A meta-analysis of many studies shows no long-term consequences of giving up belief in free will

June 13, 2022 • 9:45 am

One of the reasons that compatibilism is so popular, besides buttressing the comforting idea that we can make a variety of conscious choices at any time (well, that’s the way we feel), is that there’s a widespread belief that if you accept determinism (“naturalism”) as opposed to free will, it will be bad for society. (I prefer to use “naturalism” to mean “one’s actions purely reflect the laws of physics” rather than the more common “determinism”, because some of the laws of physics are indeterministic.) If you think you can’t make more than one choice at any one time, so the argument goes, you become mired in nihilism and irresponsibility, bound to act on your merest impulse, immoral or not.  In other words, the argument for keeping free will claims that naturalists who ascribe our actions solely to physical laws become irresponsible cheaters who cannot be trusted, and free will is thus a vital form of social glue that keeps society cohesive.

Here, for example, are two statements by the doyen of compatibilism, my pal Dan Dennett (sorry, Dan!):

There is—and has always been—an arms race between persuaders and their targets or intended victims, and folklore is full of tales of innocents being taken in by the blandishments of sharp talkers. This folklore is part of the defense we pass on to our children, so they will become adept at guarding against it. We don’t want our children to become puppets! If neuroscientists are saying that it is no use—we are already puppets, controlled by the environment, they are making a big, and potentially harmful mistake. . . . we [Dennett and Erasmus] both share the doctrine that free will is an illusion is likely to have profoundly unfortunate consequences if not rebutted forcefully.

—Dan Dennett, “Erasmus: Sometimes a Spin Doctor is Right” (Erasmus Prize Essay).

and

If nobody is responsible, not really, then not only should the prisons be emptied, but no contract is valid, mortgages should be abolished, and we can never hold anybody to account for anything they do.  Preserving “law and order” without a concept of real responsibility is a daunting task.

—Dan Dennett, “Reflections on Free Will” (naturalism.org)

But you can be a “hard determinist” and still believe in responsibility!

These views are often based on an early study by Vohs and Schooler (2008), which “primed” students by reading them an anti-free-will passage written by Francis Crick, with another group reading a “control” passage that was neutral.  Not only were the anti-free-will readers less likely to accept free will right after the readings, but they also tended to cheat more in a psychological test given immediately thereafter. To me, this is a thin basis on which to make a blanket statement about the long-term effect of denying free will on society.

Since that  2008 study, however, there have been many similar experiments testing whether such “priming” can not only affect belief in free will, but whether it can promote a variety of antisocial behaviors. Some studies have attempted to replicate the results of others and failed to do so; these, ironically, include the landmark study of Vohs and Schooler.

I should note that, as the authors of the paper below show, there are many people (including me, though I’m not cited) who feel that there are healthy effects of naturalism, including having more empathy for others and a reduced feeling of “retributive justice” (i.e., people should get punished because they made the wrong choice).

The present study by Genshow et al. (click on screenshot below; pdf is here, reference at bottom) is an attempt to combine all existing studies of this type using meta-analysis. They had two big questions:

  • Research Question 1: Can belief in free will be experimentally manipulated?
  • Research Question 2: Does this have any downstream consequences?

“Downstream” means “after the manipulation”, and not “permanent”!

The answers, as you can see if you read the long paper are yes, belief in free will can be experimentally manipulated, though the effects aren’t large, and no, the consequences of such manipulation, if any, don’t last long.  The authors thus conclude this:

Taken together, there is a debate about whether anti–free will viewpoints should be discussed in the public media. Our findings suggest that the influence on society may be weaker than previously assumed. In this respect, we would like to argue that discussions about the implications of believing in free will should distinguish between scientific facts and philosophical speculations (Schooler, 2010) as well as acknowledge methodological limitations of the cited research (Racine et al., 2017).

In other words, you can promote compatibilistic free will for a variety of reasons (i.e., it comports with our personal understanding of what “free will” means), but not because belief in naturalism will somehow erode society.

