Sapolsky interview redux (and SpaceX launch/docking)

Most of the issues plaguing this website were resolved by WordPress yesterday, but the site was inaccessible for much of the day. I thus invite you to comment on yesterday’s post about Robert Sapolsky’s Scientific American interview on free will. Comments were few for this kind of post; the paucity is either due to reader fatigue about free will (you needn’t tell me if you have it), or people not having time to listen or to see the post. It’s worth hearing (and perhaps responding to what he or I said about it), so if you missed it, try again and comment here or there.

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I was sad that the site was down yesterday, because I wanted to watch the SpaceX launch to the ISS, and I simply forgot about it. Here’s a short video of the launch.  The Dragon is scheduled to arrive at the ISS this morning, docking at 10:29 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, so be sure you’re tuned in well before that. NASA TV has it at the screenshot below this first video.

Click here in at most two hours to see the docking. I’ve set my alarm. You can read what’s going to happen at the New York Times. As I write this at 7:30 a.m. Chicago time, all is copacetic.

Right now the Dragon capsule is only 400 meters below the International Space Station. Do not miss the docking. Again, click below to see it.

29 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 31, 2020 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I remembered to watch the blast off yesterday. Seems everything went smoothly. I keep hearing the need to overhaul the legal system due to the lack of free will but wasn’t that needed anyway. What we need to hear are the details of how to do that overhaul. In a country of 50 states how do you really accomplish such a thing?

  2. Posted May 31, 2020 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    How to acheive the overhaul? A top tip would be to become a lot less religious!

    The justice systems in Scandinavia did not arise after a big debate about determinism, but did arise in some of the least religious societies around.

    • Posted May 31, 2020 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      Re website glitches, my comment #2 was posted as a “reply” to Randall Schenck’s #1, but appeared on its own.

      This comment is a “reply” to my first comment, so we’ll see where it appears.

    • Posted May 31, 2020 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Hmm, that comment #2 was supposed to be a “reply” to #1. Website glitch?

  3. GBJames
    Posted May 31, 2020 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I missed the free will post yesterday because of the site issues.

    FWIW…. The site seems to now want me to identify myself every time I post now. Hmm…

    • Posted May 31, 2020 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      I hope not. It should be a one-time thing like last time. If this persists people should email me and I’ll work with WordPress.

  4. CR
    Posted May 31, 2020 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Re Sapolsky, free will, etc., I’ve been very s-l-o-w-l-y making my way through Behave, but haven’t yet reached the crime/punishment chapter. So I hesitate to comment, as it’s hard enough to wrap my conscious thoughts (whatever that means) around determinism, let alone what that means for the legal system.
    PCC emphasizes the deterrence aspect of punishment, but even that confuses me. If there’s no free will, how does knowledge of risk of punishment prevent misdeeds? (Or does it? Seems there’s plenty of crime despite the miscreants’ knowledge they could go to jail/prison. And having been there, many end up returning.) Will all be revealed when I reach Chap. 16?

  5. Posted May 31, 2020 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    This page shows as “not secure” in Chrome even though the page is being accessed as

    • Posted May 31, 2020 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Oops! Somehow the comment closed before I finished typing. Trying again…

      This page shows as “not secure” in Chrome even though the page is being accessed as https://… I suspect that some items on the page are linked via http, not https. Sometimes that has to be the case as the source doesn’t support https. I only mention it because of your recent transition.

  6. Vaal
    Posted May 31, 2020 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Re: Sapolsky, prison reform etc:

    I still can’t get over the apparent incoherence that hits me every time:

    We need to recognize that criminals have No Free Will.

    This is based on acknowledging that no one could have done otherwise.

    THEREFORE:

    We ought to do otherwise! (Reform our Justice System).

    That contradiction seems inherent.

    As well: The whole premise of “deterrents” doesn’t even seem to make sense unless one presumes “we could do otherwise” (produce deterrents; that people could change their behavior based on deterrents).

    But how do you acknowledge a sense of “could do otherwise” if not talking like a compatibilist?

    This is why it seems to me compatibilism, if anything, is actually the conceptual scheme that makes more sense of talking prison reform.

    (And there have been lots of calls for prison reform for years, which are not based on hard determinism, and which at least have the virtue of being coherent in the sense of assuming “we could do otherwise.”)

    • Posted May 31, 2020 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Oh sweet Jesus. I will make one comment and that is the end of the discussion. “We ought to do otherwise” is shorthand for “I am trying to influence your brain program, based on my own determined brain program, that in the future you should take action to correct the Justice system.” This is an environmental influence (granted, our views about prison reform are based on our genes and environments) that can change other people’s minds. Note that in none of that have I said “at a given moment one could have done either of several things.

      No, “doing otherwise” means, changing your wiring in a way that you would behave differently from how you would have behaved without that outside influence.”

      If you can’t get that, I can’t help you. You seem to mistake “you could have done otherwise in a given point at time with every factor identical” with “you can change how you behave in the future if there is an environmental influence on your neurons.”

