More on free will from Sabine Hossenfelder

June 4, 2023 • 9:35 am

Several readers, knowing of my interest in free will, sent me the link to the video at the bottom by physicist Sabine Hossenfelder. Thanks to all, and to Adrian, who sent the link first. My summary and analysis precede the video.

In October of 2020, Hossenfelder declared that libertarian free will—i.e., the “I-could-have-done-otherwise-using-my-volition” form—didn’t exist. I agree with her, of course, for we’re both “naturalists” and “hard determinists.” If you think matter obeys the laws of physics, which is universally accepted in science,  then there’s no room for mental lucubrations that could somehow tweak the laws of physics (Mental lucubrations are instantiations of physical law!) That’s why she (and I) think that, as far as libertarian free will is concerned, “it’s obvious that we don’t have it.”

Hossenfelder notes that some find the “freedom” in “free will” via occasional quantum jumps of particles on top of deterministic physical determinism. It’s possible that these jumps could, at any given moment, produce different outcomes in the next moment, but that of course depends on whether our behavior or thoughts are affected by quantum phenomena. (We have no idea.) But even were that true, those quantum jumps can’t come from “will”, so there is no “freedom” from physical determination of behavior. Volition is an illusion.

However, Hossenfelder is dubious about whether quantum jumps are really random phenomena: she appears to be a full-on determinist who thinks that the wave function, which includes quantum behavior, itself behaves deterministically. (This bit is way above my pay grade, but still leaves no room for some numinous “will”. I’ll let physicists argue about the “randomness” of quantum mechanics.)

Hossenfelder goes on to describe “emergent properties” like conductivity, which makes no sense unless you talk about a collection of electrons. This, however, doesn’t do away with determinism, for it is the laws of physics that produces emergent properties as the consequence of underlying laws. Emergent properties may not yet be predictable from the laws of physics, but they are all absolutely consistent with the laws of physics.

Finally, she goes on to discuss compatibilism: the view that free will and determinist can coexist happily and without contradiction. Like me, she regards this view as simply an exercise in philosophical semantics that does noting to dispel the fact that we lack libertarian free will in the classical sense. (Remember, that brand of free will is the one most accepted by people in several countries, and is of course a mainstay of Abrahamic religion as well as other forms of religion.)  Compatibilism, to me, is like religion: a “little people’s” view confected with the idea that unless people believe certain creeds, society will fall apart.

Here are the forms of compatibilism Hossenfelder presents (I note with some amusement that different philosophers find many different ways to make free will compatible with the laws of physics, and some of the forms of compatibilism are incompatible with each other).

a. ) Some philosophers say that “Human decisions are to a large extent independent from external factors and are dominantly determined by internal deliberation.” This seems confusing to me because “internal deliberations” are simply examples of “external factors,” i.e. the laws of physics acting on our bodies and brains. If you say that they aren’t, then you are a dualist who accepts libertarian free will.

b.) Hossenfelder’s chracterization of Dan Dennett’s compatibilism:  “Our ability to see probable futures–futures that seem like they’re going to happen, and then to take steps to make something else happens instead.” Those steps, of course, are also determined by the laws of physics.

c.) Another brand of free will is due to “The large degree of autonomy that our brain has from environmental factors.” This has the same problems as (a) above.

d.) Free will occurs because “our decisions follow from what we want”. And yes, we do make decisions according to what we want, because what we want is simply the result of our genes and environment and is and thus coded in our brain.  People generally act consistently with their character, because their character is consistent with their evolved and structured brains.

Hossenfelder presents the results of a 2020 survey about philosophers’ acceptance of libertarian free will vs. compatibilism vs. determinism (what I call “naturalism”). The results of the survey are given in the screenshot below, which I lifted from her video.

