Free Will in the Real World?

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There can be no morality without free will. Therefore, a blog about real-world morality must discuss real world free will.

Right?

Wrong.

I have been asked, “Does desirism depend on no variety of free will existing or just contra-causal free will?”

I have a problem answering this question because I do not think that people have a clear and precise idea of “free will”. For some, it is the power to violate the laws of physics just by wanting to do so. For others, it is the capacity to choose actions based on one’s own desires.

I am going to describe what desirism requires in terms that do not mention free will, and leave it to the reader to decide if if their concept of “free will” fits somewhere in the picture.

The heart of the question concerns whether an agent “could have done otherwise”.

We do not blame a person for failure to teleport a child out of a burning building because people do not have that ability. “Ought” implies “can” and “cannot” implies “it is not the case that one ought”.

Some would argue that the employee who takes cash out of the till and the parent who beats a child also could not have done otherwise. Given their personal history, the physical structure of their brain at the moment of action, the environment, they are as powerless to prevent taking the money or beating the child as the person who “let” the children burn in the fire.

Consistency, then, requires that we hold them to be as blameless as the person who did not teleport the child out of the burning building.

Desirism handles this problem by putting reward/praise and punishment/condemnation in the determined universe.

Reward and punishment are actions, themselves having determined causes (the beliefs and desires of those who reward and punish) and determined effects (altering the desires of those rewarded or punished and of those who experience the rewards and punishments).

The reasons to reward and punish come from the desires of agents. They are the same kinds of reasons as the reason to avoid putting one’s hand in a hot fire or to go to the dentist.

Some agents might have reasons to reward or punish that few of us have reason to endorse. This is a fact – as real as the desires that generate our reasons to act.

There are, in the world, actions that people generally have many and strong reasons to praise or condemn. Their existence does not depend on any type of free will. In fact, they depend on praise and condemnation themselves having certain determined effects.

The human brain contains a reward center. When an action produces an unexpected reward or payoff, this activates the reward center and strengthens the desires that produced the action that produced the reward. When an action produces an unexpected negative return, this strengthens aversions to that which produced the punishment.

Furthermore, the human brain contains mirror neurons. This allows each of us to experience the rewards and punishments of others as if they happened to us. Giving a person an award at a banquet in his honor not only boosts his desire to do the same thing, it boosts the desires of everybody in the audience to perform similar actions. Public condemnation produces in others aversions to those types of acts that resulted in condemnation.

Written By: Alonzo Fyfe
continue to source article at secularite.com

83 COMMENTS

  1. There can be no morality without free will. Therefore, a blog about real-world morality must discuss real world free will.

    There is no evidence of “morality”. Hell, people can’t even agree on what it means, which suggests it’s just a concept and not anything real.

    I have been asked, “Does desirism depend on no variety of free will existing or just contra-causal free will?”

    I have a problem answering this question because I do not think that people have a clear and precise idea of “free will”. For some, it is the power to violate the laws of physics just by wanting to do so. For others, it is the capacity to choose actions based on one’s own desires.

    Ones own desires are the result of chemical reactions that are not under the control of any agent. You have no free will. Chemistry must, therefore it does. By what mechanism can free will occur? I see none.

  2. I like knowing that I’m the inevitable outcome of the immutable laws of the universe. I even have a bumper sticker that says “Proud Member of the Natural Causal Web” (thanks Tom Clark @naturalism!). I know that everything I do springs from countless causes. I know there is no free will (the ghost inside that can do whatever it wants) because I know that cause and effect are Almighty. Besides, I had a great little smoke back in the 70s that showed to me that only the surface layers of my brain are accessible, so no chance of finding “anyone home” (thanks Bhante Gunaratana!). So, no free will (established), but naturally moral (I am, in the normal “street” sense). Case closed! I know that we can know what is real and what is unreal, and morality without free will is real, I assure you.

  3. You appear to be one of the few people who understand that reward and punishment are also not a matter of free will. Reward and punishment are determined, just as everything else is. If everyone on earth woke up tomorrow not believing we have free will, nothing regarding reward and punishment would change as a result. We would still reward and punish as we wre determined to do. Whether we agree that free will exists or not has no bearing on our thoughts or actions. Nothing in our conscious mind has anything to do with our determined responses. But whatever caused us to stop accepting free will might also temper our ideas about how we punish people and make us more humane. Our conscious mind has no influence because is also fully subject to determining influences.

  4. Free will is a corrupt concept, largely the product of religion. I’m waiting for the day when we can finally put this very bad idea to rest. Unfortunately that will not be a day I will live to see. Even otherwise smart and rational people like Dan Dennett are desperately clinging onto this idea like their lives depended on it… Why is it so hard for people to accept there’s no such thing as free will?

    • I don’t agree with this. I think most people think they are actually free to take actions and decisions. It’s hard to not think that.

      In reply to #5 by Nunbeliever:

      Free will is a corrupt concept, largely the product of religion. I’m waiting for the day when we can finally put this very bad idea to rest. Unfortunately that will not be a day I will live to see. Even otherwise smart and rational people like Dan Dennett are desperately clinging onto this idea like…

      • In reply to #11 by JoeT:

        I don’t agree with this. I think most people think they are actually free to take actions and decisions. It’s hard to not think that.

        “We have to have free will, we have no choice” … Christopher Hitchens

      • In reply to #11 by JoeT:

        I don’t agree with this. I think most people think they are actually free to take actions and decisions. It’s hard to not think that.

        In reply to #5 by Nunbeliever:

        Free will is a corrupt concept, largely the product of religion. I’m waiting for the day when we can finally put this very bad idea…

        I was not talking about the illusion of free will, which of course is very hard to get rid of (but not impossible). I was merely talking about free will as a philosophical concept… which is a corrupt idea.

      • In reply to #11 by JoeT:

        I don’t agree with this. I think most people think they are actually free to take actions and decisions. It’s hard to not think that.

        It’s hard not to think that unless you understand how the human brain, human perception and human emotions actually work. We all like to think we have free will, and we generally make that assumption in our everyday speech, but it is an illusion and an emotional response. The sooner you realize that intellectually, the better off you will be. Of course, you won’t realize it until your determining factors bring you to that point. You can’t “decide” to realize it through free will even if it seems as if you can. Read some articles at determinism.com. You might come around. I find human thought and actions make more sense if you understand and accept determinism. It doesn’t mean you like all human thoughts and actions, only that you can assess them more clearly.

        >

        In reply to #5 by Nunbeliever:

        Free will is a corrupt concept, largely the product of religion. I’m waiting for the day when we can finally put this very bad idea…

  5. The heart of the question concerns whether an agent “could have done otherwise”.

    Whether some past event ‘could have gone otherwise’ is a totally unscientific question, because there is no way of answering it. The only thing we know is the actual outcome, and no experiment or observation can ever yield any evidence supporting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

    • Is this really Ken Ham?

      In reply to #6 by tkoeller:

      The heart of the question concerns whether an agent “could have done otherwise”.

      Whether some past event ‘could have gone otherwise’ is a totally unscientific question, because there is no way of answering it. The only thing we know is the actual outcome, and no experiment or observation can ever y…

        • No. Your argument is just like his in that he basically says you can’t know what happened in the past because there is “observational science” and then there is “historical science” which is of course bollucks. And so is your argument.
          In reply to #27 by tkoeller:

          In reply to #7 by BriRey:

          Is this really Ken Ham?

          Well, if I were him, would that somehow affect the validity of the argument?

  6. I just put my two girls to bed. They started to share a room this week for the first time (the younger one, Catherine, is 2.5 years and Elizabeth is 4.5 years). Catherine started crying for dad almost as soon as she went down, as she always does, and Elizabeth joined in, as she always does when Catherine cries. I asked Elizabeth why she was crying. Her reply to me was very on target for this thread. She said “Whenever someone cries I cry too. I can’t help it, I was born that way… that’s just what I do.” My 4.5 year old gets it.

  7. One thing that stands out about both the author and the commenters here,
    is the utter arrogance, smug superiority, and absolute certainty
    displayed by those who possess no actual evidence to support their position.

    Determinists are the Creationists of the scientific community.

    I couldn’t find an email address for the author.
    I don’t waste time debating on comment threads.
    Anyone (especially the author) who wishes to debate this topic further can apply at “neo@theskepticarena.com”

    • Someone will correct me if I’m wrong. However, it seems to me that determinism is the position that is compatible with the known laws of physics, chemistry, etc. If you are making a claim against determinism, then I think you have to supply the evidence. What new laws of nature are responsible for your “free will”? This is the same position the creationist is in. I think you are confused about the burden of proof here.

      In reply to #9 by neo_theskepticarena:

      One thing that stands out about both the author and the commenters here,
      is the utter arrogance, smug superiority, and absolute certainty
      displayed by those who possess no actual evidence to support their position.

      Determinists are the Creationists of the scientific community.

      I couldn’t find an e…

      • In reply to #10 by JoeT:

        Someone will correct me if I’m wrong. However, it seems to me that determinism is the position that is compatible with the known laws of physics, chemistry, etc. If you are making a claim against determinism, then I think you have to supply the evidence. What new laws of nature are responsible fo…

        Strictly speaking, quantum mechanics is indeterministic because it uses stochastic models that don’t obviously depend on prior causes. The confusion, as usual, is with the notion that indeterminism equals free will. It doesn’t. The better position is pessimistic incompatibilism, which regards neither free will nor determinism as accurate.

