess it presupposes some humanness – and computers do seem to pass or almost pass Touring Tests more and more.

    So computers are becoming more – shall we say intelligent and human like it seems. Rudimentary but way better than 1950.

    And they can learn (store info and use it later in abstraction or directly in decisions). Not anywhere near as broadly as humans but sometimes more deeply specifically. Rudimentary but phenomenally way better than 1950.

    OK let’s give them some intelligence – say maybe as much as a 4 year old in navigating the world successfully – maybe?

    And as entities that store and use info they are like human geniuses in specific instances.

    But back to awareness … huum – does your car’s computer not know “he” is in the wrong car – does your laptop not know when “he” is being summoned to wake up and perform, does he not know when “he” is too hot, when “his” load is too much, when “he” is being abused?

    OK you are laughing. But my point is this – we sometimes seek the highest degree of a concept – and miss the evolutionary steps – actually the points that milestone a march toward humanity.

    And yes dogs (OK cat lovers calm down) and humans – as your comment says – are conceptually related.

    Re: thinking stuff, we are not unique 100% relative to animals. In similar fashion machines to animals will someday not be 100% different.

    I believe someday – long after we are gone – machines and us will not be different in essential thought processes. And we are seeing glimpses of this now.

    It is just physics and chemistry – and math – and logic – and learning – and powerful enough hardware. This is for us – this is for animals – this is for machines.

  74. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    we sometimes seek the highest degree of a concept – and miss the evolutionary steps – actually the points that milestone a march toward humanity.

    I agree this is a frequent problem.

    The Feeling of What Happens by Antonio Damasio persuades me that emotions are necessarily prior to awareness. So I’d say no my laptop does not know when it’s being activated, because I know a little bit about the code that handles that and it’s not intended to model emotion nor is it redundant enough to do so accidentally.

    But I don’t think there are any insurmountable challenges to real AI.

    I’ve said elsewhen: “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.”

  75. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    Huh, it appears that is getting to be a not infrequent worry of mine:

    «I also worry that the belief that humans have free will is still going to be prevalent when we have make self-aware robots, who we’ll deny have free will since we know how they work. At minimum, our double standard will hurt their feelings.

    (We won’t “have” them; they’ll be their own people, although we’ll probably enslave them.)»

  76. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    Strawson again:

    «Various challenges to the pessimists’ argument have been proposed, some of which appear to be supported by the experience or ‘phenomenology’ of choice. One challenge grants that one cannot be ultimately responsible for one’s mental nature—one’s character, personality, or motivational structure—but denies that it follows that one can’t be truly morally responsible for what one does (it therefore challenges [step (3)] of the argument set out in [comment #59]).

    This challenge has at least two versions. One has already been noted: [… Here I’ll flashback to his example of the Oxfam donation box. –ॐ] Suppose you set off for a shop on the evening of a national holiday, intending to buy a cake with your last ten pound note. Everything is closing down. There is one cake left; it costs ten pounds. On the steps of the shop someone is shaking an Oxfam tin. You stop, and it seems completely clear to you that it is entirely up to you what you do next. That is, it seems clear to you that you are truly, radically free to choose, in such a way that you will be ultimately responsible for whatever you do choose. You can put the money in the tin, or go in and buy the cake, or just walk away. (You are not only completely free to choose. You are not free not to choose.)

    Standing there, you may believe that determinism is true. You may believe that in five minutes time you will be able to look back on the situation you are now in and say, of what you will by then have done, ‘It was determined that I should do that’. But even if you do believe this, it does not seem to undermine your current sense of the absoluteness of your freedom, and of your moral responsibility for your choice. [… Okay, back to the story in progress. –ॐ

    “One has already been noted:”] we are attracted by the idea that our capacity for fully explicit self-conscious deliberation, in a situation of choice, suffices by itself to constitute us as truly morally responsible agents in the strongest possible sense. The idea is that such full self-conscious awareness somehow renders irrelevant the fact that one neither is nor can be ultimately responsible for any aspect of one’s mental nature. On this view, the mere fact of one’s self-conscious presence in the situation of choice can confer true moral responsibility: it may be undeniable that one is, in the final analysis, wholly constituted as the sort of person one is by factors for which one cannot be in any way ultimately responsible; but the threat that this fact appears to pose to one’s claim to true moral responsibility is simply obliterated by one’s self-conscious awareness of one’s situation.