Most philosophers are compatibilists, which is a view that, I think, people hold because although these philosophers really do accept Hossenfelder’s claim that there is no libertarian free will, they think that some notion of free will is essential for people to be able to function without drowning in nihilism. (That’s not true.) But at least more philosophers are compatibilists than are “regular people”.  What is disturbs me is that nearly 1 in 5 philosophers (probably the religious ones) are free-will libertarians: more than are “hard determinists” like Hossenfelder and me.

She does take up the question (one I’m often asked when I lecture on why we lack free will), “Why don’t you just kill yourself since everything is more or less determined?” Her answer is a good one: those people should see a psychologist. I manage to hang onto being a hard determinist, though of course I act as if I can make free decisions. We can’t live without feeling that way because that’s just the way our brains are constructed. Perhaps the illusion of libertarian free will is an evolved trait. I can think of several reasons why natural selection, for instance, would drive us to think we make free choices, or perhaps it’s just an epiphenomenon. But I won’t wade into those waters here.

In the end Hossenfelder adds two points:

1.) The free-will problem arises because “the way we think our brain works is not compatible with the facts of science”. But the way we think our brain works is an illusion.

2.) Why does this issue matter? Because, says Hossenfelder, “free will is an inaccurate description of reality” and “makes people believe that they have more control over what goes on in their head than is really the case.”  Example: “Our brains will process input whether we want to our not; once it’s in and we can’t get it out. That’s why trauma is so hard to cope with and misinformation so hard to combat”. This, she says, is a result of our physically-mandated and evolved neuronal processing of inputs. I would add that perhaps it’s possible, through therapy, to mitigate trauma. That, of course, would be the deterministic result of a traumatized person going to a therapist skilled in this art. But no determinist claims that such external influences cannot have an effect.

Sabine closes by declaring that she’s a hard determinist and that we have no free will in the commonly-accepted sense of “libertarian” free will. It’s good to hear from a kindred spirit, though this video is fairly similar to the one she put up several years ago. Still, determinism is like atheism: you have to keep emphasizing it to get the truth before new generations of people.

52 thoughts on “More on free will from Sabine Hossenfelder

  1. It seems to me that quantum level events could effect events in individual neurons, producing a very realistic simulation of free will to the extent that no external observer could reliably predict your behavior.

  2. Most philosophers are compatibilists … I think because hard determinism would mean that all that philosophizing is really being done by an invisible man who works behind the curtain.

    1. I really hate the idea of the little people argument motivating them as it’s tantamount to saying you can’t be good without god. This idea is played out in the series West World where machines reveal to humanity that all along they have been controlled by a sort of Laplace’s Demon and society completely breaks down and people go berserk.

      1. What I am getting at is that it would be weird and somewhat disturbing to realize that although we think we are consciously making our own decisions, and choosing our own creative and clever answers to life’s questions, we really aren’t. Its really a bit like we are a kind of golem, made of flesh, with a box of gears and springs in our heads that was doing all the thinking and deciding.

  3. Very interesting! Presumably, if someone is a ‘hard’ determinist to the point where they discount any genuine randomness, this has implications for evolution. The whole process, and all the species that exist and have ever existed, were predetermined from the moment of the Big Bang.

    1. I don’t discount randomness, and I can’t make heads nor tails of what Sabine thinks, as though she seems to discount randomness, she also says that quantum events accompanying the Big Bang means that what is happening today wasn’t absolutely determined back then. I think mutations may be quantum events sometimes, and that would definitely affect the course of evolution, though of course there’s no “will” involved.

      1. Human beings enjoy about 100 beta decays per second per kg of bodyweight, about equally split between carbon 14 and potassium 40. They are utterly unavoidable and they are sufficiently energetic to cause (very occasional) mutations.. So there is randomness in biology.

      2. Yes, I see. Do you have a theory about why humans have evolved such a strong sense that they do have free will? It seems a universal illusion. I don’t see any survival advantage to it but maybe there is one, or maybe there doesn’t need to be. Also, does a strong rational belief in determinism have any effect on the illusion of free will or is the intuitive sense just as strong?

