Paul Bloom on free will

Paul Bloom’s Chronicle of Higher Education piece certainly has the virtue of raising the issues – or some of them – starkly. Bloom outright denies that we have free will, though he eventually moves on to describe a position that tends to undermine this very forthright claim. First, the stark denial:

Common sense tells us that we exist outside of the material world—we are connected to our bodies and our brains, but we are not ourselves material beings, and so we can act in ways that are exempt from physical law. For every decision we make—from leaning over for a first kiss, to saying “no” when asked if we want fries with that—our actions are not determined and not random, but something else, something we describe as chosen.

This is what many call free will, and most scientists and philosophers agree that it is an illusion. Our actions are in fact literally predestined, determined by the laws of physics, the state of the universe, long before we were born, and, perhaps, by random events at the quantum level. We chose none of this, and so free will does not exist.

This most definitely has the virtue of clarity. For Bloom, “free will” means a rather spooky ability to act in ways that are exempt from physical laws and physical causes. We don’t have this ability, Bloom claims (and I, for one, don’t doubt him). Therefore, free will does not exist.

And yet, something exists, Bloom thinks, something that lies in the conceptual vicinity of free will (if he doesn’t think it does, then why bring it up in such a context?). The “something” is a set of capacities that we do have:

Many scholars do draw profound implications from the rejection of free will. Some neuroscientists claim that it entails giving up on the notion of moral responsibility. There is no actual distinction, they argue, between someone who is violent because of a large tumor in his brain and a neurologically normal premeditated killer—both are influenced by forces beyond their control, after all—and we should revise the criminal system accordingly. Other researchers connect the denial of free will with the view that conscious deliberation is impotent. We are mindless robots, influenced by unconscious motivations from within and subtle environmental cues from without; these entirely determine what we think and do. To claim that people consciously mull over decisions and think about arguments is to be in the grips of a prescientific conception of human nature.

I think those claims are mistaken. In any case, none of them follow from determinism. Most of all, the deterministic nature of the universe is fully compatible with the existence of conscious deliberation and rational thought.

He concludes, tellingly: “It is wrong, then, to think that one can escape from the world of physical causation—but it is not wrong to think that one can think, that we can mull over arguments, weigh the options, and sometimes come to a conclusion. After all, what are you doing now?”

Thus, Bloom denies that we possess free will – which he imagines to be something spooky – while at the same time claiming (surprise!) that conscious deliberation and rational thought are real, that conscious deliberation is not impotent, and that we need not give up on the notion of moral responsibility. Frankly, if this is a denial of free will, then denial of free will is proving to be a very thin doctrine. It means only denying the existence of something metaphysically extravagant (and arguably not even coherent) that many of us were not in the slightest inclined to believe existed in the first place. Conversely, it does not mean denying anything that we might fear is illusory when told that we lack free will: in particular, that our desires and deliberations are efficacious in bringing about our choices, which can, at least in a large class of cases, be efficacious in shaping our lives and aspects of the world that we live in.

In fact, Bloom is not denying the existence of free will, as most philosophers understand it, at all. Nor is he necessarily denying the existence of free will as most ordinary people understand it, given what experimental data we have so far on how the folk actually imagine free will.

I don’t deny that some people might think of a spooky capacity to defy physical laws when they think of free will. This does seem to be one conception of free will that is Out There in the Zeitgeist, and some theologians seem to trade on it in various ways. But it is not evident that it is either the philosophical conception of free will or the most common conception among the folk. It’s actually difficult to see what it could add to my life if I had this spooky capacity: even if I could defy physical laws, free will does not make much sense unless it involves the ability to act on my own desires and viewpoint. But there will always be a story as to how I came to have the desire-set and viewpoint that I actually have (even if a god created me with these a few seconds ago), and that story will never be one in which I chose my collection of desires and beliefs ab initio. Even God, if he existed, could never do that.

If I chose my current desire-set, my choice as to what desire-set I wanted must have been based on an earlier desire-set that I had, and this is not the sort of thing that can go on in an endless sequence. So even an ability to defy physical laws would not give me a free will that is ultimate, or goes all the way down. Ultimate, or all-the-way-down, free will is ruled out for separate reasons. So how, exactly, do I end up being any more free, even if I have a power to violate the laws of physics? It’s very strange.

Bloom concedes that we have certain things that we want, such as the ability to deliberate, and for the actions based on our deliberations to be (to an extent) efficacious. The power that he denies us (and I agree that we have no such power) does not get us a deeper freedom, and really does not (as far as I can see) make sense at all. I’ll settle for the mundane, yet impressive, capacities that Bloom grants me … and I suggest that you do likewise.

Finally, there might still be independent worries about whether we can hold people (fully?) morally responsible for their actions. But that depends on different considerations. These worries would arise whether we had the power to violate physical laws or not, as long as the observable facts about, say, human socialisation remain true. Once again, there is always a causal story as to how I ended up with the desire-set that I have … and how some other, perhaps less pleasant, person ended up with her desire-set. That fact might shake some of our notions of freedom, desert, and responsibility, but it has little to do with the kind of causal determinism that Bloom evidently has in mind.

There will be some more posts in this series, not least to respond to various objections and other points. But that concludes my initial responses to the six pieces in The Chronicle.

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85 Comments.

  1. Human beings have a drive to know and understand everything. We want to understand the relationship between ourselves and our bodies. How do we control our bodies? The idea that free will is an illusion is very bright, but there is no evidence supporting it. It is irrational, like the theory that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

  2. Stephen Lawrnce

    “He concludes, tellingly: “It is wrong, then, to think that one can escape from the world of physical causation—but it is not wrong to think that one can think, that we can mull over arguments, weigh the options, and sometimes come to a conclusion. After all, what are you doing now?”

    Thus, Bloom denies that we possess free will – which he imagines to be something spooky – while at the same time claiming (surprise!) that conscious deliberation and rational thought are real, that conscious deliberation is not impotent, and that we need not give up on the notion of moral responsibility. Frankly, if this is a denial of free will, then denial of free will is proving to be a very thin doctrine.

    Not at all. From the above I wonder if you see the problem at all, Russell.

    As choice making is experienced by us we weigh up options and select the only option we could given the process.

    So that’s deterministic choice making.

    In addidtion to that people believe we have a way of selecting a different option in the actual Situaton.

    That’s not a thin line at all.

    the reason determinism is a problem for moral responsibility is that in order to end up making the right choice you need to go through the right deliberation process.

    In order to go through the right deliberation process, you need the world in 1653, say, to have been in the right state so that it was your only possible future you could get to from that past.

    Of course whether it was in that state or not is luck.

    There is enormous tension between saying some one deserves to suffer for what thay have done.

    And they were the unlucky one to have the bad past, any one of us might have done but as it happens it was them and so they deserve to suffer.

    There is an obvious problem with our normal concept of moral responsibility and the luck of determinism.

  3. What does it mean to say “conscious deliberation and rational thought are real”. Because they feel “real”? Because we believe that they are the uncaused causes? Because they do occur, although “we” are not in control? But who cares! That’s not the point at all.
    I don’t understand Bloom’s position. It reminds of the position of many compatibilists. I found the same paradox in Gazzaniga’s latest book. He explains at great lengths that, based on his experiments and understanding of the brain, free-will is an illusion, only to deny its implications and oppose materialist-reductionists-incompatibilists.
    It seems to me that Bloom, Gazzaniga and others, are in denial. That they are desperately trying to salvage something they know cannot be salvaged. That somehow, the implications of what they “know” to be true (I’m a skeptic and don’t pretend to “know”) are too much to bare.
    I much prefer Sam Harris’ (right or wrong) no-nonsense, no-mixing up of issues, no-obfuscation, straight-talk approach.

  4. Hi Stephen – you say, As choice making is experienced by us we weigh up options and select the only option we could given the process.

    I’m not sure I understand this. But I think the reason I don’t see the problem that you seem to see is not that I don’t understand what is being argued. I do understand everything you say in your comment. It’s that, IMO, the “problem” itself is an illusion.

    Even if causal determinism at the level of the brain is true, that simply does not entail that we select the only option that we could in the circumstances. All it entails is that we select the only option we (given our characteristics) would in the circumstances. We should not confuse “can” (or “could”) with “will” (or “would”).

    Yes, given that I have a certain set of motivations (which ultimately is something physical in my brain) I will act in a certain way in certain circumstances, with, let’s say, certain resources and capacities available to me. This does not entail that I cannot act in any other way. In many cases, I can.

    To say that I can is simply to say that I have the resources, the availability on the spot, enough time to think, enough knolwedge of what is happening around me, etc., all of which gives me the ability to do something if I want to.

    There is nothing in the deterministic picture, or in the fact that there is some kind of causal history as to how I come to have the desire-set that I do, that removes the fact that I can act otherwise in a particular moment as (for example) I sit by idly and watch a child drown. If I have the resources, etc., all that is required for me to save the child is that I want to. That is a paradigm example of someone who can do something, and it is up to the person whether or not they go ahead and do so. Eiher way, the course of conduct will flow from the person’s desire-set (which is, I happily agree, a physical thing: some sort of neurological configuration or whatever).

    To justify the claim that I can’t act otherwise in that situation, you’d need to argue for something a lot stronger than determinism. You’d need to argue for something like epiphenomenalism (to show that my thoughts, etc., have no causal efficacy) or fatalism (to show that my actions have no causal efficacy). Mere causal determinism does not entail epiphenomenalism or fatalism.

    Now, I can still see how someone might want to argue against, say, moral responsibility, if they think that moral responsibility must go all the way down. They might then say that our actions cannot count as being free unless we have moral responsibility for them. And that might lead to a conclusion that our actions are not free, based on a claim that we never have ultimate moral responsibility. So there might be an indirect argument against free will based on notions of ultimate moral responsibility and on notions that you can’t have freedom without responsibility. Some of what you say appears more relevant to this separate argument. Note, however, that this argument doesn’t even require that determinism be true, only that ultimate self-creation be impossible or unintelligible (which it arguably is whether determinism is true or not).

  5. Steve1 – I’ll be interested to see whether Sam Harris does manage to avoid mixing up of issues. I have no opinion on that one way or another at the moment. I’ll be reading his book very soon, and have promised a review to the ABC Religion and Ethics Portal.

  6. Russell, I’m glad you’ve decided to take on this free will discussion in the style you have, with all of these different perspectives on it. I’ve enjoyed having this conversation with lots of friends, and it’s been very fun reading everyone’s thoughts on it, here.

    But I’ve been having trouble, over multiple threads, with this idea of confusing ‘can’ and ‘will.’ You talk about the resources available to a person in any given circumstances, and if those resources allow for ‘x’ and they don’t do ‘x’ it’s because they ‘won’t’ do ‘x’ and not that they ‘can’t.’ In my view, if they won’t, then they lack a very specific resources which also means they can’t. The resource of a history which leads to them doing it.

  7. Sam Harris’ book will be a quick read (68 pages long).
    W. regards to your latest post, can I perhaps frame the question in simple terms:
    If we were to rewind a person’s life to the time of that person’s conception, assuming everything (family, environment, etc) was identical, would that person’s life be a strict replay?
    If not, what could account for the difference?
    Just trying to clarify the “could” vs “would”, “freedom of will” vs the “illusion of freedom”.

  8. Steve (and Michael) – this “replay the tape” argument is the same argument that Jerry uses. I think it’s a weak argument. I can’t see any way of stating it that is logically valid – at least not without adopting highly controversial, and probably false, assumptions.

    Yes, if it is an exact replay in a sufficiently determistic universe I will end up being exactly the same person with exactly the same desires, beliefs, and abilities … then, yes, I will act in the same way in the same situation. Why wouldn’t I if my desires and so are the same as the first time round, as are the options presented?

    But that does not entail that I can’t act differently from how I do. Note that I am in exactly the same situation as I was the first time. If I was able to act in various ways the first time, I am still able to do so the second time. That hasn’t changed, either, so replaying the tape leaves everything as it was.

    To repeat, I will not act differently, because my desire-set has not changed (and nor has anything else). But that does not entail that I can not act differently. If the crucial factor that makes the difference between my acting in way X or way Y is that I want to act in way X (or want to achieve some outcome that acting in way X is likely to bring about), rather than because of some incapacity or duress, or whatever, then that is precisely the sort of situation in which people will say to me that I could have acted differently but didn’t want to.

    We have an everyday understanding of what it means to be able to act (“can act”) in a certain way – it involves having the requisite opportunities, capacities, etc.

    There can be areas where there is some doubt about how we ought best to describe the situation, such as if I am in the grip of a phobia, but that will be because there is some ambiguity about whether a phobia is best interpreted as just part of my desire-set or as something alien to me like a person holding a gun at my head. So there is some ambiguity as to whether someone who acts in way X rather than way Y because of a phobia could have acted in way Y.

    But the general rule is that I can do something if I have the relevant capacities, equipment, resources, understanding, etc., and am not under some sort of duresss or anything of the kind, so that in the end it is “up to me” – I end up doing what I want to do out of the possible things that I can do.

    (As I keep saying, there are interesting questions about fractures in our psyches, whether we all have unconscious desires that are in some sense alien to us, whether it is fair to blame people for their desire-sets (and the actions that flow from them), since no one has ultimate responsibility for ending up with these, and so on. But these questions are all independent of the “replay the tape” argument.)