    The pessimists reply: This may correctly describe a strong source of belief in ultimate (moral) responsibility, but it is not an account of something that could constitute ultimate (moral) responsibility. When one acts after explicit self-conscious deliberation, one acts for certain reasons. But which reasons finally weigh with one is a matter of one’s mental nature, which is something for which one cannot be in any way ultimately responsible. One can certainly be a morally responsible agent in the sense of being aware of distinctively moral considerations when one acts. But one cannot be morally responsible in such a way that one is ultimately deserving of punishment or reward for what one does.

    The conviction that fully explicit self-conscious awareness of one’s situation can be a sufficient foundation of strong free will is extremely powerful. The no-freedom theorists’ argument seems to show that it is wrong, but it is a conviction that runs deeper than rational argument, and it survives untouched, in the everyday conduct of life, even after the validity of the no-freedom theorists’ argument has been admitted.»

    +++++
    Strawson’s summary seems to encompass the best of the compatibilist arguments re moral responsibility. But when stated like this it seems even shallower than usual.

    Whether one was sleepwalking, simply awake, or well caffeinated, at any moment one was never any more able to choose to choose differently than one did.

    Yet the compatibilist proposes that merely having been there to witness one’s actions made one morally responsible for them!

    If consciousness were some kind of causa sui which could intervene then the compatibilist phenomenological objection would make sense. Obviously it isn’t, and it’s damning that this objection appears to rely on our intuition of being a causa sui without coming out and saying so. What else could logically justify the conviction? Again it seems the compatibilist is an illusionist after all.

  77. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    I’ve generally ignored what neuroscientists think they have to say about free will, because neuroscience cannot possibly offer free will; the Standard Argument shows why.

    It did not occur to me that neuroscience might nevertheless throw compatibilist accounts of moral responsibility into disrepute. (Though I’ve been interested in confabulation, I did not really put two and two together.)

    Via a comment by Gregg Caruso, I learn that Maureen Sie has been writing about such challenges.

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=%22maureen+sie%22

    http://www.maureensie.info/Website_Maureen/Research.html

  78. concernedjoe says

    Thanks to all the learned people that have contributed to the discussion of freewill.

    I remain with my initial beliefs but with better understanding. If I can boil it down – and I welcome comment/challenge for my education.

    (1) There is no such thing a freewill – freewill is an illusion

    (2) All chemistry/physics .. but…

    (3) Also we are computers – made to the laws of chemistry/physics but also having programs, and (stored and real-time) information and data that act together to produce action/reaction (results). And or algorithms and programs and data/information are refined via experience and learning

    (4) Our mental processes (computer programs) make decisions based on all inputs and weights (values) they can process and with the algorithms within them

    (5) We do not will anything – but we process everything – and these processors/programs/info/data are not static. They are a function of nature and nurture (environment) across time and experience

    (6) Mostly growth is stifled by our basic nature and/or our environment

    (7) It all seems like we are in control – and the illusion is we are – but we are really going where our programs and info/data bring us. The only reason for an action is in a sense mathematical

  79. joey says

    lipstick:

    The concept is a model, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t describe a real phenomenon. We talk about AGW using models, but it describes a real phenomenon.

    Rationality may or may not be a real phenomenon, but if we don’t have the power to choose to be rational, then what’s really the point whether it’s real or not? We can philosophize all we want whether the notion of “good” is an objective real phenomenon just like rationality, but if we can’t choose to be good then what’s the point (in the context of free will discussion)?

    This is an expression of fatalism, which is different from determinism, and is also wrong. That’s why I said you should read how determinists cross the street. Expressing anger at people is one way to influence them, and that includes theists.

    I’ve read that piece on fatalism and it’s bizarre. According to the piece, fatalism is that “if I do not have free will, then my life is totally determined by the outside world, therefore my beliefs and desires have no effect on the outside world, and therefore no matter what I do the same things will happen to me.” Of course my beliefs and desires do have effects on the outside world. I think that’s pretty obvious, and I don’t need a rigorous proof to convince me of that.