      As for calls for prison reform by compatibilists, I said that. Did you not read it? But, as I said, and as I maintain, the compatibilists are not, in general, the kind of determinists calling for prison reform.

      I don’t want to go back and forth with you on this, so do not bother to reply. I am not going to convince you of my position, and you are not going to convince me of yours. This has gone on and on for several years.

      • Posted May 31, 2020 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        Sapolsky’s comments in the podcast are spot on.

        There is no contradiction between “we cannot do otherwise” and “we ought to do otherwise.” As per Hume, the first is a statement about what “is” and the other about an “ought.”

        The moderator is spot on is explaining why there is no contradiction between “we cannot do otherwise now (at a given moment)” and “we can do otherwise” with a view to the future.

        Arguments that we should change what we do in the future can work for the same reason that deterrents can work, namely, because determinism is (largely) true and prior events (like reasoned arguments and punishment) therefore affect future behavior.

        As for why compatibilists do not press for punishment reform, the reason should be obvious. The whole point of compatibilistm is to make the case that moral responsibility is compatible with determinism. That is, the whole point of compatibilism is (mostly) to justify present punishment practices.

        • Posted May 31, 2020 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

          “the whole point of compatibilism is (mostly) to justify present punishment practices.”

          That’s a non-sequitur. There are much more humane punishment practices, such as Restorative Justice, which are congruent with (and arguably require) the idea that people are morally responsible for their deeds. See my comment in the previous Sapolsky thread.

        • Vaal
          Posted May 31, 2020 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

          (Sorry for the format fail, only JAH43’s words were meant to be in bold).

        • Posted June 1, 2020 at 3:04 am | Permalink

          “That is, the whole point of compatibilism is (mostly) to justify present punishment practices.”

          Not so. The point of compatibilism is to understand human interactions in a deterministic world.

          Your account of “can do otherwise” is exactly a compatibilist account!

          But then you decline to adopt a compatibilist account of “could have done otherwise”. The compatibilist simply adopts a compatibilist account in both cases.

        • Vaal
          Posted June 1, 2020 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

          Hi JAH43,

          “There is no contradiction between “we cannot do otherwise” and “we ought to do otherwise.” As per Hume, the first is a statement about what “is” and the other about an “ought.”

          But “ought” implies “can.” Unless you can explain how it makes sense to say “you OUGHT to do something that is impossible?”

          You ought to cure every case of COVID 19 right this minute with your mind. Did I just make sense? Don’t you have to be able to do what I recommend, in order for my recommendation to be coherent?

          For the same reason if you recommend that I “ought to do otherwise than I am currently doing” it must entail that “I COULD do otherwise (than I am currently doing.”

          “The moderator is spot on is explaining why there is no contradiction between “we cannot do otherwise now (at a given moment)” and “we can do otherwise” with a view to the future.

          I agree!

          It makes sense to say it IS “possible” to do otherwise IF something changes, or is introduced, in to the causal state. (For instance, I introduce a recommending that you do something changes your brain and so now, instead of doing X you choose to do Y).

          And the deterministic logic works both directions (since my next action is determined as my previous). So: It *is* possible for me to get to NYC from Toronto faster than driving IF I choose to fly.
          The same info is contained in “It WAS possible for me to get to NYC faster, HAD I chosen (or desired) to fly instead of drive.”

          This is the natural If/Then and counterfactual reasoning people use all the time when deciding what choices they have and what they “could do or could have done.”

          But when compatibilists point this out and say “I could have chosen otherwise if I’d desired to” we are usually greeted with “but that’s a red herring, because you couldn’t *really* have desired other than you actually did.”

          (See other responses to your claim that compatibilists wish to justify current judicial practices, a misleading claim).

          • Posted June 1, 2020 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

            Sorry, but “ought” does not imply “can” in the sense that “at any given moment, with everything in place, you COULD do something different from what you did.” You are once again mistaking a temporal change in behavior with instantaneous alternatives that are not possible.

            And I never said that compatibilists wish to justify current judicial practices. They just don’t seem that interested in it, when I think you should

      • Posted May 31, 2020 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        You [Vaal] seem to mistake “you could have done otherwise in a given point at time with every factor identical” with “you can change how you behave in the future …

        I can’t resist butting in – I find this idea of “every factor identical” bizarre. My choice is one of the factors; should we assume it identical? Then it’s a tautology that I will do the identical thing.

        On other occasions, I think, instead of “one point in time” you referred to keeping *past* conditions the same. You don’t keep future conditions the same – for the obvious reason that the future is not independent of what we do now. Whereas the past that we know and love – the macroscopic, coarse grained past that is recorded in history – is for all practical purposes independent of what we do now. So it makes sense to keep that fixed, when asking “what could you do now”?

        But the microscopically detailed past, at the fundamental particle/field level, is *not* independent of the details of what we do now. This is where the most plausible incompatibilist arguments break down – they are based on bad physics. At a crucial step, they rely on intuitive ideas of time and causality instead of those that are consistent with relativity theory, the standard model, and thermodynamics.