  9. Dianelos Georgoudis

    Paul Bloom writes: “Our actions are in fact literally predestined, determined by the laws of physics, the state of the universe, long before we were born, and, perhaps, by random events at the quantum level.

    If our actions are perhaps determined by random events then they are not in fact literally predestined and determined by the state of the universe long before we were born. So, far from having “the virtue of clarity”, this is self-contradictory.

    Russell, you often say that free will “is exempt from”, “defies”, “violates” physical law. Can you explain why you think that? After all thanks to physics we today know that the physical universe is *not* deterministic, and therefore that not only peoples’ choices but also, say, the exact spot where a raindrop will fall is *not* determined by the state of the universe long before we were born.

    To focus the question, let’s take one particular and typical case of a free choice. I feel hungry, open the fridge, and find an apple and a piece of chocolate. The physical state of my brain is such that there is a 80% probability that I will choose the chocolate and a 20% probability that I will choose the apple (I have a sweet tooth). Nevertheless I freely choose the apple.

    Where exactly am I being exempt from, defying, of violating physical law in the above account?

  10. Stephen Lawrence

    “Even if causal determinism at the level of the brain is true, that simply does not entail that we select the only option that we could in the circumstances. All it entails is that we select the only option we (given our characteristics) would in the circumstances. We should not confuse “can” (or “could”) with “will” (or “would”).”

    Thanks Russell,

    Now I know exactly what you mean. This point needs to be clarified with Jerry Coyne, I think you are talking past each other on this, I didn’t realise it was what you meant.

    Most compatibilists say it doesn’t matter that we couldn’t do otherwise in the actual situation because we aren’t interested in the actual situation.

    See Dennett on Austin’s putt for this. http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/dfwCompatDennettTaylor.html

    You are one of a sub section of compatibilists who argue that we could do otherwise in the actual situation. Norman Swartz is another.

    What I’d say about this is it misses the point, even if true.

    Why does it miss the point? Because we can’t be interested in the ability to do what we wouldn’t do!

    If you go down that road you are just introducing a compatibilist version of contra causal freedom.

    Because of this when dealing with moral responsibility we should simplify and work with a model in which the agent could not have done otherwise in the actual situation.

    Any version of free will that makes sense must be compatible with that.

  11. Russel, first, thanks for taking the time to discuss this.
    Second, I am not arguing for (or against) anything. Just trying to get to the bottom of the argument.
    Third, you wrote “Yes, if it is an exact replay in a sufficiently deterministic universe”.
    Why the “if”?
    Is it or is it not your view that the universe is sufficiently deterministic that it “will” be an exact replay?
    If this is your view (and even if it is not, see bellow), then I believe that the “will” vs “can” argument is mostly as sideshow, because even though there “is”, at any given time, a vast palet of possible thoughts and actions I could “have” or “do”, in effect, throughout my life and at any given time, I will always think and act in one and only one, computable, predictable, fully determined way.
    If the “replay” is necessarily fully identical, it follows that the “can” is illusory and ineffective and therefore pretty much meaningless or at least, vastly, vastly less important than the fact that I “will” never think or act differently.
    Note that even if a level of indeterminism, randomness, quantum fluctuation, whatever, made a “replay life” different and unpredictable, it would add nothing to the freedom argument, for “I” (with its novel thoughts and actions) would still not be the cause of this novelty: it would merely be the effect of outside forces and circumstances.

  12. It’s true most of us have the capacity to have acted otherwise had we wanted to, but what we don’t have is the capacity to transcend or step outside of the actual situation, to be doing anything other than what we are presently doing. That some people think they have this latter capacity – bequeathed by consciousness – is illustrated by the following post from a discussion on free will at the Facebook naturalism group:

    “To put it succintly–we have free will- our actions are uncaused-We have evolved consciousness which gives us the ability to make completely uncaused choices, hence our complexity compared to non conscious life forms.Though we are tethered to our experiences and our brains, our reasons for our choices- though coming from our experiences and our brains- are never the causes of our actions. Our choices and actions happen independently of our reasons, i.e our reasons do not compel us to act in any way. Nothing compels our choices. We’re always free going forward. In every moment choice is open to us. That is what consciousness which has evolved to exists in the world has enabled – free will among living beings.”

    The perfect expression of belief in contra-causal free will (CCFW)!

    Why would people want this? What would it add to our lives? It makes us ultimate originators that can take (and assign) ultimate credit and blame in a way that can justify unlimited retribution and unlimited rewards. It grounds the idea of deep moral desert and all the horrors that follow from it. This is why it’s important to debunk CCFW, should people actually believe they have it, and some apparently do.

  13. Just a point of clarifications regarding an earlier comment.

    “The physical state of my brain is such that there is a 80% probability that I will choose the chocolate and a 20% probability that I will choose the apple (I have a sweet tooth). Nevertheless I freely choose the apple.”

    Probability is simply the inability to accurately predict the outcome. The concept of probability is a handicap in identifying all of the causal factors that went into your choice of the apple. Furthermore, it is not really a choice. You may not have been physically forced to choose the apple but no matter how many times you “replay” the tape your ultimate choosing of the apple would be realized each and every time. You may argue as to why you chose it, “it’s healthy”, “I can do without the cake’s calories”, etc, but that is all simply a rationalization after the fact. The actual factors that went into you reaching for the apple are outside of our abilities to determine.

  14. Stephen Lawrence

    Russell,

    Just to pinpoint the problem for absolute clarity it’s here:

    “I sit by idly and watch a child drown. If I have the resources, etc., all that is required for me to save the child is that I want to.”

    Now, if we keep re- running the tape you keep sitting by idly and watching.

    You could do otherwise if you wanted to you say and that is all that’s required.

    Well, if we were to re- run the tape and you were to want to save the child the laws of physics would be different! So that, by definition, makes it physically impossible.

    So on this particular point Jerry is correct.

    The way compatibilists usually make sense of this is to accept that wanting to isn’t all that’s required.

    Apart from wanting to that want needs different causal antecedents in order for the want to arise.

    So now we have two ifs… not one as you are saying.

    And for those causal antecedents to have been different we need their causal antecedents to be different, so more and more ifs…

    Compatibilists usually handle this by widening the meaning of the circumstances to include slightly different circumstances than the actual circumstances.

  15. Stephen Lawrence

    Tom,

    “The perfect expression of belief in contra-causal free will (CCFW)!”

    Yes.

    One for the archives. :smile:

  16. Dianelos Georgoudis

    Tom Clark:

    Why would people want [contra-causal free will, i.e. free will for short]? What would it add to our lives?

    I don’t see the relevance of these questions. The issue at hand is not whether we want to have free will, or whether free will adds to our lives, but whether we do in fact have free will.

    Having said that it’s pretty obvious what free will adds to our lives. For one it keeps us away from moral nihilism.

  17. Dianelos Georgoudis

    R.D.Coste:

    Probability is simply the inability to accurately predict the outcome.

    Probability can also be an intrinsic property of systems.

    When quantum mechanics was first developed in the 1920s the fact that it only gave probabilistic results was found by many (including Einstein) to imply that quantum mechanics must be an incomplete theory. They suggested that there must be some “hidden variables”, i.e. information about reality which was not used by the theory, and that it was for this reason that the theory produced probabilistic results only. The hidden variables hypothesis has suffered many reverses (see for example Bell’s theorem and von Neumann’s proof). There is one metaphysical interpretation of quantum mechanics which assumes the existence of hidden variables (see Bohm’s interpretation), but it fails to give any results which are more precise (less probabilistic) than quantum mechanics, so it is of theoretical interest only. Since for the last 100 years physics itself has been growing by leaps and bounds without assuming any hidden variables the only warranted belief today is that physical reality is intrinsically probabilistic.

    The actual factors that went into you reaching for the apple are outside of our abilities to determine.

    I know exactly what factor went into my reaching for the apple, namely my freely choosing to do so. I may be wrong of course, but then again I would like to see the slightest piece of evidence, scientific or philosophic, that I am wrong. Or, to put this in epistemic terms, since I have never found even the slightest reason to question my belief that I have free will it would be unreasonable for me to even so much as doubt it.

    What does appear to be outside of our abilities to determine is how to fit free will with naturalism’s understanding of reality. So much the worse for naturalism then.

  18. Dennis Sceviour

    Re: Dianelos Georgoudis, April 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    “The issue at hand is not whether we want to have free will, or whether free will adds to our lives, but whether we do in fact have free will.”

    There is a circularity to the argument. A question is whether “want” is the same as “will.” In my opinion, intrinsic properties such as “want” or “desire” are Free Will mechanisms. There may be such thing as an intrinsic decision, but not intrinsic attributes. In a compatibilist view, extrinsic properties can be targets of the intrinsic.

    In a deterministic view (Incompatibilism), there is no intrinsic value. The Incompatibilist view is the Zen Buddhist way, when one is free from wants. Therefore, an issue at hand is whether we want to have Free Will.

  19. None of the articles reviewed so far offer a critical look at determinism. Though there’s no doubt that we have increased our power to predict outcomes when specific factors are known, we are far from achieving anything even close to what could be called a high level of accuracy, especially when animate objects (particularly humans) are involved.

    Determinism asks us to make assumptions about what uncertainty means that are unwarranted. Inferred generalizations are acceptable in science. But only if we have never encountered any sound evidence to the contrary is it permissible to make firm statements involving terms like ALL. Determinism asks us to believe a states X is necessarily always followed by a state Z. Where does this belief come from? Except under the most rigid Newtonian conditions involving inanimate objects is this testable and scientifically true.

    The core claims of determinism are no different than claims about celestial teapots. Determinism is a thinly veiled form of theism.

    Consider what the honorable Bertrand Russell said in a debate with Father Fredrick Copleston:

    Copleston: Yes, I agree, some scientists — physicists — are willing to allow for indetermination within a restricted field. But very many scientists are not so willing. I think that Professor Dingle, of London University, maintains that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle tells us something about the success (or the lack of it) of the present atomic theory in correlating observations, but not about nature in itself, and many physicists would accept this view. In any case, I don’t see how physicists can fail to accept the theory in practice, even if they don’t do so in theory. I cannot see how science could be conducted on any other assumption than that of order and intelligibility in nature. The physicist presupposes, at least tacitly, that there is some sense in investigating nature and looking for the causes of events, just as the detective presupposes that there is some sense in looking for the cause of a murder. The metaphysician assumes that there is sense in looking for the reason or cause of phenomena, and, not being a Kantian, I consider that the metaphysician is as justified in his assumption as the physicist. When Sartre, for example, says that the world is gratuitous, I think that he has not sufficiently considered what is implied by “gratuitous.”

    Russell: I think there seems to me a certain unwarrantable extension here; a physicist looks for causes; that does not necessarily imply that there are causes everywhere. A man may look for gold without assuming that there is gold everywhere; if he finds gold, well and good, if he doesn’t he’s had bad luck. The same is true when the physicists look for causes. As for Sartre, I don’t profess to know what he means, and I shouldn’t like to be thought to interpret him, but for my part, I do think the notion of the world having an explanation is a mistake. I don’t see why one should expect it to have, and I think what you say about what the scientist assumes is an over-statement.

    Excerpt from A Debate on the Argument of Contingency (BBC 3, 1948)

    A teenager breaks a window of a foreclosed house. Asked why, he answers, “Dunno. Just felt like it”. And immediately we want to blame his parents, bad friends or the state. And if we can’t blame them, he’s the unlucky victim of a past so distant we can barely speculate about it.

  20. Danielos said: Russell, you often say that free will “is exempt from”, “defies”, “violates” physical law. Can you explain why you think that?

    That’s a funny question to ask me. I’ve never said any such thing. In fact, I’ve said almost the exact opposite, i.e. that people who define free will in such a way are flying in the face of how most philosophers understand it and how the folk seem to understand it.

  21. Well, if we were to re- run the tape and you were to want to save the child the laws of physics would be different! So that, by definition, makes it physically impossible.

    If we reran the tape and I saved the child, we could infer that something went wrong with the rerunning of the tape. Perhaps we started with the wrong initial conditions, perhaps we ran the tape with different physical laws, or perhaps (this is really a subset) we ran the tape with laws that were not deterministic.

    Speaking tenselessly:

    P1. If we rerun the tape properly –> ~(I save the child.)
    P2. I save the child.
    C1. ~~(I save the child.) (From P2. Double negation rule.)
    C. ~(We rerun the tape properly.) (From P1. and C1. Modus tollens.)

    I’m not sure what Jerry is supposed to be “right” about. If he’s made this point somewhere, then doubtless he’s right on that. But I’ve also just made the point, so I’m also right about it.

    It tells us nothing about whether the person who is confronted, on either the first running of the tape or the second, can save the child. Clearly he or she can. However, she won’t because she doesn’t <>want to. We’ve already stipulated that it’s a situation where the only thing “stopping” her (the word “stopping” belongs in scare quotes here, because actually nothing is stopping her from doing whichever she likes) is that she doesn’t want to do it.

    By ordinary understandings of “can”, this is a situation where she can save the child. Putting it in the past tense, she could have saved the child. Putting it hypothetically, she could save the child.