        1. Do you have a theory of why humans never evolved a strong sense of all the biochemical constraints that go into forming our wills?

    2. I think that even if genuine randomness didn’t exist or didn’t apply to evolution, it would still be useful to talk about random mutations and non-random selection. It’s often said that evolution has no necessary direction, and that there’s no reason to think that intelligence and self-awareness had to arise eventually, for example. And this is, in a sense, true: had the conditions on Earth been slightly different, perhaps no species would have ever developed humanlike intelligence. It’s useful to think about evolution as described, because it helps us to understand its mechanism. It’s similar to applying probabilistic reasoning to rolling dice. We have no better approach to understand and predict different outcomes. Even if the result of a given roll was already determined since the Big Bang, we can’t know it, and the best we can do is ascertain its likelihood from probabilistic thinking.

      1. Yes, I agree that the difference between a truly random event and one that is deterministic but impossible to predict is not useful in everyday life – or in science, for that matter. (And the exact meaning of ‘truly random’ can be difficult to pin down. At least, I find it difficult.) But leaving aside what is useful, which I think you’re allowed to do in philosophical discussions), I can’t see how you can be completely deterministic about the world and at the same time claim that evolution could have followed a different path. You have to factor in some randomness somewhere – real rather than just apparent (like rolling dice). You can of course believe that there is some randomness in the world but still think free will is an illusion.

  4. In their zeal to deny dualism, determinists fight based on an element they apparently invented, namely the meme “you could not have done other than you did,” even when a radical non-dualist stipulates no dualism and immutable causality.

    Could it be that determinists don’t want to acknowledge the elephant in the parlor?

    What is the “I” in a human? What is the fountainhead of focus, reason, choice and volition? Whence comes agency? Self-responsibility? Self-creating one’s (secular, non-dualistic) soul? In short, “will” without necessarily saying the “free.”

    1. Good questions, John. What are your answers? Dispelling the illusion of free will leads to dispelling the illusion of the I.
      No perceiver, only perception. No feeler, only feeling. No desirer, only desire. No thinker, only thought. Paradoxically, no free will=perfect freedom.

    2. “What is the “I” in a human? What is the fountainhead of focus, reason, choice and volition? Whence comes agency?”

      The feeling of an “I” can be understood as emerging from the workings of the brain. Likewise, the fountainhead of focus, reason, choice, and volition resides in the physical processes of the biochemistry of the brain. A cat, for example, also exhibits focus, reasoning, choice, and volition— where does its agency come from? As is the case with humans, it does not come from free will or an immaterial soul, but merely from the complex algorithms programmed in its brain by evolution and its experiences. None of this is incompatible with a deterministic universe.

      1. CDel, perhaps you missed my context … I am already stipulating no duality. So yes, all in the brain. The mind, the person, the (self-made, mortal) soul is constituted in the body/brain.

        I’m asking a deeper question … what is the nature of self-consciousness? of “I” What is “will.” A sunflower and a jazz singer are both alive. But the singer has volition to focus, choose, speak, think, act. By irrefutable logic, this evolved. I’m not really asking about “how” it evolved, for the moment. I’m pointing out that this is the most spectacular phenomena in reality.

        For instance, what does “responsibility” mean? Is an individual human responsible for both the value she creates and the destruction of value in herself and others she might cause. I use that word, “cause,” deliberately.

        The well-known fact of a shark … it must move forward to sustain its life. What does a human require? What is her purpose in life?

        1. John, Sorry if I missed your context. I’m still not sure what it is you’re driving at with your questions, though. You seem to be challenging determinism on account of there being something mysterious or immaterial or transcendental about humans that appears to be incompatible with it (I assume this is what you called “the elephant in the parlor”), yet you’re not expressing explicitly what your alternative view is.