        Admittedly, at the scale most humans care about, determinism is a more useful model, just like our intuitive physics is useful in helping us manipulate objects. But if you want a more accurate position, you go with pessimistic incompatibilism and Einstein’s theories of relativity with quantum mechanics, respectively. Arguing that free will is true because determinism isn’t is setting up a false dichotomy in the god-of-the-gaps style (i.e. if A is incorrect or unknown, B is correct by default).

        Also, I don’t know why it’s called “pessimistic” incompatibilism. Perhaps the person who coined the phrase had some prejudice against the people taking that position.

        • In reply to #15 by Zeuglodon:

          In reply to #10 by JoeT:

          Admittedly, at the scale most humans care about, determinism is a more useful model, just like our intuitive physics is useful in helping us manipulate objects.

          I’d agree with that and also point out that for most of the time it is easier to treat the illusion of free will as actual free will since our our thoughts and actions are consistent with what we are based on our evolutionary biological make up, our choices will always seem like those of an autonomous actor rather than one under the control of forces they can’t perceive.
          In most cases it is academic.
          Consider a lion and a serial killer. You could argue that a lion has no choice about whether it attacks and kills people because of its nature and that a serial killer has a choice and chooses to kill people for sadistic pleasure. Or you could argue that both are subject to forces they cannot control (their biological make-up and the environment).
          From your perspective as a social animal though you would probably agree that in either case you don’t want them on the street because they represent a danger and you would rather not live in a society which allows lions and serial killers to roam the streets.
          So in summary it’s a nice philosophical exercise but as has been said free will is normally used by people to justify that which they can’t in other ways – ie claim it proves a God.

    • In reply to #9 by neo_theskepticarena:

      Determinists are the Creationists of the scientific community.

      I could not agree more. While it is true that at a certain level we are all essentially just cogs in a quantum machine that can be said to follow certain given rules, that does not mean that a machine or mechanism within that machine cannot be designed to take decisions at a level much higher than quantum mechanics. But then I would say that wouldn’t I.

  8. In reply to #4 by louise:

    “If everyone on earth woke up tomorrow not believing we have free will, nothing regarding reward and punishment would change as a result.”

    I don’t think that is true. Our beliefs do have consequences for our behavior. They represent a link in the causal chain like any other, and if they were miraculously changed somehow, this would have an effect on subsequent links.

    We would still reward and punish as we wre [sic] determined to do.

    Yes, reward and punishment behaviors would remain equally deterministic, but that doesn’t mean they would be unchanged.

    Whether we agree that free will exists or not has no bearing on our thoughts [...]

    This is self-evidently false. How could a belief have no bearing on our thoughts? Agreement is a thought.

    [...] or actions. Nothing in our conscious mind has anything to do with our determined responses.

    Again, I disagree. determinism does not imply that our beliefs have no causality.

    But whatever caused us to stop accepting free will might also temper our ideas about how we punish people and make us more humane.

    Yes. And it might create this effect indirectly by causing thoughts to arise which in turn lead to more humane actions. This is still a deterministic scenario.

    Our conscious mind has no influence because is also fully subject to determining influences.

    The conclusion does not follow from the premise.

  9. As long as we are using the words “free will” our understanding of psychology will be pulled back into an understanding that includes religious sentiments and views. We are playing in the other team’s home field. Why do we still debate in the realm of the religious? More clarification and specifics are needed. Cannot we ask if someone is able to be proactive? Are they reactive? Are they fully understanding the consequences of their actions? Are they fully able suspend current desires and wait for efforts to bloom years from now? Are they impulsive or inquisitive? Were they raised in a psychologically healthy environment? Are medical or physical limitations in play?…… Why do we continually step into the realm of limited understanding and try to debate our way out of it. Why not say that we do not follow the tenants of “free will” instead we to follow the studies that resulted from psychologists and scientists who objectively look at human behavior. Yes, this is a soft science, but we are making headway into better understanding human psychology over the last few centuries. We will play in our ball field because you are really playing in a parking lot with lots of chuckholes. Get rid of “free will” focus on the science of understanding human behavior and a whole new set of doors open.

  10. Was it the freewill of the people that elected Edward Snowden as the Dean of Glasgow University ?..The same city who champions ‘peoples heroes’ and who also named streets after Nelson Mandela and decades before he became a household name….and the city also campaigned for his freedom and his free thinking on behalf of free people.
    If Freewill is an illusion I don’t think such organised expressions of freedom movements would occur.

    • Do bacteria have free will? How about bananas? Ants? Lizards? Chimps? Humans? Get my point? If you think you have free will, was it breathed in to you at some point by a creator?

      In reply to #18 by Light Wave:

      Was it the freewill of the people that elected Edward Snowden as the Dean of Glasgow University ?..The same city who champions ‘peoples heroes’ and who also named streets after Nelson Mandela and decades before he became a household name….and the city also campaigned for his freedom and his free t…

    • In reply to #18 by Light Wave:

      Was it the freewill of the people that elected Edward Snowden as the Dean of Glasgow University ?..The same city who champions ‘peoples heroes’ and who also named streets after Nelson Mandela and decades before he became a household name….and the city also campaigned for his freedom and his free t…

      Yes, they would. What you are missing is what drove individuals to vote as they did or what drove people to name streets after Nelson Mandela. It was a combination of derermining factors among a number of people, the people in Glasgow and the peoplei n South Africa had similar determining influences that brought them to that point. Nobody was “deciding” outide those determining influences. In addition, there were probably some people in both places who had differnt ideas about who should be president of the university and whether streets should be named after Mandela. They were also driven by their own sets of determining influences, which were different enough to bring them to a different “decision.” You shoukdn’t stop at what decisions were made and not consider what factors drove those decisions. In my opinion they were all driven by many factors no one was aware of.

  11. This annoying topic is more confusing than the whole ‘god n religion thing and to me seems very over complicated….just the way Sam Harris likes it or he’d be out of a job…..Free thinkers have free will and the rest of the world believe they have no free will…just the same or similar to free thinkers assume there’s no god and the rest of the world believes there is a God……all this ‘prove it’ bullshit…is an attempt to make you doubt your own assertion….because these two concepts are hard to locate let alone prove…

    I certainly have free will so you can assume you don’t have any but don’t tell me I don’t have it …..I am 99% sure there is no God….and I’m also 99% sure I do have free will……does the comparison compute ???? Delusions of god doesn’t make him real…and delusions of no free will allow those populations to be controlled by those who do have free will……DUH !

    • In reply to #20 by Light Wave:

      This annoying topic is more confusing than the whole ‘god n religion thing and to me seems very over complicated….just the way Sam Harris likes it or he’d be out of a job…..Free thinkers have free will and the rest of the world believe they have no free will…just the same or similar to free th…

      So, you are basically saying that you have free will because you feel like you are free to choose. I’m sorry to say, but that is not a logically sound argument. If it’s even possible to call it an argument. Only a few centuries ago pretty much all people thought the sun revolved around the earth. Why? Was it because they had a lot of evidence that supported this claim? No, it was regarded as an self-evident truth. Something you did not even question to begin with. Much like the existence of God.

      You are using the same argument (or rather lack of arguments) as these people did. You take something for granted not because you have evidence that supports your claim, but because it feels right and self-evident. Unfortunately, just like for the people who thought the sun revolved around the earth the evidence does not support your claim. That’s actually what’s interesting with the concept of free will. It has always been an absurd idea from a logical perspective. It just does not make sense. Still, philosophers and theologians have wasted countless years and life times to answer a question that isn’t even valid in first place. Some, like Dan Dennett, unfortunately still refuse to accept that this idea has always been a corrupt one and always will be. This just goes to show how hard it is for humans to get past our intuition and predisposed beliefs.

      • In reply to #23 by Nunbeliever:

        In reply to #20 by Light Wave:

        This annoying topic is more confusing than the whole ‘god n religion thing and to me seems very over complicated….just the way Sam Harris likes it or he’d be out of a job…..Free thinkers have free will and the rest of the world believe they have no free will…jus…

        Vigilant……My lack of argument – I’m not arguing anything I’m stating my comment…..You haven’t convinced me of anything to the contrary with your absolute understanding of the subject ?
        The answer to the question itself is evident all around our planet….are you suggesting we are all pre programmed by another’s will ? …I have free will until I’m convinced by a rational explanation
        Your analogy of the earth orbiting the sun is flawed because those things can be measured…..I’m not convinced with the lack of evidence you present for your opinion or Sam Harris either…..I find quantum theories easier to comprehend….

        • In reply to #24 by Light Wave:

          In reply to #23 by Nunbeliever:

          In reply to #20 by Light Wave:

          This annoying topic is more confusing than the whole ‘god n religion thing and to me seems very over complicated….just the way Sam Harris likes it or he’d be out of a job…..Free thinkers have free will and the rest of the world bel…

          Some simple points – all you perceive of the world around you is the product of your brain right? All your choices too.
          From my understanding of neuro science before any you have any conscious awareness that you have made a choice or had an idea all the work has already been done by neurons firing in a synaptic pattern that occurs because of the way previous connections have been laid down in the brain. You have no conscious control over what your own thoughts are and have no ability to make a choice that wouldn’t be formed by these existing patterns within your brain.

