Is free will an illusion?

224


Discussion by: alistair.scott.71

For this topic I came up with the following thought experiment:

Imagine we were able to clone the early universe, an absolutely perfect clone, right down to the exact position of all its particles and then press play. Surely an exact clone would result in an exact copy of the universe we see today, right down to the little details – including myself starting this discussion. If this is the case, is there such a thing as free will? Wouldn't a true freedom to choose alter the resulting universe?

The only conclusion I've come to is that everything in my life has been the result of an almost infenite web of external influences, over which I've had precisely no control.

This conclusion, if I'm honest, I found quite scary and my initial reaction was "of course I have control, I have the power to choose!" But do I? I may have the power to choose between x, y and z, but it was external influences that provided x, y and z in the first place and yet more influences that results in me choosing y. Free will has yet to factor in.

So, the question is: Does this huge web of external influence create an illusion of free will?

 

224 COMMENTS

  1. Is there free will, or just the sensation of having free will? What test could be devised to differentiate between the two states, or something in-between? Anyway, what do you mean by ‘free will’ ? All definitions are anecdotal. It’s a meaningless question and I’ll just carry on being a happy meat puppet.

    rz

  2. When you normally say “he did it of his own free will” you mean that he acted using information internal to him (inside his skull) which is to all practical purposes not knowable by other people. Therefore it was his free will and not anybody else’s, and not just a result of his environment outside of his head.

    In this sense it isn’t an illusion.

    If you think that free will means that people can act independently of the material substance of the universe (including their own brains) then obviously free will doesn’t exist since this would imply duelism… the idea of a separate ‘mind’ that isn’t the brain.

    So I would say no, it isn’t an illusion, it is a macroscopic concept just like happiness, love, awareness etc.

  3. Sam Harris has written the nice little book “Free Will”. He explains that free will is indeed an illusion. But it also becomes clear that this not necessarily has to discourage you. See also:

    (BTW: your thought experiment is not a perfect argument: it is physically impossible to prepare two systems exactly in the same way (even if they are much smaller than the whole universe), and in this way to fix their future course. However, this does not open the possibility of free will. It only means that there is no absolute deterministic course of events, as in a classical clockwork; instead, there is a probabilistic type of determination, if we follow the currently most popular interpretation of quantum mechanics.)

    • In reply to #3 by Words:

      Sam Harris has written the nice little book “Free Will”. He explains that free will is indeed an illusion. But it also becomes clear that this not necessarily has to discourage you. See also:
      Sam Harris – Free Will

      Excellent video and I see where Sam is coming from; There is no free will in so far as our conscious mind is not in the driving seat. But that’s what I understand too – it’s just that we are not only our conscious mind, but the part of ourselves that ultimately makes the decisions is still part of us whether we are conscious of it or not. Just because we are not conscious of the action that we have taken until after we have taken it does not mean to say that we are not free to have taken a different action.

      The most brilliant thing that Sam said in that whole talk was that we are a neuronal weather pattern. Just as you cannot step twice into the same stream, you cannot choose your own thoughts or who you are; for other neuronal storms are ever brewing into you. (apologies to Heraclitus)

    • Sam Harris has written the nice little book “Free Will”. He explains that free will is indeed an illusion.

      Harris’ book is of course well argued (though i afmit i’ve not re-read it for this thread). But it seems to be based upon the philosophical method of pushing the concept of free will to the limits – and finding that it breaks. however, he does not push other concepts to their limits.
      Crucially, the concept of causality can be pushed. Of course, it seems that we see causes and effects all the time, but all we are seeing is A and then B and that inferring that A leads to B. Indeed, every now and again, scientific or some other research seems to show that A did not cause B ie A then B is simply an association.
      Is there anything inherently wrong with the idea of a universe in which A might cause B or C or D (but not anything else? (it might not make empirical, observational sense, but then Harris is arguing that free will is inherently an illusion ie independently of observation – which perhaps makes it a little odd to then invoke neuroscience – maybe he does that simply to back up rather than make his case?).
      So, I’d say that Harris is relying on a traditional, ‘common sense’ and unchallenged concept of causality to challenge the traditional, common-sense concept of free will: whereas, philosophically, both have been challenged.
      This does not mean that Harris is wrong and that free will is not an illusion – just that other familiar concepts, such as causality, may also be in jeopardy.

    • In reply to #3 by Words:

      It only means that there is no absolute deterministic course of events, as in a classical clockwork; instead, there is a probabilistic type of determination, if we follow the currently most popular interpretation of quantum mechanics.

      Although one of the nice things about string-theory type versions of physics (AIUI: possibly incorrectly) is that there is hidden state “rolled up” in extra dimensions. If that were determined and identical (and exists, obv.), then the universe would behave identically, dual slits and all.

  4. “Surely an exact clone would result in an exact copy of the universe we see today…” You have axiomatic no-free-will stipulated right there – so your thought experiment is an irrelevant elaboration of the “argument”: if no free will, then no free will. (Of course, even absent free will, the “exact copy” prediction only holds true if there is either an effectively infinite multiverse or an unseen deterministic explanation for unpredictable quantum events.)

  5. The way I think of it is that you always do exactly the thing that you want to do. There is nothing other than free will if you look at it this way. Sure, the situation that you find yourself in at that time that you make your decision may be dictated by what others do and what is expected of you etc. but at the moment you make the decision to do what you did that is your decision. How could it be any other way.

    One problem that some people come up with that seems to contradict this is that you may take action before you are actually concious of the decision thus potentially negating free will. However, this is just a dualistic approach as, as far as I see it, being a monist and understanding that there is no dichotomy between body and mind, there is no magical ‘other’ to have made this decision for you.

    Added by edit; Your mind does not control your body; Your body controls itself, sometimes with the aid of the mind.

    I used to think that my mind was the most important part of my body until I realised what was telling me this. ;)

  6. your thought experiment ignores quantum mechanics. Since QM events (eg. radioactive decay) are inherently random your clone universe would rapidly diverge from the original. This of course has nothing to do with free will.

    • In reply to #6 by nick keighley:

      your thought experiment ignores quantum mechanics. Since QM events (eg. radioactive decay) are inherently random your clone universe would rapidly diverge from the original. This of course has nothing to do with free will.

      Or does it?

      Here’s the freshest take on Free Will that I’ve encountered. It’s not Theological, and it’s not Newtonian Deterministic, to coin a phrase. It may be a bit too mathematical for some.

      This link will get you started: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will_theorem

    • In reply to #8 by DhyanVijen:

      Never mind about what you do: you aren’t even free to choose your own thoughts. The problem is founded in the belief that consciousness is local and limited.

      That would be the local consciousness in the neuro-electrical-biochemistry of material brain functions, – as distinct from whimsical “infinite” ego-projections of “immaterial” ethereal mythology, from the “god-spots” in some brains which refuse to recognise their own limitations!

      However, A whole load of unpredictable (not to be confused with undetermined) environmental influences come to bear on decision making.

  7. I have big problems with people who try to argue that it’s logical to think we have any kind of free will. Consider your decision-making process:

    You are considering approaching and attempting to charm someone you are sexually attracted to. Factors in your decision-making process come into play, they are not subject to your “will”. You are aroused by this person, physiologically. Socially, you fear rejection as this would decrease your perceived social status with other people, again unwillingly. This is a risk/reward ratio that needs to be calculated, you seek more information to skew the ratio, hopefully in your favor. You try to gauge interest beforehand, you ask your friends for unbiased opinions, you try to make sure there is as little risk as possible to make the decision. If your internal calculations show that the risk is significant, you cannot act, if they show that the ratio is favorable then you act. There is no “choice” or “will” there.

    I hope that was as clear and obvious as I imagined it was when writing it…

    • In reply to #11 by utopia:

      I have big problems with people who try to argue that it’s logical to think we have any kind of free will. Consider your decision-making process:

      You are considering approaching and attempting to charm someone you are sexually attracted to. Factors in your decision-making process come into play, th…

      But those deliberations are exactly what I (and I think most people) mean by Free Will. If on the other hand someone puts a gun to your head and says “ask her out” you aren’t acting under free will. Again, I think the real confusion is thinking there has to be some metaphysical sense that humans make decisions outside the normal rules that govern the rest of the universe in order for it to be free will. Thats a ridiculous thing to require and absent of the concept of omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good God there is no reason for such a requirement.

    • In reply to #12 by mmurray:

      We’ve done this one so often I’m choosing not to reply.

      Michael

      Nonsense. It was because everyone else discussed it so often that you felt obliged to not reply. I am more my own man and do actually choose not to reply.

      • Nonsense. It was because everyone else discussed it so often that you felt obliged to not reply. I am more my own man and do actually choose not to reply.

        Excellent news. As I’m not a regular can you direct me to the right answer?

    • In reply to #13 by DhyanVijen:

      @Alan4discussion #10 – - -
      Consciousness isn’t in brains. – - – Brains are “in” consciousness. – - -

      Really??? Like computers are in software, and wiring is in electricity? You really have this backwards.

      You will see this directly if you take the trouble to investigate. – - -

      I have investigated and looked at studies of physics and neuroscience. There are no energies involved in consciousness apart from activity of live brains and sensory inputs to brains, – according to measurements.

      Thinking is insufficient to bring you to this realization.

      Indeed so!

      No amount of navel-gazing or introspection is going to provide an answer. To get proper information, independent research involving equipment, evidence, and studies of physics and neuroscience are required. All you have done is make some vague unsupported assertions about an undefined woolly concept of “consciousness” detached from material reality, and then you ignored the link I provided.
      All human perceptions are via neurons and biochemistry, which involve atoms and energy.

      • In reply to #17 by Alan4discussion:

        Consciousness isn’t in brains. – - – Brains are “in” consciousness. – - -

        Really??? Like computers are in software, and wiring is in electricity? You really have this backwards.

        Well, wait a minute here, computers can be in software…that’s what Virtual Machines are for :P

        Now seriously, about the subject I have decided I know very little about neuroscience to even understand the question, and I have seriously regretted my previous engagements in such threads that were done as if I had a freaking clue. The most I can utter is a question: “if I raise my finger at this very moment, does that mean that this happenned because natural laws,gravity, electromagnetism, weak force, nuclear force, DICTATED that it should happen, as surely as a rock falls into the ground if I let it go, there was never no other way for the universe to unfold without including my finger being risen at 21:14:23 on May 7 2013?”. But I don’t even know if that makes any sense. :P

      • In reply to #17 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #13 by DhyanVijen:

        @Alan4discussion #10 – - -
        Consciousness isn’t in brains. – - – Brains are “in” consciousness. – - -

        Really??? Like computers are in software, and wiring is in electricity? You really have this backwards.

        The first pre-supposes that a brain works just like a computer; that one can simply upload software and the results follow. The brain, unlike a computer, realises its own ‘software’ in response to sensory inputs. So the simily may be more simplistic than understood here.

        The second answer is far more interesting. Because the wires are, indeed, “in electricity” rather than creating electricity. Electromagnetism exists whether the wires are utilised to channel that for our purposes or not. It is valid to say the wires are in electricity because the wires are operating within an electromagnetically dynamic environment.

        • In reply to #133 by Planck’s Constant:

          In reply to #17 by Alan4discussion:

          #13 by DhyanVijen:- – - Consciousness isn’t in brains. – - – Brains are “in” consciousness. – - -

          and wiring is in electricity? You really have this backwards.

          The second answer is far more interesting. Because the wires are, indeed, “in electricity” rather than creating electricity. Electromagnetism exists whether the wires are utilised to channel that for our purposes or not. It is valid to say the wires are in electricity because the wires are operating within an electromagnetically dynamic environment.

          We are getting into over- extended analogies here, but no! If you remove the coils of wiring from an electric motor, the magnetic field they are generating collapses! (The existence of other fields elsewhere is irrelevant.)

          My point was that in a circuit, the electrons travel through the wires not vice-versa!

          The first pre-supposes that a brain works just like a computer; that one can simply upload software and the results follow. The brain, unlike a computer, realises its own ‘software’ in response to sensory inputs. So the simily may be more simplistic than understood here.

          My original comment had nothing to do directly with computers. It was making the analogy that consciousness is an operational function of the “hardware” of brains, in the analogy to software being dependent on the hardware of computers.
          It was comparing the material atoms and molecules of the structure, with the energetic processes operating within the structure.

          • In reply to #137 by Alan4discussion:

            We are getting into over- extended analogies here, but no! If you remove the coils of wiring from an electric motor, the magnetic field they are generating collapses! (The existence of other fields elsewhere is irrelevant.)

            My point was that in a circuit, the electrons travel through the wires not vice-versa!

            But that misses the point, doesn’t it? Wires don’t create electricity. Electromagnetism is not contingent upon the production of wires. Electromagnetism is a pre-existing process that we harness with the use of wires – it isn’t a new process in the universe predicated by wiring. Is that not worth contemplation in this context?

          • In reply to #138 by Planck’s Constant:

            In reply to #137 by Alan4discussion:

            We are getting into over- extended analogies here, but no! If you remove the coils of wiring from an electric motor, the magnetic field they are generating collapses! (The existence of other fields elsewhere is irrelevant.)

            My point was that in a circuit, the electrons travel through the wires not vice-versa!

            But that misses the point, doesn’t it? Wires don’t create electricity.

            Not really! The wires in the coils of an electric motor are an essential part of the system. They create the path and flow of the electricity. The current in circuits does not flow without them.

            Electromagnetism is not contingent upon the production of wires. Electromagnetism is a pre-existing process that we harness with the use of wires – it isn’t a new process in the universe predicated by wiring.

            True, – but like the chemical energy in batteries or brains, the wires are part of the mechanism and the energy is directed by the mechanism.

            Is that not worth contemplation in this context?

            We know that the the scientific laws of the universe operate behind all mechanisms. This in no way negates the measurable local effects within those mechanisms caused by those mechanisms.

          • In reply to #139 by Alan4discussion:

            Not really! The wires in the coils of an electric motor are an essential part of the system. They create the path and flow of the electricity. The current in circuits does not flow without them.

            Yes, but electromagnetism is not created by the wires. As I said, the wires (and associated electrical mechanisms) utilise an existing physical property. No one would suggest that electricity is an emergent property of the wires.

            True, – but like the chemical energy in batteries or brains, the wires are part of the mechanism and the energy is directed by the mechanism.

            Exactly, directed by them, not produced in some argument of emergence.

            We know that the the scientific laws of the universe operate behind all mechanisms. This in no way negates the measurable local effects within those mechanisms caused by those mechanisms.

            But we don’t know all the scientific laws of the universe, which is why we should be careful before dismissing all ideas that seem simply not to meet pre-conceived ideas of what we should expect to discover (we would have no concept of discovery if things were as we expect them to be).

            There are two examples that seem to me to be put to one side when thinking on this. One has been referenced earlier – ie that the Copenhagen Interpretation is predicated upon conscious agency. Secondly, the argument that holds our conceptions of localised action treats the term information in a specifically different way from the term as it is physically understood. The argument against spooky action at a distance having effect on localised action is that we cannot use the information to communicate information. This is a clear reference to information with regard to agency.

            Before I get accused of arguing for some god-like universal consciousness I will state that I am not arguing that. What I’m suggesting is that it might be worth considering that self-knowledge (to use a very vague term) is an aspect of physics that we have to consider. By which I mean that a systems state is ‘known’ by itself, and that that is what consciousness emerges from. I suppose I am suggesting an informational paradigm.

          • In reply to #140 by Planck’s Constant:

            In reply to #139 by Alan4discussion:

            Not really! The wires in the coils of an electric motor are an essential part of the system. They create the path and flow of the electricity. The current in circuits does not flow without them.

            Yes, but electromagnetism is not created by the wires. As I said, the wires (and associated electrical mechanisms) utilise an existing physical property. No one would suggest that electricity is an emergent property of the wires.

            Of course not! It is an emergent property of the whole system. – The electric motor in the example I gave.

            True, – but like the chemical energy in batteries or brains, the wires are part of the mechanism and the energy is directed by the mechanism.

            Exactly, directed by them, not produced in some argument of emergence.

            The emergent properties are those of the whole system, but clearly the parts are essential and the reductionist analysis of specific components builds a clear picture. (As science usually does in analysis of systems or mechanisms.)

            We know that the the scientific laws of the universe operate behind all mechanisms. This in no way negates the measurable local effects within those mechanisms caused by those mechanisms.

            But we don’t know all the scientific laws of the universe,

            Of course we don’t, but that does not mean that we know none of them! Some are known to very high levels of probability!

            which is why we should be careful before dismissing all ideas that seem simply not to meet pre-conceived ideas of what we should expect to discover (we would have no concept of discovery if things were as we expect them to be).

            Many repeat observations confirm many issues are precisely as science expects them to be. That is why they are called “scientific laws”!

            There are two examples that seem to me to be put to one side when thinking on this. One has been referenced earlier – ie that the Copenhagen Interpretation is predicated upon conscious agency. Secondly, the argument that holds our conceptions of localised action treats the term information in a specifically different way from the term as it is physically understood. The argument against spooky action at a distance having effect on localised action is that we cannot use the information to communicate information. This is a clear reference to information with regard to agency.

            All of which is obscure speculation about the nature of brains, photons and electrons!

            Before I get accused of arguing for some god-like universal consciousness I will state that I am not arguing that.

            I am pleased to hear it.

            What I’m suggesting is that it might be worth considering that self-knowledge (to use a very vague term) is an aspect of physics that we have to consider.

            The human brain does not have the capability of self analysis. Analysis requires independent observers and technical equipment.

            By which I mean that a systems state is ‘known’ by itself, and that that is what consciousness emerges from. I suppose I am suggesting an informational paradigm.

            The human brain does not have a capability of self analysis. Much of its working is subconscious or beyond self observation.

            There may well be factors from quantum indeterminacy or from Chaos theory ,affecting determinist science, but it would be difficult to produce some coherent connection between these changes in the probability of inputs or out-puts, and individual “conscious choices” representing “Free Will”.

            They would appear to be irrelevant speculative gapology as far as brains are concerned.

          • In reply to #141 by Alan4discussion:

            Of course not! It is an emergent property of the whole system. – The electric motor in the example I gave.

            The emergent properties are those of the whole system, but clearly the parts are essential and the reductionist analysis of specific components builds a clear picture. (As science usually does in analysis of systems or mechanisms.)

            Are you suggesting that electromagnetism is an emergent property of machinery?

            Of course we don’t, but that does not mean that we know none of them! Some are known to very high levels of probability!

            Strawman. Never said we don’t know any. I said, and was pretty specific in doing so, that we don’t know all of it. There is a difference, as I know you are aware.

            All of which is obscure speculation about the nature of brains, photons and electrons!

            Or, one could put it another way and say, all of which raises questions about the science that must lie behind those issues.Why the use of the term ‘obscure’? Is speculation, ideas and then testing those ideas not the basis of science?

            The human brain does not have the capability of self analysis. Analysis requires independent observers and technical equipment.

            Why substitute the term analysis for knowledge in this sentence? Why try and alter what was actually suggested? Or are you, in some way, suggesting that scienctific understanding has progressed without contemplation? What, exactly, are you saying here?

            There may well be factors from quantum indeterminacy or from Chaos theory ,affecting determinist science, but it would be difficult to produce some coherent connection between these changes in the probability of inputs or out-puts, and individual “conscious choices” representing “Free Will”.

            In what way difficult?

  8. The free will conundrum, like a lot of philosophical problems comes about because people define their terminology incorrectly or inconsistently. If by Free Will you mean that a human is somehow metaphysically separate from the rest of the universe. That their moral decisions happen not because of their beliefs, desires, and intentions but because of some other metaphysical entities like having a good or bad soul then of course free will doesn’t exist. The only reason we ever came up with such a ridiculous definition of free will was because of the inconsistencies in a definition of God as someone who is all powerful and all good. If an all powerful all good God created everything and knew how it would all turn out then the only way people can be evil is if they operate outside of the rules that drive the physical universe.

    Now here is a definition of free will that is consistent. Free will is when you make your own decisions based on your desires, beliefs, and intentions in a way that isn’t coerced or influence by mental illness or other abnormal circumstances (e.g. someone slipped you a Ruffie). Now that definition isn’t without problems. Determining for any particular case was it free will or not won’t be black and white and different people with different theories about what constitutes acting under free will will disagree. For example, some people might say if you got drunk and did something stupid that doesn’t count as free will while others think it does. But that there is some fundamental idea of deciding without coercion or undue influence we could all agree with.

    And that’s all free will is. The fact that some scientist might some day manage to make fairly accurate predictions about how you use your free will is totally irrelevant. That is just understanding human psychology better.

  9. That’s the way I always thought of it, though that particular experiment would not prove it. Cantor’s Diagonalisation Argument, which is a mathematical claim about matching infinite sets, implies that no two computational devices can accurately predict each other. And a universe can be thought of as a computational device modelling a universe. It also means that you could never perfectly model somebody’s brain.

    • In reply to #16 by Callinectes:

      That’s the way I always thought of it, though that particular experiment would not prove it. Cantor’s Diagonalisation Argument, which is a mathematical claim about matching infinite sets, implies that no two computational devices can accurately predict each other. And a universe can be thought of as…

      Ah Set Theory now we are talking about something interesting ;) but I don’t follow your argument at all. I think I understand the diaganolization argument. To me its a way of proving the rather counter intuitive notion that even though two sets can be infinite some infinities are bigger than others (e.g. natural numbers vs. real). But I don’t see how that argument implies ” that no two computational devices can accurately predict each other” I don’t even see the logical connection so I’m probably missing something can you say more about why you think it implies that?

  10. Thanks for the comments and forgive my ignorance of quantum mechanics in the thought experiment!

    Glancing over the cloned universe etc etc…There seems to be a lot of argument on what free will actually is, and now I’m not too sure myself… Is it just a philosophical concept? Can it only exist in conjunction with a dualism of a separate body and ‘mind’? If that’s the case, why do we hold it in so much esteem? How can I be punished for committing a crime from my own free will?

    Surely the mind I’ve inherited and the environment that surrounds me actually is the ‘person’ putting the gun to my head and saying “ask her out”…

    Is this a fair definition? (I googled it) “The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.”

    • In reply to #19 by alistair.scott.71:

      Thanks for the comments and forgive my ignorance of quantum mechanics in the thought experiment!

      Glancing over the cloned universe etc etc…There seems to be a lot of argument on what free will actually is, and now I’m not too sure myself… Is it just a philosophical concept? Can it only exist in…

      I think that definition is a good one for every day use. What Free Will “really is” is IMO an unanswered question in psychology and one that will take a lot more work before we even come close to a definitive answer. As that happens — as we learn more about psychology — our every day definition of free will will also inevitably change.

      For example, we now know that brain tumors can cause people to lose the capability to control themselves from acting on impulses they would normally have but keep suppressed. There really are kinds of brain tumors that can literally turn a normally very law abiding person into someone who suddenly does very rash immoral and unlawful things. In the past we would have said that person was just becoming a criminal. Now most of us would say that such a tumor is an example of “not guilty by reason of mental defect” and someone not acting under free will.

    • In reply to #19 by alistair.scott.71:

      Surely the mind I’ve inherited and the environment that surrounds me actually is the ‘person’ putting the gun to my head and saying “ask her out”…

      Indeed so! These factors ( emotions, hormones, learned thought habits etc) shape our thinking.

      Is this a fair definition? (I googled it) “The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.”

      It looks like a woolly philosophical definition, rather than a scientific one.

      Nobody acts “without the constraints”, of the laws of physics!

      “The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate;”

      Within the laws of the universe, does such a power actually exist? – or is it just a vague notion in the minds of some. Physical laws impose “constraints”, and “fate”, awaits those whose brain chemistry tries to ignore them! (As for example, those who choose “air walking” off a high building!)

  11. Let us suppose that we were able to copy the total quantum state of the universe (quantum mechanics forbids us from doing this, but if somehow we had an exact copy) then the laws of quantum mechanics are completely deterministic when acting on the quantum state (the issue of probabilities in quantum mechanics, or state reduction is not relevant here since we adopt the relative state formulation of quantum mechanics (aka Everett’s many world’s interpretation)).

    Free will is then an illusion, since the laws of physics completely determine the subsequent evolution of the universe. However, apparently random events, such as a radioactive decay, occur, not because they are are not determined by physics but by the fact that the observer is also part of the quantum world. Effectively decomposing the quantum space of possibilities into observers that see a radioactive decay and those that do not. Which one any particular observer determines he/she to be in is governed by how large a subspace that particular history is in the total quantum state space.

    Put another way, the quantum states of both universes will be identical. However, the quantum state can be interpreted as a weighted sum over all possible histories, the observed universe will be one of these histories with the ones with a higher weight being the ones being more likely to be observed. In the grand scheme of things “free will” means the consideration of histories that are close-by, and in consequence quite likely (my free will cannot be used to let me walk on the ceiling, since the likelihood of that event is heavily suppressed; it would not be regarded as a neighbouring history).

    • In reply to #20 by cgw:

      Free will is then an illusion, since the laws of physics completely determine the subsequent evolution of the universe. …

      Correction. Free Will is then an illusion if by free will you mean that humans somehow operate outside the laws of physics and the physical universe. I see no reason to define it that way. If by free will you just mean a human acting of their own volition rather than being coerced or otherwise influenced (e.g. by mental illness or drugs) then free will can still exist. The fact that what the human perceives as their own volition also has additional explanations in terms of neurons doesn’t negate the concept. This happens in science all the time, we have different ways of viewing and explaining a phenomenon depdending on our point of view. A chemist explains things one way and a biologist another. We hope that eventually they can be reconciled with each other but its not necessary to do so (and we often can’t) in order to continue using the various models.

      • In reply to #25 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #20 by cgw:

        Free will is then an illusion, since the laws of physics completely determine the subsequent evolution of the universe. …

        Correction. Free Will is then an illusion if by free will you mean that humans somehow operate outside the laws of physics and the physical universe….

        Correction: That is what I take the original question to mean. To define it in any other way seems to invite woolliness.

        • In reply to #41 by cgw:

          In reply to #25 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #20 by cgw:

          Free will is then an illusion, since the laws of physics completely determine the subsequent evolution of the universe. …

          Correction. Free Will is then an illusion if by free will you mean that humans somehow operate outside the laws of physic…

          I don’t know what “wooliness” means nor why the definition that I’ve given in other comments (which does not require humans operate outside the normal laws of the universe) is somehow inviting wooliness.

    • In reply to #20 by cgw:

      Free will is then an illusion, since the laws of physics completely determine the subsequent evolution of the universe.

      Which pre-supposes that we know all the laws of physics. As we don’t have, nor is it thought necessary to seek, any ontological proposition for the physics that we calculate within Quantum Mechanics I think that is a mistaken position.

      In fact, I think that is an incoherent position to take from a scientific perspective. Shouldn’t science be about investigating the deeper truths behind our facade of reality? It seems to me that a great deal of effort is taken to cram scientific knowledge into a quasi-classical model.

  12. One last thought: the degree to which you think Free Will is an illusion from a scientific sense also depends on your opinions about psychology. For example if you are a Skinnerian behaviorist you think any psychological theory that talks about beliefs and intentions is unscientific. So to that extent your ultimate scientific definition of people making what they think of as decisions will not relate at all to what the average person thinks about free will. But that is an example of why Behaviorism can’t give adequate explanations for the more complex types of human behavior (see Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s attempt to understand language). For people like me who believe in Cognitive Psychology we think that studying beliefs and intentions is absolutely justified. So those kinds of definitions of human behavior will likely have explanations that map pretty closely to our common sense notions of free will.

    In fact to say more about the cognitive psych model, the idea is that humans are born with certain cognitive modules for understanding the world. So the module for common sense physics includes basic concepts about cause and effect, motion, etc. And there definitely seems to be a module for beliefs and intentions. You can even do Piaget type studies with kids where you see their explanations for how images on a computer screen change as they mature, from seeing them as just shapes bouncing against each other (common sense physics) to thinking that “one ball is chasing another” or “the big circle wants to wrap around the small one” (emerging sense of beliefs, intentions, and rational agents). If this theory is correct then that is where our common sense notion of free will comes from. And just as our common sense notions of physics don’t always match with the way things really work (e.g. some of Newton’s laws of motion conflict with our common sense view of the world) in the same way as we learn more about cognitive psychology we will refine our notion of free will.

  13. Daniel Wegner, in his book, “The Illusion Of Conscious Will”, defines our experience of free will an emotion. He calls it the “authorship emotion”. He also speculates that this emotion may be a part of our brain’s way of differentiating between our own actions and our environment (emotional shorthand for “self”?). I have found Wegner’s ideas to be incredibly insightful and helpful when thinking about free will. Yet when free will is discussed, I am always surprised that his book and his ideas are rarely referred to.

    • In reply to #28 by skiptic:

      Daniel Wegner, in his book, “The Illusion Of Conscious Will”, defines our experience of free will an emotion.

      Now we’re getting interesting. “I think I think for myself, therefore I feel ok about it.”

      Hasn’t quite got the ring of “I think therefore I am”, but maybe someone can improve it a bit.

      • In reply to #35 by OHooligan:

        In reply to #28 by skiptic:

        Daniel Wegner, in his book, “The Illusion Of Conscious Will”, defines our experience of free will an emotion.

        Now we’re getting interesting. “I think I think for myself, therefore I feel ok about it.”

        Hasn’t quite got the ring of “I think therefore I am”, but maybe so…

        I am, therefore I think…?

        I am, therefore Descartes was in error?

        I guage Phinease’s brain was impaired…

        (apologies to Antonio Damasio)

  14. All the other responses here seem like woolly handwaving, at best.

    Personally I find the Inch Alla (deliberate misspelling), It Is Written, determinism, to be unsatisfactory, to put it mildly. Following Skinner, seems only Skinner had any free will. And even then, maybe he didn’t. But all the theological approaches also look like garbage. And as for consciousness outside the brain, well that’s really thinking outside the box.

    I notice nobody picked up on the Conway theorem.

    The punch line from Conway was, in brief, twofold:

    First, there is no way you can distinguish if you are experiencing your life for the “first time”, or if it is a “replay”, like watching a movie for a second time. If it’s 2nd-time, then all is predetermined, including the decision – good or bad – that you’re about to make.

    But if its first-time, it’s not written. Maybe you can decide to do something that isn’t totally deterministically predictable from all that went before. But then – and this was for me the cute part – after a bunch of deceptively simple mathematical steps – we find that at the level of fundamental particles, they too can “decide” to do something totally unpredictable too. I find a pleasing symmetry in this.

    The result, of course, is open ended: Either “It is written” or it isn’t. And that’s about as much as we can know, and I’m comfortable with that. I can continue to act “as if” I have choice, and “as if” other people have choice too, and I can hope that maybe enough of them will choose to stop being assholes.

    On the brain tumor front, once upon a time that would have been diagnosed as demonic possession. But criminal codes work best on a Skinnerian approach, behavior is all. I don’t care if an axe-murderer was “insane” when he axed. I just want to know he’s not going to be let loose again, no matter how good he gets at faking the psych tests.

  15. Your scenario was first proposed by the philosopher Laplace. See Laplace’s Being aka Laplace’s Demon. Quantum indeterminacy means the universe would not come out the same twice, but since we have no way on controlling quantum indeterminacy then there is still no free will.

    • In reply to #31 by daddyhominum:

      If there is no free will, it must follow that astrology is a science.

      Since astrology does not follow the principles of science then it is not, by definition, science.

  16. One of the problems I see with this experiment is the need to also perfectly clone the environment within which the early universe began. Were you to clone two identical batches of cake mix and put them in different ovens, they would produce different cakes. Their location, unless identical, would result in different cakes, the time of day, again would cause different results. Absolutely everything must be identical. I think it is a pointless exercise and not required to undo the idea of free will.

    The beautiful thing about life, free will or not, is the ability to bare witness and appreciate it, assuming you are able. I think free will is a bit of a scam but I can accept free responsibility. You can not have a new idea without older ideas. You can’t choose to invent product C unless you are aware of products A and B which combine to create C. All that we do is bound, in some way, to external forces.

    Inventions tend to come in batches because the inventors are influenced by the same external sources. Electricity, the telephone and the airplane all had close races to the patent office. Our ability to have a new idea, much like choose between vanilla and chocolate, is dependent on external input. Just because it is predictable, doesn’t lessen the experience or the responsibility of discovering a new idea.

    I have said before that I can imagine how nothing that has occurred could have happened any other way. I’m fine with that. It doesn’t mean I know what will happen nor does it mean I will never accomplish anything because I have no free will. Discovering what is to come and being aware that, despite not having free will, I am part of the machine means there is opportunity for me to experience great things.