          At any rate, my own view is that humans are no more than biological robots—different from sharks not in kind but simply in the degree of complexity and sophistication of the algorithms that generate our thoughts and feelings and that govern our behavior. This may strike some as thoroughly depressing or absurdly reductionist, but I don’t see how it could be otherwise. Besides, as StephenB said, there’s something paradoxically liberating about it: “no free will = perfect freedom”. Be that as it may, it doesn’t bother me personally. It’s not how I normally feel anyway; it’s just an intellectual understanding of the nature of reality that, curiously, seems to have but little bearing on how I experience my day-to-day life, that is, on how I behave and feel and interact with others.

          1. You missed it again. This is not uncommon. The suspicion of dualism is so huge in intellectual circles, it blinds everyone to my point.

            {Declaration: For the record once more. I am atheist, and have not a drop of belief or tolerance for Plato’s noumenal realm, nor that for neo-Platonists who wiggle into it while trying to claim they are not. No supernatural. No uncaused phenomena. No religion. Nothing mysterious or immaterial or transcendental. No dualism. {end declaration}

            I might ask you to read my post again, giving me the benefit of the doubt that I am not trying to sneak dualism in. All I’m doing is pointing out that determinists don’t talk much about non-dualist volition, choice, the activation of focus, moral passion, agency, humor, love, the artistic inspiration, and yes ‘will’ …. in short … the self-creation of the self. Agency. I shudder to think they have no better explanation than “a robot that got advanced,” or “it’s an illusion but it feels good.” Especially when a hard determinist admits they “act as if” they have free will, even while utterly denying that there is any such thing.

            Why would evolution select for this magnificent edifice of humanity? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to avoid evolving self-awareness of the inner (self-made) soul? To simply keep thinks flat robotic?

            I don’t have an answer. But I won’t stop prodding this point.

            1. clarification: When I typed ” don’t talk much about” above, I meant ‘do not seek to account for the engine or source or fountainhead.” (where in the brain? and what mechanism?)

  5. Sabine at her mordant best. What no one has been able to show to my satisfaction is how indeterminism can add to one’s control or responsibility for behavior. Effective agency is fully compatible with determinism and indeed depends on it. But determinism means you couldn’t have done otherwise in an actual situation given the causes in play, internal and external, and this threatens an intuitive notion of freedom. Libertarianism seems to offer a way out until you realize indeterminism can’t make you more of an author or controller. So we should all be compatibilists when it comes to agency, with the crucial proviso that attitudes and policies premised on the (false) belief people could have done otherwise have to be abandoned. Sabine didn’t get into that in this video but I hope in her book Existential Physics she sides with those skeptical of “basic desert” moral responsibility like Jerry, Gregg Caruso, and Derk Pereboom, all of whom say we should drop retribution as a justification for punishment.

    1. Retribution satisfies utilitarian concerns. We don’t think retribution makes sense given determinism—at least I don’t—but most people do think it makes primeval sense. They expect miscreants to receive retribution from the state, as the other side of the ancient bargain in which the state prohibited free-lance private retribution. “If you, Leviathan, won’t retributively punish this child-murderer, give him up to us, the family of the victim, for us to punish.” This is not so much a “little people” argument as a “greatest number of aggrieved people with pitchforks and torches” argument. I don’t think the majority will let you do away with retribution even if they should. If they do, fine.

      (I realize there are other justifications for punishment that appeal to determinists. I’m only raising here the one they logically object to.)

  6. I hate to be the guy who says “what you think doesn’t exist, does in fact exist, but it’s something completely different than you think”, but I have to. When non-philosophers talk about free will and who has it (sane people?) and who doesn’t (animals, the insane, addicts?), what they really seem to mean is “does the person have the capacity to draw up a reasonable mid-to-long term plan of action that is compatible with their value system, and the ability to follow through with it in the face of short-term distractions and temptations?” And that has everything to do with the structure and programming of the brain/ mind and nothing with the underlying physics.
    I feel that people who argue about free will in terms of determism versus randomness versus quantum this and that are not just barking up the wrong tree, they’re in the wrong forest.