          So your mind itself is the product of a life time of environmental interactions being processed by a brain that is its self the product of an evolutionary process formed by the environment.

          Its hard to see anything in this process that is determined by anything other than outside influence, but as I have already stated we cannot be comprehend this any more than we can comprehend space-time as we are the products of our minds and it is our minds that are affected here.

          • In reply to #30 by mr_DNA:

            You have no conscious control over what your own thoughts are and have no ability to make a choice that wouldn’t be formed by these existing patterns within your brain.

            What you do have, though, are periods when different parts of your brain prevail. One part can act to subdue the freedom to operate of another part. In the baker’s shop, having gone in to buy a small wholemeal loaf, I must take care not to look down at the refrigerated display of cream cakes. Before going in, I remember to fix the baker’s eye and engage her in conversation until all is bought and paid for.

            I need freedom from (part of) myself quite as much as freedom from the worm-tongues around me.

            I rehearse what I think and say to be maximally free to be myself or rather, that person I most often wish myself to be.

        • In reply to #24 by Light Wave:

          Vigilant……My lack of argument – I’m not arguing anything I’m stating my comment…..You haven’t convinced me of anything to the contrary with your absolute understanding of the subject ? The answer to the question itself is evident all around our planet….are you suggesting we are all pre programmed by another’s will ?

          Well, Joe T actually gave you a very good answer. What about all the other life forms on this planet? Do you claim they can’t exist either unless someone “programmed” them? There is nothing spectacular about the illusion of free will. It’s not that hard to imagine the evolutionary benefits of having the ability to imagine and calculate different scenarios before you act. What is much harder to grasp and understand is the sensation of being conscious, which is somewhat related but not synonymous with free will.

          But, what are the reasons free will is an absurd concept? There’s a lot of scientific evidence that show you really aren’t conscious about the decisions you make. Or in other words, the moment you are conscious about your decisions the decision has already been made. If you aren’t even conscious about your decision, then how on earth can you have free will. That is impossible. But, we don’t even have to look at the scientific evidence in order to realize that free will is an absurd idea. There’s basically only three ways to understand the universe. Either you regard it as deterministic, random or a combination of the two. Whatever option you choose there is no room for free will. Determinism of course means that our thoughts and actions are the direct result of a long chain of events, governed by the principle of causality. We of course have overwhelming evidence that our universe is deterministic, except when you start observing the quantum level of reality. Many proponents of free will like to talk about the quantum world as if the random properties somehow confirms that free will exists. This is of course absurd. Randomness is as incompatible with the concept of free will as determinism. If your decisions are random they are no more free than if they were the result of a long chain of deterministic events. Hence, although the concepts of determinism and randomness are often associated with the discussion of free will they are irrelevant. Or in other words they are both incompatible with the concept of free will.

          Even theologians have realized this for a long time. So, the refer to the soul as a way out of this dilemma. Our decisions ultimately stem from the soul and the brain is only an adapter between the soul and our physical bodies. Of course this whole argument requires you to believe in the supernatural which is in itself problematic, to say the least. But, even if choose to believe in a supernatural soul it still does not make the concept of free will any less absurd. The soul has to have certain characteristics and experiences upon which the soul can make decisions. If the soul is a blank slate the decisions would be completely random, which is not free will. But, if the soul has certain characteristics and experiences then the soul is not free to choose after all. The soul is bound and limited by these traits. In fact these traits are the very basis for the decisions the soul makes. My point is not to discuss the concept of a soul in detail. My point is that if you closely examine what it actually means to make a decision you realize the concept of free will is not compatible with this. This is basic logic. Not even God himself could have free will. Because the concept does not make any sense. Anyone who thinks free will is self evident just has not thought very deeply about what it actually means to make decisions.

          • In reply to #31 by Nunbeliever:

            In reply to #24 by Light Wave:

            Thanks for attempting to explain this with better clarity than anyone so far….I’m an absolute amateur at philosophy and I can only respond as a human…so I can’t speak for bacteria…whether they have will or not…I presume that not only humans have it….

            When you mentioned that even theologians dismiss free will…I had a cold shudder….this concept smacks of theology to me….
            anyway – I do not call it a soul – I assume by soul you mean the ‘Will’ …I call it my Survival Instinct….
            My instinct is like my mother board and I explain ‘it’ as my genetic ancestral knowledge response centre….My instinct knows me inside and out….so My Instinct is controlling me…(but my instinct is me)… I’m nothing without my Instinct / Will……I can supress my ego in a flash if my instinct has something to tell me….
            Its rarely wrong – So I pay it high regard and although it only reacts with a right or wrong sensation….that’s enough for me….Its a wise old thing…..Its like my personal bullshit detector…..Maybe half the population have a dulled or numb instinct ? and can be conned into being told they have no free will…..so they give up thinking and become a zombie …..Don’t buy this crap….
            Of course when we speak our brain has already thought of the response…but it is our instinct that has read the situation with which to respond to….we are not conscious of many superfast processes going on…. but it is our bodies and brains making the detections….we have the free choice to respond to our instinctive decision – that another person will not respond to…..each person has a unique instinct….that proves the will is free – if all the will’s in the world are unique…they are not all pulsing out the same beat …unless they choose to…. My Ego is like the chattering voice of my mind and even my Ego has some free will at times but my Instinct / Will gets heard above all mind chattering….it is free to instruct me with the highest priority…
            I concede again I’m an amateur at Philosophy 101 and I’m comfortable with that !

          • WT?

            In reply to #49 by Light Wave:

            In reply to #31 by Nunbeliever:

            In reply to #24 by Light Wave:

            Thanks for attempting to explain this with better clarity than anyone so far….I’m an absolute amateur at philosophy and I can only respond as a human…so I can’t speak for bacteria…whether they have will or not…I presume that no…

    • Actually, I thought Sam Harris’ book was very concise and not complicated at all.

      In reply to #20 by Light Wave:

      This annoying topic is more confusing than the whole ‘god n religion thing and to me seems very over complicated….just the way Sam Harris likes it or he’d be out of a job…..

  12. It is not the “freedom” of my decision making and actions that I am proud of, it is their occasional excellence. I am pleased when the rail tracks of reason and evidence direct not only my thoughts but that of my neighbours, at once, congruent, then complimentary (more or less).

    Better, more productive, thinking grew out of a culture of language and logic that synchronised our brains just enough to allow a division of thinking labour. From this we could transform that occasional and random act of invention and problem solving, knapping flints, say, into the reliable and wildly productive process that may yet carry us a very long way from Africa.

  13. From what little I know about the brain, I tend to be skeptical of freewill.

    I am a naturalist. I think that all thought and belief is a product of , an emergent property of the brain.

    The brain is not free of cause and effect. It is subject to natural scientific laws.

    It is my understanding that a combination of nature and nurture are factors that form thoughts and beliefs.

    It would seem to me that freewill would have to be something that is independent of both the brain and culture.

    I once had an attachment, a desire for freewill. But the more I learned about neurology and culture the less likely this seemed to be.

    I had a revelation, a cognition, that my desire for freewill, was similar to the desire people have for god, the afterlife etc etc,

    It also made me feel that I was a special creation of the universe. That I was better, superior to other species.

    I was natures “special little creature”.

    Similar to being “god’s special little creature.

    It is perhaps an…inconvenient truth psychologically, but I think a truth nonetheless.

    However, all truths are provincial and subject to change based on new evidence.

    • In reply to #38 by Marktony:

      The Marionette’s Lament

      This is the best of Sam in recent years. People get panicky about the power of the term “free will”. Perhaps this is because they intuit its morally uplifting effect as in groo’s SA reference @ #34. Dan is certainly and curiously in this camp, which has a close cousin in the belief in belief camp, which can point to the similar evidence of the morally edifying effect on the general (American ?) public of having God mentioned, just before making moral choices.

      These latter effects, for instance, are not necessarily more moral, being about hypotheticals. Faced with real moral dilemmas we may expected deeper considerations rather than superficial, dogmatically moral responses.

      Dan is with the moral panickers. I think we need to grow up.

      • Dan is certainly and curiously in this camp, which has a close cousin in the belief in belief camp, which can point to the similar evidence of the morally edifying effect on the general (American ?) public of having God mentioned, just before making moral choices.

        Dan Dennett on Belief in Belief

        I liked that and I like this:

        For myself I get to this, not with the concept of free will but the simple idea that unconscious me is on the case and will knock out a decision soon enough. I have learned to keep him fed with a supply of problems and a wide and spurious variety of facts and intellectual doodads that he might find useful.

        In reply to #40 by phil rimmer:

        In reply to #38 by Marktony:

        The Marionette’s Lament

        This is the best of Sam in recent years. People get panicky about the power of the term “free will”. Perhaps this is because they intuit its morally uplifting effect as in groo’s SA reference @ #34. Dan is certainly and curiously in this camp, w…

  14. In reply to #34 by groo:

    The concept of free will certainly nails you as the owner of your actions and makes you culpable for them. In a court of law you are asked if you did things “of your own free will”, to test this ownership.

    This clearly fingers free will as a societal imposition on the individual. I believe, though, that the concept has other functional uses. I frequently point out the problem big brains have in doing anything at all, as they are subject to so many inputs, currently experienced, and recalled. There is a problem of “locking up”, overwhelmed with a surplus of choices from all this stuff. “Free will” gives us the expectation of spontaneous-but-good decision making and may help bring to an end endlessly recursive deliberation.