First, some clarification.  The authors analyzed 84 studies. Of these, 72 were subject to meta-analysis to see if “priming” affected belief in free will. (These studies included 124 experiments, of which 31 were published and 93 unpublished.) Further, 44 of the studies that showed successful manipulation of free will were tested to see if there were effects that lasted (these comprised 67 experiments, 43 published and 24 unpublished.)

What do the authors mean by “free will”.  Apparently the classic contracausal or libertarian “you-could-have-chosen-otherwise” free will:

. . . belief in free will reflects a much broader belief about choice and freedom (e.g., “Do I have a choice? Can I freely choose to do otherwise?”).

They construe the opposite of free will to be “determinism” though, as I said above, purely physical indeterminism, like quantum effects, could affect what one does at any given moment but still not reflect conscious choice and not be part of classical “free will”. (You can’t “choose” to affect the movement of an electron.) I will use “naturalism” instead of the authors’ “determinism”. Though they don’t talk about pure physical indeterminism, it doesn’t affect the results of their studies.

They used two methods to measure the effect of reading on free will belief; both gave the same results.

They also analyzed two other aspects of experiments. The first involved four ways of conducting the “priming’ : reading two statements alone, doing that as well giving a verbal reprise, seeing a video about free will or a neutral one, or reading a variety of statements that were either “control” or “anti-free will”. None of the experiments involved reading any pro-free will statements, probably because most people already accept libertarian free will and there’s not much room to manipulate that belief. It turns out that the most effective way to erode belief in free will is a combination of the two readings plus a verbal summary by the experimenter.

Second, the authors analyzed experiments in which the subjects were asked themselves to summarize or rewrite the messages given to them right after they were primed. It turned out that this form or conscious repetition also increased the erosion of belief in free will due to the experimental manipulation.

The results. 

a. “Can belief in free will be experimentally manipulated?” The meta-analysis showed that over all the experiments, priming did significantly erode acceptance of free will, though not by a huge amount. So yes, beliefs can be affected.  When acceptance of “naturalism” (what the authors call “determinism”) was also tested, it increased, though not as much as acceptance of free will declined.

b. “Does this have any downstream consequences?” But how long do these effects last? When erosion of belief in free will occurs in these studies, is it permanent, or does it last only over the experimental period? The “experimental period” appears to last between a day and a week, so it’s by no means permanent. And by “downstream” effects they include experiments where antisocial tendencies were tested right after the priming studies, and where the priming was separated from the measurement of antisocial behavior by another, unrelated test. I didn’t look at every experiment, but most appear to do the antisocial tests right after priming, so the effects can only be said to be temporary—a few hours to a week.

The social behaviors tested are shown in Table 1 of the paper, and include measurements of cheating, helping, aggression, conformity, gratitude, punishment, prejudice, moral actions, cooperation, punishment and moral judgments, victim blaming, and other tests. Again, this was a meta-analysis, so all these “antisocial” behaviors were taken into consideration in a single analysis.

Finally, their main method of seeing if there was an effect over all the studies on social attitudes involved “p curve analysis”, which I’ve never used but the authors describe like this:

In the first step, we ran a p-curve analysis across all dependent variables. While the aim of estimating a population effect size makes a meta-analysis unsuited to evaluate diverse sets of dependent variables, this is not the case for p-curve. Rather than estimating a population effect size, p-curve investigates whether a set of statistically significant findings contains evidential value by testing whether the distribution of p-values is consistent with the existence of a true effect (Simonsohn et al., 2014). Importantly, if confirmed, this does not mean that all included studies show a true effect. Instead, it merely implies that at least one study does (Simonsohn et al., 2014). As such, p-curve can be applied to diverse findings as long as they form a meaningful whole (Simonsohn et al., 2015).

And they analyzed a subset of the results involved “anti- or prosocial behaviors”:

In a second step, we ran meta-analyses on internally coherent sets of dependent variables. Upon reviewing the literature, one clear set arose—namely, antisocial versus prosocial behavior (for an overview, see Table 1). Hence, we pooled together the studies in this set and subjected them to a meta-analysis testing whether manipulating belief in free will influences social behavior. However, pro- and antisocial behavior is still a relatively broad and unspecific dependent variable. Therefore, in a third and final step, we also ran meta-analyses on three specific dependent variables that have been used in at least five experiments: conformity, punishment, and cheating.

