Am I unsophisticated about free will?

January 18, 2012 • 6:05 am

For some reason that I don’t understand, I feel compelled to reiterate why I don’t believe in free will—at least in the common notion of free will. Perhaps it’s the combination of my genes and my environment, particularly the environmental stimulus provided by Massimo Pigliucci in a new post at Rationally Speaking, “Jerry Coyne on free will.” Needless to say, Massimo takes me to task again, especially for my anti-free-will article in USA Today, “Why you don’t really have free will.

I’d like to reiterate and then counter Pigliucci’s beef with my arguments. Here are his main points and my counterarguments.

1.  My concept of free will is empirically untestable.  As he says:

Before we continue, however, let’s hear Jerry’s definition of free will: “I mean it [free will] simply as the way most people think of it: When faced with two or more alternatives, it’s your ability to freely and consciously choose one, either on the spot or after some deliberation.” He continues: “A practical test of free will would be this: If you were put in the same position twice — if the tape of your life could be rewound to the exact moment when you made a decision, with every circumstance leading up to that moment the same and all the molecules in the universe aligned in the same way — you could have chosen differently.”

As Jerry knows, and immediately admits in the paragraph following this quote, such a test is anything but practical. In fact, it cannot be carried out, ever. Which is why I contend that Jerry and others who push the idea that free will (and consciousness, and moral responsibility) is “an illusion” are mistaken when they think they are doing so on the basis of science.

He argues, then, that my claim that we don’t have free will of this sort is not empirical but metaphysical.

I grant that we can’t rewind the tape of life, but that indirect evidence of two sorts suggests that my argument against free will is correct. First—and to me this is the decisive one—our brains are made of molecules.  Molecules (and the neurons they make up) must obey the laws of physics.  Our “decisions” are made by brains.  Therefore our brains must obey the laws of physics.  Absent any quantum indeterminacy, then (and that cannot constitute any portion of free will), what our brains do is determined and predicted by the laws of physics.  Ergo, in any situation we could not have chosen otherwise:  we cannot decide freely which of several alternatives we choose.

Suppose that an alien observes coin tosses, and sees that sometimes a coin comes up heads, and sometimes tails.  The alien supposes that the coin is alive, and can “decide” which way to fall.  The alien cannot exactly repeat each coin toss to see whether, given identical conditions, the coin can land differently.  We can never repeat those initial conditions (though I’m told some magicians can bias the outcome by how they flip the coin). But we can conclude, without having to do the experiment, that the way the coin lands is absolutely conditioned by the laws of physics—by how it’s tossed, the air currents obtaining at the time, the height of the hand, and the nature of the surface on which the coin lands.  We don’t have to do the experiment to conclude that.

Our brains are like that coin, except they’re far more complicated and made of meat instead of metal.  But they still obey the same laws that govern coin tosses. Why, then, do our brains get to “choose” but a coin does not?  Yes, we take in more inputs than does a tossed coin (but perhaps not many more), but so what? Physics still rules.

I argue that the onus for proof is on those people who claim that our decisions are free and not completely subject to the laws of physics. For these are the people who implicitly claim that our brains are free from physical law in such a way that allows us, at any given time, to freely decide among alternatives.  It is not my responsibility to show that we have this sort of free will; everything we know about physics militates that.

Second, there are experiments like Libet’s (and better ones) showing that “decisions” can be predicted up to seven seconds before they’re made consciously.  This time lag won’t always obtain, since some “decisions” are made more quickly, as when we decide how to hit a tennis ball; but if we can show that some decisions are made unconsciously, that militates against any conscious decisions, and to me conscious decision-making is essential for my form of free will to obtain (see below).

2.  The unknowns of physics suggest room for free will.  I note first that Massimo doesn’t define free will in his piece; he’s only arguing against my conception of it.  At any rate, he argues:

Of course this conclusion depends on one’s concept of free will, and there are several on offer (more on this below). It also depends on entirely unargued for assumptions, including the following: causal closure (i.e., that the currently known laws of physics encompass the totality of causal relationships in the universe); a working concept of causality (one of the most thorny philosophical concepts ever); physical determinism (which appears to be contradicted by physics itself, particularly quantum mechanics); and the non-existence of true emergent properties (i.e., of emergent behavior that actually is qualitatively novel, and doesn’t simply appear to be so because of our epistemic limitations). I have opinions about all four of these points, but I don’t have a knockdown argument concerning any of them. The point is, neither does Jerry.

I’m just going by the currently known laws of physics, which appear to hold throughout the universe.  As for determinism, yes, I do think there are true indeterminacies on the quantum level, but their influence on our behaviors and choices is dubious at best. And even if such indeterminacies did influence us, those influences would be random and not constitute any basis for free will.

As for emergent properties, those too must obey the laws of physics, unless you hypothesize an “emergent property of free will” that is somehow physically unconnected with lower-level processes.  Yes, there are emergent properties that cannot be predicted from knowing about their constituents (the wetness of water may be one), but that wetness still must conform to the laws of physics obeyed by its constituent molecules.  The properties of water do not thereby become free from the laws of physics.

3.  Experiments like Libet’s and more recent ones like that of Soon et al. (2008) Fried et al. (2011, reference below) are irrelevant to free will.  They show only that our decisions might not be conscious ones.

Not even Libet himself took his experiments to show that people don’t make conscious decisions, in part because reporting awareness of an urge (in this case, of pushing a button) hardly qualifies as a conscious decision. The latter is the kind of reflective deliberation that Jerry and I engaged in while composing our respective essays, and it is simply not measured by Libet-type experiments. Indeed, it is not surprising at all that we make all sorts of unconscious decisions before we become aware of them, as any baseball batter, or anyone catching a falling object on the fly, will readily testify.

My argument is simple here: “decisions” made unconsciously don’t buttress my concept of free will, for they could simply reflect the generation of outputs from inputs in the same way that a computer generates outputs from inputs.  The common conception of free will—the one I’m addressing—requires making a conscious decision.  If you choose vanilla rather than strawberry at an ice cream store because your neurons and taste buds have determined that in advance, in what sense is the decision “free”?

Massimo adds:

I find it strange when some people argue that “we” are not making decisions if our subconscious is operating, since presumably we all agree that our subconscious is just as defining of “us” as conscious thinking is. Accordingly, “my brain made me do it” is hardly a defense that will fly in a court of law except, and for good reasons, in pathological cases such as behaviors resulting from brain damage.)

Well, I contend that every act of malfeasance results from “brain damage”—at least the same kind of neurological determinism that may have caused Charles Whitman, who had a brain tumor, to murder people at the University of Texas.  And I’ve never argued that “my brain made me do it” is a valid defense against criminal conviction.  Even if we don’t choose our acts of criminality, there are good reasons to incarcerate criminals, including protection of society and as an example to deter others.  Such examples are, of course, environmental influences that can affect the workings of our brains, and hence our future actions.

4. I argue, without evidence, that free will is an evolved property of brains.  Massimo argues:

But just for the sake of argument let us suspend judgment on all of this and ask Jerry the obvious question: why do we have such a pervasive “illusion” to begin with? Apparently, he knew this was coming, and answered thus in the USA Today article: “where do these illusions of both will and ‘free’ will come from? We’re not sure. I suspect that they’re the products of natural selection, perhaps because our ancestors wouldn’t thrive in small, harmonious groups — the conditions under which we evolved — if they didn’t feel responsible for their actions.”

As far as I can tell there is no empirical evidence whatsoever to support such speculation. To the contrary, we know of plenty of social animal species that seem to thrive very well indeed without requiring the illusion of free will to keep them in line. Certainly social insects don’t need to be fooled that way, and it is hard to imagine even species of social mammals, including most primates, needing to engage in deliberate reasoning before deciding how to behave toward fellow group members.

Note that I said, “We’re not sure.” I really have no idea why we have the illusion of agency, and was just speculating that it may be an adaptation.  But it might not be—it could be an epiphenomenon of having complex brains.  By the way, our brains are far more complex than those of social insects, and we process many more inputs than those of, say, ants. A big ant could not function as a human being.  And we have no idea whether animals engage in deliberate reasoning, though this morning’s kitteh post suggest that cats can, and I certainly think that primates can.

But it doesn’t matter.  I have no idea about why we have the illusion of free agency, nor am I deeply invested in an evolutionary, much less an adaptive, answer.

5.  I ignore other philosophers’ concepts of free will.

In the above comment Jerry also ignores that philosophers have been debating various concepts (not definitions, because they are not ex-cathedra pronouncements) of free will for a long time. Competing approaches to free will have been put forth, among others, by Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and more recently Daniel Dennett and Harry Frankfurt, to name but a few. It is a profound mischaracterization of the history of philosophy to present various takes on free will as being simply reactive to the latest scientific discoveries.

I’ve read about the many ways philosophers have defined free will differently from me.  And yes, if you change what you mean by “free will,” then you can find a way that we do have it.  But I am addressing what I think is most people’s notion of free will, which I think is to some extent dualistic.  Philosophers may have given up dualism, but my experience discussing this issue with others, including my biology colleagues, shows that almost without exception they have an unconscious dualism: that somehow we have some capacity to step inside our minds and influence their workings.  To me, the only free will that matters is the ability at a single moment to choose freely between alternatives—that we could have done otherwise.

6.  I argue that free will means the end of religion.  Massimo:

Jerry claims that the death of free will spells the death of religion, although ironically he then mentions the Calvinist view of pre-determination. In fact, plenty of religious beliefs are compatible with lack of free will, so it seems like religion will survive even this assault (as befits an infinitely malleable tradition of made up stories).

I never argued this. What I said is that many important religious precepts depend on free will, and those will go away if free will is an illusion. Here’s what I said:

But there are two important ways that we must face the absence of free will. One is in religion. Many faiths make claims that depend on free choice: Evangelical Christians, for instance, believe that those who don’t freely choose Jesus as their savior will go to hell. If we have no free choice, then such religious tenets — and the existence of a disembodied “soul” — are undermined, and any post-mortem fates of the faithful are determined, Calvinistically, by circumstances over which they have no control.

I have no idea why Massimo thinks that this spells the end of religion. (By the way, an important argument in theodicy, that we have evil in the world because God gave us free will, will also go away.)  Unless Massimo was tired when he wrote this, he’s failed to grasp my point.  “Many faiths” does not equal “all faiths.”

7.  Why try to argue what we “should” do if we have no free will?  In my piece I end by talking about the implications of realizing that we don’t have free will in the sense I define it. One is to give up the idea of punishment as retribution, another is to have more understanding for criminals, and not blame them for “making the wrong choice.” (I add here that perhaps we should not have so many regrets about our past, since we couldn’t have chosen otherwise.) Why would I make such prescriptions if I believe that all our actions are predetermined?

The answer is twofold.  First, I make such arguments because I cannot do otherwise: this is what I have been conditioned to do by my genes and my personal history.  But second, and more important, such arguments do affect people, and can influence their decisions.  It’s a common misconception of those who argue against my views that those views ineluctably promote a kind of nihilism, in which we should do nothing.  Well, we don’t have the choice to do nothing: we’re humans and we must act as though we have free will, even if we don’t.  It is an all-powerful illusion—perhaps an evolved one—which conditions all our behavior.

But we shouldn’t feel that our behaviors are ineffectual.  We can convince people to act in different ways through our words.  Making people love us, or hate us, are simple examples.  We are not powerless, though all of our behaviors—including whether we’re susceptible to the ministrations of others—are determined.

8.  I am a “radical skeptic.” Pigluicci accuses me of this for several reasons:

In the end, skepticism about free will seems to me to be akin to radical skepticism about reality in general (the idea that all of reality is an illusion, or a computer simulation, or something along those lines): it denies what we all think is self-evident, it cannot be defeated logically (though it is not based on empirical evidence), and it is completely irrelevant to our lives.

But what is “self-evident” to people has been shown over and over again by science to be wrong! It is self evident to many that the “design” of animals and plants is evidence for a God. Free will may be one of these things. I think science can help us show logically that we don’t have free will in the way I define it, and if we don’t have it, then there are implications for our lives, some of which I mention in my USA Today piece.

I find it curious that Pigliucci says this at the end of his piece:

That said, we should then proceed by ignoring the radical skeptic in order to get back to the business of navigating reality, making willful decisions about our lives (including New Year’s resolutions, which actually succeed surprisingly often), and assign moral responsibility to our and other people’s actions.

How does he know that he can make “willful decisions”?  And we really must rethink the idea of moral responsibility in a world in which there may not be free will.  Perhaps we can dispense with the idea of moral responsibility along with the idea of free will!  That may be radical, but it may also be sensible.  We can replace the idea of “moral responsibility” with that of “actions inimical to others,” or something of the sort.  The only things this would change would be our idea of punishment as retribution, as well as the underpinning of many religious beliefs.

Now I feel compelled to have some coffee.

____________

Fried, I., R. Mukamel, and G. Kreiman. 2011. Internally generated preactivation of single neurons in human medial frontal cortex predicts volition. Neuron 69:548-62.

Libet, B. 1985. Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action. Behav. Brain Sci. 8:529-566.

Soon, C. S., M. Brass, H. J. Heinze, and J. D. Haynes. 2008. Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience 11:543-545.

547 thoughts on “Am I unsophisticated about free will?

  1. If you choose vanilla rather than strawberry at an ice cream store because your neurons and taste buds have determined that in advance, in what sense is the decision “free”?

    Hm, doesn’t this sentence indicate that you, too, have not given up the idea of dualism? How can you speak of a conscious decision when you ignore the mechanisms that give you the information you need to make such a decision? Or in other words: What are “you” if not neurons and taste buds?

      1. I suppose you answered the first question? Then tell me, if you (hypothetically) were able to consider all the evidence to why vanilla is the more preferable of the two flavors in this particular moment, given your developed dislike for strawberry, and you still (hypothetically) were able to consciously choose strawberry, would that be Free Will? This is what your neurons are doing in that particular moment.

        1. Neurons can be doing lots of different things at any given moment. They even sometimes do things spontaneously, what you might call ranndom. But when they do something purposeful, as in directing a willed action, they do it in a context of what the neurons have “learned ” in the past and of the momentary situational contingencies. That decision may take one of perhaps several alternative directions. The direction chosen may be random or inevitable (thus not free) or may be repeated consistently because of learned appropriateness. Surely, you don’t want to say that learning strips one of any chance for free will. In fact, at each learning experience, one has the option of accepting or rejecting the information in that experience.

          Those of you enamored by Libet-type experiments should read my on-line peer-reviewed critical analysis at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3163487/

          1. Are you kidding me?! I used these exact examples of known phenomenon with unexplained mechanisms for explaining them. Whether probable or not, other as yet undetected interactions or mechanisms could conceivably be at work behind our minds/experiences. Furthermore, our decisions and choices are paramount and primary in defining our ‘self’ to ourselves, I would insist, as is mentioned in the abstract.
            Francis Crick thinks the claustrum(a brain structure that sends and receives signals to and from practically all other brain structures, including the right parietal (involved in polysensory convergence and embodiment) and anterior cingulate (involved in the experience of “free will”)) will prove instrumental in explaining our mind, and he guesses it as the location.

            I very much look forward to reading your paper.

            1. Ooops, I meant these exact examples:

              “But even traditional science could yield such theories: a case in point is the theory that quantum mechanics entanglement might influence mind at a distance (Stapp, 2007). Other possible explanations for consciousness might be imagined based on string theory, dark matter, or dark energy if the nature of these new discoveries were understood.”

          2. Hi Bill,

            I’ve responded to some parts of your paper, and to your summary of your position on free-will here. Your responses there revealed your religious thinking that lies behind your bias for insisting that there is free-will, and you decided not to continue that line of the discussion. See that post and the comments. I also responded to some other comments on your position, in comments here.

            I agree with your comment in this current post, up to the point where you say “Surely, you don’t want to say that learning strips one of any chance for free will.” Well, yes I do think that is part of the argument against free-will. How is the will ‘free’ of this activity in any sense? The ‘will’ is constituted of this activity, in that a change in the state of some neurons causes changes in the states of motor neurons which causes me to lift my arm.

            I suppose, if you really want to stretch the meaning of ‘free’ you could say that as physical automata, a great deal of our caused inner activity is self-contained, within the brain, so that eh most immediate cause of my lifting my arm is brain activity that is ‘free’, in time and space, or perhaps a better phrasing is ‘distant’ in time and space, from the many prior causes that have brought my brain to the point where is causes my arm to rise. But this is still all causal. My motor action was caused all the way. It was not ‘free’ in any sense normally associated with free-will.

            The problem is that most free-willies seem to reject the image of us being automata, but don’t actually explain the disconnect, where the freedom disconnects us from the causal chain to make uncaused free choices.

            “In fact, at each learning experience, one has the option of accepting or rejecting the information in that experience.”

            But this itself is dictated by the state of the brain. The excitory or inhibitory activity inside a neuron that makes it fire, and which eventually causes synapses to fire, and in memory causes synapses to grow, is the causal precursor of a decision being made, a thought being thought, a concept being held and remembered. What else is there but this physical activity.

            Simply stating that we have free-will that is disconnected somehow from our physical reality is to suppose something we have not yet found. Illusory free-will fits in with all we currently know, and even with evolutionary explanations of the illusion being an efficient process of the brain sufficient to get us by in the pre-scientific world, and even the pre-language world.

            For more on the physical instantiation of thoughts, concepts, and even concepts like free-will, try this.

    1. The choice is free in the uncontroversial sense that I wasn’t compelled by anyone else to choose as I did, rather the choice was my *own* doing, caused by *my* preferences and deliberative capacities. This is definitely a freedom worth wanting!

      1. If a mugger without a weapon says that they need you to give them your wallet, it’s still your choice whether you do that or run away. Is THAT a “noncompelled” choice? What about if your friends want you to go to the baseball game and you do for appearance’s sake, even if you want to stay home? The notion of “own doing” versus “compulsion” seems VERY fuzzy to me, and breaks down completely when you add to that the “compulsion” of your own genes and environment, which acts on your brain precisely the same way as someone else forcing you to do something. Very rarely do you have NO choice–even dying is a choice.

        I don’t think that’s a freedom worth wanting, except that I don’t want other people telling me what to do all the time. But they do a lot (like my university), and I do it.

        1. There are clearly degrees of compulsion – having one’s preferences over-ridden by the demands of other agents – depending on how the demands are made (with or without a weapon, for instance). But if you think that you are being compelled or coerced by your *very own* being, by your *very own* preferences and desires, then we’re at an intuitional impasse.

          Who is it that’s being pushed around by your desires? Not a preference-free soul, since you don’t believe in such a thing. If you identify with your brain-based motives and desires, as you should if you’re a naturalist, then you can’t logically be coerced by them.

          “I don’t think that’s a freedom worth wanting, except that I don’t want other people telling me what to do all the time.”

          So it *is* a freedom worth wanting! What is the freedom that people fight for if not the freedom from being told what you can and cannot do?

        2. And when you consider whether or not to go abroad for college? The decision is not only based on environmental influences (e.g. appearance’s sake). This is much more complex.

          More generally: You’re not only compelled, but you also compel, surely. How can you separate yourself from your genes, your neurons, your molecules? Where do you draw the line between the agent and the reagent? Sorry, but I still find this dualistic …

          1. The language is dualistic, and we may be stuck with that because of the very physical basis upon which our brains cause this sense of self. Similarly it’s very difficult to talk about evolution without imparting some aspect of agency into the language while all the time accepting that there is no agency.

            Try thinking of a chain of autonomy: a rock ‘rolls’ down a hill (active agent doing the rolling, or passive object following the natural laws of physics?); a control system ‘controls’ the temperature of a fridge (active agent or passive object?); an ant ‘decides’ to pick up a leaf (active agent or passive object?); …; a human brain ‘decides’ to choose vanilla (active agent or passive brain under the influence of current external and past internal states?).

            The challenge isn’t really to explain the natural change in the complexity, the degrees of autonomy, in physical systems (that seems to have been done), but to explain the ‘free-will of the gaps’ that we have come to believe in historically and which psychologically still drives our feelings on this matter.

            It seems well within the scope of natural physical explanation that a self-aware system that is self-aware of only one particular layer of its brain’s activity, so that it’s decisions seem to it to appear out of nowhere, because it can’t physically sense the connection from conscious thought to physical brain activity, should ‘feel’ its decisions are somehow magical, ‘free’. This is the very nature of the illusion: that such an entity would not be able, in itself, using reflection, to tell the difference between this disconnected consciousness and an imagined notion of dualistic free-will.

            1. And of course, once these decisions are made, it is imperative to need to aware of them, coincidentally, if not completely after the fact.
              Yes, that makes sense. We don’t need consciousness and illusions of free will, yet we just have them.
              In fact, our sense of awareness is all just excess baggage, yes, yes, that makes perfect sense.

              Because, if every single thing is linearly assembled, our sensory stimuli -> actions -> realizations, then it doesn’t matter what we ‘consciously’ think because our thoughts are merely emergent and cannot effect independent change, like learning, because that would mean our consciousness is a real thing physically.

              So what is it?
              Either our senses and thoughts are illusory and therefore completely unnecessary, or
              They serve a purpose and fulfill a function which means they are real.

              If they are real, they are not illusory.

              If they are not necessary, ie emergent after the fact, then their existence wastes resources and is a detriment to the organisms survival.

              If they are partially illusory and serve a purpose ie effect changes in the physical structure of the brain for learning purposes, then they are dangerous to the survival of the organism, for an illusion is, by definition, an incorrect representation of reality.

              So, if our consciousness serves any function, and our cognitive and sensory perception is part of our consciousness, then it must physically affect the brain.

              I don’t care how pretty the picture of self direction and equivalent qualia and perceptions may be to the organism, it is completely useless if it cannot physically change the brain, not just be caused by it.

              So what is it(mind):
              1. Window Dressing
              2. Functional

              1. Consciousness is currently the label we give to our perception of the ‘mind’, which is the brain being self-aware in the sense that some parts of it are monitoring and causing change in other parts. When I ‘decide’ to move my arm I do not feel my motor neurons being caused to trigger – I feel no ‘buzz’ of action potentials in them.

                Similarly, I don’t ‘feel’ or sense in any way the precursor neurons that trigger this decision. I have the ‘feeling’ that I just ‘decide’. And this notion, this concept, is fueled by our culturally declared understanding of free-will of being ‘free’ of physical causal events in some way.

                This ‘feeling’ is not the illusion, any more than a spinning wire frame Necker cube is not an actual spinning wire frame. The ‘feeling’ is a real feeling, a perception. The illusion in the Necker cube is our perception that it flips direction. Our illusion with free-will is that it is some how free of the physics of the brain to the extent that anyone having the perception ‘feels’ like the ‘decisions’ are appearing out of, well, where exactly? The illusion is that the feeling represents reality, that there is real freedom from the causal chain.

                Similarly, when we perceive a ‘wave’ on water, we can conceptualise abstractly about the wave. But the wave is only water molecules working in some pattern dictated, determined, by the interaction of molecules. This particular illusion of the wave being something additional seems easier to dismiss.

                Given the general level of science education we are also able to hold two models of the human body as being consistent: the solid macro level appearance and the vacuous atomic model.

                I even remember my childish ‘wow’ moment, on having explained to me that the human body has such a high content of water, that on first instinct makes one wonder why we don’t drop into a sloppy mess on the floor. But on getting the structure of cells and flesh and bones, one does come to realise that yes, it all hangs together quite well. Until the processes that keep feeding it stop. Then it does eventually succumb to other processes that do turn it into a puddle of mush on the floor.

                The multiple model of the ‘mind’ is quite consistent. We can experience in real time that we appear to make decisions, while also maintaining the concept that our decisions are outcomes of causal precursors that are entirely physical.

                Causility, even complete determinism, does not necessitate that we do not suffer illusions. It does necessitate, if either be the case, that nothing that happens in our heads is ‘free’ of that fact. The necessary conclusion is that we are not actually free, but that the appearence of being free is the illusion.

                In a wholely deterministic universe “I could have chosen otherwise”, the foundation of free choice, has no meaning. It doesn’t have any meaning in a causal universe that has some indeterminate inputs, though superficially “I could have chosen otherwise” does have something of the flavour of “The universe that caused my current ‘choice’ could have cause a different ‘choice'”, but they are not the same, in that the latter does not constitute free-will.

              2. “If they are real, they are not illusory.”

                Our senses and thoughts are real, in that they are instantiated in cause and causal brain activity. The illusory aspect of it is that we feel they are free of their physical causal nature.

                “If they are not necessary, ie emergent after the fact, then their existence wastes resources and is a detriment to the organisms survival.”

                There existence is (I presume) necessary to survival. And maybe the illusion that our will is free is a helpful efficiency too. It’s the star gazing and contemplating what our thoughts are that wasn’t necessary to survival. And I think this last point on the basis that perceptual complexity and sophistication, and the language to represent those perceptions in a complex way, probably came some time after the emergence of our self-awareness and apparent independence as agents.

                “They serve a purpose and fulfil a function which means they are real.”

                Yes, as described.

                “If they are real, they are not illusory.”

                Yes. It’s the perception that they are free in any way from our physical causal foundation that is the illusion.

                “So what is it(mind)?”

                The ‘waves’, brain waves, the persistent pattern caused by busy brain activity, in a brain that does change physically but which has some consistent structure over time, giving the appearance of continued ‘identity’, ‘me’.

                Calm the waters and the waves ‘vanish’ – but really the water simply moves less than it did. Stop the activity of the brain, and the mind goes.

                To the extent that we usually conceive of the mind, as the conscious bit, you don’t even have to stop all brain activity. And to kill ‘identity’, the persistent ‘I’, you only have to stop the creation of memory, or the access to long term memory.

              3. no, what we call consciousness and free will is like preferences for ethnic foods, unfalsifiable and mere verbal signaling for social consumption, mainly to deceive ourselves and others it appears…”Of course, I mean what I say (not).”

  2. Another argument from “I don’t like this so it can’t be true”.

    As I’ve said before, when your best defence against a proposition resembles those typically offered by religious apologists, that should in itself be a signal that you may be on the wrong track. It’s easy to fall into this trap – indeed, I can think of good reasons why we may have evolved to do so – but that is the point of science: to give us neutral, untainted insights into the nature of reality. I’m sorry, Massimo, if your brain is telling you that you don’t like that reality, but tough!

    1. I actually face the opposite hazard. I LIKE the idea of no free will. To guard against that hazard, i have to GENERATE skepticism about the absence of free will.

      To date, though I’m open to new evidence, I judge it extremely unlikely that there is any such terrible thing as contra-causal free will.

      1. At least for the explicit dualist there position is very clear, albeit relying on unexplained magic. But the non-dualist, and otherwise naturalist, who still makes a claim for free-will that isn’t essentially physicalism, doesn’t really offer any explanation of what their free-will actually is, or how it might work.

        1. Ron,

          They don’t have any such explanation to offer. All they have is to label that which is non-free will, free will. With straight face they tell us that all that people mean when they say free will is “be able to do what they want/desire and are physically capable of, without external coercion”.

          1. And you don’t have any explanation for how our illusion of free will might work.
            Or one single solitary sane reason for us to have that illusion.

            You don’t have a rational explanation, either, folks.

            I have an explanation of how our free will manifests: I don’t know.

            I have answers to other things that are ‘real’: What is a quanta?; What is a particle?; What is a wave function?;
            What is entanglement;
            What is the instantaneous state of the carbon-carbon bond in a benzene ring?

            See, now we get to the molecular level.
            What is a particle?; What is an atom or molecule or compound, exactly.

            If the Higgs boson is not detected, what of the standard model? What is the exact nature of reality? You don’t know. What is dark matter? You don’t know. How does not locality work? You don’t know

            What else about reality is there that we don’t know?
            You don’t know

            Do we have minds, perceptions, fantasies, learned abilities – like problem solving?
            YES
            Why are they there?
            YOU DON’T KNOW

            How did they get there?
            YOU
            DON’T
            KNOW!

            I am not asking you to explain how they work anymore. No, I am asking you to explain their presence.

            Because if you don’t know WHY we have minds that produce the perception of free will, you don’t know WHY they are unnecessary, do you?

            Maybe you can, alternatively, explain how illusions can help us deal with reality better than actual perceptions of reality could.

            1. Tushcloots,

              Yeah, right, we’ve gone over this before. There are things you want to know, things that I don’t have the answer to, but none of these things defeat non-free willism.

              You are a product of your nature and nurture. Everything you are, everything you do is a resultant of a matrix of behavioral determinants. Why the illusion is, I can’t say, all that I can say it that is an illusion.