  17. Before sentient life would arise in your clone universe (which is the first point in time that free will could ever exist), your clone universe would be different due to quantum mechanics and the associated randomness/probabilites.

    • In reply to #36 by Curiousity1985:

      “Whereas the impressions are that we are making ‘free’ conscious decisions, the reality is that consciousness is simply a state of awareness that reflects the input signals, and these are an unavoidable consequence of GES [genes, environment, and stochasticism],” Cashmore explained.

      Read more at: h…

      Yes, where environment includes the state of your brain… which IS you, genes ARE you, and stochasticism that occurs inside your body belongs to you. So it is still you making them freely of all outside influences.

  18. It wouldn’t matter either way, except – denying “free will” can be an excuse for bad behaviour or for inaction. A cop-out.

    I’ve read that fatalistic/deterministic religions contribute to dreadful traffic fatalities in the Indian subcontinent and possibly elsewhere – If it’s godswill I’ll die today, a seatbelt won’t help. Nor will obeying the road rules, staying on my own side, paying attention, giving way. Inch Alla. And the same goes for whoever I happen – by godswill – to run into. Likewise, if god wills that I should live, I’ll get away with it.

    So, while the philosophy has some entertainment value, the reality is you damn well better act like you DO have free will, and take responsibility for yourself. Too many people want to hand over that awful responsibility, and there are plenty of takers who want nothing more than a lot of slaves to command.

    • In reply to #40 by OHooligan:

      It wouldn’t matter either way, except – denying “free will” can be an excuse for bad behaviour or for inaction. A cop-out.

      I’ve read that fatalistic/deterministic religions contribute to dreadful traffic fatalities in the Indian subcontinent and possibly elsewhere – If it’s godswill I’ll die today…

      “The reality is that you better act like you DO have free will….”

      A desire for free will is no argument for its existence. I’ve also just watched the Sam Harris vid suggested below and he gives a pretty good argument, especially regarding “bad behaviour” and a justice system without free will.

      • In reply to #44 by alistair.scott.71:

        “The reality is that you better act like you DO have free will….”

        A desire for free will is no argument for its existence.

        I never said it was, so we have no disagreement there.

        But you still better act like you have it, and keep your eyes on the road.

        I’m choosing – of my own free will, whatever Sagan says – to declare “belief in the lack of free will” to be a dangerous delusion which can have dire consequences for the individual and for the wider population. Those afflicted by this delusion need counselling, therapy, beer, or – if all else fails – a cat.

        • In reply to #55 by OHooligan:

          In reply to #44 by alistair.scott.71:

          “The reality is that you better act like you DO have free will….”

          A desire for free will is no argument for its existence.

          I never said it was, so we have no disagreement there.

          But you still better act like you have it, and keep your eyes on the road.

          I think the confidence in the notion that incompatibilist determinism will lead to bad behaviour is grossly misplaced:

          http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/does-eroding-belief-in-free-will-cause-cheating-failure-to-replicate-a-famous-result/

          • In reply to #98 by Zeuglodon:

            I think the confidence in the notion that incompatibilist determinism will lead to bad behaviour is grossly misplaced:

            Interesting link. I learn so much on this site. Seems that Mormon undergraduates who are exposed to the notion of determinism are more inclined to cheat than ones that aren’t. Maybe that says more about Mormons than about the free-will vs determinism debate.

            Well, that was one experiment. On the “grossly misplaced” but, I see I’m in good company – (quoting from the linked article)

            … the deep conviction Erasmus and I share: we both believe that the doctrine that free will is an illusion is likely to have profoundly unfortunate social consequences if not rebutted forcefully. [Dan Dennett]

            Yep. I agree. But then, I probably had no choice…

  19. For you Yes it is an illusion

    Firstly, it’s a law of nature that a poster must put up the quesiton “do we have free will?” at least once every couple of months. you were unable to stop yourself asking as it’s your turn this month.

    Homo Sapiens is a species of ape that believes in free will. this can be overcome a little by obtaining a cat, which will help you come to terms with your own insignificance in any decision made within your own observed universe, but you’ll no doubt cling to the vestiges of a sense of free will.

    Surely an exact clone would result in an exact copy of the universe we see today

    Now you’re getting into muddy waters, don’t worry you were programmed to. it’s very easy to casually refer to “the universe we see today” until you start to question exactly what that means. in order to observe the universe you need to intefere with it, colapsing the wave function of photons and determining the position of the universe at a quantum level. so by obsrving this universe we you have already made a decision on its behalf, without wanting to (i.e. free will). If you cloned the universe and tried to observe from a different viewpoint, it would not be the same. from the same viewpoint and it is the same, not a clone.

    This paradox was all demonstrated by the renowned cat lover/hater (depending on outcome of a single decaying atom) Erwin Schrodinger who came to accept that ultimately his cat has far more free will than he ever will, being that his state of existance is determined by observation. a similar effect can be seen using a simple door, where a cat can, at the same time, “want to come in” and “want to go out”. the only certainty is the ape operating the door has no control over the situation other than to get more and more vexed by the decision making process of an organism that actually has free will and chooses to use it entirely to remind you of your shortcomings.

    I trust this answers your question

    • In reply to #45 by SaganTheCat:

      For you Yes it is an illusion

      Firstly, it’s a law of nature that a poster must put up the quesiton “do we have free will?” at least once every couple of months. you were unable to stop yourself asking as it’s your turn this month.

      Homo Sapiens is a species of ape that believes in free will. this c…

      Perfect answer. I hope this goes in the FAQ.

  20. What is a person? Science operates on ontological reductionism: you are your biology, your brain operates on biological laws, which are determined by your genetics; your genetics can be reduced to chemistry, which operate on laws of nature; chemistry reduces to atomic particles, again, which operate on deterministic laws of nature; an atomic particles reduce to sub atomic, particles which operate on the laws of nature. How in the world do you have free-will in a deterministic universe? All that exists is the physical world. Believing in free-will is akin to believing in god, souls, ghosts, and other super natural entities.

    Or you can take he advice of Dostoevsky:
    “Nature doesn’t ask your advice. She isn’t interested in your preferences or whether or not you approve of her laws. You must accept nature as she is with all the consequences that that implies” (99).

    “Isn’t it much better to recognize the stone walls and the impossibilities for what they are and refuse to accept them if surrendering makes one too sick? Isn’t it better, resorting to irrefutable logical constructions, to arrive at the most revolting conclusions on the eternal theme that you too, somehow, share the responsibility for the stone wall, although it’s obvious that you’re not at all to blame for it; and then, to sink voluptuously into inertia, gnashing your teeth in impotent rage and hatred, and losing hope of ever finding anyone; feeling that you’ve been short-changed, cheated, deceived, that everything is a mess in which it is impossible to tell what’s what, but that despite this impossibility and deception, it still hurts you, and the less you can understand , the more it hurts” (99). “Notes from underground”–Fyodor Dostoyevsky:

  21. @A4D #17

    “I have investigated and looked at studies of physics and neuroscience. There are no energies involved in consciousness apart from activity of live brains and sensory inputs to brains, – according to measurements.”

    Since the threshold energy to trigger a synapse is perhaps a billionth of a billionth of the energy consumed by a living human brain on a similar timescale, and no measurements are ever made to anything like such an accuracy in the physics lab – far less in a living brain – you have clearly NOT investigated or looked at any such studies/measurements. Citation please.

    • In reply to #47 by logicophilosophicus:

      @A4D #17

      “I have investigated and looked at studies of physics and neuroscience. There are no energies involved in consciousness apart from activity of live brains and sensory inputs to brains, – according to measurements.”

      Since the threshold energy to trigger a synapse is perhaps a billionth of a billionth of the energy consumed by a living human brain on a similar timescale,

      Nobody said anything about measuring individual synapses. I am talking about gross inputs and outputs of energy, not details of internal circuitry.
      If you have some evidence of energies from any other source than the known laws of science – electromagnetic radiation and biochemistry – please list them!

      BTW: The triggering of a synapses IS activity of live brains, and without inputs of chemical energy to the brain, it is well known that such activity ceases within measurable periods of time!

  22. @A4D
    No, no, no. The energy required to cause a neural event is of the order of 1eV. It is not a “gross input”. You claimed that measuring the input and output energy of a living brain disproved any such input from a hypothetical free decision-making process. I’m telling you that no measurement of the inputs and outputs of energy for a living brain has accurately matched them closer than perhaps 1%. Where are those claimed contrary investigations, “studies… measurements”? They do not exist, cannot exist.

    • In reply to #50 by logicophilosophicus:

      @A4D
      No, no, no. The energy required to cause a neural event is of the order of 1eV. It is not a “gross input”. You claimed that measuring the input and output energy of a living brain disproved any such input from a hypothetical free decision-making process. I’m telling you that no measurement of t…

      You are side-tracking the issues into obfuscation and gapology. Like computers, neurons work on electricity. When I switch off the the mains electricity my desk stops. When I take out the battery a laptop stops, When the blood supply is cut off, brains stop! I do not need to study every circuit in every microchip, or every neuron to understand that that computers work on electricity and and brains work on chemical energy, not on fairy dust!

      I see you have offered no suggestions of alternative energy sources for brains, but have again missed the big picture, while sidetracking to minutiae!

      Alan @17 – All human perceptions are via neurons and biochemistry, which involve atoms and energy.

      • In reply to #52 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #50 by logicophilosophicus:

        Not sidetracking at all. My only point is that this was untrue:

        “I have investigated and looked at studies of physics and neuroscience. There are no energies involved in consciousness apart from activity of live brains and sensory inputs to brains, – according to measurements.”

        I won’t speculate about why you posted it, or why you fail to provide any citation for those “studies [and] measurements” on which your claim depends.

        BTW small energies are not “fairy dust”, nor have I suggested any immaterial influence. “Hypotheses non fingo.”

        Those citations would be really helpful.

        • In reply to #57 by logicophilosophicus:

          In reply to #52 by Alan4discussion:

          Alan @17 – All human perceptions are via neurons and biochemistry, which involve atoms and energy.

          Alan @52 – You are side-tracking the issues into obfuscation and gapology. Like computers, neurons work on electricity. When I switch off the the mains electricity my desk stops. When I take out the battery a laptop stops, When the blood supply is cut off, brains stop! I do not need to study every circuit in every microchip, or every neuron to understand that that computers work on electricity and and brains work on chemical energy, not on fairy dust!

          I see you have offered no suggestions of alternative energy sources for brains, but have again missed the big picture, while sidetracking to minutiae!

          In reply to #50 by logicophilosophicus:

          Not sidetracking at all. My only point is that this was untrue:

          You are sidetracking and all you have done is produce an “untrue strawman”, as a bit of distracting doubt-mongering, – but no alternative forms or sources of energy.

          It is just the same hackneyed lame argument that because science cannot explain or measure everything, it can measure nothing! (Therefore any wild speculation is a serious possibility.)

          Nobody (except you) has suggested measuring brain functions from individual neurons upward. Areas of the brain are well known to control various functions, with those functions disabled by damage from tumours strokes etc being well documented.

          Alan – “I have investigated and looked at studies of physics and neuroscience. There are no energies involved in consciousness apart from activity of live brains and sensory inputs to brains, – according to measurements.”

          logicophilosophicus @50
          @A4D No, no, no. The energy required to cause a neural event is of the order of 1eV. It is not a “gross input”.

          You confirm my claim that brains work electrical energy, but ignore the chemical energy in the blood supply to the whole brain.

          You claimed that measuring the input and output energy of a living brain disproved any such input from a hypothetical free decision-making process.

          What on Earth is that made-up stuff supposed to mean? What “external input or outputs from a hypothetical free decision making process? Decision making processes are internal brain mechanisms.
          I have explained that external sensory inputs from sound energy (via ears) and light energy (via eyes) or heat/touch sensations via skin nerves are recognised measurable energies.

          I’m telling you that no measurement of the inputs and outputs of energy for a living brain has accurately matched them closer than perhaps 1%.

          Apart from heat? and waste products in the blood, and nerve impulsed to the body, what external outputs?

          Where are those claimed contrary investigations, “studies… measurements”? They do not exist, cannot exist.

          Contrary investigations to vague unevidenced dualist assertions???? Science does not investigate fairy-dust – merely noting the absence of it!

          Science does not work on “look what I’ve made up – disprove it” !

          logicophilosophicus @50 – You claimed that measuring the input and output energy of a living brain disproved any such input from a hypothetical free decision-making process.

          I claimed there was no evidence of any energy transmitting conscious decision-making information outside of the normal measurable physical properties of atoms and energy. The onus is on those asserting that some other undefined supernatural energy exists, to produce supporting evidence.

          I have asked you for your evidence of some other energy apart from the biochemical and electrical energy which powers the INTERNAL workings of the brain according to the laws of physics!
          (Biochemical effects also include hormones and drugs – and yes these effects have been measured.)

          The energy required to cause a neural event is of the order of 1eV.

          It is quite comical that in an attempt to challenge my claim of brains powered by chemical and electrical energy, you have produced an approximate measure of electrical energy, as part of a (albeit irrelevant) claim, that it can’t be measured! Did you pick the figure out of the air, or was it calculated based on measurements?

          Science can detect energies from distant parts of the Solar-System, the galaxy and the universe! Strange that no unusual energies are found emanating from brains?

          I have asked for a description and evidence for your assertions!

          Got evidence??

          • In reply to #63 by Alan4discussion:

            I asked for the third time: “Where are those claimed contrary investigations, ‘studies… measurements’? They do not exist, cannot exist.”

            You replied: “Contrary investigations to vague unevidenced dualist assertions???? Science does not investigate fairy-dust – merely noting the absence of it!”

            Since you have there admitted that the investigations, “studies [and] measurements” have never been made, you have at last answered my question. The authority you claimed does not exist, and is simply an invention on your own admission. Worse than that, such a “measurement” is in principle impossible with any conceivable refinement of current technology.

            BTW The ~1eV figure (which is a measure of energy, not electricity, as every scientist knows) is well known (but not to you) to be the same order of magnitude as a photon of visible light, and, as is again well known, a single photon can trigger a consciously perceived response. Not, therefore, plucked out of the air. 1eV = 1.6 x 10^-19 J. Your claim was that “measurements” which you have “investigated” preclude any energies relevant to conscious activity being lost in the inaccuracy of measuring the energy inputs/outputs of the “living brain”. You have now admitted that was untrue.

            You write: “The onus is on those asserting that some other undefined supernatural energy exists, to produce supporting evidence.” No doubt. But where are these people? And what have they got to do with my original and only question (NOT assertion)?

          • In reply to #66 by logicophilosophicus:

            In reply to #63 by Alan4discussion:

            I asked for the third time: “Where are those claimed contrary investigations, ‘studies… measurements’? They do not exist, cannot exist.”

            You replied: “Contrary investigations to vague unevidenced dualist assertions???? Science does not investigate fairy-dust – merely noting the absence of it!”

            Since you have there admitted that the investigations, “studies [and] measurements” have never been made, you have at last answered my question. The authority you claimed does not exist, and is simply an invention on your own admission. Worse than that, such a “measurement” is in principle impossible with any conceivable refinement of current technology.

            What I explained was that investigations into substance of nothingness do not exist, and that the onus is on those asserting Fairy-dualist energies to produce evidence of these.

            BTW The ~1eV figure (which is a measure of energy, not electricity, as every scientist knows) is well known (but not to you) to be the same order of magnitude as a photon of visible light, and, as is again well known, a single photon can trigger a consciously perceived response.

            Well what do you know? Human senses can detect and respond to photons! – ” The opticians’ guide to dualist thought” perhaps?
            Next you will be telling me that the electrical impulses between neurons are not energry!!

            Not, therefore, plucked out of the air. 1eV = 1.6 x 10^-19 J.

            So it is a unit of energy or mass – So what? – You have dived into quantum-woo as a diversion from measuring real measurable scale energies? (You can’t measure atoms with a ruler or a kitchen scale – so they don’t have atomic weights?????? – quantum-woo says so! )

            Your claim was that “measurements” which you have “investigated” preclude any energies relevant to conscious activity being lost in the inaccuracy of measuring the energy inputs/outputs of the “living brain”.

            There are error bars in calculations. Gapologists love hiding doubt and woo in these these! If you want to claim there are some other energies over and above those of normal biochemical and bioelectrical electrical energies produce the evidence. Produce evidence of what they are, where they are, and how they work!

            I have pointed out that energies for brain functions are not measured one photon/electron or neuron at a time. You have made no case for energy triggering individual neurons, being in anyway connected with any form of supernatural consciousness or for any unusual energies triggering them at all!. It is clearly basic biology driven by known material energy! – Are are you claiming “magic electrons or photons” or just obfuscating?

            You have now admitted that was untrue.

            Rubbish!

            You write: “The onus is on those asserting that some other undefined supernatural energy exists, to produce supporting evidence.” No doubt.

            Got evidence – or are you going to give it a rest????

            But where are these people?

            Anyone making assertions about “immaterial energies” or effects beyond normal material science.

            And what have they got to do with my original and only question (NOT assertion)?

            Pull the other leg! It has bells on! – A contradiction or doubt-casting is an assertion!

  23. To the OP, let us assume that you have indeed created the exact replica you described; now if we have free will and this secondary, created universe is a perfect copy, the beings in that universe that have free will in our universe, will also have free will there. Your thought experiment seems to weigh on the fact that this is a created universe of whose inhabitants all have a prior cause origin of the same time, and a time shorter than that of those who live in our universe; but this has zero effect on whether or not free will exists.

    If I am understanding you correctly (correct me if I am wrong) you are stating that things we create (ie, beings in this cloned universe) can not have free will because we caused them to exist; but then what of every current living creature we know of? You might suggest that they do not have free will, and that is fine, but what I am suggesting is that your thought experiment does not in any way determine whether or not that is true.

    After much listening to, and reading of Sam Harris and Daniel Dennet I have decided I do not know whether I have free will or not, both sides are convincing to me when presented separately and I await their pending “debate.” However I would like to take a bit from Lawrence Krauss from this year’s Great Debate: The Story Telling of Science and say, “[n]othing is the absence of something; in order to understand nothing we must first understand something,” and turn that into me asking you, what would a model of the world look like if we did not have free will? What would a model of the world look like if we did have free will? Because if we do not understand what a lack of free will (or the presence of free will) “looks” like, how can we possibly answer the question of whether or not it exists?

  24. Bohr and other QM physicists thought free will existed and it made its way into Process 1 of the Von Neumann formulation of QM. The randomness of Process 2 is not relevant and has been a red herring in the search for free will. The following is take from a paper by Henry Stapp found here

    The experimenters are, within the framework provided by quantum theory, free to
    choose which experiments they will perform. Bohr says:

    “The freedom of experimentation, presupposed in classical physics, is of
    course retained and corresponds to the free choice of experimental
    arrangement for which the mathematical structure of the quantum
    mechanical formalism offers the appropriate latitude.” (Bohr, 1958, p.73)

    “To my mind there is no other alternative than to admit in this field of
    experience, we are dealing with individual phenomena and that our
    possibilities of handling the measuring instruments allow us only to make
    a choice between the different complementary types of phenomena that
    we want to study.” (Bohr, 1958, p. 51)

    This free choice made by experimenters is called Process 1 by von Neumann. It
    is represented in the mathematical structure as a separation of the state of the
    system being probed into a countable set of components, each of which is
    assigned a probability in such a way that these probabilities automatically add up
    to one (unity). Each of these components is supposed to correspond to a definite
    experience, distinguishable from all the others. After the occurrence of this
    Process 1 decomposition of the state of the probed system into a set of discrete
    components, Nature chooses one of the possible outcomes of this probing
    action. This choice is supposed to conform to a statistical rule. This choice of
    outcome obliterates from the cloud of possibilities all but the chosen component,
    which is itself a new cloud. This “reduction of the wave packet” or “collapse of the 7
    wave function” is accompanied by the occurrence in the agent’s stream of
    consciousness of the experience associated with the chosen component.

  25. In reply to #46 by Curiousity1985:

    How in the world do you have free-will in a deterministic universe? … Believing in free-will is akin to believing in god, souls, ghosts, and other super natural entities..

    We are so over that deterministic universe thing. Haven’t you been paying attention to physics since the end of the 19th century?

  26. A final note. It is worth remembering that it would be very handy from an evolutionary perspective to have others think we have free-will even if we don’t. To have others think we are fickle and unpredictable is a great disincentive to them to try and trick, attack or exploit us. We would (unconsciously!) respond to that pressure and act up the fickle and unpredictable. (Rages, incidentally, are also hugely effective in contributing this unpredictable impression. Hands off. Anything could happen.) Selling the lie (I’m fickle and unpredictable) comes easier when you buy it yourself (as every good salesman knows.). See I’m fickle and unpredictable. I am fickle and unpredictable.

    • In reply to #58 by phil rimmer:

      A final note. It is worth remembering that it would be very handy from an evolutionary perspective to have others think we have free-will even if we don’t. To have others think we are fickle and unpredictable is a great disincentive to them to try and trick, attack or exploit us.

      Not really. Uncertainty is not an advantage. What is an advantage is knowing that you will respond with force when challenged and even better that the force will be dispraportionate to the challenge. You can model this stuff with game theory including modeling how certain the knowledge is. The more certain an aggressive response to a cheater or challenger is the less likely they will cheat or challenge. Uncertainty is not a good thing in those scenarios.

      • In reply to #59 by Red Dog:

        What is an advantage is knowing that you will respond with force when challenged

        I am puny but am endowed with a bigger brain than my assailant. I cannot reasonably present a threat, but I can deny him a reliable plan.

        So will it be a right hook, a kick to the groin or a rapid retreat to more advantageous ground? Its useful that I give the impression that I am not a creature of habit. Snake handlers have an easy job dealing with more lethally endowed critters because their behaviours are predictable. My assailant cannot form a reliable plan to rehearse from and without that reliable and skilful action is compromised.

        Nor need my assailant be human. ..

        and even better that the force will be dispraportionate to the challenge.

        My “rages” comment was specifically about that.

        Besides this plays in all sorts of social strategies, not just potentially violent ones. All manner of trades negotiations and exchanges. It is all about using wit to avoid manipulation and coercion of all sorts, by creating an uncertain model of yourself in another’s head.

        • In reply to #60 by phil rimmer:

          In reply to #59 by Red Dog:

          What is an advantage is knowing that you will respond with force when challenged

          I am puny but am endowed with a bigger brain than my assailant. I cannot reasonably present a threat, but I can deny him a reliable plan.

          So will it be a right hook, a kick to the groin or…

          My point is that its not the uncertainty that is the deterrent its the aggresive response and in fact the MORE CERTAIN the response is the better your payoff. Your scenario only makes sense for doves, in that case uncertainty about a passive response makes a threat or cheat less likely. But even in those cases I have a hard time imagining that apes much less lions or other predators (or even bullies on a playground) are going to spend much time pondering metaphysical questions before deciding to threaten or cheat.

          • In reply to #61 by Red Dog:

            Your scenario only makes sense for doves,

            Or to put it another way….half of the population. It is entirely how the less powerful between any two might gain an advantage.

            It is important to escape from an overbearing authority figure for instance not to be predictable. Adolescents exhibit this trait to their parents to comical levels sometimes.

  27. There are some pretty neat lectures on TED about the advancement of robotics, specifically making them more accessible to humans. (The demo Rodney Brooks showed suggested the goal was to teach a robot by modeling behavior, which it would then follow).

    I think this is the clip: http://www.ted.com/talks/rodney_brooks_on_robots.html

    One of the points Brooks mentions is that robotic emotional mimicking and emulation is becoming rapidly sophisticated as things develop, and that the more humanlike robots get, the less difference (obviously) we see between humans and robots, and this may present a challenge to the idea of free will if we see robots behave perfectly (or near perfectly) human, yet their programming is all quantifiable.

  28. What would one do differently if one has free will from what one does in the absence of it? If no difference, then what matters about the answer to the question? (analogous to the Turing test)

    • In reply to #67 by whiteraven:

      What would one do differently if one has free will from what one does in the absence of it? If no difference, then what matters about the answer to the question? (analogous to the Turing test)

      That depends on the one. Philosophy, theology, orchestral music, chess, pure mathematics… When a computer is capable of original creative work maybe the Turing Test will be relevant; but since it is a subjective judgment, are you happy with it as science? (Can you replicate my judgment?)

  29. Here is an idea I will toss in. Think of your favourite movie, one you have watched repeatedly. Even though the characters appear to make decisions, they are constrained to make the same decisions every time you watch the film, and the same consequences. The illusion is perfect the first time you watch the film.

    There are things in my past I wish I had done differently, but there is little reason that I could have done them differently. I did not have the information then I have now. With the same set of criteria, I would have made the same decision.

  30. Chance does influence major threads in life. This is not the same thing as free will though. Here is a rather dramatic example. In 1985 I met a very handsome guy and had arranged to go home with him. However he was distracted by playing dice with his friends. I was quite bored waiting, and I was having second thoughts about getting involved with a guy who liked to gamble. I said to myself, if he does not quit after the next throw, I am leaving. I forget whether he won or lost, but in any case he decided to quit. We went to his place and had some of the best sex of my life. It never occurred to me he could have AIDS since he was so muscular and healthy. (Sex ed on HIV was banned back then by Christian fundamentalist Premier vander Zaalm) But he did, and now I have it too. Had the dice fallen a different way, I would have walked away.

  31. I suspect you cannot define free-will in any meaningful way, so it cannot very well exist.

    You can of course deliberate, but that is not magic enough to count as free will.

    There is a related question which is more tractable “Does it make any sense to punish people for bad behaviour?” The answer can be yes, even in a purely deterministic universe.

  32. In reply to #71 by Smill:

    In reply to logicophilosophicus… I can suggest some other energy which powers the internal workings of the brain, how about a lot of hot air? : )

    I wouldn’t say there’s “a lot” in what I wrote: just two points.

    a) there are things humans do (see e.g. #69) which have no obvious root in natural selection (survival-fertility) and which very clearly seem to be matters of free choice. (The appearance of) Free Will (not to mention qualia) is mysterious and requires explanation which, as said, has no obvious evolutionary source.

    b) claims that any actual free/conscious agent or substance or force cannot exist because science would have measured it are proven false because measurements are not even precise enough to detect various known (?) physical phenomena.

    I have not at any point made a “God of the gaps” argument. There is a big gap, and it will be filled by a physical agency of some sort – but current evolution-by-natural-selection arguments, for example, are unpromising. Personally I think new physics is needed.

  33. For me, free-will is the idea that the sense of self, the notion of first person singular, as an emergent property of brain activity, is not a mere witness of neuro-chimical reactions but a much needed agent in decision making.

    Two empirical facts make me think such thing possible.

    1 – Conscious lasting or chronic pain : if consciousness has to be trained the hard way to remember to avoid pain, then consciousness plays a role in decision making or conscious pain is just a nasty by-product of evolution that most living beings unfortunately share by random bad luck.

    As well, if consciousness has no evolutionary benefit (brain chemistry is enough to make decisions), then consciousness should have no metabolic cost.

    That is very unlikely. Studies tend to show that consciousness is expensive.

    2 – Placebo effect : if two sugar pills work better than one, or if blue tranquillizers work better than white ones, then something as immaterial as the idea of eating blue stuff can influence something as material as neurotransmitters concentration in synapses.

    We sure know little about how consciousness emerges from brain chemistry, but my guess is that we will find some fractal structure to it, as natural geometry tends to go. If an event is determined by an infinite causal chain, then it is not, indeed, determined by anything. No one is in control, nothing started it all. Without a prime mover, determinism is not that opposed to freedom. That might even be the very definition of freedom : in a chaotic system, being determined, yes, but ultimately, deep down the ever dividable structure of matter, by nothing.

  34. In reply to #76 by Smill:

    a) and b) are proven. A4D’s claim that measurements he has investigated over decades disprove (b) is, on his own eventual admission, untrue. My feet are very firmly on the ground. “In science, doubt is a value” (Feynman).

    No hidden energies? This is from this week’s New Scientist (dated 11th May). One current/respectable theory to account for universal expansion overcoming gravitational attraction “includes a huge amount of vacuum energy – perhaps more than 10^60 joules of energy per cubic metre of space (arxiv.org/abs/1208.3373). We don’t feel the powerful antigravity effect of this dark energy because it is almost entirely blocked by the added field [that allows nett gravity to vary as required in the theory]. If that is right, you can hold enough dark energy between your hands to disintegrate a million galaxies.” I’m not qualified to endorse or reject such a theory, I just note the possibility.

    • In reply to #80 by logicophilosophicus:

      logicophilosophicus- @75

      a) there are things humans do (see e.g. #69) which have no obvious root in natural selection (survival-fertility) and which very clearly seem to be matters of free choice. (The appearance of) Free Will (not to mention qualia) is mysterious and requires explanation which, as said, has no obvious evolutionary source.

      Argument from ignorance and incredulity (No idea of alternatives, so this must be the only answer)

      b) claims that any actual free/conscious agent or substance or force cannot exist because science would have measured it are proven false because measurements are not even precise enough to detect various known (?) physical phenomena.

      Simple strawman extending the claim beyond the measured scale – “Improbability due to an absence of evidence” does not = “cannot exist” it equals “very unlikely to exist as an alternative to evidenced measurements”! The onus of proof is on those making claims of “extraordinary energies”. Not on other people to DISPROVE unevidenced claims.

      a) and b) are proven.

      Illogical nonsense! The lack of a “disproof” of unsupported assertions proves nothing!

      A4D’s claim that measurements he has investigated over decades disprove (b) is, on his own eventual admission, untrue.

      Can I suggest you use a dictionary and look up the meaning of the word, “rubbish”. I think you will find it is not equivalent to “eventual admission”.

      You have now admitted that was untrue.

      Alan @78 – Rubbish!

      My feet are very firmly on the ground. “In science, doubt is a value” (Feynman).

      Doubt-mongering is not evidence of anything! Honest doubt needs an evidence base before challenging evidenced science. I have asked several times -
      Have you got EVIDENCE or are you just doubt-mongering and side-tracking? (“Something vague might turn up someday”, is not evidence)

      No hidden energies? This is from this week’s New Scientist (dated 11th May). One current/respectable theory to account for universal expansion overcoming gravitational attraction “includes a huge amount of vacuum energy – perhaps more than 10^60 joules of energy per cubic metre of space (arxiv.org/abs/1208.3373). We don’t feel the powerful antigravity effect of this dark energy because it is almost entirely blocked by the added field [that allows nett gravity to vary as required in the theory]. If that is right, you can hold enough dark energy between your hands to disintegrate a million galaxies.”

      .. .. . . And that has exactly what to do with the basic chemistry of conscious thinking processes in vertebrate species on Earth????

      I’m not qualified to endorse or reject such a theory, I just note the possibility.

      Quite! – It’s just another complex side-track which includes a huge amount of “vacuum argument”, in which to bury the unevidenced illogical and wrong assertions you are making!

      • In reply to #81 by Alan4discussion:

        This was always very simple. We’ve been here before. You claim there are definitive “studies” and “measurements” but then wriggle and squirm for post after post flinging out jeers like “comical”, “obfuscation”, “woo”, “fairy dust”, “ignorance”, “nonsense”, “rubbish”, “magic”, etc, etc.

        Last try:

        (@A4D #17 “I have investigated and looked at studies of physics and neuroscience. There are no energies involved in consciousness apart from activity of live brains and sensory inputs to brains, – according to measurements.”

        studies – any one citation will do
        measurements – ditto

        • In reply to #82 by logicophilosophicus:

          In reply to #81 by Alan4discussion:

          This was always very simple. We’ve been here before. You claim there are definitive “studies” and “measurements” but then wriggle and squirm for post after post flinging out jeers like “comical”, “obfuscation”, “woo”, “fairy dust”, “ignorance”, “nonsense”, “rubbish”…

          I have repeatedly pointed out the illogic of demanding proofs of negatives.

          That food, oxygen, etc in the blood supply to the brain to provide chemical energy is basic textbook stuff! Brain scan investigations in neuroscience track regions energetic brain activity. Physics tracks energies across numerous frequencies, wavelengths and chemical reactions. The laws of thermodynamics are clear.