    For myself I get to this, not with the concept of free will but the simple idea that unconscious me is on the case and will knock out a decision soon enough. I have learned to keep him fed with a supply of problems and a wide and spurious variety of facts and intellectual doodads that he might find useful. I wake up every third or fourth morning with a really valuable bit of intellectual gold.

  15. Thanks for the clear explanation. I find that every time I tr yto explain to the uninitiated that we have no free will, I am bound to get two responses. “What about randomness?” and “If there is no free will, there can be no sense of responsibility or morality and everyone will be able to do anything they please with no consequences.” They seldom understand that randomness is not an argument for free will, but is an argument against it and is one more determining factor we have no control over. . And ideas of justice and responsibility are also determined and would not change because a person rejects the idea of free will. They would not change even if everyone in the world stopped believing in Free Will because how we think about responsibility, morality, justice and punishment are determined by forces outside our conscience minds. It’s very hard to get these points across. The same two responses keep coming up in every discussion I’ve had about Free will. They are apparently Pavlovian responses.

    • In reply to #43 by louise:

      [...] ideas of justice and responsibility are also determined and would not change because a person rejects the idea of free will. They would not change even if everyone in the world stopped believing in Free Will because how we think about responsibility, morality, justice and punishment are determined by forces outside our conscience minds.

      I really think you are wrong on this point. The rejection of freewill has profound and important implications to questions of responsibility, justice and punishment. Rejecting free will removes any justification for punishment for the sake of retribution. Instead, we are obliged to focus on behavior modification, deterrence and the isolation of dangerous individuals. Most justice systems could be improved by exorcising false notions of free will.

      Just because our opinions arise from causes beyond our control does not mean that those opinions have no effect.

  16. In reply to #41 by groo:

    In reply to #39 by phil rimmer:

    that unconscious me is on the case and will knock out a decision soon enough.
    

    That can change with conscious deliberation…

    Not by me. I can’t consciously witness the process of problem solving, but what I can consciously experience is the proof wrong of an idea. I don’t see all the process of the evolving of a better idea.

    It is my understanding that conscious experience is related to those brain states amongst many that are elected or self elect as the most salient/worthy of conscious perusal. This state tags the ideas/experiences as suitable for becoming short-term memories as well as conscious experiences, just as these, in turn, are tagged as potentially suitable for long term memory, depending on a subsequent review.

    I suspect my unconscious spares me a very mundane process of finding and testing many permutations to find the “answer”. Just occasionally I get images of absurd juxtapositions that are clearly meaningless and unhelpful. These are normally suppressed. Then I get a viable and salient new pairing of things, and I can witness the testing of this inspiration, clearly taking note and tagging for possible memorising (noticing) the analysis. The memorised analysis may, with sufficient repetition, become commonplace and automatic enough for suppression, so I don’t have to witness it again. What become our own heuristics are going to be dreadfully tedious the hundredth time around.

    Nothing magical happens prior to a moment of inspiration, I suspect, only some quasi evolutionary process maybe intelligently exploiting the metaphorical aspects of our brains and the meta-data our memories generate of stereotypes and the like to prioretise particular new pairings of entities.

  17. In reply to #46 by groo:

    In reply to #44 by phil rimmer:

    You just go with the flow then.

    Not really. I very specifically pump prime by selecting a whole lot of relevant data or analogous systems and most often supersets of the problems at hand. My solutions have a tendency to solve a bigger problem, to solve the given problem. (I am by profession essentially an inventor and do this on a daily basis.) I do though wait until half decent ideas pop out then consciously test them. There is a fairly obvious evolution of improvements though I see very little of that process. I used to think I drove this consciously but with deep introspection for many years I have never really caught that moment of synthesis.

    I often have competing solutions and their comparison is conscious and just the application of non creative (culturally derived) processes. Different solutions may merge/cross-fertilise in a non-conscious synthesis. Anything new appears from nowhere, and though I often have suspicions about where novelty may occur. I’ve learned not to obsess about this as it often slows up the appearance of solutions.

    This well resourced but lightly held problem-in-need-of-a-solution feels very much in control, just not in conscious control at all times.

    I can say my consciousness proved the idea good, But another aspect of me did the creative bits.

    Like consciousness itself, I suspect the distinct and separate attribute of creativity is the result of an evolutionary process in evolved beings. Synthesised beings will have to use this process to get both. So much of what makes us conscious and creative derives from the klugey second order effects of evolution, primitive detection schemes spurious aesthetic responses, homeostatic proto-purposes and hugely cross coupled metaphorical brains.

  18. Furthermore, the human brain contains mirror neurons. This allows each of us to experience the rewards and punishments of others as if they happened to us.

    This statement reveals that the author’s knowledge is at about the level of the latest pop psychology. Because no serious cognitive scientist or neuropsychologist would say this. At best we can say mirror neurons have been proposed as part of the mechanism involved in empathy not as some solid scientific result. And it’s a proposal that people with very different outlooks, from connectionists like patricia Churchland to evo psych people like Pinker, don’t give much credence.

  19. This is an important topic, and I must admit I have not had time to catch up on recent published views ( advances?) on the subject to join the substantive discussion here. But the little I saw , here and elsewhere , makes me fear I may not be able to fully grasp exactly what is at stake in this the discussion. In fact, I am rather distressed by the recent Dennett v Harris rather acid controversy about free will ( see Sam Harris’s website) . If someone like Dennett says that Harris’ book on Free Will that it is

    “a veritable museum of mistakes,..and that Harris and others need to do their homework if they want to engage with the best thought on the topic” .

    elementary prudence is for people like me – who are still struggling with JL Austin’s missed putt- to keep out of the way until the dust settles

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  21. I have read articles, watched videos trying to understand what Dan Dennett is trying to say with regard to free will. For a long time I just assumed I was stupid, but after reading his review of Sam Harris book “Free Will” it seems to me that the emperor truly has no clothes. I think this quote illustrates that statement quite well. Sam Harris argues that he can’t take credit for not having the “soul” of a psychopath. To which Dennett responds:

    “True—and false. Harris can’t take credit for the luck of his birth, his having had a normal moral education—that’s just luck—but those born thus lucky are informed that they have a duty or obligation to preserve their competence, and grow it, and educate themselves, and Harris has responded admirably to those incentives. He can take credit, not Ultimate credit, whatever that might be, but partial credit, for husbanding the resources he was endowed with.”

    I would like to ask Dennett at exactly which point in his life Harris can take credit for preserving his competence and letting it grow? Was it when he first smiled at his parents? Was it at the first day in school when he was kind to the kid who seemed to be scared and lonely? Was it when he chose to pursue a career in philosophy? Was it when he helped that old women with her groceries? We can divide our lives into an almost infinite number of single moments, but can we really say that at any given moment we are really free to make our decisions? Dennett agrees that Harris can’t take credit for the luck of his birth. But, what about the millisecond after he was born or the millisecond after that… fast forward to the present. Exactly at what moment does this “magical” decision occur that Dennett thinks Harris can take credit for? When was he given this ability of free will that Dennett like to talk about? Surely, it would be absurd to think an infant has that ability. But, what about a toddler? A small child? A teenager? We of course hold people to different degrees of responsibility depending on their maturity on intellectual capabilities. That’s why children are not tried as adults in civilized courts. But, does that not have more to do with a person’s ability to process information than free will?

    Take computer software as an example. If you had a very simple software you would not expect it to be able to solve complex calculations. That can be seen as analogues to a child who is not able to comprehend the consequences of his/her actions. Say that we would construct a computer program that is capable of learning and developing itself. At first this software would be very simple and only capable of doing simple tasks. But, by interacting with itself and it’s surrounding it would gradually become more and more complex and ultimately it would be able to solve the most complex of tasks. But, would it make sense to argue that the program can take credit for it’s achievements? I think most would agree that such a reasoning would be absurd. Say that we created several similar programs. A few of them would be maintained in the best possible way which allowed these programs to evolve and become more and more complex. Others would be ignored and thus would stagnate. Would it make sense to argue that the programs that were successful can take credit for their achievements or would it make sense to blame the ones that failed? I think the answer is quite clearly no. Still, Dennett somehow thinks the human brain and human development is different.

    This is what I think is the obvious flaw with his reasoning. I would call it a form of anthropocentrism. Humans are moral beings and this makes us responsible for our actions. But, this goes against everything we know about biology and biological evolution. If he argues that the fact that humans are moral beings makes us responsible for our actions in a way that is compatible with free will he has to be able to show exactly when this transformation occurs and exactly what abilities constitute this transformation. It’s obvious an embryo does not have free will. Even the most liberal person would most likely agree that an infant does not have free will. But, when exactly do humans gain free will? We know that humans don’t suddenly enter distinct phases but that human growth is a gradual process. In my opinion Dennett’s argument strongly resembles the religious argument that the soul was at some point injected into humans during the evolutionary process. Which means that a soul also has to be injected into every human being at some point during our transformation from an embryo to an adult human being. Hence, I would like to ask Dennett exactly at which point free will was injected into Sam Harris?