    But here’s the thing. I’m not in control of my beliefs and desires! Implying that I do have control suggests that free will exists, but it doesn’t. So what’s the point?

    That’s why I think it’s absurd that some deniers of free will say, “We don’t have free will, but we must choose to live like we have it?” WTF? If we don’t have free will, then by definition we don’t have the power to choose anything, much less choose to live like we have free will.

    If someone is suddenly armed with the new knowledge that free will doesn’t exist and he ends up going postal, can we “blame” him? Isn’t that physics taking its course? Likewise, if this same person instead continues to march on in life in his own cognitive dissonance as if free will does exist, then can we “praise” him as well? Again, isn’t that simply physics taking its course? Once we start pinning the blame game, then we’re buying into the the illusions of free will and moral responsibility. And THAT is what I really meant by “go with the flow”.

  80. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    joey,

    Rationality may or may not be a real phenomenon, but if we don’t have the power to choose to be rational, then what’s really the point whether it’s real or not?

    Maybe this will help you see what’s wrong with that kind of sentence:

    “Anthropogenic global warming may or may not be a real phenomenon, but if we don’t have the power to choose to understand it or mitigate it, then what’s really the point whether it’s real or not?”

    This shit is easy, joey. It looks like you’re viewing everything through the lens of “who to praise or blame”; indeed if you use that lens you’ll find nothing satisfactory. But there are other lenses:

    1) A world with more rationality, like a world with less global warming, is good for humans.

    2) The rate at which rationality spreads is partly a function of how many people are promoting rationality. Likewise the rate at which we mitigate global warming is partly a function of how many people take global warming seriously.

    3a) Actively promoting rationality is conducive to spreading it faster. Actively promoting awareness of global warming is conducive to getting governments to respond faster.

    3b) Taking your stance, that “we should all just go with the flow”, is not conducive to spreading rationality faster, nor to encouraging government response to global warming. Your stance is conducive to preserving the status quo. Indeed your choice of language, that “we should all just go with the flow”, is a normative prescription for not trying to do anything differently.

    We can philosophize all we want whether the notion of “good” is an objective real phenomenon just like rationality, but if we can’t choose to be good then what’s the point (in the context of free will discussion)?

    Because understanding the matter better makes it easier for people to bring their actions into accord with desires that improve more people’s lives.

    It is therefore better than not talking about it.

    But here’s the thing. I’m not in control of my beliefs and desires! Implying that I do have control suggests that free will exists, but it doesn’t. So what’s the point?

    You are in fact one of the proximate causes of your beliefs and desires; you are just not the ultimate cause.

    This distinction is why saying you can control your beliefs and desires does not imply that free will exists.

    It is an empirical fact that people can to some degree control their beliefs and desires. If they could not, then they would not need any strategies for resisting persuasion. Their beliefs and desires would not fluctuate based on whether or not they counterargue, for instance. But we have empirical data showing that people’s beliefs do get stronger when they counterargue.

    Being aware of this possibility for changing beliefs and desires helps people avoid the cognitive error of the Lazy Argument, which Cicero related to us as: “If it is your fate to recover from this illness, you will recover, regardless of whether or not you call the doctor. Likewise, if it is your fate not to recover from this illness, you will not recover, regardless of whether or not you call the doctor. And one or the other is your fate. Therefore it is pointless to call the doctor.”

    That’s why I think it’s absurd that some deniers of free will say, “We don’t have free will, but we must choose to live like we have it?” WTF? If we don’t have free will, then by definition we don’t have the power to choose anything, much less choose to live like we have free will.

    I think that “we must” argument is an absurdity for quite another reason, but it really does look like you’ve misunderstood choice.

    There is, you will agree, a phenomenon which is known as choice. It is most often characterized by the feeling of acting in accordance with one’s desires after some deliberation.

    If we recognize that this is what choice actually is, then it makes sense to say you should choose to go to the doctor when you are ill. Your life will be better if you act to go to the doctor than if you do not so act.

    If someone is suddenly armed with the new knowledge that free will doesn’t exist and he ends up going postal, can we “blame” him?

    I don’t know why you’re asking me this, since it should be evident that I don’t agree with common notions of moral responsibility as applied to differing actions.