          Glucose is the obligatory energy substrate for brain and it is almost entirely oxidized to CO2 and H2O. This simple statement summarizes, with few exceptions, over four decades of careful studies of brain energy metabolism at the organ and regional levels, extensively reviewed elsewhere . http://www.acnp.org/g4/gn401000064/ch064.html

          Brain blood flow and metabolism are vital to the normal mammalian nervous system and provides the basis for functional imaging. Over the last decade, dramatic progress has been made in molecular biology, biophysics and genetics that impact our understanding of brain energy metabolism, neural organization, cell signaling and vascular regulation. In addition, new technologies have emerged to measure blood flow and metabolism with high spatial and temporal resolution. http://www.grc.org/programs.aspx?year=2012&program=brainenerg

          Asking me to refute some undefined non-existent mystical energy of undefined “consciousness”, is just trying to shift the onus of proof and hide behind the difficulty in proving a negative.
          Absence of evidence is probable evidence of absence! – (Until new evidence is produced where this is actually possible.)
          If you want to make a case, you can start by explaining when in Chordate evolution the mythical “Consciousness” “beyond physics and chemistry” developed”

          Was it in – Single celled organisms? LUCA? marine worms? early fish? amphibians? reptiles? mammals, primates? – any one scientific citation will do to establish what “energy” we are talking about!

          Last try:

          (@A4D #17 “I have investigated and looked at studies of physics and neuroscience. There are no energies involved in consciousness apart from activity of live brains and sensory inputs to brains, – according to measurements.”

          studies – any one citation will do measurements -

          This is comical!!! You want me to list all the studies which did not find, some undefined mystical energy “beyond normal physics” while monitoring conscious brain activities! (or alleged “out of brain activities”!)

          You claim there are other energies apart from those known to material physics operating in brains, on Earth, at normal temperatures and pressures or that there is something called “consciousness” independent of brain activity. Vague assertions from theistic mythology, are just not falsifiable, while quantum woo is pure gappology! !

          Neuroscience shows conscious and unconscious activity to be bio-electrical brain activity of cells, operating on normal (NTP) physics and chemistry!

          No other energies have been detected – unless you have EVIDENCE to present to the contrary!

          GOT EVIDENCE?

          • In reply to #83 by Alan4discussion:

            (@A4D #17 “I have investigated and looked at studies of physics and neuroscience. There are no energies involved in consciousness apart from activity of live brains and sensory inputs to brains, – according to measurements.” any one citation will do (study with measurements))

            A4D This is comical!!! You want me to list all the studies which did not find, some undefined mystical energy “beyond normal physics” while monitoring conscious brain activities! (or alleged “out of brain activities”!)

            Since it in obviously too arduous to compile a “list” which you can count on the thumbs of one hand (one – count’em – one!) I guess I was right to suspect that we will never be treated to a citation of any persuasive study. I thought you might have tried to produce just one item of evidence, since in your world-view “Absence of evidence is probable evidence of absence!”

            A point of order: When you enclosed the phrases/ideas “beyond normal physics” and “out of brain activities” and “beyond physics and chemistry” in quotation marks you imply that those ideas have been alleged (your word) by me. They were not, not in those terms, not in paraphrase, not ever.

          • In reply to #86 by logicophilosophicus:

            In reply to #83 by Alan4discussion:

            A point of order: When you enclosed the phrases/ideas “beyond normal physics” and “out of brain activities” and “beyond physics and chemistry” in quotation marks you imply that those ideas have been alleged (your word) by me. They were not, not in those terms, not in paraphrase, not ever.

            Yeh! well! You dispute the normal material physics, chemistry and biology, and then pretend you are not making or implying any claims!

            As I have repeatedly pointed out, it is not possible to refute vacuous claims which have no definitions and no substance. This in no-way lends support to such ideas!

            ** If you deny making any such claims, then we can agree in reality, the alleged properties do not exist! ** – That is the position you challenged in the first place!

            Since it in obviously too arduous to compile a “list” which you can count on the thumbs of one hand (one – count’em – one!) I guess I was right to suspect that we will never be treated to a citation of any persuasive study. I thought you might have tried to produce just one item of evidence, since in your world-view “Absence of evidence is probable evidence of absence!”

            Perhaps you should have followed up the links @83 which explained measurements and the large number of studies containing them.

            I was right to suspect that we will never be treated to a citation of any persuasive study.

            .. . . .. . Or at least not one which will persuade you! The tiniest percentage chance of a doubt will do as an excuse for evasion, diversion, and obfuscation, no matter how solid the evidence or reasoned the argument!

            It reminds of our earlier discussion when you “refuted” the second law of thermodynamics, after you demanded a link and gave you one!

  35. I wish these free will debates were ended. They’re fruitless, unproductive, and almost always involve redefining free will out of its religious zone. Yet, virtually no aspect of determinism is explored.

    Free will is basically voluntary movement elevated to mythical-moral status. The most vociferous critics of anti-free-will views are almost always moralistic critics, and yet the origin of the concept of free will is a simplification of the complex neurocircuitry working in the brain that produces such decisions – a deterministic process. So, the real-world phenomenon that brought about the distorted concept of free will is not an illusion, but the distorted concept is.

    I’m with Jerry Coyne on this one: why waste time redefining an outdated concept and trying to salvage free will when we have the far more interesting and coherent concept of determinism to inform our ethics? We could be discussing instead how to prevent, reduce, and undo crimes, how to refine our decision-making skills, and how to apply deterrent punishment, isolation of dangerous criminals, and rehabilitation techniques.

    • In reply to #84 by Zeuglodon:

      Obviously I disagree on a number of levels here, but I’ll home in on two (closely linked) points which are well worth discussing:

      “…we have the far more interesting and coherent concept of determinism to inform our ethics? We could be discussing instead how to prevent, reduce, and undo crimes, how to refine our decision-making skills, and how to apply deterrent punishment, isolation of dangerous criminals, and rehabilitation techniques.”

      1) Determinism breaks down when you examine it ever more closely, i.e. at the atomic level. In another discussion here I gave the example of beta decay. Is it deterministic? If the answer is no, then the universe has non-deterministic processes built in at a fundamental level. If (as I suspect, and as Einstein certainly believed) the answer is yes, then there are unknown forces in the universe.

      2) Any ethical choice ultimately depends on knowing what constitutes a human being (or other moral object). Otherwise – for example – how can we discover whether the destruction of a person is different from (worse than) the destruction of a work of art? (1) Above has to be answered before (2).

      • In reply to #87 by logicophilosophicus:

        In reply to #84 by Zeuglodon:

        Obviously I disagree on a number of levels here, but I’ll home in on two (closely linked) points which are well worth discussing:

        Debatable, but let’s continue.

        “…we have the far more interesting and coherent concept of determinism to inform our ethics? We could be discussing instead how to prevent, reduce, and undo crimes, how to refine our decision-making skills, and how to apply deterrent punishment, isolation of dangerous criminals, and rehabilitation techniques.”

        1) Determinism breaks down when you examine it ever more closely, i.e. at the atomic level. In another discussion here I gave the example of beta decay. Is it deterministic? If the answer is no, then the universe has non-deterministic processes built in at a fundamental level. If (as I suspect, and as Einstein certainly believed) the answer is yes, then there are unknown forces in the universe.

        One example does not a case make. As already stated, I’m not an absolute determinist. I don’t know about quantum mechanics or what they come under, and I reserve judgement until I do. When it comes to brain activity, however, there’s no real argument to be had. It’s determinism’s domain.

        2) Any ethical choice ultimately depends on knowing what constitutes a human being (or other moral object). Otherwise – for example – how can we discover whether the destruction of a person is different from (worse than) the destruction of a work of art?

        This has to be an intelligentsia question. No ordinary person could have asked something so poor. The ethical difference between the two depends upon their agency, which depends on their having a brain or brain-like structure. Whether they’re both caused things or not (i.e. the question of free will) is utterly irrelevant.

        My objection is this: Why is this a rebuttal to the notion of determinism? We know in general what constitutes a human being, or at least our current best understanding as provided by science is comprehensive on the general issue. The human being is an organic machine made up of cells and proteins arranged according to exacting engineering, mathematical, and computing principles, set up by genes for their own propagation. The specifics are currently being studied by the relevant mind sciences, but to be frank, you don’t need neuroscientists to figure out that breaking someone’s arm is likely to be painful to the recipient, but snapping a portrait over your knee is not. This is the minimal requirement for a working ethical system, if not the only requirement. Determinism does not make the facts of fairness, harm, care, reciprocity, and so on vanish in a puff of logic.

        So, why does ethics need free will any more than it needs the existence of a god? A lot of people seem to assume it’s obvious, but it isn’t. So enlighten me.

        • In reply to #93 by Zeuglodon:

          “One example does not a case make.” Not so: one valid counter-example does indeed invalidate an hypothesis. That is at the heart of the scientific method.

          And it’s not just “one example”. Every process and event at the atomic level is quantum indeterminate, without exception, and non-trivially. Therefore there are are hidden causes or causality fails. You assert that at the level of the neural correlates of will/consciousness, events are wholly deterministic. But a single photon of visible light can trigger a conscious event, so your assertion is mistaken – conscious events are routinely initiated by quantum events.

          The “rebuttal of determinism” (1) is a purely physical matter (see previous paragraph) with (2) ethical implications. I didn’t suggest that (2) caused/implied (1), that ethical or psychological evidence challenged determinism. And, of course, I didn’t actually suggest that determinism is refuted at all (usual meaning of “rebutted”). “Hidden Variables” may exist at a deeper level.

          “…why does ethics need free will?” I didn’t suggest that it did. I suggested that there may well be hidden causes at a deeper level than QM, that they are relevant to mental events (i.e. including value judgments and decision making), that (if they exist) we have no idea what they are, and therefore that there is as yet no full account of ethics (in terms of neither the decision making process nor the fundamental nature of moral agents and objects).

          “The specifics are currently being studied by the relevant mind sciences, but to be frank, you don’t need neuroscientists to figure out that breaking someone’s arm is likely to be painful to the recipient, but snapping a portrait over your knee is not. This is the minimal requirement for a working ethical system, if not the only requirement.” This is wrong in many different ways, but principally these:

          i) Not all ethical issues are to do with pain or its avoidance. This discussion, for example, is (for me) prompted by respect for truth, which is a moral value (even when painful). Conversely, not all unnecessary pain is bad – or should we condemn tattooists and footballers?

          ii) But let us suspend disbelief, and suppose that all moral ideas can be reduced to judgments about pain or its avoidance. Even then there would be no rational justification for flagging up pain as “bad”. We generally shun pain just as we generally scratch itches – why should that conjure up a mysterious sense of virtue?

          iii) Pain and brain are not understood. One issue is this (I quote from your reply to Phil Rimmer):
          “consciousness is the sum activity of the brain”. You state this as some kind of solution. It is actually universally recognised as a major problem and even has its own name, the Combination Problem, and is much discussed. How and where does (or could) the brain sum up its contents, moment by moment?

          [Minor point: "This has to be an intelligentsia question. No ordinary person could have asked something so poor." Actually people of all levels of intellect or sophistication sometimes accept pain or risk death to rescue an inanimate object from destruction. But in answer to the tone of your point, I might say: "Painting me as a smug snob isn't going to help your argument one jot, and I do not appreciate such second-guessing in your comments. Will you please keep it relevant to the topic?"]

          • In reply to #108 by logicophilosophicus:

            In reply to #93 by Zeuglodon:

            “One example does not a case make.” Not so: one valid counter-example does indeed invalidate an hypothesis. That is at the heart of the scientific method.

            Basic logic says that one counter-example is a rebuttal only to an absolute or total claim, e.g. all processes are deterministic. As I have already pointed out on this thread, I do not subscribe to absolute determinism. There is plenty of legroom for quantum indeterminacy to play a part in the functioning of anything above the atomic level, but my point is that it is rare and therefore generally irrelevant. The occasional stray photon in the brain cannot be compared to the macroscopic forces that operate across it virtually all the time as one would predict it would. As far as the brain or any technology of comparable size is concerned, a deterministic viewpoint is the most appropriate way to model its behaviour in the vast majority of cases. To what degree QM events can change that is an interesting question in its own right, but it’s marginal to the case of general determinism at best.

            “…why does ethics need free will?” I didn’t suggest that it did.

            Good. Then I believe you agree with me that ethics does not need free will?

            “The specifics are currently being studied by the relevant mind sciences, but to be frank, you don’t need neuroscientists to figure out that breaking someone’s arm is likely to be painful to the recipient, but snapping a portrait over your knee is not. This is the minimal requirement for a working ethical system, if not the only requirement.” This is wrong in many different ways, but principally these:

            i) Not all ethical issues are to do with pain or its avoidance.

            I did not say they were. I said it was a minimal requirement, just as the minimal requirement for football is to have a ball you can kick. There are more ideas on how relational models relevant to the “moral sense” are structured, which I mentioned in another thread, and the principle of harm/care is just one of them. See The Better Angels of Our Nature for details.

            ii) But let us suspend disbelief, and suppose that all moral ideas can be reduced to judgments about pain or its avoidance. Even then there would be no rational justification for flagging up pain as “bad”. We generally shun pain just as we generally scratch itches – why should that conjure up a mysterious sense of virtue?

            I don’t know what you mean by “mysterious sense of virtue”, so I can’t comment. All I’d point out is that inflicting pain on others is generally regarded as bad not out of arbitrary whim, and pain by definition cannot be pleasant or good in itself except in the service of some other good (e.g. bearing surgery for the good of one’s personal health). How unpleasant an experience is, in the short-term or the long-term, is one factor for considering the ethics of imposing it on others. Pain by itself is not “bad”, but it is in the context of a social situation in which at least one side can lose out. Again, it is not the only factor, but that’s not the same as going to the other extreme and dismissing it entirely.

            iii) Pain and brain are not understood.

            True, but I’d wager most of the important details will come from computational models and neuroscientific analysis of the brain’s anatomy and physiology from the cellular scale upwards, not from armchair philosophy. As far as the science so far shows, pain is the activity of certain regions of the brain such as the nociceptor system, the amygdala, and certain substructures of the basal ganglia. Until contrary evidence comes in, I think it’s safe to say we know generally, if not specifically, how the two relate to each other. The specifics require knowing how the systems work at smaller scales than lobes.

            One issue is this (I quote from your reply to Phil Rimmer): “consciousness is the sum activity of the brain”. You state this as some kind of solution.

            Cambridge statement’s words (paraphrased), not mine. Given the phenomenon the word “consciousness” is being applied to, I haven’t reported anything incorrect; it is the position of qualified neuroscientists et al., and lends credence to consciousness monism.

            It is actually universally recognised as a major problem and even has its own name, the Combination Problem, and is much discussed. How and where does (or could) the brain sum up its contents, moment by moment?

            The neurons do not all physically touch each other except indirectly via the overall neural network that is the brain. Since the entire brain is in a permanent state of activation and only varies its frequency of pulses in response to incoming signals, the brain can be said to be constantly “on”, and only ceases when the blood supply dries up and leads to full-scale anoxia and brain death. Cut the living brain down, and it is essentially a hypercomplex mass of heterogenous glial and neural cells in a semi-permanent state of activation.

            Looking for a homogenous locus where it all comes together could be argued as committing the categorical fallacy, assuming the brain at a lower level will be much like it is at the macroscale, if not a symptom of dualism still informing people’s notions of consciousness. The closest I can get to an answer is that any one nervous system is an enclosed computational system compared with its immediate surroundings, which is as much as any neuroscientist will tell you. The combination problem will only get a definitive solution once we start splitting and combining living brains, but in the absence of exact answers or any practical application for such brain surgery, the provisional answer is good enough, and it’s currently not that big an issue except in potential but most likely extremely obscure situations.

            [Minor point: "This has to be an intelligentsia question. No ordinary person could have asked something so poor." Actually people of all levels of intellect or sophistication sometimes accept pain or risk death to rescue an inanimate object from destruction.

            And if you look at their reasoning, it comes right back to the standard ethics issues that the relational models and the concept of the "moral sense" can shine a little light on. People tend to moralize status and artistic merit, for instance, as a result of sartorial morality, potentially treating inanimate objects as important in some moral sense, but this leads to errors in judgement because the two cases do not have the same parallels. People's judgement of art, for instance, can be effected by peer pressure, perceived or real, which can turn them into hypocrites, and it has an arbitrariness to it that comes from simple subjective taste, very different from the nature of ethical judgements, which are about social behaviour and the distinction between right and wrong, which must conform to at least one of the relational models found across cultures and following the logic of game theory, which in turn requires a real-world distinction between a benefit and a cost. Again, see Better Angels, but also How the Mind Works.

            Also, to paraphrase Harris' point in The Moral Landscape, anything that has nothing to do with sentient or conscious experiences is, by definition, the least interesting thing in the universe. It has to effect at least one person and effect their experiences for it to be morally relevant.

            Lastly, people readily distinguish the moral differences between a person and an inanimate object. Even though they don't always articulate the difference, differences in animacy, e.g. humanness, is generally the main reason you would expect to find. Again, see the relational models.

            But in answer to the tone of your point, I might say: "Painting me as a smug snob isn't going to help your argument one jot, and I do not appreciate such second-guessing in your comments. Will you please keep it relevant to the topic?"]

            Hypocrisy noted, and I sincerely apologize for the crassness of my ill-conceived remark there. I should not have referred to you as an intelligentsia, nor should I have said that this was the reason your question was poor. While I still maintain that your question was poor, I should not attribute this to your personal deficiencies and should focus on the weaknesses of the question itself.

          • In reply to #111 by Zeuglodon:

            “As far as the brain… is concerned, a deterministic viewpoint is the most appropriate way to model its behaviour in the vast majority of cases. To what degree QM events can change that is an interesting question in its own right, but it’s marginal to the case of general determinism at best.”

            Even if I agreed (just what is a “macroscopic force”?) I would point out that the neural correlates of experiences (and – or including – volitions) are a very special tiny minority of cases. Your concept of “general determinism” is a bit like the concept of “a little bit pregnant”. The visual system demonstrates that quantum level effects are amplified by the brain.

            “… you agree with me that ethics does not need free will?”

            I agree with you that if the universe is fundamentally deterministic, free will must be given a deterministic description. That does not even imply that all the immediate determinants of a decision are neural correlates (though they might well be), far less the ultimate determinants. Some physicists suggest that conscious decision is similar in kind to the “collapse” of a quantum state, and draw a conclusion that consciousness exists at a quantum (or sub-quantum?) level. It’s unlikely that being a neuroscientist would qualify anyone to critique this position definitively, since the brain can amplify quantum scale changes.

            MORE IMPORTANTLY, ethics is concerned specifically with those things we do DESPITE our predispositions. Marcus Aurelius (Book III) is a good source: values including “…justice, truth, temperance, fortitude…” (roughly the Four Cardinal Virtues) and various other moral desiderata or duties such as humility, self-respect, perseverance, reason and self-control are given there. Avoiding pain is, for the obvious reason, not on the list: the line of least resistance is, at best, morally neutral. Ethics does not need “free will” but it does need “will power”. Your claim that avoidance of pain is as fundamental to ethics as foot and ball are to football is therefore clearly false.

            “The closest I can get to an answer [to the combination problem] is that any one nervous system is an enclosed computational system compared with its immediate surroundings, which is as much as any neuroscientist will tell you… [This] provisional answer is good enough, and it’s currently not that big an issue except in potential but most likely extremely obscure situations.”

            The Combination Problem is the difficulty of deriving (A) holistic/integrated conscious experiences from (B) complex/disparate neurological events. Your “provisional answer” seems to be that (B) is packed into a single skull; and let’s not mention (A). But explaining (A) was the whole point! (A) is the nature of all our experiences, not, therefore a “potential… obscure” situation.

            [I don't want to be sidetracked into that minor point. Suffice it to say that relational models, games theory, CBA, etc are irrelevant because they are not about the subjective judgments you write off. But let's not get into that.]

          • In reply to #115 by logicophilosophicus:

            I agree with you [Zeuglodon] that if the universe is fundamentally deterministic, free will must be given a deterministic description.

            And, conversely, if it isn’t, it doesn’t.

            So, summing up the discussion so far (for my own understanding):

            • IF the universe is deterministic, THEN free will is an illusion.
            • IF the universe is not deterministic, THEN we can’t say anything conclusive about free will
            • There is no way to find out if the universe is deterministic. Currently, at least.
            • IF free will is not an illusion, THEN the universe is not deterministic.
            • Therefore there is no way to find out if free will is an illusion
            • Some claim that it is dangerous to hold or promote the belief that free will is an illusion

            Did I get any of this wrong?

          • In reply to #116 by OHooligan:

            In reply to #115 by logicophilosophicus

            “Did I get any of this wrong?”

            Only the first 5 bullet points.

          • In reply to #120 by logicophilosophicus:

            In reply to #116 by OHooligan:

            In reply to #115 by logicophilosophicus

            “Did I get any of this wrong?”

            Only the first 5 bullet points.

            Very funny. Care to explain one by one. Concisely?

          • In reply to #121 by OHooligan:

            In reply to #120 by logicophilosophicus:

            Very funny. Care to explain one by one. Concisely?

            Points 1 and 4: “…deterministic description” does not mean, imply or even include/allow “illusion”.
            Point 2: If the universe is not deterministic, then Free Will is in the same boat as everything else – if it is impossible to say ANYTHING conclusive about ANYTHING, how does that particularly affect the status of Free Will?
            Point 3: This cannot be answered concisely since there are different answers (or arguments) for every interpretation of quantum mechanics. I have an opinion (Hidden Variables – deterministic) but I also have some sympathy with the Copenhagen interpretation: the one allows, and the other perhaps requires, a role for the conscious observer.
            Point 5…

          • In reply to #115 by logicophilosophicus:

            That was a remarkably unhelpful response. I’ll do what I can with it anyway:

            Points 1 and 4 you dealt with together:

            I said:

            1) IF the universe is deterministic, THEN free will is an illusion.
            
            4) IF free will is not an illusion, THEN the universe is not deterministic.
            

            logicophilosophicus said:

            “…deterministic description” does not mean, imply or even include/allow “illusion”.

            The Discussion Title is “is free will an illusion?”. Would you prefer to re-title it “Can free will be given a deterministic description?”. Is that not the same question, rephrased to use longer words?
            Or what?

            Point 2:

            I said:

            2) IF the universe is not deterministic, THEN we can't say anything conclusive about free will
            

            logicophilosophicus said:

            If the universe is not deterministic, then Free Will is in the same boat as everything else – if it is impossible to say ANYTHING conclusive about ANYTHING, how does that particularly affect the status of Free Will?

            Er… Point 2 is a subset of what you just said. That makes it wrong? Actually, I think Point 2 is right and your over-generalization is what’s wrong. It’s strawmanning like the guy who said “If you don’t know everything, you don’t know anything”. You appear to have issues with indeterminacy.

            Point 3:

            I said:

            3) "There is no way to find out if the universe is deterministic. Currently, at least."
            

            logicophilosophicus said:

            This cannot be answered concisely …. I have an opinion…

            Which pretty much sumarizes all of logicophilosophicus’s comments to date. But I fail to see how that refutes Point 3.

            Point 5:

            I said:

            5) Therefore there is no way to find out if free will is an illusion
            

            logicophilosophicus said:

            Which at least has brevity in its favor. You don’t explain your dispute with this point, but I assume it’s the use of the word “Illusion” again. Sorry, my only excuse is that it was in the original question.

            Did I get any of this wrong? Seems not.

          • In reply to #143 by OHooligan:

            3) “There is no way to find out if the universe is deterministic. Currently, at least.”

            Bell’s theorem is a pretty comprehensive evidence of non-determinism. QM, in terms of superpositional states, is based upon non-determinism, and our apparently deterministic world is a statistical aggregate. So, by current scientific understanding we can discount a deterministic universe.

          • In reply to #144 by Planck’s Constant:

            In reply to #143 by OHooligan:

            3) “There is no way to find out if the universe is deterministic. Currently, at least.”

            Bell’s theorem is a pretty comprehensive evidence of non-determinism.

            Evidence against local determinism. Bohm-de Broglie is still defensible. See also

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/bell-theorem/

            especially 7/4.

            Until we have either quantised gravity or found hidden determinants underlying QM, we can’t have a working theory of reality – and mind may feature…

          • In reply to #147 by logicophilosophicus:

            Evidence against local determinism. Bohm-de Broglie is still defensible.

            Oh dear! Local determinism “does not exist” because we have discovered quantum physics!

            • All those engineering construction projects and manufacturing processes, which no longer work to turn out predicted products as designed! (allegedly!)

            Until we have either quantised gravity or found hidden determinants underlying QM, we can’t have a working theory of reality – and mind may feature…

            Or roughly translated:- assertions of doubt MAY turn out to have a remote chance there is some substance to them, so asserted gapology can speculate as it pleases without evidence!

          • In reply to #160 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #147 by logicophilosophicus:

            Evidence against local determinism. Bohm-de Broglie is still defensible.

            Oh dear! Local determinism “does not exist” because we have discovered quantum physics!

            All those engineering construction projects and manufacturing processes, which no longer work…

            I see that you have been stewing over this answer for 5 days – indeed, everyone else stopped commenting on this thread 3 days ago. Let’s not uncharitably assume that you are indulging in last-wordism, though. I shall answer your criticism assuming that it is a considered position arrived at after much serious thought.

            Bell’s Theorem (in its several versions) proves that it is impossible to “reproduce the results of quantum theory with a classical, deterministic local model.” That is absolutely standard. Planck’s Constant had omitted the word “local” and so I pointed out. Personally, I cannot follow Bell’s mathematical argument. I have to rely on physicists – virtually 100% of them. You believe they are wrong. Bully for you; but what has that got to do with me?

            It appears your beef is that I claimed that local determinism, as you quote, “does not exist…” That would be those tens of thousands of physicists, not me, I suppose. More to the point, I have asked you before not to manufacture quotes. I did not use those words nor make that claim. Nor did I allege, as you claim, that “all… engineering… projects… no longer work.”

            I did make the claim that until there is a theory which accounts for both General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics there is no working theory describing fundamental reality. Since both incomplete theories have elements of observer-dependency (this is “evidence”) many physicists speculate that the observer, possibly the conscious observer, will be crucial in a final theory.

            I am sorry to tell you that an elephant has laboured and brought forth an ant. Your carping criticism shows a profound ignorance of the relevant science and your sardonic and triumphalist tone is therefore deeply ironic. You would have spent your 5 days better if you had done some background reading; but then, you could also have spent 5 minutes reading my post accurately.

          • In reply to #160 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #147 by logicophilosophicus:

            Evidence against local determinism. Bohm-de Broglie is still defensible.

            Oh dear! Local determinism “does not exist” because we have discovered quantum physics!

            All those engineering construction projects and manufacturing processes, which no longer work…

            Bell’s Theorem (in its several versions) proves that it is impossible to “reproduce the results of quantum theory with a classical, deterministic local model.” That is absolutely standard. Planck’s Constant had omitted the word “local” and so I pointed out. Personally, I cannot follow Bell’s mathematical argument. I have to rely on physicists – virtually 100% of them. You believe they are wrong. Bully for you; but what has that got to do with me?

            It appears your beef is that I claimed that local determinism, as you quote, “does not exist…” That would be those tens of thousands of physicists, not me, I suppose. More to the point, I have asked you before not to manufacture quotes. I did not use those words nor make that claim. Nor did I allege, as you claim, that “all… engineering… projects… no longer work.”

            I did make the claim that until there is a theory which accounts for both General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics there is no working theory describing fundamental reality. Since both incomplete theories have elements of observer-dependency (this is “evidence”) many physicists speculate that the observer, possibly the conscious observer, will be crucial in a final theory.

          • In reply to #165 by logicophilosophicus:

            many physicists speculate that the observer, possibly the conscious observer, will be crucial in a final theory.

            There are no “conscious observers” of subatomic “particles”. Human senses do not perceive individual sub-atomic “particles”. (BTW – photons and electrons are not “particles”, even if they are referred to as such for convenience.)

            So let’s get this straight!

            It appears your beef is that I claimed that local determinism, as you quote, “does not exist…” That would be those tens of thousands of physicists, not me, I suppose. More to the point, I have asked you before not to manufacture quotes. I did not use those words nor make that claim.

            You deny that your quote :-
            “Evidence against local determinism” = Local determinism “does not exist”, and then claim I “manufactured” this straightforward interpretation of English!
            Either you are quoting this in support of your claim, or you are not! Wriggling in denial is disingenuous!

            Nor did I allege, as you claim, that “all… engineering… projects… no longer work.”

            .. . ..And you deny that manufactured chemical reactions following classic formulae, or engineered structures, are evidence of determinism, but deny that you are making this implied claim – offering no explanation or evidence, – choosing only to rely on an unsupported assertion that work on quantum physics, (which you admit you don’t understand), somehow refutes these determined and predicted outcomes!
            These manufacturing processes either produce determined products to within very precise specifications, or they don’t!

          • In reply to #166 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #165 by logicophilosophicus:

            .. . ..And you deny that manufactured chemical reactions following classic formulae, or engineered structures, are evidence of determinism, but deny that you are making this implied claim – offering no explanation or evidence, – choosing only to rely on an unsupported assertion that work on quantum physics, (which you admit you don’t understand), somehow refutes these determined and predicted outcomes!
            These manufacturing processes either produce determined products to within very precise specifications, or they don’t!

            Just….what?? A bridge, or a ‘manufactured chemical reaction’ are evidence of determinism? The physics of chemical bonding can only be explained by quantum mechanics. Would this be a good time to point out that you could not have utilised your computer – with its millions of transistors, or the internet to make this ‘argument’ without the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics?

            Are you in denial of quantum mechanics? Perhaps I have misunderstood. I hope so

          • In reply to #167 by Planck’s Constant:

            In reply to #166 by Alan4discussion:

            These manufacturing processes either produce determined products to within very precise specifications, or they don’t!

            Just….what?? A bridge, or a ‘manufactured chemical reaction’ are evidence of determinism? The physics of chemical bonding can only be explained by quantum mechanics.

            However the processes are explained, the outcomes are observed and related to the inputs and predicted outputs.

            Would this be a good time to point out that you could not have utilised your computer – with its millions of transistors, or the internet to make this ‘argument’ without the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics?

            Not really! The processes are different.

            Are you in denial of quantum mechanics?

            Nope! I am simply pointing as Zeuglodon has done with the Newton Einstein analogy, that basic laws can still predominantly apply with minor adjustments when additional factors are identified. (For life on Earth apart from supersonic fliers, Newton is 99.99999% relevant and Einstein 0.000001% relevant.

            Perhaps I have misunderstood. I hope so.

            It would seem you misunderstand many aspects.

            @158 – This presumes that current neuroanatomy and neurophysiology will explain consciousness. That is simply a held position.

            Nope! To a considerable extent it already does explain it. Many conscious processes have been monitored, although many who bandy around the word “consciousness”, fail to provide a scientific definition of the word or what they mean by it.

            Until photsynthesis was understood as a quantum phenomena one could have said exactly the same about (the then current) plant biologists.

            Serously!!!??? The understanding that there are quantum effects in photosynthesis shows plants have “Free Will” or “consciousness” ???
            Energy transfers and biochemistry do not equal “conscious thinking processes” independently of the physical brain or body chemistry!

            I draw your attention to my unanswered question @83 about where this Mythical “consciousness beyond electrochemical brain processes” developed in the course of evolution :-

            @83 – Asking me to refute some undefined non-existent mystical energy of undefined “consciousness”, is just trying to shift the onus of proof and hide behind the difficulty in proving a negative. Absence of evidence is probable evidence of absence! – (Until new evidence is produced where this is actually possible.)
            If you want to make a case, you can start by explaining when in Chordate evolution the mythical “Consciousness” “beyond physics and chemistry” developed”

            Was it in – Single celled organisms? LUCA? marine worms? early fish? amphibians? reptiles? mammals, primates? – any one scientific citation will do to establish what “energy” we are talking about!

            ..

            You claim there are other energies apart from those known to material physics operating in brains, on Earth, at normal temperatures and pressures or that there is something called “consciousness” independent of brain activity. Vague assertions from theistic mythology, are just not falsifiable, while quantum woo is pure gappology! !

            Neuroscience shows conscious and unconscious activity to be bio-electrical brain activity of cells, operating on normal (NTP) physics and chemistry!

          • In reply to #168 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #167 by Planck’s Constant:

            It would seem you misunderstand many aspects.

            I had hoped that there was some other meaning to your words that I had missed. It seems there was not. Much as you might claim that I have, here, in some way erred ans revealed ignorance it is not so.

            Determinacy is the proposition that if the initial state of a system is known then any future state can be predicted. In a deterministic universe, therefore, knowing the position and momentum of every particle would allow us to predict with certainty the outcome of ‘moving the clock forward’. That is simply not possible. The universe we live in is not – as far as science can currently understand it – determinant.

            You seem to be confusing the appearance of determinacy as being determinacy – that at least is what you are arguing.

            Would this be a good time to point out that you could not have utilised your computer – with its millions of transistors, or the internet to make this ‘argument’ without the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics?