    At no point in any of our logical manipulations will we be able to deduce (speaking tenselessly still): “I cannot save the child.” Not unless you start introducing some kind of special, question-begging meaning of ordinary words like “can” such that I am deemed to be unable to do something even though I have every opportunity and capacity to do it but just don’t want to.

    Note, by the way that “could have acted otherwise” is not my definition of free will. I don’t actually have one. It’s a rather old-fashioned definition of free will that Jerry likes to use. I’m not all that keen on free will talk at all – I think it causes confusion and is manipulable in all sorts of ways (but I don’t think it necessarily has some dramatic error built into it). I’m just making the point that even if we use Jerry’s definition of free will his “replay the tape” argument is simply logically invalid.

  22. Stephen Lawrence

    Russell”If we reran the tape and I saved the child, we could infer that something went wrong with the rerunning of the tape. Perhaps we started with the wrong initial conditions, perhaps we ran the tape with different physical laws, or perhaps (this is really a subset) we ran the tape with laws that were not deterministic.”

    Russell,

    Right!

    So rule out different initial conditions because you and Jerry are talking about could with the same initial conditions.

    And what are we left with? As you say, different laws of physics.

    So the only possible way to re-run the tape from the same initial conditions and get a different want arising is to run it with different laws of physics.

    That is precisely what it means to say it was physically impossible for the different want to have arisen from the actual initial conditions.

    That is what Jerry is right about.

  23. Stephen Lawrence

    “Note, by the way that “could have acted otherwise” is not my definition of free will.”

    Noted, and your other comments on compatibilism.

    But you also realise that the reason the parents are right to blame the man sitting idly by is because he could have saved the child if he had wanted to.

    CHDO.

  24. Stephen Lawrence

    Russell,

    And if re- running the tape still presents any problem we can do this differently.

    The following is true:

    If the man had wanted to save the child, with everything else being as it was in the actual situation, physical laws would have been different.

    Anything not consistent with actual physical laws is by definition physically impossible.

  25. Dianelos Georgoudis

    Russell said: “people who define free will in [a way that violates physical law] are flying in the face of how most philosophers understand it and how the folk seem to understand it.”

    So who exactly defines free will in a way that does violate physical law? What definition is that?

    I mean it is true that free will (by which I always mean the folk understanding – what philosophers rather redundantly call the libertarian sense of free will) does conflict with determinism. It is also true that for centuries people mistakenly thought that the successful scientific theories of that time (Newtonian mechanics, etc) implied that reality is deterministic. We now know that this implication was logically unwarranted. More significantly we now know that independently of the current state of physical theory the actual physical phenomena we know of are such that physical reality is almost certainly not deterministic. In any case for the last hundred years or so the state of physical law is such that free will explicitly does *not* conflict with it. Why then continue to pepper the discussion of free will with expressions such as that free will “is exempt from”, “defies”, “violates” physical law?

    Let me try to answer my own question. While free will does not conflict with physical law, it does conflict with the naturalistic understanding of reality. Which produces a conceptual dissonance in the mind of many naturalists, for they imagine that their worldview is the proper scientific one, and therefore intuitively assume that if something conflicts with naturalism it must also conflict with physical law. Well, it just isn’t so. After all, it is not like if free will does exist it would produce a measurable difference in the order of physical phenomena which the natural sciences study.

    But if in fact free will does not conflict with science naturalism is left with a really hard problem, for now peoples’ sense of free will works as a defeater for naturalism. And that is I think why naturalists, perhaps unconsciously, must continue to talk as if free will conflicts with physical law.

  26. Stephen if the man had wanted to save the child (this is different) and had also, simultaneously, not wanted to save the child (i.e everything is the same), and these things are true in the same sense, we would have a universe in which contradictions were possible. In that case, a difference in physical laws from our actual universe would be the least of our worries!

    P1. P & ~P
    P2. P v X (where X means anything you want, such as “I am a scrambled egg”; “Or” introduction)
    P3. ~P (From 1. “And” elimination)
    C. I am a scrambled egg. (P2., P3.; “Or” elimination)

    I know this proof is a cliche, but I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of the consequences of asserting a contradiction.

    I don’t know whether you realise that that is the scenario you are describing, but it is. You are imagining that I want to save the child, but at the same time I have a brain state that is identical with my not wanting to save the child. The inconsistency is masked by the fact that you describe on part of it – P, let’s say – at one level, and the other part – ~P, let’s say – at another. :grin:

  27. Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:

    “I know exactly what factor went into my reaching for the apple, namely my freely choosing to do so. I may be wrong of course…”

    The only problem is you can be wrong. Say we went to a stage hypnotist’s show earlier, and after you take the apple I tell you that this was a post-hypnotic suggestion. Will you deny this? Even after watching a video of the show? Similarly, if we took part in the Psychology 101 study of semantic priming, where “apples” was the message, can you admit your choice was not “wholly” “free”.

    Russell mentioned “there is some ambiguity about whether a phobia is best interpreted as just part of my desire-set or as something alien to me” – the usual phrase is “ego dystonic or syntonic”. One of the reasons why homosexuality was removed as a mental disorder.

  28. Stephen Lawrence

    Hi Russell,

    “Stephen if the man had wanted to save the child (this is different) and had also, simultaneously, not wanted to save the child (i.e everything is the same), and these things are true in the same sense, we would have a universe in which contradictions were possible. In that case, a difference in physical laws from our actual universe would be the least of our worries!”

    I should have been clearer.

    By all things the same I mean all things except the want.

    For all else to be precisely the same except the want is a violation of physical laws.

    The man would have saved the child had he wanted to.

    But he couldn’t want to all else being precisely the same except the want, without violating physical laws.

    And because of this you were wrong to say all that needed to be different was the want (paraphrasing)

    That’s physically impossible.

    I very much appreciate the time you are taking to talk to me, so sorry to labour the point.

    But it’s a point that needs to be laboured because it’s the crux of the matter!

    It is physically impossible for a different want to have arisen from the actual initial conditions.

    It is physically possible for another want to have arisen from slightly different initial conditions.

    That’s what Jerry is saying and that is correct.

    What you seem to be describing is contra causal free will.

    Now another example: I would have been on time if the train had not been late.

    So all that needed to have been different is for the train not to have been late (instead of late) and I would have been on time. :shock:

    Is that right? Of course it’s not right, what ever caused the train to be late would have needed to have been different as well!

    This is obvious to us when we talk about trains and so on but when we talk about ourselves we go astray, just as you appear to be.

    Which makes this a really useful example.

  29. It is physically impossible for a different want to have arisen from the actual initial conditions.
    It is physically possible for another want to have arisen from slightly different initial conditions.

    That’s what Jerry is saying and that is correct

        Stephen Lawrence

    How do you know it’s correct? Did you test it?

  30. Well, when you say (Stephen) that “all things” are the same except the want, are you saying that the neurological state that is identical to the want is the same? Or are you imagining that it’s different?

    If the former, you have a contradiction. If the latter, I agree that there is a causal story as to how you came to be in that condition, but that seems to me to be a separate argument. Remember, I have never argued that we have free will all the way down. Indeed, I’ve never even argued that using the term “free will” is useful. I’ve said that I have compatibilist leanings, but I’ve studiously avoided arguing for a full-blown compatibilist position. The most that I’ve argued is that “free will talk” is not systematically in non-referential in the same way as “phlogiston talk”.

  31. I can’t work out whether people who have chosen to believe in free will had no choice, or whether people who deny its existence simply chose to do that.

    Life’s a puzzle. Especially when people insist on projecting their ideas about the world into an assurance that that is in fact what the world actually is.

    I have coined a new term for this: I call it Credolibido. The lust after an absolute assurance, something that represents a One True Origin for (otherwise) relativistic thinking.

    Whether its Free Will, Determinism, or the Christmas Fairy, doesn’t change the basic nature of this psychopathology of intellectual insecurity.
    :twisted:

  32. All great discussion but it really does come down to Stephen’s point that what is being discussed is Contra-Causal FW.

    It is physically impossible for a different want to have arisen from the actual initial conditions.

    I do not see any way around this (and believe me- I have spent years trying). Dianelos brings up quantum mechanics as shedding a light on the probabilistic nature of reality and that perhaps it accounts for a window for free will to actualize. This line of argument is the bane of all FW discussions since one either believes that:

    A) Quantum Physics exhibits random/probabilistic qualities; or
    B) Einstein and others were right in that there are hidden variables either unaccounted for or beyond our (current?) abilities to account for.

    Both A&B fall outside of our means to scientifically examine the reality of the situation. Let’s, for a moment, say that A is the case. Would you really wish to rest your hat on the assumption that a random, uncaused process allowed for you to choose the apple over the cake? It would then follow that you were not in control there either – your choice was brought about by a random fluctuation. You could counter with the fact that it allowed you to exercise your free will but then you are saying that this random fluctuation occurs constantly and allows you a casau sui power over everything . Contra-Causual FW feels like an illusion although I would love to be proven wrong.

  33. Seems to me that this discussion is about the meaning of the word “free-will”. I find it a but unfortunate, because it shifts the discussion away from the core of the issue.
    To my mind, the argument shouldn’t be about whether we live in a world of many possibles. A “free” world. Like my dog running around in the garden, unconstrained by outside forces, able to go right or left, to bark or not to bark (that is the question…). Or about whether or not we have quantum brains.

    Seems to me that the question of “free will” is about whether we have any conscious, non-determined freedom of will over our own selves. Any conscious, non-fully predetermined control over our own thoughts and actions. Genuine non-predetermined conscious, free agency, with top-down conscious mental efficacy.

    Again, recent experiments by neurologists such as Fried (Libet, vindicated) that point to the illusory nature of “conscious will” have the potential to rock our world like no science before.
    I’m no philosopher, but I assume many of you are: it would be nice, as we possibly face a paradigm shift like no other, to clear up the semantics.

  34. For anyone interested, perhaps the premises of a clarification: Harris suggesting an open dialogue with Dennett.
    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/free-will-and-free-will

  35. I postulate that “Free will” is a continuum. Certain decisions are pre-determined through our DNA. However, most decisions we make are highly influenced by our emotions, desire & knowledge. Perhaps, knowledge being a key determinant of free will.

    Our environment and situations shape the choices we make – be it of free will or lack of free will.

    Empirically, it is very difficult to say there is no free will.

  36. Stephen Lawrence

    Russell,

    “Well, when you say (Stephen) that “all things” are the same except the want, are you saying that the neurological state that is identical to the want is the same? Or are you imagining that it’s different?”

    Different.

    ” If the latter, I agree that there is a causal story as to how you came to be in that condition, but that seems to me to be a separate argument. ”

    No, it is not a seperate argument because it’s physically impossible for the neurological state to have been different all else being exactly the same.

    So it’s not true that all that was needed is a different neurological state and the child would have been saved.

    In order for the different neurological state to have arisen earlier conditions would have needed to be different too or physical laws would have been different.

    So, by definition, without different earlier states it was physically impossible for the different neurological state to have arisen.

    And so Jerry is correct.

    “Remember, I have never argued that we have free will all the way down.”

    No, but you’ve argued that a different neurological state could have arisen with all other circumstances as they were.

    It couldn’t, meaning it was physically impossible.

    ” Indeed, I’ve never even argued that using the term “free will” is useful.”

    I know.

    What you have said, paraphrasing, is that the parents were right to blame the man because he could have done otherwise had he wanted to and only a different want would be required for that to be true.

    That’s just not right, it was physically impossible for him to have a different neurological state all else being exactly as it was.

  37. Stephen Lawrence

    R.D.Coste

    “All great discussion but it really does come down to Stephen’s point that what is being discussed is Contra-Causal FW.

    It is physically impossible for a different want to have arisen from the actual initial conditions.”

    Yep, although I hope you don’t view this philosophy negatively. I fully embrace this because of the benefits.

    http://www.einsteinandreligion.com/spinoza2.html

    Above is a link to a couple of Einstein quotes who also didn’t believe in contra causal free will and who realised the benefits.

    ” I do not have the professional knowledge to write a scholarly article about Spinoza. But what I think about this man I can express in a few words. Spinoza was the first to apply with strict consistency the idea of an all-pervasive determinism to human thought, feeling, and action. In my opinion, his point of view has not gained general acceptance by all those striving for clarity and logical rigor only because it requires not only consistency of thought, but also unusual integrity, magnamity, and — modesty.”

    and

    ” I agree with your remark about loving your enemy as far as actions are concerned. But for me the cognitive basis is the trust in an unrestricted causality. ‘I cannot hate him, because he must do what he does.’ That means for me more Spinoza than the prophets.”

  38. Stephen, you repeatedly assert that:

    It is physically impossible for a different want to have arisen from the actual initial conditions.

    Have you scientifically tested this? And if not, you have yet to answer why this is necessarily true. Quoting Albert Einstein is not sufficient. If your reason to believe the above statement to be true is that Einstein believed it, we certainly have a logical fallacy on our hands.

  39. Stephen Lawrence

    Andreas,

    “Have you scientifically tested this? And if not, you have yet to answer why this is necessarily true.”

    It’s true assuming determinism.

    I haven’t and don’t claim determinism is true.

  40. Stephen Lawrence

    “How do you know it’s correct? Did you test it?”

    It’s correct assuming determinism Andreas.