    I endeavour to not think in terms of blame. And I’m trying to show you that you’re still so wrapped up in it that you’re failing to notice other ways of thinking.

    Once we start pinning the blame game, then we’re buying into the the illusions of free will and moral responsibility. And THAT is what I really meant by “go with the flow”.

    Well that’s a misleading way of putting it, and your thinking on the subject is so muddled that it seems you misled yourself into making this error:

    So I don’t understand why people got so riled up with the “irrationality” of religion and theism?

    Getting angry at someone is not only useful in a world where blame makes sense. Getting angry has influencing effects upon behavior regardless of whether blame exists or not.

  81. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    concerned joe,

    We do not will anything

    This can be easily misunderstood, and I’d argue it may be unnecessarily surrendering some useful meanings of the word.

    Dictionary.com offers some definitions of will that still work. I’ll exclude those which obviously don’t, or which I’m unsure of.

    :“the faculty of conscious and especially of deliberate action; the power of control the mind has over its own actions” [ॐ: in the sense that you are the proximate cause of your actions; it’s not someone else’s mind that is the proximate cause of your actions]
    :“wish or desire”
    :“purpose or determination, often hearty or stubborn determination”

    You have these sorts of will, without being the ultimate cause of them.

    Of course, it’s up to you whether you figure that conversations go more easily without that word than with it; I have seen people get so hung up on their alleged inability to distinguish between “will” and “free will” that I could see how it might be unhelpful in some conversations.

    It all seems like we are in control – and the illusion is we are – but we are really going where our programs and info/data bring us.

    This, though, I think is actually wrong, not just a strategic issue of terminology.

    It suggests dualism, that there is something different between “you” and your mental processes (or programs), knowledge, and values. But while those aren’t the whole you, they are still you; they’re a part of you, not distinct from you.

    So it’s incoherent to say “I’m not in control; my programming is”. You are your programming, as well as your data, values, input devices, and all your emotional processors. To whatever degree your programs are in control, you are in control.

    Well, you can’t choose to choose otherwise than you do. But neither are “you” a passive observer.

  82. joey says

    lipstick:

    “Anthropogenic global warming may or may not be a real phenomenon, but if we don’t have the power to choose to understand it or mitigate it, then what’s really the point whether it’s real or not?”

    Exactly! So tell me, what is so absurd about that statement?
    Are you actually implying that we actually do have the power *to choose* to understand or mitigate it?

    It is an empirical fact that people can to some degree control their beliefs and desires.

    Are you serious? That is the same thing as saying that it is an empirical fact that people can do what they will.

    I’m beginning to rethink that you actually deny free will.

    So I don’t understand why people got so riled up with the “irrationality” of religion and theism?

    My statement above is inconsistent to what I’ve been arguing, and I’ve done so purposefully. But truthspeaker saw through this and concisely answered…

    We have no choice but to get riled up.

    To which I answered…

    Bingo!

  83. concernedjoe says

    Pit – thanks for highlighting my lack of writing ability – LOL.

    Yeah – the way I worded it is open to the interpretations you said.

    However I do believe we are our programs and data etc. No dualism for me!

    My point was just that – our thinking parts (wiring, programs, data) ARE US and we are NO MORE than those when it comes to conscious decision making. We are constrained by our processes but that only says our processes are us.

    We have no “freewill” other than our processor’s dynamic flexibility. So for instance one might predict a person to pick choice A but they actually pick B. What changed? Something for sure.

    To carry on – try as we might we cannot find a single factor that externally drove the person from her normal decision. So what drove that change? Internal conscious willing? Man that would be like freewill!

    I say we have so much going on in the old main processor that the stimulus to be different found a pathway into the equation. Experience probably reenforced that somewhere in our past – it wings its way into our our thoughts and bingo “we feel like doing something different”.

    Oh I say too much.

  84. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    joey the fuckwit,

    Exactly! So tell me, what is so absurd about that statement?
    Are you actually implying that we actually do have the power *to choose* to understand or mitigate it?

    If you would pay attention to what I’m saying, you’d either understand me already or you’d have a sensible question about the explanation I already gave. You give every appearance of deliberately misunderstanding me like you deliberately misunderstood KG. I don’t figure that I should show you much courtesy at this point.