            Not really! The processes are different.

            What difference does that make? The processes are non-determinant. The chemical and molecular bondings that make up your seemingly ‘determinant’ world are subject to indeterminate quantum processes. You are mistaking ‘it looks like’ with ‘it is’ – hardly the best starting point for a scientific argument.

            Nope! I am simply pointing as Zeuglodon has done with the Newton Einstein analogy, that basic laws can still predominantly apply with minor adjustments when additional factors are identified.

            That laws can still be useful does not make them ‘true’. Further, it does not make them ‘truer’ – which is the basis of your position here.

            (For life on Earth apart from supersonic fliers, Newton is 99.99999% relevant and Einstein 0.000001% relevant.

            Do you know how useless GPS would be without Einstein being taken into account?

            Your position here is nothing more or less than an attempt to ignore a hundred and some years of scientific thinking and evidence upon the basis of ‘it doesn’t look like that’.

          • In reply to #169 by Planck’s Constant:

            (For life on Earth apart from supersonic fliers, Newton is 99.99999% relevant and Einstein 0.000001% relevant.

            Do you know how useless GPS would be without Einstein being taken into account?

            Last I heard, the orbital velocity of GPS satellites was substantially greater than the speed of sound, and they were not life-forms living on Earth! – even so, when combining the time dilation and gravitational frequency shift, the discrepancy is about 38 microseconds per day, not to mention various other causes of GPS error.
            I was quite clear, that I was talking about NTP conditions on Earth, not astronomy or space-craft.

            Your position here is nothing more or less than an attempt to ignore a hundred and some years of scientific thinking and evidence upon the basis of ‘it doesn’t look like that’.

            What it looks like on test, when recorded by objective observers, is precisely what science is! Thinking without evidence is just speculation or whimsicality.

            Nope! I am simply pointing as Zeuglodon has done with the Newton Einstein analogy, that basic laws can still predominantly apply with minor adjustments when additional factors are identified.

            That laws can still be useful does not make them ‘true’. Further, it does not make them ‘truer’ – which is the basis of your position here.

            If you are going to challenge scientific laws, you are going to have to produce some substantive evidence, not just vague references to allegedly “scientific thinking”. My claims for Newton are within the specified accuracy under the conditions I outlined. Irrelevant examples of GPS make no case against this!

            The universe we live in is not – as far as science can currently understand it – determinant.

            This is pure assertion! Substantial parts of it have been shown to be determinist and predictable to great accuracy where accurate input data has been available.

            @158 – This presumes that current neuroanatomy and neurophysiology will explain consciousness. That is simply a held position.
            Until photsynthesis was understood as a quantum phenomena one could have said exactly the same about (the then current) plant biologists.

            Serously!!!??? The understanding that there are quantum effects in photosynthesis shows plants have “Free Will” or “consciousness” ???

            .. . . or you are deliberately misappropriating my words here – Is pretending I have said something that I have not, really anything to do with a reasoned discussion.

            Really? Have you re-read what you wrote? You introduced and compared photosynthesis with neuroanatomy and neurophysiology and implied that involvement of quantum physical effects in the biochemistry of both had some relevance.

            As for the question of free will – that isn’t what I was responding to here

            “Free Will”, is the OP topic, and it, and its relation to determinism, is what I was discussing with logicophilosophicus when you jumped in. My unanswered question @83 relates to an earlier stage of that discussion.

          • In reply to #172 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #169 by Planck’s Constant:

            Last I heard, the orbital velocity of GPS satellites was substantially greater than the speed of sound, and they were not life-forms living on Earth! – even so, when combining the time dilation and gravitational frequency shift, the discrepancy is about 38 microseconds per day, not to mention various other causes of GPS error.
            I was quite clear, that I was talking about NTP conditions on Earth, not astronomy or space-craft.

            And…what was your point? I understood (from the exaggerated use of ‘statistics’) that you were implying that relativity is very insignificant in our everyday lives. That is not so; that is the point I was making (and 38 microseconds a day would result in an error of about 10km per day – GPS information would be false after about 2 minutes GPS and Relativity )

            What it looks like on test, when recorded by objective observers, is precisely what science is! Thinking without evidence is just speculation or whimsicality.

            Indeed. So…let me just remind you of what you were replying to

            Your position here is nothing more or less than an attempt to ignore a hundred and some years of scientific thinking and evidence upon the basis of ‘it doesn’t look like that’.

            Is Quantum Mechanics speculation and whimsy?

            If you are going to challenge scientific laws, you are going to have to produce some substantive evidence, not just vague references to allegedly “scientific thinking”.

            Vague references to “scientific thinking”? Shall I remind you once again?

            Your position here is nothing more or less than an attempt to ignore a hundred and some years of scientific thinking and evidence upon the basis of ‘it doesn’t look like that’.

            Just in case you are confused, I am referring to Quantum Mechanics. Vague, speculation, whimsy?

            Am I challenging scientific laws? Not at all, I’m pointing out that because those laws are still useful within certain domains it does not make them then truer in those realms than what underlies them – and that is the argument you are making. You are suggesting that we are to judge the determinacy of the universe upon….engineering? Bridge building?

            My claims for Newton are within the specified accuracy under the conditions I outlined. Irrelevant examples of GPS make no case against this!

            But that isn’t your claim. Your claim is that these laws have primacy. If that is not the argument, then in what way is the fact that we can build bridges an argument against the evidence of Quantum Mechanics?

            This is pure assertion! Substantial parts of it have been shown to be determinist and predictable to great accuracy where accurate input data has been available.

            Are you claiming that there are two parallel universes; are you arguing dualism here? That a statistical ensemble of non-determinate processes has the appearance of determinacy is not the same as the claim that they have. But, sutrely you understand that?

            Really? Have you re-read what you wrote? You introduced and compared photosynthesis with neuroanatomy and neurophysiology and implied that involvement of quantum physical effects in the biochemistry of both had some relevance.

            Not in the way that you claim. I have re-read it and there is no way one can read an argument that I was suggesting consciousness within plants because of photosynthesis. If you truly did read that I suggest you go an read again. To sum up; it was suggested that neuroanatamoy and neurophysiology do not have to refer to QM. I was pointing out that prior to succesful investigations into QM in photosynthesis the very same could have been argued about plant biology – so that the argument ‘do not have to’ within an incomplete description actually is ‘do not’ and that there is a distinction.

            At no point did I reference consciousness in plants or as an aspect of photosynthesis.

            “Free Will”, is the OP topic, and it, and its relation to determinism, is what I was discussing with logicophilosophicus when you jumped in. My unanswered question @83 relates to an earlier stage of that discussion.

            Fair enough but…I don’t see that the questions reference my own position on the subject. I don’t argue that anything is beyond physics and chemistry.

          • In reply to #173 by Planck’s Constant:

            In reply to #172 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #169 by Planck’s Constant:

            Last I heard, the orbital velocity of GPS satellites was substantially greater than the speed of sound, and they were not life-forms living on Earth! …

            And…what was your point? I understood (from the exaggerated use of ‘statistics’)

            Accurate to 5 decimal places does not equal, “exaggerated use of ‘statistics”. ????

            that you were implying that relativity is very insignificant in our everyday lives.

            The point I was making, was that GPS is utterly irrelevant to the mental processes of chimps, whales, birds, and for most of history, – humans.

            That is not so; that is the point I was making (and 38 microseconds a day would result in an error of about 10km per day – GPS information would be false after about 2 minutes GPS and Relativity )

            I know – (it said so on the link I gave @172)! – But that is why I specifically excluded high velocity objects from my original statement in discussing living organisms on Earth, which do not travel at significant relativistic speeds, but rather within the figures I quoted on Newton.

          • In reply to #168 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #167 by Planck’s Constant:

            In reply to #166 by Alan4discussion:

            Until photsynthesis was understood as a quantum phenomena one could have said exactly the same about (the then current) plant biologists.
            

            Serously!!!??? The understanding that there are quantum effects in photosynthesis shows plants have “Free Will” or “consciousness” ???

            Either you have memory problems or you are deliberately misappropriating my words here – Is pretending I have said something that I have not, really anything to do with a reasoned discussion. Let me put this straight. I followed that up with;

            As for the question of free will – that isn’t what I was responding to here

            So clearly I have suggested no such thing.

            Energy transfers and biochemistry do not equal “conscious thinking processes” independently of the physical brain or body chemistry!

            Nor have I argued such.

            I draw your attention to my unanswered question @83 about where this Mythical “consciousness beyond electrochemical brain processes” developed in the course of evolution :-

            Indeed you have, and I wonder why. Perhaps you might want to respond to something I have said, rather than you what you have either imagined or invented in substitution.

          • In reply to #144 by Planck’s Constant:

            In reply to #143 by OHooligan:

            3) “There is no way to find out if the universe is deterministic. Currently, at least.”

            … by current scientific understanding we can discount a deterministic universe.

            Thanks for that. I revise my bullet-point summary of this discussion accordingly. That leaves the issue of “free will” in such a universe. For that, I particularly like Conway’s Free Will Theorem, and take as a final result that I do, in fact, have genuine freedom of will (which is what I thought all along).

            [Remarks about other users removed by moderator to bring within Terms of Use]

          • In reply to #115 by logicophilosophicus:

            In reply to #111 by Zeuglodon:

            “As far as the brain… is concerned, a deterministic viewpoint is the most appropriate way to model its behaviour in the vast majority of cases. To what degree QM events can change that is an interesting question in its own right, but it’s marginal to the case of general determinism at best.

            Even if I agreed (just what is a “macroscopic force”?)

            Forces that can be modelled and invoked to explain events at scales above those of the atom, such that an engineer might exploit. When you get to a neuron-sized object, much less a brain-sized object, you can describe, say, the depolarization-repolarization effect or the changing blood supply of the cranial arteries and veins in terms of classical physics, in terms of ionic electric charge and gates and pumps in the cell wall, and in terms of the contraction and dilation of blood vessels and the movements of haemoglobin et al. under the pressure provided by the beating heart.

            I would point out that the neural correlates of experiences (and – or including – volitions) are a very special tiny minority of cases.

            This is simply untrue. “Neural correlates” are the result of finding out that changing bits of the brain changes the subject’s experiences, and in highly specific ways. Neuroscience runs with this model and has made fantastic progress in isolating those areas and circuits of the brain involved in specific actions, especially thanks to the computational theory of the brain and to the insights of cognitive neuroscience. By contrast, there’s not a single verified case of a non-correlation between brain activity and personal experience, and I’m frankly wondering why you would suggest otherwise.

            Your concept of “general determinism” is a bit like the concept of “a little bit pregnant”.

            No, it’s not. A good analogy would be between Newtonian physics on one side, and general and special relativity on the other. Where Newtonian physics breaks down, relativity takes over, but that does not render Newtonian physics utterly wrong-headed. The general principle here is that a model of how things work, even if superseded by a more comprehensive model, can still be more useful in understanding a subset of phenomena, and invoking the other model is unnecessary. In the case of QM, beyond the banal claim that it incorporates classical physics as a special subset, it is simply irrelevant to understanding how the brain and the mind work, akin to trying to explain how a car engine works by invoking quarks.

            The visual system demonstrates that quantum level effects are amplified by the brain.

            You don’t need to invoke the exclusion principle or the Copenhagen interpretation in order to explain how an eye works. You only need optics. Granted, the physics underlying optics is now known to be grounded in quantum mechanics, but again, it’s pointless to invoke QM explicitly and directly. Someone wanting to design a camera eye can do just as well treating photons as particles, and trying to drag in quantum mechanics is just not going to help at all.

            “… you agree with me that ethics does not need free will?”

            I agree with you that if the universe is fundamentally deterministic, free will must be given a deterministic description.

            Unless you’re merely equating free will with voluntary movement or with decision-making algorithms, which is misleading as they have different connotations and implications, then I must ask you to define free will, because this sentence does not make sense as it stands.

            That does not even imply that all the immediate determinants of a decision are neural correlates (though they might well be), far less the ultimate determinants. Some physicists suggest that conscious decision is similar in kind to the “collapse” of a quantum state, and draw a conclusion that consciousness exists at a quantum (or sub-quantum?) level.

            Invoking QM to explain consciousness is onto a dead end because the non-classical elements of QM simply cancel out at the scale the brain operates on. I might also add that “neural correlates” either implies there’s a second physical mechanism involved or that one is assuming the premise of dualism. The former raises problems, not just because the brain is the physical mechanism that has finally been identified, but because it is the only candidate now. Even if there was some second mechanism behind its workings, no one has provided any evidence for it or explained why it’s a better mechanism than the one we have ample evidence for. And as I’ve already explained, dualism assumes that consciousness is independent not just of the brain, but of any sort of physical mechanism, be it the brain or a machine or mechanism hidden in another set of dimensions.

            It’s unlikely that being a neuroscientist would qualify anyone to critique this position definitively, since the brain can amplify quantum scale changes.

            Quantum physicists are in a worse position to argue from authority because they don’t have the qualifications for the findings of neuroscience, and no attempt to use QM to explain consciousness has done nearly as well in opening up future research as the studies of the brain have done. In any case, they are no more qualified to talk about consciousness than anyone else. A genius in one field is not automatically a genius in another.

            MORE IMPORTANTLY, ethics is concerned specifically with those things we do DESPITE our predispositions.

            Nonsense. Ethics is concerned with people’s behaviour in a social setting, how it impinges on others, and on customs, norms, rules, and laws that are intended to apply universally and which minimize exploitation and harm, unfairness, disobedience, underhanded treachery, and other things that fit into the binary categories of good and bad. The notion that it is specifically about behaviours done in spite of predispositions couldn’t possibly be made except in outright defiance of this obvious fact.

            When a person worries over whether it’s better to give more to charity or to spend the money on their families, telling him that one is against his usual dispositions but the other isn’t is worse than useless. By contrast, a person who is naturally friendly, polite, trustworthy, and diplomatic is not outside of the boundaries of ethics simply because it’s his predisposition to behave that way. Psychopaths are predisposed to be exploitative and vicious, and they are definitely not outside the purview of ethics.

            Marcus Aurelius (Book III) is a good source: values including “…justice, truth, temperance, fortitude…” (roughly the Four Cardinal Virtues) and various other moral desiderata or duties such as humility, self-respect, perseverance, reason and self-control are given there. Avoiding pain is, for the obvious reason, not on the list: the line of least resistance is, at best, morally neutral.

            Aurelius’ credentials are what, exactly? I’ve seen the work of anthropologists, psychologists, philosophers, and evolutionary biologists point out that a significant component of ethics is concerned with minimizing the harm done unto others. I even provided one of the sources above. And I reiterate; that does not make them the only source of ethics, but neither does it warrant ignoring them.

            Furthermore, the notion that pain reduction is morally neutral is absurd, almost idiotic. Torture, intimidation, and physical violence are classic examples of immoral things, all united under the suffering they visit upon the subject, and this applies across all cultures. Pain is only endured when it’s perceived to be a necessary cost to a more significant benefit, such as enduring surgery in order to improve one’s health dramatically, and even then, painkillers are used wherever possible. Inflicting it on other people is condemned unless the victims are recast as insensate beings, as martyrs, or as evil scum who deserve it, and all of these exceptions rely upon premises and logic that may or may not be wrong.

            Ethics does not need “free will” but it does need “will power”. Your claim that avoidance of pain is as fundamental to ethics as foot and ball are to football is therefore clearly false.

            Clearly nothing. Ethics is about pragmatic behaviours, tactics, strategies, rules, and so on designed to obtain an outcome that is considered better than the alternatives, whether it really is or it really isn’t, and also about how to identify a better alternative from a worse one in ambiguous cases. Will power is no more special to ethics than to any other decision-making system, as will power is about resolving inner conflict enough to carry out a difficult decision. And not all ethics is difficult, nor is it defined as difficult and therefore requiring will power. In any case, will power is simply another manifestation of a mechanism in the brain – in this case, it is an override mechanism – and apart from its design specs, it is no more different to the mechanism it overcomes than the different sense organs are to each other. They all ultimately come under the umbrella of physical determinism. I thought I made that clear enough with my discussion on self-control earlier in this thread.

            “The closest I can get to an answer [to the combination problem] is that any one nervous system is an enclosed computational system compared with its immediate surroundings, which is as much as any neuroscientist will tell you… [This] provisional answer is good enough, and it’s currently not that big an issue except in potential but most likely extremely obscure situations.”

            The Combination Problem is the difficulty of deriving (A) holistic/integrated conscious experiences from (B) complex/disparate neurological events. Your “provisional answer” seems to be that (B) is packed into a single skull; and let’s not mention (A). But explaining (A) was the whole point! (A) is the nature of all our experiences, not, therefore a “potential… obscure” situation.

            You missed my point. I am questioning whether we can even assume that the premises behind (A) are justified in the first place.

            Just think about it for a moment. The experiences are utterly different from each other; sound is different from colour, which is different from shape, which is different from smell, which is different from taste, which is different from balance, which is different from thought, which is different from emotion, which is different from my sense of unified self. These phenomena are so disparate that philosophers have invoked the concept of qualia – irreducible elements of subjective experience – in order to capture them. And yet, the findings of science indicate that every last one of them is produced by billions of electric neurons that aren’t much different from each other.

            I think the more pressing question is how, from almost identical pieces, you can get such a huge diversity of seemingly irreconcilable experiences. Furthermore, this question has a higher chance of being answered, because it involves examining the circuitry of the neural networks and capturing their workings in the language of computational science. This is simply an extension of what is already happening.

            By contrast, the Combination Problem can only be provisionally, not definitively, solved by invoking the unity of the nervous system, because that is all that one can physically find. I am not saying the question has already been answered, but that it could only be relevant when we start dividing or combining brains in such a way that it will be ambiguous how we should use pronouns such as “him/her” and “them” to refer to such subjects. Such a scenario has yet to materialize – even split-brain patients are connected via the autonomous nervous system, spinal chord, and peripheral nerves – so the validity of such a “problem” is currently of only academic interest.

            I’m not saying I wouldn’t be fascinated in getting to the bottom of problems such as this when nervous systems do start splitting and combining, but right now the main two reasons why experience seems so well-integrated are: natural selection would have driven out those whose brains did not integrate information well; the experiences of one person are isolated from others because their brains are also isolated; the design specifications of the brain (whatever neuroscience reveals them to be) are set up so that everything works in excellent unison.

            [I don't want to be sidetracked into that minor point. Suffice it to say that relational models, games theory, CBA, etc are irrelevant because they are not about the subjective judgments you write off. But let's not get into that.]

            No, let’s get right into that, because I perceive this dismissal of real-world facts to be a great flaw in your argument. Subjective judgements come from the way the brain is configured, are the products of evolution, and can be discovered by analyzing real world information about how those brains work in the environments they find themselves in, both physical and social. Evolution had to exploit real world facts in order to set them up in the first place, akin to exploiting the principles of engineering and optics in order to design eyes that work. The logic of game theory in an evolutionary context requires a real-world distinction between better and worse ways to play the game, in real-time as well as over evolutionary time, so the models would fall apart if there was no real world way to be better off or worse off. The models have been vindicated, not just in evolutionary science, but in evolutionary and normal psychology, and that provides a strong case for moral realism. Moreover, the distinction between good and bad experiences (pleasure, pain, shame, embarrassment, joy, confusion, and so on) practically hands over the real-world distinction between being better off and worse off, and though we don’t understand how the underlying mechanisms work in the brain, their existence is as self-evident as any other personal experience.

            Moreover, they are utterly relevant to the subjective judgements we make, because those subjective judgements cause us to behave in certain ways. Anything like that is not only bound to be targeted by evolution, but may well have been built-in by evolution in the first place, so subjective judgements are grounded in real world facts and in principles of logic and mathematics, especially when it came to setting up the nervous system’s networks. That suggests that conscious experiences are physically based, and moreover it casts doubt on epiphenomenalism, which has to pass the match off as a coincidence and flounder over the problem of causality (how can subjective feelings be both causally separate from the workings of the brain – i.e. mere byproducts – and cause us to discuss them at the same time – i.e. be a big part of the process itself?). And here’s the brain, a physical organ of a complexity fully commensurate with the breadth and depth of human experience, being analyzed and increasingly being understood.

            The fact that you have to dismiss this as irrelevant before proceeding is, I believe, a gigantic mistake, a result of how you’ve framed the debate, and therefore a potential explanation for the flaws in your other arguments. You assume from the beginning that consciousness in the sense of subjectivity is utterly separate from the physical workings of the brain, and then create problems for yourself when you reject the evidence of neuroscience, and evolutionary and cognitive psychology, in favour of QM and “will power”, neither of which have a strong case or do any better in explaining the phenomenon. In conclusion, I stand by what I said before: that determinism is currently the best way to understand the mind, and fleshing out deterministic ethics should be our focus.

          • In reply to #125 by Zeuglodon:

            Your first paragraph makes it clear that you rely on reductionism but decline to follow it to its logical conclusion. Let me take the example you give later: Newtonian Gravitation. Newton knew it was a calculating tool, and refused to draw conclusions about the nature of reality (“Hypotheses non fingo”) although he did take infinite, invariant, flat Eulidean space as axiomatic (but we can ignore here that his approach also requires absolute time – implying infinite light speed). Einstein, on the other hand, produced a theory of gravity which depends on denying the Euclidean presupposition. You are in the position of claiming that, because Newton’s calculations work accurately enough in everyday contexts, reality is Newtonian in everyday contexts. Not so: General Relativity (or its eventual quantum successor) does not “take over” where Newton “breaks down”; GR (etc) was true all the way. And Quantum Mechanics, inconvenient though it may be, is true all the way.

            The lesson is that the little deviation you might ignore (Mercury’s anomalous orbit, say) is the clue to reality; ignoring rare exceptions is antiscientific.

            Re neural correlates and experience, changing brain states do indeed affect subjective experience. That statement is no more profound than saying that removing the eyes affects subjective exerience. The issue is whether the fact of subjective experience (in this discussion, particularly of free will) – not its varying contents – is understandably accounted for by brain states. “From the point of view of neuroscience, the correlation is simply a brute fact.” (David Chalmers) In declining to consider the qualitative fact of experience, just as much as in stopping short of thoroughgoing reductionism, you are losing sight of the thing we are trying to explain and the nature of the reality which should explain it.

            The dualism business is a tired old argument. Suppose consciousness to be made of X. X interacts with matter ergo no dualism. That’s even true for those theists who believed in preestablished harmony – for them, the interaction is via God. So-called property dualism is possible – a graviton and a photon exemplify it – but accusing someone of dualism is like accusing him of conjuring up Satan. It’s an impossible crime.

            I think other posters are right that this discussion has become weary, stale, flat and unprofitable. Clearly I put that down to your imperfect reductionism, though you would obviously have a different take. I deduce from your impatient tone (“Nonsense” etc), and your lengthy irrelevant lectures on blood circulation, glial cells, etc. (as if to the village idiot) that your position is entrenched and you expect me to bow to the length and strength of your language. I note that your MAJOR section in support of the position I didn’t want to waste time on is over half as long again as my entire post. Life is too short – I stand by my arguments which in no way depend on my attitude to CBA or Games Theory.

            BTW Marcus Aurelius: “Alone of the emperors, he gave proof of his learning not by mere words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life.” His work is one of the most widely read and admired moral texts. Where would you go for an account of people’s actual ethical concerns?

          • In reply to #128 by logicophilosophicus:

            In reply to #125 by Zeuglodon:

            Your first paragraph makes it clear that you rely on reductionism but decline to follow it to its logical conclusion.

            My first paragraph in that post was a set of examples of “macroscopic forces”, so how you get from there to reductionism isn’t clear to me. In any case, what conclusion are you talking about?

            Let me take the example you give later: Newtonian Gravitation… You are in the position of claiming that, because Newton’s calculations work accurately enough in everyday contexts, reality is Newtonian in everyday contexts. Not so: General Relativity (or its eventual quantum successor) does not “take over” where Newton “breaks down”; GR (etc) was true all the way. And Quantum Mechanics, inconvenient though it may be, is true all the way.

            Except I already acknowledged as such in this comment:

            The general principle here is that a model of how things work, even if superseded by a more comprehensive model, can still be more useful in understanding a subset of phenomena, and invoking the other model is unnecessary. In the case of QM, beyond the banal claim that it incorporates classical physics as a special subset, it is simply irrelevant to understanding how the brain and the mind work, akin to trying to explain how a car engine works by invoking quarks.

            My point is not that determinism is the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, but that it is sufficient to explain neural activity, if not in its entirety then for the vast majority of cases. Relativity supersedes Newtonian physics, but people will invoke the latter over the former to explain the motion of matter in everyday life. The reason Newtonian physics lasted so long in the first place was because it was extremely good at modelling most real-world physics in the first place.

            Also, I do not appreciate you putting words into my mouth, especially when your counterpoint was already discussed in my own post beforehand – several times, I might add.

            The lesson is that the little deviation you might ignore (Mercury’s anomalous orbit, say) is the clue to reality; ignoring rare exceptions is antiscientific.

            Science relies on statistical analyses that quantify frequencies and judge them against the predictions of a theory. Anyone familiar with the biological sciences knows how messy it gets. Furthermore, I am not ignoring “rare exceptions”. I am pointing out, yet again, that determinism is true for the vast majority of cases when it comes to neuroscience.

            Re neural correlates and experience, changing brain states do indeed affect subjective experience. That statement is no more profound than saying that removing the eyes affects subjective exerience… In declining to consider the qualitative fact of experience, just as much as in stopping short of thoroughgoing reductionism, you are losing sight of the thing we are trying to explain and the nature of the reality which should explain it.

            Au contraire, I maintain that you are still holding on to a dualistic account of the universe that cannot be justified on scientific grounds. The very notion of “neural correlates” assumes that there are two different entities that just happen to coincide, which is to assume the premise you seek to prove. Even if the brain’s states were not the ultimate location of consciousness, and I were to accept your premises, I maintain that you cannot provide an account of the universe that would explain it any better than the consciousness monistic viewpoint can. Not even QM helps here.

            The dualism business is a tired old argument. Suppose consciousness to be made of X. X interacts with matter ergo no dualism. That’s even true for those theists who believed in preestablished harmony – for them, the interaction is via God. So-called property dualism is possible – a graviton and a photon exemplify it – but accusing someone of dualism is like accusing him of conjuring up Satan. It’s an impossible crime.

            It does not follow. Unless X is matter itself, your position is dualism by default. Even property dualism comes down to “matter plus consciousness as a side effect”, which is to separate matter and consciousness as distinguishable entities. The current most defensible position is simply that consciousness is the total activity of the brain or of an equivalent computational mechanism, because that’s what the neuroscience and the physics can justify.

            I think other posters are right that this discussion has become weary, stale, flat and unprofitable. Clearly I put that down to your imperfect reductionism, though you would obviously have a different take.

            Reductionism in the sense of scientific explanation is currently the only means of making progress, because it involves looking at the components of the brain. I’m not particularly interested in whether you would call it “imperfect” or not, but the main reason for the repetitiveness of free will versus determinism debates owes more to people refusing to let free will go, even in the teeth of evidence.

            I deduce from your impatient tone (“Nonsense” etc),

            I call it as I see it. In any case, I did explain as well as I could why I thought it was nonsense, so don’t act as if I merely dismissed it without explanation.

            and your lengthy irrelevant lectures on blood circulation, glial cells, etc. (as if to the village idiot)

            I’m not being condescending in those places. In the one case, I was explaining what I meant by macroscopic forces, since you didn’t seem to understand why I’d used the term, and in the other, I was pointing out that the brain, the confirmed location of conscious activity, was made up of purely physical elements to reinforce my point about deterministic viewpoints. My posts are long, granted, but I want to make my position clear. You were under no obligation to read the whole thing, but dismissing it as an “irrelevant lecture” is both incredibly rude and comes off as suspiciously evasive.

            that your position is entrenched

            Not so. I’m perfectly willing to concede the active role QM plays in the brain if evidence were presented. For instance, if the exclusion principle could be invoked to explain an aspect of neuroanatomy or neurophysiology that would be unintelligible without it, then I would accept that. If you could justify treating conscious experience as anything other than simply the activity of the brain, which is what the science shows, without invoking a circular argument for dualism, then I would alter my position; not just reconsider the notion that the brain is the seat of consciousness, but also the notion that no physical or material object could be the seat of consciousness. I could be persuaded to reconsider the label “determinism” if its exact definition did not match what I actually thought it was; that an effect is the sum of prior causes, in part or in total, and therefore can be predicted to a reasonable degree of success if one has sufficient knowledge of the principles behind a system. What will not persuade me are arguments that I regard as fallacious or claims I do not think are justified, and accusations of close-mindedness will be utterly unhelpful.

            and you expect me to bow to the length and strength of your language.

            No. I hope to persuade you through reasoned argument, or at least to be persuaded by such. The accusation of snobbish loquaciousness in your comment comes across merely as an excuse on your part to evade the argument. At the risk of sounding frustrated again, spare me your ad hominem butt-hurt and get on with it.

            I note that your MAJOR section in support of the position I didn’t want to waste time on is over half as long again as my entire post. Life is too short – I stand by my arguments which in no way depend on my attitude to CBA or Games Theory.

            And I maintain that this is an error, due in no small part to your dualistic position, the premises of which I am questioning. You advance this part of the discussion not a jot, which doesn’t suggest to me that you have a real answer to it, much less that you have a cogent counterpoint.

            BTW Marcus Aurelius: “Alone of the emperors, he gave proof of his learning not by mere words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life.”

            “He’s a good man”, therefore “his moral views are correct” doesn’t wash with me. He has not conducted an anthropological survey on universal moral mores or studied psychology, so his works are indistinguishable from armchair speculation.

            His work is one of the most widely read and admired moral texts. Where would you go for an account of people’s actual ethical concerns?

            To the people themselves, which requires, as I’ve already explained, an anthropological, sociological, psychological, etc. analysis. The fact that pain is omitted itself suggests carelessness, and your appeal to authority here suggests you don’t actually appreciate scientific methodology here. I’ve even pointed out one of the sources I referenced – Better Angels – at least twice now, as it summarizes the work of people in such fields.

            You are mistaken if you think my confession of my own ignorance implied criticism of anyone else;

            Given the fact that you have:

            1. Quoted my own words back at me to suggest hypocrisy

            2. Pretty much admitted once or twice that you think I think I have the final answer on reality (especially with the comment of yours in response to my Newton analogy), despite repeated explanations of this point

            3. Unsubtly suggested I’m a verbose commenter who mistakes quantity for quality

            4. Followed this with a pompous quotation about looking at others before regarding oneself

            5. Euphemistically dismissed 1 as “encouragement” when it is plainly calling me out on my hypocrisy

            It’s hard to see your comment here as anything other than criticism mixed with rhetoric.

            In summary, I make the following criticisms of your position: that your arguments are unsound because you assume a dualistic stance and proceed from there, despite the evidence for monism as shown by the success and progress of neuroscience and related mind sciences; that QM is largely irrelevant to understanding how the brain, and therefore how the mind, works, akin to invoking quarks to explain how a car or a laptop works; and that free will is neither vindicated by any of the previous points, nor a coherent concept in its own right, akin to the concept of god, and therefore that a position akin to agnostic atheism and igtheism is warranted here.

          • In reply to #125 by Zeuglodon:

            Invoking QM to explain consciousness is onto a dead end because the non-classical elements of QM simply cancel out at the scale the brain operates on.

            This is just supposition. It was believed that biological systems were too large scale for quantum effects to be significant; but it appears that photosynthesis involves quantum entanglement, it is becoming more and more clear that smell is a quantum phenomena. And from Stapp’s paper, linked earlier we have this;

            “Indeed, a detailed examination based on an analysis of the critical
            brain process of exocytosis—the dumping of neurotransmitter molecules into the
            synaptic cleft that separate communicating neurons—shows that, at the level of
            basic principles, quantum mechanics must be used in the treatment of the
            dynamical processes occurring in human brains. (Schwartz, Stapp, and
            Beauregard, 2005)”

            Not only should we contemplate the possibility that the position you take here is mistaken, it seems we must take into account quantum mechanics when describing the actions within the brain. (This isn’t, btw, to argue that extra energy is being ‘transmitted’ into the brain….but then, quantum entanglement shows that energy does not necessarily have to be introduced in terms of the quantum state of a system)

          • In reply to #135 by Planck’s Constant:

            In reply to #125 by Zeuglodon:

            Invoking QM to explain consciousness is onto a dead end because the non-classical elements of QM simply cancel out at the scale the brain operates on.

            This is just supposition.

            No, it’s the reasonable conclusion to come to when examining the brain. No neuroscientist has to invoke QM to explain any part of neuroanatomy or neurophysiology. This is not the same as saying that QM does not underlie the physics. Again, Newton-Einstein analogy.