    Jerry and Russell are both assuming determinism wrt could have done otherwise.

    Jerry thinks we could not have had a different want all else being precisely the same, meaning it’s physically impossible assuming determinism.

    Russell seems to think we could, seemingly meaning it’s physically possible assuming determinism.

    Jerry is correct, assuming determinism as they both are.

  41. It sounded, Stephen, as if you also assumed determinism is true (e.g. “I fully embrace this because of the benefits.”). But perhaps I misunderstood the reference this in the example I gave. So at least we have that clear. Now if – like Jerry– you assume it to be true (and I interpreted “I fully embrace this because of the benefits” correctly), I’d be curious why you see it as beneficial to make such an assumption. And why one should assume anything so speculative if it is untestable. Why not then assume the existence of an omnibenevolent supreme being?

    Now, as for Russell’s point, I don’t want to speak on his behalf. But it seems to me that you are missing the point. I certainly see the could/would distinction as useful. Do you deny that even in a deterministic world, there are proximal causes that are internal and those that are external? Or at least that there are causes that are in some sense “stored” for a longer time inside us? Put it this way: do you agree that it makes sense to distinguish between causes where all causal chains pass through our fetal DNA versus sudden stray x-rays that occur a trillionth of an instant before any event of which they are a contributory cause?

    I could even rephrase as follow: do you believe it is meaningful to speak of any such entity as YOU? If it is meaningful, then surely some aspects of you are the proximal cause of what you do. When you learn to swim, you “store” the capacity to act in a given way in the future. Surely, there are certain things that MUST be learnt to be able to save the child. If you do not learn to swim you could not save the child however much you wanted. But if you did learn, you could if you wanted to. Want is an internal condition that exists even in a completely deterministic universe. Even if you would never – on being confronted with the drowning child – you had acquired the capacity to do so had you wanted to.

    If I understand correctly, you claim it’s pointless to make such a distinction. In essence you never would because you never could, and you never could because you never would. But by saying so the concept of YOU begins to disintegrate. Want has become a meaningless concept in your version of determinism (where you paradoxically cease to be meaningful), which is why the could/would distinction makes no sense.

  42. Stephen Lawrence

    Andreas,

    “And why one should assume anything so speculative if it is untestable.”

    If determinism is true, we could have done otherwise, but in order to have done so, it would have been necessary for our distant pasts to have been different.

    As our distant pasts are out of our control we are lucky or unlucky to have the distant past we have.

    The reason to assume determinism is because this luck cannot be overcome by indeterminism.

    Therefore any freedom and responsibility we have must be compatible with determinism.

    Because freedom and responsibility must be compatible with determinism, for all intents and purposes (not including the intents and purposes of quantum physicists)it makes sense to assume determinism.

  43. But, Stephen, luck is ultimately a meaningless concept in a deterministic world. Luck is what you have in Las Vegas. Luck is heads OR tails. There is no OR in a deterministic world (at least not in the sense of alternate possibilities). You get what you get. I understand you are using luck in the prescriptive sense of something out of our control. But what is the point of speaking about such luck in the deterministic world you describe? Everything is out of our control! Again, we get what we get.

    And what is wrong with the following formulation:

    —————
    The reason to assume indeterminism is because this luck cannot be overcome by determinism.

    Therefore any freedom and responsibility we have must be compatible with indeterminism.
    —————

    If there is nothing wrong with that formulation, then why not simply remain strongly agnostic and proceed accordingly? Essentially, freedom and responsibility should not presuppose anything about (in)determination.

  44. Stephen Lawrence

    Andreas,

    “If there is nothing wrong with that formulation, then why not simply remain strongly agnostic and proceed accordingly? Essentially, freedom and responsibility should not presuppose anything about (in)determination.”

    Because it should presuppose that freedom and responsibility are compatible with determinism.

    It adds unnecessary confusion and complication to use a different model.

  45. Stephen Lawrence

    Andreas,

    “If there is nothing wrong with that formulation, then why not simply remain strongly agnostic and proceed accordingly?”

    I must say the idea of being strongly agnostic about determinism seems odd to me.

    My shoes are sitting on the floor. I believe they will not indeterministically just start moving about the floor.:-)

    I believe they will stay just where they are unless something causes them to move.

    Say I kick them. Then I don’t believe they will indeterministically sit still despite my kicking them. I believe they will move.

    Even if things could do stuff indeterministically we never, when dealing with ordinary every day stuff, think they ever would.

    That must be because we think the chance of it happening is vanishingly small, or because there is none at all.

    I suspect there is non at all but whether there is or there isn’t, it’s irrelevant for all of our day to day intents and purposes.

    I really can’t see much point in being agnostic about it and I would have thought the fact we never see ordinary every day stuff behaving indeterministically is evidence that it can’t and reason to get off the fence about it.

  46. Stephen Lawrence

    Andreas,

    “But, Stephen, luck is ultimately a meaningless concept in a deterministic world”

    I’ll explain what luck means in this context.

    The man would have saved the child had he wanted to.

    The man could have wanted to because if prior conditions had been slightly and appropriately different he would have wanted to.

    In order to have saved the child it would have been necessary for prior conditions to have been slightly and appropriately different.

    Now, to make the implications of this absolutely clear let’s make the prior conditions the state of the world in 1653.

    So in order to have saved the child and been praised rather than blamed, the man needed the world to have been in an appropriate and slightly different state than it was in, in 1653.

    The state the world was in, in 1653 was out of his control.

    So what luck means is: In order to have saved the child he needed something out of his control to have been slightly and appropriately different.

    Unfortunately for him (and the child and the parents) it wasn’t.

    Contra Causal free will is what is supposed to overcome the luck of determinism.

    Denial of the luck of determinism amounts to the same thing in relation to freedom and responsibility.

  47. Stephen Lawrence

    Andreas, one more reason to assume determinism. When we think about the ability to do otherwise we are not really thinking about in the actual situation. This is clear when we say something like that golf ball could have killed me.

  48. Excluding bacteria, the estimated weight of carbon bound in objects whose behavior must be modeled stochastically is 560 billion tonnes. And the bacteria we haven’t included are all over the place, even in the air you’re breathing right now. Their estimated number is 5 nonillion. That’s 5 times 10 to the power of 30. The amount of uranium mined in 2009 alone was 50,572 tonnes. Now if you were to watch 50,000 tonnes of uranium-238 for 4.47 billion years, you might be puzzled why gradually roughly 25,000 tonnes of the stuff had turned into something else. If you find it too boring to sit and stare at something for 4.47 billion years, I suggest using something like cobalt-60 which has a half-life of only 5.27 years. Or radon with its even more manageable 3.8 days.

    Do you care for a cat or dog? Do you expect it to sit there still like your shoe until you kick it?

    I think the belief in determinism remains so persistent because we live in a highly urbanized and mechanized society. In nature (i.e. an environment minimally influenced by humans) you will not find shoes. Or any machines except for a few rare twigs used to excavate termites and the like (tools made from stochastically behaving materials). The only “inanimate” things you will find are rocks, sand and water. And even water flows, evaporates and cycles. On top of the rocks and sand is a living layer of soil in which plants grow en masse. Amidst the brush and above the tree tops, bird song. Crows calling out to friends. Wolves growling a warning at an unpredictable thief. A badger fighting a snake.

    The Universe is not just in motion. It’s alive and unpredictable. I can’t say for sure what the ratio is of systems that have to be modeled stochastically to those that can be modeled in a strictly deterministic way. But I’m going to conjecture that the strictly deterministic models are a very small minority. The motion of celestial objects is perhaps an exception. But even their movements are associated with a small error factor (although here I can see why all the uncertainties could be legitimately assumed to mean a mere lack of information).

    I suspect you misunderstand indeterminism. I would suggest looking at Bayesian networks to start. Indeterminism does not mean everything is unpredictable (i.e. every probability value is 0.5 on a scale of 0 to 1). It simply means that there are free variables that can take any value in a restricted range. You may do A in 98% of states similar to Y, and B in only 2% of cases. And those probabilities might change over time as you evaluate the outcome of your actions.

    There is no reason or need to assume determinism. It’s a relic of rational idealists like Spinoza, Leibniz et al. And by the way, even Leibniz believed in monads, which he described using the word soul (i.e something animated causa sui). Did he correctly conjecture what we would find once we split the atom? Perhaps.

  49. Stephen Lawrence

    Andreas,

    “There is no reason or need to assume determinism.”

    In other words you, like almost everybody else, believe in contra causal free will.

    If not accepting determinism, at least as a useful model regarding freedom and moral responsibility would be no problem.

  50. Contra-causality is the red herring of determinists. If I smash an empty train into a cargo train to stop people in a train station from being killed, is that contra-causal? You must realize that even in a deterministic world at some point all the gazillion causal chains branching off the “original cause” smash into each other. There is not one force acting on anything. There are an uncountable number of forces, each tugging in its own direction, one inhibiting another and one reinforcing the same.

  51. Stephen,
    I think its important to realize what we might call contra-causal is very common in the world of modeling reality.

      Physics: Forces at an obtuse angle
      Biology: Inhibitory stimuli
      Logic: XOR gate

    I understand that what you are speaking of is some “mysterious force” derided by rational idealists. My point is that contra-causality is a term invented by rational idealists based on the following axiom:

      For every proposition p, if p is true, then there is a sufficient explanation for why p is true.

    This is taken by rational idealists to be a necessary truth. And contra-causality is anything that defies this necessary truth. If you think the above statement is true, then contra-causality is a valid objection. But if you don’t, then it’s a meaningless objection. Therefore to even use the argument of contra-causality, you must first prove to me that the above statement is true.

    You are obviously free to believe in whatever you want. Celestial teapots, what have you. But what baffles me is why you would. If you could explain to me even 80% of what happens in the Universe, I might be so inclined to believe this axiom might be true. As it is, I’m as sure as one can be that you can’t. I’m pretty sure that what you (or anyone else) can explain with any certitude is very minute. So why should I believe in the axiom? It’s no different at all than believing in God.

  52. Jerry thinks we could not have had a different want all else being precisely the same, meaning it’s physically impossible assuming determinism.

    Russell seems to think we could, seemingly meaning it’s physically possible assuming determinism.

    Jerry is correct, assuming determinism as they both are.

    I really don’t know why you keep saying this, Stephen. The fact is that it’s physically possible for me to save the child. This just means that if I want to save the child then no law of physics prevents me from doing so. That is precisely the situation. The situation is that it is physically possible for me to save the child.

    Physics may predict that I won’t save the child, but if it allegedly says I can’t do so it is because someone looking at the situation from outside is illicitly factoring in my lack of desire to save the child, and whatever physical substrate that is based on. But this in no way hinders me, myself, from doing whatever I want to do. All it means is that I will, in fact, do what I want to do and not something I don’t want to do. The folk are likely to assess that as a situation where someone acts of his own free will.

    So again, yes, if the person is in a physical state where he doesn’t want to save the child, he won’t. And yes, there is a causal story as to how he got into that state in the first place. Even if determinism is false, that seems likely to be so (i.e. even if there is some indeterministic input somewhere as to how I got into that state).

    You seem to be saying that you won’t count someone’s desires or dispositions or other aspects of their psychologies as what an outcome turned on unless those desires, etc., themselves have no causal history.

    What I am saying back to you is that I have no reason to think that that is what the folk mean by “free will”. Yes, if the folk mean that, then free will does not exist.

    Now if some of the folk mean that and some don’t … then perhaps we had better use other terminology that is clearer (as I’ve suggested all along in this series of posts), as there will be a phenomenon of people talking past each other. Once again, I concede – it’s been a theme throughout – that that might be the situation we find ourselves in.

    But the fact remains that if, in the moment of choice, the only thing “stopping” me from acting in a certain way is that I don’t want to act in that way, this is an example of a situation in which, using ordinary English, I can act in that way. If I don’t want to, I won’t. But “won’t” is not the same as “can’t”, and it is appropriate to put the word “stopping” in scare quotes.

    If I do want to save the child, I don’t need to go back and change my entire past causal history. All I need to do is go and save the child. If that’s what I want to do in such a situation, then that is exactly what I’ll do. If I don’t want to save the child, I won’t save the child. (Speaking tenselessly) I do whichever it is that I want to do. E.g., there’s no force, such as Fate or Destiny or the gods or the stars preventing me.

    At times, I think the problem is that you (and Jerry) see my desires as something outside of me, hindering me – as if the “real me” is some kind of impotent spiritual thing that is being obstructed by my desires (and their underlying physical substrate). This a kind of dualism in which, however, the real self is impotent to affect reality, and the actual person’s desires and their physical substrate are external things to it, like the gods or the stars. I agree that it would make no sense to talk about free will if the world were like that.

    But it’s not like that at all. My desires (and their physical substrate) are not something alien to me like the gods or the stars or Fate. They are part of what constitutes me. The model of an impotent “real me” is false, along with fatalism and (as far as I can see) epiphenomenalism. Any of those doctrines would rule out free will, but none of them appear to be true.

  53. Dennis Sceviour

    In the commentary, there seems to be a certain amount of talking at cross-purposes. I find there are two different meanings for Free Will.