    1. “And that has everything to do with the structure and programming of the brain/ mind and nothing with the underlying physics.”
      What you are saying is a little bit like saying that turbulence, which we do not understand fully, has to do with the properties of liquids and nothing to do with the underlying physics. It is, however, the underlying physics that gives the liquid its properties. In the same way, it is the underlying physics that determines the structure and programming of the brain, so the underlying physics in fact determines how your brain computes. (Somewhat irrelevantly, I omitted the term “mind” because I am not sure such an entity exists.) Several times in her book Existential Physics, Hossenfelder informs us, “The future is still fixed except for occasional quantum events that we cannot influence.” That is about right, except that those quantum events may also, for all we know, be deterministic.

      1. The comparison with turbulence is actually not bad. The equations that are used to describe fluid flow are derived from a few physical principles like conservation of mass and momentum, plus an assumption of linear terms for internal friction (viscosity). The resulting equations can be used to describe anything from gases to molasses, and the underlying fluid is described by a small number of numbers (density, compressibility, viscosity). Whether turbulence arises can be estimated from these quantities and the overall geometry: the Reynolds number is (density * velocity * length scale)/ viscosity, and the turbulent structures that arise look similar in a stirred four-inch coffee cup and galactic nebulae that span light-years. Discussing the physical details of the underlying medium shed little light on the phenomenon of turbulence, because they act on a different scale and can be averaged over.
        Whether the future is fixed is neither here nor there, because even if it is, we cannot know it. We cannot know for sure what we are going to decide in a given situation, and neither can anyone else (I have a strong suspicion that this can be proven mathematically, but I haven’t fully cracked that problem). The thing is, the sentence “I could have decided otherwise” that is used to talk about free will leaves out the interesting part – “I could have decided otherwise” under what circumstances? If my interests and values had happened to align with circumstances differently? If my evaluation of the situation had came up slightly differently? Those make sense, and don’t touch on the issue of determinism at all. “I could have decided otherwise” even if my interests and values and the situation had been exactly the same – what would be the point of that?

        1. The point of wanting the unconditional ability to do otherwise is to have a kind of buck-stopping authorship that can’t be traced to anything but the agent’s decision, not even the agent’s interests, values, and situation. This allows assignment of very strong credit and blame which in turn help to justify very punitive retributive punishment, deep social inequalities, and belief that the world is fundamentally just – people generally get what they deserve. In my experience people don’t like to be told they don’t have this kind of libertarian freedom, but if they don’t break off the conversation it isn’t that difficult for them to see it’s incoherent.

          1. There’s no need to worry about buck-stopping when it comes to past events that are perfectly correlated with the agent’s decision. The fastest way to see this is probably Arif Ahmed’s thought experiment, Betting on the Past:

            In my pocket (says Bob) I have a slip of paper on which is written a proposition P. You must choose between two bets. Bet 1 is a bet on P at 10:1 for a stake of one dollar. Bet 2 is a bet on P at 1:10 for a stake of ten dollars. …. Before you choose whether to take Bet 1 or Bet 2 I should tell you what P is. It is the proposition that the past state of the world was such as to cause you now to take Bet 2

            The thing to do is take Bet 2 and win a dollar. You can do this, even though proposition P is about the past. You can have whichever past you want, provided that it has this perfect correlation with your choice. You can do this even if (current physics is wrong and) Bob is Laplace’s demon.

            (Note, for the scenario to make sense, it helps to read “cause” as non symmetric rather than antisymmetric, in proposition P. Or else to make the causation relation extrinsic, as Hossenfelder does in her superdeterminism paper.)

  7. There is a legally and forensically important meaning of the term “free will” according to which persons have free will if nothing prevents them from responding to situations in accordance with their character. A person’s character is, of course, hard-determined by genes and the environment. But it can nonetheless be legally and forensically important, in the interest of public safety, to distinguish between persons’ actions that are consistent with character and those that are not. Within this meaning, a person can be said to have a “free” will as long as nothing impedes her from doing what her character leads her to want–even though (obviously) the person was not free to choose her own character or the desires that come with it. In other words, the person who commits a crime with a gun to her head sharply distinguishable from the person who commits crime for “reasons of her own,” even though those reasons are as hard-determined as everything else.