            It was believed that biological systems were too large scale for quantum effects to be significant; but it appears that photosynthesis involves quantum entanglement, it is becoming more and more clear that smell is a quantum phenomena.

            1. Two examples are not a very strong case.

            2. Do you have evidence for the latter? I have never heard of anything like it before.

            And from Stapp’s paper, linked earlier we have this;

            “Indeed, a detailed examination based on an analysis of the critical brain process of exocytosis—the dumping of neurotransmitter molecules into the synaptic cleft that separate communicating neurons—shows that, at the level of basic principles, quantum mechanics must be used in the treatment of the dynamical processes occurring in human brains. (Schwartz, Stapp, and Beauregard, 2005)”

            I’m presuming that this is the link you’re referring to?

            Not only should we contemplate the possibility that the position you take here is mistaken, it seems we must take into account quantum mechanics when describing the actions within the brain.

            OK, this is more like it. The evidence needs to be pretty good, but this is a promising start.

            However, this doesn’t make free will any more likely. Nor does it erase my point about determinism’s large role. I will concede that it shrinks it in favour of indeterminate factors, though. If it’s vindicated.

          • In reply to #148 by Zeuglodon:

            No, it’s the reasonable conclusion to come to when examining the brain. No neuroscientist has to invoke QM to explain any part of neuroanatomy or neurophysiology. This is not the same as saying that QM does not underlie the physics. Again, Newton-Einstein analogy.

            This presumes that current neuroanatomy and neurophysiology will explain consciousness. That is simply a held position. Until photsynthesis was understood as a quantum phenomena one could have said exactly the same about (the then current) plant biologists.

            Two examples are not a very strong case.

            Its a stronger case than one example. If the case is; here is a situation where it was also argued that one does not have to invoke QM, then the more examples that counteract that make the position less and less tenable. The position you have taken is that, in a situation where knowledge is limited many do not consider and stated that as they do not have to. There is a distinction.

            Do you have evidence for the latter? I have never heard of anything like it before.

            http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=smell%20quantum%20effect%20new%20scientist&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&sqi=2&ved=0CC4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.newscientist.com%2Fblogs%2Fshortsharpscience%2F2013%2F01%2Fquantum-smell-theory-causes-ne.html&ei=PtabUbqZM4So0AWTrICoDQ&usg=AFQjCNHivghLJU1E3g3HIY_0rqrv_wC6pw&bvm=bv.46751780,d.d2k

            To avoid suggestions of over-egging the case I have picked out a critical, questioning version of the story.

            As for 2 not being a particularly strong case (and my response)…how about 3

            http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=bird%20navigation%20quantum&source=web&cd=5&cad=rja&ved=0CFEQFjAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.newscientist.com%2Farticle%2Fdn22199-eye-bath-to-thank-for-quantum-vision-in-birds.html&ei=mtabUeGFBuGT0AXCjYGwBw&usg=AFQjCNEIKjTBZiaZjjBoPr8ArJCSnM3Lqw&bvm=bv.46751780,d.d2k

            OK, this is more like it. The evidence needs to be pretty good, but this is a promising start.

            However, this doesn’t make free will any more likely. Nor does it erase my point about determinism’s large role. I will concede that it shrinks it in favour of indeterminate factors, though. If it’s vindicated.

            In terms of indeterminate action/quantum effects being an aspect of mind I think that it is foolish to simply dismiss such an idea; to not even investigate it. A very interesting lecture was given about this by Karl Pribram.

            http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=karl%20pribram%20paricenter&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CC4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.paricenter.com%2Flibrary%2Fpapers%2Fpribram02.php&ei=S9mbUcCMHOqY1AX-4YCYBA&usg=AFQjCNFKsuie7g9bbxQv-2nBg24jv6UyNA

            I really would advise anybody interested in the brain/mind question to take the time to read this.

            As for the question of free will – that isn’t what I was responding to here, and there is a whole other argument I would use to suggest that the truly dualistic argument is the denial of self-will as an aspect of consciosuness. A consciousness that is simply a non-participatory viewer can only be a non-existent (physically) ghostly phantom. And how could such a phantom be subject to the physical inputs that build the illusion of existence – let alone how it could be in a position to suffer an illusion (ie it would be a non-physical construct)

      • In reply to #87 by logicophilosophicus:

        beta decay. Is it deterministic? . If (as I suspect, and as Einstein certainly believed) the answer is yes…

        I take it this refers to the Einstein quote: “God does not play dice”.

  36. Why would you reward and punish a non-decision-making entity (consciousness) with pleasure and pain if, precisely, this entity is only a witness of chemical decision making ? Why punish and reward a mere witness with such vivid intensity when the very function of punishment and reward is precisely to teach agents how to better avoid pain and seek pleasure? Does nature usually spend so much energy in absolutely useless processes ?

    I heard everything there is to hear about determinism and reductionism. That was not very complicated. I will go on listening to anti-free-will arguments the day science shows that conscious pain, conscious pleasure and conscious deliberation have no metabolic costs, and therefore could have no evolutionary benefit.

    • In reply to #85 by Ornicar:

      Why would you reward and punish a non-decision-making entity (consciousness)

      Consciousness is the decision-making entity, at least based on neuroscience. Decision-making is a macroscopic computational algorithm or set of algorithms that is dependent upon inputs. Consciousness is the sum activity of such algorithms in a machine; it isn’t a mystical aura or ghost in the machine, passive or not.

      with pleasure and pain if, precisely, this entity is only a witness of chemical decision making?

      Please note:

      1. Your premises are flawed. The entity is not a witness separate from the decision-making machinery involved. It is the decision-making machinery.

      2. How the heck would reward and punishment even work in the absence of a decision-making entity that could be modified in response? The notions of discouragement, deterrence, and encouragement rely on such things.

      3. Reward and punishment aren’t the only ways to deal with crime. I mentioned at least two others: isolation, and rehabilitation.

      Why punish and reward a mere witness with such vivid intensity when the very function of punishment and reward is precisely to teach agents how to better avoid pain and seek pleasure?

      See above.

      Does nature usually spend so much energy in absolutely useless processes?

      Putting aside the issue of consciousness, I get the impression you think I think the brain’s evolution is redundant. On the contrary, the brain has to be a complicated machine because each component of its decision-making structure must map onto a real-world contingency it has to model. This inevitably leads to a lot of missing information in the final model, so it has to focus on the few bits that are relevant. So, in answer to your question, no, but the very asking of the question is invalid.

      I heard everything there is to hear about determinism and reductionism.

      Really? I only seem to hear about it in the context of free will, which gets way more attention. And causality, one of the components of determinism, is a pretty big concept by itself. There’s also its relevance to physics and to engineering, and its applications on both the macroscale and at the quantum level. As for reductionism, I rather think it goes underappreciated as a method for understanding things. I personally prefer scientific reductionism, or hierarchical reductionism as Dawkins calls it, over the philosophically dubious version, but there you are. And I almost never hear about “reductionism” in any good sense.

      That was not very complicated. I will go on listening to anti-free-will arguments

      Since I think free will is an incoherent concept, I have to wonder what the rebuttals to “free will” are actually rebutting. I only recently developed a similar view towards theism, so I consider a free-will version of igtheism to be quite appropriate.

      the day science shows that conscious pain, conscious pleasure and conscious deliberation have no metabolic costs, and therefore could have no evolutionary benefit.

      Here’s an interesting thought: is there such a thing as unconscious pain, unconscious pleasure, and unconscious deliberation in the real world, or is it impossible? Vis-a-vis the philosophical zombie, is it that the required machinery necessitates the existence of consciousness, or is it that the relevant machinery is not present in this particular example, despite appearing otherwise? I won’t wander too far off topic, but if consciousness, for all intents and purposes, is a brain or thinking machine, then where is such a debate about whether such a machine “really” has consciousness or not even going?

      In case you find my response incomprehensible, I’m speaking in terms of consciousness monism, the position that “consciousness” is not a separate phenomenon that co-occurs with brain activity, but is identical to brain activity, just as one plus one plus two is identical to four. Hopefully, my comment will make a bit more sense in this light.

      • In reply to #88 by Zeuglodon:

        Consciousness is the decision-making entity, at least based on neuroscience.

        Well, no. Neuroscience says otherwise. The most that can be said of consciousness is that it seems to relate to some high degree of saliency with which an experience is tagged as a candidate for memorising. Decisions made are salient and worthy of remembering.

        With you on the fatuousness of debating a meaningless concept, though. I tend to talk of autonomous will, to make people pause and not presume.

      • In reply to #88 by Zeuglodon:

        Hi, Zeuglodon.

        Just to make things clear, I consider myself a monist as well. Consciousness is brain activity just like pumping is pump activity, and is irreducible to the pump parts. And when I wrote about punishment and reward, I was referring to pleasure and pain as natural motivators, not to legal systems.

        About absolute determinism, it seems to be the default position among atheists, usually explained at length with lots of punctuations like ”I wish these free will debates were ended”. It might be a cultural thing but, for me, free will is a philosophical question, not a religious dogma. I feel no emotion for or against the wording, even in my native language.

        And reductionism is fine. As long as you don’t expect it to work on a fractal, of course. It is useless on scale free systems. So if, by any chance, consciousness had some fractal structure, reductionism would not be an efficient method to comprehend it all.

        I mean conscious pain as opposed to the reflex to move your arm away when feeling a sharp sting, for example, that makes the arm move even before the pain became conscious, and would be sufficient to protect the body from immediate destruction. But then you start feeling “conscious pain”, and it might hurt for hours even though all danger is long gone. So what is the point of that suffering if consciousness is only an epiphenomenon ? I would be fine if cells in my brain could just rearrange themselves so that I remember never to touch fire again without my ego having to witness pain signals for days if I am not the decision maker.

        What do you think freedom is ? Imagine Freeman, your absolute free man ! He can want whatever he wants. Freeman is dropped into an environment. What would Freeman do ? Randomly wander until he falls in a hole, sit on the ground and wait for someone to decide for him, or adapt himself to his environment by testing what feels good and bad to him, learning to like and dislike, how to seek and what to avoid ?

        If you ask Freeman to raise his left hand or his right hand (or both or none), he would do what any free man would do : there is absolutely no reason to choose one over the others, so he will toss a coin or recall his most recent memories for inspiration. Now ask Freeman which of his hands he would like to see chopped off (left, right, both or none). What would a free man choose ? What would you choose ? Oh, you chose “none”,and this choice was totally determined by factors you had no influence over and not with your sense of self as a central decider ? Boy, you are so lucky !

        Not only do we “feel” free, but we behave exactly like Freeman would.

        • In reply to #90 by phil rimmer:

          In reply to #88 by Zeuglodon:

          Consciousness is the decision-making entity, at least based on neuroscience.

          Well, no. Neuroscience says otherwise. The most that can be said of consciousness is that it seems to relate to some high degree of saliency with which an experience is tagged as a candidate for memorising. Decisions made are salient and worthy of remembering.

          I appreciate that the word consciousness is ambiguous, and I take responsibility for any subsequent confusions that arise, since I introduced the term to the discussion. However, in the sense I originally meant, which was that of raw subjective experience, I might refer you to the Cambridge statement on the matter, which is a declaration by neuroscientists that consciousness is the sum activity of the brain. However, on your own terms – by which, I mean “consciousness” in the sense of advanced parts of the brain that monitor and keep information on “lower-level” experiences such that one can talk about them in conscious language – I concede your point.

          With you on the fatuousness of debating a meaningless concept, though. I tend to talk of autonomous will, to make people pause and not presume.

          Well, I don’t deny there is a real-world distinction to be made here, and autonomy is as good a concept as any for capturing it. Not sure I’d use the term autonomous will myself, but it is an improvement over the free will concept, and I don’t want to be pernickety.

          In reply to #91 by Ornicar:

          In reply to #88 by Zeuglodon:

          Hi, Zeuglodon.

          Just to make things clear, I consider myself a monist as well. Consciousness is brain activity just like pumping is pump activity, and is irreducible to the pump parts. And when I wrote about punishment and reward, I was referring to pleasure and pain as natural motivators, not to legal systems.

          This should save time, then.

          About absolute determinism, it seems to be the default position among atheists,

          Not necessarily. I don’t know how the proportions work out, but I think there are more compatibilists than incompatibilists among atheists. I can’t confirm this, however, short of finding the relevant polls.

          In any case, I do not class myself as an absolute determinist. I can give leeway to stochastic/probabilistic, and/or random/indeterminate components to the universe, though I withhold judgement until I can better understand quantum mechanics.

          usually explained at length with lots of punctuations like ”I wish these free will debates were ended”.

          I was expressing my exasperation at the inordinate frequency with which these debates continue, despite determinism having the strongest side. I feel the same way about atheism vs. theism and evolution vs. creationism debates. Couple that with the moralistic nature of many free will arguments, especially how it seems like ethics can’t exist without free will, and I suspect the main reason for its persistence is misplaced wishful thinking.

          It might be a cultural thing but, for me, free will is a philosophical question, not a religious dogma. I feel no emotion for or against the wording, even in my native language.

          My emotions toward the concept are irrelevant. For what it’s worth, I find it not only unlikely to be true, but incoherent as a concept. The irritation comes in when people yet insist on debating it. In any case, it doesn’t make a difference to me whether it’s religious specifically or philosophical in general. Its weaknesses as a concept remain either way.

          And reductionism is fine. As long as you don’t expect it to work on a fractal, of course. It is useless on scale free systems. So if, by any chance, consciousness had some fractal structure, reductionism would not be an efficient method to comprehend it all.

          In the event that a structure in the brain worked via a fractal – which I consider unlikely – the fact would only be revealed by trying to break it down into components in the first place. In any case, that does not bother me so much. Chaos theory still relies on determinism in the first place.

          I mean conscious pain as opposed to the reflex to move your arm away when feeling a sharp sting, for example, that makes the arm move even before the pain becomes conscious and would be sufficient to protect the body from immediate destruction. But then you start feeling “conscious pain”, and it might hurt for hours even though all danger is long gone. So what is the point of that suffering if consciousness is only an epiphenomenon?

          But I don’t think those specific feelings are epiphenomena at all. See above for the distinction I made between different types of consciousness to philrimmer. The specific conscious phenomenon of pain would have to be a structure in the brain that processes the specific emotions – say, the amygdala or any of the basal ganglia – because it had a causal effect on one’s subsequent behaviour. It doesn’t come for free, but would have to be put in there specially by genetic embryology as a product of natural selection. The best explanation I’ve seen for the existence of such emotions – which are, I might add, a subset of conscious experiences – comes from How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker, who pointed out that a built-in set of emotions is an effective means of setting the body to prioritize conflicting tasks in any given moment, including social tasks. A sensing machine wouldn’t actually be much good if it didn’t really sense things.

          I would be fine if cells in my brain could just rearrange themselves so that I remember never to touch fire again without my ego having to witness pain signals for days if I am not the decision maker.

          I’ve already pointed out why I don’t think emotions and so on are epiphenomena. I won’t repeat myself, but I will point out that there are real life cases of people who lack the ability to feel real pain, and virtually all of them either give themselves horrific injuries by accident or unintentionally kill themselves.

          What do you think freedom is?

          In any sense I can make out, lack of restraint on your behaviour, e.g. by coercion, threat, self-denial, or someone physically manhandling you. Even then, there are options to resist, just not very good ones, but only if the individual in question is the sort of person who would resist. And that’s decided by how their brains are built, which relies heavily on genetic influence or on environmental influence, and embryological factors, internal conditions of the body, etc. There’s just no getting away from determinism even in this concept of freedom.

          Imagine Freeman, your absolute free man ! He can want whatever he wants.

          So what does he want? He has to have some pre-set wants for that even to be possible.

          Freeman is dropped into an environment. What would Freeman do? Randomly wander until he falls in a hole, sit on the ground and wait for someone to decide for him,

          He’s already making behavioural decisions. Just not very intelligent ones. Also, see below.

          or adapt himself to his environment by testing what feels good and bad to him, learning to like and dislike, how to seek and what to avoid?

          I might add that learning mechanisms require pre-set machinery. They don’t come for free with a brain either.

          So it’s a choice between determinism and randomness? I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove here. There’s no such thing as an absolute free man because his design specifications would rely on determinism like any other mechanism. Merely being ignorant of what goes on in his head proves nothing, and being unpredictable doesn’t open a window for free will either because chaotic determinism can adequately cover it. Chaos theory shows that even an unpredictable system still relies on causal factors; it merely noted that early changes can have dramatic consequences later on, and found mathematical means of expressing the concept.

          If you ask Freeman to raise his left hand or his right hand (or both or none), he would do what any free man would do : there is absolutely no reason to choose one over the others, so he will toss a coin or recall his most recent memories for inspiration. Now ask Freeman which of his hands he would like to see chopped off (left, right, both or none). What would a free man choose ? What would you choose ? Oh, you chose “none”,and this choice was totally determined by factors you had no influence over and not with your sense of self as a central decider ? Boy, you are so lucky !

          Not only do we “feel” free, but we behave exactly like Freeman would.

          I don’t get it. If your sarcastic thought experiment was supposed to buoy up the case for free will, then it’s doing an abysmal job. Decision-making systems have to be built out of physical machines to work, i.e. they require the ability to manipulate known causal factors, i.e, they depend on determinism to work. This is why we are utterly at sea in the face of a random event; there’s no causal factor to latch on to or to exploit. Determinism does not render the notion of making decisions unnecessary, because decision-making requires a machine to change its state from ignorance of how to proceed to knowledge of how best to go about it, usually, which is independent of the question of to what extent the universe depends on causality. Genes could not rely on bodies happening to know how to deal with the minutae of everyday experience, so they had to build brains to do it in real-time on their behalf. By reduction ad absurdum, you expect me to believe they shouldn’t have bothered, ergo computers and brains have no evolutionary reason to exist, ergo they don’t exist.

          So by what mechanism does a “Freeman” make any decision (toss a coin, consult his memories, etc.), never mind a “free” decision? You skipped over that part, which is the flaw in the free will debate. As Hume pointed out, albeit in other words: heads, determinism; tails, randomness.

  37. Why do you think each choice you make is made in isolation from the choices you made earlier and will also not effect the choices you make later? Your question depends on how you understand the “will”. As an isolated entity, independent of influence or as a whole causal continuum. In a universe of causality it would have to be the later as nothing can exist that is not part of that process. So you are far more than the sum of your parts. Your will, or you, your self etc is the manifestation of an infinite number of events from exploding stars to your mother not having a headache on the night of your conception. You are the whole of life experiencing itself in this moment of you reading this comment. Now what will you do next?

  38. In reply to #94 by Smill:

    In reply to Zeuglodon, post 92. You win the prize for the longest post about a subject you didn’t wish to discuss in the first place. : )

    I wanted to submit a discussion solely devoted to deterministic ethics, but when I did it months ago, nothing showed up on the site. Sadly, this sort of thread is about as good as it’s going to get. :(

  39. Zeuglodon, what you seem to not understand, is that nobody contests determinism. At least, I don’t. So I understand you think people are just stupid because they don’t accept your point of view, but I fully accept it. I simply push it a step farther.

    You seem to argue that, as soon as an individual is exposed to an environment, it is influenced by this environment and therefore not free. What you miss is that the very idea of freedom is meaningless outside any form of environment. Freedom is freedom to interact with an environment. It implies the capacity to adapt to this environment to get the better of it. I mean environment in a broad sense which, from the point of view of your consciousness, can include your own body (genes, hormones…)

    What I mean is that, if Freeman is free, how would we observe that he is free? Randomness is not freedom. Passivity is not freedom. The capacity for adaptation is freedom. So that is what Freeman would do if he were free. And as soon as a choice becomes meaningful (not just raise one hand or pick a random city), then freedom is not any more the capacity to make a choice (randomness does that) but the capacity (not the obligation) to make the right choice. And for this, determinism, at least at the macroscopic scale, is very much needed. One could have no freedom in an indeterministic (macroscopic) universe. A free choice is an informed choice.

  40. If anyone wants evidence of “determinism”, – Read technical accident investigation reports which track back to causes. They also tend to illustrate the difference between the inevitable “determinism” of nature, and “predictability” by humans.

  41. Yes. However, belief that you have the ability to affect future events is useful in motivating the construction of models based on imperfect information. That you could not have constructed any other models is irrelevant: the predictive function is selected for, nature of the universe be damned. Prediction requires conception of alternative outcomes– this then becomes part of the system of events. Anticipation and imagination of contingencies necessary to deal with the imperfections of modelling and information about the world give the impression/intuition you are affecting the world. In truth, you are imagining a world state, then attempting (enacting imagination with feedback) the actions required to achieve it. That is not changing the world from what it would otherwise be, it is finding a path to an imagined state (or an approximation of it).

    In short: the world differs from how it would be if you didn’t exist or plan. But the thing is, you do.

    • In reply to #103 by Zeuglodon:

      I’m afraid I’m still not following.

      I’m dead sure you aren’t.


      In reply to #101 by PERSON:

      Yes. However, belief that you have the ability to affect future events is useful in motivating the construction of models based on imperfect information. That you could not have constructed any other models is irrelevant:

      Actually you could have. Sure, you couldn’t have done otherwise in the very same circumstances. But you could have in very similar circumstances. That is what is relevant for any practical concern about choices.

  42. In reply to #99 by Ornicar:

    Zeuglodon, what you seem to not understand, is that nobody contests determinism.

    Nobody from which population? The users on this one thread, the two of us, people in any particular nation, or everybody on the planet? Depending on the extent of “nobody”, your point varies from correct to way off target. Among philosophers alone, the figures suggest there are more libertarians than determinists, and try bringing up the topic anywhere except here on the Internet. Odds are a fair number of people will contest it.

    At least, I don’t. So I understand you think people are just stupid because they don’t accept your point of view

    Painting me as a smug snob isn’t going to help your argument one jot, and I do not appreciate such second-guessing in your comments. Will you please keep it relevant to the topic?

    but I fully accept it. I simply push it a step farther.

    I’ll see how this goes.

    You seem to argue that, as soon as an individual is exposed to an environment, it is influenced by this environment and therefore not free.

    If I am giving that impression, then I apologize, because my argument is not even remotely close to that. Forget the environment: the individual is already pre-set by events occurring before they were even born. However able to adapt to an environment an organism is, it is still a Darwinian machine, a device – however complex – with built-in constraints and limitations. Conception, embryological development, the history of the world at large up until that point, all of that shapes and sets up the design of the individual before they even step into an environment. The very mechanism by which they might undo these effects is another mechanism that came about by similar means. Self-control, for instance, gives the impression of subverting instincts that were the products of upbringing, genes, environment, etc., and it does. However, note that self-control itself is a product of those same forces, as are any machinery designed to help the organism adapt to real-time changes, both ASAP and in the distant future. I don’t know whether that qualifies it as “free” or not, but while I can concede such an individual has autonomy, I must point out that there are still limits to its behaviour.

    What you miss is that the very idea of freedom

    Can you give an example please of “freedom”? I’m having difficulty appreciating your point, firstly because it’s a rebuttal to a point I never made (or at least never intended to make), and secondly because your later comments about freedom being the capacity to make the right choice don’t seem to mesh with what I’ve said. The very ability to make decisions is determined by pre-set machinery in the brain, so it is not, in the wider view, “free” because it comes with physical constraints. The ability to adapt to an environment and to make the right choices don’t seem relevant to the point about determinism, and if you agree with determinism, then what exactly are you arguing against?

    is meaningless outside any form of environment. Freedom is freedom to interact with an environment. It implies the capacity to adapt to this environment to get the better of it.

    But freedom from what? Coercion, physical constraints, or self-restraint? I need some explanation of what you mean here. The most recognizable freedom to me is political freedom, which is largely based around presupposing that people have their own tastes in various areas of life, and involves a legal and political infrastructure that says “so long as it doesn’t harm others, it’s OK to do what you want” as opposed to forcing people to do things they don’t want or have to do.

    I mean environment in a broad sense which, from the point of view of your consciousness, can include your own body (genes, hormones…)

    As mentioned before, I’m not talking about the environment or dancing around the individual. I’m going straight to the individual itself, because my point is that our knowledge about the individual has shown us that, physically, it is a machine. A very unusual machine, granted, and a machine of unique design and inordinate complexity, but a machine nonetheless, and no one is rushing to make arguments on behalf of the freedom of supercomputers or birds because no one has any affinity for those things such that they would have any need to argue for them. We’d just accept that they are the stuff engineers could examine, and not try to redefine freedom or free will for. The very existence of this thread is a symptom of our collective inability to let go of some form of free will, just as people will endlessly, pointlessly, and misleadingly redefine and reconceptualize god rather than just face facts and go atheist.

    What I mean is that, if Freeman is free, how would we observe that he is free? Randomness is not freedom. Passivity is not freedom. The capacity for adaptation is freedom.

    Why is it, exactly? By your definition here, evolving lineages are free because they have the capacity for adaptation. Yet a glance at the logic tells you that adaptation is an automatic effect of environmental change, as inevitable as water flowing downhill on the planet surface. Getting back to individual organisms rather than to evolving lineages, you run into the same problem. Self-generated behaviour relies on the effects of processes happening across the brain’s physical structure. Granted, it’s sophisticated and functional, but it is effectively running super-complex algorithms that effect each other. If you wish to call it freedom to do this, then, again, what exactly is freedom?

    So that is what Freeman would do if he were free. And as soon as a choice becomes meaningful (not just raise one hand or pick a random city), then freedom is not any more the capacity to make a choice (randomness does that) but the capacity (not the obligation) to make the right choice. And for this, determinism, at least at the macroscopic scale, is very much needed. One could have no freedom in an indeterministic (macroscopic) universe. A free choice is an informed choice.

    I’m afraid I’m still not following. I don’t know what you’re trying to capture with this notion of freedom as merely an informed choice, if only because it appears incredibly idiosyncratic. Nor do I understand what this has to do with my point about jettisoning concepts like free will and compatibilism and focusing instead on deterministic ethics and philosophy, and I would be interested in a definition of freedom to clarify it. In any case, I’m getting the impression I didn’t convey my point very well, and I’m not sure this isn’t a tortuous way of shoehorning something similar to free will into a deterministic worldview on your part.

    I’m not even entirely convinced that you are monist. Your first comment in rebuttal of mine contains a prime example of property dualism, when you described consciousness as a witness of chemical decision making, effectively as a passive observer independent of the brain’s functioning. You seem to think it’s some rebuttal of my point to describe a human responding to a question about which hand to raise or to have chopped off, despite the fact that my point is that this is deterministic anyway, yet in that same comment you seemed to agree with me that it is deterministic. You also suggest that free will is a philosophical question as opposed to a religious dogma. I have pointed out that it makes no difference either way, but I might note it seems unlikely you would even say this unless you thought it was, again, a rebuttal to some point I’m making. The fact is that free will is conspicuously religious in nature, but it would still be incoherent and flawed even if it wasn’t, and it impedes rather than improves understanding whichever way you look at it.

    Lastly, I think it would help if I posted some blogs by Jerry Coyne to better clarify where I’m coming from with my original post, as they were the things that got me thinking about it in the first place:

    What is compatibilism, really?

    Why we need to dispel the notion of dualistic free will

    A Gedankenexperiment on free will

    Jim Al-Khalili mistakes unpredictability for free will

    This is not a complete list of examples of cases where free will has been defended despite the obvious strength of the case for determinism, but I think it will suffice for now.

    • In reply to #103 by Zeuglodon:

      Jim Al Kahlili’s use of unpredictability as a necessary or even defining attribute of free will is important as I suspect it is one of the key drivers for the evolution of behaviours that we term this way. Striving not to be creatures of habit when observed or confronted is very valuable.

  43. IMO, yes, the concept of ‘free will’ is absolutely an illusion, completely impossible to execute. Reason being, each and every choice/decision we humans make is influenced by either internal or external stimuli. The very fact that I am replying to this post was not of free will, but rather, I read this post and was influenced to choose to do so.

  44. @alistair.scott.71: “Imagine we were able to clone the early universe, an absolutely perfect clone, right down to the exact position of all its particles and then press play. Surely an exact clone would result in an exact copy of the universe we see today, right down to the little details – including myself starting this discussion.”

    This assumption of yours is false, for two reasons: First, even if “universe 2.0″ was a perfect clone in the beginning, quantum statistics would ensure that it depart from our own universe’s trajectory somewhere on its way into the present. Second, many of the processes that eventually led from the early universe to your and your brain’s existence are intrinsically chaotic. After billions of years, the cumulative butterfly effect acting on these quantum fluctuations could produce a “universe 2.0″ and a “you 2.0″ today that look profoundly different from ours.

    The question of free will, then, becomes this: In the immediate neighborhood of the current state of the world, which includes the state of your brain as a subset, are there states in which your brain takes different paths from the one it’s taking right now — a bifurcation your consciousness then experiences as a choice? And is this kind of bifurcation enough to account for free will? Daniel Dennett answers “yes” in his book “Freedom Evolves”. Robert Penrose answers “no” in his book “The Emperor’s new mind”. Both books are brilliant. I recommend that you read them, then make up your own mind.

    Meanwhile, whether you end up agreeing with Dennett or Penrose, your thought experiment here does not imply what you think it does.

    Cheers, Thomas.

  45. Ultimately the only way free will can be a useful term is in the legal test “of your own free will”, which relates to questions of ownership of and responsibility for your actions.

    We generally seek to own (to its perceived roots) most of our actions. If anything, if the actions are generally agreed to be good, we will over claim our level of ownership. Interestingly, observers may see more clearly those causal roots and think our ownership claims excessive. This is inevitable, in that the information or ideas we receive and find most useful is the information that is retrieved from and returned to our memory most often. We now have a better understanding of this process and know that memories are returned changed by there last use. The new contexts of use tend to occlude the old and changes of comprehension are often retro applied to those earlier contexts. The information becomes ours, though once it wasn’t. Outside observers know better.

    Derren Brown and the like note that a few individuals are hugely suggestible.and can be made to do the most outrageous things, but more interestingly we all are manipulate-able at a subtler level. This (Derren Brown’s “pet cemetery” episode controlling the thinking of a bunch of advertisers) shows the dramatic influence of our environment. Recent research shows all manner of independent but analogous concepts injected just before we make a decision bias those decisions. All this without the least conscious decision making going on. This is not new data we consciously process. The argument for not just embodied cognition but even situated cognition grows daily in my view.

    This elasticity of what constitutes us, our thoughts and ownership of them, directly challenges the libertarian ambition of a world consisting only of maximally independent moral entities. Its a fine ambition and can never be realised.

    Skeptics lead the way in maximally freeing us and thereby making us more accountable.

    • In reply to #110 by phil rimmer:

      Recent research shows all manner of independent but analogous concepts injected just before we make a decision bias those decisions. All this without the least conscious decision making going on. This is not new data we consciously process.

      Agreed. That’s Sartrian existentialism. Man is his lived experience.

      But note that, if that’s agreed, then man is not determined by his lived experience, for that would mean he his determined by himself. Self determined. Free.

      Careful with Derren Brown. He is not a scientist but a conjurer. Sure, some scientific wisdom underlies Derren’s tricks, but when he really goes over the top, that is not science any more but conjuring. Take the giraffe trick, for example. Impressive, isn’t it. But then, every customer coming into that shop that day would buy a giraffe toy too. But we know that such subliminal advertisement will only sell a few more giraffes everyday, not only giraffes, as Derren Brown would love us to believe.

  46. It will probably seem counterintuitive, but I do not think determinism is a problem for free will. Free will is self determinism. If I always do what I want to and you know what I want, you will be able to predict my behavior. So what? I think it comes down to whether or not the brain behaves holistically or not. If so, there is a self to do the determining. Naturalism would suffice, no souls need apply.

  47. Well, look at it this way. The way the human mind works, it is impossible for us to make a decision without first considering all the options. The human mind will always weigh the facts or options before choosing one way or another. Then we must also factor in ones state of mind at the time a decision is made because different moods produce different results as well.

    I just do not see how we can make a ‘free’ choice because, no matter what, we are going to be influenced by both internal and external stimuli.

    Basically, we are able to make a choice, but not one free from influences.

  48. This discussion is going nowhere because Zeuglodon and Logicophilisophicus won’t let it. Because of determinism, Logicophil thinks there must be some unknown physics that makes consciousness and free will possible. Zeuglodon thinks there is too much determinism to make free will possible, but he must believe choice is possible in order to make deterministic ethics coherent. Some determinists think that choice is not possible because the initial state of the universe and physics have predetermined the future.