            2. Once upon a time there were two guys lost in the desert. They had been lost for some time. As they had run out of the water they had brought with them, they were in desperate need of the stuff.
              Guy 1, looking to the North, thinks he sees water shimmering in the not too far distance. He points and declares to his travel companion, “Water! I see water.”
              Guy 2, looks in the direction pointed to by Guy1 and sees the same shimmering in the not too far distance. “Happy days!”, he rejoins.
              So off they go in the direction of the shimmering. (They are relying on the shimmering, as a basis for a course of action.)
              After a while, when they have traveled as far as it seemed they needed to get to the water, they have yet to arrive at any. But ahead they see shimmering. This exchange transpires between them.
              Guy1, “You’d think we ought have gotten there by now.”
              Guy2, “That’s what my intuition tells me. And since we ought to have gotten there, and we live in a deterministic universe, this implies we can have gotten there.”
              Guy1, “And yet, we haven’t. This implies we ought to go on.”
              Guy2, “Yes while we still can.
              And so they gone on further. They go on for what seems to be hours, until finally Guy2 says, “I’ve been thinking about what is going on here. I think the shimmering is an illusion. I don’t think there is any water shimmering in the distance.”
              To which Guy1 replies, “Do you have an explanation for how this illusion works?”
              Guy2, “Nope. Maybe something to do with heat waves?”
              Guy1, “I’m not buying that, it’s a modal thesis. And nobody has observed heat. “
              Guy2, “I’m just saying this shimmering seems to only be the illusion of water to me.”
              Guy1, “How can you be so nonchalant about this? Don’t you realize the implications of what you’re saying? Damit, we might die of thirst if there’s no water shimmering out there.”
              Guy2, “It doesn’t matter how badly we might want the shimmering to be water, wanting a thing doesn’t make it true.”
              Guy1, “But why should we have the illusion of water? How could we have evolved to be a species, if we can’t properly discern something as crucial to our survival as water? Give me one single solitary sane reason for us to have such an illusion.”
              Guy2, ‘Beats the hell out of me.”
              Guy1, “I have an explanation of how the shimmering manifests. The surface of the water reflects light. Look around us, do you see the sand reflecting light? No, you don’t, cause it must not.”
              Guy2, “That’s not true.”
              Guy1, “You’re just repeating yourself without proof.”
              Guy2, “But, I’ve already made my case, which you just ignored.”
              Guy1, “I don’t know. I have answers to other things that are ‘real’: What is a quanta?;”
              Guy2, “I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter to my claim that the shimmering is an illusion.”
              Guy1, “What is a particle?”
              Guy2, “I don’t know. What part of what I said involves particles?”
              Guy1,”What is a wave function? You mentioned waves.”
              Guy2, “I don’t know… and it was a different kind of wave”.
              Guy1, “What is entanglement; What is the instantaneous state of the carbon-carbon bond in a benzene ring? See, now we get to the molecular level. What is a particle?; What is an atom or molecule or compound, exactly. If the Higgs boson is not detected, what of the standard model? What is the exact nature of reality?”

              Guy2, “I don’t know. Not relevant.”
              Guy1, “You don’t know. What is dark matter? You don’t know. How does not locality work? You don’t know.”
              Guy2, “You’re losing it man.”
              Guy1, “What else about reality is there that we don’t know? You don’t know Do we have minds, perceptions, fantasies, learned abilities – like problem solving?”
              Guy2,”Yeah, we do.”
              Guy1, “YES! Why are they there? YOU DON’T KNOW How did they get there? YOUDON’T KNOW!”
              Guy2, “I confess, I don’t know these things… but in all fairness I am not claiming that I do.”
              Guy1, “ I am not asking you to explain how they work anymore. No, I am asking you to explain their presence. Because if you don’t know WHY we have minds that produce the perception of shimmering where there is no water, you don’t know WHY they the shimmering is unnecessary, do you? Maybe you can, alternatively, explain how illusions can help us deal with reality better than actual perceptions of reality could.”
              Guy2, “Angst can be a bummer, man.”

  3. It should be pretty clear by now that being “philosophically sophisticated” (at least in the pigluiccian sense) is nothing to strive for anyway…

    The concept of “free will” as commonly understood seems to me a lot like the concept of God. After all “free will” is basically thougt to be an “unmoved mover” or an “uncaused cause”. It has the power to cause physical actions, but is not itself a part of the causal chain. Let’s call this “strong” version of free will “free will (1)”.

    What really annoys me are people (often other atheists who don’t believe in the ghost in the machine) who simply redefine “free will” as something else [let’s call it “free will (2)”] – thereby changing the subject – and then go on to argue that your arguments against free will (1) are wrong because free will (2) exists (AS IF we were still talking about the same thing). This is very similar to theologians who equate “God” with “Life, the Universe and Everything” [“God (2)”] and then go on to accuse atheists of attacing “caricatures” for arguing against God (1) (a supernatural creator of the universe) rather than God (2).

    When people insist that you could have chosen differently than you did, they typically cheat by adding a hidden premise: “you could have chosen differently IF YOU WANTED TO”. However, this only begs the question: Could you have WANTED differently even if all prior causes (including the activities of the physical brain) had been absolutely identical? If the answer is yes, did you CHOOSE to want differently? And wouldn’t such a choice by definition require a will? The regress never ends.

    1. However, this only begs the question: Could you have WANTED differently even if all prior causes (including the activities of the physical brain) had been absolutely identical?

      You seem to require a “yes” answer to that question, but the reason (so far as I can tell) for requiring a “yes” answer generates an infinite regress even if we never mention determinism: You freely choose A only if you freely choose at least one factor (call it ‘B’) that came before your choice of A; you freely choose B only if you freely choose at least one factor (call it ‘C’) that came before your choice of B, and so on. This requirement rules out free choice without even mentioning determinism or science; all we need is the commonsense assumption that you can make only finitely many choices in a finite time.

      So either: (1) Your requirement shows that the concept of free choice is incoherent, regardless of whether determinism is true; or else (2) Your requirement is no part of the concept of free choice. Why not (2)?

      1. I don’t “require a yes answer”, but if the answer is no, then free will (1) can be ruled out on that basis alone. End of arguement.

        If on the other hand the answer is yes, you still get the problem of the infinite regress. Any argument for free will (1) requires something equivalent to baron von Münchhausen lifing himself up by his own hair.

        The argument against free will does not require a commitment to determinism which is why I never brought it up in the first place.

        1. The argument against free will does not require a commitment to determinism which is why I never brought it up in the first place.

          Excellent. Thanks for the clarification. Dr. Coyne, as you know, seems to think that determinism is important to his argument against free choice. I take it that you and I agree it isn’t.

          So here’s the situation. Either (i) the concept of free choice requires what you call “free-will-(1),” in which case free choice is incoherent and impossible regardless of determinism; or (ii) the concept of free choice doesn’t require free-will-(1). Why not (ii), which is the compatibilist’s view?

          1. No, determinism does come in right here:

            When people insist that you could have chosen differently than you did, they typically cheat by adding a hidden premise: “you could have chosen differently IF YOU WANTED TO”. However, this only begs the question: Could you have WANTED differently even if all prior causes (including the activities of the physical brain) had been absolutely identical?

            If it’s true that you “couldn’t have wanted differently” then it is true by virtue of determinism.

            1. Dan: I’m afraid you misunderstood my point. You wrote:

              If it’s true that you “couldn’t have wanted differently” then it is true by virtue of determinism.

              That’s fine. But my point was this: Why require that you could have wanted differently? If we do require that, then we can rule out free choice (as I did with my regress argument) without ever mentioning or alluding to determinism. All we need is the assumption that you can make only finitely many choices (or have only finitely many desires) in a finite time.

              1. Steve, this is the last thing I’m going to say to you because you are incredibly boorish.

                Determinism is required because if determinism is not true then one can choose differently even if all physical facts are the same.

                If you cannot see that then you have no business describing other people’s philosophical arguments as “bad.” I think you really need to get over yourself and accept that you can be wrong, miss things, etc.

            2. Again, determinism only “comes in” if you presuppose that the answer is no (you could NOT have wanted differently), which I don’t. But even if you could have wanted differently (due to quantum indeterminacy etc.), this would lend exactly zero support to the notion of “free will” that people like Jerry, Sam Harris, Susan Blackmore and my humble self are criticizing. Accidentally happening to want (or choose) something does not constitute an act of free will.

              1. I’m not sure if you’re trying to argue with me and if so I’m not sure why since we seem to agree on pretty much every point.

              2. Oh, no problem. I like arguing usually. I just didn’t know how to rebut you when I essentially agree with you (except about determinism but obviously we’re having some trouble with that particular concept in this thread).

            3. Dan: Let me try to restate further what Steve has shown.

              Consider this principle:
              (P) If agent S’s choice C caused by a desire or preference (or some other causal antecedent of the choice) D is free, then S must have freely chosen (to have) D.

              Now isn’t it obvious that if we’re committed to (P), no finitely minded being can have free will, for reasons of infinite regress? And that this is true independently of whether determinism is true? (This, by the way, is a cousin of an argument by Galen Strawson for the impossibility of ultimate moral responsibility.) Notice that determinism itself does not support or undermine (P).

              In other words: determinism is irrelevant to whether (P) is true, and (P)’s truth alone would suffice to show that none of us have free will. If we accept (P), we have a shorter argument against free will than one that has to appeal to determinism. (I take it that this is what Steve is saying.)

              1. Determinism is not irrelevant to (P). This is very simple to see. If determinism is not true then the choice C does not need to be caused by D. If determinism is not true then D can cause some OTHER choice C’; also, C can be caused by some other desire, D’. You guys are all sneaking in determinism through the back door. I don’t need to commit to P unless determinism is true and that is what I’ve been arguing all along.

                There’s another reason why infinite regress doesn’t work here. Since we’re only alive for a finite amount of time any theory of free will must account for a first choice. But if we’re accounting for a first choice then there is no infinite regress. But I don’t even want to get into some stupid argument about the causal relationship between desires and choices.

                Why not? Because we don’t know enough about how the brain works to have those kinds of arguments. We don’t have a mechanics of choice so all we can do on this score is talk out our arses.

              2. Tom: Thanks for the restatement. We can state the regress argument (as I did in my first reply to Bjarte Foshaug) even without using the words ’caused’ and ‘causal’. The argument, if it’s sound, shows that free choice is impossible. But my question has been, “Why regard it as sound?”

                Analogy: (1) No proper subset of a set S can have as many members as S has. (2) If there are infinitely many integers, then (1) is false (because there are as many even integers as there are integers). Therefore:(3) There aren’t infinitely many integers. That argument rules out the infinity of the integers, but only if we accept (1). Why not, instead, reject (1)? I ask the same question about the regress argument against free choice: why not reject its doubtful premise rather than accept its conclusion?

                (By the way, I hope you don’t get called “incredibly boorish” for restating the argument.)

              3. For the record, I called Steve “boorish” not for making an incorrect argument but for posturing. Steve:
                1) Used the word “bad” to describe Coyne’s argument without any qualification or admission that Steve himself might be mistaken on some point
                2) Seems to be demanding the Coyne do battle with the mighty Steve in the arena of analytical philosophy.
                Both are incredibly presumptuous.

                Furthermore, Steve’s argument which he claims does not invoke the notion of “cause” quite clearly does:
                You freely choose A only if you freely choose at least one factor (call it ‘B’) that came before your choice of A; you freely choose B only if you freely choose at least one factor (call it ‘C’) that came before your choice of B, and so on.

                This is a description of a causal chain. This implicitly assumes that causality and determinism are at work. “A must be caused by B” is an implicit assumption here; merely rephrasing as “must come before” doesn’t cut the mustard. If determinism is false then it is simply not true that B has to come before A. That is exactly what we mean by “determinism.”

                Steve’s wrongness on this point is a separate issue from his boorishness, however.

          2. I think Jerry has made it very clear – including in the above post – that he accepts quantum indeterminacy and why it is simply irrelevant to his case againts free will.

            Even if quantum indeterminacy could somehow influence the outcome of a choice, this would only add an element of randomness to the process which is not controlled by the will. It doesn’t follow that your will ITSELF was the ultimate – uncaused – cause of that outcome. The human will is still rooted in the activity of the human brain, even if this activty is partially random. A choice is just another link in the causal chain (technically “causal web” is probably a better expression) – not the spontaneous origin of a new chain ex nihilo.

            1. Yes, I agree completely: even if quantum indeterminacy breaks determinism, it:
              a) doesn’t seem relevant at the scale of the mechanisms at work in the brain
              b) still wouldn’t constitute free will.

              But I’m not even sure quantum indeterminacy breaks determinism. Quantum indeterminacy (or really the uncertainty principle) is a theory about what we’re able to learn, not about what’s actually true.

              1. Dan, I think most physicists nowadays would disagree with you. Double-slit experiments show interference patterns even when there is only one photon at a time in the experimental apparatus. The wave function does have some kind of reality, and the probabilities it generates are fundamental, not caused by ignorance (unlike the probabilities that come out of statistical mechanics).

              2. @Lou:

                Your example doesn’t contradict my thesis. When you do a “double slit experiment” you are making a measurement. My thesis is:

                it is possible that the indeterminacy of quantum experiments is caused by the measurement rather than by the thing being measured.

                So the statistical nature of the results of a double slit experiment may be caused by the measurement rather than the underlying reality. I’m not saying that this is definitely true, only that it is possible.

              3. Maybe a clearer example would have been the nonlocality experiments testing Bell’s theorem. Or maybe better, the decay of a radioactive nucleus. That occurs randomly, almost regardless of what you happen to be doing to the nucleus.

              4. The uncertainty relation certainly applies in the absence of measurement. Contrary to the recent reports, this has been known for decades. See, at the *latest*, the 1967 volume _Quantum Theory and Reality_, which has several papers which address this very topic.

                In fact, I believe one points out that even the name “uncertainty principle” is a misnomer.

                It is better to think of it sort of like this, from what I understand. In classical physics, properties like velocity and position are sharp: single-valued. Whereas in the quantum they are distributions in general. Incidentally, this is why all the stuff about realism is so wrongheaded: this is a perfectly realist interpretation, just not a classical one.

    2. Bjarte,

      You are exactly right about people who for whatever reason, redefine the question at hand. I suspect this is done by those that would deny that free will does not in fact exist.

    3. What really annoys me are people (often other atheists who don’t believe in the ghost in the machine) who simply redefine “free will” as something else [let’s call it “free will (2)”] – thereby changing the subject – and then go on to argue that your arguments against free will (1) are wrong because free will (2) exists (AS IF we were still talking about the same thing).

      I, on the other side, is really annoyed by people who simply merge the simple folk biology notion, let’s call it free will (0), with the philosophical notion of free will (1) and declare that “free will” does not exist and that free will (0) is a “mistaken” philosophical “compatibilist” notion. And long, complex sentences are annoying too.

      Of course free will exist, but not in the anti-science sense of (1). Rather it is an heuristic which is orthogonal science, and quite useful for modeling self and others. (Attributing simple notion of “free will” to complex agents instead of attributing “biology made them act according to a complex product of genes and environment”.) Heuristics exists.

      1. Let me be clear that existence and the usefulness of the heuristic is all I put on a stake here. See my earlier comment below, where I note that going after philosophy isn’t terribly useful for either science or atheism.

        Dualisms of philosophic “free will” type do not exist. Biology exists on a template of chemistry and physics, philosophic “free will” is unsubstantiated woo, and it is better to be upfront with that.

  4. Dr. Coyne has yet to answer the question I asked in my comment on his previous post about free will:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/on-free-will-my-new-piece-in-usa-today/#comment-171033

    As far as I can tell from what he’s written, his claim that determinism rules out free choice is based on one or both of the conditions I labeled ‘C1’ and ‘C2’. But either of those conditions rules out free choice a priori, regardless of anything science says. In that case, there’s nothing scientific here, just a (bad) philosophical argument against the possibility of free choice.

    Now, there’s a third condition that just might be the basis for Dr. Coyne’s claim:

    (C3) I choose freely only if I’m consciously aware of every brain-process causally involved in my choice.

    Here’s the problem with C3. On the plausible assumption that I can be aware of a given brain-process only by way of some other brain-process, C3 generates an infinite regress, and so just like C1 and C2 it rules out free choice a priori, given that I can have only finitely many conscious experiences in a finite time. In this case again, there’s no new empirical science, just bad old philosophy.

    1. Steve, why should Jerry argue with you? You’re arguing the same thing he is: that the commonsense notion of free will is incoherent. You agree with Jerry.

      You seem to think there’s a better formulation of free will than the one you criticize but you don’t mention it explicitly. But even if you did, Jerry would just say, “But that’s not free will as most people understand it.” You’re really straining to find a point of disagreement, here.

      1. Dan: I’m accusing Dr. Coyne of putting old (and bad) wine in new bottles — pretending that a bad philosophical argument against the possibility of free choice (a) has anything to do with determinism and (b) gains support from science. Please see my replies to Bjarte Foshaug above.

        1. You’re wrong there too as I just pointed out. Coyne’s making valid arguments against incoherent ideas. I’m not sure why you have a problem with that.

  5. In all the pro ‘free will’ arguments I have seen, none has successfully defined how we would logically or experimentally differentiate ‘free will’ from a deterministic system with a quantum randomizer.

    Yet they talk about free will in dualistic terms, like it’s something special.

  6. I love the point about replacing “moral responcibility” with something that is better defined.

    And I think the way Jerry argues absence of free will is useful if only to promote such outcome.

    In the end all our communications matter – they shape our brains and affect our actions. EAnd my personal experience shows to me that understanding the absance of free will in conventional sense improves the feeling of being in charge of ones own decisions and ghighlights the value of different points of view: one always wants to expose the brain to various ways of arguing the piont because one can never know how his/hers subconscious is going to use this information

  7. physical determinism (which appears to be contradicted by physics itself, particularly quantum mechanics); and the non-existence of true emergent properties (i.e., of emergent behavior that actually is qualitatively novel, and doesn’t simply appear to be so because of our epistemic limitations)

    Pigliucci is stretching it here:
    1. physical determinism is not necessarily contradicted by quantum mechanics. He knows he’s overstating his case here, that’s why he uses the word “appears.” He can’t even begin to make the case for this.
    2. “Emergent” is pretty much meaningless. Compare all the phenomena described as “emergent” looking for commonalities. You won’t find many. “Emergent” means essentially “something I don’t understand.”

    1. Here a less mysterian notion of emergence (e.g. that of Mario Bunge) would help clarify matters. This notion is *purely* ontological: emergent properties are “merely” novel ones produced by assembly of simpler systems. This says *absolutely nothing* about how we’d predict, know, etc. them, which are epistemic notions. In fact, one of his recent books argues that some of the most interesting scientific problems are precisely trying to understand cases of emergence: e.g. mental properties from biological ones, social ones from systems of psychological entities and so forth.

      Of course, this notion of emergence is not *likely* to get anything Pigliucci wants per se …

  8. While I’m no academic, your argument rings true to me. Let me explain.

    I grew up in a conventionally dysfunctional family. I learned to call it that through reading about a great many other such families, who were ‘diagnosed’ as dysfunctional by actual academics.

    The families I read about all had a member, or members, who had fallen foul of the law, usually in very egregious ways (read serial killers and sundry other murderers: people generally placed under the rubric of ‘just plain bad’).

    None of these miscreants came from what we regard as a ‘normal’ upbringing; all came from circumstances many if not most would consider hellish, which included such delights as abject poverty (emotional, fiscal, and spiritual), physical and ‘mental’ abuse, and a litany of crap many readers wouldn’t believe.

    It seems to me that societies generally have used religion, first and foremost, as justification for judging the ‘outputs’ of such dysfunctional ‘inputs’, allowing the self-righteous to point the finger and dole out suitable punishment, while denying all responsibility for conditions they helped, and continue to help, create. (I note that the US state of Texas is nonpareil in executing the ‘just plain bad’.)

    I hope that coming to an understanding of just how ‘unfree’ our wills are may lead some to revise their opinions and voting behavior when it comes to consideration of those less fortunate than themselves.

  9. I’ve realized since Jerry’s last post that contra-causal free will is relevant to one situation people think about:

    Why can an omniscient, omnipotent god hold people morally responsible for things that god should have seen coming, and could have stopped?

    Some people appeal to (contra-causal) free will to give god a pass on that.

    However, free will comes up in other things people think about, and I’ve yet to hear anyone plausibly argue that contra-causality is important to any of those other concepts of free will. For example:
    -contra-causality is irrelevant to secular justice
    -contra-causality is irrelevant to rejecting fatalism/nihilism
    -contra-causality is irrelevant to whether we really make choices, or whether we can make choices, or whether our choices reflect our values

    An outright rejection of “free-will” because it lacks one property that might be important for one fantastical situation seems silly to me.

  10. One is to give up the idea of punishment as retribution…second, and more important, [I make such a prescription because] such arguments do affect people, and can influence their decisions.

    Your social policy position does not at all follow from your ‘no free will’ position. After all, punishment as retribution can influence people’s decisions the same way arguments can.

    As I understand it, you make a prescriptive argument because you think that while [x action] may not influence people’s free will (because they don’t have any), [x action] will influence other people’s actions because its still empirical input into the machine. You argue this is true when [x action] = an argument. But it will be just as true when [x action] = punishment.

    In short, your position on free will provides no support whatsoever for any particular judicial public policy position, because all responses to crime – punishment, argument, or a hug – empirically affect our non-free brains.

    1. Exactly. Learning does NOT require free will. Avoiding harm does not require free will… a fully deterministic computer program in a robot can learn to avoid damaging or negative situations. Punishment can work the same way.

    2. Coyne has already said before that he doesn’t think that getting rid of punishment is an outcome of the elimination of free will – he says that getting rid of the idea of punishment as a form of retribution is the outcome. That punishment cannot be seen as anything except behavior modification, since the individual cannot be held “responsible” for his/her actions because those actions were already determined.

      Since punishment would be a set of inputs into the system that could alter body chemistry, I think Coyne would have to be an idiot to think that at least certain kinds of punishment couldn’t work to change that body chemistry. It’s just that this view of determinism removes the “let the punishment fit the crime” aspect of punishment and makes “punishment” completely about behavior modification, not about eye for an eye or anything like that.

      1. he [Coyne] says that getting rid of the idea of punishment as a form of retribution is the outcome. That punishment cannot be seen as anything except behavior modification.

        If the unfree public, victims, and perps all see the State performing acts of retribution, this empirical data will affect the unfree public’s, victim’s, and perp’s future actions just as much as argument will.

        The only viable way I see for you or Jerry to argue against retribution as public policy is to show that unfreewilled people do not use retributive acts as input the same way they do other empirical inputs. And AFAIK, you have not shown that.

        1. No, eric, if there is only determinism, and no choices, then it is not possible for you to make any actions — you only react based on prior states and reactions.

          No choices, no judgment, no punishment, no learning. Only the illusion of being conscious of the experiences as they happen without any actual input of your own.

          If Dr. Coyne is right (and I do not believe he is), you can’t possibly provide input of your own — there is no “you” and your molecules can only react so there is no “input”.

          All of his language demonstrates that he doesn’t actually believe that he makes no choices — the same with all the other posters who claim not to believe in ‘free will.’

            1. steve, your illusion of consciousness is experiencing the reactions from previous reactions (going back to the Big Bang) that cause a reaction that forces you to type that you ‘believe’ something.

              For the reasons that you don’t believe in free will, you also have to concede that you are incapable of ‘believing’ anything, also that there is no ‘you’ aside from the collection of atoms.

              Sorry, but it is internally inconsistent.

  11. I think Massimo has one small thing right. You’ve often argued “A practical test of free will would be this: If you were put in the same position twice — if the tape of your life could be rewound to the exact moment when you made a decision, with every circumstance leading up to that moment the same and all the molecules in the universe aligned in the same way — you could have chosen differently.”

    However, that’s totally not a practical test. You have other good arguments, so drop this idea.

    You have to realize you should; you dropped it and ran off in other directions when responding to Massimo about this.

    1. To be fair, it ought not be up to the Non-Free Willist to define what free will is.

      It is the Free Willist that asserts the existence of free will, so that rightly places the job of defining on them.

      As it turns out, free will defies definition, even for the staunchest of free willists.
      Definitions such as “FW is being able to do what you want to do” or “FW is making reasoned decisions”, or “FW is what the person wills absent of external compulsions”, are often offered up by FWists. FWists that apparently are ignorant of historically correct notion of FW… the concept libertarian free will or contra-causal free will, that has been used as the foundation for moral culpability/blame/responsibility. But even those FWists that know enough to know that free will means libertarian free will, stumble when they are pressed to define just what they are asserting.

    2. As Steve implies, the issue is not one of testability, but of identifying various definitions of FW to which people out there hold, regardless of whether FW exists or not.

      The use of the phrase “test of free will” is perhaps ill-advised. Coyne is only trying to describe the incoherent conception of FW many people have. The hypothesis that many people hold this conception of FW is eminently testable: simply go out and ask a bunch of people!

  12. First—and to me this is the decisive one—our brains are made of molecules. Molecules (and the neurons they make up) must obey the laws of physics. Our “decisions” are made by brains. Therefore our brains must obey the laws of physics.

    I completely agree. Either all our decisions are natural consequences of laws of physics or the laws of physics are being violated in our brains all the time and for all the people. The latter is clearly an extraordinary claim and you know what they say about extraordinary claims.

  13. Nah, this whole discussion is not going to make anything go away, not even religious precepts that depend on free will. For that to happen you would have to disprove the existence of the soul, and you will never be able to do that in any compelling easy to understand manner. The “rewind the tape” thought experiment is okay, but you get a different answer if you believe in dualism, so it is not useful to disprove dualism.

    Furthermore, the tape can indeed play out differently, depending on how far back it is rewound. There is no “moment the decision is made”, it is all a process that takes time, with no specific starting point. It all goes into setting the state of your brain, no matter how far back you go. Eventually you will reach a point where those random quantum effects will indeed affect the subsequent state and result (at least potentially) in a different outcome. It doesn’t matter if quantum effects are even involved in how your brain works, it just changes how long back you need to go. An hour, a month, a year, a decade, eventually you will reach a point where the outcome will be different.

    1. Actually, neuroscience provides plenty of compelling evidence against the common notion of a “soul.” Dualists can always make ad hoc redefinitions of “soul” to avoid running afoul of the neuropathological evidence that has essentially disproved the existence of souls since the case of Phineas Gage but that’s no different from the way theologians redefine God to protect the idea from scientific discoveries (and end up with the Incredible Shrinking God).

      If you can get a dualist to commit to a definition of soul that makes predictions about the real world then you can disprove it. The problem is getting a dualist to commit to anything in the first place.

      1. Right. Never gonna happen. Most people whose religion implicitly support dualism are not going to bother. You are not going to even make a dent in their worldview with these arguments.

        1. Prove it. 🙂

          Fact is a lot of people DO start to revise their worldview when exposed to evidence from neuroscience. I know this from first-hand experience.

          1. That’s easy. It is analogous with the idea of God. Most people come to religion from their childhood teachings. Most will not deal with the contradictions between what they believe and what they know. This is the fundamental cognitive dissonance. When they are subjected to the contradictions, they obtain plausible deniability by adjusting their definitions during the discussions and then going back to their old ideas when the discussion is over.

            This is the standard “you can’t prove God doesn’t exist” argument. People will fall back on that argument, even though their day-to-day idea of God is indeed falsifiable. They will totally believe that God answers prayers and performs miracles all the time, but when confronted, they will happily trot out the ineffable God that has no current interactions with nature. Then when you are gone, out comes the intercessionary God again.

            The same works for the soul. They will happily imagine that their self-image is actually their soul. When confronted with the fact that there is no mechanism by which the soal can interact with the physical body, it suddenly becomes a spiritual entity that doesn’t interact on the physical realm. Until you leave that is.

            Now, of course there are some people that will be influenced, but these are questions that most people are just going to ignore because it is very easy to ignore.

            1. Now, of course there are some people that will be influenced, but these are questions that most people are just going to ignore because it is very easy to ignore.

              First you said “never gonna happen.” Now you’re saying sometimes it will happen. I suspect this discussion may not be going anywhere.

              1. No, you misunderstand. I do not think that no one will be influenced, of course some people will. My “never gonna happen” was a comment on the statement that Jerry made:
                …”many important religious precepts depend on free will, and those will go away if free will is an illusion.”

                They will not go away just because the definition of free will we are using (the tape re-wound conscious mind free will) means that free will does not exist.

              2. I agree to some extent that it’s not quite as simple as showing everyone the evidence. But as long as doing so convinces some people then it’s worth making these arguments. I don’t expect the whole house of cards to tumble down just because of a few neuroscience experiments but I don’t think anyone really thinks it will.

                Those most willing to critically examine their beliefs are probably going to be some of the more intellectually inclined dualists. These are the people who lend the best intellectual support to the concept of dualism. This weakens the foundations of dualistic belief without necessarily collapsing the whole edifice. As fewer and fewer people agree that dualism is reasonable those who cling to it by making ad hoc defenses look more and more unreasonable and it becomes easier and easier to convince people to critically examine dualistic beliefs.

                I picked up on a thread in your comment that I interpreted as a kind of fatalism: that it’s not worth even talking about this stuff because you can’t convince anybody of anything. I don’t believe that and I find that attitude counterproductive. However, this might not have been what you were trying to say. I apologize if I misinterpreted you.

    2. Concept of “soul” is already doomed: we know that electrical signals is what makes our muscles move. If a supernatural entity is responsible for our actions then it follows that a supernatural entity is interfering with our bodies and is creating such electrical signal; regardless of it being done directly or indirectly, it follows that a supernatural entity is violating the laws of physics and has physiological impacts. And that claim flies in the face of all the advances in biology and physics.

      1. Nope. That is according to your definition of “soul”. Like the definition of “God”, it is not the same definition as that used by true believers. And it doesn’t matter what your definition is, either. Like pornography, God and Soul are defined by “I know it when I see it”. If you can disprove it, then that wasn’t the definition they are using. Even if it is the definition they are using.

        1. Right, it would nice if you can come up with “alternate” definition that is marginally mainstream. The fact is the majority of the believers, accept the literal existence of various goofy things rejected by science. Playing definition games does not help your argument.

          1. I don’t have one. But as long as there is disagreement between definitions such that the answer can be “yes” or “no” depending on your choice without some one definition being compelling to most people, the argument is simply not going to do much to change the world. The majority of people are not going to change their world view if they do not have compelling evidence. They may not even if there was, but certainly not if there isn’t.

        2. And if you speak to the believers, when presented with scientific arguments against soul, they do not play definition games. They blame the science. They either claim in time science will support them, or science will discover “soul”, or that science has been “wrong” in the past so it will always be “wrong” and etc. I have never encountered a believer who would change his/her definition of soul.

          1. I meet them all the time. It is not the definition that is really changing though. Every believer has to reconcile it in some way. Most just choose to ignore the problem. Many religion have a judgement of the soul when you die. This implies that the soul must direct the body. So, on a day to day basis, most believers say “soul”, but describe “mind”. When it is pointed out that the mind is part of the body and doesn’t have an independent existence, that is when they fall back on the normal attributes of the soul and give up on the mind. But they will almost certainly go back to thinking in terms of the mind again when the argument is over. Most people don’t think that they are changing anything here, they just go with the flow.