  22. Addition to my previous comment.

    I think a problem with consciousness and the illusion of free will is that we regard ourselves (or rather our consciousness) as an executive decision maker, when in fact I think the evidence suggests a better analogy would be a committee that review earlier decision and make suggestion how to go about business in the future. It really solves a lot of problems. For example the fact that decisions seem to be made subconsciously seconds before we are aware of them. It also explains the mind as a whole in ways the executive decision maker analogy does not. It’s not like we can’t influence our decisions. It’s just that it might take time for our influence to take effect. It might be that we several times realize our actions were not optimal, but we have to review and consider all the information for a while before we can actually convince the executive decision maker to follow our advice.

    In fact we already know that we really aren’t in charge of our bodies. We can’t directly control most of our bodily functions. But, in the long term we can influence and change most of them in more subtle ways. For example our heart beat. In fact it’s probably a good thing that we can’t directly change our heart beat. The executive decision maker has access to information we never have. For example oxygen supply and other crucial information. The executive decision maker has to make sure the main body functions are maintained. It’s not very surprising that the CEO can’t always follow our wishes at any given moment. We would most likely die if we were in direct control of our fundamental body functions. The conscious part of ourselves (although we cherish it above everything else) really is a luxury that is only useful under certain calm circumstances. For example when under immense stress or in other very intense situations we tend to rely on instincts and automation. It could be seen as a state of martial law. When an emergency occurs committees and other institutions are quite ineffective. Yes, in these situations bad choices are often made. Choices that we might regret in hindsight. But, that is the price we have to pay for being able to stay alive. In the same sense most of our body functions are not something we can influence directly. They are too important for the conscious part of ourselves to mess with. On the other hand we are able to review and make suggestions which influence how our body deals with similar situations in the future.

    • In reply to #62 by Nunbeliever:

      I think a problem with consciousness and the illusion of free will is that we regard ourselves (or rather our consciousness) as an executive decision maker, when in fact I think the evidence suggests a better analogy would be a committee that review earlier decision and make suggestion how to go about business in the future. It really solves a lot of problems.

      I think you might be interested in this. It’s an extract from Dennett’s essay on artificial intelligence and its relationship to philosophy and psychology. In it, he discusses the notion of “homunculi” – that is, “little men” called in to explain how an aspect of computing and of the mind works – and explains how it can be made more respectable using something similar to the committee analogy:

      “One starts, in AI, with a specification of a whole person or cognitive organism – what I call, more neutrally, an intentional system… or some artificial segment of that person’s abilities (e.g. chess-playing, answering questions about baseball) and then breaks that largest intentional system into an organisation of subsystems, each of which could itself be viewed as an intentional system (with its own specialized beliefs and desires) and hence as formally a homunculus. In fact, homunculus talk is ubiquitous in AI, and almost always illuminating. AI homunculi talk to each other, wrest control from each other, volunteer, sub-contract, supervise, and even kill. There seems no better way of describing what is going on. Homunculi are bogeymen only if they duplicate entire the talents they are rung in to explain… If one can get a team or committee of relatively ignorant, narrow-minded, blind homunculi to produce the intelligent behaviour of the whole, this is progress. A flow chart is typically the organizational chart of a committee of homunculi (investigators, librarians, accountants, executives); each box specifies a homunculus by prescribing a function without saying how it is to be accomplished (one says, in effect: put a little man in there to do the job). If we then look closer at the individual boxes we see that the function of each is accomplished by subdividing it via another flow chart into still smaller, more stupid homunculi. Eventually this nesting of boxes within boxes lands you with homunculi so stupid (all they have to do is remember whether to say yes or no when asked) that they can be, as one says, ‘replaced by a machine’. One discharges fancy homunculi from one’s scheme by organizing armies of such idiots to do the work.”

      Pinker used this concept as a way to build up his explanation of how the mind’s faculties work in his book How the Mind Works, and to me it remains an accurate way of conceiving of a means to study cognition, psychology, and even sentience (consciousness) and link them to neuroscientific and physiological findings at the same time. In effect, it is a step in the direction towards the unification of these seemingly disparate disciplines.

      • In reply to #63 by Zeuglodon:

        In reply to #62 by Nunbeliever:

        I think a problem with consciousness and the illusion of free will is that we regard ourselves (or rather our consciousness) as an executive decision maker, when in fact I think the evidence suggests a better analogy would be a committee that review earlier decision…

        I’m sorry, but my conscious brain could not find the strength to read through the whole segment… but, if I understood his arguments correctly I think he is pretty much saying the opposite of what I said. He talks about systems and sub-systems ending up in units that perform only very simple tasks (like a transistor in a computer). But, these small units are still regarded as “slaves” to the more advanced systems. In fact they are described as simple and stupid. Only capable of very primitive tasks. What I talked about could be seen as the complete opposite. The conscious mind is in a sense a slave to these mindless, small and primitive homunculis. In fact we can’t even control most of them. They are controlling most of our body functions without even really communicating with “us” in a direct way. I think the view that we are in charge is the reason why people tend to cling on to the concept of free will as if their lives depended on it. “This is my body, I own and control it! Not the other way around.” The thought that the conscious self, the part of our body that we love and regard as the most important, might not be all that important for the body as a whole seems to mock and belittle the very idea of who we are. Fact is, that most species on this earth most likely aren’t conscious but do just fine without it. This should at least make us question whether our consciousness is actually that remarkable or spectacular. Of course we think so because we are conscious. But, this might be an act of hubris by the conscious part of our brain that just don’t understand that it’s not the boss, but merely a committee with limited power to influence the behavior and actions of the organism as a whole.

        Humans have of course in many ways our conscious intelligent brain to thank for our survival. Nonetheless, it’s actually a quite amusing thought, that all the achievements and efforts that we as humans take so much pride in might actually be acts of vanity by a conscious part of our brain with an inflated ego. ;) Yes I’m actively being provocative… but, I think there might be some truth to this. Think about some person with a serious mental disorder. Almost all decision they make seem to lead to disaster. They are actively ruining their lives and possibly the lives of others. Still, most of their body functions go on just fine. It’s quite clear that the conscious part of the brain in these cases do more harm than good. In fact, it’s quite remarkable that the body can largely function without major problems despite the conscious part of the brain being impaired by a serious mental illness. Of course we can also find many examples of the opposite. My main point though is that the idea that the conscious part of our brain is the boss who rules the body is clearly not the whole truth…

        • In reply to #68 by Nunbeliever:

          if I understood his arguments correctly I think he is pretty much saying the opposite of what I said. He talks about systems and sub-systems ending up in units that perform only very simple tasks (like a transistor in a computer). But, these small units are still regarded as “slaves” to the more advanced systems. In fact they are described as simple and stupid. Only capable of very primitive tasks. What I talked about could be seen as the complete opposite. The conscious mind is in a sense a slave to these mindless, small and primitive homunculis. In fact we can’t even control most of them.

          I think this isn’t what Dennett is saying. Dennett’s point was that we understand the large-scale workings of, say, the human mind by appealing to a collection of simpler minds that make up the process, which solves the twin problem of infinite regression (a mind being presupposed to do the work of the mind it is supposed to explain) and insufficient abilities of the parts (as in the skepticism to the idea of a bundle of sensory information understanding itself). In this context, the “conscious” mind of an individual is made up of a collection of specialized but narrowly focused smaller minds, which in turn are made up of even more specialized and even more narrowly focused tinier minds, all the way down to minds so specialized and so narrow that they’re basically automatic machines.

          The advanced systems are not slavemasters to the small units; they are the small units, just arranged in a functional way to accomplish tasks that the parts on their own could not. An advanced system is simply a synthesis of simpler systems, just like an organ is a synthesis of tissues designed to fulfil their own specialized roles. On this view, the “conscious” part of the mind is simply the product of an organization of minds that become more “aware” the more they are combined, and less “aware” to the point of total unconsciousness the more they are divided.

          I think it helps if you discard the notion that conscious and unconscious parts of the mind are one or the other, and instead think of awareness as a kind of continuum, from complete blindness to meagre light detection to full blown colour vision and depth (for instance). You can be more aware and less aware of certain things, even throughout a day. You’re unconscious of millions of things going on around you simply because there are so many things to keep track of and a finite amount of brain space to spare. So there’s no “conscious” part of the mind and “unconscious” part of the mind that work independently of each other like two different organs; just a mind with differing degrees of awareness about different kinds of information, including internal information.

          I hope that clarifies things a bit?

          • In reply to #70 by Zeuglodon:

            This is an analysis (consciousness as a continuum, fading away as we work down to simpler levels)) I have never been fond of. It certainly doesn’t gel with my daily experience, though over the decades I have lived, trying out all versions of these models for experiential fit. It may be in some sense true, but, so what? It has little functional merit and is beyond testing.

            My previous post “feels” the best yet internally, that is, that consciousness seems to equate to an heuristically tested salience. (The view out of the windscreen, looking over my white knuckles, is expected to be salient). This gets it into short term memory, which may or may not survive another saliency test (does it generate the associations and tags that consign it to longer term memory?) Consciousness is the feedstock of memory.

          • In reply to #73 by phil rimmer:

            In reply to #70 by Zeuglodon:

            This is an analysis (consciousness as a continuum) I have never been fond of. It certainly doesn’t gel with my daily experience, though over the decades I have lived, trying out all versions of these models for experiential fit.

            My previous post “feels” the best yet…

            I don’t think it’s that off the mark. In a deep, non-REM sleep, when the brainwaves diminish and slow down, your awareness drops considerably, and only comes back up again when you enter REM sleep, your brainwaves become more active, and you dream.