    The common understanding of free will is that you can do what you want and that you can create new wants by conscious contemplation of possible future scenarios. Human beings are born with built-in wants and a will (a built-in drive to try to find a way to satisfy a want.) A person can create a new want by contemplating the future and associating the new want with existing built-in and learned wants. The new want would then have to compete with other wants to be satisfied by the ‘will’. Since the will requires a ‘want’, the ‘will’ couldn’t be free, so it might be better to call the process ‘free want’.

    The problem with determinists is that they don’t really address the issue of what is doing the determining. It is just assumed to be the movement of particles and atoms and the laws of physics, but the movement of particles and atoms don’t necessarily make anything happen. They have to be organized into complex systems to make something happen. The component parts of a system may CAUSE something to happen, but it is the structure of the complex system that DETERMINES what happens. That is because the same parts assembled in a different way will likely cause something different to happen.

    Complex systems determine what happens and complex systems have been evolving by a process of random changes (usually caused by the breakdown of order) and some kind of filtering or selection (probably the ability to exist longer.) Some complex systems are now being designed by human beings to make something happen that never happened before (except in the mind of the inventor.)

    The reason human beings can make a reasoned choice is that we are complex systems and our brain is a complex system that can alter its own structure (by remembering thoughts of the future) to make something new happen.

    • In reply to #119 by jimblake:

      This discussion is going nowhere because Zeuglodon and Logicophilisophicus won’t let it. Because of determinism, Logicophil thinks there must be some unknown physics that makes consciousness and free will possible. Zeuglodon thinks there is too much determinism to make free will possible, but he must believe choice is possible in order to make deterministic ethics coherent.

      I merely point out that the brain is a decision-making machine that accepts inputs and processes them according to computational logic in order to produce behaviours that achieve its goals. I don’t argue that determinism renders free will impossible. I argue that free will is not a coherent concept in the first place, and is almost certainly wrong, and I made the analogy between this debate and the positions of atheism and igtheism to make my meaning clearer.

      My own view is that “choosing” is an extremely shorthand description of how the brain works. The mechanisms behind choosing are just as much determined by physical laws as the mechanisms of the aqueduct or my personal laptop.

      Some determinists think that choice is not possible because the initial state of the universe and physics have predetermined the future.

      Everyday choice is a phenomenon that can be studied. What I think most determinists object to is some metaphysical equivalent such as free will, which obscures more than it reveals.

      The common understanding of free will is that you can do what you want and that you can create new wants by conscious contemplation of possible future scenarios. Human beings are born with built-in wants and a will (a built-in drive to try to find a way to satisfy a want.) A person can create a new want by contemplating the future and associating the new want with existing built-in and learned wants. The new want would then have to compete with other wants to be satisfied by the ‘will’. Since the will requires a ‘want’, the ‘will’ couldn’t be free, so it might be better to call the process ‘free want’.

      It would be better from a scientific viewpoint to just drop the terms altogether and describe voluntary action, volition, decision-making algorithms, goal states, and other computational terminology, if only because such terms don’t invite free-will-advocates through the back door in the same way ID invites creationists into the science class under a respectable veneer. In the vernacular, there’s no problem with saying someone chose to do something, but when we’re trying to explain this phenomenon, it pays to be stricter with one’s language.

      The problem with determinists is that they don’t really address the issue of what is doing the determining. It is just assumed to be the movement of particles and atoms and the laws of physics, but the movement of particles and atoms don’t necessarily make anything happen.

      But it is the movement of particles and atoms etc., if not at the quantum level, then generally above it. Concepts like evolution aren’t born out of the primordial universe like ghosts waiting to inhabit bodies. They emerge as inevitable consequences of the laws of the universe under certain conditions, for instance with the formation of a replicator molecule that has the necessary physical qualities.

      They have to be organized into complex systems to make something happen. The component parts of a system may CAUSE something to happen, but it is the structure of the complex system that DETERMINES what happens. That is because the same parts assembled in a different way will likely cause something different to happen.

      Determination is not different from causality. It’s a description of causality, and thus I find it hard to understand why you draw such a distinction as though the differences were dramatic. Also, if you’re referring to chaos theory or to its equivalents, I might point out that these are not antitheses to determinism. They showed, using mathematical and graphical models, that a system can be changed dramatically and unpredictably as a result of minor changes in the initial conditions. They don’t upend determinism at all because the models still use deterministic causality.

      Complex systems determine what happens and complex systems have been evolving by a process of random changes (usually caused by the breakdown of order) and some kind of filtering or selection (probably the ability to exist longer.)

      This seems to me to be just a fancy way of pointing out that systems tend towards stable forms overtime. Nothing is gained by invoking selection too readily, because the word is reserved for the specific conditions of biological evolution, which requires preconditions such as heredity, population, mutation, etc. Also, I think emergent properties are what you’re aiming for, which in any case emerge as inevitable consequences of lower-level processes and therefore don’t refute determinism.

      Some complex systems are now being designed by human beings to make something happen that never happened before (except in the mind of the inventor.)

      The reason human beings can make a reasoned choice is that we are complex systems and our brain is a complex system that can alter its own structure (by remembering thoughts of the future) to make something new happen.

      Those new things are built out of pre-existing materials, and hence fully determined. As I pointed out with evolution above, emergent properties don’t invalidate determinism at all because they all reduce, sooner or later, to the interactions of the parts, which have their own properties that make them work. Combinatorial flexibility is not the same as defying predetermined states. Even in the unlikely case in which something new literally popped into existence with no prior cause, its subsequent interaction with the rest of the universe would be fully deterministic.

      • In reply to #126 by Zeuglodon:

        In reply to #119 by jimblake:

        Determination is not different from causality. It’s a description of causality, and thus I find it hard to understand why you draw such a distinction as though the differences were dramatic. Also, if you’re referring to chaos theory or to its equivalents, I might point out that these are not antitheses to determinism. They showed, using mathematical and graphical models, that a system can be changed dramatically and unpredictably as a result of minor changes in the initial conditions. They don’t upend determinism at all because the models still use deterministic causality

        Everything that happens is caused by the same thing: energy. So why doesn’t only one thing happen? It’s because of all the complexity. Basically, underlying all the complexity, only one thing IS happening: an overall loss of order. Locally, there can be systems that increase or decrease in order, because energy from one system can be taken to increase the order in another system. When something happens, that is all it is: an increase in order in one system at the expense of a larger decrease in order in another system. That is why I say that the energy input into a system causes SOMETHING to happen, but it is the structure of the system that determines WHAT will happen.
        >

        Those new things are built out of pre-existing materials, and hence fully determined. As I pointed out with evolution above, emergent properties don’t invalidate determinism at all because they all reduce, sooner or later, to the interactions of the parts, which have their own properties that make them work. Combinatorial flexibility is not the same as defying predetermined states. Even in the unlikely case in which something new literally popped into existence with no prior cause, its subsequent interaction with the rest of the universe would be fully deterministic.

        When a complex system evolves or is designed, it is built with pre-existing materials. This does not mean that it is pre-determined. It is its unique structure that makes it something new. I’m not saying that there is no determinism, just that the universe consists of random and deterministic processes, and as a result of the interaction between them, new deterministic processes are always evolving or being designed which make it possible for more things to happen.

  49. Sometimes I have the power to choose between x, y and z, but it was external influences that provided x, y and z in the first place. If I existed apart from these so called external influences, which I take to include my DNA and all other environmental factors, then logically I couldn’t have free will. However if the me that exists at any given time is the product of these environmental factors, then rather than denying me choice it is these environmental factors that give the me that actually exists, the possibility of freedom: the freedom to make decisions based on my own desires.

    • In reply to #123 by Linda Bailey:

      Sometimes I have the power to choose between x, y and z, but it was external influences that provided x, y and z in the first place. If I existed apart from these so called external influences, which I take to include my DNA and all other environmental factors, then logically I couldn’t have free will. However if the me that exists at any given time is the product of these environmental factors, then rather than denying me choice it is these environmental factors that give the me that actually exists, the possibility of freedom: the freedom to make decisions based on my own desires.

      What happens is determined by the environment, but the environment is determined by what happens.

      Everything is in the same pot, so to speak, and causes are not isolated from effects. As ‘effects’ begin to take shape, feedback loops allow ’causes’ and ‘effects’ to adjust until a dynamic equilibrium is reached, resulting in something different than would be expected if causes and effects were descrete events.

  50. @ jimblake & disturbed

    Sorry – I replied but the reply hasn’t appeared.

    My “MORE IMPORTANTLY” paragraph shows that ethics is not about pain avoidance (nor about improving survival and fertility).

    We are subject to evolved (biological, Darwinian if you like) drives and physical hindrances, and sometimes these are insuperable. Ethics describes/prescribes some (not all) actions in despite of those influences and constraints. (There is also Aesthetics.) The ability to choose and attempt such actions is Free Will. I think that analysis makes it very difficult to explain in evolutionary terms – i.e. attempted reduction of ideals like the Pursuit of Truth and Self-Fulfilment to heritable survival strategies are tortuous and unconvincing.

    What, though, are the determinants of this Ethical Free Will? Obviously I have argued myself into a position which requires looking at Platonist and Teleological notions. But I don’t pretend to possess the key to Life, the Universe and Everything.

    • In reply to #124 by logicophilosophicus:

      @ jimblake & disturbed

      Sorry – I replied but the reply hasn’t appeared.

      My “MORE IMPORTANTLY” paragraph shows that ethics is not about pain avoidance (nor about improving survival and fertility).

      We are subject to evolved (biological, Darwinian if you like) drives and physical hindrances, and som…

      Ethics is independent from evolutionary success because evolution is an amoral process, i.e. it makes no regard for whether or not its products suffer and die, as long as they pass on copies of the genes. But evolution has no interest in optics either, and yet it can follow the principles of optics well enough to construct eyes that can be superior to some of our man-made cameras. The point is not that ethics is equivalent to evolutionary success, which is just another form of naturalistic fallacy, but that its real-world logic was exploited in order to make those few animals that have a moral sense. Evolution is fundamentally an exploitative process, taking advantage of what’s there in the real world.

      The reason evolution does not produce outstanding moral agents is because a thoroughly moral anything starts to impinge on its own evolutionary success, which means that any moral agent constructed by evolution comes with limitations such as selfish opportunism, self-deception, and even psychopathy. Moral behaviours do not have high selective advantage in many situations, hence the “red in tooth and claw” aspects that permeate the animal kingdom. Nevertheless, anyone trying to be moral has to take into account the same logic that evolution followed in setting up a moral sense in the first place, with added consideration for when evolutionary goals and moral goals part company.

      Moreover, there is no way to overcome a “drive”, so to speak, without the stronger “drive” also being an evolutionary product. Again, self-control is an example I’ve already cited. Physical limitations are overcome by physical means.

      What, though, are the determinants of this Ethical Free Will? Obviously I have argued myself into a position which requires looking at Platonist and Teleological notions. But I don’t pretend to possess the key to Life, the Universe and Everything.

      This is one of those reasons I recommend dropping the free will concept. It makes sense to look at the mechanism in the brain for self-control – for instance, the prefrontal cortex produces an override signal to curb the activity of the amygdala, which results in preventing one’s emotions from getting the better for oneself – but free will is totally unnecessary in explaining this. It’s just as much a design feature installed by evolution as the emotions themselves are, so there’s no need to look for a mysterious “determinant of free will”.

      While not everything in the human body is an adaptation produced by evolution, anything that shows signs of complex design and is hereditary is a good candidate. Specific cultural mores, for instance, can vary tremendously, but the underlying mechanisms of the brain for general types of cultural more can still be universal design features of the brain. People speak different languages, for instance, but the very ability to speak a language, to learn it, and to assimilate it with other concepts and so on, are universal features of humanity, the functioning of which can be improved or reduced by genetic disorders, and which are products of hereditary and complex design in the brain.

      In any case, no one here is pretending to possess the key to Life, the Universe, and Everything. I’ve already explained my position on determinism not as being comprehensive in all cases, but as more or less comprehensive in this particular case. In any event, I’d advise you to be careful with your word choice; your comment here is coming close to the hypocrisy you called me out on a while back.

  51. “no one here is pretending to possess the key to Life, the Universe, and Everything. I’ve already explained my position on determinism not as being comprehensive in all cases, but as more or less comprehensive in this particular case. In any event, I’d advise you to be careful with your word choice; your comment here is coming close to the hypocrisy you called me out on a while back.”

    You are mistaken if you think my confession of my own ignorance implied criticism of anyone else; or, indeed, that in quoting your own words to encourage you to stick to the topic I was “calling you out”. “How much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only to what he does himself, that it may be just and pure.” (Marcus Aurelius – a passage I reflect on often and try to abide by.)

  52. Hello, yes you have free will up to a point, but it depends on the external influence that allows you to choose to which direction you wish to go at that time, not forgetting everything that has influenced you in every single way in your life time, up to the point where you decide to do anything or not, and that again could influence the outcome. I think everything relies on chance, everything from how the atoms are arranged in your body to make you what you are, along with external influences that when combined, put you on the edge of something that seems unlike free will, but your mind however conditioned still maintains the capacity to make a choice. Making choices, the right choices in life are crucial to put ones life on the right track.

    But external and internal influences are themselves coming to you by chance. So pure free will isn’t possible, reducing the influences that have a good or bad outcome is possible. People seem to be given a series of choices to make at any given time by chance. I don’t think we have free will, i think we have limitations and choices, where we exploit the best of them in the same way as evolution would do with everything. I think that was a good question you have made here, where everything is making the most of a big-bang. :)

  53. @ Planck’s Constant

    I completely agree. Also “cancelling out” is not conceptually possible in QM terms. Every macroscopic state of (say) my brain is caused not by a previous (macroscopic) state but by the collapse (or equivalent process) of the wave function.

  54. @ OHooligan #143

    In reply to “#115″ (actually to #122) by logicophilosophicus:

    There was a #115 (mine), and before that Zeuglodon’s #111, in which Z argued (I am ruthlessly pruning here – apologies to Z) that, among other things:

    a) exceptions to deterministic activity in the brain, though real, are minor/irrelevant

    b) exceptions to pain-related ethical motives, though real, are minor/irrelevant

    c) that conscious experience (including free will, the sense of virtue and the presumed summation or “combination” of billions of neural states into a holistic experience) is not particularly mysterious, not a big deal, largely illusory (i.e. Z’s answer to the OP is “Yes”), and will be deterministically [i.e. mechanistically] explained by neuroscience.

    The basis of my #115 is: I argue that the exceptions in (a) and (b) demolish Z’s argument. Very simply, the received scientific reality (call it R) is fundamentally indeterminate, and perceived reality is the world of consciousness, qualia, values and – main topic of this thread – will. To prove that Free Will is an “illusion”, in the sense at least that our decisions are completely determined by R, is impossible by definition – so (a) is, I am convinced, an evasive strategy or rationalisation. Similarly, (c) is an evasion of the actual nature of the world of experience (including will, which feels unitary and is therefore a matter of “combination”) – which absolutely IS MYSTERIOUS. In order to explain anything, you MUST look at the thing you are explaining. Also, of course, free will is closely linked with ethics. We need to look closely at the kinds of things ethics evaluates: in claimng that you can build a “working” moral system purely on pain avoidance Z was effectively ignoring what real moralists are talking about (e.g. Marcus Aurelius) and therefore (b) is also an evasion.

    You homed in on this (my) clause: “…if the universe is fundamentally deterministic, free will must be given a deterministic description,” and added your own, “And, conversely, if it isn’t, it doesn’t.” Then you recycled this as: “IF the universe is deterministic, THEN free will is an illusion (etc)…”

    Well, you demanded this, so you can have it:

    The phrase “deterministic description” was very carefully chosen. (It does not imply “illusion” because illusions are conscious experiences, and no one here has even begun to discuss the nature of conscious experience.) The clause you quoted is from the topic sentence of a longish paragraph, the contents of which you ignore, notably: “Some physicists suggest that conscious decision is similar in kind to the “collapse” of a quantum state, and draw a conclusion that consciousness exists at a quantum (or sub-quantum?) level.” ["Sub-quantum" if wave collapse/decoherence/realisation is subject to hidden causes.] So free will may have “conscious” determinants, or it may be a random probabilistic effect, or it may be mechanistically determined. I prefer the first view, but I have only argued that it must be considered given the evidence from QM and from conscious experience. (Note: ALL observations are conscious experiences.) Zeuglodon dismissed this from the start (Me: “…two closely linked points [quantum indeterminacy and the conscious/moral nature of human minds] are well worth discussing…” Z: “Debatable, but…”)

    Anyway, you summed up the argument, especially the bit (mine) you were replying to, wrongly, in particular replacing “deterministic explanation” with a word I had not used, “illusion.” Since your first four bullet points were wrong, in fact even if only one had been wrong, then your bullet point 5 cannot be a correct conclusion. My “…” was the normal use of ellipsis, meaning “You can complete this yourself,” somewhat overconfidently it turns out.

    Now you take me to task on the basis that I SHOULD have used the word “illusion” because it was in the OP. I don’t think that would be a valid defence of your irrelevant and faulty criticism of my #115. But here we go again (remember you demanded it):

    The original post poses the question: “Does this huge web of external influence [i.e. "the exact position of all... particles... in... the universe"] create an illusion of free will [i.e. a false sense of being able to oppose/devalue and sometimes override those mechanistic determinants]?” The title (“Is free will an illusion?”) doesn’t mention determinism, but the rest of the post talks of little else. Is the conscious act of decision wholly determined by the exact position of all the particles in the universe at any point in time? My entire argument has been strictly on topic. Your criticism only works on the I-can’t-be-bothered-to-read-beyond-the-first-sentence principle you applied to my “deterministic description” paragraph.

    Your point 2 was: “IF the universe is not deterministic, THEN we can’t say anything conclusive about free will.” I assumed you meant that fundamental/universal indeterminacy implies that nothing reliably makes sense, including free will. I agree. For example: “If the consistent-histories interpretation [of quantum mechanics] is correct, we have no right to deduce from the existence of fossils now that dinosaurs [once existed]…” If you have a problem with that, you must take it up with Gell-Mann and Hartle. We have no right in such a universe to deduce full stop. That includes you – your point 2 can’t be right in such a universe. So (re your point 3) please don’t berate me either for not understanding quantum mechanics (“I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics” – Richard Feynman), or for having an opinion, i.e. philosophical prejudice against interpretation that disallow causal logic. (There is not even a majority view in physics about a correct interpretation, but the largest minority still favour the Copenhagen interpretation, which implies that reality is an interaction between the wave function and the conscious observer – but that the act of observation has no impact on the fundamental indeterminacy.)

    You wanted it and there you have it. For completeness/fairness I should concede that your point 3: “There is no way to find out if the universe is deterministic…” is CORRECT – but ONLY if we live in a universe which is not deterministic. It’s probably impossible to know anything in an indeterminate universe, or for that matter in a deterministic universe where “know” is a meaningly side product of the electro-chemical state of billions of neurons (combined by some unknown summative mechanism).

    • In reply to #145 by logicophilosophicus:

      And while you’re cheerfully picking my name out for analysis…

      @ OHooligan #143

      In reply to “#115″ (actually to #122) by logicophilosophicus:

      There was a #115 (mine), and before that Zeuglodon’s #111, in which Z argued (I am ruthlessly pruning here – apologies to Z) that, among other things:

      a) exceptions to deterministic activity in the brain, though real, are minor/irrelevant

      b) exceptions to pain-related ethical motives, though real, are minor/irrelevant

      c) that conscious experience (including free will, the sense of virtue and the presumed summation or “combination” of billions of neural states into a holistic experience) is not particularly mysterious, not a big deal, largely illusory (i.e. Z’s answer to the OP is “Yes”), and will be deterministically [i.e. mechanistically] explained by neuroscience.

      What I object to in the latter is the notion that I think “conscious experience… is largely illusory”. This is wrong. My point was that it is not separate from the physical universe, i.e. that the notion of dualism is wrong.

      The basis of my #115 is: I argue that the exceptions in (a) and (b) demolish Z’s argument.

      I explained already why this is wrong: it only demolishes my argument if my argument had started from an absolute position, i.e. if I had said that “All X are Y”. I have made it repeatedly clear that it doesn’t, so a single counterexample cannot “demolish” my position. Since I said that QM is largely irrelevant in understanding the brain, the only way to counter this is to show that the majority of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology requires invoking QM theory directly, the result being the rise and flourishing of quantum neuroscience as a successful response to a gap in current neuroscientific study. Since this has neither happened nor seems on the verge of doing so, I see no reason to change my position.

      Very simply, the received scientific reality (call it R) is fundamentally indeterminate,

      Local realism is refuted by QM, but that doesn’t conclusively prove what you affirm here. Action at a distance is sufficient to address it, so you can’t jump to the conclusion that reality is fundamentally indeterminate.

      and perceived reality is the world of consciousness, qualia, values and – main topic of this thread – will.

      Yet, the entity doing the perceiving is shown by neuroscience et al. to be a physical entity. Quantum mechanics does not open the doorway to dualism, and throwing in values, qualia, and “will” is frankly unjustified by your prior premises.

      To prove that Free Will is an “illusion”, in the sense at least that our decisions are completely determined by R, is impossible by definition – so (a) is, I am convinced, an evasive strategy or rationalisation.

      Actually, no it’s not. Again, Newton-Einstein analogy. If a car mechanic invokes Newtonian physics to explain how a car works, pointing out that Newtonian physics has been superseded by relativity does not destroy his case or show it to be an evasive strategy or rationalization. More appropriately to the discussion, the depolarization-repolarization effect of neurons does not need QM in order to be explained. A deterministic account of cause and effect is sufficient.

      Similarly, (c) is an evasion of the actual nature of the world of experience (including will, which feels unitary and is therefore a matter of “combination”) – which absolutely IS MYSTERIOUS. In order to explain anything, you MUST look at the thing you are explaining.

      Yet science gets by without needing any dualistic account, and monism has actually improved our chances of understanding them. It wasn’t so long ago that “higher” concepts like love and morality were thought to be beyond mere Darwinian explanation, yet evolutionary psychology has met the challenge. It’s an argument from ignorance to assume dualism in the face of such a position, and even if it was valid, your position does not help in explaining these phenomena one jot. You have not provided evidence, for instance, that QM has any special role to play in explaining brain function, much less how it’s supposed to do the job of explaining sentience.

      Also, of course, free will is closely linked with ethics. We need to look closely at the kinds of things ethics evaluates: in claimng that you can build a “working” moral system purely on pain avoidance Z was effectively ignoring what real moralists are talking about (e.g. Marcus Aurelius) and therefore (b) is also an evasion.

      Excuse me, but it’s more justifiable to claim that you ignored me when I brought in game theory and so on, the counters to your point. Not only did I not ignore your point, I explained why I did not think it was justified. I’m the only one who’s respecting science in this instance: I’ve appealed to the relevant social sciences and directed you to a book where I obtained such information about ethics in the real world. If I can be said to do so, then I “ignore” MA simply because I have little confidence that a Roman emperor with no apparent scientific training can provide insight into the phenomenon, much less that your argument is anything other than an argument from irrelevant authority.

      You homed in on this (my) clause: “…if the universe is fundamentally deterministic, free will must be given a deterministic description,” and added your own, “And, conversely, if it isn’t, it doesn’t.” Then you recycled this as: “IF the universe is deterministic, THEN free will is an illusion (etc)…”

      Well, you demanded this, so you can have it:

      The phrase “deterministic description” was very carefully chosen. (It does not imply “illusion” because illusions are conscious experiences, and no one here has even begun to discuss the nature of conscious experience.)

      We have. What we haven’t discussed is dualistic conscious experience, which we have, in fact, criticized. Said criticisms you have not yet met.

      The clause you quoted is from the topic sentence of a longish paragraph, the contents of which you ignore, notably: “Some physicists suggest that conscious decision is similar in kind to the “collapse” of a quantum state, and draw a conclusion that consciousness exists at a quantum (or sub-quantum?) level.” ["Sub-quantum" if wave collapse/decoherence/realisation is subject to hidden causes.] So free will may have “conscious” determinants, or it may be a random probabilistic effect, or it may be mechanistically determined. I prefer the first view, but I have only argued that it must be considered given the evidence from QM and from conscious experience.

      None of these explain conscious experience at all – they merely assume it as part of a larger phenomenon in which it plays a role. It also does not evade the responsibility of addressing the evidence in favour of monistic consciousness, which is how physical changes to the brain have specific consequences on how people perceive the world. On sheer historical success (the history of the biological, chemical, social, etc. sciences), the last of the three options has more going for it, followed by the second. The evidence from QM, by contrast, does not force one to accept dualistic free will at all because it is still fundamentally a physical phenomenon, and the “evidence from conscious experience” is little more than introspection, which can’t tell you anything other than what you are experiencing (red or green, square or circle, etc.), not how experience works.

      (Note: ALL observations are conscious experiences.) Zeuglodon dismissed this from the start (Me: “…two closely linked points [quantum indeterminacy and the conscious/moral nature of human minds] are well worth discussing…” Z: “Debatable, but…”)

      It was debatable because one can debate the notion. Invoking QM to support free will is tenuous at best because you merely pick one of three options to QM and assume it justifies dualistic free will because consciousness plays a role, lumping in “value” and “will” without justification. I might note that your insistence on free will as a means of opposing mechanistic actions shows your true colours in this debate, yet not once have you shown signs of understanding the case from neuroscience, which is a mind science and therefore most relevant to matters of the mind.

      • In reply to #149 by Zeuglodon:

        Again, Newton-Einstein analogy. If a car mechanic invokes Newtonian physics to explain how a car works, pointing out that Newtonian physics has been superseded by relativity does not destroy his case or show it to be an evasive strategy or rationalization. More appropriately to the discussion, the depolarization-repolarization effect of neurons does not need QM in order to be explained. A deterministic account of cause and effect is sufficient.

        How many times do we have to hear the same old fallacious mantra from dualists, that there are error bars and small uncertainties, THERFORE we should throw out all the known chemical equations, formuli, objective observations, and tear up the existing scientific laws!

        Your Newton-Einstein analogy is a good illustration of this sort of fallacious doubt-mongering!

        Then there is the quantum woo of conflating “double slit experiments” (which show the nature and properties of photons), with direct objective observations by human observers, at and above molecular level!

      • In reply to #149 by Zeuglodon:

        @ Zeuglodon

        “And while your cheerfully picking my name out for analysis…”

        Actually I already apologised for paraphrasing you. Let’s just cut to your summary:

        “…your arguments are unsound because you assume a dualistic stance and proceed from there, despite the evidence for monism as shown by the success and progress of neuroscience and related mind sciences…”

        Wrong. I am a neutral monist, I have always explicitly maintained that position, and always explicitly rejected the possibility of dualism. Next we’ll getting the lying-for-Jesus stuff. (But, in any case, the rejection of dualism is a philosophical/logical matter, and cannot be proved empirically. Nor can monism, BTW.)

        “QM is largely irrelevant to understanding how the brain, and therefore how the mind, works…”

        That is merely a claim. You originally expressed it categorically…

        “…the origin of the concept of free will is a simplification of the complex neurocircuitry working in the brain that produces such decisions – a deterministic process. [And later] Decision-making is a macroscopic computational algorithm… Consciousness is the sum activity of such algorithms in a machine…”

        …but have since taken to denying that you ever did so – your “largely irrelevant” is, to coin a phrase, an alibi-of-the-gaps. You claim a universal conclusion based on premisses with exceptions. I compared “largely irrelevant” to “a little bit pregnant” and the parallel is exact.

        “…free will is [not] vindicated by any of [Logicophilosophicus's] points…”

        No, it isn’t; because I have not argued that Free Will exists; I have only argued that your flawed view of determinism cannot rule it out; to repeat, I have not ruled it in. Let me be even clearer on this: the only reason I answered your first (#84) was to point out that your argument did not logically rule out free will.

        “…free will is… akin to the concept of god…”

        So this is a lying-for-Jesus argument after all! I knew that really, because in your first post (#84) you wrote that arguments about Free Will “almost always involve redefining free will out of its religious zone.”

        I have tried to stick to your summary for brevity, but a couple of your points need attention.

        You rubbished my use of Marcus Aurelius as a major writer on ACTUAL moral issues. He is only an example. From the earliest times until the modern day virtually all ethical discussion and advice has been about virtue and duty, with little room for pain avoidance. Buddhist ethics, for example, is based on exactly 5 unambiguous precepts, none of which is derived from pain avoidance. You are redefining ethics out of its ethical zone…

        “I maintain that [your unwillingness to be sidetracked into a discussion of Games Theory and Cost-Benefit Analysis] is an error, due in no small part to your dualistic position, the premises of which I am questioning. You advance this part of the discussion not a jot, which doesn’t suggest to me that you have a real answer to it, much less that you have a cogent counterpoint.”

        What’s to answer? Both approaches describe human behaviour, not brains. Both have been used as effective metaphors in evolution, especially as “strategies” for genes (“Selfish Gene” etc), not brains. Where is the benefit for neurons in firing or not firing? Can neurons have benefits? Of course, when I feel a sense of gain or loss, certain neurons are active; but, as I already told you, “From the point of view of neuroscience, the correlation is simply a brute fact.” (David Chalmers) Personally, I believe that evidence from brain damage implies the likely impossibility of brain-independent memory, passion, calculation, recognition and all sorts of other conscious activities; but that doesn’t prove that the brain is more than a complex tool. (It may be. I don’t know.)

        Well, that’s it. There are just your complaints to deal with:

        “You have: Quoted my own words back at me to suggest hypocrisy”

        Actually no – I remarked that you expressed indignation and impatience (I prefer that to your word “butt-hurt”) when accused of intellectual snobbery, yet you did the same. I avoided the indignation (it takes practice, but “he who is excited by anger seems to turn away from reason” – Marcus Aurelius, my favourite ethical guide) but I certainly felt the impatience. The word “hypocrisy” was, by the way, your own explicit judgment on yourself (“Hypocrisy noted”) and was never used by me. I guess if I had, your own self-judgment would give me the best defence of all.

        “You have: Pretty much admitted once or twice that you think I think I have the final answer on reality (especially with the comment of yours in response to my Newton analogy)”

        Not at all. Let’s review:

        You: “Where Newtonian physics breaks down, relativity takes over, but that does not render Newtonian physics utterly wrong-headed.”

        Me: “General Relativity (or its eventual quantum successor) does not ‘take over’ where Newton ‘breaks down’; GR (etc) was true all the way.”

        First physics book I lay my hands on: “Newton’s theory of physics… was completely wrong when it came to giving answers to these fundamental questions about space and time.” (Lee Smolin)

        I don’t see how you read that in your “you-think-I-think” sense. I just address arguments, I don’t read minds. The allegation you claim is not in my words.

        “You have: Unsubtly suggested I’m a verbose commenter who mistakes quantity for quality…”

        No – I just remarked that, since you repeat the same claim (deterministic accounts of brains are well on course to explain conscious decision making fully) at great length, and with forceful exasperation, you were hoping to beat down my resistance. If it’s the word “length” you object to, I can tell you that between your joining this discussion and now (i.e. #84 to #155) 17 posters have contributed about 1800 lines, of which almost 1000 are yours. I thought my comment was the most charitable interpretation: someone more cynical might have thought you were filibustering.

        “You have: Followed this with a pompous quotation about looking at others before regarding oneself…”

        Interesting. I confessed to another poster that I have argued myself into a potentially Platonist position (note: I never addressed such a confession to you) which is hard (not impossible, perhaps) to validate unless one possesses “the answer to life, the universe and everything.” You bizarrely claim this was a slur on you – how on earth could it be? I therefore explain that I was actually looking critically at my own ideas, not yours, and you claim this is a further slur on you!

        The point of using the quotation was to emphasise – as I have again in this post – that there are well-respected ethical guidelines which have nothing to do with pain avoidance. Not even “butt-hurt” avoidance. Reading and respecting Marcus Aurelius isn’t pompous – he had no time for pretension: “…the soul does violence to itself… when it plays a part, and does or says anything insincerely and untruly.” You don’t need to believe in the soul – I don’t – to agree with the moral proscription.

        (Probably about 60 lines in response to about 100 – my usual attempt at brevity.)

    • In reply to #145 by logicophilosophicus:

      Your criticism only works on the I-can’t-be-bothered-to-read-beyond-the-first-sentence principle you applied to my “deterministic description” paragraph.

      Such are the perils of long paragraphs.

      I suppose I ought to thank you for taking the time and effort to post that very long and detailed response, since, as you noted, I did ask for it. So, Thank You.

      Memo to self: be careful what you ask for, you might get it.