The upshot: there was no statistically significant effect in either analysis. The p-value distribution suggests that not a single study had a “true effect.” Now if you use the psychologists’ way of measuring significance (p < 0.1), there is an overall level of significance for the effect on behavior, but using the biologists’ p value for significance (p < 0.05), the overall result became nonsignificant. And using either criterion, when you eliminate the single experiment that had the largest “downstream” effect, the whole effect on behavior becomes nonsignificant (p = 0.128).  The effect on anti-social behavior appeared to be significant, but was seen only in published and not unpublished studies, as might be expected. Further, when those studies were eliminated that showed no effect on manipulating free will, the “downstream” effect disappeared, so it may have been some kind of artifact.

 

I should add that there was no attempt to correct for multiple tests of significance, which increases the chance that something will appear significant when it’s really not. Experimenters vary in how they do this correction, but some correction is always needed, and none was done in this study. That means that even the close-to-significant results, of which there were few, were probably not statistically significant. 

The authors conclude this:

In sum, the analysis showed that the effect of anti–free will manipulations on antisocial behavior was no longer significant after controlling for publication and small sample biases. This was true even when we only included studies that found a significant effect of the manipulation on belief in free will and indicates that there is insufficient evidence for the idea that manipulating belief in free will influences antisocial behavior.

Now there are caveats about all these results (i.e., the downstream effect could have been significant but missed, or there might be an unknown third variable that affected the results, and so on); and the authors describe these in detail. The profusion of caveats means that the authors look as if they’re almost apologetic for finding no effect given the widespread view that denying free will will ruin society.

But given that the effect of priming on eroding free will was weak, that there was no meaningful “downstream” effect of trying to make people reject free will, that there was no attempt to correct for multiple tests of significance (a statistical no-no), AND, especially, the “downstream” effects were measured within a week of the initial priming (usually on the very same day), there’s simply no reason to play Chicken Little and say that we must believe in free will because otherwise society will fall to pieces. How can one possibly make statements about the long-term effects on society of rejecting free will and embracing naturalism without a proper test of that hypothesis? I repeat what the authors say above:

Taken together, there is a debate about whether anti–free will viewpoints should be discussed in the public media. Our findings suggest that the influence on society may be weaker than previously assumed. In this respect, we would like to argue that discussions about the implications of believing in free will should distinguish between scientific facts and philosophical speculations (Schooler, 2010) as well as acknowledge methodological limitations of the cited research (Racine et al., 2017).

And even if pure naturalism be true, and that most people’s belief in libertarian view be wrong, should we really hide that truth from people for the good of society? It reminds me of the Little People’s Argument for Religion: “we of course aren’t religious, but society needs religion to function properly.” It also reminds me of The Little People’s Argument for Creationism, encapsulated in what might be an apocryphal anecdote. It recounts how the wife of the Bishop of Worcester reacted when told that Mr. Darwin suggested that people had descended from apes. Mrs. Bishop of Worcester supposedly said:

“My dear, descended from the apes! Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us pray it will not become generally known.“

And that is the same argument many make for the prevalence of the laws of physics, which to many of us rules out libertarian free will. Further, if you think that nobody attacks naturalism or supports some form of free will because they decry naturalism’s supposedly bad social consequences, you’re wrong. I quoted Dan above, and I could give more quotes. To me, it’s almost never of value to hide the truth about reality as a way to preserve social harmony.

Yes, you can embrace compatiblistic free will even if you think libertarian free will has no consequences for society, but if that’s the way you think, I ask you this: “Why did the authors of this paper go to all the trouble to do the analysis?”