    Here is a scientific experiment to show the existence of Free Will. Hold your breath as long as you can. When you cannot hold your breath anymore, that is called Determinism. Like breathing, Determinism dominates most of the time. However, we can override it temporarily with Free Will for short periods. That is about as simple, and both empirical and theoretical as I can make it.

    If the experiment does not satisfy (as the Socratic mind must insist) then there is another type of Free Will. Mike LaBossiere reminded me in another article of the duality of real and artificial things (from Hume). Free Will could be a necessary artificial contrivance. That would lead to a different kind of question, like trying to prove the existence of Santa Claus.

  54. Agreed (as said before) with the issue of semantics.
    We should distinguish “freedom” from outside constraints from “freedom” from inner constraints (or inner determinisms).
    If we are free-ranging (deluded) automatons, can it be said that we have “free-will”? I don’t think so. Being free to exert one’s will is not the same thing as having free-will.
    Likewise, we should distinguish between the feeling of freedom of will, and the actual freedom of will (if there is such a thing). Not at all the same thing.
    This is why I believe Wegner’s focus on the issue of “conscious will” is very helpful. Likewise, Libet’s and more recent experiments.
    Now, what would you say about “free will” if it was shown that decisions precede conscious awareness? That we have (as Wegner asserts) nothing but the illusion of conscious will?

  55. Stephen Lawrence

    Hi Russell,

    “I really don’t know why you keep saying this, Stephen.”

    It’s worth noting I’m taking the standard compatibilist line. I gave a link to a piece by Dennett and Taylor that would be worth your while checking out. Here it is again: http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/kitdraft.htm

    You appear to be taking a view that not even Norman Swartz would take.

    His view is that we choose some physical laws. :shock: (p’raps he’s right) So although physical laws would be different if a different want had arisen that’s not such a problem.

    “The fact is that it’s physically possible for me to save the child. This just means that if I want to save the child then no law of physics prevents me from doing so.”

    Yes that’s right but the problem is physical laws did prevent you from wanting to!

    That’s the bit you are leaving out and even seem to deny.

    It was physically impossible for you to want to all else being exactly the same. (minus the want)

    In the paper possible world talk is used, so in that language there is no physically possible world in which all else was the same (minus the want) and the man had a different want.

    So what physically possible means is this:

    There was nothing to have prevented you from saving the child had you wanted to. (as you say)

    but also:

    It was physically impossible for you to have wanted to in the actual situation. (minus the want)

    You could have wanted to because there is (in some sense) a slightly different physically possible world in which you would have wanted to. (this means more differences than just the want)

    The problem is Russell if you deny that you were physically prevented from wanting to and you do seem to, that looks very much like affirming Contra Causal Free will.

    Here is a really nice definition from Thomas Hobbes to show you why:

    http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/dfwVariousHobbes.htm

    “Lastly, that ordinary definition of a free agent, namely, that a free agent is that, which, when all things are present which are needful to produce the effect, can nevertheless not produce it, implies a contradiction, and is nonsense; being as much as to say, the cause may be sufficient, that is to say, necessary, and yet the effect shall not follow. ”

    When dealing with freedom and moral responsibility it is absolutely crucial to be clear about the sense in which the want was prevented (physically impossible).

  56. Stephen Lawrence

    Andreas,

    “For every proposition p, if p is true, then there is a sufficient explanation for why p is true.

    This is taken by rational idealists to be a necessary truth. And contra-causality is anything that defies this necessary truth. If you think the above statement is true, then contra-causality is a valid objection. But if you don’t, then it’s a meaningless objection. Therefore to even use the argument of contra-causality, you must first prove to me that the above statement is true.”

    It doesn’t matter whether the above is true or not as I’ve already said and as Galen Strawson says.

    Certainly when dealing with day to day life it is correct to take the view that nothing happens without sufficient cause and if there is sufficient cause the effect is always produced.

    That is if you want to be successful in accomplishing any task.

    I can’t help but think that as you dig your heels in so much over this, that you do indeed believe that free will is incompatible with determinism and that we have free will.

  57. Dianelos Georgoudis

    David Duffy writes:

    The only problem is you can be wrong.

    If that’s my only problem then, for all practical purposes, I have no problems. After all I could be wrong about almost everything I know, including, say, that the world exists for longer than 5 seconds.

    Say we went to a stage hypnotist’s show earlier, and after you take the apple I tell you that this was a post-hypnotic suggestion. Will you deny this?

    The free will realist claims that free will exists in the appropriate (and extremely common) states of affairs, namely in the everyday life of a normal human. Special cases such as hypnotic suggestions, psychedelic stoning, chips implanted in one’s brain, and so on – whatever it is they may prove – are irrelevant to the question at hand. And look to me like red herrings.

  58. Dianelos Georgoudis

    R.D.Coste wrote:

    This line of argument is the bane of all FW discussions since one either believes that:
    A) Quantum Physics exhibits random/probabilistic qualities; or
    B) Einstein and others were right in that there are hidden variables either unaccounted for or beyond our (current?) abilities to account for.

    If we agree that the natural sciences are our best, and perhaps even only guide to knowledge about the physical world then I would like to suggest that this question is settled by now. The probability of there being hidden variables is for all practical purposes zero (see the von Neumann proof as well as the Bell theorem). Einstein felt so certain that QM must be an incomplete theory that he proposed a thought experiment to show that QM produces unacceptable results (or, as he put it, “spooky action at a distance”). A few decades later experimental physicists found a way to actually realize the experiment proposed and the result disproved Einstein. There is by far no other scientific theory as broadly and as precisely confirmed as quantum mechanics and its intrinsic probabilistic description of phenomena.

    What’s more, to keep making the assumption that the physical universe is deterministic is to fly against not only the development of physics in the last 100 years, but also against the thrust of that development. For example even though the best theory of gravity we have is still deterministic, to my knowledge not one physicist expects that a unified theory will be the result of absorbing the probabilistic framework of quantum mechanics into the deterministic framework of general relativity, rather than the other way around. For physics the question about whether physical reality is probabilistic or deterministic is as settled as any question practically can. It’s only naturalistic philosophers (as well as some philosophically inclined naturalistic scientists) who keep trying to prop up determinism’s corpse.

    (I would like to be careful and nitpick here: It is for all practical purposes a fact that the physical phenomena we observe (the subject matter of physics) are intrinsically probabilistic. From this it does not strictly speaking follow that the physical reality which produces said phenomena cannot possibly be deterministic. It turns out that it can. But this is of theoretical interest only, and in any case has no relevance to our discussion of free will.)

    Now people may still point out that even in a fundamentally probabilistic universe many events (e.g. what happens when we let an apple free in the air, or, say, the working of a cuckoo clock) can be determined. Perhaps then the human brain too is determined in that sense; perhaps, as far as our study of behavior is concerned, the appropriate way to model the human brain is as a deterministic machine. I think this hypothesis is almost certainly wrong for two reasons:

    First, it flies against basic knowledge we have. So, given the choice between an apple and a cake I know that there is only a small probability that I will choose the apple (or, in other words, that even though it’s rather improbable it can be the case that the physical state of my brain will move towards the grab-the-apple state). Everybody who knows me also knows that. Incidentally, that’s objective knowledge – you can win money betting that my brain will more probably move to the grab-the-cake state.

    Secondly, we have lot of experience building deterministic information processing machines, namely computers. Thus we know that a huge amount of purposeful work goes into making certain that the computer will (for all practical purposes) behave deterministically. Complex deterministic behavior is very expensive to realize in our universe. Moreover we know that there is no adaptive value whatsoever in possessing a deterministic brain. Actually the opposite is probably true, because for a wide class of powerful algorithms not being deterministic is an advantage (e.g. the Darwinian algorithm). To illustrate this: A human brain that would determine that one always run when one sees a tiger approaching would keep one from investigating alternative reactions, such as hiding. Thus a deterministic brain would hinder learning, i.e. it would hinder the adaptive optimization of behavior. Given then that there is no adaptive advantage in a deterministic brain, and given that at least arguably there is an adaptive disadvantage in a deterministic brain, and given how expensive it is to build a deterministic brain, we can be certain that natural evolution did not produce a deterministic brain.

    In my judgment the reasons against determinism are so overwhelming, that when people who discuss free will keep dragging in talk of determinism it looks like an unseemly clutching at straws. Surely the reasonable thing is to face the evidence. Let me put this in the most charitable way I can: Even if the probability of determinism being relevant would be as high as 10%, when thinking about free will we should dedicate at least 90% of our time thinking in terms of the brain behaving probabilistically.

  59. Dianelos Georgoudis

    [continues from above]

    Would you really wish to rest your hat on the assumption that a random, uncaused process allowed for you to choose the apple over the cake?

    I think that the idea that free will entails a “random uncaused process” represents a false understanding of free will, or, if you will, represents the natural understanding of free when interpreted through naturalistic-colored glasses. Before explaining why, let me first turn to the question of whether, on the extremely plausible assumption that the brain behaves probabilistically, our free will violates, or conflicts with, or in any way fails to fit well with physical law.

    I notice that Russell chose not to answer the question about how exactly free will violates physical law. Perhaps somebody else would like to offer an answer. Here I’d like to suggest what I feel is the thought that troubles many scientifically knowledgeable people. It goes something like this:

    Our choices are instantiated in physical processes in our brain (which in turn cause the physical behavior of our bodies). Even on the assumption that the brain behaves like a probabilistic machine, if free will exists then its effects should be measurable as some kind of an anomaly. A probabilistic machine which evolves blindly is measurably different from a probabilistic machine the behavior of which evolves in a way that is influenced by free will.

    I think the easiest way to illustrate the mistake in the above thought is through the example of the apple versus the cake dilemma. What is physically established by the state of my brain is that the probability of me choosing the apple is 20% versus 80% for the cake. Free will does not entail that when I am facing that dilemma I have the power to change the respective probability. Indeed I agree that this is the correct probability, and that this probability is an intrinsic part of the dilemma I am facing. Should you place a bet on what my choice will be, you can’t do better than by assuming that 20/80 probability distribution. So where does free will come in? I would say that free will is the power to choose within that probability distribution. In other words I make the choice between the apple and the cake *not* by randomly throwing a mental five-sided die with an apple painted on one of its sides and a cake painted on the other four and then following the result, but by actually choosing myself. My freedom to choose is not absolute but limited by the 20/80 distribution, but the choosing itself is not random but caused by me – who in this act become an uncaused cause (hence the common observation that free will makes us into “little gods”). One may object that “from the outside” whether I choose by randomly throwing a five-sided die or whether I choose by using my free will under the 20/80 limitation makes no difference whatsoever. Which is true, and exactly my point. There isn’t and there can’t be a difference from the outside (say from the point of a neuroscientist observing the physical processes in my brain), but there is a world of a difference in fact. While the probabilistic machinery of my brain looks from the outside like evolving blindly, it doesn’t in fact. Similarly, from the outside the brain looks like not possessing consciousness, while as we know from the inside it does. So it’s not like external observations tell the whole story.

    Thus, I argue, free will properly understood cannot possibly violate physical law, because physical law determines probabilities and free choices do not violate these probabilities.

  60. Dianelos Georgoudis

    [continued from above]

    In the previous two posts I argued first that the behavior of the brain is almost certainly probabilistic, and secondly that free will does not conflict with physical law. Here I’d like to discuss various objections which I imagine a naturalist may raise.

    1. What is it that causes a particular free choice to obtain? It must either be a deterministic cause, a random cause, or a combination of the two. Buy none of these types of causes comports with the idea of free will. And should one add the alternative cause of a “personal agent” (whatever that exactly is), then the question is only moved one step back: What causes the agent to make that particular choice?

    As we saw the agent is an uncaused cause, which does not raise any conceptual problems. As it were the causal buck stops at the personal agent. Moreover, one can’t claim a failure of imagination for understanding the concept of a personal agent, as we experience life as being personal agents.

    2. Even if it is the case that free will is a coherent concept and that free will cannot possibly conflict with physical law, the fact that it seems to us like we have free will does not imply that free will exists.

    This is correct, but also irrelevant in the following sense: There are many things that we all believe exist only because they seem to exist. Examples of such things are other minds, numbers, how colors looks like, rationality, beliefs, the past, and so on. Therefore reason requires that one embrace the epistemic principle that if something seems to exist then one should believe that it exists unless one has some reason to doubt its existence (i.e. a defeater for that belief). The naturalist has the epistemic right to suggest any defeater she likes, but, on pain of begging the question, not one grounded in the assumptions of naturalism that the free will realist does not hold.

    3. If free will does not have any measurable effect whatsoever to our brain machinery’s behavior (and therefore ultimately to the choices we make in our life) then the whole free will discussion is irrelevant. Even if free will exists, what difference does it make one way or the other?

    The difference is precisely that by having free will we instantiate one choice within the given probability distribution *not* randomly, but by freely choosing. Which leaves intact two basic premises we use to make sense of the world: First that our brain is not massively fooling us, and secondly that we are partially responsible for our actions. And that’s a world of a difference.

    Incidentally, to ask what difference free will makes is analogous to asking the question of what difference consciousness makes. And, very obviously, to suggest that it makes no difference whether we have consciousness or not would be plainly absurd.

    4. Even so, what difference does free will make to the observable evolution of the universe? Wouldn’t a free will (FW) universe evolve exactly the same as a random will (RW) universe?