            Also, you can become more and less aware of things and details depending on how much attention you give them, what your state of mind is at the time, and how much you know. Every time some new astonishing fact meets your mind, you feel like “awakening as if from a deep slumber”. When you’re in a dull mood, you fail to notice details and feel like you’re missing something you should know. Also, as a way of demonstrating a “measure” of the scale, you might also consider the vision of other animals and the ranges of EM radiation they can detect with their senses, such as ultraviolet and infrared. In that sense, you can be more and less conscious of certain experiences or even be absent of them altogether, since we don’t know what UV radiation “really” looks like. These are examples of how you can be more or less “conscious”, even before we start dividing up the conscious mind to point out that the bit that is busy looking at blue is not aware of the colour red.

            It’s probably a very crude way of discussing consciousness, but not necessarily wrong, and in any case, I think it clarifies the distinction between conscious and unconscious processes. Unconscious processes are simply the workings of our brains that the brain itself isn’t designed to model, say through lack of space or because it’s unnecessary.

            For instance, we see visible light and can comment on it because we are designed to be aware of such things, but we aren’t aware of the structures in the brain that shape our vision – from the neural nets down to the atoms making them up – because our brain doesn’t also include a subsystem for detecting and modelling them. Our brain is not designed to be aware, for instance, of the neural nets themselves, nor of their anatomy and physiology. We can only pull that off by proxy, involving a neurobiologist and CT scans and so on, and even then, this doesn’t make us actually conscious of the ones operating in our own skulls 24/7: we just hear about it indirectly through “hearsay”.

          • In reply to #76 by Zeuglodon::

            It’s probably a very crude way of discussing consciousness, but not necessarily wrong,

            I agree with the above, but not this-

            and in any case, I think it clarifies the distinction between conscious and unconscious processes.

            I think you get nearer when you observe-

            Unconscious processes are simply the workings of our brains that the brain itself isn’t designed to model, say through lack of space or because it’s unnecessary.

            …i.e. not salient.

            For the last two years nearly every evening and morning, when very tired (woken by an alarm and at night nodding off….I can only sleep when I make myself dog tired to stop my brain working) I do a wide variety of puzzles and tasks, mathematical, verbal, social, logical, and I note with sustained amazement how modular my brain seems to be.

            Morning is most interesting as I feel wide awake and alert, yet I am unable to perform specific tasks with any reliability. Sudoku/numbers can work very well, but language/writing is terrible and only kicks in as reasonable competence after a period of time or a lot of coffee. Solitaire defeats me too, particularly with colours, suits and picture cards. I don’t feel any cognitive deficit. I feel upbeat and ready for the day. My conscious world seems undiminished in size or vividness, despite the lollygagging modules.

            I am with Oliver Sacks that the brain conjurs material or the appearance of material to cover any shortfall in the expected quantities and types of material presented. Consciousness outside of sleeping experience (which I won’t go into here) is mostly an on or off state. Yes depression through to full blown Cotard’s Syndrome suppresses conscious experience, but for me that shows not a continuum of awareness down into the modules as it were, but the disconnect with the salience channel of conscious experience/memory feedstock with the emotion generating aspect/aesthetic of experience.

            (I believe consciousness “works” by way of better generating emotional engagement, particularly needed to emotionally re-inflate recollections.)

          • In reply to #78 by phil rimmer:

            And Zeug

            I was knackered when I wrote this. (Much travelling.) I notice my language fails in particular ways. Always the prepositions go first. They seem unloved with little value. But reading them as a another would, I can see that they alter comprehensibility hugely.

            but the disconnect with the salience channel of conscious experience/memory feedstock with the emotion generating aspect/aesthetic of experience.

            would have been better as-

            “but the disconnect of the salience channel of conscious experience/memory feedstock from the emotion generating aspect/aesthetic of experience.”

            Also when tired or stressed my vocabulary become florid because I can’t find the ordinary word. Lollygagging for pities sake…..

          • In reply to #70 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #68 by Nunbeliever:

            if I understood his arguments correctly I think he is pretty much saying the opposite of what I said. He talks about systems and sub-systems ending up in units that perform only very simple tasks (like a transistor in a computer). But, these small units are still reg…

            Yes, I think that I understand what you are saying and to a large extent I of course agree. It was wrong of me to attribute a certain position to Dan Dennett when it was not clear that’s what he’s saying. The article wasn’t really dealing with these aspects of consciousness and free will anyway. That was my just my interpretation.

            That said, I think there is good evidence that suggests certain parts of the brain are more involved with the intellectual abilities and what we generally would describe as consciousness, while other parts are mainly responsible for highly automated functions. In fact, the brain isn’t really even involved in all decisions our body makes at any given point. For example the digestive system has it’s own quite complex largely autonomous nervous system. My point is that the argument that consciousness is a gradual process from the most simple units to complex systems clearly can’t be true with regard to the brain or the body as a whole. It’s certainly an interesting argument with regard to specific systems or sub-systems but if taken to the extreme this would mean that the every single cell in the body is to some extent necessary and constantly contributing to the sensation of being conscious. To me that sounds a bit too much like new age holism for me to stomach :D For example, that would mean that it’s not really possible to separate the brain from the body, which I find hard to believe. I think it will be possible in the future to have living and conscious brains without being connected to a physical body. In fact we know that the brain can feel for example phantom pain without being connected to an actual limb.

            On the other hand there does not seem to be any distinct borders between different parts of the brain either. Of course, we don’t really yet have a thorough understanding of consciousness at the level of the brain. Hence, all we can do is speculate. What I can say though is that it’s all very confusing…

        • In reply to #68 by Nunbeliever:

          My main point though is that the idea that the conscious part of our brain is the boss who rules the body is clearly not the whole truth…

          Indeed so. That is how it seems to me. The conscious part is rather the guy at the committee meeting who gets to write the minutes. Not actually in the direct line of control (the committee members are in turn at different times). But the note-taker gets to have a profound influence of future behaviour.

          The sublimely clever movie Momento, about an amnesiac piecing together a crime, (and told both backwards and forwards!) nails beautifully at one point the power of memory to dictate the future. (Spoiler) The protagonist detective depends on the notes he writes his future self for his continued ability to function and pursue his personal case. The act of memorising is thus made physically manifest. He needs also in his clear headed and informed current self to dictate the actions of his future self who may no longer possess this current, passionate motivation for future action, so….he lies to is future self. The lying memory/note becomes a future trigger for himself.

          More simply we rehearse what we will do or say, but sometimes a half conscious lie to ourselves can be the most effective. We conspire against our unconscious selves.

          This may well lie at the heart of cognitive dissonance.

          • In reply to #72 by phil rimmer:

            In reply to #68 by Nunbeliever:

            My main point though is that the idea that the conscious part of our brain is the boss who rules the body is clearly not the whole truth…

            Indeed so. That is how it seems to me. The conscious part is rather the guy at the committee meeting who gets to write the min…

            Yes, I have never thought about the movie Memento in that way but you are totally right. Now, I have to watch it again :)

    • In reply to #62 by Nunbeliever:

      Addition to my previous comment.

      I think a problem with consciousness and the illusion of free will is that we regard ourselves (or rather our consciousness) as an executive decision maker, when in fact I think the evidence suggests a better analogy would be a committee that review earlier decision…

      Who says consciousness governs ? I didn’t say that the mind governs…. the mind is not the will, the will / instinct resides in the gut……Your statement sounds like what I was saying about my instinct…its like an executive committee and my mind puts its responses into thoughts words and actions….Its all me….its just stupid to say It not my free will and that free will is an illusion….No its not -
      My will – Is Me and its free to choose many options randomly….that’s no more an illusion than your non existing free will that is choosing to interact here and now …

      You also said

      “On the other hand we are able to review and make suggestions which influence how our body deals with similar situations in the future.”….

      I’d call that free will… we don’t respond like robots….

      I think its wrong to assume that by insisting on free will that somehow its just like believing in god or something ….I DO NOT see how that follows I’ve never believed in any god….I don’t think I’m a special little human – but i’m no less special than any other persons will….and I refuse to follow the will of certain others – I do follow my own free will……and my free will insists that it exists…and it says to tell you that some people don’t need to know how the processes are done – but just that its all done for me….so its my free will….in my body….which is me….are you suggesting my strong instinct /will ……is not me ?

      • In reply to #75 by Light Wave:

        “On the other hand we are able to review and make suggestions which influence how our body deals with similar situations in the future.”….
        I’d call that free will… we don’t respond like robots….

        What conception of robots do you have in mind? Technically speaking, a human is an organic neural-network-based computer system onboard his or her own individual organic suite of body systems that make up both their vehicle and their life support. Admittedly, you and the rest of us are among the most complex and state-of-the-art examples of neurotechnology Nature has grown. However, setting aside the stereotypical associations around the word “robot”, we are robots, at least from a gene’s eye view, so to speak. We only make choices in the first place because of the rich and complex suite of faculties, mechanisms, programs, subroutines, and feedback systems that interact with each other and allow each possible decision to take place.

  23. Assuming free will is a “hypothesis used to explain differences between the praiseworthiness and blameworthiness of different types of acts”, it does not follow from it being unnecessary for our use of praise and blame that it’s not the thing which does in fact explain a type of praiseworthy or blameworthy act, or explain them best.