    There is, you will agree, a phenomenon which is known as choice. It is most often characterized by the feeling of acting in accordance with one’s desires after some deliberation.

    If we recognize that this is what choice actually is, then it makes sense to say you should choose to go to the doctor when you are ill. Your life will be better if you act to go to the doctor than if you do not so act.

    You are in fact one of the proximate causes of your beliefs and desires; you are just not the ultimate cause.

    This distinction is why saying you can control your beliefs and desires does not imply that free will exists.

    It is an empirical fact that people can to some degree control their beliefs and desires. If they could not, then they would not need any strategies for resisting persuasion. Their beliefs and desires would not fluctuate based on whether or not they counterargue, for instance. But we have empirical data showing that people’s beliefs do get stronger when they counterargue.

    It is an empirical fact that people can to some degree control their beliefs and desires.

    Are you serious? That is the same thing as saying that it is an empirical fact that people can do what they will.

    There’s either a typo here or you’re even stupider than I thought.

    It is an empirical fact that people can do what they will. Unless constrained by circumstances, people will always do what they will; because that’s all they can do. They sure as fuck don’t go around doing as they un-will.

    This is what Schopenhauer meant when he said that a person can do as they will, but not will as they will.

    I think Einstein expanded eloquently upon that: “In human freedom in the philosophical sense I am definitely a disbeliever. Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity. Schopenhauer’s saying, that ‘a man can do as he will, but not will as he will,’ has been an inspiration to me since my youth up, and a continual consolation and unfailing well-spring of patience in the face of the hardships of life, my own and others’. This feeling mercifully mitigates the sense of responsibility which so easily becomes paralyzing, and it prevents us from taking ourselves and other people too seriously; it conduces to a view of life in which humor, above all, has its due place.”

    My statement above is inconsistent to what I’ve been arguing, and I’ve done so purposefully.

    But your apparent purpose is to suggest that people cannot be influenced by argument.

    Maybe you can’t, but not everyone is a fuckbrained troll like you.

    I’m beginning to rethink that you actually deny free will.

    That’s because you don’t do any research for yourself, and most people here have given the matter a lot more thought than you have.

    Now I don’t expect that everybody has the wits to argue with KG. He’s pretty fucking smart. But you either didn’t even understand what he was saying, or didn’t bother to respond to his arguments honestly. Well, either way, you’ll never be able to win an argument with any compatibilist if that’s how you act.

    You might take the fucking hint — I’m not the only person here who doesn’t believe in free will who’s been trying to school you. I count at least three of us. You need to educate yourself, because you sound like a complete moron.

  85. concernedjoe says

    Pit – without comment on the personal stuff re: joey your last comment was so well put.

    And thanks so much for that Einstein quote – very moving for its eloquence and honesty.

    Joey – I am not in the same class as others here that I suspect have made a business of sorts in philosophical subjects – and who have more brain cells than I – but let me try to let you know what bothered me about your presentations (obviously one could say “who cares what that dolt CJ says!” – but I offer for the record).

    I got the sense that you – seemly dogmatically – ignore the FACT that people at least seem to “grow” and “change”. Beyond that they at least seem “to be fucking so unpredictable”. And even further some of us at least seem to “highly analyze and think their way through problems and concepts”.
    Then there is the FACT that lots of non-human animals seem to be very human in these regards.

    Note I said “seems”. That means for me a least herein that the observation per se is a FACT – but the reality of the whys and wherefores is up for grabs.

    However having said that caveat I now add what exasperated me even further re: your treatment: it seems to me that you – seemly dogmatically – ignore the issues these universal observations present.

    All of us here that aren’t under the influence of insanity or drugs or something (you get the drift), and who have a modicum of good science/philosophy education know “it is all chemistry and physics” as to what makes it all possible. We violently agree with you on that basic premise. There is no magic – no dualism – nothing that cannot be “mathematically” (loose sense) explained.

    But still it bothers us – and some of those here actually are still scientists and scholars and researchers, not like washed up me – that there are methods and means – there are mechanisms – there are processes – worth exploring.