___________

Genschow O, Cracco E, Schneider J, et al. 2022. Manipulating belief in free will and its downstream consequences: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review. June 2022. doi:10.1177/10888683221087527

27 thoughts on “A meta-analysis of many studies shows no long-term consequences of giving up belief in free will

  1. So, I obviously don’t have time to go through all of these studies to look at the sample sizes and methodologies, but I have one big objection to the idea of studying this as a whole: most people aren’t going to be affected, simply because most people either don’t understand or don’t care to think about this issue. If you tell the average person on the street that they have no free will, or that they do, do you really expect it to make a difference? If they do understand, do you expect them to ruminate on the issue?

    “I should note that, as the authors of the paper below show, there are many people (including me, though I’m not cited) who feel that there are healthy effects of naturalism, including having more empathy for others and a reduced feeling of “retributive justice” (i.e., people should get punished because they made the wrong choice).”

    Similar to my point above, I sincerely doubt that convincing society at large that free will doesn’t exist will change the average person’s thoughts about issues like retributive justice. Assuming the average and below-average person understand the concepts at hand, I don’t think that people will feel any less desire for retribution, even if they are made to understand that the criminal “had no choice.” The desire to see people who caused suffering suffer themselves seems like one of those lizard-brain instincts. It’s a deeply ingrained sense of “fairness.” While I don’t agree with it, I’ve thought about these issues a great deal to come to my conclusions. Even if most people do understand the concepts we’re discussing here, most people won’t care to think about them. And even if they think about them, I doubt it will change their calculus regarding the justice system.

    If we want to move from a retributive to a rehabilitative system of justice, I think there are other far more promising arguments to be made than “the criminal didn’t have a choice, in the sense that all things are determined by physics and the brain is a physical object determined by physical processes.”

    1. “:most people aren’t going to be affected, simply because most people either don’t understand or don’t care to think about this issue.”

      I agree with you on that, but I’m not sure it’s a problem for this meta-study. The authors didn’t attempt to find out causes, they merely looked for effects.

      The much harder question to answer is what happens when, or if, in the long term naturalism and it’s implications for magic free will become generally understood, generally accepted and have become “common knowledge”? In the same way, for example, that many of the findings of science that are general knowledge these days, at least the very basics, though 100 years ago no one but the few experts at the cutting edge were thinking about them.

      Of course I can’t do any better than guess but I suspect that if that were ever to become the case the trend would be as Jerry suggests, more tolerance / compassion, and not as Dennett fears.

    2. The desire to see people who caused suffering suffer themselves seems like one of those lizard-brain instincts.

      Much of the societal progress charted by Steven Pinker in his books involves overcoming people’s “lizard-brain instincts.”

      It represents progress that we no longer subject offenders to the stocks or lashing or the ducking stool.

    3. “And even if they think about them, I doubt it will change their calculus regarding the justice system.”

      This is of course an empirical question, and here’s the abstract of one study that found a relation between free will beliefs and attitudes about punishment:

      “If free-will beliefs support attributions of moral responsibility, then reducing these beliefs should make people less retributive in their attitudes about punishment. Four studies tested this prediction using both measured and manipulated free-will beliefs. Study 1 found that people with weaker free-will beliefs endorsed less retributive, but not consequentialist, attitudes regarding punishment of criminals. Subsequent studies showed that learning about the neural bases of human behavior, through either lab-based manipulations or attendance at an undergraduate neuroscience course, reduced people’s support for retributive punishment (Studies 2–4). These results illustrate that exposure to debates about free will and to scientific research on the neural basis of behavior may have consequences for attributions of moral responsibility.”

      https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614534693

      1. “Study 1 found that people with weaker free-will beliefs endorsed less retributive, but not consequentialist, attitudes regarding punishment of criminals.”

        This seems much more like correlation rather than causation, as people who think about these issues are people far more likely to think about how to better the justice system as well.

        “Subsequent studies showed that learning about the neural bases of human behavior, through either lab-based manipulations or attendance at an undergraduate neuroscience course, reduced people’s support for retributive punishment (Studies 2–4). These results illustrate that exposure to debates about free will and to scientific research on the neural basis of behavior may have consequences for attributions of moral responsibility.”