  14. 3 points, some of which have been touched on in earlier comments:

    “If you choose vanilla rather than strawberry at an ice cream store because your neurons and taste buds have determined that in advance, in what sense is the decision ‘free’?”

    The choice is free in the uncontroversial sense that I wasn’t compelled by anyone else to choose as I did, rather the choice was my *own* doing, caused by *my* preferences and deliberative capacities. Everyone wants to be free in this sense, but many are not in many aspects of their lives.

    “We are not powerless, though all of our behaviors—including whether we’re susceptible to the ministrations of others—are determined.”

    Exactly so, which is why you should retract the statement in your USA Today piece that “The ineluctable scientific conclusion is that although we feel that we’re characters in the play of our lives, rewriting our parts as we go along, in reality we’re puppets performing scripted parts written by the laws of physics.” Puppets don’t have powers, but we do, and it’s critical that people not suppose that naturalism implies puppethood. We’re just as powerful and causally effective as the factors that create us and the causal laws to which we necessarily conform in our behavior, including the laws of physics.

    “And we really must rethink the idea of moral responsibility in a world in which there may not be free will. Perhaps we can dispense with the idea of moral responsibility along with the idea of [contra-causal] free will! That may be radical, but it may also be sensible.”

    Yes! I hope people will read Bruce Waller’s excellent new book “Against Moral Responsibility” in which he shows the eminent good sense of abandoning our hugely damaging moral responsibility system, while retaining morality, responsibility (there are other varieties besides moral responsibility), and self-efficacy, http://www.amazon.com/Against-Moral-Responsibility-Bruce-Waller/dp/0262016591

    1. Tom,

      I think language and people’s conceptions get fuzzy.

      Take the puppet problem and the difference between being overtly compelled by a man at gunpoint as opposed to “freely” giving your money to a man on the street (without any overt compelling). The difference would be like two different puppets. In the first there is say 10 strings attached to our puppet that moves this individual’s body in a fairly overt fashion; in the latter case there is 100,000 strings not hooked up to body parts but connected to structures in the puppet’s head that subsequently, and complexly, compels the puppet.

      I, and Coyne and Sam, call both these situations puppets, for good reasons.

      Your speaking about power is also confusing. The latter puppet does not somehow control those 100,000 strings, she does not somehow cut or re-arrange those strings. If one of those strings wobbles because of quantum indeterminacy it is also not a gain of control or “power,” as we all agree. The puppet, which is what we are, is only as powerful as its strings. Our strings happen to be immense; and with better focus on building better selves, those strings become even more useful.

      It is only by continuing to abstract the agent (the individual, the puppet, us) out of the causal structure that it makes sense to say that we have a “power” and non-puppet-hood. Yes, our brains made us the universe’s greatest puppets, with qualities and characteristics and representational structures and linguistic framings, but nowhere do we step outside of puppet-hood, so to speak, nor gain a “power” without qualifying what we mean by power. When it comes to decision-making, the “power” that most people believe they excercise is not like that of Deep Blue deciding a chess move or Watson deciding on an answer, but in the end our “powers” and choices reduce to such, even those deciding on what our future self should be.

      1. Lyndon,

        You have two types of puppets going, one controlled by a few external strings, the other by its own complex inner workings. But why call an entity that’s controlled by its inner workings a puppet? That’s to erase the original distinction between being a puppet (exclusively controlled by external forces like strings) and being an autonomous, self-controlled entity (acting by dint of its own behavior control processes). Of course the autonomous entity doesn’t directly control its inner workings, since it *is* those inner workings (although we do exert indirect recursive self-control in many respects, as you suggest in “building better selves”). But for the same reason this also means it isn’t at the mercy of those workings, it isn’t being pushed around by them as Jerry seems to think (see my reply to him at #1). And these workings give it its own power, as you and Jerry both admit. So imo to call ourselves puppets is to deeply mis-characterize ourselves, just as it’s deeply mistaken to say we have contra-causal freedom. Saying that causation makes us puppets is not only false, but sets back the cause of naturalism badly since people really don’t want to be reduced to marionettes.

        To recognize ourselves as autonomous agents isn’t to arbitrarily or illicitly “abstract the agent out of the causal structure”, but to admit that there’s a real distinction between the person and her environment. We don’t step out of the causal stream, but the stream has robustly identifiable, stable macro-complexes, some of which constitute us. That our powers might ultimately reduce to the powers of Deep Blue or Watson doesn’t obliterate the very real distinction between naturalistic autonomy and puppethood – having no internal behavior-guiding control capacities.

        1. But why call an entity that’s controlled by its inner workings a puppet?

          I’ll tell you why. The reason is there are people who think they (and not only their self but they think all humans) have libertarian free will (and guide/direct/set policy based upon this belief)… and so because they do, they deserve to be held morally culpable.
          So. we are forced to be quite clear that there are no “stringless” moves that anyone can make.

          People are actors, not agents.

          1. Much better that we tell these people what’s actually the case: that they don’t have libertarian free will, and therefore aren’t deserving of retributive (non-consequentialist) punishment, while reminding them they still have all the causal powers they’ve been exercising all along, so aren’t mere puppets of circumstances or of other people’s bidding. Saying this, we’re being clear, not misleading, about human agency and we won’t set back the cause of naturalism.

        2. Tom,

          Are you okay calling Watson a “puppet”?

          Coyne and Harris, obviously, are using “puppet” in a similar way to the calling of a complex machine a puppet. There are complex, internal, and autonomous structures within machines. Yes, there are internal machinations, that is, massively complex internal “strings” that consistently interact and are shaped by new external strings. And humans are more complex than any machine we have touched, and have programming and structures for self-structuring and self-organizations, but nowhere do we escape the “puppet” or machine dynamic. There is no more reason to fear that analysis than to fear the analysis that we evolved from apes: it is a fact we will have to get used to, individually and as a society.

          I think, here, you are still glossing the crux of the problem:

          “But for the same reason this also means it isn’t at the mercy of those workings, it isn’t being pushed around by them as Jerry seems to think (see my reply to him at #1).”

          The self (“it”) is at the “mercy” of its strings, whether external or internal. Psychologically the self prefers internal strings to external, such preferences being structured by “strings” as well. It (the self) is being pushed around by its strings, mostly internal, there is no plausible way to escape that. Some of those strings, the more complicated and human ones, pose counterfactuals about one’s own self, about ones own behavior, and changes the self (the strings) thereby: but those are still just a complicated pattern of strings or machine-like decision making.

          The discourse here should be about upsetting the folk psychological and naive phenomenological beliefs about the self and what we do when we choose or act. Admitting that we are machines, which I would probably prefer to puppet, is the best place to start.

          1. Ok, if you want to talk about our being mechanical in the sense of algorithmic, determined, etc. that’s fine, nothing to be afraid of. But to say that not having contra-causal freedom makes us puppets is to obliterate a very important distinction in the natural world, between autonomous, self-guiding creatures (such as robots are gradually becoming, so no, Watson ain’t no puppet) and entities that have no internal behavior-guiding resources.

            And I don’t see why you and Jerry stand by the claim that the self is coerced or pushed around by it’s own characteristics or desires. To say that obliterates yet another crucial distinction: between acting on one’s own desires (an important type of freedom) and being compelled by external agents or forces.

            What seems to be going on is that in denying contra-causal free will (CCRW), you’re partaking of the supernaturalist libertarian reaction to its loss: that our natural freedoms and control capacities don’t count for much in comparison with supernatural freedom. In correcting people’s understanding of human agency, we don’t want to forget about our real powers.

            1. Tom,

              Distinctions are fine to make, and should be made. Language, and all the connotations that surround certain words is difficult to reflect on and draw out what those connotations are doing to us. Which is why yearning to keep the word “autonomy” in the picture, e.g., can be problematic.

              Take two simple “puppets,” to hypsostatize our example. One you pull on a string, and it lifts up. The other you pull on a string, and three internal strings that interact in some specific way, then make it lift up. If we wish to understand the situation, to describe what is happening, of course we need to describe ALL of the physical machinations, including the internal strings on the latter. The distinction between outside (direct) compulsion and internal compulsion (Compatibilist freedom worth saving) is a distinction that should be made. Applying the term “autonomy” to the latter, necessary smuggles in the connotations that attach to “autonomy” and fails to describe the situation in the best way to describe it. Coyne makes the distinction between external compulsion and internal compulsion in every article he’s written, that I’ve seen. But “acting on one’s own desires” is just another form of strings. You may value the strings that make you you, and they may be good strings for building good societies, but they are still strings.

              Coyne and Harris use “puppet,” again obviously to anyone reading their pieces, because the properties that we once described to those internal machinations work in a more “puppet” or machine like fashion, such as in the second puppet above, than like the categories that folk psychology describes to the inner workings of the human brain/mind.

              1. “Applying the term “autonomy” to the latter, necessary smuggles in the connotations that attach to “autonomy” and fails to describe the situation in the best way to describe it.”

                I don’t agree, since there are perfectly naturalistic notions of autonomy that capture the distinctions we are making quite well, as for instance explored by Bruce Waller in The Natural Selection of Autonomy (see my review at http://www.naturalism.org/reviews.htm#Waller So long as we warn people, as we do, that we’re not talking about contra-causal freedom, then there’s no problem in talking about autonomy.

                “But “acting on one’s own desires” is just another form of strings.”

                Not so, since strings are external and control the puppet, which has no internal control mechanisms, whereas acting on one’s own desires is a matter of internal mechanisms guiding one’s behavior. To claim that these are equivalent is to erase a crucial, robust distinction that’s everywhere in the natural world where self-controlled mobile creatures (and robots) exist. We needn’t and shouldn’t erase it in making the important point we don’t have contra-causal freedom when correcting folk psychology.

              2. My example above was supposed to show that the distinction between external and internal can become rather banal. It is for a similar reason that Coyne and Harris call humans puppets, not because they are externally controlled but because of the properties of the internal strings. The internal structure is extremely complex for humans but not dynamically different than “string-like” manipulation.

                In the example above, where you have a simple one-to-one puppet as opposed to a puppet that has a one-to-four component, where one pull of the external string will move 4 internal ones, though there is an “internal” structure to the second puppet, we would probably all still call this a puppet or a toy, or whatever it is. Things get far messier for humans, including environment/innate factors that can take years to “internally” digest, where multiple outside (environment and innate) strings combine to form inner strings that combine to create ever more complex structures, but nothing about the internal structure of humans and the properties it grants us takes us out of that dynamic.

              3. Lastly, and I have enjoyed our discussion by the way, connotations are not something we choose as individuals, as philosophers, for our society. It is why most people here accept that Compatibilists pulled a sleight of hand and recognize that it is problematic to go around saying “that of course you have free will.”

                The most important thing I think we should be doing with our language is undermining its reified nature, helping us reflect on what it does to our self and our conceptions and our understandings of the world. Where language and concepts can be used in a more non-obscuring way, we should be doing so.

            2. And I don’t see why you and Jerry stand by the claim that the self is coerced or pushed around by it’s own characteristics or desires.

              It’s not that the self is coerced or pushed around by it’s own characteristics/desires, it’s the the self is coerced or pushed around by the self’s heredity and environmental inputs. (Oh wait, the self is a resultant of the self’s herdity and environment… so it’s all the thing and it means the same thing after all.)

              1. Right, the self isn’t self created; it’s a function of its environment and heredity. But having been “pushed around” by the factors that created it, it then equally gets to push around other things according to its motives and desires. It’s just as causally effective as the factors that created it. You can’t logically attribute power to one and not the other. Puppets on the other hand, push nothing around since they don’t have any capacity to do so.

                Glad we agree that “It’s not that the self is coerced or pushed around by it’s own characteristics/desires” which is what Jerry seems to think in #1 above.

    2. The choice is free in the uncontroversial sense that I wasn’t compelled by anyone else to choose as I did, rather the choice was my *own* doing, caused by *my* preferences and deliberative capacities. Everyone wants to be free in this sense, but many are not in many aspects of their lives.

      But it is not libertarianly free, which is what FWists mean when they refer to a choice being a FW choice. Come on Tom, let us NFWists not confuse the language of this dialog as compatibilists are want to do. Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone longs to be free in the legal sense of the word… but the real question is how people believe themselves to be (libertarianly free). The issue at hand is not the issue as to how much legal freedom an individual has, but how much contra-causal free will… which is zero, zilch, nada… man only has the illusion of libertarian free will.

      Puppets don’t have powers, but we do, and it’s critical that people not suppose that naturalism implies puppethood. We’re just as powerful and causally effective as the factors that create us and the causal laws to which we necessarily conform in our behavior, including the laws of physics.

      But puppets have the same kind of power we have. Puppet limbs move about directed by strings, our limbs move about directed by the chain of events that make up our matrix of determinants. While we may be causally effective, that effectiveness does not originate with us exactly because of the causal laws. As for naturalism, I thought the question at hand was the illusion of free will, not the bigger question of naturalism. Why conflate the two?

      1. I agree that it’s important to disabuse people of the notion they have contra-causal freedom, something I’ve been doing for years. But it’s equally important for people not to draw the wrong conclusions from this, see “Encountering naturalism: common errors and exaggerations” at http://www.naturalism.org/resource.htm#Encounter

        I whole-heartedly agree that our effectiveness does not *originate* with us, but that doesn’t mean we’re not effective agents with lots of internal behavior control resources, what puppets patently don’t have. Sometime have a look at Bruce Waller’s book, The Natural Selection of Autonomy, reviewed at http://www.naturalism.org/reviews.htm#Waller Here’s a quote from the review relevant to this point:

        “In his discussions of free will, Waller demonstrates that it is possible to have real autonomy (the capacity to select among anticipated alternatives) and real authenticity (the capacity to form deep, character-based commitments) without supposing that we have a “miraculous freedom from environmental influences and past causal history.” The freedom most of us normally have isn’t a “libertarian mysterious choice” but a high degree of naturally given cognitive flexibility, operating within the constraints of our naturally derived character and our available options. We can explain this freedom, naturalistically and deterministically, as the fortunate outcome of how we’ve been shaped by biological and environmental contingencies, just as we can explain the relative lack of freedom of those with limited flexibility (e.g., drug addicts, schizophrenics) as the unfortunate outcomes of different contingencies. This means that there’s no “true self” or essential self-constructing agency within the individual that’s responsible for being free (or unfree) in this naturalistic sense.”

        And I’m not conflating the issue of free will with naturalism, only pointing out how misconstruals of what science and naturalism says about human freedom can set back the cause of promoting science and naturalism, which is what I assume is among Jerry’s objectives in hosting this bl-, er, website.

    3. I too enjoyed Waller’s book, but I think it was a bit hasty in the actual argument against moral responsibility. It reads like some of my stuff, where instead of positive arguments, the arguments against are demolished instead. (A Nietzschian flavour, which is weird, at least in my case.)

  15. We do have a close approximation of the re-winding the tape situation. It’s called transient global amnesia. People with this condition repeat the exact series of phrases over and over like a broken record.

    For a fantastic demonstration of this, listen to the RadioLab podcast episode “Loops”.

    It would be hard to believe in free will as defined by Coyne after listening to that episode.

    1. I was going to bring up this same example. After listening to the “Loops” episode, I couldn’t help but think it was potentially convincing evidence against free will.

  16. The brain has been shown to be malleable, and we can decide to change our brain by learning, practicing, etc. We can also risk destroying our brain by drinking alcohol to excess or riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Therefore, we are in charge of our brains.

    and I feel compelled to quote Emo Phillips here:

    “Sometimes I think the brain is the most important organ in the body… and then I realize, look what’s telling me that!”

  17. Lets start by agreeing that one’s physical brain state determines what we do (reconstruct the brain state and you will get the same action) and that what we do can affect what others do by changing their environmental state.

    Strange, don’t you think, that I can, to some degree, control what others do, but not what I can do? But, of course, we can control what we do.

    We can agree that what we do now will affect what we will do in the future, because our current actions change our own environmental state. But, and I think this is the key point, we do not have to take physical (non-brain) actions to affect our future actions–we can simulate the results of our actions in our brains. (If I do X, then Y will happen,etc…)

    In other words, our “free will” consists of the fact that, by contemplating the results of any actions we may take, we change our brain state, and therefore what we do. In the end, JAC is right, our brain state determines what we do, but our brain can change its brain state. We change the physical state of our brain when we memorize a phone number.

    No one is claiming any supernatural force here. The brain is a computer which does not exist in artificial form (yet). It is a computer that can rewrite its programming based on the results derived from its existing programming.

    It is this strange loop, not yet fully understood, that leads me to think that something like free will (I prefer to call it volition) is compatible with physics.

    1. If you are controlling what others do then by definition others are controlling what you do.

      So where does this “strange loop” lead us ?

      I interpret what you are saying to mean that our pre-determined outputs can be used as inputs both by others and ourselves.

      Other than increasing the complexity of the system I can’t see that there are any new properties at work here.

      1. Steve,
        What Neil overlooks is that his “what we do” is done without libertarian free will. If he had properly formulated his statement by saying, “that which we are fully caused to do can affect what others do by changing their environmental state” He would not have ended up with his mistaken conclusion.

  18. I think on (1) the corect way to look at the analogy with coin flips is that saying we don’t have free will is like saying a coin flip isn’t random. It’s true, but somehow irrelevent.

    1. Does free will matter? Isn’t the illusion of free will (since we don’t know how different variables will influence our “choice”) good enough?
      I think this raises the argument from the ‘nit-picky’ to the heart of the matter. If by all accounts we feel and believe we are ‘free agents’ then we therefore can take responsibility for our actions. So then is our guilt ‘real’ or an ‘illusion?’ Not sure how to get out from under that heavy burden.

      1. If by all accounts we feel and believe we are ‘free agents’ then we therefore can take responsibility for our actions.

        No, it is not enough that we have an illusion of being free agents, we would have to be actual free agents.

        So then is our guilt ‘real’ or an ‘illusion?’

        The guilt is real, but it is an invalid guilt because it is based upon an illusion.

    2. No, Christopher, it isn’t.

      Thinking that another person “could have done otherwise” based upon the illusion that they could have is not the same as if they really could have done otherwise. Period.

      1. No, steve, there can be no ‘guilt’ without the ability to do more than react — and you appear to believe there is no ‘free will’, hence, no ability to do more than react.

        Too many people don’t think through the ramifications of this process.

        I believe ‘free will’ is like ‘solid’ or ‘wet’ or ‘temperature’ — an emergent property based in the underlying physics.

          1. Then guilt itself is an illusion and has no efficacy. Then if you feel guilty about something you have no means to make amends or to change your behavior. It is what it is.

            This is simply the case for the no-free-will position. You’ll have to deal with it, and I haven’t seen anyone deal with it so far.

  19. I think the puzzle about free will occurs as follows:

    1] For most people it just seems as if they have free will. Although their lives may be incredibly restricted by circumstances, it just seems as if they are making free decisions within those restrictions from moment to moment. It could be said that they live their lives as if they had free will.

    2] Most people who reflect on the nature of physical reality come to the conclusion that free will must be impossible. This is only indirectly connected with determinism. It’s not easy to see how one could have free will in a totally chaotic universe, or indeed in any universe that can be described in an objective way.

    But note:

    3] There are those who, for religious or other reasons, fervently wish to believe either that they do have free will or that they do not have free will.

    I think [3] explains why it is such a “hot” topic of debate. To me it hardly seems to matter; the universe doesn’t have to be the way I want it to be and whatever way it turns out I have no choice in the matter.

  20. Again, Jerry ignores the fact that our qualia/thoughts/awareness cannot be explained physically, so he just ignores it’s utility or reason for being in the first place.

    Obviously, you don’t know all the physics behind our consciousness, nobody does, but something extremely important it taking place and it is presumptuous to ignore its place in the process.

    Something we don’t understand is taking place, of a magnitude indicative of extreme importance. You don’t know how it works, Jerry, let alone that it is extraneous or not.

    The answer is twofold. First, I make such arguments because I cannot do otherwise: this is what I have been conditioned to do by my genes and my personal history.

    This is meaningless, Jerry. It is circular, a tautology. I argue that I have no free will because I have no free will! – a child knows better, you might as well just say, “because, that’s why.”

    such arguments do affect people, and can influence their decisions.

    ???? You argue for intent, which you say we don’t have. How are we supposed to change our approach to morality and accountability without a decision to make that change? Aren’t you always insisting that our thoughts are merely emergent and therefore of no consequence as regards intentional choice?

    One more: What exactly are you trying to accomplish by repeatedly parroting the 6 second observation over and over? You cannot think we primarily and continuously operate and behave 6 seconds after stimuli? You seem to take pride in trumpeting your pet remarked observation from some experiments that themselves do not warrant the conclusion you make.

    I maintain that you people do not really understand what it would mean, personally, if we don’t have free will. It is a deeply disturbing and ominous feeling of despair, yet you behave as if it is some minor curiosity or affect.

    It is devastating and completely undermines one’s sense of self and identity. I don’t believe you know what you are talking about, Jerry. I don’t see indications of understanding from you.

    1. A fine example of the false dichotomy fallacy.

      Just because we can’t explain consciousness now does not mean that a non physical (I assume you mean god did it) explanation must be true.

      This holds even if we never fully explain the physical reality behind consciousness.

      Since you claim that Jerry has no understanding in this area perhaps you could expand on this non material explanation for consciousness.

      1. Where did you get the idea that I mean a non-physical explanation entails? And you can refrain from the insults about my supposed conception of free will.
        No, I don’t mean magic, as I stated..
        I mean exactly that, because non-free willists assume a simplified version of physical reality, they should account for the situation(lack of free will and the illusion of our sense of it) if it is so straight forward and obvious.

        Why don’t you explain our illusion of free will. YOU say our mind doesn’t control decision making, YOU act like our minds are extraneous, so YOU explain why the fuck we have this awareness and illusion, because we do have it, or are you denying we don’t?

        You don’t know what is going on, so you can’t say that this or that(our perceptions, cognitions) is immaterial(LOL) to the situation.

        You are the one ignoring a blatant reality, and if can only conceive it in terms of magic, that is your unsophistication and lack of intelligence.

        You are the one claiming something effing uncomprehensible.

        The non free-willists are claiming that our minds are illusionary, that our experiences are not real. You must account for why we have a mind, not me. Everyone can demonstrate making a decision by simply acting, by taking one path out of a selection and where it is patently obvious that any choice could have been picked and acted on. Your whole effing argument is that because we can only make one choice, take one course of action at one time, therefore you conclude that that one choice was the only one possible.

        Your claim is unfalsifiable, your selection of parameters is a falsely limited representation of reality, you are the simplistic child not able to comprehend what you are actually proposing.

        Until you ‘people’, Jerry et al, can go ahead and explain why it is necessary to have an illusion of free will, why our awarenesses are there in the first place in order to necessitate having pointless illusions of reality, I could not give a shit about your mechanistic suppositions about something you obviously don’t have a clue what you are talking about.

        Do you get it yet? Do you understand what you are saying?

        Your relentless portrayal of our cognitive processes as nothing more than physical systems going through the motions meanwhile ignoring the very limitation of your mechanism to explain the central feature of the whole debate, our minds, shows how intentionally selective you are of what is being talked about.

        I get it, I effing get it, I can easily, effortlessly, envision our actions and every ASPECT OF OUR BEING as the result of a chain of precisely determined states and cause/effect situations.

        I get it, we all do, but what we don’t get is why our perceptions and awareness and experience of qualia is a profoundly important part of the situation of making choices based on the weighing of alternatives.

        I am sick of being called religious or simple and inferences of insanity vis a vis ‘magical processes’ when it is the non free willists that are being simplistic.

        You cannot conclude that our minds are unimportant, and you cannot conclude that our thoughts are directed deterministically if you do not know what our thoughts are in the first place.

        When you describe our thoughts and subjective experiences in known mechanistic procedures, then, and only then, can you suppose the requisite knowledge to include or elliminate activities and situations and conclusions as being valid and coherent or not.

        The problem is not “Do we have free will?,/b>” but it is precisely “ Why do we have our minds giving rise to the illusion of free will when it is not necessary?

        There is non-locality, there is dark matter and dark energy, there is the problem of wave-particle duality limiting our conception of what wave function components of physical reality are.

        WE DON’T HAVE A CLUE WHAT THIS SHIT IS, IT SEEMS TO BE IMPOSSIBLE – YET THERE IT IS.

        So STFU about newtonian determinism, that idea has been outmoded for hundreds of years, and STFU about ‘unknown processes – oh you mean magic/god’ when we have multiple examples, right now, and throughout history, og un – effing – known processes.

        Thinking that physics knows all there is to know about reality is a very childish and dangerous attitude.

        But for the record (I can see the petty interpretations forming already), just because I think there can be unknown processes and explanations does not mean that there is unknown and mysterious explanations behind our minds. Okay?

        I am pointing out that it is ludicrous to assume ultimate knowledge of what transpires ‘behing the scenes’ of our behaviour and perceptions.
        It is not within your purvey to render final pronouncement on what is or is not going on with our choices and subsequent actions.

        Explain what our mind is so you can explain what part of the process of making decisions it plays, or doesn’t.

        You are the ones proposing a hypothesis beyond common sense and all apparent reality, it is up to you to prove your conjectures to us because I can show your error by making a selective choice right now and any time I choose. It gies without saying that that is how we operate because it is the overwhelming and uncontested experience of reality we all have.

        So, go ahead, steve, explain how a meat robot will manifest methodological existence and behaviour along with the ability to discuss ideas and create and invent and describe its own sense of self, for that is what you are proposing, not merely an unconcious automaton.

        Explain how are minds can be a necessary part of the process yet without having the consequence of intention.

        You non free willists are the ones inhibited from exploration outside the bounds of a simplistic mechanical modalism.

        1. The question was rhetorical, I didn’t actually want an explanation.

          But I completely understand that you had no choice in the matter.

        2. “our qualia/thoughts/awareness cannot be explained physically” Where’s your evidence to support your position? Later you say “Where did you get the idea that I mean a non-physical explanation entails?” This doesn’t seem consistent. Could you expand on what you think is actually happening and why you think it?

          “but something extremely important it taking place…of a magnitude indicative of extreme importance” – So we’re told by both dualists and non-dualists who think we have free-will, but without any explanation of their own.

          “This is meaningless, Jerry. It is circular, a tautology.” – It’s not meaningless. A tautology isn’t meaningless, it’s just stating the same thing in different ways, which, it is hoped, will eventually get the significance across to people who don’t get the point yet. Quite straight forward means of explanation.

          “I maintain that you people do not really understand what it would mean, personally, if we don’t have free will.” Yes we do. It means it would feel just like this. Perhaps you are referring to the fear often expressed that when criminals learn of this supposed devastating fact they will find it an excuse to continue their criminal activity. Well, you still miss the point. That they might feel that may be true. But they would soon be set straight by being locked up anyway.

          “It is a deeply disturbing and ominous feeling of despair, yet you behave as if it is some minor curiosity or affect.” To you perhaps, and to many other people. I recommend you read Raymond Tallis. He’s full of the fear of nihilism that he mistakenly thinks a denial of free-will will bring upon us. Note I emphasise denial of free-will and not loss of free-will. If we never had it, throughout any of our deluded history, then nothing is lost anyway. We still feel on a personal level as we feel now. To some extent it is a philosophical and scientific curiosity, but it need not be. Far from seeing nihilistic consequences I think you’ll find most of those who see free-will as illusory see only benefit, particularly in matters of justice, in that it removes the justification for retribution, without removing protective incarceration.

          “It is devastating and completely undermines one’s sense of self and identity.”

          For you maybe. But not for me. That then speaks more of your psychological capacity to deal with shifts in philosophical ideas that don’t match your preconceptions. Your blustering manner is another clue.

          “I don’t believe you know what you are talking about, Jerry. I don’t see indications of understanding from you.”

          I’m sure many here feel the same about you. Isn’t this a clue that we don’t have common understanding yet? perhaps a few more tautologies are in order to help you get the message.

          A “simplified version of physical reality” is all we have to work with. Could you explain a more complicated version of reality that accounts for what you call ‘qualia’?

          “Why don’t you explain our illusion of free will.” A self aware system that has only limited awareness of its inner processes (the brain has no nerves through which we can feel or sense thoughts flitting across the brain) has a consequential sense that ‘decisions’ pop out of nowhere, as if they are free of the physical brain. This psychological appearance applies to other aspects of consciousness.

          Now, can you explain what you think is the actuality of free-will? What is it? You deny magic? Then what mechanisms do you propose? I think you’ll find that the free-willies are the ones making stuff up, on the basis of what it feels like introspectively. Introspection isn’t good enough.

          “YOU say our mind doesn’t control decision making” – The brain does. The ‘mind’ is just a concept (also in the brain) that summarises all we feel we experience when the brain is doing ‘mind’ stuff.

          “YOU act like our minds are extraneous” – No. We act as if we have free-will. That’s what we’re stuck with.

          “so YOU explain why the fuck we have this awareness and illusion” – My, we are touchy today. But now you are asking for information we don’t have. We acknowledge we have this awareness; and we acknowledge we have the illusion of free-will. Explaining why we have it is an interesting but as yet unexplained aspect of evolution.

          “because we do have it, or are you denying we don’t?” – Since so much time has been spent here saying that we do have the illusion we’re hardly likely to say we don’t.

          “You are the one ignoring a blatant reality” – I don’t think so. I made the point to you in another comment and you came back with some stuff about what is and isn’t physics. Read my response to that.

          “You are the one claiming something effing uncomprehensible.” – You’re only demonstrating, by your irate comments, that you are responding emotionally and not rationally. That you can’t comprehend it might be a problem you’re having – have you thought of that? Others here have no difficulty comprehending why we should consider free-will an illusion, or what the consequences are for that.

          “The non free-willists are claiming that our minds are illusionary, that our experiences are not real.” This is a bit mixed up isn’t it. The ‘mind’ is a useful concept, as I said above. If you feel it is a real thing in its own right, independent of the brain, then that is an illusory understanding of it. And of course our experiences are real. The problem you are having is mistaking experiences of the brain, which produces this illusion, for the illusion itself – the ‘mind’ as you see it.