    Why we act the way we act seems important. To some of us it seems vitally important because we feel humanity collectively must seek a more perfect existence with their environment and other living things.

    And it does seem vitally important to us to recognize the TRUTH that there is no supernatural involved. But that in and by itself is not seem sufficient to answer any question or solve any problem. You to some of here SEEM to feel that it is. And that bugs us.

    For instance I in my unschooled and clumsy way have tried to give some conceptual model to explain in general how I see the issues beyond the basic. You haven’t is seems to me – and I think others here. And while you impress us that you are cocksure it is “just physics” – it seems to me and others that mantra is like “it is just God”.

    I am SINCERELY just letting you know why I was frustrated because maybe knowing that will help you frame your discussions for your audience more effectively in future. Or is it with you all invariable physics?!?!? (OK – the devil made me say it :-) )

  86. joey says

    lipstick:

    But your apparent purpose is to suggest that people cannot be influenced by argument.

    No, that is not my purpose at all, and I have no clue how you arrived at that conclusion.

    Yes, people can be influenced by argument…if that is what physics dictate. And whether or not that argument comes into existence is also due to physics. Once we start speaking about me, you, choice, reason, wills, desires, control, beliefs…we exit the physical world and enter the realm of abstraction and philosophy. That just confuses the point.

    Let’s go back to my very first post…

    So your “decision” to become an atheist wasn’t really your “choice” at all, but simply physics taking its course. If you stayed a theist, then that would also have been simply the result of physics. Either way, praise (or blame) for the outcome can only be directed to pure naturalistic processes.

    Your definition of “choice” might be different than mine, but do you have any other objections to what I’ve said here?

  87. joey says

    concernedjoe:

    All of us here that aren’t under the influence of insanity or drugs or something (you get the drift), and who have a modicum of good science/philosophy education know “it is all chemistry and physics” as to what makes it all possible. We violently agree with you on that basic premise.

    Great!

    But still it bothers us – and some of those here actually are still scientists and scholars and researchers, not like washed up me – that there are methods and means – there are mechanisms – there are processes – worth exploring.

    Why we act the way we act seems important. To some of us it seems vitally important because we feel humanity collectively must seek a more perfect existence with their environment and other living things.

    Let’s talk more about this “importance”. If I have the realization that everything is just chemistry and physics, I’m having a difficult time how I can find importance in anything at all.

    And CJ, I do appreciate the benevolent tone of your posts.

  88. concernedjoe says

    Joey – I guess we are driven to feel it is important – driven by the physics and chemistry. But that physics and chemistry – the way we work – is by what I call programming and our pathways are set by trial and error and reinforcement.

    I might not be expressing it well enough – but if I am programmed to think a result is important – and if I see by my actions I can influence such results in others – well I start to feel my actions are important.

    I guess one can test this by the null case – doing nothing.

    If I as a parent did no guiding or nurturing (my implication is there would be no other such source) would our children be what they are today? Did I have any incremental effect?

    Our adult children feel they benefited – my lovely wife thinks they did – I feel they did! OK grant it all may be an illusion. It may be “wishful thinking”. We all may be bat shit wrong about it. But would I – or many more expert than I am – recommend to budding parents that their coaching and example is useless – is not important?

    Of course there is time to coach – and there is a time to let them try their own wings. I am not arguing for a specific approach. What I am saying is – I am driven – and many others are – to feel our educating and coaching is important.

    In response to your “.. just chemistry and physics, I’m having a difficult time how I can find importance in anything at all.”

    I say the “evolution has ‘used’ chemistry and physics to find importance in about anything we are driven to do if it is important to do.”

    But PZ may take me to task for using evolution in these lofty psychological discussions. :-)

  89. joey says

    concernedjoe:

    I guess we are driven to feel it is important – driven by the physics and chemistry.

    Exactly!

    I say the “evolution has ‘used’ chemistry and physics to find importance in about anything we are driven to do if it is important to do.”

    I believe you had it right the first time. Chemistry and physics dictate what is important and unimportant to us. And chemistry and physics dictate exactly how we act regarding the things that are important/unimportant.

  90. John Morales says

    joey:

    I believe you had it right the first time. Chemistry and physics dictate what is important and unimportant to us. And chemistry and physics dictate exactly how we act regarding the things that are important/unimportant.