    It is my guess, moreover, that most people who say they believe in free will actually only mean “freedom to act according to one’s own character.” It is likely that few non-specialists have ever even thought about the “liberatarian” implications of the free-will concept, let alone consciously embraced them. Indeed, such implications are directly at odds with the seemingly widely held notion that individual persons can have good or bad character and that their morally salient actions are typically determined by it (a.k.a. the “fundamental attribution error”).

  8. Acceptance of it all being deterministic as hard when you realize that it cannot be otherwise. A pattern of matter and all the particles came into existence and time “started”. Every particle moves from one state/location to the next according ot the laws of physics. Thoughts cannot change that as thoughts are a product of it.
    You might think “if I do X, I can go on vacation with the $$ I make.” But the thing is, you will do X or you will not, and the choosing is an illusion. When later you are wondering “why didn’t I do X?” the reason was not about choice. It because thats the way you and events around you moved from one state to the next without asking your opinion.
    This odd illusion that life has choices is really us experiencing it like we are on some kind of tour bus (sort of). But no matter, accepting hard determinism could as easily boost your confidence as hurt it. All you can know is that now leads to later. And later might be better because you can believe you were wired to be less tolerant of BS and more determined. The belief is part of the ride. And who knows, maybe later will jibe with your belief in your own strengths and capabilities. Enjoy the ride.

  9. Good for her! I often watch her videos.

    There is no free will. Free will requires suspension of the laws of physics in order to provide the “freedom” to will. If you can’t suspend the laws of physics—and you can’t—there cannot be free will.

    1. A strong emergentist can reply that some principles of physics are specific to particular intricately organized structures. The addition of higher-level principles does not necessarily require the violation of more basal principles. Nothing in physics rules out strong emergence, it’s simply an open question.

  10. About the deterministic wave function. The wave function is the solution to some equation, by Schrôdinger or Dirac or another, and so it is quite determined, it seems to me. The equation can be solved (hopefully) to give the precise value of the wave function at a given time and place. The indeterminacy comes when you use it to predict something, since its modular square is a probability.

  11. I think there’s another type of compatibilism:

    e) Reality has two realms: the External World and the Internal World. In the Internal World (thoughts and feelings), free will -which doesn’t really exist in neither of the two realms- makes perfect sense. “Are you entering into this Agreement of your own free will and without coercion?”

  12. A good discussion. A lot of good points here. Thanks. 2cents: 1) On the notion that what happened could not not have happened. I think of that as the ‘Perfect Storm’ hypothesis. 2) Raymond Cattell (1905-1998) British Psychologist – strict determinist – had a formula for predicting an individual’s behavior in any situation. The problem was/is that all the factors cannot be known; but if they were, bingo – 100% accuracy. Thus no ‘Free will’. He called it the ‘specification equation’. The FAE would be a subset, or one of the factors, of that.

  13. That survey of “philosophers” is a bit odd. Only 11% go for “no free will”. Nearly 20 years ago, Susan Blackmore published “Conversations on Consciousness”, recounting discussions with 20 philosophers and scientists, from Chalmers to the Churchlands to Dennett, and almost all come across as pretty firm determinists.

    Incidentally, that book includes what must be the last interview Francis Crick ever gave. He was quite ill at the time, yet his intellectual integrity and curiosity remained undimmed. Very moving.

  14. One of the problems that people have with hard determinism comes from the fact that they view it through the lens of self. They see the issue as being one of a self that has free will vs a self that has no free will. A self without free will would be in torturous bondage. But this is a false duality. Like beauty or ugliness, the self has no objective reality. The feelings of self are absolutely real but what the self feels itself to be doesn’t exist. It’s an artifact of brain function.