  7. jezgrove
    Posted May 31, 2020 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    At some point yesterday several WEIT posts that I knew I had seen disappeared altogether, but everything seems to be back to normal. Assuming that this comment appears in the next few minutes, of course!

  8. jezgrove
    Posted May 31, 2020 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I’ve lost the capitals in my username! Not a problem, but weird!

  9. Laurance
    Posted May 31, 2020 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    When I read the email and then clicked on the blue link to read WEIT on the internet I was not allowed in and was told I was not a subscriber and that my username was not valid etc. I figured that was because of the changes at WordPress.

    So I went through my old emails and found one from WEIT and used that one to click to get to the internet. Then I looked at the sidebar and found a comment that I could click on that would open the email I wanted.

    And with that I got to the Sapolsky talk. Thank you for posting the link! I do like to hear a hard determinist talk.

    And now WordPress is working for me and recognizes me!

    Now a comment on Vaal’s post:

    “We need to recognize that criminals have No Free Will.

    This is based on acknowledging that no one could have done otherwise.

    THEREFORE:

    We ought to do otherwise! (Reform our Justice System).

    That contradiction seems inherent.”

    {grin} Whether or not we *ought* to do otherwise about our Justice System is kind is beside the point. We will or will not do otherwise depending on all the prior causal factors that affect what we do.

    • Vaal
      Posted June 1, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Laurance

      “{grin} Whether or not we *ought* to do otherwise about our Justice System is kind is beside the point. We will or will not do otherwise depending on all the prior causal factors that affect what we do.”

      So logic and reason no longer matter? Good arguments, good reasons against bad, because: “whatever, we’re gonna do what we’re gonna do.”

      Is that really the road you want to go down?
      Is that tenable?

      • Laurance
        Posted June 1, 2020 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Hello, Vaal…Of course logic and reason matter! {grin again} I use logic and reason to the best of my ability because that is what I’m determined and conditioned to do!

        Whether or not I want to go down that road depends on all prior conditioning.

        I? *I* want or do not want?

        A crazy old Zen Master by the name of Ho Chi Hahn once said “The illusion, “I am”, undergirds and underlies all other illusions.”

        Oh, don’t mind me! I’ve got a bad case of Terminal Buddhism. 😉

        (And I’m not arguing with you. I’m dancing with you.)

  10. Wayne Y Hoskisson
    Posted May 31, 2020 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Robert Sopolsky spoke clearly and succinctly but to fully grasp his comments you should read Behave. I learned about Robert Sapolsky and Jerry Coyne about the same time from RadioLab. The story about Sapolsky concerned a troop of baboons he was studying in Africa. The story about PCC concerned a bot fly larva. He displayed such an intense curiosity that I could not resist following up. I read WEIT and found this website.

    After reading the first few chapters of Behave it does not make sense to maintain the fiction of an “I” that thinks and decides and does all the other functions of being a human being. In fact reading WEIT and reading and listening to Robert Sapolsky it is impossible to maintain such a truth diminishes, cripples or demeans people.

    • Posted May 31, 2020 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      “it does not make sense to maintain the fiction of an “I” that thinks and decides and does all the other functions of being a human being.”

      Was that satire? If not, I want you to know that I plan to continue as an “I”, a human being, as long as I can.

      • Wayne Y Hoskisson
        Posted May 31, 2020 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        Not satire. After reading Behave it is hard to identify a point where there is an “I” that is the center and creator of my volition or decisions. I experience myself as an “I” but I am not sure of the nature of this “I” or where it might reside. It would seem to be the sum of all the physics and chemistry that makes me alive but there is not an I outside of that.

        • Steve Gerrard
          Posted June 1, 2020 at 10:30 am | Permalink

          This makes no sense to me. Are you at home? Are you standing in the front yard or in the back yard? Are you asleep in bed? You are a physical human being. That is the “I” you seek. The notion that there is some separate sense of “I” that is not the physical being is false, is that what you mean?

    • Laurance
      Posted June 1, 2020 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Wayne…I have far too many books, and I have to decide whether or not to add Behave to the pile. Maybe I’ll sneak into Barnes & Noble and see if the book is on the shelf, and I’ll have a look-see before I buy. Shucks, I’ll go to Amazon and see if this book has the ‘Look Inside” feature and do just that.

      “After reading the first few chapters of Behave it does not make sense to maintain the fiction of an “I” that thinks and decides and does all the other functions of being a human being.”

      I figured this one out a long time ago. And only a few minutes ago I responded to Vaal, “A crazy old Zen Master by the name of Ho Chi Hahn once said ‘The illusion, “I am”, undergirds and underlies all other illusions.’ “

  11. FB
    Posted May 31, 2020 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think the overhaul of the legal system is the first thing a society that decides to accept determinism should do. First, the education system should be overhauled -starting in high school- because you need to prepare future parents, who will have to educate their children in a different way. They need to be aware that they are the number one environmental factor that puts people -their own children- in jail. Changing the legal system first, will probably end up with more people committing crimes.


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