    I suspect a purely utilitarian attempt to differentiate praiseworthy from blameworthy acts must fail.

  24. A recent comment on the Forum on Sam Harris website said:
    “I think Daniel Dennett should engage Sam Harris in discussions and debates on Free Will. We have them on Evolution all the time.. What we are not clear on is Free Will. It needs to be addressed in a discussion-type format, maybe with Richard Dawkins as moderator, whereby the public can view and consider the speakers’ views. There is a gaping hole in public discourse on the subject which fascinates all of us.”

    Should this idea not be supported? Perhaps with other participants as well, such as Alonzo Fyfe, to avoid a one-to one confrontation?

  25. In reply to #88 by PERSON:

    Situations can readily be created that have several possible outcomes in a meaningful sense. Rolling a die, for instance. If I roll a die and get a five, it’s not meaningless to say it could have been a six. If the situation is recreated, it could have gone otherwise.

    I think the point is that no situation can ever be completely recreated. The outcome of a die roll is determined by a practically limitless number of factors, only some of which can be controlled for or even considered under the constraints of human scale. Determinism supposes that if it were somehow possible to perfectly recreate all of the factors of a single roll of the die, it would come up the same every time. If there is a different outcome it is because one or more of the initial factors – no matter how small or undetectable – must have been different. Of course, this is an untestable hypothesis, but a fair extrapolation from the observed regularity of physical laws.

    It is in this sense that a determinist would reject claims that an agent “could have done otherwise”. Given the exact same set of conditions the outcome would always be the same.

  26. In reply to #12 by BanJoIvie:

    In reply to #4 by louise:

    “If everyone on earth woke up tomorrow not believing we have free will, nothing regarding reward and punishment would change as a result.”

    I don’t think that is true. Our beliefs do have consequences for our behavior. They represent a link in the causal chain like any oth…

    Yes, they do represent a link, but the point is that we have no conscious control over what influence they have. What’s going on in our decision making center takes many factors into consideration– experiential, environmental, genetic. We are not aware of most of them and we don’t know which of millions of factors are going to be driving our decisions. It’s why we can truthfully say, as we almost always do, with great authority, what we think we’d do in a certain situation, then do the exact opposite at the last minute. We simply don’t know which factors are going to kick in. It’s why a person can “decide” to commit suicide, but fail to carry it out when the jig is up. We know what’s going on, we think we know what’s driving us, but we don’t. We are often wrong. We have no way of controlling our determining factors or even knowing what they are or which one’s are operating at any moment. Beliefs are just one factor in a sea of factors but because we are so familiar with our beliefs, we assume they have more power than they actually do. For a good report on brain scans that show we make decisions before we are aware of them, read this: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23367-brain-imaging-spots-our-abstract-choices-before-we-do.html#.Uxa8SGt5mSM. If we are making decisions before we are consciously aware of them it isn’t free will or beliefs or anything conscious that is determining them. But we have a tendency to attribute them to our consciousness (and beliefs) after the fact. We make up a story. We don’t even realize we are doing this. It’s simply how our brains operate. In other words they operate without us—without our knowledge and without our permisssion and very often in contradiction to our beliefs.

  27. In reply to #30 by mr_DNA:

    In reply to #24 by Light Wave:

    In reply to #23 by Nunbeliever:

    In reply to #20 by Light Wave:

    This annoying topic is more confusing than the whole ‘god n religion thing and to me seems very over complicated….just the way Sam Harris likes it or he’d be out of a job…..Free thinkers have free wi…

    Hard determinists have no problem comprehending the deterministic process. I am one of them. It’s not that hard. It was a lot easier than giving up belief in god.

  28. In reply to #49 by Light Wave:

    In reply to #31 by Nunbeliever:

    In reply to #24 by Light Wave:

    Thanks for attempting to explain this with better clarity than anyone so far….I’m an absolute amateur at philosophy and I can only respond as a human…so I can’t speak for bacteria…whether they have will or not…I presume that no…

    Well, yes of course we are all individuals and have our own personalities and identities that influence our decisions. I have never said that we’re not the authors of our own decisions. The subconscious processes of our brains are just as much a part of you and me as the conscious processes. Just because we are not aware of the moment when decisions are formed does not mean that we as individuals don’t make the decisions. Of course we do. It’s not like we have this parasite within us that is forcing us to do things we don’t want to. Or that we become zombies if we deny that we have a free will. No, these inner processes are just as much a part of us as the conscious processes. Together they constitute who we are and the decisions we make.

    But, knowing this means that the concept of free will is an absurd one that belittles the human mind. In fact, people who believe in free will fail to see the real beauty of the human mind. How all these parts of the brain work together in harmony and creates this wonderful sensation of being a person. We should embrace all these processes as vital parts of ourselves, instead of denying their existence. As said, they are not parasites but vital parts of you! You talk about instincts and that is not a bad word to describe these processes… But, it seems like you want to eat the cake and have it too. While you admit that you are “ruled” by processes you aren’t conscious of or able to influence in a direct way (you call it instinct) you still claim to have a free will. These two ideas are not compatible with each other.

  29. In reply to #35 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #30 by mr_DNA:

    You have no conscious control over what your own thoughts are and have no ability to make a choice that wouldn’t be formed by these existing patterns within your brain.

    What you do have, though, are periods when different parts of your brain prevail. One part can act to…

    But obviously you have no control of which circuits in your brain prevail at any moment – further evidence that there is no “self” but the illusion of self.

    You example of buying bread and cake and choices you make is a good illustration of this in action.
    Part of you desires cake (for want of a better word the more primitive part) part of you to do with long term planing and will power thinks eating cake is to be avoided.

    There have been numerous studies showing that varying physical factors can determine which part of your brain gets the upper hand. For example, you can exhaust your ego by performing mental tasks requiring lots concentration allowing the cake eating part of your brain to acquire mastery.
    There is also evidence that people infected with the toxoplasma gondii parasite will have all manner of behavioural changes leading them to engage in more risk behaviour such as unprotected sex or speeding.
    This of course the parasite that control mice altering their behaviour so that they seek out the company of cats.

  30. ?

    I’d be surprised if he is not aware of such experiments.

    I wonder if Dennett and Harris are visitors to this site.

    In reply to #64 by quarecuss:

    In reply to #33 by Marktony:

    Neuroscience and Free Will

    So how would Daniel Dennett respond to the that little video?

  31. In reply to #65 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #64 by quarecuss:

    In reply to #33 by Marktony:

    Neuroscience and Free Will

    So how would Daniel Dennett respond to the that little video?

    Link doesn’t work

    You’ll find the link in comment #33

  32. In reply to #53 by louise:

    Yes, [our beliefs] do represent a link [in the causal chain], but the point is that we have no conscious control over what influence they have.

    I agree. It does not follow however that, because we cannot control their influence, these beliefs have NO influence. It may be that we do not choose (or even understand) the processes that create our beliefs, but that doesn’t make them inconsequential. You stated that if beliefs about free will were universally changed overnight that this would have no effect on subsequent punitive behavior. I don’t think this assertion is justified.

    What’s going on in our decision making center takes many factors into consideration [...]. Beliefs are just one factor in a sea of factors but because we are so familiar with our beliefs, we assume they have more power than they actually do.

    I agree with all this. But the tendency among many to overstate the effects of our beliefs is not justification to discount them completely. They may be just one factor among many, but they are still a factor. If you change them, it is reasonable to assume there will be some effect.

    For a good report on brain scans that show we make decisions before we are aware of them, read this: [...]

    I know about such research. I agree that we apparently make many, most or possibly all decisions pre-consciously. This does not support your assertion that consciousness is therefore without any effect.

    If we are making decisions before we are consciously aware of them it isn’t free will or beliefs or anything conscious that is determining them.

    I am not defending free will. I agree that there is no evidence for such a thing (at least as commonly understood or defined.) But you overreach when you lump free will, beliefs and “anything conscious” into one pile. Beliefs DO exist. Consiousness DOES exist. We do not understand these phenomena, but they are observable, and it would be quite remarkable for them not to have any effects in the world.

    The whole point of rejecting libertarian free will is that it amounts to special pleading; an assertion that consciousness or “will” has the unique property of arising without causation. You made the opposite – equally unjustified – assertion that conscious phenomena – while wholly the result of pre-determining factors – can have no effect in turn on subsequent events. That is also special pleading.

    You just argued at length that we don’t know what factors are going to determine decisions. Given this uncertainty, what could justify eliminating all conscious factors? True, our awareness of a decision may arise after it has already been made, but that doesn’t mean that awareness cannot have ramifications on subsequent decisions. Consciousness may very well feed back into unconscious processes.

    But we have a tendency to attribute them to our consciousness (and beliefs) after the fact. We make up a story. We don’t even realize we are doing this. It’s simply how our brains operate.

    I generally agree.

    In other words they operate without us–[...]

    No. That’s a dualist claim. I AM my brain, the whole thing. The conscious, preconscious, unconscious, autonomic, etc. are all part of me. It makes no sense to say my brain operates without me. They are not two different things. You are making a bright distinction between the conscious mind and the rest of the brain which makes no sense. I have many component parts, but they are all me.

    [...]-without our knowledge and without our permisssion [sic][...]

    Better, but again that is not the same as “without any input or influence from consciousness.”

    and very often in contradiction to our beliefs.