    First of all it’s *not* the case that a FW universe would evolve exactly the same as a RW universe. Given the probabilistic nature of the physical universe it is not even true that a RW universe would evolve exactly the same as another RW universe. Free will does have an effect, indeed a huge effect, on the evolution of the universe, just not the kind of effect which would allow one to distinguish a FW universe from a RW universe using physical measurements.

    5. All the same, what kind of value does free will possess? If one cannot distinguish between a universe where free will exists and one where it doesn’t then what kind of a “gift” is free will?

    The value of free will should be obvious: It makes of us morally significant persons instead of marionettes. It makes our talk about ethics and responsibility be intelligible rather than nonsensical.

    Actually, on further thought, we see that free will also gives us the power to affect the probabilities that will obtain when facing future choices (or in other words the power to change our brain – e.g. I can teach myself to like fruit more). Thus free will gives us significant power to *guide* our lives in the long term. Surely a universe in which conscious beings have the power to guide their lives through the “garden of forking paths” is significantly better than a universe in which conscious beings are randomly driven through the same garden. Similarly, a universe of conscious beings is significantly better than a universe of philosophical zombies – even if there is no quantifiable difference as far as physical measurements is concerned.

    6. Repeated scientific experiments [e.g. Benjamin Libet’s] demonstrate that one can predict peoples’ supposedly free choices long before they themselves think they are making the choice, which proves that free will does not exist.

    These experiments are about random choices that subjects are asked to make. Thus the subjects must mentally flip a coin, or somehow use their brain to simulate random behavior in a way they can become aware of. That’s not a task our brain is well suited for. Indeed it is well known that people are very bad at simulating randomness using their brain, and it is not at all surprising that one can externally find out which way the simulation’s result will turn out before the subject becomes aware of it. The subject’s free choice obtains with or after becoming aware of the simulation’s result. Libet and others confused the process of setting up and running the simulator of randomness with the actual choosing.

    Still, one may wonder: Can’t there be some other experiment which would demonstrate the non-existence of free will? Given that free will can be understood as not possibly conflicting with physical law, it would appear that such a scientific experiment is impossible. The only way I can imagine I could be convinced that I do not have free will is if I found myself incapable of making an obviously easy and viable choice. But on further thought the hypothetical state of affairs just described is incoherent. For to find myself incapable of choosing X entails that X is not a choice in the first place. Freedom of will makes sense only within the probability distribution which is given by the physical state of the brain. Suppose one manages to set up an experiment which affects that probability distribution so that only one choice is possible; in that case one will not have demonstrated the non existence of free will, but only that there are cases where free will cannot exist. Which is already well known from the many common cases of involuntary action.

    7. One can set up an experiment where the probability of a photon passing through the left slit is 20% and the probability of it passing through the right slit is 80%. That probability is instantiated in reality (i.e. by measuring through which slit the photon passes) through an entirely random and mechanistic process. Nobody believes that the photon “freely chooses” to pass through one or the other slit. Why should one believe that in the case of the human brain instantiating the 20/80 probability of choosing between the apple or the cake things are different?

    An argument from analogy going from the behavior of a single photon to the behavior of a human brain is very weak to start with. Free will is after all a fundamental part of human consciousness, and there exists a clear correlation between our conscious experience and observable phenomena in our brain, whereas there does not exist any such correlation with a single photon. (Actually there are some suggestive metaphysical implications of QM according to which human conscious choice does affect the status of a single photon in an experiment – but I won’t go there.)

    Having said that, it is not a given that the behavior of a single photon (or the so-called “collapse” of its wavefunction) is blindly determined, and not perhaps determined by some conscious will. Indeed a theist may argue that God’s special providence, i.e. God’s interaction with and guidance of the evolution of the state of the universe, is of the same nature as our interaction with and guidance of the evolution of the state of our brain. The truth of the matter is that free will, exactly as it seems in our experience of life, makes perfect and fundamental sense to theism. Which brings me to the subject matter of my final post.

  61. Dianelos Georgoudis

    [continued from above]

    Given that free will is a coherent concept, does not conflict with physical law, and is not found to be problematic under various objections, why are naturalists so troubled with its existence?

    It is probably the case that most naturalists are also materialists, at least in relation to human beings. And the fact that free will entails the existence of a non-physical personal agent makes its existence unacceptable for materialists.

    On the other hand naturalism does not entail materialism. Indeed several naturalistic philosophers have already rejected materialism (e.g. David Chalmers who embraces property dualism). And it’s not like naturalists are shy when it comes to suggesting extravagant metaphysical hypotheses (see for example the many worlds interpretation of QM). Why then should a naturalist who does not care about materialism be troubled with the existence of free will? I suspect there are basically two reasons:

    One, free will appears to entail that the choosing is not caused by some mechanism, whereas naturalism entails that ultimately the nature of reality is mechanistic. Why can’t the naturalist bite the bullet and hypothesize that the agent functions on mechanical principles? I suppose because to hypothesize not only the existence of an immaterial agent but also that this agent instantiates an immaterial mechanism which does not supervene on the physical and is not in any way experienced – is simply found to be too high an order.

    The second reason I think is that saying that we don’t choose randomly entails that we choose purposefully. Indeed through free will one can explain how physical facts can be purposeful, or, if you will, how intentionality can enter the physical realm. But purpose is anathema for naturalism, for it appears that purpose cannot exist within a fundamentally mechanical reality, which is naturalism’s basic commitment.

    My conclusion then is that our experience of free will represents an especially difficult problem for naturalism, one that cannot be dealt with by simply rejecting materialism.

  62. Stephen Lawrence

    Dianelos,

    “Thus, I argue, free will properly understood cannot possibly violate physical law, because physical law determines probabilities and free choices do not violate these probabilities.”

    It’s a question of what these possibilities that we assign probabilities to are.

    Are they all things that could arise from the actual initial conditions?

    Or are they probabilities by virtue of widening the meaning of the same initial conditions to include slight differences?

    I think we know the answer already. How? Well take a coin toss, it could land on heads or tails with a probability of 1 in 2.

    Say I toss the coin and it lands on heads. What does it mean to say it could have landed on a tails?

    Well, to demonstrate that it could we would keep tossing the coin until a tail comes up.

    And it’s this that gives the game away, we aren’t really interested in precisely the same initial conditions at all.

    Each coin toss is different and the “probability distribution” is spread over these different coin tosses.

    So we are interested in possibilities in a broader sense than in the circumstances. We do evaluate these possibilities and we do act to bring about the one we prefer.

    So the experience isn’t illusory but we do get confused about what we mean by could have selected any of the other options.

    Dennett makes the same point with his example of Austin’s Putt.

  63. Dianelos Georgoudis

    Stephen,

    And it’s this that gives the game away, we aren’t really interested in precisely the same initial conditions at all. Each coin toss is different and the “probability distribution” is spread over these different coin tosses.

    I am not sure how you mean that we aren’t really “interested in precisely the same initial conditions”. On the contrary that’s the critical issue of the question: Given exactly the same initial conditions is physical reality such that the state of a system may evolve differently or not? For centuries people erroneously thought that the success of classical physics implies (or makes more probable) the latter. Today we have direct and overwhelming evidence that the former is true.

    Now strictly speaking it is impossible to have *exactly* the same initial conditions. It’s impossible to “rewind the tape” backwards in time, retry an experiment, observe different results, and thus absolutely prove that determinism is false. But there are simple experiments, carefully set up as to not change any initial physical parameters, experiments which one can repeat thousands of times per second, and which produce radically different results with each try (I am thinking of the famous double slit experiment using single particles). So it is for all practical purposes “proven” that the state of a physical system can evolve differently even if the initial conditions are “identical”. And if that holds for as simple a system as the firing of single photon or electron, it holds with much more reason for a hugely complex system as the human brain.

    In conclusion: For many decades the falsity of determinism has been experimentally demonstrated in the laboratory as conclusively as science practically can. I find it amazing that so many people who supposedly take scientific results seriously keep believing in a deterministic physical universe.

  64. I can’t help but think […] that you do indeed believe that free will is incompatible with determinism […]

        Stephen Lawrence

    Whether free will is compatible with determinism depends what the notion free will intends, which seems to be a point of confusion (as several people, Russell foremost, have already pointed out). I never claimed to be a compatibilist. All I claimed is that Russell’s Could/Would Argument makes sense and is intriguing.

    It doesn’t matter whether the [Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR)] is true or not as I’ve already said and as Galen Strawson says.

        Stephen Lawrence

    I, one my part, have already provided one core reason why I think his argument is flawed:

        Ultimate responsibility is improperly (absurdly) defined.

    If I’m correct, Strawson’s whole argument falls apart. You keep insisting that Strawson is correct instead of demonstrating why ultimate responsibility should be so defined. That is to say, why should ultimacy point to the beginning of time and not the end of time (i.e. the here and now, the you, the final and most proximal point preceding an event)?

    There are two parts to an argument:

    -Is it internally correct based on the axioms?
    -Are the axioms sound?

    If the axioms are unsound, it doesn’t really matter how internally consistent and clever the argument is. It seems to me that you are not realizing how central PSR is even to Strawson’s argument (since ultimate responsibility is defined based on reasoning rooted in PSR). If PSR falls, there’s a whole domino effect rendering several arguments invalid that have been made since the 17’th century (or even far earlier than that, all the way back to Antiquity), including both Strawson’s Basic Argument and hard determinism. Again, to make this very clear, Strawson looks at the how the universe evolves upside down. He looks at it from now and backwards into infinite absurdity. We have to look at it from where the fuzzy past gains some clarity to the present moment. The infinite causal chain, the ultimate (stretching back to the hypothesized singularity) is in some sense stored in the present moment, the only point that we can with anything approaching clarity apprehend in its totality (and even this moment we experience from a very limited perspective).

    There is another contentious issue that keeps surfacing: what does you mean? And here is yet another potential flaw in Stawson’s argument. Let’s assume for the moment that there is some fundamentally mysterious process inside a living entity that provides a weighted input in deciding how the entity will act. Call it the Guessing Module (GM). Let me illustrate in very broad strokes how this might work.

    Before a living entity acts, the truth-values of certain facts are determined. False or true. 0 or 1. The GM only kicks in if a truth-value of either 0 or 1 cannot be established. The GM may use other facts that it can determine to generate it’s output. There may be a whole hierarchy of such facts. But all this is inherently mysterious to us. The hypothesized GM is a black box. All we know is that there is some process by which the GM guesses the value of the fact at the top of the hierarchy (that is the one that could not be determined). The guessed value (v) might be any real number in a limited range somewhere between 0 and 1 (e.g. 0.3333 < v < 0.8789).

    The value of all the facts – both determined and guessed – are then combined by some process to produce a single real value between 0 and 1. If the outcome surpasses a given threshold (say 0.7854), our entity will act.

    Now, we can comfortably assume that some entities will have a GM that, in hindsight, generate morally superior numbers. It can easily be assumed that simple evolutionary principles of variation and natural selection will produce GM's ranging in moral quality, that is to say in their capacity to produce outcomes that are beneficial to the survival of their whole species (or, in good ethical accordance with the Basic Imperative, even yet unknown distant descendants).

    Let’s assume Person A and Person B use exactly the same facts in deciding if to save the child. The only difference is that their GM is different. Remember that the hypothesized GM only operates if the truth-value of a fact is unknown. Let’s say that both A and B produce a value for all determined facts that is the same but would not result in action (e.g. 0.75). But there is one or more unknown fact(s) as well. The fact might be as simple as “our moral code demands that we must attempt to save drowning children”. Our mysterious GM now kicks into action. Person A’s GM produces a value that gets A over the hump of 0.7854 in only 5% of cases. Person B, however, produces a value that results in B trying to save the child 95% of the time.

    Now for the very simple question: does this GM (whether a conscious process or not), at least in part, define who you are? Or, is the GM to be considered an externality? Is your GM something you grudgingly have to accept? Or are you (at least in part) the GM? Only if the GM is an externality does it make sense to speak of you being unlucky. If you are (at least in part) the GM, then you are our unluck, our great misfortune (and not the unlucky one, the unfortunate one)!

    Note that it really doesn’t matter, in the end, if our mysterious GM internally operates according to deterministic processes. It’s really just another way of saying that ultimacy points to the moment of you deciding finally and proximally to the point of no return, right before it’s too late and the child drowns. The argument only falls apart if the GM is to be considered an alien appendage that doesn’t factor into who you are. But why would it? It’s the very thing that makes Person A and Person B act so differently. It can only be considered alien to you if you is strictly to be considered your conscious deliberations (i.e. your rational self). In which case there is very little you do. You don’t play professional tennis. You don’t eat very often. You certainly don’t drive in traffic without an instructor. I hope at least. I wouldn’t want a deliberating “genius” swerving back and forth in front of me ingeniously hitting pedestrians. I guess one of the few things you do do is post on Talking Philosophy. And perhaps needlessly argue with your better half why it wasn’t really your fault. Talk to the troublesome GM that my parents gave me for a birthday present. I think it’s defective.

  65. Stephen Lawrnce

    Andreas,

    “Whether free will is compatible with determinism depends what the notion free will intends, which seems to be a point of confusion (as several people, Russell foremost, have already pointed out). I never claimed to be a compatibilist.”