          “Your whole effing argument is that because we can only make one choice, take one course of action at one time, therefore you conclude that that one choice was the only one possible.” – Calm down. It’s only a discussion. I really don’t think you get the consequences of causality, determinism and indeterminism.

          “Your claim is unfalsifiable” – Yours is the claim to something other than regular physics at work. Yours is the alternative hypothesis. In what way is your position on free-will falsifiable? Do you even have one that isn’t simply an emotive denial of illusory free-will?

          “Until you ‘people’, Jerry et al, can go ahead and explain why it is necessary to have an illusion of free will” – Who said it was necessary? The argument so far is simply that it is an illusion.

          “..why our awareness are there in the first place in order to necessitate having pointless illusions of reality” – An excellent question for a change. Don’t know.

          “I could not give a shit about your mechanistic suppositions about something you obviously don’t have a clue what you are talking about.” – The manner of your responses here suggests you give one massive big dump of a shit.

          “Do you get it yet? Do you understand what you are saying?” – Yes.

          “I get it, I effing get it, I can easily, effortlessly, envision our actions and every ASPECT OF OUR BEING as the result of a chain of precisely determined states and cause/effect situations.” – A few paragraphs ago it was incomprehensible. Glad you’ve got it now.

          “I get it, we all do, but what we don’t get is why our perceptions and awareness and experience of qualia is a profoundly important part of the situation of making choices based on the weighing of alternatives.” – The point is that this isn’t what is happening in actuality, even though this is how it feels to us. It feels important to us. But our feeling on the matter has no bearing on whether that feeling is true or not.

          “I am sick of being called religious or simple and inferences of insanity vis a vis ‘magical processes’” – Then explain what you think is going on.

          “You cannot conclude that our minds are unimportant” – Out ‘minds’, this collective of brain activity, is clearly very important to us. Look. It’s taken millions of years to get to this point. That we are now starting to understand some of these processes doesn’t mean we can suddenly switch them off. No more than an understanding of bird flight suddenly allows us to fly unaided. Our brains are still stuck in pre-science mode, and to a great extent even in pre-language mode. Our brains still have much in common with other mammals. How the heck do you think we can suddenly ‘snap out’ of how we feel. We all feel we have free-will. We also feel we are made of solid continuous stuff and not vacuous atoms. Feelings aren’t reliable. Get over it.

          “Why do we have our minds giving rise to the illusion of free will when it is not necessary?” – Great question again. Don’t know. But not knowing this doesn’t then mean we conclude we have real free-will.

          “There is non-locality, there is dark matter…” – Yes. read my response to your same point elsewhere.

          “So STFU about newtonian determinism, that idea has been outmoded for hundreds of years” – You’re missing the point. Determinism is used precisely to simplify the argument. The same applies with the indeterminism consequent of our current understanding of quantum stuff. But the real problem, for any entity within a system that they see as closed, is that it is indeterminate anyway, epistemologically. But that doesn’t rescue free-will.

          “Thinking that physics knows all there is to know about reality is a very childish and dangerous attitude.” – As is thinking that because you feel you have free-will that you must therefore have it. But, the thing is, no one here is claiming physics knows all there is to know. What might be being claimed is that current science tells us all we know so far, and in this context it is that no other explanation is yet available to explain our consciousness and apparent free-will other than physical brain activity.

          “just because I think there can be unknown processes and explanations does not mean that there is unknown and mysterious explanations behind our minds. Okay?” – Good. Got that. So, what non-mysterious explanation do you have to offer?

          No one is assuming ultimate knowledge. All that has been presented here is based on current knowledge and accepted as such. I don’t recollect anyone claiming the illusory free-will position as final; only the best explanation based on our current understanding of the universe.

          “You are the ones proposing a hypothesis beyond common sense and all apparent reality” – Beyond ‘common sense’? Yes, because common sense, of our feelings, in this case are unreliable, as they are often shown to be regarding illusions. Beyond apparent reality? No. This is the point. Under our current understanding of reality we expect our physical brains to behave like other physical objects. That our brains, through their processes, have limited self-awareness is real. It’s the rising up of the ‘mind’ beyond this that is going beyond reality.

          “it is up to you to prove your conjectures to us” – No. That every thing follows the natural physical laws discovered so far is the null hypothesis. Even though the feeling of free-will is deeply ingrained in our ‘minds’ that does not give it the priority of default or null hypothesis.

          “because I can show your error by making a selective choice right now and any time I choose.” – No you can’t. What you can do, with hind-sight, is say that some particular action was a ‘choice’ (we need to cover what ‘choice’, ‘decision’ mean in deterministic systems). But you have no means of demonstrating that, because you can’t re-run the universe to verify that an alternative choice could have been made. Your alternative hypothesis is unfalsifiable.

          “It goes without saying that that is how we operate because it is the overwhelming and uncontested experience of reality we all have.” – All you can say is it’s our feeling of what is going on.

          “So, go ahead, steve, explain how a meat robot will manifest methodological existence and behaviour along with the ability to discuss ideas and create and invent and describe its own sense of self, for that is what you are proposing, not merely an unconscious automaton.” – You’re missing the point again. We are ‘conscious’ automata. Our behaviour is what it is. That we feel it is something else is the point of error.

          “Explain how are minds can be a necessary part of the process yet without having the consequence of intention.” – Why are they necessary? They are a products of evolution. And evolution didn’t decide a thinking self-aware brain was necessary. It is an unguided consequence of how evolution played out.

          “You non free willists are the ones inhibited from exploration outside the bounds of a simplistic mechanical modalism.” – This is clearly not true. We all grew up thinking we had free-will. We have explored science and philosophy and it has brought us to this position. You are the one stuck with the insistence that your feeling on the matter is a significant decider.

          1. You have my thanks, Ron, for undertaking to write a reply to Mike. Good work. (This is not to imply that you could have not written this reply, it is only to say that I judge it to be a good piece of work.)

          2. “It means it would feel just like this.”

            So, you feel that your life is meaningless and even furthermore, you are impotent to give it direction or meaning?

            That is a deeply unsettling idea, not having any control. Our whole sense of identity is tied up in how we choose to think and act, and it is a fundamental psychological need to have relevance.

            The rest of your response is just saying the same shit over that I refuted.
            Can Consciousness Be Explained? Dennett Debunked
            6. Now if a successful explanation must explain conscious events in terms of unconscious events, then I hope I will be forgiven for concluding that consciousness CANNOT be explained.(maverickphilosopher.typepad[dot].com/maverick_philosopher/2012/01/can-consciousness-be-explained-dennett-debunked.html)

            Jerry Coyne on Why You Don’t Really Have Free Will
            If Coyne thinks that contemporary neuroscience has proven that there is no libertarian freedom of the will, then he is delusional: he is passing off dubious philosophy as if it were incontrovertible science while hiding the fact from himself.

            In the sequel I will will adress the question whether libertarian free will could be an illusion. Does that so much as make sense?(It’s the next link to thee one above)

            Go get an education:(These are links to PDFs, fill your boots)
            I have written several papers that discuss the relevance of scientific research to free will and agency, including “Scientific Challenges to Free Will”, “The Psychology of Free Will,” “Why ‘Willusionism’ Leads to ‘Bad Results’,” which offers an explanation for why recent scientific claims that free will is an illusion may lead people to behave worse, “Autonomous Agency and the Threat of Social Psychology,” which considers how research in situationist social psychology potentially threatens free will, and two papers that examine Daniel Wegner’s claims about the illusion of conscious will, “Agency, Authorship, and Illusion” and “When Consciousness Matters.”

            In “Close Calls and the Confident Agent,” I consider the significance of alternative possibilities for free will. In the unpublished paper, “The State of the Free Will Debate: From Frankfurt Cases to the Consequence Argument,” I discuss the structure of incompatibilist arguments. And in an unpublished talk, “Free Will and Knowledge,” I consider the auspicious implications of understanding free will as a set of capacities to obtain knowledge about oneself and the world.

            I believe the free will debate is less about the question of determinism than the question of the mind-body relation. I am interested in how to understand that relation, especially in the study of consciousness and introspection (see my “Verbal Reports on the Contents of Consciousness: Reconsidering Introspectionist Methodology” and “The Problem of Pain”). I am also interested in the development of agency in children (e.g., theory of mind research) and the evolution of agency in primates (e.g., inhibition, theory of mind, reciprocity, and deception): see the co-authored papers “Is Human Intelligence an Adaptation?” and “Darwin’s Continuum and the Building Blocks of Deception”.

            Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?(opinionator.blogs.nytimes[dot]com/2011/11/13/is-neuroscience-the-death-of-free-will/?ref=opinion)
            Here, I’ll explain why neuroscience is not the death of free will and does not “wreak havoc on our sense of moral and legal responsibility,” extending a discussion begun in Gary Gutting’s recent Stone column. I’ll argue that the neuroscientific evidence does not undermine free will. But first, I’ll explain the central problem: these scientists are employing a flawed notion of free will. Once a better notion of free will is in place, the argument can be turned on its head. Instead of showing that free will is an illusion, neuroscience and psychology can actually help us understand how it works.

            HERE, I JUST FOUND THIS
            But if free will is an illusion, it is not an illusion that can be cast off or seen through no matter what I do. I must deliberate from time to time, and I cannot help but believe, whenever I deliberate, that the outcome is at least in part ‘up to me.’ Indeed, it is inconceivable that I should disembarrass myself of this ‘illusion.’ One can become disillusioned about many things but not about the ‘illusion’ of free will. For it is integral to my being an agent, and being an agent is part and parcel of being a human being. To get free of the ‘illusion’ of free will,
            You must awfully shallow to flippantly brush of the implications of not having free will, and I said it earlier.

            Actually, I find this discussion with you and Mr Cheerleader, steve, to be irritating, annoying, and about as productive as talking to a brick wall.
            I don’t know what our minds are made of, but I know they are a product of physical reality, you get that simple idea?
            I am getting tired of you bleating for an objective physical explanation of our minds from the likes of you as if I must defend a position that you have not even, in any meaningful way, caused relevant doubt.

            I make shit up as I go along purely on common sense, then I get grief from broken records repeating over and over that we don’t have free will, ignoring my repeated attempts to get you to acknowledge the reality of our minds and the problems inherent in ignoring that relevance.

            I also just read the term for what you do, and it is called ‘sidestepping’ and I am trying to find it again so I can quote the whole explanation.

            Another point I keep coming across that I pointed out very early, is the fallibility of reductionism in such an incomprehensibly complex situation.

            If you bother to just read the words and quit trying to assign motive and agenda to them, you wouldn’t have such a difficult time understanding plain reality, and instead you insist on interpreting everything through the false lenses of believing lack of free will is a fundamental truth, and that is all there is to it, nothing else need be considered, just saying the same shit over and over again.

            I am arrogant??

            Fucking right, towards the likes of you I am. You suppose meanings and motivations I don’t carry, you state highly debatable and unresolved issues as if explaining an obvious and undeniable fact to a five year old.

            I could go on, but I’ll give you this: I am certain we have some measure of control over our behaviours, thoughts, beliefs, and ability to choose the direction of our lives. It is fucking obvious, freedom is the primary value of our existence, and our minds are manifest with all attendant perceptions for a reason.
            Nothing so complex and energy consuming would develop unless it contributed greatly to our survivability, and it wouldn’t contribute to our survivability if it didn’t exercise power and control over our environment.

            I am bored with the provincial and tiring inability to address to the situation from anything other than just a mechanistic understanding and a couple of abstruse fmri runs.

            But hey!, go ahead, ponder deep about what it is to be an object subjugate to pointless chemical processes, merely a mute and powerless mote of dust blowing in the cosmic wind of happenstance.

            You better hope the TV stays on an interesting channel because you obviously don’t have the ability to change it.

            (And quit acting emotional, it betrays your belief that we are accountable and amenable)

            😉

              1. I’ve read a couple of the papers and scanned a few more. I’d be grateful for a pointer to where they actually define free-will in say how it can be compatible with determinism, indeterminism, causality, physics. Simply re-stating that we have free-will, qualia and other appearences of free-will is based entirely on feelings we humans have in the here and now.

                I agree where the papers say that current neuroscience and psychology (e.g. Libet, Wegner) is in itself not sufficient evidence to rule out free-will. So, we’re agreed on that. No current science is sufficient to support the rejection of free-will, based on any particular experiments.

                But this isn’t significant to the logical argument that determinism (the clue is in the name) determines stuff, and the the whole concept of free-will deosn’t firt with that, logically. Introducing indeterminism doesn’t rescue free-will, it just means that the causes of brain events that we think constitute free-will don’t allow for determinism from one state to another – in some sense the system isn’t closed and predictable. This does not mean that what we call ‘free-will’ is actually free of causal prior events, just because some of those events are indeterminate.

                All of science still assumes causality. Determinism within a closed system is just one simple notion used to make the logical point. I’d still like to here how free-will fits in with causal systems. What does the ‘free’ bit actually mean?

                Most of the other stuff in those papers seems to be about the psychology of thinking about free-will, particularly in the light of the emotional commitment to notions of moral responsibility MR. You still haven’t said why that has anything to do with the argument for or against free-will. MR comes into consideration only as a consequence. And, not liking the consequence isn’t a good enough reason for rejecting the the prior argument that leads to it. So, how about dropping concerns about MR for now.

              2. right, how about:

                – any research data even suggesting FW in humans or animals
                – and explanation of why it has been so easy to disprove, even with our primitive current brain research techniques

            1. “So, you feel that your life is meaningless and even furthermore, you are impotent to give it direction or meaning?”

              No. I mean I feel as though I am making the decision to respond to you, to take part in this discussion. I feel my life has the meaning that my brain is determined to attribute to it. I feel as though I have free will.

              “That is a deeply unsettling idea, not having any control.”

              It can be, if you apply the interpretation to it that you suppose I do. But it’s not unsettling for me because my interpretation is very pragmatic. If determinism is the case, then everything is determined and my appearance of free-will is an illusion. But the determined consequence is that I continue with this feeling of free-will, in the moment, while upon reflection I acknowledge that, under determinism, if it holds, I do not actually have it. This is no more disturbing than acknowledging that I am made of discrete atoms and lots of empty space, while actually feeling as though I am solid.

              “Our whole sense of identity is tied up in how we choose to think and act, and it is a fundamental psychological need to have relevance.”

              I agree that this might well be the case. But that doesn’t make our need the dictator of what actually is.

              “I don’t know what our minds are made of, but I know they are a product of physical reality, you get that simple idea?”

              So, given you have no idea what ‘minds’ are made of, on what basis do you object to them actually being physical stuff – i.e. the brain itself in action? If the ‘mind’ is a product of physical reality in what way is it independent of causal events to be able to dismiss causal precursors and change the course of events that were about to be caused prior to some decisions?

              “I am certain we have some measure of control over our behaviours, thoughts, beliefs, and ability to choose the direction of our lives. It is fucking obvious, freedom is the primary value of our existence, and our minds are manifest with all attendant perceptions for a reason.”

              Your certainty is charming. “It is fucking obvious” Is it?

              “Nothing so complex and energy consuming would develop unless it contributed greatly to our survivability, and it wouldn’t contribute to our survivability if it didn’t exercise power and control over our environment.”

              But, if determinism holds, then that is in the midst of the rest of the environment being determined. Evolution doesn’t have a purpose. Our brains were not designed to solve a problem. Evolution does not solve problems because evolution knows naff all about what’s coming next. The notions of problem solving are just our psychological ex post facto interpretation, our way of explaining it to ourselves. As are all physical laws. The universe just does stuff. The nature of the elements of the universe is that the same elements interact in the same ways. Patterns of elemental behaviour ensue. We come along and recognise these patterns and put labels and symbols on them and explain then in languages such as maths. It’s all in our heads.

              “But hey!, go ahead, ponder deep about what it is to be an object subjugate to pointless chemical processes, merely a mute and powerless mote of dust blowing in the cosmic wind of happenstance.”

              That’s what we are. But, that’s not what my brain thinks I am. This isn’t Matrix. There’s no red or blue pills. There’s no other reality waiting beneath this one. The whole point is that this reality, where we feel we have free-will, is the same reality that causes us, every atom in us, to follow the laws of nature, which appear to be based on causality. They are indistinguishable to us. Our problem is reconciling that. And that I do quite easily.

              1. “I don’t know what our minds are made of, but I know they are a product of physical reality, you get that simple idea?”

                So, given you have no idea what ‘minds’ are made of, on what basis do you object to them actually being physical stuff – i.e. the brain itself in action? If the ‘mind’ is a product of physical reality in what way is it independent of causal events to be able to dismiss causal precursors and change the course of events that were about to be caused prior to some decisions?

                There, you see what you said, ronmurp?I’m not the one saying it is outside ‘the chain’, that is exactly what I am saying, that it is part of the chain
                You are the one saying it is ‘inside the chain’ but then you say it ‘isn’t inside the chain’ or else it would be able to alter what has already been determined.
                You cannot have it both ways. You cannot insist that our minds are an effect of physical causes yet do not make effects themselves.
                I want to stress this over and over. How can our minds be the result of physical causes, part of the cause effect chain of determinism, and how can they be part of the cause by having thoughts and values become part of the cause of our behavior, yet the ONE TIME OUR THOUGHTS VIOLATE THE CAUSE AND EFFECT CHAIN OF EVENTS IS WHEN OUR THOUGHTS AND VALUES ARE A WISH TO INITIATE SOME ACTION?????????????????

                I am the one stating, very clearly that our minds are part of the cause and effect cycle.

                That is the whole argument against religion/God in a nutshell, as well. If God can interact with people, which are part of nature, then God is a part of nature and there would be evidence of Him manipulating natural events, FFS!

                Everyone get that, steve, sleeprunning, Ron Murphy, Jerry Coyne, ronmurp?!?!

                You are the ones that somehow think our minds are outside the deterministic reality of nature, not me and the other free willies(lol)!!

                It can be, if you apply the interpretation to it that you suppose I do. But it’s not unsettling for me because my interpretation is very pragmatic. If determinism is the case, then everything is determined and my appearance of free-will is an illusion. But the determined consequence is that I continue with this feeling of free-will, in the moment, while upon reflection I acknowledge that, under determinism, if it holds, I do not actually have it. This is no more disturbing than acknowledging that I am made of discrete atoms and lots of empty space, while actually feeling as though I am solid.

                Look, I do not believe you understand and, in fact, I believe that you actually do think you have free will. I call you on your bullshit.
                Which is it: you are at ease and accepting because you seem to be operating with free will, and choosing what to say here and feeling satisfaction at your effeorts, or you really are an emotionally void robot that is not affected by the fact that your life is meaningless, and it is meaningless because you have zero say in how you partake in, and run your, life.

                In want all you guys mentioned to telll me that you really and honestly understand that it is not you doing the thinking and acting, and tell me that you are just aware of things happening to you while you watch and pretend, like a child in a car seat with a steering wheel pretending to drive her parent’s car.

                If that is the case, I want you to convince me that you understand that you deserve zero recognition for what you write and say, that you truly should get no credit whatsoever for anything.

                I wqant you to pretend for a few hours that that is all there is to life, to concentrate and experience what it would feel like if you were not making choices how to act and think, and I want you to look around at everything and everyone and see it and them as just the result of a set of chemical and physical reactions running their course and that not you or anyone else, ever, absolutely had nothing conscious to contribute to reality.

                When you can tell me what that looks and feels like, then I will know if yoyu are full of massive amounts of shit, or you really do understand what you are claiming to accept so blithely.

                I want you to watch some fuckhead gangstas being total pricks and for you to feel scared and intimidated and insecure about whether they will do something unpredictable and cruel, or sensless, and not feel angry and judgemental at them.

                I want you to screw up and say something, or act some way unintentionally that you didn’t mean to, and not feel guilt or remorse or because you didn’t have anything to say in what happenned.

                You will feel something, and it will be something very deep.

                When you people go and do this to the best of your ability, and that means do it, because everyone here is exceptionally capable, then tell me that you are content with it all being uncaused by human will, that it is all just a meaningless stage that ‘happened this way’, then I will know you are not human. Then I will know you are just a meat robot, or deeply psychotic.

                But if come and tell me that feeling that comes drains over you when you understand that everything, no matter how interesting, is unchangable by human decision and will, was not in any way a result of conscious vision and planning mediated by decision to do this or that, that in effect it is all just inanimate matter doing the only thing it possibly can, and nothing is creditable to human will(by which I mean ability to choose a course of events, only then will I know you mean it when you say we have no free will(which means any will except that directed by mindless physical causes).

                For if ever, at some point, somehow, through some accumulation of processes, history has been guided by human (by which I mean mind) input and effort, then free will has been established.

                You see, it’s easy to imagine for one moment or two, that we are just thinking and acting as we are compelled to, but then realize the magnitude of what that means, alright?

                Meanwhile, since I already did all that, and assuming it wasn’t just illusions and mis percetions, I’ll sit here and go through all the words here, starting with Jerry Coyne’s, and respond thoughtfully, and ponder why I get to ride in such a handsome and talented thought support unit, or maybe watch TV.

  21. This exchange seems to confirm that the main difference of opinion is over what should be the null hypothesis.

    Jerry (and others) think that “We do not have free will” should be the null hypothesis.

    Others think that “We do have free will” should be the null hypothesis.

    Unfortunately there is not (as yet) enough empirical evidence to reject either null hypothesis.

    1. Given that there is no evidence yet of anything that might be considered non-physical then the null hypothesis is that everything does follow physical laws. We are looking for exceptions. On this basis the dualist notion of free-will is the alternative hypothesis, and that it does not exist is the null hypothesis.

      That free-willies think that theirs should be the null hypothesis is based only on their ‘feeling’, the historical and personal notion that we have free-will. But ‘feeling’ that something is the case doesn’t cut it as sufficient evidence, or reason, to think that it should form the basis of the null hypothesis.

      Whether it is traditional dualist free-will (or soul), or even this other form of free-will that is supposed to be non-dualist and yet has no concrete explanation, they are both alternative hypotheses awaiting even a good definition let alone the possibility of falsification.

      The illusory nature of free-will is simply the common sense view derived from all we know about the universe so far. That some of us don’t like it, and even that all of us appear to act as if we have free-will, is no support for that alternative hypothesis, whichever way it is framed.

      1. It is overwhelming support.
        Given that there is no evidence yet of anything that might be considered non-physical
        non-locality.
        The spontaneous existence of dark matter, matter that supposedly is not affected or reactive to physical presence, electromagnetic or strong or weak interaction, or any collision or reaction to matter and energy.

        An idea is non physical.

        If our minds are physical, what are they? Where exactly? If our minds are physical, they must exhibit force, they must be part of cause/effect or action/reaction interactions.
        In order to be physical, they must have a surface, a boundary, a size, and a position(see special relativity).

        You say everything is physical, explain what a virtual particle is.

        I’m not saying anything is non physical, only that your understanding of what ‘physical’ entirely means.

        Your fallacy is: Because physical properties as we know them explain what we know, it will explain everything that can be known.

        The fact that you cannot explain our minds is a large question mark on your assumption, in many ways.

        1. That some details of physics are not fully understood is not a free-pass for free-will. All the phnomena in your first paragaraph are physical. In what way is energy non-physical?

          An idea is non-physical? Yes it is – in its instantiation in a human mind. It’s yet another form of dualism to suppose that an idea, a concept, a thought; and part of the same illusion that brings us free-will.

          In supposing our minds are non-physical you are already pre-supposing the non-physicality of the mind to argue for its non-physicality. But ‘the mind’ itslef is a human construct, made up in a human ‘mind’ – in otherwords, the activity of a brain.

          “If our minds are physical, they must exhibit force, they must be part of cause/effect or action/reaction interactions.
          In order to be physical, they must have a surface, a boundary, a size, and a position(see special relativity).”

          Yes. In that context the mind is the brain. It’s the physical states of the brain, in all its transient and persistent complexity. This is the point.

          A virtual particle is still encompassed by our physical laws, even if as yet no fully understood.

          I’m not saying that because physical properties as we know them explain what we know, it will explain everything that can be known.

          What I am saying is that anything we come to know and include in our view of the universe (or beyond) will be incorporated into the naturalistic, and for the time being, awaiting any other definition, a physical interpretation. Even if evidence for God appears, that will, being evidence, be incorporated into our natural understanding. At one time the nuclear forces were unknown. We didn’t ditch physics when they were discovered, we incorporated them. That dark matter isn’t yet understood isn’t a claim for something non-physical; it just means we don’t yet understand some physical aspects of the universe.

          But, yes, it does depend on our current view of the universe, our current view of science, and our current view of the physical nature of the universe. And so, my point about the null hypothesis, and the requirement for free-willies to give some evidence of what they think free-will actually is, under that view, still stands.

          If you really want to go further, and posit non-physical stuff, then your on an express train to solipsism. Feel free to take this up here.

  22. A practical test of free will would be this: If you were put in the same position twice — if the tape of your life could be rewound to the exact moment when you made a decision, with every circumstance leading up to that moment the same and all the molecules in the universe aligned in the same way — you could have chosen differently.

    Question for Jerry – do you think the brain is chaotic, in the sense that infinitesimal changes in starting conditions can significantly change the outcome?

    Because while rewind isn’t possible, it should be possible to provide a brain with an extremely similar input twice, separated by a very short amount of time (maybe milli- or microseconds), and watching whether the cascade of activity is noticably different. This would be an experiment of testing “almost the same brain” [i.e., the same brain milliseconds apart] with “almost the same input.”

    I’ll make a wild-assed guess that the brain is chaotic, and the pattern of activity would be detectably different. If so, this would not be evidence of free will…but it would support the conclusion that it is impossible to distinguish between fully deterministic brains vs. “free will” brains in practice.

    1. I run this experiment every Saturday morning when the alarm goes off. My brain thinks “It’s Saturday, I can sleep,” and then it instructs the hand to hit the snooze button. My brain will make this same “decision” several times before it has been changed sufficiently to make another action. However, at this point it is my bladder, not my brain, that is in charge.

  23. I cannot be the first person to make this suggestion, but the “Free Will of the Gaps” definitiely deserves a name of its own. Just because “our qualia/thoughts/awareness cannot be explained physically” doesn’t support a non-physical explanation. Of course there are unanswered questions in neuroscience (as in any other field of science, which is why there is always going to be a need for more research), but those very same questions cannot be answered by anything else either.

  24. Once again, I think Harris’ answer (to the idea of ‘moral responsibility,’ etc.) is the right one–or at least the right phrasing: those actions which are conducive to the well-being of conscious creatures.

  25. I’ve always felt your “rewinding the tape” thought experiment was flawed (since Heisenberg uncertainty dictates that it’s not even theoretically possible) but I could never put my finger on why. But I think I found the flaw in the reasoning.

    If we do not have free will, then after we “rewind the tape” things will play out exactly as before, as you say.

    If we DO have free will, then our choices could change the outcome. However, if you “rewind”, and you restore every quantum fluctuation to exactly where they were before, then all of the things that influenced our choices would get precisely rewound as well. This is only fair — if you get to rewind the tape more precisely than the laws of physics allow, then free will (whatever that means) would by necessity have to be rewound as well.

    Therefore, the two hypotheses (free will or no) make the exact same prediction, and this thought experiment cannot determine between them.

    I think my concept of “deterministic free will” hinges on the fact that part of the laws of physics that goes into determining what choice the brain will make includes the brain’s current conditions (which includes the brain’s mental state, and our knowledge of our past mental states). This iterative dependence on previous conditions will rapidly amplify small changes up to macroscopic scales. This implies that at some point, a decision that would have gone left will be changed to go right as a direct consequence of our mental states.

    In other words, the deterministic fact that my deterministic brain thinks it can change the deterministic future… changes the future.

    If that’s not the same thing as free will, what is it?

    1. I’ll tell you what it is: it is wrong. Thinking that we can change the future does not in anyway grant us freedom in what we think.

      1. If my deterministic brain thinks I can change the future, then the things that my deterministic brain does in the deterministic future will be different than if my brain had not had that thought.

        I’m not arguing that we have freedom in what to think; I’m arguing that the outcome is no different whether or not we have it.

        1. In a deterministic system, the pre-thought state is determined, your thought is determined, the post-thought state is determined. That you thought you had made a changed is a determined illusion. That I think you had no choice available to you is determined.

          Determinism means everything is determined. There is no ‘other’ option for you to choose.

        2. Bill,

          Well then if you are not saying (arguing)that we don’t have freedom in what we think, then we agree.

          But I am curious as to what you mean when you use the phrase “change the future”. Change the future from what to what?

          1. What I mean is that the deterministic future is dependent on what we do or do not think.

            A computer pseudorandom number generator is a good analogy — if seeded with the same value, the same sequence of numbers will always occur. But the numbers generated (as long as you don’t know the seed or restart the generator sequence) have all the same properties as ideal random numbers, and can be used as such.

            If we have free will, then what I think can change my future choices.

            If we do not have free will, then what I am predetermined to think is part of the sequence of events that predetermines my future choices. Therefore, whether or not I happened to have had a particular thought in the past has an effect on whether or not I am predetermined to make a choice in the future.

            But in both cases, what I thought in the past altered what I thought in the future. Therefore, if we don’t have free will, we have a pseudo-free will with all the properties of the real thing. And if we have something that is indistinguishable from free will, why should we act any differently than if we had the real thing?

  26. Bjarte’s point about “uncaused causes” really strikes a chord with me. Those who argue for the existence of free will certainly allow that free will, however we define it, can manifest in the physical world. Of my own free will I decide to pick strawberry ice cream. And they don’t argue that free will is the only input to the decision making process, of course. I might want to pick strawberry of my own free will, but be compelled to pick vanilla because of a bribe, or a sale, or a threat. So apparently, the physical manifestation has two classes of causes, free will, and other causes, which are presumably physical causes.

    Suppose one sets out to build a free-will-controller machine, which which one can influence the free will of others. Is such a thing physically possible?