        It seems like the words “neural basis/bases” are doing a lot of work here, and simply being conflated with ideas about a (lack of) free will. Of course, teaching people that, say, a person who is mentally handicapped, or whose neural pathways were affected by an abusive upbringing, will soften their stance on how much such a person deserves to be punished if they commit a criminal act. This does not necessarily imply that discussions about the nature of free will should produce the same result.

  2. > there are many people […] who feel that there are healthy effects of naturalism, including having more empathy for others and a reduced feeling of “retributive justice”

    That’s not an effect of naturalism, just a philosophy that takes naturalism into account. I have my fair share of acquaintances who use naturalism for different ends: HR departments, private judges, etc., who say that because we know who people are and that people never change, whether individuals are responsible for their actions or not, HR departments should look out for the company first and foremost, judges should protect the community from all rule-breakers (which is how we are stuck with three strikes laws). This is partially why HR departments have shifted to a policy of ‘isolate, don’t solve’.

    I am liking your use of the term ‘naturalism’, by the way. I use it to include my disbelief in supernatural forces and events, from truly free will to gods to leprechauns. This is also the first time I discovered the term ‘contracausal’. In order to avoid confusing people with the term ‘physically libertarian’, I tended to say ‘non-deterministic’ – but again had difficulty explaining why I wanted to exclude non-deterministic quantum physics from my discussion of ‘non-determinism’ in conversations about free will. Thanks!

    1. You’re wrong. For me those beliefs were an EFFECT of naturalism. When I became a “determinist”, I found that it affected my own thinking in several ways. I suspect there are many more such exceptions to your claim.

      1. I won’t contest the development of your views personally. It may not be possible to run a rigorous statistical analysis on people based on their beliefs in determinism/nondeterminism truly independent of any other philosophies and values they may possess. To me, it looks like it is not an effect of a belief in determinism/naturalism, but a byproduct of a combination of determinism and at least one other set of (individualistic? humanistic?) philosophical underpinnings not shared by prominent deterministic cultures, both Eastern and Western, ancient and modern. Maybe it’s the distinction between individualistic/humanistic determinism and individualistic/humanistic non-determinism – while being careful not to overlook the abuses of collectivist/non-humanistic determinisms.

        In my understanding, modern eastern naturalistic/deterministic cultures (I won’t mention the billion-plus elephant in the room) certainly do not engage in the practice of ‘retributive justice’, but something much harsher. In the West, we have centuries of jurisprudence based on religious-determinist thought, where if a god wanted you to sin, you would sin, and then you would be punished an go to hell. IANAL, but liberal interpretations of ‘mens rea‘ seem to be a relatively recent phenomenon in modern liberal western culture. I think I should re-read my Max Weber, though.

        Best,

        1. Sorry, but I doin’t understand what you’re trying to say. I was merely reporting on a new meta-analysis of experiments that primed people against free will, their effects, and how long the effects lasted.

          As far as I can gather, you’re saying the experiment was worthless because the participants could have been affected by other philosophies. But that’s why people were assigned randomly to treatments. Please clarify!

  3. “. . . is that there’s a widespread belief that if you accept free will as opposed to naturalism, it will be bad for society.”

    I’m not sure Jerry, but did you accidently reverse terms here? I think you may have meant to say, “there’s a widespread belief that if you accept naturalism as opposed to free will, it will be bad for society”?

  4. I’ve been thinking about free will lately (for reasons unbeknown to me). It’s probably because I’ve read several pieces on the topic in the past year or so—from various perspectives—finding Sam Harris’s book to be particularly enlightening. I suppose I liked Harris’s book so much because it comported so well with my own views. I want to make two points here. The first, which directly connects to this post, is that it makes no sense to hide the truth from the public. Free will is a chimera whether one likes it or not, and our social mores were both established and are continuously reinforced by minds that are acting independently of “free will.” As with evolution, it doesn’t matter whether the public likes it or not. Facts of the world are not subject to public assent. Will our social structures disintegrate if the public learns that free will is but an illusion? In effect, the cited meta-study says no. I’m willing to accept the risk and vote for wider awareness.