  55. Dear Alistair,
    Your thought experiment make the hypothesis that we can clone precisely the early universe and indeed if that was possible we would be living in a universe with no free will. But it is not possible. 1. We where not there to clone anything. 2. It is not possible to collect all that information. 3. You are making a tacit hypothesis: that the world you live in is out there, in fact you are living in your own virtual reality, in your representations, you have no way of knowing the nature of out there, you can only ask questions by building experiments. If your question is properly encoded in your experiment, you will get a yes or no answer, the theory you build based on these answers are your interpretation only.
    There is a deep difference in the information you can collect from inside your brain by feeling things, and the theories you can built based on information given by experimentation. That explain why you can feel free will, but equations are deterministic.
    Just wrote a book on this subject.

  56. The fascinating thing about brain level, or close to it, quantum holism is that our intuition of a subject of human experience can be reconciled with a naturalistic world view and be consistent with science. It is not a question of whether or not the notion is intelligible, but rather whether or not it can be detected or inferred in the lab. I suspect evidence will support it and that that evidence will be that quantum effects are needed to account for efficiency. This is how they determined photosynthesis used quantum effects. If so, it will be a triumph of evolution. The blind watchmaker will have stumbled on QM to gain a competitive advantage. This would be another nail in the coffin of religion.

  57. In reply to #148 by Zeuglodon:

    No, it’s the reasonable conclusion to come to when examining the brain. No neuroscientist has to invoke QM to explain any part of neuroanatomy or neurophysiology. This is not the same as saying that QM does not underlie the physics. Again, Newton-Einstein analogy.

    This presumes that current neuroanatomy and neurophysiology will explain consciousness. That is simply a held position. Until photsynthesis was understood as a quantum phenomena one could have said exactly the same about (the then current) plant biologists.

    Excellent point. Sometimes I think we atheists find “explaining away” too seductive. Explaining away the appearance of design makes sense where explaining away the appearance of appearance does not. We get too caught up in battling theists and see consciousness as part of the theist position and so go on the attack. Anyone who thinks that is still rehashing seventeenth century thinking which is abundantly clear in the responses I have seen here. I get a thrill from the challenge of explaining consciousness. Too bad other atheists see it as a threat to be quickly swept under the rug without consideration or even recognition. Our conscious experience is rich because it is advantageous for us for it to be so. That did not happen because it is illusory or epiphenomenal. Improved efficiencies of information processing via QM effects most certainly would be “sought out” by natural selection just as it was for photosynthesis.

  58. In reply to #160 by Alan4discussion:

    In reply to #147 by logicophilosophicus:

    Evidence against local determinism. Bohm-de Broglie is still defensible.

    Oh dear! Local determinism “does not exist” because we have discovered quantum physics!

    All those engineering construction projects and manufacturing processes, which no longer work…

    I see that you have been stewing over this answer for 5 days – indeed, everyone else stopped commenting on this thread 3 days ago. Let’s not uncharitably assume that you are indulging in last-wordism, though. I shall answer your criticism assuming that it is a considered position arrived at after much serious thought.

    Bell’s Theorem (in its several versions) proves that it is impossible to “reproduce the results of quantum theory with a classical, deterministic local model.” That is absolutely standard. Planck’s Constant had omitted the word “local” and so I pointed out. Personally, I cannot follow Bell’s mathematical argument. I have to rely on physicists – virtually 100% of them. You believe they are wrong. Bully for you; but what has that got to do with me?

    It appears your beef is that I claimed that local determinism, as you quote, “does not exist…” That would be those tens of thousands of physicists, not me, I suppose. More to the point, I have asked you before not to manufacture quotes. I did not use those words nor make that claim. Nor did I allege, as you claim, that “all… engineering… projects… no longer work.”

    I did make the claim that until there is a theory which accounts for both General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics there is no working theory describing fundamental reality. Since both incomplete theories have elements of observer-dependency (this is “evidence”) many physicists speculate that the observer, possibly the conscious observer, will be crucial in a final theory.

    I am sorry to tell you that an elephant has laboured and brought forth an ant. Your carping criticism shows a profound ignorance of the relevant science and your sardonic and triumphalist tone is therefore deeply ironic. You would have spent your 5 days better if you had done some background reading; but then, you could also have spent 5 minutes reading my post accurately.

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  61. @ A4D #166

    OHooligan (#143):

    “There is no way to find out if the universe is deterministic. Currently, at least.”

    Planck’s Constant (#144):

    “Bell’s theorem is a pretty comprehensive evidence of non-determinism.”

    Logicophilosophicus (#147):

    “Evidence against LOCAL determinism. Bohm-de Broglie [a NON-LOCAL but DETERMINISTIC theory] is still defensible.”

    A4D (#146)

    You deny that your quote :-

    “Evidence against local determinism” = Local determinism “does not exist”, and then claim I “manufactured” this straightforward interpretation of English!

    What you manufactured was a quote, by placing quotation marks around “does not exist”. More importantly, what you failed to understand is that in #147 I was challenging Planck’s Constant’s statement that Bell’s Inequality was “pretty comprehensive” evidence against determinism. De Broglie-Bohm, which I favour, IS deterministic. I favour it because I believe a world without fundamental causality is logically untenable. The de B-B theory is suggested by “the simple expedient of refusing to believe that particles cease to exist if you stop looking at them” (Towler conference on the theory).

    Your problem is that you think denying “LOCAL determinism” (as virtually all physicists do, in accepting Bell’s argument) means denying that determinism applies to the local factory or the garage round the corner. This is exactly the same problem you had with “FREE energy” in the discussion on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, where you thought it had something to do with perpetual motion machines. “Local determinism” is a technical term, as was “free energy”. The de B-B theory rescues determinism for the factory and the garage.

    This makes your remark about “quantum physics (which you admit you don’t understand)” rather ironic, especially since I made no such admission. I wrote: “Personally, I cannot follow Bell’s mathematical argument. I have to rely on physicists – virtually 100% of them.” As Richard Feynman wrote, “Nobody understands quantum mechanics,” but I understand Bell’s result. That involves knowing what “non-local” means. You could read up on EPR.

    Re “conscious observers”:

    a) Observers do not need to “perceive” the events they observe – they use instruments. That is clearly understood in all QM literature;

    b) But, as mentioned earlier, a single photon (which is unambiguously a particle, BTW, in de Broglie-Bohm theory) can trigger a conscious event (i.e. perception).

    (For info of anyone following his thread, I have read – but I don’t have a primary source – that the statistical distribution of neuron potentials is such that, in the human brain, at any given moment 10 million neurons are sensitive enough to register quantum level phenomena. An unanswered question is whether such signals are always filtered out as random noise, or possibly identified as signal and amplified, as in a radio.)

    You mention me indirectly when you claim you #83 was “unanswered”. Let me clear that up. You stated that studies and measurements known to you precluded any small unaccounted enegies in the brain. (I don’t believe nor particularly care whether there are any such energies – I ONLY challenged your measurement claim.) I asked you to name even one study which approached 1% accuracy in balancing input and output energies for the brain, i.e. any one study of those you claim exist. After asking three or four times I assumed you couldn’t find such a study, and gave up. Your #83 says:

    “No other energies have been detected – unless you have EVIDENCE to present to the contrary! GOT EVIDENCE?”

    You are persisting in the delusion that I made an assertion (actually one which would contradict my own scientific belief) when I simply asked a very clear question.

    • In reply to #174 by logicophilosophicus:

      A4D (#146)
      You deny that your quote :-

      .”Evidence against local determinism” = Local determinism “does not exist”, and then claim I “manufactured” this straightforward interpretation of English!

      What you manufactured was a quote, by placing quotation marks around “does not exist”.

      I think you confuse the use of quotation marks to identify specific phrases, with quotes from specific commentators.

      I had no intention of attributing the specific words to you – merely identifying the meaning of an identified phrase.

      More importantly, what you failed to understand is that in #147 I was challenging Planck’s Constant’s statement that Bell’s Inequality was “pretty comprehensive” evidence against determinism. De Broglie-Bohm, which I favour, IS deterministic. I favour it because I believe a world without fundamental causality is logically untenable.

      Thank you for that clarification. This thread is somewhat confused about “Free Will”, “determinism”, and “quantum mechanics” in some places.

      The de B-B theory is suggested by “the simple expedient of refusing to believe that particles cease to exist if you stop looking at them” (Towler conference on the theory).

      I said earlier in this discussion that the double slit experiment, is to do with the properties of photons rather than the properties of observers and existence.

      Re “conscious observers”:

      a) Observers do not need to “perceive” the events they observe – they use instruments. That is clearly understood in all QM literature;

      I am aware of the use of instruments, but observations are inferred from these with only hypothetical “observers” postulated.

      b) But, as mentioned earlier, a single photon (which is unambiguously a particle,

      Not unambiguous at all! Photons are considered to have the properties of particles and also of waves. There is also the property of high energy photons breaking into a number of lower energy photons. There is no “standard photon”.

      Your problem is that you think denying “LOCAL determinism” (as virtually all physicists do, in accepting Bell’s argument) means denying that determinism applies to the local factory or the garage round the corner. This is exactly the same problem you had with “FREE energy” in the discussion on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, where you thought it had something to do with perpetual motion machines. “Local determinism” is a technical term, as was “free energy”. The de B-B theory rescues determinism for the factory and the garage.

      Perhaps some links to definitions would help, if specialist uses of words are involved in general discussion for non-specialist readership. “Local” is a relative term. The Solar-System is in the “local” arm of the Milkyway!

      The point has been made a various times on this site, that the predominant determinism at molecular level should not be confused with fringe effects of partially understood quantum phenomena.

      Thanks for the clarification anyway.

      @Nick_In_Detroit – Determinism should not be confused with the absolute of “predestination”.

      • In reply to #176 by Alan4discussion:

        I said earlier in this discussion that the double slit experiment, is to do with the properties of photons rather than the properties of observers and existence.

        Its not just photons.Electrons and even macroscopic entities are subject to interference.Particle-wave duality demonstrated with largest molecules yet

        Unfortunately for your claim here, the problem that physicists have been grappling with is that the observer (agency, the choice of experimental measurement) is bound up with the observations, with the results of the experiment.

        I am aware of the use of instruments, but observations are inferred from these with only hypothetical “observers” postulated.

        I’m not sure in what way you mean “hypothetical observer”. The observer is very real, and has a very real effect in deciding which measurement to take. There is a physical effect which is bound with the cause – which is the choice of measurement.

        The point has been made a various times on this site, that the predominant determinism at molecular level should not be confused with fringe effects of partially understood quantum phenomena.

        The point being made back is that, because in a statistical ensemble the indeterminacy of quantum action does not need to be taken into account does not mean that indeterminacy has gone away. The laws that you refer to here are seen as useful within classical realms precisely because they are seen as ‘true’ as a statistical approximation of the deeper laws.

        But, quite what the ability to build bridges has to do with the working of mind, and whether or not quantum effects may be non-trivial in a full description of brain activity, is beyond me. Stating that when building bridges we can understand the required physics as if the universe is determinate is not the same as the claim that the universe then is determinate.

        • In reply to #178 by Planck’s Constant:

          But, quite what the ability to build bridges has to do with the working of mind, and whether or not quantum effects may be non-trivial in a full description of brain activity, is beyond me.

          The question of if they are more than trivial is simply speculative. There is no evidence I am aware of to indicate that they are more than random interference.

          The point being made back is that, because in a statistical ensemble the indeterminacy of quantum action does not need to be taken into account does not mean that indeterminacy has gone away.

          The question is:- “to what extent it causes variations in what are basically deterministic measurements”?. Indications are that the variations if any, are small or trivial, and that any generated random interference, has no relevance to “Free Will”, or “choice” of conscious decisions.

          The laws that you refer to here are seen as useful within classical realms precisely because they are seen as ‘true’ as a statistical approximation of the deeper laws.

          The laws as written, are the best mapping of our understanding onto the underlying reality. – Usually to very accurate well evidenced matches with multiple confirmations. The same will be so with any scientific updates in the light of new evidence.

          Stating that when building bridges we can understand the required physics as if the universe is determinate is not the same as the claim that the universe then is determinate.

          If we did not understand the determinacy of the physics, we could not build bridges – as those who failed in their analysis of materials and structural calculations, proved in their past failures. Many parts of the universe which we have studied, are clearly determinate. (We could not land rovers on Mars if we did not understand and predict this accurately.)

        • In reply to #178 by Planck’s Constant:

          In reply to #176 by Alan4discussion:

          I said earlier in this discussion that the double slit experiment, is to do with the properties of photons rather than the properties of observers and existence.

          Its not just photons.Electrons and even macroscopic entities are subject to interference.Particle-wave duality demonstrated with largest molecules yet

          The reason I said I thought the double slit experiment had much to do with the properties of photons, is because there are various possible analogies to this test. on different scales.

          Alt text – The interference pattern produced by a double-slit experiment.

          @link – One of the deepest mysteries in quantum physics is the wave-particle duality: every quantum object has properties of both a wave and a particle. Nowhere is this effect more beautifully demonstrated than in the double-slit experiment: streams of particles (photons, electrons, whatever) are directed at a barrier with two narrow openings. While each particle shows up at the detector individually, the population as a whole creates an interference pattern as though they are waves. Neither a pure wave nor a pure particle description has proven successful in explaining these experiments.

          Now researchers have successfully performed a quantum interference experiment with much larger and more massive molecules than ever before. Thomas Juffmann et al. fired molecules composed of over 100 atoms at a barrier with openings designed to minimize molecular interactions, and observed the build-up of an interference pattern. The experiment approaches the regime where macroscopic and quantum physics overlap, offering a possible way to study the transition that has frustrated many scientists for decades.

          Thanks for an interesting link.

          If waves pass through a double slit in a water tank, an interference pattern is produced.
          If photons from a distant star follow a curved path in passing a large gravitational body (eg a star) the double virtual image can be seen on both sides of the star. Light spectra through diffraction gratings is well known.
          I think a lot of misunderstanding comes from the mental image of photons and electrons as point “particles”. Perhaps “energy shells” or “orbiting energy” could be the case.

          On a larger scale, If the Solar-System was fired at a double slit, perhaps the Asteroid Belt, the Kuiper Belt, the Oort cloud, or even Saturn’s Rings would pass through the slits creating an interference pattern.

          Much is unknown and uncertain.

  62. Failed logic. Every choice / decision has a minimum of two, and usually three or more options. To grant total control to external influences is illogical. What is that external control? Was that external control just as fixed as your proposed choice? Oh so many variables and you have found the glue to make them fixed? Free Will in Philosophy 101 is exactly this subject.

  63. There’s not much point in arguing whether the universe is fundamentally deterministic or fundamentally indeterministic, because it most likely is both.

    Current theory holds that the universe evolved from a simple beginning into the very complex system we see today. Without the aid of a creator, this could only happen if the universe is composed of both random and deterministic processes, and the interaction of these processes gives rise to new, more complex deterministic processes that make it possible for new things to happen. The deterministic processes are the result of order, and the breakdown of order is a random process. So, it could be said that the interaction of order and disorder result in a more complex order, and an increase in disorder.

    Order in the universe is expressed as complex systems and it is the structure of the complex system that determines what happens. In other words, the complex system is responsible for what the complex system does, regardless of whether the system is composed of fundamental particles or other complex systems. Although random processes can affect what happens, they probably don’t play a major role in free will or consciousness. They probably cause things like muscle twitches, brain seizures, halucinations, and mental disorders. There may also be some role for random processes in learning. In the long term, random processes probably played a significant role in the evolution of the ability to make choices, as well as many other cognitive abilities.

    The laws of physics and chemistry, which play such a significant role in determining what happens in the universe, were probably determined themselves by the structure of matter and space. In the early universe, there was probably only one kind of order and only one thing that could happen, and in the complex universe we see today there is a vast multitude of things that can happen. With our understanding of deterministic processes, we are now designing and building complex systems that can make even more new things happen. Determinism is true, but it’s just not absolute. The results of more stable systems have a high degree of certainty, while very complex systems produce more probabalistic results because there are many more things that could go wrong.

    • In reply to #181 by jimblake:

      There’s not much point in arguing whether the universe is fundamentally deterministic or fundamentally indeterministic, because it most likely is both.

      There’s some rather odd use of terminology within this post, not the leadt of which is this initial observation. As I have made the point before, having the appearance of being something is not the same as being something. But, to follow the points where indeterminacy become an aspect (although, peculiarly, it becomes ‘randomness’) all that really need concern us is that indeterminacy is an aspect of the universe we have to accept.

      Current theory holds that the universe evolved from a simple beginning into the very complex system we see today.

      In itself this seems a harmless enough statement but, what really do you mean by ‘simple’? I ask because you later conjoin the terms ‘complex’ and ‘order’. The peculiar aspect of the (alleged) Big Bang is that the beginnings of our universe must have been in a a particularly ordered state. Indeed, it is the argument that the process of entropy (movement from order to disorder) is what defines our universe’s history – and what defines the forward arrow of time. So, it would be odd to define the ordered state of the universe as ‘simple’ while arguing that order is equivalent to complexity.

      Without the aid of a creator, this could only happen if the universe is composed of both random and deterministic processes

      I can actually see where the confusion lies here, thinking about it. Indeterminacy is not the same as ‘randomness’. I’m not trying to be nit-picky here, by the way, I really think concepts need to be understood and used correctly in order that sense be made when developing an argument.

      If we take QM as an example, the basis of QM is upon probability waves; so that the probability of outcomes is not random, they just cannot be predicted with certainty. There really is not the dichotomy that randomness would imply.

      The deterministic processes are the result of order, and the breakdown of order is a random process.

      The result of order? I’m not convinced that order is an elemental facet of nature. In fact I think our concepts ‘order’ and ‘disorder’ are more descriptions of our level of knowledge of a system than of any intrinsic facet that we are describing.

      Order in the universe is expressed as complex systems

      Order is defined as low entropy, most complex systems are high entropy.

      and it is the structure of the complex system that determines what happens. In other words, the complex system is responsible for what the complex system does, regardless of whether the system is composed of fundamental particles or other complex systems.

      You may be talking about emergent properties here but I would say that complex systems arise because of the laws of physics and chemistry. I’m not sure in what way a system can be ‘responsible’ for its actions.

      Although random processes can affect what happens, they probably don’t play a major role in free will or consciousness. They probably cause things like muscle twitches, brain seizures, halucinations, and mental disorders.

      And here is where ‘randomness’ in place of indeterminate becomes problematic. I would absolutely agree that random processes can have no real bearing on any argument of consciousness/self-will etc.; but randomness is not indeterminacy.

      The laws of physics and chemistry, which play such a significant role in determining what happens in the universe, were probably determined themselves by the structure of matter and space.

      Surely the properties of matter and space are determined by the laws of physics rather than the other way round – at least that is generally how I understand physics is perceived. I will grant you, though, that this may in itself be a little simplistic – by which I mean that we should perhaps look at matter and space as being an aspect of the laws of physics (and chemistry), rather than simply subject to them.

      • In reply to #182 by Planck’s Constant:

        In reply to #181 by jimblake:

        In itself this seems a harmless enough statement but, what really do you mean by ‘simple’? I ask because you later conjoin the terms ‘complex’ and ‘order’. The peculiar aspect of the (alleged) Big Bang is that the beginnings of our universe must have been in a a particularly ordered state. Indeed, it is the argument that the process of entropy (movement from order to disorder) is what defines our universe’s history – and what defines the forward arrow of time. So, it would be odd to define the ordered state of the universe as ‘simple’ while arguing that order is equivalent to complexity.

        Why does conjoining two words, one being an adjective and one being a noun, make them equivalent? Complex is describing the order– it is complicated rather than simple. The flow of energy from ordered to disordered is not smooth because of the uneven distribution of the initial simple order. This causes turbulence in the flow which leads to complex interactions of the energetic particles. Systems of more complicated order developed that had different properties because of their more complex structure. If the flow from order to disorder had been smooth, all that would happen is cooling in some areas and warming in others.

        I can actually see where the confusion lies here, thinking about it. Indeterminacy is not the same as ‘randomness’. I’m not trying to be nit-picky here, by the way, I really think concepts need to be understood and used correctly in order that sense be made when developing an argument.

        OK– so call it indeterminacy.
        >

        The result of order? I’m not convinced that order is an elemental facet of nature. In fact I think our concepts ‘order’ and ‘disorder’ are more descriptions of our level of knowledge of a system than of any intrinsic facet that we are describing.

        Without order, nothing would happen. There would be nothing to be determined. That is why I say that deterministic processes are the result of order.
        >

        Order is defined as low entropy, most complex systems are high entropy.

        I don’t think that you mean that complex systems are disordered energy, because that would just make them heat energy. You must mean that they are less ordered than simple order. I believe that’s what I implied when I said the interaction of order and disorder result in a more complex order, and an increase in disorder..
        >

        You may be talking about emergent properties here but I would say that complex systems arise because of the laws of physics and chemistry. I’m not sure in what way a system can be ‘responsible’ for its actions.

        Because a system is defined by the way its parts are assembled. Graphite and diamonds are both composed of carbon atoms, but their properties are determined by the way they are put together.
        >

        Surely the properties of matter and space are determined by the laws of physics rather than the other way round – at least that is generally how I understand physics is perceived. I will grant you, though, that this may in itself be a little simplistic – by which I mean that we should perhaps look at matter and space as being an aspect of the laws of physics (and chemistry), rather than simply subject to them.

        The other possibility is that the laws of physics and chemistry are an aspect of matter and space, unless you believe that the natural laws always existed, just waiting for matter and space to be created. Do you believe the principles of biology existed before there was life?

        • In reply to #183 by jimblake:

          In reply to #182 by Planck’s Constant:

          Why does conjoining two words, one being an adjective and one being a noun, make them equivalent? Complex is describing the order– it is complicated rather than simple. The flow of energy from ordered to disordered is not smooth because of the uneven distribution of the initial simple order.

          I’m sorry that I was not clearer. I was wondering at the contradiction of

          Current theory holds that the universe evolved from a simple beginning into the very complex system we see today.

          and

          Order in the universe is expressed as complex systems

          Which would seem to suggest that the beginnings of the universe was not ordered.(which you say was simple as opposed to complex – ie how order is expressed in the universe)

          I’m trying to understand what you mean by your use(s) of terminology, because it appears rather ad-hoc.

          Systems of more complicated order developed that had different properties because of their more complex structure. If the flow from order to disorder had been smooth, all that would happen is cooling in some areas and warming in others.

          Here you seem to be arguing the term ‘order’ on two different levels. Describing disorder in terms of heat, and yet discussing ‘complex order’ as describing the structures of systems. This is why I think our concept(s) of order need to be clarified. By order you seem here to mean ‘that which we can describe’ whereas disorder seem to be ‘that which we lose information about’ – or ‘heat loss’. In effect all entropy is informational , from one system to another – and heat loss is exactly that; the system loses information/energy to another system. I don’t think it is coincidental that Shannon’s Laws readily converge with our concepts of thermodynamic entropy.

          OK– so call it indeterminacy.

          It makes a difference. As I explained above. It is not simple nit-picking.

          Without order, nothing would happen. There would be nothing to be determined. That is why I say that deterministic processes are the result of order.

          True enough that we could have no concept of the passage of time if we did not perceive ‘order’ move to ‘disorder’; if we did not perceive entropy but, what is this ‘order’? It is, surely, a relative term – for if time is the movement of ‘order’ to ‘disorder’, and this has been occuring for some 13.7 billion years then we must be at a pretty disorderly state of ‘order’ by now. And, surely it is the process of movement from ‘order’ to ‘disorder’ that is the arbiter of something happening, rather than the order itself. So the process of something happening is the change which is predicated upon the laws of physics.

          I don’t think that you mean that complex systems are disordered energy, because that would just make them heat energy.

          Perhaps it would help if you could define a complex system. What do you have in mind as ‘complex’? A star? A living creature? A galaxy?

          The other possibility is that the laws of physics and chemistry are an aspect of matter and space, unless you believe that the natural laws always existed, just waiting for matter and space to be created.

          Which becomes something of a chicken and egg argument when you think about it, for what you instead suggest is that matter and space were there just waiting for the laws of physics. I don’t think that is how the ‘Big Bang’ concensus describes it.

          Do you believe the principles of biology existed before there was life?

          The principles of biology are determined by chemistry; in turn determined by physics. That we make the distinction biology/chemistry/physics should not be confused with there actually being such a break.

          • In reply to #185 by Planck’s Constant:

            Here you seem to be arguing the term ‘order’ on two different levels. Describing disorder in terms of heat, and yet discussing ‘complex order’ as describing the structures of systems. This is why I think our concept(s) of order need to be clarified. By order you seem here to mean ‘that which we can describe’ whereas disorder seem to be ‘that which we lose information about’ – or ‘heat loss’. In effect all entropy is informational , from one system to another – and heat loss is exactly that; the system loses information/energy to another system. I don’t think it is coincidental that Shannon’s Laws readily converge with our concepts of thermodynamic entropy.

            In terms of information, disorder would be an arrangement of the position and movement of particles and atoms that has no meaning, and order would be an arrangement of those particles and atoms and maybe other systems that means something, that is, it will have a particular identifiable result.

            True enough that we could have no concept of the passage of time if we did not perceive ‘order’ move to ‘disorder’; if we did not perceive entropy but, what is this ‘order’? It is, surely, a relative term – for if time is the movement of ‘order’ to ‘disorder’, and this has been occuring for some 13.7 billion years then we must be at a pretty disorderly state of ‘order’ by now. And, surely it is the process of movement from ‘order’ to ‘disorder’ that is the arbiter of something happening, rather than the order itself. So the process of something happening is the change which is predicated upon the laws of physics.

            As I said before, the flow from order to disorder is not smooth. There are other things happening in the turbulence. In some areas, order is increasing because of the energy released by the breakdown of order in other systems. This energy is used to add order to other systems or create new systems of systems. When something happens, it is more than just the loss of order. It is the creation of order in one place at the expense of a greater loss of order in another place. In the evolution of the universe, the interaction between disorder and order can produce many complex systems, some of which will break down and lose order quickly and others that will be longer lasting. Over time, the most stable, durable systems will come to dominate the universe.
            >

            Perhaps it would help if you could define a complex system. What do you have in mind as ‘complex’? A star? A living creature? A galaxy?

            All of those things are complex systems at different levels of complexity. As I said, the universe is becoming more complex over time. An atom is a complex system, as are molecules, cells, organs and organisms, and just about anything you can think of.
            >

            Which becomes something of a chicken and egg argument when you think about it, for what you instead suggest is that matter and space were there just waiting for the laws of physics. I don’t think that is how the ‘Big Bang’ concensus describes it.

            I never said matter and space came first. That would be impossible. Matter and space and the natural laws developed over time together. When a complex system develops into something that means something, the rules or laws that describe what it means are a reflection of the structure of the system.

            The principles of biology are determined by chemistry; in turn determined by physics. That we make the distinction biology/chemistry/physics should not be confused with there actually being such a break.

            What you leave out is the structure of the biological system. How all the physical and chemical properties are interconnected that makes the system alive. It is that structure that determines the principles of biology and there actually is such a break, because if you assembled all that same physics and chemistry another way, you wouldn’t get the same living system. It most likely wouldn’t be alive at all.

  64. It seems to me that even if one knows the exact starting point of a process, that does not mean that the same starting point will necessarily lead to the same results. As far as I know, there is a good dose of randomness in physical reality, so while the possible results are all constrained by physical laws, that does not mean that there is not more than one possible outcome.

    Not sure what this says (or not) about free will.

  65. Hearing nothing from Planck’s Constant, I assume he concedes on the issues discussed except for the difference between randomness and indeterminacy. What he describes as indeterminacy (a process with a probabalistic outcome) could actually be a deterministic process perturbed by one or more random events. That is what I described as random processes interacting with deterministic processes (or disorder interacting with order). The structure of the system would determine the range of possible results and the random events interacting with that structure would determine the actual result. This may be more common in very small systems because of the frequency of small random events, while random events large enough to affect large systems are more rare.

    In answer to the original question, true free will in humans is likely not possible, but there needs to be an explanation for the appearance and feeling of “free will”. The usual explanation is that it is an illusion. An illusion is produced by a cognitive bias for a particular interpretation of the perceptual information. For example, humans can imagine faces in a wide variety of places including the planet Mars and burnt toast. The reason for this is that we have a cognitive bias for faces, but that’s so that we can easily recognize real faces, not just to produce illusions. I’m not sure why we would have a cognitive bias for free will unless it was so that we could easily recognize SOMETHING LIKE free will.

    I think that the reason we feel like we have free will is because we have SOMETHING LIKE free will, and that something is intentional behavior. Is it possible to intend to do something and then do it, or do we just react to external stimuli? Much of our behavior is automatic reaction to external stimuli, but I think we do have the power to act intentionally. We need to discuss how our intentions might form and how they might affect our behavior, and how and why a system like this might have evolved. It is not sufficient to say that it is just an illusion, and we actually have no choice.

    We have to get away from the idea that there is a causal chain that exists through time. The reality is that what happens is determined by the environment, but the environment is determined by what happens. Systems have been and are evolving that create complex order and meaning from random energy through some filtering or selection process. It is the complex systems that determine what happens, and a human being is a complex system.

    I think that focused and deliberative conscious thought about possible future scenarios can lead to a novel idea that is remembered and has an affect on behavior. The structure of the brain determines how it works. The brain did not create itself in its initial state, but it did create all the changes in its own structure since then. The brain can change its own structure and make new things happen.

    • In reply to #188 by jimblake:

      Hearing nothing from Planck’s Constant, I assume he concedes on the issues discussed except for the difference between randomness and indeterminacy.

      Not so fast. I have a life to lead as well…

      In terms of information, disorder would be an arrangement of the position and movement of particles and atoms that has no meaning, and order would be an arrangement of those particles and atoms and maybe other systems that means something, that is, it will have a particular identifiable result.

      Meaning? Meaning to what? Or should that be who? An identifiable result to what (or who)? These terms are subjective. It seems to me that, in order to hold our ‘determinate’ and ‘objective’ propositions together there has to be an awful lot of subjective descriptions involved (though most of the time they are… disguised as something else.)

      What you leave out is the structure of the biological system. How all the physical and chemical properties are interconnected that makes the system alive. It is that structure that determines the principles of biology and there actually is such a break, because if you assembled all that same physics and chemistry another way, you wouldn’t get the same living system. It most likely wouldn’t be alive at all.

      No, there isn’t actually a break. The laws of physics don’t change. The same laws of physics apply within a biological structure as in any other structure. The break is a purely subjective one.

      • In reply to #189 by Planck’s Constant:

        In reply to #188 by jimblake:

        Meaning? Meaning to what? Or should that be who? An identifiable result to what (or who)? These terms are subjective. It seems to me that, in order to hold our ‘determinate’ and ‘objective’ propositions together there has to be an awful lot of subjective descriptions involved (though most of the time they are… disguised as something else.)

        Of course our observations are subjective. It couldn’t be any other way. But we use the scientific method to determine objective reality from our subjective observations. You’re the one who brought up information theory, and I happen to agree with you. Life and all of reality is all about information, but there could be no information without meaning. We have used the scientific method to determine that a particular structure of a particular system ‘means’ it has certain properties. For example, we have found that when carbon atoms are assembled in a certain structure, it ‘means’ it will be graphite, while if the same carbon atoms were assembled in a different structure, it ‘means’ it will be a diamond. This is objective meaning obtained by induction from multiple observations and experiments.

        No, there isn’t actually a break. The laws of physics don’t change. The same laws of physics apply within a biological structure as in any other structure. The break is a purely subjective one.

        I don’t think that the laws of physics have to change in order for there to be a break. The whole point of complexity is that new systems are created by assembling the old systems in unique structures that make something new happen. Sometimes, what happens is so different that it produces results on a higher level of reality. Physics and chemistry explains all the physical and chemical reactions going on, but they can’t adequately explain the ultimate result (the meaning of the reactions when they are connected in that particular structure). That’s when an extra level of explanatory rules that are a reflection of that structure needs to be added on top of existing rules in order to adequately understand reality.

        • In reply to #190 by jimblake:

          Of course our observations are subjective. It couldn’t be any other way. But we use the scientific method to determine objective reality from our subjective observations. You’re the one who brought up information theory, and I happen to agree with you. Life and all of reality is all about information, but there could be no information without meaning. We have used the scientific method to determine that a particular structure of a particular system ‘means’ it has certain properties. For example, we have found that when carbon atoms are assembled in a certain structure, it ‘means’ it will be graphite, while if the same carbon atoms were assembled in a different structure, it ‘means’ it will be a diamond. This is objective meaning obtained by induction from multiple observations and experiments.