    We could test a purported machine by putting subjects in the machine, setting it to influence free will towards strawberry, then checking for bias in the actual outcome.

    Of course, we can build such a machine. Just bribe the subject. Or torture them. A free-will advocate must argue that this isn’t influencing free-will, but some of those “other”, purely physical causes. So lets use drugs. Again, just physical causes, the advocate must argue. Same with radio waves, magnetic fields, gravity.

    If there is a possible physical mechanism to influence this “free will”, then its all just physics. If there is no possible physical mechanism to influence “free will” (and yet free will can manifest physically), then it’s just dualism. And a particularly stupid form of dualism. Apparently, the ghost in the machine has outputs, but takes no inputs from the physical world. That’s an odd kind of thing to want.

    1. I don’t think Pigliucci and other free-will defenders are necessarily positing a soul. I think they are trying to find a way to agree that it IS all just physics, but still say the perception of choice is on some level, not a sham.

      Personally I’m okay with a ‘free-will lite,’ consisting of the idea that the brain produces thought patterns and thought patterns influence brain structure in an iterative fashion. Its still all material, but an iterative loop like that makes the mind participatory. What you think is not just an output of the brain, it is an input to the brain just as much as environmental stimuli.

      This view is ‘lite’ because it doesn’t necessarily mean consciousness matters – animals could have free will the way I’m describing it – and it might also fail the rewind test. But it would suggest that mental activity is not analogous to a puppet on a (brain’s) string. The strings run both ways, and both brain and mind are sometimes puppet, sometimes puppeteer.

      This view is my own, I’m not attributing it to Pigliucci or any free-will defender.

  27. I am so tired of this discussion. At the level of determinism as specified in these sorts of things, the concept of “free will” is meaningless. Will it change your perception of yourself? No: that is predetermined. Will it change how others view you? No: that is predetermined. Will it change how the law views your behavior? Not at all. It’s the sort of useless speculation that is primarily the field of religion. Is there a God? Unprovable and useless.

    And it is based on the flimsiest of scientific evidence: the three articles referenced. Not that they are bad science but, like creationists, the science is being extrapolated way beyond what it supports.

    All of the self-volition experiments are the equivalent of evaluating noise in a circuit. We have a circuit (the finger movement in the experiment) to which we have prohibited any specifying input but has an indicator. (the subject reporting a “decision.”) Consequently, we are only measuring the noise in the circuit. We watch the pattern of noise and extract patterns. We correlate those patterns with the indicator. What a surprise we can detect patterns that can infer the state of the indicator before the indicator itself is triggered.

    Where in this experiment lies “free will” or “decision?”

    Is the decision intractable? Once we have predicted the decision how long can we predict that decision in the face of countervailing stimulus? Can we extrapolate from this experiment anything regarding an actual decision?

    I suggest that the answer to all of those question is between no and unknown.

    In other words, for all of the normal definition of the word, “decision”, this experment tells us nothing at all.

    But we’re right there using it as evidence of free will.

  28. Am I unsophisticated about free will?

    Based on what I have said before, I should say that you are overthinking it. “Free will” is philosophy, not biology of neuroscience.

    Moreover if the goal is to establish neuroscience (and mote philosophic dualism of “free will”), this is enough:

    I argue that the onus for proof is on those people who claim that our decisions are free and not completely subject to the laws of physics.

    This is much better. Coincidentally this testable definition follows from the correct critique that the old claim of “rewind and play again” isn’t. Good critique is good for us.

    Neuroscience is an essential part of physicalism. QED.

    If Dr^3 is arguing for philosophic “free will” (as opposed to the folk biology notion) he is anti-science and doesn’t do all of those Dr’s justice. Neuroscience predicts mechanisms of, and is tested on, biology, chemistry, and physics.

    Philosophic “free will” is inconsistent with that, as it argues that is an innate non-biological property, which is most cases as here is god given and not evolved.

    Btw, folk biology version of free will is an emergent effective method, so no inherent testing problem there: delays of consciousness is not prohibitive for use. It is orthogonal to science, not anti-science.

  29. “I’m just going by the currently known laws of physics, which appear to hold throughout the universe.”

    The currently known laws of physics are incomplete and inconsistent. In my view, it is entirely unjustified to use them to argue against free will. Lord Kelvin made that mistake when he claimed that the Earth was no more than 40 million years old, in the absence of knowledge of radioactivity. I understand the desire to banish dualism, but this no-free-will argument rests on very dubious assumptions; namely, that we have a complete, consistent, and accurate physical model.

    “The answer is twofold. First, I make such arguments because I cannot do otherwise: this is what I have been conditioned to do by my genes and my personal history. But second, and more important, such arguments do affect people, and can influence their decisions.”

    How can any argument affect any person’s decision if they have no free will to decide one way or another? That makes no sense at all. The no-free-will camp is refusing to accept the implications of their position — the negation and ultimate futility and meaninglessness of
    intentional action and language.

    1. Speech and action meaningless? Maybe in some philosophical sense. But futile? Absolutely not. A meat-robot would still be expected to respond to outside stimuli. And speech, language, the actions of other meat-robots are all “stimuli.” Absent free will, my speech to you is still input. You still process it and respond to it, just as you might process and respond to anything else.

      I think Jerry’s problem comes in when he starts to agree with you that some stimuli (i.e. retributive punishment) will be futile. Assuming the word ‘retribution’ actually has some empirical referent – i.e., a meat robot can detect the difference between retributive and non-retributive punisment – then there is no prima facie reason to claim retributive punishment is futile. Its still input. Stimuli that will alter how this meat-robot acts.

      1. My point isn’t that stimuli and responses don’t exist. My point is that any *intention* on your part to affect stimuli and responses toward some goal is meaningless and futile if you believe (another intentional concept) that the no-free-will argument is valid. I don’t see how you can get around this. It follows directly and inexorably from the no-free-will position.

        1. If you are saying that some internal mental state of mine (intention) undetectable to other meat-puppets can’t directly affect them, I agree with you. But as long as another meat puppet can detect the difference between an intentional act and an unintentional one, it’s input and will elicit a response.

          Of course, if they detect wrongly (attributing intention to some act which doesn’t have it, or not attributing intention to some act which does have it), they will respond to their perception and not my internal mental state.

          In any event, my point is that anything empirically detectable by meat robots isn’t gonig to be futile. Be that an emotional state signaled by facial muscles or intention signaled by some other means.

    2. I understand the desire to banish dualism, but this no-free-will argument rests on very dubious assumptions; namely, that we have a complete, consistent, and accurate physical model.

      You do realize that every successful scientific theory so far discovered has been discovered in the absence of a complete, consistent, and accurate physical model? If we can’t figure anything out without a complete, consistent, physical model then we cannot figure anything out at all.

      We have to make conjectures and assign them truth values on the basis of whether the knowledge we do have makes them probable or improbable. “Free will isn’t magical” is, in my opinion, a completely reasonable and very probable conjecture along these lines.

      1. “You do realize that every successful scientific theory so far discovered has been discovered in the absence of a complete, consistent, and accurate physical model?”

        Of course I realize that, but I also realize that the laws of physics as we know them today apply only in strictly circumscibed situations. For example, we can use quantum mechanics to make precise predictions in the quantum realm, and we can use general relativity to make precise predictions in the macro realm, but we haven’t reconciled them. They are inconsistent.

        Jerry is making a deduction. It goes like this:

        – I believe that the laws of physics as we know them are correct.

        – The laws of physics as we know them preclude free will.

        – Therefore, free will doesn’t exist.

        But when you make a deduction from an inconsistent set of axioms you can deduce anything at all, and your deduction is worthless.

          1. No, “gaps” represent the incompleteness of physics, which is troubling enough. I was referring to the inconsistency.

            1. But the incompleteness of physics doesn’t imply that the laws of physics as we know them are incorrect. So, my point was that absent a deeper understanding of how thought, consciousness, imagination, etc. emerge from the meat in our heads, there’s no evidence against the null hypothesis, viz. that they consistent with the laws of physics as we know them. That we cannot yet explain them is not an argument for new physics.

              And by the way there is no inconsistency between quantum theory and general relativity. Yes, the physics of quantum gravity is incomplete, including some thorny, unresolved conceptual issues, with a number of proposals (strings, supersymmetry, supergravity…) for ways forward, but that’s a different matter. General relativity causes no problems for established quantum fields theories (QED, QCD) or vice versa.

              /@

              1. “And by the way there is no inconsistency between quantum theory and general relativity.”

                Yes there is, and it’s fundamental.

              2. You see, how is abstract awareness consistent with ‘physics as we know it?’

                That is the point continuously ignored. A = initial brain state. B = resultant action.

                BUT, A and B are not the only two variables in the equation!!

                A -> B at the same time as A -> C! C = consciousness and awareness.

                A -> B + C Then you have the next set of circumstances, which is the new A, which is A and C.
                A + C -> B + C.

                C is undefined physically, but it is a relevant condition that influences B!

                It is not that C is magic, it is that C is unknown in the terms that A is.

                New physics???? Used as an epithet, isn’t it.
                Our consciousness is just a new (to us) understanding of ‘physics as we know it’, or perhaps it is some new physics, but whatever it is, there is a process going on who’s effect is unexplained, yet is causally part of the process.

                Maybe it is virtual dark matter particles producing interactive vortices or some manifestation of non-locality, or what the f ever, but to say that the Heisenberg indeterminancy is the only consideration for introducing unknowns into the physical processes that is our brain state, is to arbitrarily constrain the parameters of the arguments about the physics to what is currently understood.

                But what is currently understood is assumed by hard determinists to be all that can be understood, when plainly that is not the case because no one understands what a thought or a sense of awareness is in physically describable terms.

                You’ll get no argument from me (or most free willists) that a chain of strictly mechanical events, as we know it, leads to the exclusion of arbitrarily guided outcomes, but obviously this is an incomplete picture or else you would all explain what a sense of the color red, for example, is in physical and objective terms.

                You cannot account for these things, our qualia/awareness/whatever, but neither can you arbitrarily ignore them as irrelevant, nor can you brush them off as ordinary results of ‘known physics’.

                I give you Arthur C. Clark from “The Hazards of Prophecy; the Failure of the imagination”

                Clarke’s Three Laws are three “laws” of prediction formulated by the British writer and scientist Arthur C. Clarke. They are:

                When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
                The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
                Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

                The processes in place to give us our minds and impressions of free will are such an advanced technology, I figure. Evolution invented it, but whatever.;

                Non free willists cannot completely account for our mind state, so then you cannot justifiably ascertain a complete, final, conclusion i.e. we don’t have free will.

  30. I think Professor Coyne’s article is very persuasive in general, although I have a few objections. Here I want to focus on his view of legal punishment. Suppose he is correct that our actions are ultimately outside of our control. He notes that even if so, we can still have some kind of system of legal punishment, since punishment serves beneficial consequentialistic purposes.

    The problem with this justification, as philosophers such as Randy Barnett and David Boonin have noted, is that it seems to go too far. Specifically, it seems to justify sometimes “punishing” the innocent and not punishing the guilty, and disproportionate punishment.

    “Punishing” the innocent: For punishment to have a deterrent effect on other people, the criminal doesn’t actually have to have committed the crime; all that matters is that people believe he or she did. So the state could achieve its deterrence goals by framing people and “punishing” them. But surely (right?) this would be morally impermissible.

    Not punishing the guilty: If a beloved celebrity kills a few unloved hermits, and only one detective finds out about it, that detective ought to keep quiet, because the bad consequences (millions of people saddened, some perhaps even committing suicide) would outweigh the harm of a few unloved hermits dying, from a purely consequentialistic perspective. But surely (right?) if Justin Bieber kills a bunch of hobos, he should answer for his actions.

    Disproportionate punishment: If we were to make all drunk driving punishable by death, we would probable ultimately save a lot of lives. But most would say that goes too far, even though the consequences would be overall better.

    Therefore, I think, we have to reject the consequentialistic justification of punishment that Coyne offers, and so it follows rejecting the existence of free will would actually lead to a very revisionary justice system.

  31. Here’s the other objection I had.

    I don’t think Professor Coyne has successfully refuted compatibilism. As philosopher W. T. Stace pointed out, competent English speakers sometimes attribute freedom to a person’s choice, even if the person’s actions were caused. For example, Gandhi fasted to compel the British to free India; he did this of his own free will. Even if you told someone that if we rewound the universe, Gandhi would still have fasted (given those conditions), no matter what, or if you told people that a computer could have predicted with 100% accuracy that Gandhi would have fasted, some would still say he did it freely. (Experimental philosophers such as Shaun Nichols have confirmed similar results.)

    Now I take it that Coyne would be happy to grant that some people talk as if a certain kind of causal relationship is sufficient for freedom, and they’re not (say) not speaking English anymore, but he would add that this sort of freedom is ultimately irrelevant to our most important ethical concerns. But his view of the policy or political implications of abandoning free will (e.g. when it comes to punishment) seems actually quite amenable to compatibilism. I assume he agrees that people whose brain tumors cause them to kill should receive less punishment than people who choose it for some other reason. (Maybe this is for compatibilist reasons: we can’t control (or people believe we can’t control) as easily whether we have brain tumors, and so deterrence based on uncontrollable factors doesn’t work as well.)

    But crucially, look at the position we end up with: If people commit crimes because they’re insane, or suffering from brain tumors, we don’t punish them as much or the same as if they aren’t. And the compatibilist says the tumor sufferer didn’t freely commit the crime, but other people did. Putting these positions together, we get: We should hold people responsible when they’re compatibilistically free, and not (or at least less) when they’re not compatibilistically free. In short, if we accept compatibilism, we get the same recommendations that Coyne issues. It seems we do care about the kind of freedom the compatibilist cares about, and even when it comes to ethically important issues. In the end, we punish people when they (compatibilistically) freely commit crimes, and not so much when they don’t.

  32. Will someone please tell me why our behavior is not random (like a coin toss) if we do not have free will?

    I understand that we’re meat machines that operate according to the laws of nature. Fine, but obviously our behavior is not random, it follows patterns and is even logical. Where does the logic and all come from? A coin can be heads or tails, it makes no difference. But we choose not to step in front of oncoming traffic, to wait. Our behavior is not random.

    The machine has free will. We are the machine.

    1. Do not mistake your inability to determine the result of a coin toss with genuine randomness. A coin toss *is* deterministic.

      1. Thanks, Paul P. I get it that the coin toss is deterministic, not random. But what about our behavior, why isn’t it incoherent if we don’t have free will?

        We’re logical machines that make sensible choices all the time. If that isn’t free will what is it?

        1. Do you agree that our behavior is also deterministic? If you do, I think you are making a simplified form of compatibilism. Which is ok. I don’t consider myself a compatibilist because I tend to view it as a postion that exists to salvage some notion of free will. As I said this is fine but not important to me.

          1. Paul P,

            I agree with you that compatibilists are struggling to “salvage some notion of free will”: compatibilists are free willists. But, I don’t see anything fine with this.

            1. I don’t see anything fine with your take on my argument – struggles of a drowning man, was it?

              Anyway, why not just tell me how a meat machine’s behavior is not free will? Who or what is responsible for the behavior if not the animal?

              I mean, the thing is, animals do all kinds of things, and the question: Is it the animals who are doing what they’re doing? is, of course, yes. The animals are doing it. Do the animals have souls? No, but they don’t need a soul to do things. They’re just machines. Why can’t a machine be said to do something – to be the author of it? What is so hard about that? What is wrong with that? I don’t think physics is the author, because physics doesn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other.

              1. Why can’t a machine be said to do something – to be the author of it?

                Curt,

                There is a difference between doing a thing and being the author of a thing… meat machines do things, but they do not author things…the aauthor of your actions would be your heredity and environmental inputs.

            2. Pure speculation on my part – but I think for some (not necessarily Curt as I wouldn’t know) that for a person to be “accountable” for his/her action that person must have free will (even if it is vaguely defined or undefinable). In other words accountability and free-will have a tight coupling.

              I don’t share this view.

              On determinism vs compatibilism it feels like it becomes a discussion in semantical munitia. And in this particular case that doesn’t interest *me* all that much. I don’t want to imply you should share my apathy towards it.

  33. our perspective is a practical one — do pop notions of free will (no special pleading necessary) predict behavior better than other approaches, say a brain based one?

    kant say it adds much information value, at all.

  34. OK, I’ve read numerous posts here and hundreds, if not thousands of comments and have come to the following conclusion:

    Jerry has defined free will as he believes it is most commonly understood (which I have yet to see anyone seriously dispute is the common understanding of free will), and has laid out his position against that concept of free will.

    As far as I can tell, those arguing against Jerry are mostly either arguing for or against something other than what Jerry is discussing (different concepts of free will or positions that do not appear to be Jerry’s, etc), or they are arguing for dualism.

    So far, I don’t believe I have seen any arguments which are actually against Jerry’s take on free will as he has defined it that don’t invoke or at least imply dualism.

    Arguments against his definition of free will aren’t really relevant to the discussion. They might be at least tangentially relevant if you were to take the position that the definition he uses is not the predominant concept of free will. I do not recall anyone ever having disputed that position here so far.

    1. The rewind argument is strong. The stipulation that only conscious choice counts is, IMO, not well aligned with the commonly understood notion of free will. I have no survey statistics on that, just my own opinion, but I doubt most free-will-believers care whether the the choice occurs a millisecond, second, or 5 seconds before the perception of choice – its either choice, or it isn’t.

      A tiny and somewhat silly thought experiment: let’s say tomorrow someone proves that an immaterial, dualistic soul chooses to have me talk in my sleep. Is that discovery relevant to the question of free will or not? I think most people would say that such a discovery is evidence in favor of free will. But under Jerry’s definition, such a discovery would be irrelevant because talking in my sleep is not a conscious act. That seems very wierd and at odds with a standard notion of free will.

    2. “Arguments against his definition of free will aren’t really relevant to the discussion.”

      Isn’t this a slippery slope? Within science there are various definitions (characterizations) of many phenomena. Of course the concept of free will may not be a purely scientific one, but science is employed in its support or denial.

      From the limited reading I have don on the free will controversy, defining it seems to be at its heart; e.g., the paper at SEP

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/

      which identifies it as a purely philosophical term not a scientific one.

      1. A slippery slope? I’m not saying that those arguments aren’t relevant to any discussion of free will, just that they are not relevant to this narrow discussion of free will as Jerry has defined it.

    3. Note that it’s not just Jerry’s free will concept that some people object to. In fact that by itself would be uninteresting. But more importantly, the conclusions that he draws from this reductionism – we don’t have choices, and we don’t have responsibility – these are the conclusions that are primarily called to be in error, or at least in trouble with our sensical experience. When somebody says “we don’t have free will”, the proper response would be “who cares about that kind of free will”.

      1. “When somebody says “we don’t have free will”, the proper response would be “who cares about that kind of free will”.”

        The answer to that question would be: “most people who believe in a god, especially the god of the Jews and Christians.”

        The problem with trying to redefine the term free will in a way not commonly used is that most people will continue to use their definition. It’s likely a hopelessly irredeemable term.

        1. Who cares about what philosophically-inclined God-delusional people think about the source of their ability to make uncoerced choices?

          Yes, one of the problem with Jerry’s definition is that it is not commonly used. The other one is that is that is nonsensical to common experience.

          Luckily most people (“most people” in the broadest sense, not the narrow sense of “most people in the philosophy department”) will continue to use phrases like “act of my own free will” with no confusion at all.

          1. DV,

            If you agree that there is no such thing as contra-causal free will, then what your point? If you do believe in free will then defend your position. Either way, please drop this “people who believe in free will aren’t saying they believe in contra-causal free will” nonesense.

            1. My point is simply to reclaim the definition of free will that is meaningful to our experience. As I have said the important point of contention is the absurd conclusions of “we don’t have choices” and “we don’t have responsibilities” that the incompatibilist position leads to.

              1. Incompatibilism doesn’t deny choice, or responsibility, so you’re missing the point.

                My fridge control system makes decisions. So do computers. Any system with some degree of autonomy will make decisions.

                If my fridge control system goes wrong and my food is spoiled there is and immediacy of autonomy in which I can say “My fridge spoiled my food.” My fridge is most immediately responsible, even if poor manufacture was a more distant responsibility.

                Applying these principles to human automata is well within a naturalistic physicalist view of human beings.

              2. DV,

                What reclaiming?…. compatibilists can’t be reclaiming the definition, because the original definition of free will was, and has been since the get-go, libertarian free will or contra-causal free will. No, what the compatibilists are trying to do is shift the definition of free will to basically mean “be able to do what they want/desire and are physically capable of, without external coercion” AKA The Freedom You Really Want to Have ™.

                Actually the unavoidable conclusions are that we don’t make libertarianly free choices, and we don’t have moral responsibilities. (Which is not the same as we don’t have a responsibility to be moral.)

    4. Jerry has defined free will as he believes it is most commonly understood (which I have yet to see anyone seriously dispute is the common understanding of free will), and has laid out his position against that concept of free will.

      I believe that I have disputed this, and more than once.
      I don’t think that Jerry’s definition captures “the common understanding of free will”. The problem is that “the common understanding” (at least as I understand it) is that, (using the ‘rewind’ analogy) in the same same situation, one could act differently — if one willed differently (or, if one wanted to). Which means that to capture the “common understanding”, one must also capture the “willing differently” aspect, which Jerry’s definition fails to do.
      Jerry’s definition supposes that one “rewinds the clock” exactly, such that everything is exactly the same, including all of one’s motivations, desires, etc. Which in turn means that this definition suggests that one can only have ‘free will’ if one was in exactly the same situation, willing exactly the same thing but somehow behaving differently. In other words, the upshot of this definition is that one can have “free will” only if one acts contrary to one’s will.
      Maybe I’m just missing something terribly important in this, but this suggests to me not that there is some problem with “free will”, but that there is something wrong with defining it in this way.

      1. Yes! As I said in a comment on a much earlier post on free will, everything being exactly equal, why would you – why would you even want to – choose differently? I don’t think you could and still be authentically “you”.

        /@

        1. I am open to that possibility. That said, if in fact I do misunderstand, it seems not unreasonable to expect someone to point out what and how it is that I misunderstand, rather than just ignoring the argument.

      2. greg,

        What is weird is how those arguing for incompatibilism just don’t seem to even see this point, much less address it directly.

        Vaal.

  35. Here’s the thing. We have no idea about the underlying nature of the quantum reality of the universe. We can say some descriptive things about it, but we don’t know the fundamental reality underlying those descriptions. So the argument I see Jerry making in asserting deterministic qualities to those quantum mechanisms that enable consciousness seems to be without any solid basis. It really is an argument from reality more than anything. “We know that at a macro level, the universe is deterministic, therefore we assert that at a quantum level it must also be so.” Why exactly must this be so? Let’s just be honest about what we know, and what we don’t know. NOBODY knows what fundamental quantum reality really is. So let’s not make pronouncements on it prematurely.

    1. “It really is an argument from reality more than anything.”

      Should have been…

      It really is an argument from ANALOGY more than anything.

    2. I don’t think Jerry was saying quantum mechanics is deterministic. (if he was, predominant thought on quantum physics is against him) It seemed to me that his point was that the indeterministic and probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics is in no way any kind of support of the concept of free will.

      1. “I don’t think Jerry was saying quantum mechanics is deterministic.”

        If Jerry won’t say it, I will. Quantum mechanics is deterministic. Wave functions unfold in a precisely deterministic manner — as deterministic as classical Newtonian mechanics. There is a great deal of dispute, completely unresolved, about the proper interpretation of the so-called *collapse* of the wave function upon a measurement, which only casts more doubt on Jerry’s faith in the laws of physics as we understand them today.

  36. “It really is an argument from reality more than anything.”

    Should have been…

    It really is an argument from ANALOGY more than anything.

  37. I feel like this is another rewind of the tape and Jerry again falls into the error of bad reductionism.

    So I guess that proves he could not choose otherwise. 🙂

  38. The fact is that we have explanations for much of what happens in “mind,” and a framework that allowed for those explanations and, apparently, all further possible explanations of mind/brain.

    The “free will” people have nothing, and, like creationists, show little interest in ever trying to explain how “free will” exists. Word games are all that they play.

    There is no reason even to suppose that “free will” exists any more than “God” does (and it’s a circular to consider what you’ve learned to believe is “free will” as something that is inevitable–if it’s inevitable it’s more evidence for a lack of free will, and often, even, of ability to learn something different from what you’re used to at some point), unless you’re just talking about “weak free will” or whatever you want to call the fact that we’re aware of our ability to “make decisions” (if hardly to control our “decision-making” in an ultimate sense).

    There is no model of free will, no falsifiability, no mechanism, nothing but magic as any possible “excuse” for such an inane notion.

    Glen Davidson

    1. Glen Davidson wrote: The “free will” people have nothing, and, like creationists, show little interest in ever trying to explain how “free will” exists.

      That is absurd and is, disappointingly, written like someone with his fingers in his ears and hands over his eyes while others are presenting arguments.

      The compatibilist point of view has been explained here numerous times, and any good library likely has plenty of books in which philosophers have indeed explained precisely what they mean by free will (a majority coming down on the side of compatibilism, I believe). Simply posting a version of “la-la-la I can’t hear you, you haven’t said anything!” does not make this fact go away.

      I’m an atheist who has done many years of “battle” against theistic arguments and I may as well point out that your post is, to me, strikingly like the attitude I find when debating theists. I get the same “talking to a wall” sensation in reading your view of the issue. So you don’t get to be the only atheist feeling like the other side can display a theistic type of evasion and pig-headedness.

      However, such characterization of the other side of a debate hardly matters to the actual arguments.

      Do you agree with Jerry’s conception of Free Will? Then, please, answer the issues that folks like greg byshenk and I (and others) keep bringing up again and again.

      Look at greg’s post, not far up from this one. There seem to be some real issues with Jerry’s concept of Free Will INCLUDING problems with the claim that his concept represents some norm (of the everyman conception of free will, or whatever). When examined, not only does it come out as incoherent, it ALSO does not seem to actually do a good job representing what many people think of when the issue of Free Will comes up.

      And in trying to support his initial assumption about the concept of free will, Jerry resorts to anecdote (ignoring most philosophy on free will), saying he’s asked some colleagues what they think of free will. Well, I have anecdotes as well. I asked my wife (the least philosophically inclined person I know) and also some friends what their conception of “Free Will” meant. And every one of them came out with what was essentially “being able to make a choice that is not strongly coerced” and being able to express their will. Pretty much a compatibilist notion of free will.

      So, do Jerry’s anecdotes count in identifying the every-man concept of Free Will, yet mine don’t? Let’s not special plead.

      There are still some real argument to be had over what most people mean by “free willed choice” and what are the salient issues involved. If you dismiss this as mere “word play” without presenting a good argument for that claim, then it is not the compatibilist who is acting like a theist 😉

      You don’t get to just claim the ball as yours (“I define Free Will this way, no matter how incoherent the result…and if you define it differently YOU are just playing word games!) and go home, without doing the work to establish why anyone ought to accept your initial assumptions about Free Will.

      Vaal

      1. Vaal,

        This means you aren’t even talking about the issue at hand… so your comments are just noise. The issue at hand is whether libertarian free will exists or not. The topic is not “”being able to make a choice that is not strongly coerced”…

        1. Steve,

          Glen made no such distinction. Even if he did, incompatibilists have been promoting a certain version of Libertarian free will as THE Free Will that, if it doesn’t exist, means Free Will doesn’t “really” exist. And it’s been typical of incompatibilists to depict compatibilist concepts of free will as not being the “real” concept of free will, but rather just “re-defining” free will and playing word games.

          Jerry himself has been promoting this take, including his insistence that his version of free will captures the everyman concept. Which some of us have argued against, including pointing out the problems of his anecdotal support.

          So my points above are indeed pertinent.

          Cheers,

          Vaal

          1. Glen made no such distinction.

            You’re an incompetent reader, because I did mention “weak free will,” clearly a compatibilist concept, and also one that barely matters in the context of Piglucci’s “reasoning.”

            Even if he did, incompatibilists have been promoting a certain version of Libertarian free will as THE Free Will that, if it doesn’t exist, means Free Will doesn’t “really” exist. And it’s been typical of incompatibilists to depict compatibilist concepts of free will as not being the “real” concept of free will, but rather just “re-defining” free will and playing word games.

            No, idiot, that’s not the point at all. Just as you can’t properly read what I write, you pay no heed to the “free will” that Piglucci was actually discussing.

            So my points above are indeed pertinent.

            Out of context of the thread, and uncomprehending of what I actually wrote.

            Look, you’re incompetent in this discussion, and a hideous bore. 95% certainty I’m done with you in this thread.

            Glen Davidson

          2. Vaal,

            No Vaal, I hate to break it to you but you are wrong… you really don’t understand what is really is being discussed.

      2. That is absurd and is, disappointingly, written like someone with his fingers in his ears and hands over his eyes while others are presenting arguments.

        No, dumb schmuck, I’m just not interested in endless idiocies from people like you who change definitions. I’m aware of compatibilism, it’s just stupid, like you. What is more, that’s not what this thread is about, it’s about Piglucci’s attempts to ignore the limits of science to leave “free will” of the wooish kind possible.

        The compatibilist point of view has been explained here numerous times, and any good library likely has plenty of books in which philosophers have indeed explained precisely what they mean by free will (a majority coming down on the side of compatibilism, I believe). Simply posting a version of “la-la-la I can’t hear you, you haven’t said anything!” does not make this fact go away.

        Just saying “compatibilism” as if it answered anything is more insipid stupidity from you. Since you’re as incompetent at reading as at arguing, you ignore the fact that I mentioned “weak free will,” clearly a nod to compatibilism, which is not something I really care about, as it has nothing to do
        with the traditional issue at all.

        I get the same “talking to a wall” sensation in reading your view of the issue.

        You would, ignoramus.

        So you don’t get to be the only atheist feeling like the other side can display a theistic type of evasion and pig-headedness.

        True, you’re a pig-headed jerk who can’t read what I write with comprehensionm, nor stick with the notion of “free will” that’s actually at stake for Piglucci.