    Perhaps more interesting (at least to me) is that I have recently become more conscious of the fact that my ideas, my decisions, and my goals emerge into existence quite mysteriously. Poof! This morning I decided as I do every morning to make coffee. But—because I’ve been thinking about free will lately—I tried to evaluate where the thought of making coffee came from. The best I could do was to decide that, Poof!, the idea simply emerged de novo from the void of my mind. I could not trace all the antecedents back to some mysterious source of “will.” Rather, the thought to make coffee just surfaced mysteriously from the physico-chemical machinations of my brain. As I’ve become more aware of where my thoughts come from, I’ve become even more accepting of the fact that they simply emerge without notice from my brain. I’ve long known that the brain’s activity is chemistry and physics and nothing more, but only recently have I attempted to break from the illusion that I have free will. Now that I think about it, I find that it’s not that difficult! Denial of free will is something that one can easily get used to. (And, no, I don’t as a result have urges to abandon my moral sensibilities.)

    1. Norman,

      I would be careful about what you extrapolate from the the purported “mysteriousness” of how your “ideas, decisions, goals” seem to arise.

      If you mean that if you observe how a thought arises, it seems to arise “out of nothing”…well that is compatible of course with pre-conscious processes being part of our “thinking.”

      But if you want to say that your thoughts, beliefs, decisions, goals etc are therefore truly mysterious, as in you can’t really have an account for why you have them, that is quite a leap. It’s like using the tap-a-rubber-hammer-on-your-knee test to elicit an involuntary action, and then inferring “therefore all
      our actions are involuntary!”

      The understanding of where a thought or belief comes from will depend on the circumstances. If you are asked “Think of a restaurant” some restaurant may “pop” in to your mind. You may or may not have some account of why that restaurant above all others popped in to your head. This is expected if you are in a non-deliberative mode.

      On the other hand if you are asked “Think of your FAVORITE restaurant” then yes that restaurant may seem to “pop” in to your head, but surely it isn’t necessarily “mysterious” why your brain suggested THAT restaurant. You will have some account of why that restaurant is indeed your favorite (e.g. they serve your favorite dish, or they are the most exceptional cooks you’ve encountered, you like the service, etc).

      So while there may be thoughts, beliefs, decisions that pop in to our minds unaccounted for, we certainly can grasp the reasons that we have many thoughts, beliefs, decisions.

      (This is one of the problems I have with Sam Harris’ inferences from meditation. It may be true that, when you have trained yourself to enter a totally non-deliberative state of mind you observe thoughts popping out of nothingness, and therefore can’t account for them. But you can’t just leap from that to proposing ALL thought is equally mysterious in this way, as if you can’t really know or account for why you have various thoughts, beliefs, goals, actions. There’s a difference between thoughts that just arise and those that arise out of deliberation, just as there’s a difference between falling to the ground “on purpose” like doing a judo roll, vs “by mistake” – e.g. tripping on something)

      1. Grasping reasons is not evidence for contracausal free will. Rather, they reflect what is expected given your biological constitution (what you like to eat, and so on). And perhaps you don’t even KNOW all the reasons. You know as well as anyone that the “reasons” we confabulate may be incomplete or even wrong.

        Don’t bother to reply; you post only when I write about free will, always defending it, and I don’t want to get into another one-one-one kerfuffle.

      2. Thank you for engaging on this. I agree that external events, such as asking me to identify my *favorite* restaurant, have the power to influence my thinking. So, I don’t mean to claim that my thoughts have no causes. In effect, I’m saying the opposite, namely that all thoughts, urges, actions, etc., have antecedent causes. Some of these may be internal to my brain; others may be external. Some may be accessible to me in retrospect—the “favorite restaurant” example—and some may not. It is these causes—multifarious as they may be—in combination with the inevitable quantum uncertainties that are are responsible for our thoughts and actions.

        In saying that there’s “no free will” I’m saying that there is no special phase or state where one is free of the necessities of physics, no special “plane” where we are allowed to suspend the rules of causality, exercise “free will” and then resume life back in he world of ordinary causes. One would need, it seems, a place isolated from causality and quantum uncertainty in order to achieve the freedom of free will.