          But then…you argue that there is no free-will (or self-will)? What, then, are the implications of ‘meaning’ and such concepts as ‘The scientific method’?

          Without self-will then ‘The scientific method’ must be a thought, a concept created by the universe. As must be mathematic, philosophy etc. How can we ‘use’ these concepts without self-will? If you argue for ‘meaning’ and for concepts of information as an aspect of the universe then you are, essentially, arguing for a conscious universe; for an imbedded structure of ‘meaning’ within the universe.

          Without self-will how do we share our subjective experiences with others and come to an objective reality? What is the process of that in terms of our non-participant consciousness?

          • In reply to #191 by Planck’s Constant:

            Without self-will how do we share our subjective experiences with others and come to an objective reality?
            What is the process of that in terms of our non-participant consciousness?

            Natural selection. – from within a range of diversity and variation.

          • In reply to #192 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #191 by Planck’s Constant:

            Without self-will how do we share our subjective experiences with others and come to an objective reality?
            What is the process of that in terms of our non-participant consciousness?

            Natural selection. – from within a range of diversity and variation.

            So that, you cannot actually – then – argue the validity of the results of the scientific method; all that we can say is that there is a level of survivability attained through its use. Equally valid (perhaps more so, if the figures of believers are to be taken as exceeding those of atheists) are the ideas of believers – judged on the basis of survivability. The scientific method, then, has no more reasoning than an elephant’s trunk – an elephant’s trunk is real, but is it true?

            And…how many chimps, over how many years would it take to write Shakespeare’s Hamlet?

          • In reply to #193 by Planck’s Constant:

            What is the process of that in terms of our non-participant consciousness?

            Natural selection. – from within a range of diversity and variation.

            So that, you cannot actually – then – argue the validity of the results of the scientific method; all that we can say is that there is a level of survivability attained through its use.

            It has nothing to do with “the validity of results of the scientific method”.
            I was talking about the “non-participant consciousness” in the evolution of individuals using scientific thinking. Nobody consciously thought, “Let’s grow big brains and evolve into scientists”! Like other features in evolution it simply works sufficiently for its continuation.

          • In reply to #191 by Planck’s Constant:

            In reply to #190 by jimblake:

            But then…you argue that there is no free-will (or self-will)? What, then, are the implications of ‘meaning’ and such concepts as ‘The scientific method’?

            Without self-will then ‘The scientific method’ must be a thought, a concept created by the universe. As must be mathematic, philosophy etc. How can we ‘use’ these concepts without self-will? If you argue for ‘meaning’ and for concepts of information as an aspect of the universe then you are, essentially, arguing for a conscious universe; for an imbedded structure of ‘meaning’ within the universe.

            Without self-will how do we share our subjective experiences with others and come to an objective reality? What is the process of that in terms of our non-participant consciousness?

            I don’t think you read what I write. I said ‘true free will is likely not possible’, and then went on to say that we have ‘something like free will’, or intentional behavior.

            The key is the structure of the brain. The brain is a complex system whose structure determines what it can do. One of the things it can do is add new connections and change its own structure so that something new can happen. This is called learning and memory, and it affects future behavior. This feature evolved over time to allow for real time problem solving, which works more efficiently than waiting for evolution to develop new instincts. The way it works is that we have certain built-in wants, and a built-in drive to try to find a way to satisfy a want. That drive is the ‘will’, and couldn’t be free because because it requires a ‘want’, but it may be possible for there to be a free ‘want’. We start with basic built in wants and we learn new wants by associating behavior with existing wants. Some behavior is self-rewarding, making it easier to learn. We can also create new wants by modeling or thinking about, and remembering possible futures. This memory allows us to choose a path to a possibly more desirable future. When we create a new want in this way, it still has to compete with other wants to be satisfied by the will.

            Basically, what I am saying is that we can consciously create new ‘wants’ and that we can try to find a way to satisfy those ‘wants’. The process of satisfying wants with the ‘will’ may be partly unconscious. I never said that we have a non-participant consciousness.

            I’m not sure what you mean by self-will. I think that the will is basically an automatic drive to satisfy a want, but that a want can be consciously created by associating it with existing wants. This doesn’t mean to you will be able to do what you want, but the ‘will’ will try to find a way, and there may be other competing ‘wants’.

            I’m also not sure of what your issue with ‘meaning’ is. You may be applying a different meaning to ‘meaning’. When I say that A + B means C, I am saying that C is a consequence of A + B.

  66. New wants from existing wants… But many of the things humans want most are unconnected in any plausible way with the wants of Cromagnon man. Where is the want to do crossword puzzles, or to watch (or write) Hamlet, or devise theorems in projective geometry and transfinite arithmetic, or write symphonies, or play chess, or…

    • In reply to #197 by logicophilosophicus:

      New wants from existing wants… But many of the things humans want most are unconnected in any plausible way with the wants of Cromagnon man. Where is the want to do crossword puzzles, or to watch (or write) Hamlet, or devise theorems in projective geometry and transfinite arithmetic, or write symp…

      Maybe it’s just a failure of your imagination. You are born with basic survival wants and genetic preferences for some kinds of behavior which leads to self rewarding behavior which leads to learned wants: other learned wants from experiences with the environment; self-created wants from imaginings about the future. All of these wants become existing wants that can be combined in various ways to create a hierarchy of wants that continues to grow and recombine, some being abandoned and others being added. By the time you are 60 years old, you could have very different wants than when you were 10 or 20 or 30. You could experiment and discover wants that you never before wanted. This vast web of wants and interests would give you plenty of material frrom which to construct new wants in your thoughts about the future.

      • In reply to #198 by jimblake:

        In reply to #197 by logicophilosophicus:

        New wants from existing wants… But many of the things humans want most are unconnected in any plausible way with the wants of Cromagnon man.

        I think you failed to meet the plausibility criterion by a country mile. You started with an organism equipped with pleistocene survival strategies, and suggested that logically leads to Gödel, Escher and Bach.

        • In reply to #199 by logicophilosophicus:

          In reply to #198 by jimblake:

          I think you failed to meet the plausibility criterion by a country mile. You started with an organism equipped with pleistocene survival strategies, and suggested that logically leads to Gödel, Escher and Bach.

          You clearly fail to appreciate the complexity and adaptability of the human brain. The main survival advantage of the brain is that not all of its functions are pre-programmed; it has the ability to learn and can actually learn very complex things.

          • In reply to #200 by jimblake:

            The point is not that “the brain… can learn very complex things.” It is that the complex things listed have no plausible link to survival, so the want/will to learn and devote major time to such things (Chess, Gödel’s Theorem, Orchestral Music…) is prima facie non-Darwinian, not determined by natural selection, and therefore good evidence for Free Will.

          • In reply to #201 by logicophilosophicus:

            In reply to #200 by jimblake:

            The point is not that “the brain… can learn very complex things.”

            It is that the complex things listed have no plausible link to survival, so the want/will to learn and devote major time to such things (Chess, Gödel’s Theorem, Orchestral Music…)

            There are many individual behaviours which have no apparent links to survival. It is not possible to generalise from these across the whole population. Survival in natural selection works on balance, not a minority of individuals. If the features have some benefits to survival in some individuals, that is natural selection.

            (Chess, Gödel’s Theorem, Orchestral Music..)

            Chess was originally about weighing the strategic capabilities of rivals. Mathematicians (now as in the past) were employed by rulers as elite consultants on war machinery. Musicians through the ages have been known to have “groupies” – These examples are just personal incredulity.

            is prima facie non-Darwinian, not determined by natural selection,

            There is no evidence that natural selection is not in play in human populations. It would be quite amazing if that was the case!!

            and therefore good evidence for Free Will.

            Behaviours to the detriment of individual survival are not evidence of “free will”!
            If they were, all the soldier ants and worker bees would have “free will”.

          • In reply to #201 by logicophilosophicus:

            In reply to #200 by jimblake:
            The point is not that “the brain… can learn very complex things.” It is that the complex things listed have no plausible link to survival, so the want/will to learn and devote major time to such things (Chess, Gödel’s Theorem, Orchestral Music…) is prima facie non-Darwinian, not determined by natural selection, and therefore good evidence for Free Will.

            I don’t agree at all that you have proven those things aren’t partly or even entirely Darwinian. You just said so with no evidence or rational argument. Its not obvious that they aren’t Darwinian at least in part. Other animals engage in play and rituals (chess, music) and understanding the truth about how your environment works (Godel’s theorem) certainly has survival benefits. But in any case I think your whole argument is flawed. I personally do believe that much of what humans do needs more explanation than just what we can get from evolution. And Dawkins has said the same thing (e.g. when he talks about altruism and morality) So even if you are right and those things have no evolutionary explanation at all (I don’t think that’s true but if) I don’t see how that in any way supports the concept of free will.

            BTW, I do believe in free will although probably not your version of it. What I believe is just that there is no problem — no contradiction between holding people responsible for their actions and believing that science might be able to eventually predict those actions — and that the only reason people think there is a problem is they are still trying to use a definition of free will that was created to try and make sense of how an all powerful and good God can also allow evil.

          • In reply to #201 by logicophilosophicus:

            In reply to #200 by jimblake:

            The point is not that “the brain… can learn very complex things.” It is that the complex things listed have no plausible link to survival, so the want/will to learn and devote major time to such things (Chess, Gödel’s Theorem, Orchestral Music…) is prima facie non-Darwinian, not determined by natural selection, and therefore good evidence for Free Will.

            You forget that the way evolution works is that a lot of stuff happens and some stuff gets selected. Everything we do doesn’t have to have immediate survival advantage. Also, the things that human beings think and do are part of a larger system called culture that is evolving. The things that we like and want are learned in the context of our culture and may add to that culture. Many factors contribute to the survival of a culture, but the unltimate arbiter of its survival is the survival of its members.

            By the way, I have not been arguing against the common understanding of ‘free will’ which is that we can try to do what we want and that we can choose some of what we want through conscious contemplation of the future. I also think that we can do some things we really don’t want to do, if we can link it to something we do want. It doesn’t even have to be a very plausible link. I’ve just been proposing an explanation of how we can behave that way in light of our evolutionary history.

  67. The argument is about human motivation. (There is another argument to be made about human capability, but that was not he issue here.) “The want/will to learn and devote major time” to activities with no survival advantage requires explanation, since the time and resources could have been directed to survival. It’s a simple point. Anyone who thinks that the many thousands of hours devoted to magic squares, fairy chess, origami, etc, etc have net positive survival value needs to prove it.

    • In reply to #206 by logicophilosophicus:

      The argument is about human motivation. (There is another argument to be made about human capability, but that was not he issue here.) “The want/will to learn and devote major time” to activities with no survival advantage requires explanation, since the time and resources could have been directed to survival. It’s a simple point. Anyone who thinks that the many thousands of hours devoted to magic squares, fairy chess, origami, etc, etc have net positive survival value needs to prove it.

      Why should the time and resources be directed to survival if all your survival needs are being met? I would say that people who are in a struggle to survive don’t take part in those kinds of activities. If your culture and social standing provides an environment that allows you satisfy your survival needs in a relatively short time, then there is a lot of spare time to lay around or do something else. But how do you decide what else to do? Well, we still have basic drives pushing us to do something. These drives will have to be satisfied some other way. Rather than instincts for a particular behavior, the drives are usually more general, such as a drive for intellectual and physical challenges. Drives like this work by making a behavior easier to learn because of the self-rewarding nature of the behavior. We feel so good when we are successful at a mental or physical challenge, that we quickly learn that behavior. This can be very beneficial for survival in various environments, but if our survival needs are being met, then this drive will have to be satisfied some other way. This is when we begin to discover other behaviors that satisfy our need for mental and physical challenges without any obvious survival benefit. Some of these behaviors when performed in a social context can begin to take on a life of their own and grow and evolve as a part of the culture. Some of these behaviors become so pervasive in our culture that they may benefit us indirectly in other ways. Sometimes, just being successful is good enough when you’re already surviving.

        • In reply to #208 by logicophilosophicus:

          In reply to #207 by jimblake:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starving_artist

          So a not-really-starving artist is willing to sacrifice a comfortable life to pursue his artistic interests. That really doesn’t tell you much except that he wanted a career in art, didn’t want any other career, and different people require different levels of comfort to be satisfied depending on what else they are doing. It doesn’t tell you how he acquired his interest in art or whether he would still do it if he were seriously at risk of dying. It doesn’t tell you if he is obsessive or has some other mental disorder.

          A socially valued activity that you are good at is self-rewarding and thus easier to learn. He likely had his survival needs taken care of while he was developing his interest in art. I don’t know what this link is supposed to prove.

          You say that this kind of behavior requires an explanation and I’ve given you one. You don’t accept it but I don’t see any explanation from you except for this link that explains or rebuts nothing. Apparently you believe that we don’t know and we’ll just have to wait until something new is discovered. You don’t believe in the power of interconnected complex systems even though it was just such a system that produced life from non-life and amazingly complex organisms like yourself from single cells.

          Without an explanation from you, there’s not really anything more to debate.

    • In reply to #206 by logicophilosophicus:

      The argument is about human motivation. (There is another argument to be made about human capability, but that was not he issue here.) “The want/will to learn and devote major time” to activities with no survival advantage requires explanation, since the time and resources could have been directed to survival. It’s a simple point. Anyone who thinks that the many thousands of hours devoted to magic squares, fairy chess, origami, etc, etc have net positive survival value needs to prove it.

      I still don’t see an argument that can even be evaluated. So you are saying we need more than just standard evolutionary theory to fully understand human behavior? Ok, yes I would agree and I doubt many credible scientists would disagree. As I said Dawkins has said as much, its why he came up with the concept of “memes” in the first place. So where is the argument how does that fact, that we don’t yet fully understand human psychology or sociology from a scientific standpoint yet lead one to believe in free will? I just don’t see the logical connection in the first place.

      • In reply to #211 by Red Dog:

        Darwinian evolution replaces progress with accidental novelty and natural selection. That accounts for a whole range of behaviours. Many highly valued activities are drastically at odds with Darwinian instincts. This is a very obvious discontinuity to most people. Not to you (“I don’t agree at all…”) Why did Giordiano Bruno not recant? Do you admire him for dying for an opinion? Note, too, that a novel opinion is not a “meme” (and all memes must start as novelties…)

        So there is some other determinant of decision, leading in strange new directions irrelevant to early Homo sapiens. I say it may be appropriate to designate this “free will”. You disagree. But to say there is no “argument that can even be evaluated” is just a wind up, and I don’t wind.

        • In reply to #212 by logicophilosophicus:

          Darwinian evolution replaces progress with accidental novelty and natural selection. That accounts for a whole range of behaviours. Many highly valued activities are drastically at odds with Darwinian instincts. This is a very obvious discontinuity to most people. Not to you.

          Sorry, I guess I wasn’t communicating. That absolutely is clear to me. I agree with you!!! And I think Dawkins would agree as well. As I said that is why he created meme theory (which I also think is flawed but that’s another discussion). Actually I’m glad to hear you say that because I’ve had discussions with others on this site who don’t seem to get that. They think standard models of evolution and kin selection can explain for example a soldier jumping on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers. Their explanation (I kid you not) is in that case the soldiers are confused and think their fellow soldiers are actual siblings. That is from a real discussion I had with someone about how I believe kin selection and reciprocal altruism can’t account for all the moral judgements your average human makes.

          So there is some other determinant of decision, leading in strange new directions irrelevant to early Homo sapiens. I say it may be appropriate to designate this “free will”. You disagree. But to say there is no “argument that can even be evaluated” is just a wind up, and I don’t wind.

          Here is where you lose me. I don’t see how saying that we don’t completely understand all human behavior yet, my example of the soldiers or your example of Giordiano Bruno then leads you to say there must be some concept such as free will. And I’m sorry I guess I’m just dumb today but I don’t even see the logical connection. By free will I mean that there is some aspect of human behavior that can’t be explained by advancing the models we have for psychology etc. based on a materialistic paradigm. I.e. we need some notion of a “soul” or that somehow human desires and intentions are outside the normal realm of materialistic science.

          I guess the argument might be since we don’t understand it completely its possible that some credible explanation will come forward that involves the soul and free will. Yes it is. But people have been making enormous progress without that concept. We understand the processing of the brain now to the point where we can actually hook up prosthetic limbs to the human nervous system. So as Laplace said in an only slightly different context: “I have no need for that hypothesis”

          • In reply to #213 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #213 by Red Dog:

            Take Bruno. He is a product of evolution and as such (in Richard Dawkins’s terms) his genes’ vehicle for replication/propagation. We fully expect his behaviour to be survival-orientated. It wasn’t. He had a new set of ideas, completely his own, which he cold have kept to himself; but he decided (act of will) to speak out knowing he would be condemned. Well, it could just be (as jimblake puts it) that he “has some… mental disorder.” It’s not the individual that raises the big question – it’s the fact that his action is very generally approved. In some way many of us share Bruno’s belief, and hope we would have the courage to die for our convictions. (Note that this is not the same thing at all as dying to save your comrades, which at least has survival value for some people, some genes.) Scrabbling among the neurons isn’t going to find a way to plug that into a gene machine.

            In any case, neuroscience is intrinsically incapable of accounting for the feeling of making an act of will: this whole argument lets physicalism (temporarily) off the hook right there. Physicalism is not close to accounting for conscious states. (Emergence? There’s some serious woowoo.)

            My preferred explanation is a form of neutral monism. There is no supernatural involvement. I recommend Scrödinger’s “What is Life” 1943/4 (very short, available as free download). The final section is on Free Will.

          • In reply to #215 by logicophilosophicus:

            Take Bruno. He is a product of evolution and as such (in Richard Dawkins’s terms) his genes’ vehicle for replication/propagation. We fully expect his behaviour to be survival-orientated. It wasn’t. He had a new set of ideas, completely his own, which he cold have kept to himself; but he decided (act of will) to speak out knowing he would be condemned. Well, it could just be (as jimblake puts it) that he “has some… mental disorder.”

            I think all these speculations about the motivation for one act are pointless. My answer is much simpler. I don’t know. Its an open and very interesting scientific question. A lot of people here seem to find value in endless speculation but I don’t. “It might be this or it might be that” It might be a lot of things.

            What you need to do is put forth some compelling argument why one area for further research that is worth investigating is the idea of “free will”. What explanatory power does that give us that we don’t have otherwise? What problem can’t be solved by a cognitive science approach that a free will approach can solve? In all the stuff you’ve written I’ve not seen that. All I see are you endlessly pointing out that there are lots of open questions (I agree) and that none of the solutions we have is complete or without problems yet (I agree) and that therefor… Free Will! That’s not an argument. There is a missing step. What can Free Will explain that cognitive science models without it can’t?

            It’s not the individual that raises the big question – it’s the fact that his action is very generally approved. In some way many of us share Bruno’s belief, and hope we would have the courage to die for our convictions.

            I agree that is an interesting unsolved question. And there are lots of interesting potential answers. Group selection for example. Or the work that people like Marc Hauser and Scott Atran are doing in cognitive psychology creating models of the sub-systems we think exist in the brain for various kinds of processing including moral decisions. There is a guy from USC named Boehm who has written some interesting stuff overlapping evolutionary biology and anthropology. There is Meme Theory. And don’t bother telling me that there are all sorts of problems with all these theories I know there are. That’s what makes it fun! What you have to do is tell me how free will can solve some problem that none of these approaches I’ve alluded to (none of which utilize free will) can.

            In any case, neuroscience is intrinsically incapable of accounting for the feeling of making an act of will: this whole argument lets physicalism (temporarily) off the hook right there. Physicalism is not close to accounting for conscious states. (Emergence? There’s some serious woowoo.)

            I agree that Physicalism and Neuroscience alone are inadequate and so do all the people I mentioned in my reply right above this.

            My preferred explanation is a form of neutral monism. There is no supernatural involvement. I recommend Scrödinger’s “What is Life” 1943/4 (very short, available as free download). The final section is on Free Will.

            I read that actually. What a fascinating work. Although as I recall at the end he veers off into some rather scary Eugenics type rhetoric. Just saying “I prefer” isn’t an argument. The Schrodinger work was interesting but old and doesn’t reflect what’s happened in cognitive science since people like Chomsky, Dennett, and Pinker. Again, my simple question for you is what explanatory power does free will give you?

          • In reply to #215 by logicophilosophicus:

            I just wanted to clarify a few things since its been a while since I commented on this topic. I distinguish between Metaphysical Free Will and The Free Will Problem.

            Metaphysical Free Will: (I’ll just call this Free Will from now on, when I say Free Will on this thread this is what I mean) The idea that human actions and decisions somehow take place outside the realm of conventional science. That there is something special about human behavior that requires the concept of a soul or spirit to completely explain.

            The Free Will Problem: The idea that as we understand more about human behavior we will see that some or all of our common sense notions about morality and decision making will be radically altered. E.g., if its all determined then how can anyone be responsible or why should anyone make an effort?

            I don’t believe in either one of these. I don’t think there is such a thing as Free Will but I also don’t think saying that causes a Free Will problem.

            Also to logico one more thing you need to make a case that I will find compelling is to address the following: The position that there is Free Will posits that humans are somehow special and unique in some fundamental way. The history of science is filled with such examples and time and again we have found that humans are not so special. Our home is not the center of the universe. We weren’t created in the image of some great creator who looks lust like us. So not only do you need to make the case that Free Will has some useful explanatory power that is required for a complete psychological explanation of human behavior but you also have to make a case why humans in this case really are so unique and different when so often that assumption has turned out to be wrong.

          • In reply to #213 by Red Dog:

            They think standard models of evolution and kin selection can explain for example a soldier jumping on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers. Their explanation (I kid you not) is in that case the soldiers are confused and think their fellow soldiers are actual siblings.

            “Brothers in arms” and group bonding, “buddy systems” etc are absolutely about conditioning troops to identify their fellow soldiers as “brothers” and leaders as father figures, to inculcate that meme! Reinforcement by glorified “hero”stories and personal promotion for acceptance, further adds to this. Gods are also frequently presented as alpha father or mother figures which loyal sheeples are prepared to die for.
            Deception and exploitation via false identity is very extensive in evolution and well explained behaviour as fictive-kin selection.

            In any case all this circularity about concepts of “free will” derived from ancient philosophy and theology, starts with poorly defined vague compartmentalised philosophical concepts (consciousness, neutral monism, dualism, life/non-life etc) and then tries to build these into credible science.
            It is a flawed process. Science must start with clear definitions and evidence (forces, energies, atoms molecules reactions).
            If scientific evidence is incomplete, that does not support unevidenced alternative speculations couched in vagueness or incredulous anecdotal claims.

        • In reply to #212 by logicophilosophicus:

          In reply to #211 by Red Dog:

          Darwinian evolution replaces progress with accidental novelty and natural selection. That accounts for a whole range of behaviours. Many highly valued activities are drastically at odds with Darwinian instincts. This is a very obvious discontinuity to most people. Not to you (“I don’t agree at all…”) Why did Giordiano Bruno not recant? Do you admire him for dying for an opinion? Note, too, that a novel opinion is not a “meme” (and all memes must start as novelties…)

          So there is some other determinant of decision, leading in strange new directions irrelevant to early Homo sapiens. I say it may be appropriate to designate this “free will”.

          I think I see what’s causing your problem. You assume that if there was nothing else determining what we choose to do, we would only choose things with survival value. Therefore, since people choose many activities with no survival value there must be something else determining our choices. Is your assumption true, that Darwinian evolution works that way?

          First of all, it’s not survival that controls evolution but instead opportunities for reproduction. Thus, besides natural selection, there is sexual selection, which can cause all kinds of strange behaviors to elvove. In sexual selection mating opportunities are limited by sexual preferences that have evolved. Secondly, not all of our behaviors are evolved instincts; rather, we have evolved the ability to make choices that, more often than not, improve our chances of survival and mating. This is possible because even though it doesn’t always improve our chances, it works better than rigid instincts that always work the same regardless of the environment or circumstances.

          Since the evolution of learning, evolution has often tinkered with the learning process rather than tinkering directly with behavior. Preferences for certain classes of behavior have evolved, creating a basis for choices. In the example I gave before, we could have a preference for physical and mental challenges because it makes us feel good, and even better when we succeed at one of these endeavors. In many, if not most cases, as a side effect we will improve our chances of survival or mating. Even when it doesn’t we find it easier to learn these behaviors because of this self-rewarding aspect. Risky behavior can even be encouraged by an adrenalin rush. Over the population, there will be variation in the level of preference, allowing Darwinian selection to operate.

          Choices can even include complex interactions between different preferences which may produce results contrary to Darwinian selection. A preference for sexual behavior will increase the chances of reproduction, but when combined with an attraction for the same sex, the chances for reproduction will drop to zero. While some may believe this is because of free will, it is most likely because of variation of preference over the population.

          This is just an overview, but I hope it can help make what I have been trying to explain more clear.

          • In reply to #214 by jimblake:

            Sexual selection is about gene survival. It’s a good example of the selfish gene – the peacock’s tail, etc, are actually false assertions of fitness: genes are unconcerned with honesty. That has nothing to do with examples like Bruno. There is no gene survival, just a wilful act of honesty/integrity at huge cost.

            “…feel good”? I suspect Bruno stopped feeling good long before the Inquisitor brought out the thumbscrews and hot knives. But a physicalist explanation has no business invoking feelings in any case.

          • In reply to #216 by logicophilosophicus:

            But a physicalist explanation has no business invoking feelings in any case.

            Feelings are derived from neurosensational imputs via physics and chemistry with hormone chemistry providing a great deal of emotional effects and behavioural influences.

            I see you are still churning out doubt-mongering assertions, based on incredulity and a lack of understanding of biology! – particularly the biology of evolving populations.

          • In reply to #217 by Alan4discussion:

            Feelings are derived from neurosensational imputs via physics and chemistry with hormone chemistry providing a great deal of emotional effects and behavioural influences.

            I see you are still churning out accusations of ignorance – as when you branded Vilayanur Ramachandran (hailed by Dawkins as “The Marco Polo of neuroscience”) and Nobel Prize winning biophysical chemist Manfred Eigen “ignoramuses”.

            Meanwhile, as ever, one reference for the relevance of population biology to the substance of the comment you purport to criticise, if you please?

            BTW Congratulations on inventing the word “neurosensational”, which has no currency whatsoever in neuroscience. (Some philosopher at Penn State writing a paper on “A Rhetorical Theory of Justice” this year is, unfortunately, the only other human being on the internet to have used the word, so you miss out on originality by one.)

          • In reply to #218 by logicophilosophicus:

            But a physicalist explanation has no business invoking feelings in any case.

            Feelings are derived from neurosensational imputs via physics and chemistry with hormone chemistry providing a great deal of emotional effects and behavioural influences.

            I see you are still churning out accusations of ignorance -

            Project much?? I see you have no answers to my reference to sensory neurological inputs so divert the issue by trying to project your ignorance of biology onto me. Just a bald assertion that “physicalist explanation has no business invoking feelings” when physical sensory inputs and physical internal chemistry are the very essence of “feelings”!

            Nothing about evolutionary or behavioural effects of hormones, pheromones, scents, evolved pattern recognition, kin selection, fictive-kin-selection etc.???

            Meanwhile, as ever, one reference for the relevance of population biology to the substance of the comment you purport to criticise, if you please?

            You are making claims about evolved behaviours. They evolved in past populations!! I would have thought that was self evident!

            The subject area is ECOLOGY, which covers many aspects of evolution well beyond your focus on individual organisms or humans.
            The ignorance I refer to is the inability to recognise the wider effects this covers, within species, and between competing species in relation to their behaviour in their environment.
            I pointed out some aspects of this @203.
            Evolutionary Genetics is not exclusively about the survival of individual organisms. It is about populations and behaviours.
            Nor can any conclusions about “free will”, be drawn or implied about the subject, from your incredulity on interactive areas of biology you do not understand.

          • In reply to #220 by Alan4discussion:

            “I see you have no answers to my reference to sensory neurological inputs”

            • which have nothing to do with free will.

            “trying to project your ignorance of biology onto me”

            • I think you are the only person here churning out accusations of ignorance.

            “physical internal chemistry… the very essence of ‘feelings’!”

            • good luck with that one!

            “…kin selection, fictive-kin-selection etc.???”

            • as (yet more) deteminants of supposed free will???

            I asked: “…one reference for the relevance of population biology to the substance of the comment you purport to criticise, if you please?”

            You can’t provide one. My post was specifically – only – about Bruno, as an example of dying for truth/principle as evidence for free will. Obviously this has nothing to do with…

            “…ECOLOGY, which covers many aspects of evolution well beyond your focus on individual organisms or humans.”

            You have said nothing relevant, and said it abusively. You win. I’m out of here.

            (Apologies to other posters – I shall not be replying.)

          • In reply to #223 by logicophilosophicus:

            In reply to #220 by Alan4discussion:

            “I see you have no answers to my reference to sensory neurological inputs”

            which have nothing to do with free will.

            Your ignorance is becoming very obvious!!

            “trying to project your ignorance of biology onto me”

            I think you are the only person here churning out accusations of ignorance.

            Of course I am! You have produced a fallacious argument from ignorance and incredulity which I and others, have refuted, but with which you still persist in asserting!

            “physical internal chemistry… the very essence of ‘feelings’!”

            good luck with that one!

            Yet more proof you have no idea how emotions or senses work in biology!

            Nothing about evolutionary or behavioural effects of hormones, pheromones, scents, evolved pattern recognition,”…kin selection, fictive-kin-selection etc.???”

            as (yet more) deteminants of supposed free will???

            Actually, they explain inherited evolutionary conditioned behaviour – possibly with some added “meme” cultural psychological conditioning. – Nothing to do with “free will”.

            I asked: “…one reference for the relevance of population biology to the substance of the comment you purport to criticise, if you please?”

            If you can’t understand that behaviours are evolved in animal populations, there is not room here for the text of several basic text-books. I have already provided basic explanations.

            You can’t provide one.

            Rubbish – Read “The Selfish Gene” chapter 6.

            My post was specifically – only – about Bruno, as an example of dying for truth/principle as evidence for free will.

            You can’t produce general features from the odd anecdote with limited descriptions. (Red Dog has also pointed this out to you.) There are numerous reasons other than “free will” to explain such behaviours. Your ignorance of these does not support any claim!

            Obviously this has nothing to do with…

            “…ECOLOGY, which covers many aspects of evolution well beyond your focus on individual organisms or humans.”

            It might be “obvious” to those who are profoundly ignorant of evolved behaviours in animal populations, and the chemical influences on brains, but that is just an argument from ignorance and personal incredulity!

            You have said nothing relevant,

            Actually I have referred to well documented science which you seem utterly unable or unwilling to understand.

            http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/how-does-social-behavior-evolve-13260245

            http://www.springer.com/life+sciences/behavioural/book/978-3-642-02623-2 – **Related subjects **- Behavioral Sciences – Ecology – Evolutionary; Developmental Biology – Neuroscience

            and said it abusively.

            Refuting asserted ignorance is not abuse, although I am well aware of those without evidenced answers or understanding of the subject, playing the “offended card” as a further diversion and distraction.

            You win. I’m out of here. – (Apologies to other posters – I shall not be replying.)

            When you have no idea what you are talking about and are contradicting well informed people, that is the next best option to leaving the supply of information to more informed people in the first place.

  68. “Noli, obsecro, istum disturbare!”

    Your “explanation” is that the person who devotes him or herself to art, music, pure mathematics, literature, philosophy, theoretical physics, etc, etc, to the extent that it – as it must – reduces survival potential:

    a) is satisfied with less (how did we evolve that?), or

    b) has some mental disorder.

    Your explanation is that either we behave as Darwinian constructs or as faulty Darwinian constructs. There is a principle in logic that whatever explains everything explains nothing. Your argument cannot be falsified – especially as you demand an extra level of falsification: the many opposing observations don’t count unless they are built into an explanatory theory. On that basis the Inquisition were right. Galileo couldn’t have observed moons around Jupiter because he hadn’t invented Newton’s Theory of Universal Gravitation. As you say, there is nothing to debate.

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  70. One of the most popular arguments used against ultimate Free Will is that of ‘being subject to external influence’. Allow me to use an analogy first in order to make my point:

    Assume two people, one riding a conventional bicycle, the second in command of a ‘state-of-the-art’ military jet fighter aircraft. Both love vehicles and love speed, so both wish to maximise their experience, yet each is only able to do so within the confines of the ‘performance envelope’ of the vehicle with which they are interacting – ie their ‘situation’ in general terms.

    We are not victims of any primary Determinism, we are clearly ‘victims’ of situational potential for expression of that will. We have ‘ultimate’ Free Will – but we can only express it as ‘effective’ Free Will.

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