        . There seem to be some real issues with Jerry’s concept of Free Will INCLUDING problems with the claim that his concept represents some norm (of the everyman conception of free will, or whatever).

        There probably are issues with Jerry’s notions of free will, but I haven’t followed his line of thinking. I’m more on the order of dealing with morons like Averick and Piglucci, who are trying to bypass physics.

        You don’t get to just claim the ball as yours (“I define Free Will this way, no matter how incoherent the result…and if you define it differently YOU are just playing word games!) and go home, without doing the work to establish why anyone ought to accept your initial assumptions about Free Will.

        And you, cretin, don’t get to just redefine words to mean what you want them to, when clearly you’re not dealing with the “free will” about which Piglucci is “agnostic.” That’s what was at issue, and your vile attempts to pretend that something else was at issue indicates what a waste of thought you are.

        Glen Davidson

        1. Please lay off the invective, like calling fellow commenters “morons” and “cretins”. There’s no point in that rude behavior: we’re engaging with ideas here.

          1. we’re engaging with ideas here.

            Who’s we? I mainly saw a lot of egregious unprovoked attacks by someone who doesn’t even understand how wooish Pigliucci’s “physics” argument is. Deepak Chopra couldn’t have thrown up a greater “physics” smokescreen, Pigliucci just stays “agnostic,” but not the slightest bit more scientific.

            So this was a discussion of ideas, was it?

            That is absurd and is, disappointingly, written like someone with his fingers in his ears and hands over his eyes while others are presenting arguments.

            Mere invective. That’s about all that was ever produced in what was little other than a beside-the-point attack on me–apparently because I dealt with Pigliucci’s nonsense, and this person couldn’t even recognize compatibilism when it was in my post.

            I’ve never understood the policies here, since simply calling someone what their comments suggest them to be seems to be verboten, while utilizing mere invective and attack seems to be all right.

            Obviously I really don’t intend to refrain from calling people what they show themselves to be, so I’ll rarely comment here, just leave questioning why ridiculous ad hominem and ignorant attacks are fine and apparently “discussing ideas,” while retaliating to such lack of good faith and personal attack is somehow beyond the pale.

            Glen Davidson

        2. Glen,

          Your points seem to be scattershot. First your subject seemed to be “The Free Will People” (who have “nothing”)…but who are these “Free Will People?” you are attacking? No one here has been arguing for the type of free will you seem to attack. And certainly, Massimo does not. Yet you seem to say it should be obvious that people like Massimo are your targets:

          “What is more, that’s not what this thread is about, it’s about Piglucci’s attempts to ignore the limits of science to leave “free will” of the wooish kind possible.”

          and:

          “nor stick with the notion of “free will” that’s actually at stake for Piglucci.”

          and:

          “I’m more on the order of dealing with morons like Averick and Piglucci, who are trying to bypass physics.”

          But the “free will” that is “actually at stake for Piglucci” is NOT the wooish free will you seem to imply, and which you railed about. And he’s not trying to “bypass physics” to get this “woo” version in. Here is Piglucci on free will, in one article:

          http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rationally-speaking/200911/the-incoherence-free-will

          “The Incoherence Of Free Will”

          “Anyway, back to the “free” part of free will. The obvious question is: free from what? That’s where coherence quickly becomes a problem. Unless you are a dualist — a thankfully dying breed among philosophers — you can’t possibly mean free from causal interactions with matter/energy, i.e. independent of the laws and materials of the universe. The will, whatever it is and however we like to conceptualize it, is grounded in the biological activity of our neurons. And last time I checked our neurons are made of matter, exchange energy (in the form of electrical currents and chemical reactions), and are subject to the laws of physics. So if that’s what you mean by “free,” it’s a no starter.”

          In the same article, he also discounts the “woo” version of free will some try to find in Quantum Physics. Hardly the words of someone who is inclined to “bypass physics” to find some woo-version of free will, as you imply. In fact, ultimately it seems he is sympathetic to Dennett-concepts of Free Will (compatibilism).

          Which is of course why Piglucci certainly did not in the article referenced by Jerry, go advocating for some “woo-style” libertarian free will that bypasses physics. In fact, like any determinist, Piglucci’s views seem to line up quite well with Jerry’s in general until one gets to whether it’s legitimate to *call* X a free willed choice or not. What Piglucci DID say that if Jerry want’s to
          argue against the naive version of free will (which Piglucci does not advocate in this or other articles), then Jerry still has some more assumptions that need supporting (and that he was skeptical of a knock-down argument for those assumptions). (I think Jerry does a decent job of answering, in a nutshell).

          So on one hand you knock me for lack of reading comprehension, while on the other railing against a form of free will that no one here advocates, INCLUDING Piglucci. Yet we are supposed to understand that in railing against these “Free Will” people, you were thinking of Piglucci. Sorry, but your criticism of Piglucci is confused.

          However, given the volatility of your reply…perhaps it’s best to slowly back out of the room…

          Vaal.

          1. Hi Vaal,

            The ling to Pigliucci’s 2009 article was helpful. It seems that nearly all the way Pigliucci is in agreement with the physicalist view of consciousness and that the dualist free-will is an illusion.

            What remains though, the ‘free will worth having’ isn’t really explained well there, and I’ve not seen it explained convincingly elsewhere.

            Is this ‘free will worth having’ non-physicalist in any way? I suspect not, but I’d just like that clarified from your perspective.

            The big problem that seems to hang over compatibilism is “I could have chosen otherwise”.

            Well, what if you could? What sort of free-will is that to make it worth having? In practice you can’t choose otherwise.

            That people do get a second chance sometimes may be contributing to the illusion, because what we experience as second chances are not real re-runs of the first chance. There is no way beyond speculative metaphysics that we can even contemplate a geniune re-run. All experienced ‘second chances’ are altrenative oportunitites precisley because they change the conditions (in the environment or in the brain) that allow a different path to be taken. If anything, alcoholism, repeated failed marriages, the life of the ‘loser’, if anything, illustrates how difficult it is to do otherwise, even when many conditions do change. So, “I could have chosen otherwise” isn’t a particularly convincing assertion.

            I’d really like to drill down on this with a compatibalist (if indeed that’s what you are) – and with all due respect for our mutual misunderstanding and without resorting to abusive language. If you’re up for that by all means drop by at my blog, as linked in the previous paragraph.

            1. Sorry for the late answer Ron. I appreciate your offer to chat on the subject and hope to find time to drop by your blog.

              Vaal.

          2. O.K. Everyone… we now know that Vaal also agrees that libertarian free will is an illusion. Thank-you Vaal for clarity on your stance… you agree with the rest of us non-free willists.

            1. My pleasure to be in agreement with you 🙂

              I’m certainly (and no doubt obviously) not an expert in this field. Like others, I’m just looking at the arguments offered for each view and deciding “this one seems to be making more sense, at this point.”

              Cheers,

              Vaal.

  39. “Am I unsophisticated about free will?” No more than the rest of us would be my bet. Where I grew up, one of the events at the county fair was catching a greased pig. The more I read about free will, the more I think about those contests.

    As I posted above, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy paper on Free Will (here) identifies free will as a (purely?) philosophical term, making but one scientific reference.

    I wonder if this introduces a discontinuity into the discussion?

  40. I completely agree with Jerry’s lucid concept of free will. I find it interesting and perhaps telling how much we humans enjoy the trill of being put in situations where things are out of our control or where our control is limited, e.g. sky diving. It seems like our consciousness inherently enjoys the experience of seeing what happens. Similarly we enjoy movies, TV, and video games almost as much as experiencing things directly. I believe my experience of real life is similarly a drive to enjoy those things I observe happening in my life. I for one am mostly happy with the trajectory of my personal star stuff.

    1. “I for one am mostly happy with the trajectory of my personal star stuff.”

      Whether you are happy or unhappy with your trajectory has no significance, according to your and Jerry’s position. It just “is.” Your happiness (according to your philosophy) is merely an epiphenomenal mental state that can have no influence whatsoever on the external world. You cannot strive to increase your happiness or the happiness of others, and, if you imagine that you do so, it’s an illusion with no practical effect.

        1. In other words, don’t worry, be happy.

          I regret to have to say that I find that attitude jejune and irrelevant to this discussion.

    2. SplendidMonkey: “I completely agree with Jerry’s lucid concept of free will.”

      So you think that “free will” would only exist if we could make irrational choices that do not reflect our own desires?

      That IS what Jerry’s concept of free will entails, if you follow the logic.

      (For some reason I haven’t seen Jerry directly address this problem…or I missed it if he did).

      I suggest thinking about it a bit more and then ask yourself again if you think this is a “lucid” concept and that you agree with it.

      Vaal.

      1. Vaal,

        It’s not Jerry’s concept of free will, it is the concept of believers in libertarian free will… which we non-free willists agree is a very incoherent concept.

  41. [Hi, first comment here]

    I can only see the phrase ‘free will’ as part of an admonitory clause to the dogma that’s shoveled by the theologians and other assorted storytellers. To wit, “One way or the other. Submit and receive communal bliss, or rebel and suffer the consequences.”

    Only in a moral, or moralistic, context does the phrase have any gravitas.

    imho.

  42. “Why, then, do our brains get to “choose” but a coin does not?”
    Because that’s what brains do. Describing the process in atomic terms misses a vital point about volition.

  43. We’re logical meat machines that make sensible choices all the time. If that isn’t free will, what is it?

  44. Dr. Coyne, what is the temperature of a single atom? What color is a single atom? How solid is a single atom? How wet?

    Do you deny that objects are solid? Or have temperature? Or have color? Or can be wet?

    If it takes more than one atom of something to define temperature/color/solid/wetness, what about the addition of the second atom is making the change?

    These are emergent properties which I believe exist. We have scales for temperature, color, tensile strength, viscosity. We make a lot of calculations based on them.

    Free will is like them. I believe free will exists as an emergent property of our consciousness. I believe our consciousness is an emergent property of our brains.

    1. uuths,

      You are believing in an illusion.

      Everything you think and do is a function of your heredity and environment… you have no freedom of will.

      1. So, Xuuths’ “heredity” and “environment” thought:

        “what is the temperature of a single atom?” What color is a single atom? How solid is a single atom? How wet?

        …and wrote those sentences?

        What could you actually mean?

        Thanks,

        Vaal.

      2. “…everything is a function of heredity and environment…”

        Animals have behavior that arises from natural causes. Yes. That’s true. The behavior is coherent, productive – it makes sense. The animal machines make sense, because they inherited it and learned it. The sensible behavior does not arise from basic atomic interactions, which can’t think or act according to any plan, it arises from the machine. And if that isn’t free will, I don’t know what is.

        1. Curt,

          Then you don’t understand what libertarian free will is, becausse what you just agreed to is the opposite of free will.. it is will devoid of freedom… will that is necessitated by heridity and environment.

          1. Libertarian free will, huh? No, I don’t understand that. Why can’t we just talk about regular free will?

            Yes, I believe in the kind of free will that is necessitated by heredity and environment. Is there any other kind? Are you thinking of the kind a soul might provide? Why is it assumed that because nature and nurture are big influences on behavior that they actually dictate every move, instead of guiding behavior generally?

            Free will is an illusion – where do people get that, such an emphatic statement? It seems to be inspired by quantum physics where the least intuitive solution is the correct one. You think you’re thinking but you’re not! Please tell me how it was determined that free will is an illusion.

            1. It’s really quite simple:
              -pick a stupidly easy idea to defend: libertarian free will is false
              -pretend that’s interesting
              -laugh at everyone who thinks the stupid idea was never that interesting
              -win!

            2. Libertarian free will, huh? No, I don’t understand that.

              Curt, you have joined a conversation about the existence of libertarian free will. This is the subject of Jerry’s blog entry: Jerry holds the belief that libertarian free will does not exist.

              Why can’t we just talk about regular free will?

              Well we could if there was an agreement as to what was meant by regular free will.
              The adjective ‘regular’ does not adequately remove ambiguity with the phrase “free will”. To facilitate meaningful dialog there needs to be differentiation between:
              Libertarian Free Will (also known as Contra-Causal Free Will)
              Legal Free Will (as in when you sign a contract and attest that you are doing it of your own free will)
              Unspecified other definitions of free will… (there seems to be a steady flow of new meanings attached to the two word label “free will”.
              On another level an answer to your question might be that the subject that Jerry wants to talk about is libertarian free will.

              Yes, I believe in the kind of free will that is necessitated by heredity and environment. Is there any other kind?

              Well see, here is the crux of your difficulty… if the free will you are thinking about is necessitated by heredity and environment they it is not free… because of being NECESSITATED. That is what being necessitated means. This would not be free will… this would be non-free will. If you believe in will that is necessitated by heredity and environment then you are not believing in a will that can properly be called free will.

              Are you thinking of the kind a soul might provide?

              Not me (as I say there is no libertarian free will), but many of those that assert the existence of libertarian free will do ascribe this functionality to “soul”. Others just claim it to be an emergent property of the mind. You really would have to quiz those that believe in the existence of free will to tell you what they are talking about.

              Why is it assumed that because nature and nurture are big influences on behavior that they actually dictate every move, instead of guiding behavior generally?

              First: this isn’t an assumption so much as a conclusion based on observation. When we look at behavior and its relationship to nature and nurture, we see that the degree to which nature and nurture combine to influence (cause) behavior is 100%. Necessitated by heredity and environment, as you said.
              As to your suggested alternative; “guiding behavior generally”… this would mean what, that nature and nurture don’t have 100% command of behavior but some smaller percentage of control (less than 50% in order to be overridden), and something else would have to have the remaining percentage of control (more than 50% in order to be effective)? What do you have in mind? I am wondering what would you identify as that something else? If there is something else that is influencing behavior that is not covered by nature and not covered by nurture, then what is this thing? And what is it about this thing that allows it to imbue behavior with that which can be rightly identified as freedom?

              Free will is an illusion – where do people get that, such an emphatic statement?

              They come to be convinced of this conclusion from various directions. (None of them would seem to be inspired by quantum physics.) Some of them from vary same belief you report believing, that human behavior is necessitated by heredity and environment. Just read the various posts by those that don’t believe in free will, and you’ll see.

              You think you’re thinking but you’re not!

              I haven’t seen any non-free willist make such a statement.

              Please tell me how it was determined that free will is an illusion.

              People thought about just how free the human will is, and after careful examination of the proposition they came to the conclusion that the human will was devoid of any freedom. Ego, that which we have the subjective feeling of, must be an illusion.

              1. Steve, I want to talk about the common, or literal interpretation of free will. If there are other kinds then different words should be used to differentiate them (I guess libertarian free will is one), because the standard question “is there free will?” (the topic of this blog post) is a simple question. Descriptions of what is meant by this simple question are simple themselves: When you lift your arm is it really you who are doing it?. Yes, of course it is you, is my answer. How can there be controversy about this? Is the question really about something else, and if it is, why not just ask that question? Maybe it’s actually a question about souls – do we have them? (No. We are biological machines.) Why all the talk about the Libet experiments, which point out that the subconscious aspect of the mind decides things before the conscious aspect is aware of it. (So what. It’s all in the brain. It’s all us.) And the quibbling about quantum probabilities and just which kinds might or might not support a deterministic explanation of will: It strikes me as absurd to suggest that any coherent behavior is a manifestation of quantum physical events.
                100% of behavior is caused by nature and nurture? I can’t imagine how that was determined. I suspect it is the result of thought experiments performed by biased brains. I seems to me that the concept of the mind as an emergent property of the brain is right on. So the mind would be guided by nature and nurture but there would be abundant slack in the system to decide whether or not to lift one’s arm. The machine can act independently.

              2. Steve, I want to talk about the common, or literal interpretation of free will.

                I take that to mean you want to talk about libertarian free will.

                If there are other kinds then different words should be used to differentiate them (I guess libertarian free will is one), because the standard question “is there free will?” (the topic of this blog post) is a simple question.

                Again I assure you the topic of this blog post is the fiction of libertarian free will.

                Descriptions of what is meant by this simple question are simple themselves: When you lift your arm is it really you who are doing it?. Yes, of course it is you, is my answer.

                What do you mean by “really”? If I tell you that every time you raise your arm it is because you are caused to raise your arm by a combination of your heredity and environment and that at the moment of the arm raising event you could not have done otherwise… would this constitute you really raising your arm? If yes, then I agree with you. If no, then I don’t agree with you.

                How can there be controversy about this?

                There is the potential for controversy any time there is disagreement. Do we disagree so far?

                Is the question really about something else, and if it is, why not just ask that question? Maybe it’s actually a question about souls – do we have them? (No. We are biological machines.)

                Well many people who believe in free will believe it is an attribute of an immaterial/supernatural/immortal soul. Some theologies hold that humans alone have souls and also that humans have free will. But I don’t see that this blog post is necessarily about the non-existence of souls.
                I make note that you believe us to be biological machines. This is interesting because many advocates of free will are very insistent that humans are more than mere biological machines and the existence of free will is the very thing that lifts them into this superior position. (They are in error if there is no libertarian free will.)

                Why all the talk about the Libet experiments, which point out that the subconscious aspect of the mind decides things before the conscious aspect is aware of it. (So what. It’s all in the brain. It’s all us.)

                This is because most supporters of libertarian free will believe libertarian free will is evidenced as conscious control of what we do, or conscious decision making. They do not attribute libertarian free will to those events or functions of the subconscious or unconscious mind. (For example they would not claim that a tourettes tick is a result of a freely willed event.)
                So…if the Libet experiment can show that that which is perceived by the subject as a conscious decision, was originated subconsciously and then subsequently shows up in the subject’s consciousness, then it would not be counted as an example of a libertarian free will decision.
                These experiments undermine the proposition that consciousness has the power of control by demonstrating that in these experiments consciousness was not the source of a choice even though the subjects were deluded into thinking that their consciousness was doing the deciding (as evidenced by their reporting that they made conscious decisions)… when actually it was their subconscious (which remember is not attributed with libertarian free will) that did the deciding.

                And the quibbling about quantum probabilities and just which kinds might or might not support a deterministic explanation of will: It strikes me as absurd to suggest that any coherent behavior is a manifestation of quantum physical events.

                I agree with you here: quibbling.
                My impression is that those motivated to defend the existence of free will try to do so in various ways. This is just another way. It works like this… believing that libertarian free will is incompatible with a completely deterministic universe, they grasp at what they think quantum physics says about determinism (rightly or wrongly.) Thing is, intermediacy does not establish free will. So this appeal to quantum physics is just so much desperate foolishness.

                100% of behavior is caused by nature and nurture? I can’t imagine how that was determined. I suspect it is the result of thought experiments performed by biased brains. I seems to me that the concept of the mind as an emergent property of the brain is right on. So the mind would be guided by nature and nurture but there would be abundant slack in the system to decide whether or not to lift one’s arm.

                I asked you to propose a counter explanation if you don’t agree. What are your percentages?
                Anyway, I don’t think you’ll find a non-free willist that is opposed to the idea that the mind is an emergent property of the brain, that is not even being questioned. Non-free willism just says that this emergent mind does not have the capacity of libertarian free will.
                Now we get to this idea you posit of “slack in the system” as the decider of arm lifting. So you counter proposition is that human behavior is a function of heredity, environment and slack in the system? And somehow this slack in the system is not covered in heredity or environment and works in some way immune to causality, and is part of our consciousness, and is not something akin to a soul and does not have anything akin to magical powers? I wonder if this “slack in the system” is relegated to decisions as trivial as arm lifting… would slack in the system be making crucial decisions like robbing banks, or career choices or where to live, or political affiliation, or what to believe on religious questions, etc? No, it is pretty obvious to even the most diehard free will adherent tat crucial decisions can be made based upon nature and nurture. Free willists can often be found saying things like, “look at me, I am making my arm go up and down at will… ah ha! I’ve proved free will.” You never hear them saying things like, “look at me, I am switching from being a peace corp volunteer to a hit man for hire and now back to a peace corp volunteer” (completely contrary to my upbringing and life experiences).

                The machine can act independently.

                Maybe independently is a valid term… independently but certainly not libertarianly free because the machine can only do what its built and programmed to do. But I am thinking that for you if a machine is not libertarianly free then it is also not “really” independent.

  45. I am a completely novice in thinking about “free will”,and probably very unsophisticated about it. I understand and perhaps intelectually agree with Jerry about the non existence of free will, based on the necessity of reality, including our brains, to obey the laws of physics.
    However, I believe that there is a Catch-22 issue in Jerry’s prompting to act “morally” or to “convince people”. I believe that if physical determinism rules and there is not free will, the only possible philosophy is nihilism.

    1. Well, there’s that. Nihilism, I mean. But don’t neglect the other possibility.

      Existence is real in Jerry’s scheme, but there’s the ineffable feeling of awareness, which we are to believe is illusory and absolutely inconsequential and ineffective, but remains unexplained; and further, we have to act as though this feeling were not inconsequential and ineffective if we’re to converse in any meaningful way.

      I’d prefer nihilism.

    2. Toni,

      I don’t fully understand what you are getting at here… are you suggesting nihilism as a philosophic template for living one’s life? I would think that if one wanted to adapt nihilism there could be many paths to that course, non-free willism being only one of perhaps many.

      Whatever the case… non-free willism can’t be rejected just because it might lead someone to nihilism.

  46. “Even if we don’t choose our acts of criminality, there are good reasons to incarcerate criminals, including protection of society and as an example to deter others.”

    I don’t see nearly enough attentiom given to the concept of reward, it’s always about punishment. Should we continue to reward ourselves? I suppose the argument would be that rewards promote certain behaviors, while punishments deter. what about admiration for those who accomplish great things? What about pride in ourselves? Should we be proud of accomplishments we have no control over?

    These questions need to be thought through in a world where we acknowledge no free will.

    1. “I don’t see nearly enough attentiom given to the concept of reward, it’s always about punishment.”

      It’s a good observation to inject periodically, since, indeed, the scope of what’s at stake encompasses ALL our prior notions of what people deserve or are entitled to as a result of their choices.

      Sometimes people think it’s hyperbole, or somehow not meant literally. But “illusion” is meant literally: our perception of having made a “free” choice is a perceiving of a phenomenon that did not take place. The magician sawed a woman in half; I saw it with my own eyes. Actually, no, but it looked that way. Ditto free will. The brain is similarly seamless in executing its trick, but it is a trick.

      1. No, Andy Dufresne, if there is no free will based on the hard determinism, it is not possible to ‘inject’, or have ‘notions’, or ‘deserve’ or ‘choose’ or ‘think’ or ‘made’.

        You and the others who believe as you do have really not thought through all the ramifications of your stated belief — even to the point that there is no ‘you’ or ‘belief’ to have.

        Taking your magician example — there have been people who have cut beings in half, beings that died. They have been observed. A magician is doing something similar, something with a misdirection geared precisely at the habitual way people tend to observe actions. Note that a magician watching another magician saw a woman in half is highly unlikely to perceive it as a woman being sawed in half.

        You may correctly state that there is nothing ‘solid’ on an ultramicroscopic scale — but I assure you that you can still hurt yourself in the attempt to run through a ‘solid’ concrete wall.

        1. The no-free-willists want to have it both ways. There are no choices, no decisions, no freedom of action whatsoever in their position, but they pretend that there is by using intentional langage. As a trivial example, they appear to want to convince people of their position, which is one of the silliest, most incoherent stances I can imagine, but it goes much deeper than that. Their language is LOADED with intentional concepts, which by their philosophy are futile and meaningless. It’s ridiculous.

          They may be right (or they may not), but they look foolish by arguing for it.

          1. This is what I’ve been trying to express here and in other discussions, and thanks to Stephen I think I’ve found a new phrase that captures what I also have been struggling with, “intentional language”.

            The evidence is leaning towards ‘no free will’ but this, to me, is as impossible to comprehend as non-existence/nothingness itself, which I think we can also all agree, um… exists… I grant it can easily be acknowledged, but in pure subjective, self reflective terms, it cannot be reconciled, we can acknowledge the evidence, but we can never “believe” it (this is of course my opinion, based on my own subjective ponderings of this subject, but my point is I don’t see enough discussion from a subjective point of view, which is the only way free will can be understood). This is an issue for me, but apparently not for the author, or many others on this thread. I choose to think that is because the universe hasn’t brought them to that particular road block. So it’s not right, in an absolute sense of right, for me to judge them, or for them to judge me, none of us have a say on where we land in the matter, we just hope it’s as close to the true nature of reality as it can be. But, of course, judge we all will, but that is the point.

  47. In an earlier post, Coyne noted that our actions are influenced by what other people say. It’s reasonable to extend that to note that we’re influenced by our own thoughts, which may be somewhat indeterminate in origin, occasioned by more or less random events or the deliberate introduction of noise, as for example the consumption of intoxicants.

    In any event, the behavior of self-reprogramming automata is poorly understood (hell, the behavior of human-programmed automata remains stubbornly intractable), so it’s a stretch to say that we’d always take the same path from A to B, and more so the longer the path.

    1. In the thought experiment of winding back time to some earlier moment and then releasing time to flow forward again, can you give an explanation of how it is that events would not unfold exactly as they unfolded the first time through? Seems like you are only stating a vague hunch, can you flesh it (your idea of how this would transpire) out a bit with some substance?

  48. This, from Michael Gazzaniga, suggests that our brains make up stories. I’d suggest the ‘free-will’ story is one of them.

    But his book product description (I’ve not read it) includes this:

    “Gazzaniga shows how determinism immeasurably weakens our views of human responsibility; it allows a murderer to argue, in effect, “It wasn’t me who did it——it was my brain.” Gazzaniga convincingly argues that even given the latest insights into the physical mechanisms of the mind, there is an undeniable human reality: We are responsible agents who should be held accountable for our actions, because responsibility is found in how people interact, not in brains.”

    Which is the same old fear based argument that completely misses the point of determinism (an indeterminism). That we are responsible agents is a story that our brains make up – it is after all a very human concept. I don’t know that other animals have concepts like guilt and responsibility. Again, a supposed non-dualist gets confused by using the very human feelings that are in question to support those human feelings. That’s question begging, and compatibilists that argue against physicalist determinism (or physicalist indeterminism) can’t seem to grasp.

  49. let’s put it this way, since we can only find free will in folklore right now, maybe that will change, what’s another basis for punishment? Seems revenge and i-4-i is strongest appeal.

  50. I’m tossing this in at the bottom because the software doesn’t seem to want to allow the comments to nest any further.

    Incompatibilism doesn’t deny choice, or responsibility, so you’re missing the point.
    (Ron Murphy, above

    I may be misreading, but it seems that at least some incompatibilists (of the ‘no-free-will’ variety) do “deny choice”, or at least suppose that the “choices” we make somehow aren’t real ‘choices’, and that we have only the illusion of making choices.

    What reclaiming?… . compatibilists can’t be reclaiming the definition, because the original definition of free will was, and has been since the get-go, libertarian free will or contra-causal free will.
    steve, above

    You can pound the table as you wish, but “libertarian” or “contra-causal” free will are not the only concepts of free will. Indeed, if they were, then those very modifiers would be unnecessary. If you wish to argue that such are the only possible concepts, then you need actually to show that, and not merely assert it.

    1. No Greg, you are wrong. What kind of intellectual dishonesty are you trying to get away with here?

      I am not saying that there are no other concepts that have been labeled free will. Hell’s bells, there could be a zillion different concepts that have been called free will.

      All I am saying is the the free will that is the topic of this conversation is libertarian free will aka contra-causal free will. Anyone that wants to sound off about something else that they just happen to also want to refer to by the same shorthand name is just adding noise to the conversation.

      1. Compatiblists (and almost-compatibilists, like Tom Clark and Ben Goren, I think) do have an actual argument with Jerry and some of the other incompatibilists here. Jerry is not just making an ontological point that contra-causal, libertarian free will is false.* He seems very much to be attaching value to contra-causality, and saying that because we don’t have that, all the values people usually associate with free will must be drastically reconsidered or thrown out.

        Compatibilists are making the point that contra-causality has never been worth wanting, and has never been an important part of what people think about when they think about free will. At most, it’s maybe a somewhat careless way to describe our experience of free will. Granted, though, that contra-causality is important to some theological arguments, to deal with an omniscient, omnipotent god.

        How can anyone here honestly continue to miss that distinction?

        *as in a comment above in reply to Tom Clark, I think, that deterministic freedom is not worth having

      2. steve,

        Please don’t be so quick to throw around charges of intellectual dishonesty. That’s how it can often feel when you think you’ve explained yourself and another person does not fall in line with your reasoning, but
        I see no reason to think it’s really the case here. Personally, I don’t think ANYONE in these threads is being intellectually dishonest. We are all doing our best to follow our reason, and we think we are doing so.

        Greg’s points and questions are entirely pertinent for these reasons:

        This thread centers around critiques of Jerry’s USA article on Free Will, including critically looking at Massimo’s critique, as well as our own.

        Contrary to what you claim, the issue is not ONLY the existence of Libertarian Free Will, because Jerry has attached OTHER claims to his position, in his article. He claimed that we haven’t “really” made choices – that we have in fact “no choice.” Which his highly arguable and relevant to compatibilist responses. Further, Jerry gives his “rewind the tape” version of free will (which for now we can grant as a Libertarian type free will), but ALSO claims that is “the way most people think of it.”

        That too is highly arguable and one of the features of the compatibilist position is that compatibilist free will actually is better (if any version is “better”) at capturing our common notions of free willed choice. In fact, Jerry has only offered brief anecdotes for his assertion (e.g. questioning some colleagues). Whereas others, such as Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and his colleagues, have done more systematic ressearch and found that most people tend to believe in a sort of “naive compatibilistic free will”.

        Which greg (and I) have argued.

        Further, Jerry not only claims his formulation to be the folk concept of free will, he ALSO claims in his article that it isn’t just one variety of free will but that it is the REAL free will. Quotes from his article (emphasis mine):

        True “free will,” then, would require us to somehow step outside of our brain’s structure and modify how it works.