    Leaving aside that you’ve just reified chemistry and physics (and blithely abstracted the bejesus out of the concept of causation), how is that in itself any more meaningful than saying ‘goddiddit’?

  91. concernedjoe says

    And Joey..

    When you referenced me in this “I guess we are driven to feel it is important – driven by the physics and chemistry.”

    You left out my very next breath “But that physics and chemistry – the way we work – is by what I call programming and our pathways are set by trial and error and reinforcement.”

    I do not know how to frame this with you any better meaning I may not be up to the task. But the problem I am asking you to explore deeper is the “how”.

    This is an basic question rationalists (give me poetic license) attach to any declaration that seeks to answer a complex issue with an omnipotent all encompassing abstract declaration.

    Things like “god did it!” (which rings fantasy). And things like “its just chemistry and physics!” (which rings true but wholly lacking in explanation).

    I am interested in the discussion of how. In this case what combinations and applications of the laws of nature under what conditions and circumstances makes humans or a “lesser” animals or computers more than just a – huum, say – light bulb.

    Listen to what John said – I said that to you also. I know you are deeper than your face value statement. Help us understand how “it is just physics and chemistry” is not just like “goddidit”.

    And a hint: it is not adequate to say “god is bullshit and c/p are real and operating!” We know that – but it says nothing useful to us other than to frame a premise to be explored; that is, do we theologically approach it (gag gag) or scientifically approach it (drum roll please!).

  92. joey says

    John Morales:

    Leaving aside that you’ve just reified chemistry and physics (and blithely abstracted the bejesus out of the concept of causation), how is that in itself any more meaningful than saying ‘goddiddit’?

    How can you NOT see the meaning (or lack of meaning) in it?

    I’m taking the notion of the nonexistence of free will to its logical extremes. It is apparent that many people fail to actually think of all the logical ramifications of this concept, simply because it is so much easier to live in the illusions of free will and moral responsibility such that they patch over any cognitive dissonances that would emerge from realizing that no one is actually responsible. To fully comprehend that physics and only physics is THE ultimate cause of everything (not only actions, but thoughts, beliefs, wills) is really quite illuminating, considerably absurd, and somewhat depressing all at the same time.

    Again, if you strip out all the illusions, the only real difference between an atheist and a theist is the different paths that physics has taken them. That is all. If you would like to see that there is more to it than that and consider that the atheist is the enlightened one while the theist is the idiot, then you’re buying into the illusion of moral responsibility. These two people are morally responsible for the people they’ve chosen to become, so therefore the atheist is enlightened while the theist is an idiot.

    So, even for the enlightened ones who know that free will doesn’t exist, why do we still like to live like it does? I guess the obvious answer is that is what physics dictates.

  93. concernedjoe says

    Joey – we do not seek further illusion – we seek further understanding. No one that I can see that you have addressed is saying it is not physics – but just that is just a big “so what!”. It answers no questions beyond the obvious nor offers any solutions in any practical sense.

    I said previously – one can be guilty and still not be responsible. The question in our minds is what drives actions to which we have to ascribe guilt (I lack words so though I loath it – say judgement and justice). More positively – what we can do to better our lot collectively.

    What I think you miss – and still not addressing – is this: are there processes? are there mechanisms that constitute mental processes? what are their factors and variables?

    Do you really think there are none? Do you really think there is no power in knowledge and understanding? Do you really think there is no no such thing as feedback loops, levels of processing architecture, etc.? Do you say “nothing is a process – it all just happens” – how? all randomly? Do you think there are not influences upon influence upon influences that operate in a social system? Do you not think the very nature of the system is self influencing?

    When I said “I know you are deeper than your face value statement.” I was not being cutesy. I intended more than the common entendre. You are deeper – we are deeper – because the processes we live by are stochastic – that that says the physics is fuzzy. Life is not “A ball rolling down A tube”.

  94. joey says

    concernedjoe:

    Joey – we do not seek further illusion – we seek further understanding. No one that I can see that you have addressed is saying it is not physics – but just that is just a big “so what!”. It answers no questions beyond the obvious nor offers any solutions in any practical sense.