    Free will only has meaning in the context of this artifact – a magical self that can control brain function independently of determinants. Because this artifactual self does not actually exist there is no entity that can have, or not have, free will. Which is very different than feeling one to be a self locked in a cage of determinism.

    An accurate understanding of the logic of determinism and all it implies, I believe, brings about a greater sense of freedom to be what one is as well as a greater sense of connectedness to the the rest of the world.

    And, just to be clear, freedom to be what one is does not mean freedom to act any way one wants. Constraints WILL continue to be applied to actions. But I think those constraints will likely be more intelligently applied and more effective when designed under the model of hard determinism than the unmoored from reality model of free will.

  15. The view hard incompatibilists have of compatibilist philosophers seems born of a typical human bias: We attribute what we believe to reason; the opposing side’s to psychology.

    Basically: Look, as a hard incompatibilist I’ve thought this through and I know trying to maintain free will via compatibilism doesn’t make sense. And since such philosophers can’t really be using “good reasons” as the basis of their beliefs I’ll attribute it to psychological motivations instead: It must be (take your pick or mix and match):

    1. They aren’t mature enough to handle certain uncomfortable facts about the world, and so they devote their intellectual prowess to defending free will.

    2. They really have a secret longing for magical free will it feels like they have and, like Liberal Christians who appeal to faith just like the fundamentalists, compatibilists are guilty of upholding this illusion.

    3. Their *actual* motivation isn’t the truth of their position, but rather caring worrying about The Little People, so it’s an ends-justifies-the-means attitude.

    The real answer is, generally speaking: Compatibilists are compatibilists because they really do think it’s the most coherent and sensible way of talking about possibilities/choices/responsibility etc in the world.

    It all reminds me of Sam Harris’ observation about what it was so often like debating the problem of religious fundamentalist beliefs. His well-meaning Liberal opponents can’t believe much of what the ancient books claim, and therefore can not put themselves in the mindset of the fundamentalist who really believes it. Therefore the Liberals attribute the extreme fundamentalist behaviors to “other causes” (like inequity, political motivation, etc).

    This is what it’s been like for many compatibilists debating with hard incompatibilsts. The incompatiblilists seem to feel it’s just so obvious, if you think about it, that no good account can be given for free will, that an intelligent person arguing otherwise must doing so on some other psychological motivation other than actually believing their position to be correct. They are just playing word games to satisfy some other emotional motivations.

    1. Wait. I thought that uncountable incidents, stretching throughout time, determined that I would hold correct beliefs, or at least the ability to arrive as such beliefs. Not only as to facts. That goes without saying. But also, all of those “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots” that I seek to impress upon the world. Surely, if the universe cannot let me be free, then at least it creates in me sound standards of rationality along with a sound moral sense.

      Now, those other people, as you say . . . if only the uncontrollable and unpredictable events that had happened in the chain leading to me had instead happened in the chain leading to them, then they would be both right and good. Lucky me.

  16. “[W]e seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place. We seem to have to choose between just dismissing compatibilism as obviously false (and thus being deemed irrational by the professional philosophers who endorse the view) and engaging in a long, difficult argument about how the term “free will” is to be defined. But I think there’s a third alternative. The trick is not to fall into the trap of trying to argue that compatibilism is /false/; the trick is to argue instead that it’s /irrelevant/—that even if it’s true, it simply doesn’t matter.”

    (Balaguer, Mark. /Free Will./ Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014. p. 49)

    What does matter is whether we have the kind of free will called libertarian free will, i.e. whether our choices or decisions are ever free in the sense of being neither causally predetermined nor random. If all that is required for free will is that we can sometimes do what we want or desire to do, then it is a free lunch. We know that we have /this kind/ of free will, which is certainly compatible with determinism; but the relevant question is whether we also have /that other kind/ of free will—the libertarian kind.