        And also:

        “but philosophers have concocted ingenious rationalizations for why we nevertheless have free will of a sort. It’s all based on redefining “free will” to mean something else.”

        And Massimo rightly took Jerry to task for such a statement, because there hasn’t been some grand agreement on DEFINING Free Will as simply the Libertarian version. Rather, philosophers have debated various CONCEPTS of free will for a long time (and these generally try to account for how humans, on average, seem to think about free willed choice). Which makes Jerry’s assertion about philosophers “re-defining” free will misleading.

        Again, elucidating compatibilism is one appropriate response to Jerry.

        Jerry has said he thinks his formulation of free will is the “only free will that matters.” (See this very post of his).

        And it’s entirely reasonable for a compatibilist to make the case that Jerry might want to re-consider this stance, for various reasons that support compatibilism.

        Accusations of intellectual dishonesty are beyond the pale when folks like greg are bringing in honest, pertinent responses to what Jerry is writing in his articles and in this post.

        Vaal.

        1. Vaal, according to steve, he had no choice but to do what he did — based on reactions to reactions going back to the Big Bang.

          Silly.

      3. Others have already responded to this, but I see no dishonesty. As others have pointed out, the issue is not just “libertarian free will”. Indeed, if the point were to say “libertarian free will is incoherent”, then I (and I am pretty sure many others in this discussion) would gladly agree.

    2. Hi Greg,

      My point was about incompatibilism, as a term being opposed to compatibilism. The point being that the incompatibilism doesn’t require that we deny the possibility of choice, because automata can choose, or make decisions. It may be that some ‘incompatibilists’ do deny ‘choice’, but then you’d have to quiz them on what they mean by ‘choice’ to be sure they were denying what you think they are denying. I suspect they are denying ‘freely willed choice’, but not decision making in automata. All tricky language, I appreciate.

  51. been listening to Gazzinga’s Book TV presentations and they just don’t make sense.

    let’s put it this way, say you want to effect behavior for any reason, not just to punish people but say to be more effective in work — what is the best knowledge to use for understanding brain and behavior? well that leads to the no free will work, clearly.

    hedging on that is just ideology and salesmanship — which MG seems pretty good at.

  52. I read the article that there’s no such thing as fee will and found it pretty unilluminating. Not very thought out either for that matter. Here’s the problem with the idea that due to our chemical composition and out genetic make up we therefore have no free will: When a man is put into a position where he must do one thing or another he still has a choice. When a man is given a choice of action or inaction he still has a choice. Dr. Viktor E. Frankl in Man’s Search For Meaning gives a clear example of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. When men had nothing left to lose and nothing to gain, there were those that chose to act animalistically, fighting for survival. But then there were those that would give a man the last piece of bread that he had and the last thing he had left to him just to ease the suffering of those around him.

    People who think they are victims of their surroundings and the entrapments of their bodies, or even of circumstance use these types of arguments so that they have an excuse to act in whatever way they want.

    Remember, that when a person loses his temper it’s a choice to stay there or to change his mood. There might be an initial reaction but the choice is still there in whether he stays there or whether he pulls away from the initial reaction. A person can also choose his initial reaction beforehand as well, if he can anticipate the situation.

  53. I see in this thread references to computers making decisions, as though to justify what I consider to be the ridiculously contradictory assertion by (some) no-free-willists that we can make decisions even without free will.

    Here’s a fairly typical example:

    “My fridge control system makes decisions. So do computers. Any system with some degree of autonomy will make decisions.”

    If you, as a denier of free will, apply the same degree of radical reductionism to your fridge controller and to your computer as you do to to your brain, they emphatically do not make decisions. There are merely electrons flowing through wires and transistors and capacitors so on, playing out their predetermined role, regardless of the programmer’s if-then-else syntax and his intention.

  54. I haven´read the comments, but I can´t resist pointing out one crucial thing about Libet´s experiments (and others alike). These experiments – even if successful – do not show that decisions or intentions are unconscious. At most they show that the brain initiates urges and desires unconsciously. But no one has ever claimed that urges are in any sense free. Free will is displayed in choices and decisions, not in urges. The most plausible candidate for Libet´s “RP” at -550ms is an urge or a desire, not a choice. Libet and others fail to recognize these crucial conceptual differences between different types of mental states, therefore jumping to unwarranted conclusions from the empirical data.

    An important philosopher of action, Alfred Mele, has argued extensively for this point. See, for example this paper:

    http://www.unisi.it/eventi/practical_philosophy/paper/Mele.pdf

    Because of this, a philosopher Bill Vallicella is rather blunt against professor Coyne´s arguments in the USA Today -piece:

    “If Coyne thinks that contemporary neuroscience has proven that there is no libertarian freedom of the will, then he is delusional: he is passing off dubious philosophy as if it were incontrovertible science while hiding the fact from himself.”

    (http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2012/01/jerry-coyne-on-why-you-dont-really-have-free-will.html)

    1. Yes!! I am tired of the smug arrogance Coyne and many of the commenters here condescendingly ‘inform’ us that, “no, you just think you have free will,” and continue to pretend that this is a plainly forgone conclusion that we are psychologically incapable of facing.
      The second link you give supports exactly what I was ranting about earlier here, “that I can make a decision/choice any time I want, in fact I just did,” in response to their pleading for me to prove my position because the default is strict determinism.
      What Coyne and many here forget, or ignore, is that there is mostly suspension of credibility by neuroscience and researches, Gazzinga’s book, Tom Stafford, Matt Webb… and Newell calls this thinking ‘dangerous’ and unwarranted.

      I especially get ticked off with the parroting of a six or seven second lead time as if all our decisions are so badly predisposed as to be finished before we are even exposed to stimuli!!

      6ooo – 550 ms there is zero correlation above chance, and even the so called ‘pre awareness’ activity is only indicative of at best 57% on simple either/or(two choice) conditions.

      Thanks for your lucid comments, thank you.

        1. it’s simple and not a matter of personalities…the data suggest that what we understand as controlling behavior not only can’t be found but the opposite seems true based on multiple good experiments….duh

    2. This is a very important point, and one that Professor Coyne et al. typically do overlook.

      I also think there’s a simpler point to be made here, too, vis-a-vis Libet: Even if we suppose that what is happening at -550ms is a choice, this says nothing about whether that choice is free. It may well be that we are only subjectively aware of our choices half a second after we make them. But that doesn’t say anything about whether those choices are free, does it?

      Suppose that a Cartesian demon instantly erased my memory of where I parked my car, every day, and I had to find out later in the day by looking for my car in the parking lot. Does that by itself mean my choice of where to park wasn’t free? Of course not, even though my awareness of my choice is delayed by several hours.

      There may be good arguments against libertarian free will, but this is certainly not one of them, as people (such as Mr. Murphy in his reply to you) seem to recognize when they refuse to mount defenses of such arguments.

    3. Bill Vallicella is rather blunt against professor Coyne´s arguments in the USA Today -piece: “If Coyne thinks that contemporary neuroscience has proven that there is no libertarian freedom of the will…

      I wonder why Bill Vallicella used the term libertarian freedom of the will? Could it be that I am not the only one who thinks that libertarian free will is the actual issue Jerry is discussing?

  55. A quick argument for libertarian free will, borrowed from Michael Huemer:

    Suppose that determinism is true.

    If so, anything you can do, you will do, since you can only ever do what you actually do, if determinism is true.

    Now we tend to think that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’: we don’t criticize people for doing something they absolutely couldn’t have avoided doing. If you fail to prevent a disease epidemic because you don’t have a cure, I shouldn’t say to you, ‘Yes, I understand that you couldn’t have prevented the epidemic, but you still should have.’

    We also tend to think that in general, we ought to have true beliefs; we should make true beliefs our goal. (Or, weaker if you like, we ought to have justified beliefs. The conclusion of the argument is almost as friendly to libertarianism.)

    Putting these ideas all together, we find that if we ought to have true beliefs, then we can have true beliefs. And if determinism is true, then if we can have true beliefs, we do have true beliefs. So if determinism is true, then if I’m a libertarian about free will, my belief in libertarianism is true.

    So now we have a dilemma: If determinism is false, then it doesn’t provide a good argument against free will. If determinism is true, and I’m a libertarian, then libertarianism is true. Either way, determinism does not refute libertarianism.

    1. Maybe I’m not following the argument, but wouldn’t the same be true for belief in anything? God? Or the tooth fairy?

      1. Actually, you’re quite right: If determinism is true (and given the other fairly plausible assumptions, that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ and that we ought to insure that we have true or at least justified beliefs), every belief everyone has is true.

        Thus if the argument is sound, this is a very powerful reductio against determinism.

    2. “Now we tend to think that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’…”

      In everything from here on you are explaining what are human concepts of ‘ought’, ‘can’ and so on. But, this whole conceptual business, all of our philosophy, has been constructed in human ‘minds’. So, if human ‘minds’ are nothing but the behaviour of a physical brain in a deterministic universe then all this philsoophy about ‘ought’ and ‘can’ and ‘beliefs’ is irrelevant. If the universe is deterministic, then even these mistaken philosophical veiws are outcomes of determined brain activity.

      You might, by the same token, think that the view expressed by this post, that free-will is an illusion, and that determinism (or causal indeterminism) ensures that these ‘thoughts’ were determined too. Yes. But that doesn’t make this view wrong. It actually makes it compatible with the dterminism posited in the first place. And, incidentally, it nullifies the claims of arrogance made against people holding this view, since we have to acknowledge we couldn’t help holding this view, given the history we experienced.

      Determinism, if it holds, is complete in its consequences: everything is determinate. Random indeterminism, if it holds, is just as complete in its consequences, as long as the random events are causal in their consequences once they have occurred.

      The significant indeterminism isn’t a result of ontological random indeterminism, but of epistemological indeterminism. Epistemological indeterminism masks any ontological determinism/indeterminism.

      That is, if it were possible for Leplace’s demon to re-run a deterministic universe, then everything would occur exaclty the same. With sufficient capability the demon could, in principle, predict any future state of the universe from initial conditions. If the demon were to run an indetrminate universe again (one with truly random events – whatever that means) then the universe would not repeat, and the demon could not predict future states.

      But none of this is of any benefit to claims of free-will. For conscious entities such as us, within the universe, given how our brains evolved, in a deterministic universe they would reach the same point in the same state on each re-run. That would feel just like this. To such entities every re-run appears as the one and only run.

      That we feel we have free-will is no assurance that we have it. And given what we understand about the physical universe we have no other useful explanation beyond the illusory nature of physical brains in action.

      1. Thanks for the reply. Two points:

        First, I’m not sure that determinism is inconsistent with ethical realism, or that I’ve even seen an argument to that effect. Determinism might be inconsistent with moral responsibility, but that’s a different issue. It might be true that physical objects ought not behave in various ways toward other physical objects.

        Second, it sounds as if you’re denying the principle that we ought to have true or justified beliefs. (Is that right?) If so, I’m not really sure why you would ever try to argue anything to anyone. Someone could just say, ‘I don’t care whether my beliefs are justified.’ (E.g. a theist could say, ‘it doesn’t matter whether my belief in God is true or justified,’ or a libertarian could say, ‘it doesn’t matter whether my belief in free will is true or justified.’ What would you say in response?

        1. Tom, I’m not sure how to interpret your use of ‘ought’ here. In a genuinely deterministic universe, when we’re considering that that actually means, ‘ought’ has no significance whatsoever. Justification is irrelevant since there is no true free agent to do any justifying. All of ethics and all of human thought is just constructs, information in transitory physical form occurring in physical brains, which (under determinism) are as determined as any other physical system, as much as the interaction of any innanimate matter is.

          Whether we stick with determinism, or invoke some indeterminism, it’s pretty much the same consequences for us.

          But, as humans, we seem destined, determined by causal events, to simply do what we do. The fact that we seem to attach meaning to all this is also something we appear to do, and seem unable to escape from it.

          We illusory-free-willies are just as stuck; but the causal events in our brains are playing out in such a way as to make us consider re-thinking the need for retribution in our justice systems. But the motions we go through in this are just as caused, deterministically or indeterministically, as those of any free-willie, or as any thesist.

          The usual question then is, well, what’s the point of having these discussions? Well, the answer is, we have no choice in that either. So, my words will cause you to changer your outlook, or they won’t. I don’t know before hand, because to me, the outcome of our conversation is indeterminate – I don’t know if I’ll persuade you or you’ll persuade me. we have to wait and see.

          What about the supposed nihilist approach, that I won’t bother, I’ll give up and not take part in this discussion. Well, if that’s what one does then that too is caused, determined.

          1. It looks as if you’re biting the bullet here and denying the existence of true normativity or oughtness. (Are you?)

            Three consequences:

            – It is false that: you ought not torture children for fun.

            – Libertarians are just as rational or reasonable as hard determinists.

            – It is unjustified to believe in determinism.

            So you believe all of those propositions, right?

            Now, finally, we can compare three propositions:

            (1) It is wrong to torture children for fun.

            (2) Libertarians are wrong to be libertarians.

            (3) Determinism is true.

            Which of those, given all your evidence, seems most likely to be true? (Don’t you have to say (3)?) For my part, I can’t imagine any evidence for determinism that’s more ultimately plausible than (1). But your denial of (1) et al. seems to be what’s motivating your affirmation of (3).

            Finally, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m not even sure what the evidence for determinism is supposed to be. Certainly it’s not empirical, as William James pointed out, since empirically we only ever observe actualities, not necessities or impossibilities, and the latter are required to establish determinism.

            1. “…denying the existence of true normativity or oughtness.”

              As objective something or other in the universe, yes I deny that.

              As human concepts (probably based on biological drives under cultural development), no, I don’t deny them in this sense. But human moral concepts only ever have meaning to humans.

              “It is wrong to torture children for fun” – To human minds yes. But ask a lion who takes a new mate with cubs already what he thinks about the wellbeing of those those cubs.

              “Libertarians are wrong to be libertarians.” – They are what they are. If they are wrong in some moral sense it is only because some other humans don’t like what they believe, or represent, or whatever.

              “Determinism is true.” – I suspect it might be, possibly limited by some indeterminism. But I’m persuaded in that only by our apparent observation of causality. I’m open to persuasion that the universe operates otherwise.

              “I’m not even sure what the evidence for determinism is supposed to be. Certainly it’s not empirical…”

              “…since empirically we only ever observe actualities, not necessities or impossibilities, and the latter are required to establish determinism.”

              Agreed. It is a contingent conclusion based on observation of actualities. I don’t know of any Universe Requirements Specification that insists on determinism as a necessity.

              1. ronmurp,

                (1) So if I were to kidnap and torture a child to death, you wouldn’t think I ultimately did anything wrong. For my part, I can’t imagine an argument for determinism with more plausible premises than ‘it’s wrong to kidnap and torture a child to death.’

                (2) Sorry, I meant to say that the determinist who denies the existence of oughts must admit that libertarians are not wrong to be libertarians. Libertarianism is just as reasonable as hard determinism, and hard determinism is unjustified. I doubt many hard determinists will want to make this huge of a concession, but maybe they do.

                (3) I’m not just pointing out that the empirical evidence for determinism fails to establish that determinism is a necessary truth. I’m pointing out that there is zero purely empirical evidence for determinism. From science and observation alone, we should be neutral between determinism and indeterminism. Only non-empirical evidence (such as intuition) could support determinism.

            2. “So if I were to kidnap and torture a child …”

              To me, as a human who is stuck in this present moment with all my biology and cultural history, then of course its wrong for me. Does planet Earth think so? No. Does the cosmos think so? No. Do other animals think so? No – though for many animals if they witnessed a child in pain and fear it would frighten them; and some primates that have a similar social awareness, they may feel something akin to the deep emotion we feel. Also, bear in mind that many people think torture itself is justified in some circumstances. Some think so much of their religion that they will kill apostates, or women who have unmarried sex. Our morals have no objective reality beyond our biological and cultural history.

              So, ‘ultimately’? Outside all human and animal consideration? No. Nothing wrong with it because there is nothing outside that scope that has the remotest interest.

              “who denies the existence of oughts must admit that libertarians are not wrong to be libertarians.”

              I don’t know what ‘oughts’ have to do with it. I think free-willies are wrong, in the context here and now. But just as with (1), to a deterministic cosmos, they are not wrong because that framing of the point, a very human perceptual one, has no relevance.

              “Libertarianism is just as reasonable as hard determinism” – Not in our current context, but in the context of the nature of the universe this has no meaning.

              Human concepts must, without evidence to the contrary, be based on the laws of nature as we understand them so far. They exist purely as brain states, transient fleeting states and longer states. They probably relate to things in the world with some complex, variable and vague correspondence. So, the question then is, does the free-will concept, the notion, inside a human brain, match, correspond to, the nature of the universe any more than does the notion, the concept in a brain, of illusory free-will. I’d say the correspondence with reality, as understood so far, is in favour of illusory free-will.

              “I’m pointing out that there is zero purely empirical evidence for determinism.”

              So, can you explain why using f = ma we can determine (clue is in the name) the force on a mass corresponding to the acceleration? Science is full of determinism. We look for it and find it. The question is, how much determinism and how deep does it go.

              “..fails to establish that determinism is a necessary truth”

              I agree. I’ve said all along, if determinism holds, then…etc. I know of no reason why determinism must hold, only that we observe it to some extent.

              This could, of course be coincidence. Maybe there is no cause-effect. Maybe everything we perceive as cause-effect is all correlation, that things all happen with no connected order at all and that what we see as order, the determination of one thing by another, is all illusory. But if so, then how does this rescue free-will? If there is no determinism then when you think you freely will something it’s not happening because of your will, so there is no free-will anyway. And if your scepticism is so deep, why not go all the way to solipsism? I can offer no logical or empirical refutation of solipsism. I only arbitrarily decide to go with observed reality and figure stuff out from their.

              “we should be neutral between determinism and indeterminism”

              We should go where the evidence leads us. We observe a hell of a lot of local determinism. We now observe some indeterminism in the form of quantum stuff, but even there many philosophers and scientists aren’t convinced it’s genuine ontological indeterminism. So, if you wish, there’s enough evidence to at least make us wonder about determinism. But this doesn’t save free-will in any way. Determinism in the context of this argument (from my perspective) is only being used as one of the possible objections to free-will. Indeterminism does similar.

              “Only non-empirical evidence (such as intuition) could support determinism.”

              But we know intuition is so unreliable that you wouldn’t let it help your granny across the road. So, no to intuition. It would be nice if there was some reliable means of assessing all this, but there isn’t. We find ourselves stuck in this universe with fallible senses and fallible minds. We are stuck with making the best of it, which is science. Science seems, so far, to tell us that everything is based on what we perceive as causality. Causality is deterministic in arrows time, in that cause precedes effect, and we see this deterministically. There are some events that seem indeterminate to us, but we’re not really sure they have no deterministic underpinning. The fact that, as a whole, and in the smallest detail, it’s all indeterminate to us (we are not Leplaces’s demons), doesn’t help us gain any certainty in all this. We can only go on what we observe.

              So, again, we observe determinism, and possibly some indeterminism, but we can’t be absolutely certain. Free-will, or any free-will worth its name doesn’t fit this understanding. And, there’s no further evidence or good explanation of how our will might be free of the physical world (deterministic or indeterministic aspects). Some think our feeling of free-will is evidence. But our introspective feelings are not good evidence, because we know how flawed they are in many other cases. Put all this together and there’s no room for or evidence of free-will.

              1. To sum up, if you deny the existence of “real” oughts and shoulds:

                You don’t think kidnapping and torturing children is really overall wrong.

                You don’t think libertarianism about free will is really overall wrong.

                “I’d say the correspondence with reality, as understood so far, is in favour of illusory free-will.”

                But you don’t think the evidence against free will is any better than the evidence for free will, at the end of the day.

                In contrast, even if you think there are oughts, but only in some kind of attenuated, “human context,” that might be enough to make Huemer’s argument go forward: (in human context) “‘ought’ implies ‘can'”; (in human context) we ought to have justified beliefs; (in human context) determinism–anything we can do, we do; therefore (in human context) we have justified beliefs; therefore (in human context) libertarians are justified in being libertarians.

                “Science is full of determinism.”

                Not determinism in the philosophical sense. If you’re talking about F = ma, that’s just an identity, really a definition or maybe what philosophers call a ‘synthetic identity.’ If you’re talking about merely predicting things, that doesn’t require determinism. In the context of the free will debate, determinism is (or implies that) for anything you do, it was impossible for you not to do it. I don’t recall seeing that as a premise in any scientific argument, nor as a constitutive lemma in any scientific theory.

                “… only that we observe it to some extent.”

                And I’m pointing out, following James, that no, we have never, ever observed determinism being true, not even to a little extent. (See the previous paragraph.) There is utterly zero purely observational or scientific evidence for determinism. There couldn’t possibly be, since determinism is not a thesis about anything observable; it’s a modal thesis.

                We can predict how systems will behave pretty reliably, yes. But even if libertarianism were true, we could still largely predict how humans will behave. (If I release a rabid wolverine into a subway car, most people will run away from it.)

                “But we know intuition is so unreliable that you wouldn’t let it help your granny across the road.”

                Well, this is a separate debate. But I bet it would help my granny cross the road, if at some point it seems to her that it’s safe. (How can you observe ‘safeness’? What element are compounds of safeness made of? Do photons bounce off of safeness and strike retinas?)

                Intuitions are especially accurate if we define them as intellectual seemings, and restrict our scope to modal truths. (Both of these moves are standard among epistemic intuitionists or rationalists.) Your intellectual seemings are extremely accurate when it comes to modal truths, as you can verify if you trust observation. (For example: It seems to me as if tables and chairs are possible. It seems to me as if necessarily, 2+2=4. And so on.)

              2. “Science is full of determinism.” Not determinism in the philosophical sense.

                Tom expresses his desire to distinguish between determinism and philosophic determinism. I think he means by “determinism in the philosophic sense”, non-free willism, (NFWism), so later when he says, “that no, we have never, ever observed determinism being true, not even to a little extent.” he meant we have never, ever observed non-free willism being true, not even to a little extent. which we can refute as not true, because we see non-free willism all the time. A great example is the inability anyone to freely will their self into believing in non-free willism.

                There is utterly zero purely observational or scientific evidence for determinism. There couldn’t possibly be, since determinism is not a thesis about anything observable; it’s a modal thesis.

                Translation:

                There is utterly zero purely observational or scientific evidence for non-free willism. There couldn’t possibly be, since non-free willism is not a thesis about anything observable; it’s a modal thesis.

                Two points about this claim. 1) The same would have to be said about FWism, and 2)since this is only philosophic determinism why should we be expecting scientific evidence?

              3. who cares about morality — how do we predict and stop murder?

                obviously, moralizing doesn’t work with brain impaired folks or non-brain impaired folks under the thrall of murderous ideologies…

                philosophy and religion, by purposefully denying the latest and best science just compound the problem for the sake of theri own power plays…

              4. Why should we stop murder, if murder (according to you) isn’t bad or wrong? Why care?

                I disagree that philosophy ignores science. An entire metaphilosophy or methodology, naturalism, incorporates science, and an entire branch of philosophy, experimental philosophy, uses scientific research.

              5. Steve,

                Thanks for your comments.

                Philosophical determinism (qua the thesis that

                all physical actualities are physical necessities

                ) is not just the denial of “free willism.” Libertarianism about free will may be in just as much trouble from indeterminism about choices as it is from determinism; this is the “dilemma of determinism” philosophers talk about. Here I’m just pointing out that science is absolutely silent about whether (philosophical) determinism is true.

                I agree that we should not expect scientific evidence for philosophical determinism. The worry is that no other kind of evidence for determinism exists either. Sure, there’s intuition, but that seems to support indeterminism even more strongly than it supports determinism.

                In sum, I think the anti-free will side should abandon arguing from determinism. That’s what I’m most concerned to demonstrate in this sub-thread.

                (As for the evidence for libertarianism about free will, many would say it’s (1) the intuition that I sometimes could have chosen otherwise and (2) the intuition that I am ultimately in control of many of my decisions. If we trust intuition (and believe it or not, most of us do most of the time), the conjunction of (1) and (2) provides some prima facie evidence. So far, I’ve only suggested that determinism cannot outweigh this prima facie evidence, and intuition probably can’t, either.)

              6. we just read a study on this and apparently one person who did thus multiple times had neurons that drove cascades of acute feelings that were sedated by killing, thus self medication…

                where is any notion of free will in that?

            3. I’m not clear on your use of ‘ought’ and ‘can’. Sometimes you seem to be using ‘ought’ in the moral prescriptive sense and on other occasions in the sense of a recommendation:

              (a) Killing is wrong, so we ‘ought’ not to kill.

              (b) If I want to run faster than I can I ‘ought’ to train.

              “You don’t think kidnapping and torturing children is really overall wrong.”

              I’m not sure what you want me so say here. I think it is wrong from my current human perspective, but I think it not objectively wrong with respect to the universe. They are simply two perspectives that your question conflates. It is an unclear question given the context of this discussion. I could answer just as vague a manner with “Yes and No”, and that would be a legitimate answer to your question.

              “But you don’t think the evidence against free will…”

              Specific experimental evidence, from experiments designed specifically to verify or falsify the hypothesis of free-will? No. So, free-will as a hypothesis doesn’t get off the ground.

              But the collective of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, neuroscience, all are compatible with either determinism alone, or some combination of determinism and indeterminism. The default position then, the null hypothesis, is that everything conforms to these two positions.

              Given then that the notion of ‘free-will’ is not a will that is free under determinism or indeterminism from causal effects, then where is the free-will?

              Would you like to give an explanation of Huemer’s ‘ought implies can’, because I find the notion patently false. I can’t really respond to you on Huemer until you do.

              “determinism – anything we can do, we do”

              An inadequate framing. As deterministic events (plus indeterministic events) unfold in the brain, there is a point at which it could be said that we next ‘can’ do A or B, though the outcome to an observer, including the owner of the brain, is unknown. As events unfold it turns out we actually do A. There is no sense in which “I could have done otherwise had a freely willed to – i.e B.” However, there is the sense in which I could say “Had prior events been different then I could have done otherwise – i.e B.” But this latter is not free-will, but an expression that if the universe had been different it would have been.

              “justified beliefs”

              Justified beliefs have nothing to do with this. In what way do you think they do?

              “Not determinism in the philosophical sense”

              Yes in the philosophical sense. The equation f = ma can be used to determine one thing from some others. Can you explain what you think determinism is? I appreciate that some words have different meaning in philosophy and science but in this case they don’t.

              “If you’re talking about merely predicting things, that doesn’t require determinism.”

              The clue is in the word: to determine. That we don’t we can’t compute to the hypothetical precision of Leplace’s demon does not mean we are not using what determinism we can deal with, observe, and use to predict. In what way is there any significant difference? The philosophical notion of determinism is derived from observation of nature.

              All of our science falls apart without the presumption of causality. Causality implies determinism. The question outstanding for now is the extent to which all the causal determinants themselves are determined. Some may be indeterminate – but that means only that they cannot be determined, either by us (epistemological indeterminism) or at all, say by Leplace’s demon (ontological indeterminism). That seems like a pretty significant assumption right at the heart of all science.

              “There couldn’t possibly be, since determinism is not a thesis about anything observable; it’s a modal thesis.”

              Of course it’s about the observable. Where do you think the concept comes from?

              And would you like to expand on ‘modal thesis’ and its relevence here.

              “if at some point it seems to her that it’s safe.”

              Many people are in road accidents, as pedestrians or drivers, because their intuitions don’t give them an accurate perception of what’s going on, or they are deluded about the capacity of their perceptions to measure time or distance or detail. People on mobile phones while driving, grannies not able to judge the speed of oncoming cars, …

              Intuition is not a scientific tool. Scientific tools are used specifically to compensate for our fallibilities in intuition and perception, either in scope or precision.

              “I think the anti-free will side should abandon arguing from determinism” [to steve]

              It’s used here because of its relation to causality. Causality can also include indeterministic causes – i.e. events for which we cannot determine the source, and so appear random, or measuring one property prevents us measuring another so we can’t get a complete description of it. Determinism still follows from the causal effects even of indeterminate sources.

              1. Ron,

                Throughout this discussion, I’ve always meant oughts in the categorical imperative sense: that independently of one’s other desires and beliefs, one always has a pro tanto reason to have justified beliefs.

                I’ve cut out the stuff about the meaning of ‘determinism,’ even though mine seems to agree with the OED and with wiktionary. The reason is that whatever determinism is, it only presents a problem for free will if it entails the principle ‘Can Implies Does,’ that

                (CID) anything I can do, I do.

                (For the contrapositive is the basis of the main hard determinist argument.)

                So do you agree or disagree with (CID)?

                “They are simply two perspectives that your question conflates.”

                Suppose a mad scientist caused everyone tomorrow to believe that kidnapping and torturing children to death was permissible. If so, would it still be impermissible? Suppose you tricked yourself into thinking that kidnapping and torturing children to death was permissible. Would it be permissible for you to do it?

                “Would you like to give an explanation of Huemer’s ‘ought implies can’, because I find the notion patently false.”

                The claim presupposes that there are oughts. If you don’t think there are, see above. If you do think there are, then: Suppose someone told you that you have committed a very serious moral error by allowing millions of people to die painfully of cancer. Is that person correct? Why not?

                “Causality implies determinism.”

                Not in this sense. Causality only implies determinism if causes necessitate their effects, which is very much up for discussion. (It could be that causes only raise probabilities.)

                Mere causality doesn’t impugn even libertarian free will; even libertarians think, e.g., that persons are the causes of their actions.

                In any case, no one has ever observed a “cause,” either, independent of the physical objects related by the causation; all we ever observe is constant conjunction. Hume made this point centuries ago.

                “And would you like to expand on ‘modal thesis’ and its relevence here.”

                ‘Modal’ (here) means ‘of or relating to possibility, contingency, necessity, and impossibility.’ Thesis (CID) is a modal thesis, and no purely scientific observations ever provide evidence for modal theses. Science is about what is actually the case; (CID) is about what must be the case.