    Well, you believe in free will and if you’re not a compatibilist you are an incompatibilist.

    And yet the only version of free will we can have is compatible with determinism.

    No confusion.

    “All I claimed is that Russell’s Could/Would Argument makes sense and is intriguing.”

    No, he is wrong. He is assuming determinism so you couldn’t do what you wouldn’t do given the initial conditions.

    So could means there are other physically possible, appropriate and slightly different initial conditions that would have resulted in a different want.

    And it’s an obvious fact tht past conditions are out of our control and so we are lucky or unlucky to have the past we have.

    And so Galen Strawson is correct.

    It’s that simple.

  66. Stephen Lawrnce

    Dianelos,

    “I am not sure how you mean that we aren’t really “interested in precisely the same initial conditions”. On the contrary that’s the critical issue of the question: Given exactly the same initial conditions is physical reality such that the state of a system may evolve differently or not?”

    What I mean is we are interested in the possibilities we assign probabilities to.

    What my repeated coin toss example shows is the “probability distribution” is spread over varied initial conditons.

    So when we say a coin could have landed on a head it’s reasonable to suppose we mean if it had been tossed slightly differently.

    Especially as in order to prove it, we would do slightly different coin tosses until we got a head!

  67. Dianelos Georgoudis

    Andreas,

    Whether free will is compatible with determinism depends what the notion *free will* intends [snip]

    Notions do not have intentions. “Free will” has a meaning, namely the folk meaning everybody knows about. If naturalists don’t like that meaning and need some other concept then they should coin a new one, perhaps “freedom to act” or “physical unconstrainedness” or “physical coherency of intelligent systems”. But to try to make an argument by redefining common concepts is a sign of intellectual weakness, not to say a sign of consciously or unconsciously trying to confuse matters. Kant was right to call the whole issue “word jugglery”.

    Now to be fair some naturalists are careful and speak like this: We don’t actually have free will, but we have something that makes us feel like we have free will, and this something would exist even if the physical universe was deterministic. What is this “something”? It is what causally connects whatever it is which physically instantiates our beliefs, desires and character traits with whatever it is which physically instantiates our choices.

  68. Dianelos Georgoudis

    Stephen,

    “What I mean is we are interested in the possibilities we assign probabilities to.”

    So, let’s see.

    On the one hand we have a plethora of experiments (including the double slit experiment) which prove that the physical universe is indeterministic. The speculation that perhaps unknown “hidden variables” influence the initial conditions was mathematically disproved by von Neumann. And when Einstein Podolsky and Rosen argued that if quantum mechanics is a complete theory then “spooky” implications follow, it was later experimentally proven that these “spooky” implication do obtain. Further during 100 years the intrinsically indeterministic quantum theory has grown by leaps and bounds and in its current version, the standard model, explains absolutely all physical phenomena except gravitational phenomena. And to the last physicist everybody expects that a unified theory which includes gravitation will be indeterministic too. Indeed the best shot we have for a unified theory, i.e. string theory, is instrinsically indeterministic too.

    On the other hand we have a philosophical argument about “what we are really interested in” (which incidentally is not what *I* am interested in). And you think that this argument somehow balances the scales? From where I stand it looks like many naturalists are in denial, and build some kind of echo chamber to convince themselves that what they are talking about makes sense or is scientifically sanctioned.

    The scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that the physical universe is indeterministic. I say the freethinker should face the evidence and deal with it.

    “What my repeated coin toss example shows is the “probability distribution” is spread over varied initial conditons.”

    That’s not what the probability distribution described by quantum physics is about. Physics gives us knowledge about what will happen when just *one* experiment is performed. The probability distribution entailed in quantum physics describes with what probability the state of the respective physical system will arrive at each of all possible future states. Finally, physics does not deal with what possibilities “interest” us, but with all possibilities there are.

  69. Dianelos: “I would say that free will is the power to choose within that probability distribution.”
    And what is that “power to chose”? How does it work? Where does it originate?
    I am afraid this determinism/quantum discussion is going nowhere, save the pleasure of arguing (nothing wrong with that). Although I agree with you (and Sam Harris) that we should absolutely stick with the “folk” definition of free-will.
    I find it quite puzzling that the Dennetts of the world would spend so much time on “folk” religion, only to dismiss “folk” free-will as if it were so obvious that no further discussion was required. Not to mention his muddying up the waters by redefining free-will altogether.
    Seeking clarity on one end, sowing confusion on the other.
    Has it not stuck Dennett that “folk” free-will is at the very core of most, if not all religious beliefs?
    Folk free-will is what will be of concern and interest to billions of people. This is what has potentially huge societal and metaphysical implications (if no free-will, how could God judge us, what about karma, and the foundations of religious beliefs shared by billions?)
    Take the determinism/indeterminism argument out of this picture for a minute and look at what experimental science is starting to tell us about the “illusion of conscious will”. This is where the debate will rage. This is what, if confirmed, will hit ordinary people (like me) like a ton of bricks.
    Not this determinism vs probabilism philosophical dead-end.

  70. Stephen Lawrence

    Dianelos, It’s important to be aware that the claim is not that determinism is true but that any freedom and responsibility must be compatible with that. Also the point about what we are ordinarily thinking about when thinking about alternative possibilities is important. Take the example of the coin toss. We know that the 1 in 2 probabiliy is spread over varying coin tosses, so we know that we are thinking about broader initialal conditions than the actual coin toss. Now, let’s say there is also some probability of the coin landing on heads or tails from the actual initial conditions. Say it’s 1 in 100000000000000000000. That it’s a head. Who cares? It is the 1 in 2 probability that we are interested in, in our day to day lives.

  71. Two Questions to Stephen

    Stephen, I would ask myself who is digging in their heels here. You keep affirming that Strawson is correct. And your reason is simply I don’t have control of my past.

    But my earlier comment contained two questions that you didn’t answer that both question the validity of Strawson whole argument. I gave you my view of how I think they must be answered. I would be curious to hear your answer to these questions.

    A) Why does ultimacy point to the past and not the present (or even future)?

    B) If there is something like a Guessing Module inside living entities does it, at least in part, define who you are? Or should it be considered an externality?

  72. Dianelos Georgoudis

    Steve1,

    And what is that “power to chose”? How does it work? Where does it originate?

    When I wrote “I would say that free will is the power to choose within that probability distribution” I was trying to communicate the idea that free will (exactly as we experience it) is not an absolute power, but is limited in a way that conforms perfectly with the idea that our brain is a probabilistic machine. A probabilistic machine entails a probability distribution, and that distribution limits (but does not eliminate) the free agent’s power to choose.

    How does our (thus limited) power to chose work? When discussing ultimate reality “how” questions are not meaningful, or at least not useful. So, for example, we don’t ask “how does the power of mass to bend spacetime around it work?”. I suppose one could answer that mass *is* what has the power to bend spacetime around it. Similarly one could say that a free agent *is* what has the power to choose.

    Where does the power to choose originate? Again, I suppose the only meaningful answer here is: The power to choose originates with the nature of the free agent.

    Although I agree with you (and Sam Harris) that we should absolutely stick with the “folk” definition of free-will.

    Right. One thing I like in Sam Harris is that he is a straight talker.

    Not to mention [Dennett’s] muddying up the waters by redefining free-will altogether.

    Yeah, to be fair “compatibilist free will” talk goes way back.

    Has it not stuck Dennett that “folk” free-will is at the very core of most, if not all religious beliefs?

    You know, I think you are right. The religious worldview is found by many to make the best sense of their experience of life. Indeed, given the reality of free will (which, as I argued, is inescapable and unproblematic) only some kind of religious worldview makes sense. (Incidentally expressions such as “folk free will”, “libertarian free will”, “counter-causal free will” – all refer to free will and are therefore redundant. We don’t speak of “H2O water” either.)

    if no free-will, how could God judge us

    The implications of being non-realist with respect to free will go much deeper than specific religious dogmas. The problem basically is that such non-realism renders ethical talk meaningless. As usual, some naturalists try to deal with the problem by redefining the concepts used in ethical talk.

    Actually, I kind of sympathize. Dennett, for example, is no fool. He sees the problems, but he believes in naturalism (which after all may be true). He realizes that talking about naturalism using the folk meaning of words would strike most people as raving absurd, which is really unfair given his faith in naturalism (which, again, is a coherent and possibly true theory about reality). So the task he faces is to redefine the meaning of common words so that the naturalist may talk in a way that is both consistent with naturalism and also not sound crazy. I think he succeeds as well in this as anybody possibly could.

    Unfortunately the problem may run deeper: Even if we train ourselves to talk and think using the Dennettian meaning of words, it is probably the case that our brain has evolved in such a way that we can’t make sense of life using these naturalism-friendly meanings. We can see that these meanings are the appropriate ones if naturalism is true, but we cannot make *sense* of them. So Dennett et al may only succeed in hiding the problems behind a coherent albeit artificial and unsatisfying way of talking. There is no peace in naturalism. Even the naturalist who realizes and accepts that if naturalism is true then her brain is massively fooling her, only succeeds in moving herself into a Sisyphus-like predicament.

    Finally, one may ask: Given that Dennett does not believe that the universe is deterministic, why insist in changing the meaning of free will in a way that is compatible with determinism? I think the answer is as follows: Because the original folk meaning of free will which is incompatible with determinism is also incompatible with naturalism, and because the invented meaning which is compatible with naturalism is also compatible with determinism, and is thus easier to explain within a deterministic framework.

    Take the determinism/indeterminism argument out of this picture for a minute and look at what experimental science is starting to tell us about the “illusion of conscious will”. This is where the debate will rage. This is what, if confirmed, will hit ordinary people (like me) like a ton of bricks.

    If so, I am afraid you have been misled by populist accounts. Even many naturalists concede that these results are ambiguous at best. I explain why Libet style experiments are irrelevant to the existence of free will while discussing objection #6 in the post above. What’s more important I explain there that since free will is compatible with modern physics there can’t possibly be experimental evidence against it. Please read that (it’s a short two paragraphs) and let me know what you think.

  73. @Dianelos,
    Seems to me your position is a metaphysical one. And that your argumentation flows from that position (dualist interactionist?).
    – “When discussing ultimate reality “how” questions are not meaningful, or at least not useful.”
    “Hows” and “whats” are the fuel of the scientific enterprise and human progress. They are both useful and meaningful. So I don’t know what you mean.
    – I don’t understand your argument about the probabilistic brain. Watch out, it sounds quantum enough that Chopra might steal it from you.
    -“a free agent *is* what has the power to choose”
    What is a “free agent”, and what is the “power to chose”?
    – “There is no peace in naturalism.”
    That’s your judgment and many would disagree. It takes courage, not peace, to face the truth, as Darwin realized. Of course, because we are (at minima) coherence, meaning-seeking, machines, some like Gazzaniga and perhaps Dennett are changing the subject (as Harris would say) to avoid facing the stark conclusions of their work.
    – Libet and Co: Way too dismissive on your part. When a machine can foretell not only whether I will turn right or left, but (by direct recording of single neurons, mind you) which memory or image is about to “come to my mind”, it gives “me” pause.
    Metzinger has the right approach: philosophers must work with neurologists. Immagine Kant returning today. Or Descartes, or Aristotle… They would be all over Itzhak Fried’s work (and other’s). Armchair philosophers they would not be.

  74. Notions do not have intentions. “Free will” has a meaning, namely the folk meaning everybody knows about […] to try to make an argument by redefining common concepts is a sign of intellectual weakness, not to say a sign of consciously or unconsciously trying to confuse matters.

        Dianelos Georgoudis

    I have made similar claims in the past (see Compatibilism: Voluntary Trepanning, Anyone?). But the Could/Would Argument intrigues me and I’m willing to give it some credence and a swirl. But as I said in a comment to an earlier post in this series, I’m not sure I would in the end call the fact that a person could but wouldn’t being free. So, Dianelos, I would tend to agree with you (and my past self).

    As an aside, and not that I want to get caught up in it, a notion is a vague awareness about something in the world so I would claim that notions do have intentions.

  75. Stephen Lawrnce

    “Stephen, I would ask myself who is digging in their heels here. You keep affirming that Strawson is correct. And your reason is simply I don’t have control of my past.”

    Yep Andreas, it’s that simple, if what you are now depends upon your past, and your past is out of your control (wind back far enough and it surely is) then there is an obvious sense of which you are relying on luck to make good choices. (good luck) :smile:

    Yep I’m digging in my heels on that.

    “A) Why does ultimacy point to the past and not the present (or even future)?”

    Ultimacy is impossible. Ultimacy is the concept of what you do being totally up to you, in a way that denies that what you are, and do, depends upon anything out of your control.

    “B) If there is something like a Guessing Module inside living entities does it, at least in part, define who you are? Or should it be considered an externality?”

    Dunno, Let’s go for, at least in part, defines who you are.

    Of course we do what we do because we are what we are.

    But what we are depends upon things beyond our control.

    “Luck Swallows Everything” beyond a shadow of a doubt.

  76. But Stephen, don’t you see that in a deterministic Universe everything that ever caused Point X is stored in Point X? Theoretically, assuming infinite resources and no rounding errors and such, the entire causal chain can be revealed by applying negative time. The processes should be reversible. If everything has a sufficient reason you can know, then you can follow all the sufficient reasons back into the dim origins of the first uncaused event at the very beginning of time itself. Call it Point 0.