    1. “What does matter is whether we have the kind of free will called libertarian free will, i.e. whether our choices or decisions are ever free in the sense of being neither causally predetermined nor random.”

      That’s like saying of morality: What does matter is whether we have the kind of morality claimed by the world’s mono-theists, in the sense that morality requires a God and we can only be moral IF their God exists.

      No. A lot more matters than that. Because if that was “all that mattered” in regard to the subject of morality, then the secular human/atheist, in denying God’s existence would be pronouncing that “Morality does not exist.”

      But of course most atheists would hold that to be a deep, significant mistake. Most non-religious believe you can be moral without God and there is a long rich tradition of secular moral theories. So the mistake would be to cede to the religious that “morality doesn’t exist (no good reasons to do X or Y to someone else)” but more reasonable to say “morality does exist; it’s just a mistake to attribute it to a supernatural basis – it has a natural basis.”

      It’s the same for Free Will. It’s a naturalistic account for our sense of “having a real choice,” for the freedom we generally assume we have when making decisions, for the freedom that matters, for agency, moral reasoning, responsibility etc. It’s a mistake to cede this to the mistaken theory of magic contra-causality and say “Ah well, I guess all that doesn’t exist if we aren’t magic contra-causal agents…”

  17. Let’s trace Hossenfelder’s mistakes (and correct points) to see how her argument goes wrong; so close to, yet so far from, a correct analysis.

    1.) The free-will problem arises because “the way we think our brain works is not compatible with the facts of science”.

    No, the free-will “problem” arises because the way we think time and causality work is not compatible with actual science. Once people – especially philosophers and physicists, who were the same people back in the day – began to notice that physical law applied to everything, including humans, they invented the free will “problem”. They wrongly supposed that wherever natural laws apply, an earlier set of events always exerts a one-way influence on a later set. They didn’t realize that causality, conceived as an objective, local, one-way relation, is an emergent approximation.

    It’s not that they started with wrong ideas about human decision works, and right ideas about how physics works, and then noticed a conflict. The vice was versa.

    Hossenfelder is dubious about whether quantum jumps are really random phenomena

    And rightly so, I think. The two best “interpretations” of QM (Everett’s, and Hossenfelder’s version of superdeterminism) are deterministic. The ironic thing about her superdeterminism is that it’s what many other physicists would call “retrocausal”, although for good reason she doesn’t call it that. She instead calls whichever events occur at lower-entropy times “causes” and the events of higher-entropy times “effects”. But that’s a convenience for ease of communication; it doesn’t imply that past is master and future is slave. She recognizes that past events are not independent of what we do now. And that’s what gives the lie to the whole free will “problem”!

    Intuitively, humans think the past is fixed – independent of what we do – and the future is open. Physics shows that in fact, one of these intuitions is wrong: and it’s “the past is fixed” intuition.

    1. to paultorek

      Could you provide an example of everyday-type events, observable without specialized and rare machinery, that have occurred and produced results and then been retroactively changed into different events with different results?

      1. No, that’s a misunderstanding of what I said, and/or of what Hossenfelder’s superdeterminism says. It is not that events first turn out one way, say at 7:00 am, but then at 7:01 it turns out that the events at 7:00 turned out another way. Read her superdeterminism paper, especially part 7.

  18. What is meant by “the past is fixed” is, simply, that no example can be given of everyday-type events that have occurred and produced results and then been retroactively changed into different events with different results.

    1. In other words, the known, macroscopic past is fixed. That’s true, and does reflect what Average Joe is thinking when he says the past is fixed. But it falls far short of the thesis needed to make determinism a “problem” for free will..

      1. To be clear, I think that both the past and the future are fixed (though the latter point is, of course, much harder for us to prove). And I don’t disagree that time, as most people understand it, may be an illusion (though I don’t see what that would have to do with the question of free will). But I don’t think that entities in the “known, macroscopic” world can have true libertarian free will if the past in that world is fixed and determinism is true due to natural laws.

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