  5. As a long time promoter of science-based naturalism and its beneficial consequences for attitudes and policies, I’m happy to see that experimental data suggest that debunking contra-causal free will will likely not result in wholesale demoralization. Rather, as Jerry, Sam Harris, Robert Sapolsky, Gregg Caruso, Bruce Waller, Derk Pereboom. and others have argued, seeing that we’re not causal exceptions to nature will mitigate punitive reactive attitudes based on the idea that people could have done otherwise in actual situations in way that was up to them, but simply chose not to. And accepting that we’re fully caused in our character, values, and behavior, and looking for those causes, gives us potentially far more control over ourselves and our circumstances than believing some uncaused causer played a role. All told, the naturalization of human agency, should it go mainstream, will benefit us tremendously. Naturalism full steam ahead!

  6. I’ve grown so tired of that “we’d have to empty the prisons” argument. A refutation of that occurred to me as a boy: Prisons need not punish, but rather quarantine the violence-prone from the rest of us. I don’t care if criminals are given cushy rooms in five-star hotels, so long as there are bars on the windows and locks on the doors.

    1. I think the issue in part is: if we have no free will then t=salvation is completely pointless. There is no sin to be redeemed. Pride is pointless.

  7. It was reading a lot on neuroanatomy and particularly neurochem that pushed me against free will over the last 20 years, aided by my dislike of religion, and the excellent arguments of Sam Harris, our host, et al. It all took me to a much happier outlook, almost devoid of pride and blame/scorn. 🙂
    D.A.
    NYC

    1. This goes back I think to our clans of 150 folks on the Pleistocene savanna.
      [That 150 is Dunbar’s Number.]
      Any clan without true-born Conservatives was vulnerable to adjacent clans.
      So — Might your politics be in your DNA?
      I think that is a strong possibility, especially for Conservatives.
      Conservatives kept us safe back then.
      They lived — like now — with their “antennae” out for sudden dangers.
      They took the lead instinctively in emergencies.
      But, they were not fit for leadership during normal times.
      And the same unfitness for leadership applies today.
      Especially when one belligerent individual holds power.

      1. What’s this “Conservatives kept us safe back then” and “fit for leadership” stuff?

        Evolution isn’t about safety or leadership. Evolution is only about reproduction. Specifically, it’s about many, many mutations, leading to all living things, some of which reproduce and some of which don’t.

        Your ‘savanna Conservatives’ have been reproducing for eons until this very day. (And it may well be the case that “Conservatives” reproduce more (i.e. have more kids) than “Progressives”.)

        So, the “Conservatives” may overtake the “Progressives”, evolutionarily.

        Which isn’t good or bad. It just is.

  8. I think Jerry is under-selling what the study found. They not only couldn’t find significant long-term consequences, they couldn’t find significant short-term ones either.

    On the other hand,

    You can’t “choose” to affect the movement of an electron.

    is only true for special cases where indeterminism is significant. For bound electrons, like almost all the ones in my body, I can indeed choose to move the lot of them around. I can walk them left or right; upstairs or down. Determinism and naturalism are real free will’s friends, even though they are enemies of the libertarian theory of “free will”.

    And yes, I realize that libertarians point precisely to cases where indeterminism is significant, and that your point is perfectly well-taken given that context. I just wanted to problematize the idea that libertarians get to define free will. Which the study seems to take for granted.

    BTW, I haven’t been able to access the PDF, only the abstract, and Chrome’s “unlocked” symbol (unpaywall) isn’t helping. Anyone know the solution?

    1. When I clicked on the green unlock icon I got an immediate download of an “accepted manuscript at Personality and Social Psychology Review before copyediting” – the whole paper prepublication.

      About defining free will in these studies: Since experimental manipulations of free will beliefs are often done by presenting deterministic scenarios, that would tend to support the idea that it’s belief in libertarian (contra-causal) free will that’s being undermined. And that’s what the dissemination of naturalism would bring about in society at large, which is all to the good.

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