    Therefore, it’s legitimate to evaluate the entire causal chain by simply evaluating Point X. Seen like this, you are not a segment of the causal chain. You are the entire causal chain packed into a single moment! You are the sperm and egg that fertilized one another. You are the parents that made love. The epigenetic vices and good choices of your grandparents before giving birth to your parents, the result of the first hominids walking upright, the coalescing of free floating molecules into a living cell, the earliest moments after the Singularity and even everything before that.

    In a deterministic Universe the difference between Point 0 and Point X is that Point 0 is a state prior to the unfolding, and Point X is one of the ultimate states resulting from the unfolding up to time t. It’s very hard to evaluate and hold something to account until you unfold it. Time is the very unfolding that reveals what’s inside the Equation with a big E and allows us to evaluate the Equation (i.e. judge it by its manifested values).

  77. Stephen Lawrence

    Andreas,

    “Therefore, it’s legitimate to evaluate the entire causal chain by simply evaluating Point X. Seen like this, you are not a segment of the causal chain. You are the entire causal chain packed into a single moment! You are the sperm and egg that fertilized one another. You are the parents that made love. The epigenetic vices and good choices of your grandparents before giving birth to your parents, the result of the first hominids walking upright, the coalescing of free floating molecules into a living cell, the earliest moments after the Singularity and even everything before that.”

    :shock:

    The absurdity of Libertarian free will has no bounds.

    Anything, anything at all to deny “luck swallows everything”

  78. Stephen Lawrence

    Also I’d like to say to Russell, Look at the reponses, look at what people believe.

    There is no doubt they believe in “ultimate responsibility”.

    Sam Harris is doing a better job of combating this than Jerry Coyne has so far, so I’ll be interested in your review of his book.

    The problem with compatibilism is it’s too close to Libertarian free will.

    Tom Clark’s piece on Bruce Waller’s book explains why, as well as anything. http://www.naturalism.org/Wallerreview.htm

    Yes, we can have all the freedom and responsibility worth wanting but we should be taking more interest in the version people actually believe in, which is positively not worth wanting.

  79. Dianelos Georgoudis

    Steve1,

    Seems to me your position is a metaphysical one.

    Of course. All discussion about what exists, and indeed about existence itself, is metaphysical.

    “Hows” and “whats” are the fuel of the scientific enterprise and human progress.

    That’s too general a comment. The fact of the matter is that fundamental physics describes mathematical patterns present in physical phenomena, and says nothing about “hows”. For example, try to find anything about “how” in the equations of general relativity or of quantum mechanics. Actually, there is much confusion here. Many people conflate physical order with the models we invent to make it easier for us to visualize that order, or else with the mathematical algorithms we use to make predictions. See in this context scientific realism versus scientific anti-realism.

    I don’t understand your argument about the probabilistic brain.

    What is it you don’t understand? It’s a simple idea: We know beyond reasonable doubt that physical reality is indeterministic. Thus there are no deterministic physical systems. A few simple physical systems (say the falling of an elastic ball on a hard floor) can be modelled as being approximately deterministic, but complex physical systems (say, the weather, the Earth crust, a living cockroach) cannot. To think that the human brain, perhaps the most complex physical system we know of, can be understood deterministically is in my judgment as scientifically a dumb an idea as it gets.

    What is a “free agent”, and what is the “power to chose”?

    You are a free agent, and the power to choose is what allows you to affect your future.

    Of course, because we are (at minima) coherence, meaning-seeking, machines, some like Gazzaniga and perhaps Dennett are changing the subject (as Harris would say) to avoid facing the stark conclusions of their work.

    Right, for what naturalism implies strikes our reason as being incoherent with our experience of life and as denying its meaning. Which does not imply that naturalism is false, but it does imply that if naturalism is true then the world is unintelligible.

    When a machine can foretell not only whether I will turn right or left, but (by direct recording of single neurons, mind you) which memory or image is about to “come to my mind”, it gives “me” pause.

    Perhaps it shouldn’t, for such experiments are in fact irrelevant to free will. Or try to find an actual formal argument about how these results prove or make less probable the existence of free will. You won’t find anything. It’s all basically smoke and mirrors.

  80. Stephen, you are completely, completely missing the point. I don’t believe in the above statement. We cannot unpack everything from Point X. We could only do it if we were Equation E. All we humans can do is judge Point X. I believe you have no idea what Equation E is and yet claim it must exists! Because you have made pretty clear by now that you are a big D Determinst, just like Einstein. God does not play dice, right?

    You see no problems in the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). The absurdity is to believe or not to believe in hard determinism. It’s as absurd as to believe or not to believe in a God who sets everything in motion at the beginning of time. Are you aware that Spinoza (so seemingly loved by many Einsteinians) firmly believed in God? Natura naturans. Equation E. Causa sui. The Uncaused.

    Please tell me where Equation E comes from and what your knowledge of it is. Everything you have said so far indicates a firm commitment to rational idealism and PSR. And hence ultimately to God ex nihilo in the eternally distant past, now fixed forever in the fabric of a static existence.

    The absurdity of rational idealism à la Spinoza knowns no bounds.

    If you want to know what I believe in it’s evolution. At the end point of evolution you will find the Ultimate. And the Ultimate is whatever time t has elapsed at a specific place in the Universe. It’s the only thing I know with any certainty. It’s you and me and everybody else who exists in this region of spacetime. And in a hundred years here on Earth it will be whatever and however exists in a hundred years here on Earth. I can judge the Now without absurdly having to know Equation E and all the things in it. And, within the limits of my evolution, make moral judgments and determine what to do next. I am one of the determinants moving forward in time until my wave ebbs.

    There is nothing absurd about the Ultimate. Or me. Or you. It’s right in front of you. Right now, Stephen.

  81. Dianelos,
    “To think that the human brain, perhaps the most complex physical system we know of, can be understood deterministically is in my judgment as scientifically a dumb an idea as it gets.”
    Fine. I don’t think this determinism discussion is going anywhere, anyway. That’s not where I see the main challenge to the notion of (folk) freedom of will. Personally, I could envision (folk) free-will emerging as a property of a deterministic system, with a level of top-down causation, etc.
    – OK as well with the “veiled reality”, as perhaps you are adhering to.
    The only thing I know for sure, is how little I know and how little I can know. It’s far more likely that the unknowable (from my limited and constrained vantage point) is orders of magnitude grander than the knowable or the explainable (by me). For this (and many other reasons), I am a skeptic.
    “You are a free agent, and the power to choose is what allows you to affect your future”
    Again, this requires a definition and an explanation. Or do you consider this an axiom? Seems to me you are coming to this discussion with a set of metaphysical (pre)conceptions, and trying not to prove their validity, but to counter arguments that might disprove it.
    “if naturalism is true then the world is unintelligible.”
    Seems to me you are conflating the issue of intelligibility with that of “meaning”.
    How would the world be more intelligible if naturalism were false?
    “Perhaps it shouldn’t, for such experiments are in fact irrelevant to free will”
    If it was proven to you that your conscious will is an illusion, would that not affect your views on free-will? If so, how? If not, why?”

  82. If it was proven to you that your conscious will is an illusion, would that not affect your views on free-will? If so, how? If not, why?

        Steve1

    What is it you imagine would happen? Would you scream like a prisoner in a stray jacket locked in a cell? Would you just go about as before, watching the show unfold? Are you a little homunculus living behind you?

    Itzhak Fried has been mentioned in these threads so I suggest watching this and trying to make sense of it:
    Mind over matter: Study shows we consciously exert control over individual neurons (UCLA Health System)

    Neurofeedback works. It’s not like we can change whatever we want in the world. But we do have some control. Even if determinism were true, then isn’t it likely that the control mechanism for determination is spread throughout the Universe? How else would hypothesized Equation E exert control? At a distance? I thought Einsteinians hated action at a distance. I have a feeling the problem of dualism is percolating to the forefront again. So let me try to express it in a unitary way not plagued by the body/mind problem.

    Body moves.
    Body perceives body motion.
    Body alters (or maintains) body motion.
    Body looses any control over body motion.
    Body dies.

    I’m not saying we have conscious control over our entire body (e.g. heart). And there are foreign bodies inside us (viruses, etc) that can make us feel and behave differently. But importantly, the parts of the body we are aware of and exert control over we distinctly experience as us. We can even create strange “out of body” experiences by giving people direct perception and control over entities previously experienced as distinctly external and not a part of us.

    Have you ever lost control of part of your body? If you have, how did it feel? My experience is that it’s a most alien experience. Suddenly something that was extensively in your control, say your arm, seems like a foreign appendage. It’s very disconcerting.

  83. “What is it you imagine would happen?”
    That was not my question (although it’s an interesting one).
    My question was: if conscious will is an illusion, can it be said that “we” (with our delusion of causal and efficient consciousness) have (folk) free-will? Is causal consciousness a requirement for will and free-will?
    After all, at a minimum, most of our deliberations and mental computations take place in the complete darkness of our unconscious minds.

    To your point: “we” have some control, yes. Most definitely. To some extent, we can rewire our own brains, for example. But is it (folk) free control?

    If we have some degree of (folk) free-will, of conscious agency, an uncaused, self-determining, free power over ourselves, what is it? How does it arise? What is its substrate? Do we just axiomize it and move on?

    Again, underlying all these discussions, are the perennial metaphysical and religious questions of responsibility and accountability, judgement, morals, etc…

  84. Here is an illustration of some points discussed previously.
    Gazzaniga’s recent interview with Charlie Rose:
    http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/12301
    If you don’t have the patience to watch, skip to about 6:25. Gazzaniga states plainly and clearly that we don’t have (folk) free-will. Not even an hesitation. Like it’s obvious. But he also goes into an entire discussion about how scientifically intriguing the down-top/top-down interaction between the mind and the brain is, questions of law and morality, etc.
    So he disposes of (folk) free-will in 10 seconds, and babbles on about side-issues for 10 minutes.
    As with Dennett and his version of free-will, the end-result is that the most salient, mind-blowing, earth-shattering (etc) point: we don’t have (folk/libertarian) free-will, is almost glossed over and drowned in an ocean of (IMHO) very secondary points.
    It’s as if there were some desire to hide or minimize an intolerable truth.
    This is why I like Harris: he stays on point. He will dig where it hurts and where it counts.
    The question we, humans, are interested in, THE relevant question, is: do we have (folk) free-will, or is it an illusion.
    In comparison, the rest (all flavors of “Dennettisms”) is (as Hitchens would have said) just “white noise”.

  85. Stephen Lawrnce

    “As with Dennett and his version of free-will, the end-result is that the most salient, mind-blowing, earth-shattering (etc) point: we don’t have (folk/libertarian) free-will, is almost glossed over and drowned in an ocean of (IMHO) very secondary points.
    It’s as if there were some desire to hide or minimize an intolerable truth.”

    Quite right Steve 1.

    It’s a scandal of philosophy.

    It’s mostly because people are worried about moral responsiility.

    But why? What needs to be said about that is that there are practical reasons to take responsibility and hold people responsible.

    It’s that simple, no need to confuse the heck out of people by saying they have free will.

    So why aren’t compatibilists doing that? Well certainly it’s often because they are looking to ‘ang on to desert based moral responsibility. So although they are genuine and believe their theory is compatible with determinism, it just can’t be.

    Russell Blackford is an interesting case.

    Look what he does here: “There is nothing in the deterministic picture, or in the fact that there is some kind of causal history as to how I come to have the desire-set that I do, that removes the fact that I can act otherwise in a particular moment as (for example) I sit by idly and watch a child drown. If I have the resources, etc., all that is required for me to save the child is that I want to. ”

    Whatever Russell says he thinks, what he is saying is:

    1) The man could have done otherwise.

    2) All that would have needed to have been different was the want.

    3) and so it’s right to blame him. i.e he deserves it.

    To argue that all that would have been needed was a different want is to argue for contra causal free will.

    It’s to argue that despite the causes being sufficient to produce that want, another want could have arisen, all those causal antecedents being the same!

    This is, of course physically impossible, if determinism is true and yet get’s side stepped when pointed out.

    Now from Hilary Bok on free will:

    “If we define an alternative as an action that is physically possible, then determinism implies that we never have more than one alternative. But since we cannot know in advance what we will choose, if we define “alternative” this way, we will never know what our alternatives are. For the purposes of deciding what to do, we need to define our alternatives more broadly: as those actions that we would perform if we chose them.”

    So Hilary Box is dropping the physical possibility of alternatives all together. :shock:

    And just moves on as if this isn’t significant.

    What almost always get’s ignored is the very reason that this subject matters.

    If it’s true that we don’t have Libertarian Free Will, what affect is the belief that we do having?

    Say we are blaming someone, how much different does it make that we think it was physically possible for them to save the drowning child, in Russell’s example.

    And it’s not just about these very serious cases. It’s about how we relate to each other, throughout each day, in all the small cases too.

    Usually sceptics would be concerned about such an erroneous belief (assuming it is erroneous).

    And they would be with good reason.

    Just about everybody believes in it and it’s central to how we humans relate to each other.

    What could be of more concern than that?

    And this, as you say, gets drowned in an ocean of secondary points.

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