    It’s not really meant to answer any questions or offer any solutions…but rather to RAISE questions. A lot of questions. For example, the premise of no moral responsibility questions the entire basis on which all of the justice systems throughout mankind’s history have been built, not to mention it questions the notion of “justice” itself.

    If our technology/techniques in the field of psychiatric evaluation rapidly advanced to the point that we could calculate with a high degree of accuracy the probability that a person who just recently committed multiple murders isn’t any more likely to commit another murder than the average person off the street, would it be reasonable at all to “punish” the murderer by removing him from society given the premise of no moral responsibility?

    What I think you miss – and still not addressing – is this: are there processes? are there mechanisms that constitute mental processes? what are their factors and variables?

    Sure. Of course there are mechanisms that constitute mental processes, that have most likely uncountable factors and variables. We may never fully understand all these processes. But bottom line is there is no metaphysical “I” who is in control. And that solely is the point. Once we remove this metaphysical “I”, then things get really squirrely from the philosophical perspective. I just want you guys to expand your minds to what this removal of the metaphysical “I” completely entails philosophically.

  95. concernedjoe says

    Joey – I am at a loss because I agree with your last post – save your editorial about our expanding our minds to points where our minds have already expanded.

    So we agree?!?!? I surmise at this point in the game we do.

    So have a great night (or day depending on our point on the global). I don’t know about you but right now my physics says.. “pack up shop – get the beer from the fridge and try to find something on the telly that uses only the most primate parts of your brain!”

  96. John Morales says

    joey:

    I’m taking the notion of the nonexistence of free will to its logical extremes. It is apparent that many people fail to actually think of all the logical ramifications of this concept, simply because it is so much easier to live in the illusions of free will and moral responsibility such that they patch over any cognitive dissonances that would emerge from realizing that no one is actually responsible.

    Not even close. The logical extreme is that there is no ‘you’ or ‘I’ other than as islands of perception without volition.

    (Might as well call it nihilism)

    Again, if you strip out all the illusions, the only real difference between an atheist and a theist is the different paths that physics has taken them.

    You could say this about any two people, given your premise.

    (Why make it an atheist and a theist?)

    [1] So, even for the enlightened ones who know that free will doesn’t exist, why do we still like to live like it does? [2] I guess the obvious answer is that is what physics dictates.

    1. Why don’t you try to walk through walls?

    2. The answer is the very presupposition your putative enlightenment rests upon? Very uninformative, that.

  97. John Morales says

    joey:

    I just want you guys to expand your minds to what this removal of the metaphysical “I” completely entails philosophically.

    What is this talk of wanting, O non-metaphysical you?

    But yes, for all I the I that one is is not the I that one is not.

    (Very philosophical)

  98. concernedjoe says

    John re: Joey

    Didn’t we get to some mutual agreement with Joey’s:

    Legit food for thought: “the premise of no moral responsibility questions the entire basis on which all of the justice systems throughout mankind’s history have been built, not to mention it questions the notion of “justice” itself.”

    Recognition that we can affect the physics is not static therefore one must infer psychological agents of change: “.. a person who just recently committed multiple murders isn’t any more likely to commit another murder than the average person off the street.. ”

    And most important to me his recognition that processes are involved and these processes are important” “Sure. Of course there are mechanisms that constitute mental processes, that have most likely uncountable factors and variables. We may never fully understand all these processes.”

    I don’t know – sometimes I am happy to get to “inch pebbles”.

  99. joey says

    John Morales:

    The logical extreme is that there is no ‘you’ or ‘I’ other than as islands of perception without volition.

    Yes, I agree.

    You could say this about any two people, given your premise.

    (Why make it an atheist and a theist?)

    You’re right, it could be about any two people. I simply reiterated the example I used in my first post.

    What is this talk of wanting, O non-metaphysical you?

    Exactly.

    But yes, for all I the I that one is is not the I that one is not.

    I don’t get it.

  100. joey says

    concernedjoe:

    So we agree?!?!? I surmise at this point in the game we do.

    I guess so. Thanks for the discussion.

  101. John Morales says

    joey:

    But yes, for all I the I that one is is not the I that one is not.

    I don’t get it.

    The you that doesn’t get it is not the you that gets it, yet there you are. :)