                “Many people are in road accidents, as pedestrians or drivers, because their intuitions don’t give them an accurate perception of what’s going on, or they are deluded about the capacity of their perceptions to measure time or distance or detail.”

                And yet, most people cross the street safely when walking and cross crosswalks safely when driving. Intuition is overall very reliable, especially when restricted to modal truths.

                Interpolated from another thread:

                “In the recommending sense, then, if the Holocaust actually happened, and if I want my beliefs to match what happened because I like to be accurate, then I ought (it is recommended) to believe it.”

                This is a hypothetical imperative sense of epistemic justification. It suffers from several problems, but I’ll just mention one here: According to you (right?), if I don’t care about having justified or true beliefs, it’s just as reasonable to believe the Holocaust never happened than to believe that it did happen.

                And if you deny the existence of objective oughts, then again (according to you), in the objective sense or grand scheme of things, it’s just as reasonable to believe in free will as it is to deny it.

            4. “If we trust intuition (and believe it or not, most of us do most of the time)…”

              Yes, because we have evolved with intuitions that work efficiently – that is most of the time in the appropriate context of survival. But not all of the time, and not in the context about investigating the nature of the universe and the working of the human brain and the reliability of the intuitions themselves. Somehow I suspect these latter curiosities weren’t on the minds of early humans and their evolving brains. Philosophy and science have come to challenge our intuitions and show them to be at fault in this latter context that it is totally inadequate to assume they can be relied upon.

              1. no, science just shows that our perceptual systems and nervous systems are:

                – very limited
                – descended from earlier animals
                – “optimized” for environments and needs millions of years ago, some capacities are billions of years old

                only the childish notions of “specialness” and philosophy lead to these silly claims and ideas…

                it does appear however, that humans are special in terms of immune systems, that is pretty darn interesting but of no monetary value to philosophers/ideologues/politicians/religious folks…and way to complex for a sound bite

    3. Tom,

      Did you think about what Huemer is saying here? Do you understand what he says? Can you in your own words restate his arguement affirming each and every step?

        1. Yes I do, it is flawed. But first I am interested in hearing your restatement of his argument. I am wondering if you found the error in his thinking, and corrected for it.

          1. When I said ‘I just did,’ I’m sorry if I was unclear. My original post was a restatement of his argument.

            But here’s another restatement if you want it:

            One of these propositions must be true:
            (1) ‘Ought’ does not imply ‘can.’
            (2) It is not the case that we ought to have true or justified beliefs.
            (3) No one has any beliefs that contradict anyone else’s, or contradict determinism.
            (4) Indeterminism is true or justified.

            And #4 is more plausible than ##1, 2, or 3.

            Why must one of them be true? Because the conjunction of their denials leads to a contradiction.

            1. There’s so much flexibility, ambiguity, in the language of these statement I’m surprised you can deduce anything resembling logic. I’d love to see a good definition of ‘ought’.

              1. Do you believe ‘people ought to have justified beliefs’? If so, I probably mean the same ‘ought’ as you do there. If you don’t believe that, then you don’t think there’s anything unreasonable or irrational, e.g., about Holocaust denial.

            2. “Do you believe ‘people ought to have justified beliefs’? If so, I probably mean the same ‘ought’ as you do there. If you don’t believe that, then you don’t think there’s anything unreasonable or irrational, e.g., about Holocaust denial.”

              ‘Justified beliefs’ is an inadequate attempt by philosophy to tighten the correspondence between what goes on in a brain and what is the case in the universe. It has nothing to do with this free-will in this context. Whether I believe the Holocaust happened or not, it does not change the physical fact of it happening or not.

              The notion that people ‘ought’ to have justified beliefs depends on your use of ‘ought’.

              In the recommending sense, then, if the Holocaust actually happened, and if I want my beliefs to match what happened because I like to be accurate, then I ought (it is recommended) to believe it.

              In the moral prescriptive sense, then, if the Holocaust actually happened, and I think it immoral to deny it, then if I want may beliefs to fit my moral expectations of me, then I ought (prescriptive) to beleive it.

              You are busy trying to impose local (in time, space, culture, species) conceptual dilemmas onto a physical explanation of how the universe works. You might as well ask if a clock ‘ought not’ deny the Holocaust, or if Mount Vesuvius ‘ought not’ destory Pompeii. Simply totally the wrong question.

    4. Obviously this argument is not sound, it’s just a silly semantic game. The error is here:
      “we tend to think ‘ought’ implies ‘can.'”

      But that’s a sloppy shorthand for “if we suppose we ought do a thing, then we suppose we can do that thing.”* State carefully like that, it’s clear that it doesn’t mean we’re *right* about being able to do that thing.

      On the other hand, while that argument definitely can’t get you libertarian/contra-causal free-will, it might not be completely worthless for a compatibilist sense of free-will. We hardly mean “can” in the ultra-rigid sense of physically determined.

      *Or maybe it follows from some theology: if God says we ought to do something, then God must have made it possible to do something. We can throw out the theological version, since clearly there is no god.

      1. Peter,

        Thanks for the reply.

        I’m not sure I agree with the equivalence you might be claiming (correct me if I’m wrong) between ‘”ought” implies “can”‘ and ‘if people believe one ought to do x, then people believe one can do x.’

        Do you deny that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’? That is, do you think it would be sensible for someone to say, ‘I understand that you couldn’t have stopped that disease epidemic, but you still should have’? That would sound pretty strange to me, at least. Maybe the explanation is that ‘ought’ does imply ‘can,’ or more precisely (less sloppily I hope):

        (OC) For all actions phi, if S ought to phi, then S can phi.

        If you disagree with (OC), what is your explanation for why ‘I understand that you couldn’t have stopped that disease epidemic, but you still should have’ sounds strange or nonsensical?

        (I do agree with you that the argument as stated only shows at best that libertarianism follows from determinism. There is still the possibility that indeterminism is true and libertarianism is false, since libertarianism entails but is not entailed by indeterminism.)

        1. Of course that equivalence holds, because oughts are only human beliefs. Surely that’s not controversial.

          On the other hand, “can” is also a matter of interpretation. Context usually makes it clear what sort of things we’d allow to be different, and yet still be within the bounds of a particular use of “can”. Consider a movie director going to his FX crew, asking if they can make a particular effect. They say, sure they can! All it’ll cost is $2,000,000. So the director goes to the producer, and says they can get this great effect for just $2,000,000. And the producer says they can’t do it, they’re over budget already. Were the FX crew abusing the word “can”? I think they used it in a perfectly normal sense, just with different bounds for that particular context.

          So I guess the upshot is that you might go from “ought” to “can” in the sense of figuring out what a person is considering possible. But it obviously doesn’t *make* something possible.

          (and did I suggest that libertarianism follows from determinism? My understanding is that those are names of mutually exclusive positions)

          1. I’d say it’s very controversial that oughts are “only” human beliefs. You ought not murder, rape, and torture children, and that would be true even if everyone thought it was okay. Most people would think the denial of that is controversial.

            Back to the epistemological case, if you don’t think people ought to have justified beliefs, or ought to proportion their beliefs to the evidence (as Hume says), why would you ever argue with anyone? What would you say, e.g., to a Holocaust denier, or to a person who thinks that women are inherently inferior? You certainly couldn’t say that they ought to stop believing that, could you? (At least, you couldn’t consistently say it.)

            (I didn’t meant to suggest you thought libertarianism followed from determinism; what I meant is that your criticism of the argument, if correct, shows that at best the argument only derives indeterminism from determinism.)

            1. If *everyone* thinks it’s okay, “murder, rape, and torturing children” become “assisted suicide (or maybe violent sport), consensual sex*, and horseplay.” But even if you want to insist that some oughts are universal, most of them are just expressions of opinion. And as for your particular examples, those are all conspicuously crimes of choice: of course people can choose not to murder, rape, and torture, in a normal sense of the word “can.”

              As for your second paragraph, I haven’t noticed myself picking up that argument. I think people ought to have justified beliefs, I don’t think I’ve said anything that contradicts that, or anything directly about that at all.

              *by definition

              (and where I come from, if an argument shows that A -> ~A, then the argument was fallacious, or an assumption was wrong. If you think indeterminism derives from determinism, it’s probably because you’re conflating different contexts of “can”, with different bounds on them. Which is what Vaal and I are saying is wrong with the argument.)

              1. Sloppy me, if A->~A, and A, then the argument is wrong. A->~A is equivalent to ~A, which is fine by itself.

              2. Peter,

                Are you denying that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’? Then what’s your explanation for why ‘I understand that you couldn’t have prevented that epidemic, but you still should have’ sounds so strange?

                The overall argument is intended to show that indeterminism follows from both determinism and indeterminism. Since one of those–determinism and indeterminism–must be true, we have a constructive dilemma. If the argument is correct that indeterminism follows from determinism, there’s nothing ultimately incoherent about that; it merely shows, as you recognize, that indeterminism is true.

                Here it is formally, for the record:

                (1) Either determinism or indeterminism is true. (Excluded Middle.)

                (2) If someone ought to do something, then he or she can do that thing. ((OP) thesis.)

                (3) If determinism is true, then if you can do something, you do do it. (Df. ‘determinism.’)

                (4) Therefore, if determinism is true, then: if you ought to do something, then you do do it. (From (2) and (3).)

                (5) Mike believes indeterminism. (Assumption.)

                (6) Mike ought to have the correct belief about whether indeterminism is true. (From the principle that we ought to have true beliefs.)

                (7) Therefore, if determinism is true, then Mike has the correct belief about whether indeterminism is true. (From (4) and (6).)

                (8) Therefore, if determinism is true, then indeterminism is true. (From (5) and (7).)

                (9) Therefore, indeterminism is true. (From (1) and (8).)

                The argument is strictly deductively valid; premise (1) is a substitution-instance of a logical truth; premise (3) is true by definition; and premise (5) is true of some cognizers.

                Therefore, to reject (9), you must deny (2) or (6). But as you say in your latest comment, you accept (6). So you deny (2)? Do you really have an argument for determinism that’s more plausible than (2)?

                (Note, for example, that empirical evidence cannot establish determinism, as William James pointed out. Empirical observations only ever have actualities as their content, but determinism is a thesis about modality: about necessity and impossibility.)

              3. Tom your argument appears to be equivocating over the meaning of “can”. The force of “If X ought to do Y then X can do Y” is that I have no business insisting X do Y or in threatening sanctions against X for not doing Y unless I can envisage circumstances, which might include my insisting or threatening, in which X would do Y. In other words the word “can” must be understood relative to a range of circumstances including the actual circumstances in which X finds him/herself. However in the statement “If determinism is true the if X can do Y then X does Y”, the word “can” is understood relative only to the circumstances in which X does find him/herself. If that were not so then the statement would be straightforwardly false.
                To make (2) and (3) simultaneously true you need “can” to mean the same in both.

              4. Bernard,

                Thanks for your comments.

                By ‘S can phi’ I mean ‘it is possible for S to phi.’

                Here are my restated (2) and (3):

                (2′) If someone ought to do something, then it is possible for him or her to do that thing. ((OP) thesis.)

                (3′) If determinism is true, then if it is possible for you to do something, you do do it. (Df. ‘determinism.’)

                If we insert (2′) for (2) and (3′) for (3), the argument is still deductively valid.

                In turn, I’m not sure how there could be an equivocation here over “possible.” We could analyze it Leibnizianly if we want:

                (2”) If S in the actual world @ ought to do something at time t in @, then there is a possible world w that shares its history up to t with @ in which S does that thing at t in @.

                (3”) If determinism is true, then if there is a possible world w that shares its history up to t with @ in which S does something, then S does that thing at t in @.

                This is probably as precise as we can get about possibility.

                In any case, it sounds as if you would deny (2′) and (2”). If you do deny them, though, then it might make sense to say ‘I understand that it’s impossible to go back in time and kill Hitler, but you really should do it.’ But that sounds crazy to me.

              5. I’m denying that ought implies can in the way it needs to for that argument to work, as I’ve expressed. I’ve also described the stricter sense in which [belief in an] ought does imply [belief in a, or context for a] can, but that doesn’t make the argument work. Maybe the way Bernard Hurley is saying it is clearer?

              6. At most, you’re deriving that our knowledge is insufficient to determine the outcome. You aren’t deriving physical indeterminism from physical determinism with that argument.

              7. I agree with (2) if you mean:
                If I prescribe that someone ought to do something, it follows that I consider it possible that that person do that thing.

                But then the scope of “can” or “possible” has changed between (2) and (3). What a person considers possible is rarely the same as what is determined to happen (by physics, or whatever is doing the determining).

              8. Peter,

                Surely you don’t just think belief in an ‘ought’ psychologically implies belief in a ‘can’–you also think that ‘S ought to phi’ implies ‘S can phi,’ right? As in, given that S ought to phi, I am entitled to derive that S can phi?

                If you don’t think that, then you have the (I think) crazy consequence that someone might reasonably say, ‘You really ought to have gone back in time and killed Hitler; you were wrong not to.’

                The argument actually does logically derive physical indeterminism from physical determinism when the latter is conjoined with these assumptions:

                (2′) If someone ought to do something, then it is possible for him or her to do that thing. ((OP) thesis.)

                (6) Mike ought to have the correct belief about whether indeterminism is true. (From the principle that we ought to have true beliefs.)

                As my enumerated summary shows, the argument is deductively valid. (Cf.
                http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/am-i-unsophisticated-about-free-will/?replytocom=175839#comment-175825
                if you haven’t already.)

              9. Yes, I do think that, and that shouldn’t be controversial at all! I’ve already pointed out that most oughts are clearly matters of opinion. And even if we grant for the sake of argument that some oughts are universal (although I don’t think your examples were), the only access we have to oughts is through human cognition. If there are actually universal oughts, then our knowledge of them is only propped up by best evidence, presumably including our best evidence of what’s within the realm of possibility. Why should that be surprising?

              10. Sorry Tom, ‘possible’ suffers from the same ambiguity as ‘can’. Incidentally, I think the Leibnizian account of possibility is hopelessly confused. I have written about this on my blog: http://bernardhurley.posterous.com/tag/fredmeets although I have not spelled out my ideas in detail.

                If someone asks me “Is it possible for you to jump over my box?” then if it is small enough I will answer “yes”. Perhaps she needs to leave it outside my door for a few moments and is worried what will happen if I have to leave in a hurry. I might never get the opportunity to do so, or if I do I might get the opportunity but get shot as I attempt to do so. It is in this sense of the word possible that we can assert “If X ought to Y then it is possible for X to Y.” However there is another meaning of the word possible. According to this meaning, if the universe is deterministic (incidentally I’m not claiming it is,) and I do not in fact jump over the box, then it is not possible for me to jump over it. It is in this sense of possible that “If it is possible for X to Y then X does Y.”

            2. “I’d say it’s very controversial that oughts are “only” human beliefs.”

              It may seem controversial to you. But it isn’t universally controversial. I, and I’m sure many others, think precisely that all ‘oughts’ are entirely human beliefs.

              1. Ron:

                Well, whether they assert that oughts are mere human constructions and whether they actually believe it are two different things. I suspect most people on the planet think that murder, rape, and torture (at least of humans) are generally wrong, and wrong in a way that doesn’t depend upon what any particular mind believes. If you were the victim of a violent crime, I’m sure you would feel that you were wronged, even if the criminal didn’t believe in oughts. Does this mean you actually, deep-down, do believe in oughts? I don’t know, of course, but at least it makes the question interesting.

    5. Tom,

      Either I’m not following this argument or it is as invalid/unsound as it seems.

      Take this premise (emphasis mine):

      Suppose that determinism is true.

      If so, anything you can do, you will do, since you can only ever do what you actually do, if determinism is true.

      But that can be said whether determinism OR indeterminism is true. Even if my actions were not determined, whatever I do will amount to what I “actually” do, so either way I can “only ever do what I actually do.”

      I think the ambiguity is residing in the word “can.” It’s like what Dennett points out when someone says that determinism means that “you can’t actually change the future.” (Hence thinking our decisions will change the future is an illusion). But it really depends what one can mean by “changing the future.” Because “the future” is going to happen ANYWAY. No matter what happens, it’s the future, whether it’s antecedent condition was determined or indetermined.

      So this doesn’t seem an argument that can be aimed only to eliminate determinism. It also doesn’t tell us any particular about what what we WILL do.

      Further, following the ought implies can reasoning:

      And if determinism is true, then if we can have true beliefs, we do have true beliefs. So if determinism is true, then if I’m a libertarian about free will, my belief in libertarianism is true.

      Again, the ambiguity in “can.”

      If we are really trying to derive an argument from the logical implications of the meaning of “ought” and “can” then we can’t go ignoring some just-as-strong implications.

      Just as it makes no sense to say one “ought” to do something they can not do, it ALSO makes no sense to say one “ought” to do something he has no choice but to do.

      Given, for instance, the impossibility of our bodies not obeying the laws of physics, saying:

      “You [u]ought to[/u] obey the laws of physics” is as nonsensical as saying “You [u]ought not[/u] obey the laws of physics.

      So your use of “can” derives from the validity of the use of the word “ought,” but for “ought” to mean anything it logically implies a two way street, that “A” or “B” are possible options.

      Therefore, if you say one “ought” to have true beliefs, it logically implies it is possible to not have true beliefs. And introducing the word “can” does nothing to help, because one “can” therefore have a false belief and one “can” have a true belief.

      So as long as you are using those terms coherently in the argument, then it does not follow at all that stating that one “can” have a true belief equates to one having a true belief, since one can also have a false belief.

      Vaal.

      1. Thanks for the response. I take it there are two main points here.

        (1) I agree that ‘can’ can be ambiguous. Maybe this restatement of the premise will be more helpful:

        If determinism is true, then everything a person can do at time t, he or she does at t.

        But indeterminists say that sometimes a person can do something at time t, but does something else at t.

        Only the first allows us to deduce the argument’s conclusion.

        (2) Later, you write, “Therefore, if you say one ought’ to have true beliefs, it logically implies it is possible to not have true beliefs.”

        I would say it at least connotes that, yes. But even if we grant this, I’m not sure how this is an objection to the argument, or at least how it undermines the argument’s conclusion.

        Suppose we accept that if one ought to have true beliefs, then one can have false beliefs. It would follow (given determinism) that one does have false beliefs, because the set of what one can do and the set of what one does are always completely coincident, according to determinism. (Remember, they say that there’s only ever one way the universe can go.) But then all determinists have false beliefs.

        More specifically, everyone ought to have a true belief about whether determinism is true. Therefore (given your principle) it is possible for everyone to have a false belief about whether determinism is true. Therefore (given determinism), everyone does have false beliefs about whether determinism is true. (But that leads to a contradiction, of course.)

        1. Tom,

          Your reformulation of determinism entailing false beliefs suffers from exactly the same problem as the one entailing true beliefs.

          The problem is the argument relies on granting the legitimacy of “can” and “ought” in the first place.

          And since those words, particularly “ought,” require alternate possibilities, it is incoherent to use them in an argument whose conclusion denies alternate possibilities.

          So long as you have the premise “one OUGHT to have true beliefs” it requires the possibility for having false beliefs, and visa versa. Thus, with that premise in your argument, one can not say determinism would entail true or false beliefs either way.

          Vaal.

          1. Vaal,

            If you’re suggesting that determinists must abandon the idea of “ought,” well, certainly some determinists might agree. That would mean they’re denying that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’; they’re denying one of the premises of the argument.

            So these determinists would say there’s nothing epistemically wrong with people who believe in libertarianism, since it is false that they ought to stop believing in libertarianism. And these determinists would say there’s nothing epistemically wrong with Holocaust denial; Holocaust deniers are just as reasonable as people who accept the existence of the Holocaust, according to determinists, if they abandon the idea that there are epistemic oughts. (Right?)

            It follows, I take it, that determinists (those who abandon the idea of “ought”) have no objection to libertarians; at least, they don’t think libertarians are doing anything wrong or irrational in believing in libertarianism.

            1. Tom,

              That critique seems to be legitimate, and it has been made numerous times in these threads. However, that is straying from the exact formulation of the argument you presented.

              The argument you presented takes “ought” to be legitimate. But here you are talking “well, what if ought then isn’t taken via determinism to be legitimate.” Which is to abandon the argument you were giving.

              I agree there seems to be a problem with prescriptive language – “ought,” “should” etc – for the hard determinist/incompatibilist.

              The incompatibilist will say “But I acknowledge that my saying things to you, presenting arguments, will physically effect your brain and hence, even though it’s all determined, it therefore makes sense for me to make my arguments to you.” And the incompatibilist (some anyway…apparently not Jerry from his article) will say “I also acknowledge that people make choices, even if they are determined.”
              He may also say “I was pre-determined to give this argument, and you may have been pre-determined to be affected by it, so there’s nothing wrong with my giving the argument.”

              Unfortunately, the indeterminist acknowledging all those things does NOT address whether the arguments he makes are actually valid, or sound or coherent.

              As has been pointed out, to say for instance as Jerry wants to say that if determinism is true then we should/ought take X stance toward criminality necessarily implies that we could do otherwise. If we COULDN’T do otherwise then the actual coherence of Jerry’s prescription is no better than his telling us “If hard determinism is true, we should obey the laws of physics.” It makes no sense to prescribe that we do something that we have no choice but to do.

              Jerry, and others, seem to think they have addressed this problem of prescriptions by acknowledging (as some do) that we do make choices, and that arguments are part of the physical cause and effect of determinism. But…it simply doesn’t solve the problem.

              Vaal.

              1. Thanks again for your comments. I’m glad to see my suspicion is correct that at least many of the hard determinists here can’t really make sense of the existence of epistemic normativity: that certain beliefs are rational or irrational, reasonable or unreasonable, or that people should or shouldn’t believe various things. Indeed, I suspect that Professor Coyne’s ultimate position entails that no one ought to believe that free will does not exist.

    6. A quick argument for libertarian free will, borrowed from Michael Huemer:

      Suppose that determinism is true.

      Is this determinism or determinism in a philosophic sense?

      If so, anything you can do, you will do, since you can only ever do what you actually do, if determinism is true.

      There are lots of things I can do that I will never do. I can drown in a submarine accident. I can die in a plane crash. I can die in a car accident. I can live to a ripe old age and die in my sleep. I can talk to God, if there is a God and He/She/It wants to talk to me. These are all things I can do, but these are not all things that I will do.
      I would concede that non-free willism says that all that we have done is all that we could have done. This does not equate to anything I can do, I will do.

      Now we tend to think that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’: we don’t criticize people for doing something they absolutely couldn’t have avoided doing. If you fail to prevent a disease epidemic because you don’t have a cure, I shouldn’t say to you, ‘Yes, I understand that you couldn’t have prevented the epidemic, but you still should have.’

      Currently people are being criticized for doing that which they absolutely could not have avoided doing. This is one of the reasons for the non-free will objection. This is because people are assumed capable of having been able to have done something other than what they did. This then is clearly is begging the question. But you are right, if a person could not prevent a disease epidemic because they didn’t have the cure, then you ought not say to them, ‘‘Yes, I understand that you couldn’t have prevented the epidemic, but you still should have.’ Well, ought not to if you care about your credibility.
      What is really true instead is this, we tend to think that ‘ought’ implies ‘may’: we expect that if we think someone ought to do a thing then they ‘may’ do the thing. And conversely if they are forbidden to do a thing, then they ought not do that thing. Or the other way around, those things we think ought not be done, we forbid, saying that they may not do them.

      We also tend to think that in general, we ought to have true beliefs; we should make true beliefs our goal. (Or, weaker if you like, we ought to have justified beliefs. The conclusion of the argument is almost as friendly to libertarianism.)

      We tend to think that in general, we ought to have reserves in a savings account in case of being laid-off. We ought to have a fulfilling career, nice digs, nice threads, caring friends, and a loving family. (Or, weaker if you like, we ought to have sense enough not to buy a pig in a poke.)

      Putting these ideas all together, we find that if we ought to have true beliefs, then we can have true beliefs. And if determinism is true, then if we can have true beliefs, we do have true beliefs. So if determinism is true, then if I’m a libertarian about free will, my belief in libertarianism is true.

      Oh, I see what you did there… you tried to make all the determinism in the universe vanish in a puff of logic. All the observable chains of cause and effect just disappear in one logical double bind. But we have seen that even though we can/may have true beliefs determinism says that we actual have them. So, determinism is true, and you may/can be libertarian regarding free will, and your belief in libertarianism may still be false.

      So now we have a dilemma: If determinism is false, then it doesn’t provide a good argument against free will. If determinism is true, and I’m a libertarian, then libertarianism is true. Either way, determinism does not refute libertarianism.

      If determinism is true, and you’re a libertarian, then determinism is still true and you are in error.

      1. Steve,

        By ‘determinism’ I mean the thesis that is or entails that anything you can do, you do. (This is typically thought to be the sort of determinism that poses a problem for libertarianism.)

        “There are lots of things I can do that I will never do.”

        Then determinism is false.

        “I would concede that non-free willism says that all that we have done is all that we could have done. This does not equate to anything I can do, I will do.”

        The two are basically contrapositives of each other, so yes, they entail each other. ‘If I can phi, then I phi’ is the contrapositive of ‘if I don’t phi, then I couldn’t phi,’ which is what you conceded; just insert ‘not do’ for ‘phi’ in both points.

        “Currently people are being criticized for doing that which they absolutely could not have avoided doing.”

        Because most people have indeterminist leanings or intuitions.

        “But you are right, if a person could not prevent a disease epidemic because they didn’t have the cure, then you ought not say to them, …”

        Not only that, but it would be wrong to say they should or ought to have prevented it. It’s false that you have committed a serious moral wrong by not instantly, universally curing cancer. Why? Because you lack the ability to do that.

        “But we have seen that even though we can/may have true beliefs determinism says that we actual have them. So, determinism is true, …”

        I don’t understand the inference from your first sentence to the first two clauses of your second sentence. Yes, determinism says (given the other principles) that my beliefs regarding determinism are true or at least justified. So if I believe in indeterminism, then according to determinism (plus the other two principles), that belief is true or at least justified.

        1. By ‘determinism’ I mean the thesis that is or entails that anything you can do, you do.

          I don’t know of any such thesis. You can dress up in women’s clothes and hang out in bars, does than mean you do that? No. (Well at least I don’t suppose you do. I don’t know. Regarding this I am just guessing.) Where in the world did you ever come up with this as part of determinism?

          (This is typically thought to be the sort of determinism that poses a problem for libertarianism.)

          I would rather thing that that sort of determinism would pose a problem for determinism. That is just whack… anything you can do, you do… nope. Plenty of stuff I can do, that I don’t do.

          By determinism I mean the thesis that entails nothing happening without a cause that determined it to happen (or set of causes).

          As I think I have said, nobody does all that they can do (or all that they may do, (may meaning permitted)). There are many more things that I can do, that I will never do.

          Determinism in no way claims that everything a person believes is automatically true… no matter how badly they wish to be true.

          I suppose you could say that by determinism you mean the thesis that is or entails that everything you say is true… and therefore if you say libertarianism is true, it must be true, but then determinism has to stop being… but that just doesn’t seem to stand up or be reasonable a thing to say.

          1. Steve,

            In your previous reply, you wrote, “I would concede that non-free willism says that all that we have done is all that we could have done.” As I pointed out in my reply to that reply, your position does logically entail that if you can do something, you do it. I don’t know why you didn’t respond to that. Here is the proof, in any case.

            (1) Suppose: All that we have done is all that we could have done.
            (2) It follows that the set of things we can do is identical to the set of things we do. (From 1.)
            (3) Suppose, for conditional proof, that I can do x. (Supposition.)
            (4) It follows that x is an element of the set of things I can do. (From 3.)
            (5) Therefore, x is an element of the set of things I do. (From 2 and 4.)
            (6) Therefore, I do x. (From 5.)
            (7) Therefore, given ‘all that we have done is all that we could have done,’ it follows that if I can do x, I do x. (From 1, 3, and 6.)

            “Where in the world did you ever come up with this as part of determinism?”

            Decades of the literature concerning the free will debate.

            “By determinism I mean the thesis that entails nothing happening without a cause that determined it to happen (or set of causes).”

            Did that cause necessitate that result? (In other words, given that cause, was it impossible that a different result would occur?) If yes, then your determinism entails ‘anything I can do, I do.’ If no, then your determinism poses no problem for libertarianism, since we could still make choices that go either way even given the same causal inputs.

            “Determinism in no way claims that everything a person believes is automatically true… ”

            It entails it (given the principles that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ and that we ought to have justified or true beliefs), if it entails that anything I don’t do, I couldn’t have done, or if it entails that any state of the universe necessitates any later state.

            1. Number 2 fails… It follows that the set of things we can do is identical to the set of things we do.

              This is what I dispute… I say the set of things we can do is larger than the set of things we do.

              1. “I say the set of things we can do is larger than the set of things we do.”

                (Earlier) “I would concede that non-free willism says that all that we have done is all that we could have done.”

                But ‘all that we have done is all that we could have done’ literally means that the set of what we do and the set of what we can do are identical, right?

                “I say the set of things we can do is larger than the set of things we do.”

                So sometimes we do one thing, but we could have done something else. Then there’s no problem for libertarian free will from determinism. The libertarian is who insists that sometimes when we do one thing, we could have done something else, even given the same outside stimuli.

                “Also I didn’t agree with ought implies can …”

                Suppose someone said to you: ‘I think you have committed a very serious moral wrong by not instantly curing all cancer in the world. You’ve caused millions of people to suffer and die. You should be ashamed of yourself.’

                What would you say in response?

              2. But ‘all that we have done is all that we could have done’ literally means that the set of what we do and the set of what we can do are identical, right?

                Wrong… the set of what I can do is larger than the set of what I will do.

              3. So sometimes we do one thing, but we could have done something else.

                Not in the moment of doing the one thing. Just because we are doing one thing now, does not limited the number of potential things we may yet do later.

                We do is in the present tense… we could have done is in the past tense.