    “Very often” is not the same as “always.” “In contradiction to” is not the same as “without influence from.”

  33. Sorry if this is out if sequence. I cannot find the post by BanJolvie that this is in response to.

    BanJoIvie commented on “RDFRS: Free Will in the Real World?”:

    In reply to #53 by louise:

    Yes, [our beliefs] do represent a link [in the causal chain], but the point is that we have no conscious control over what influence they have.

    BJ I agree. It does not follow however that, because we cannot control their influence, these beliefs have NO influence. It may be that we do not choose (or even understand) the processes that create our beliefs, but that doesn’t make them inconsequential. You stated that if beliefs about free will were universally changed overnight that this would have no effect on subsequent punitive behavior. I don’t think this assertion is justified.

    Louise It would have an effect but we can’t know how much.  It’s like adding herbs to a big pot of soup. They’re in there but they can’t be separated from the whole. 
    What’s going on in our decision making center takes many factors into consideration [...]. Beliefs are just one factor in a sea of factors but because we are so familiar with our beliefs, we assume they have more power than they actually do.

    BJ I agree with all this. But the tendency among many to overstate the effects of our beliefs is not justification to discount them completely. They may be just one factor among many, but they are still a factor. If you change them, it is reasonable to assume there will be some effect.

    Yes, but you can’t consciously decide to change them, that’s the rub. 
    For a good report on brain scans that show we make decisions before we are aware of them, read this: [...]

    I know about this research of this sort, and agree that we make decisions pre-consciously. This does not support your assertion that consciousness is therefore without any effect.

    Louise You’d have to prove tha it has an effect. Consciousness may well be only observatory. 

    BJ If we are making decisions before we are consciously aware of them it isn’t free will or beliefs or anything conscious that is determining them.

    I am not defending free will. I agree that there is no evidence for such a thing (at least as commonly understood or defined.) But you overreach when you lump free will, beliefs and “anything conscious” into one pile. Beliefs DO exist. Consiousness DOES exist. We do not understand these phenomena, but they are observable, and it would be quite remarkable for them not to have any effects in the world.

    Louise If you can identify their effects individually, have at it. 

    BJ The whole point of rejecting libertarian free will is that it amounts to special pleading; an assertion that consciousness or “will” has the unique property of arising without causation. You made the opposite – equally unjustified – assertion that conscious phenomena – while wholly the result of pre-determining factors – can have no effect in turn on subsequent events. That is also special pleading.

    I did not say conscious phenomena have no effects. I said we can’t know what effects they have or weather or when or how much influence they exert.  That is a completely different position than what you stated. 
    You just argued at length that we don’t know what factors are going to determine decisions. Given this uncertainty, what could justify eliminating all conscious factors?

    Louise I didn’t suggest such a thing. I said nothing about eliminating them. I simoly said thar yphave no more influence than other factors and we son’t know how much influence they have. It could be a lot or a little, or none at all. 

    BJ True, our awareness of a decision may arise after it has already been made, but that doesn’t mean that awareness cannot have ramifications on subsequent decisions. Consciousness may very well feed back into unconscious processes.

    Louise It probably does. But we STILL don’t know how that might work or what other factors take precedence. 
    But we have a tendency to attribute them to our consciousness (and beliefs) after the fact. We make up a story. We don’t even realize we are doing this. It’s simply how our brains operate.

    BJ I generally agree.

    In other words they operate without us–[...]

    No. That’s a dualist claim. I AM my brain, the whole thing. The conscious, preconscious, unconscious, autonomic, etc. are all part of me. It makes no sense to say my brain operates without me. They are not two different things. You are making a bright distinction between the conscious mind and the rest of the brain which makes no sense. I have many component parts, but they are all me.

    Louise All you, yes, but no part of your brain knows what is going on or what is driving your decisions. 
    [...]-without our knowledge and without our permisssion [sic][...]

    BJ Better, but again that is not the same as “without any input or influence from consciousness.”

    and very often in contradiction to our beliefs.

    “Very often” is not the same as “always.” “In contradiction to” is not the same as “without influence from.”

    Louise I never said it was without influence.  People who believe in free will think their conscious input is a driving force.  My position is that it is not.  It’s one lone force in a sea of competing forces, and it may be one of the weaker ones. It probably is a weak factor since it’s so easily superseded. 

  34. In reply to #79 by louise:

    Sorry if this is out if sequence. I cannot find the post by BanJolvie that this is in response to.

    It’s #74, for anyone following. Also, a helpful formatting hint for anyone who wants to respond to specific portions of text; you can make the quoted paragraph appear inset and italicized by simply placing the ‘greater than’ symbol [>] before it. Be sure to end the block quote by creating a full blank line (hit return twice) after the quoted paragraph.

    It [a given belief about free will] would have an effect [on subsequent punitive behavior] but we can’t know how much. It’s like adding herbs to a big pot of soup. They’re in there but they can’t be separated from the whole.

    Exactly. That’s the point I am making, and it contradicts your repeated assertion. I have already flatly stated that I understand and agree with this point of view. There is no need for you to keep restating it.

    Yes, but you can’t consciously decide to change them, that’s the rub.

    Again, I know and agree with this. I never said otherwise.

    You’d have to prove tha [sic] it has an effect.

    Perhaps, if I were asserting any specific effect, I would have a burden of proof. In this discussion I am not making such a strong assertion. I am ONLY challenging your assertion that changing beliefs about free-will overnight would have no effect on judicial/punishment behavior.

    Consciousness may well be only observatory.

    Hmmm. You just agreed that “it would have an effect” (although unquantifiable) yet here you again propose the possibility of no effect. Later on, you claim never to have made such an assertion. I think you are waffling. Possibly because you haven’t thought enough about what “ONLY observatory” might mean. How is that different from “having no effect?”

    In any case, I reject your attempts to place the burden on me. I agree that the exact effects of consciousness cannot be separated out or quantified at this time. I still think that the logical assumption (i.e. the default position) is that consciousness has SOME effect. Logic and observation support the idea that any effect (leaving aside the quantum level for now) both arises from a cause (or causes) AND ALSO causes other effects in turn. By default, I assume that consciousness is no exception. I don’t need to demonstrate any single separate effect to reject your premise that beliefs “may be only observational” whatever that means.

    Louise If you can identify their effects individually, have at it.

    I cannot.

    I did not say conscious phenomena have no effects.

    Well, apart from the claim you just made that, “Consciousness may well be only observatory,” I believe you did say (or strongly imply) exactly that. I only responded to you in the first place because in comment #4 you stated:

    If everyone on earth woke up tomorrow not believing we have free will, nothing regarding reward and punishment would change as a result. We would still reward and punish as we wre [sic] determined to do. Whether we agree that free will exists or not has no bearing on our thoughts or actions. Nothing in our conscious mind has anything to do with our determined responses. [emphasis added]

    Then you repeat the assertion in comment #43:

    ideas of justice and responsibility are also determined and would not change [emphasis added] because a person rejects the idea of free will. They would not change even if everyone in the world stopped believing in Free Will because how we think about responsibility, morality, justice and punishment are determined by forces outside our conscience minds

    I think we broadly agree about the topic of free will. It is only this narrow point I am challenging, and you made it twice. IF (hypothetically by some unknown, miraculous means) everyone suddenly rejected free will one morning. it is illogical to assume that “ideas of justice and responsibility would not change” or that “nothing regarding reward and punishment would change as a result”. YES, concepts and behaviors like ‘justice’, ‘responsibility’, ‘reward’ and ‘punishment’ are determined to the same degree as beliefs about free will. But that does not mean that changing one of these ideas would not create other changes in turn. In fact it would be extraordinary if changing a belief about free will did not immediately alter “ideas of justice” because they are closely related. The much more likely assumption is that a hypothetical change like the one you propose would have a profound effect on our ideas of responsibility and our punitive systems of behavior. (I also happen to suspect that the effect would be generally positive.) That is ALL I am saying.

    I said we can’t know what effects they have or weather [sic] or when or how much influence they exert.

    And I agreed with you. That’s not the part I disagree with.

    I simoly said thar yphave [sic] no more influence than other factors and we son’t know how much influence they have.[emphasis added]

    The two statements I have emphasized are in conflict. I think the first one is an overreach given what we currently know. I agree that we don’t know how much influence consciousness has on behavior. Because of this uncertainty, I don’t think we can rule out the possibility that consciousness has more influence than other factors in at least some circumstances.

    It could be a lot or a little, or none at all.

    A lot? Could be. A little? Maybe. None at all? That would be extraordinary, given what we know so far about causality. If true, it would mean that consciousness is uniquely without causative power. I think asserting such a position without evidence amounts to special pleading.

    [BanJoIvie] Consciousness may very well feed back into unconscious processes.

    [Louise] It probably does.

    Yes.

    But we STILL don’t know how that might work or what other factors take precedence.

    Right. That doesn’t support your assertion (twice) that changing conscious factors would have no effect on subsequent related ideas and behaviors.

    I never said it was without influence.

    I disagree. See above.

    People who believe in free will think their conscious input is a driving force.

    I am not one of those people.

    My position is that it is not.

    Mine too…depending on what is meant by “driving force.”

    It’s one lone force in a sea of competing forces, and it may be one of the weaker ones.

    I think you take too much poetic license here in your desire to de-emphasize consciousness to the point where “none at all” seems just as reasonable as “an unknown amount” of influence.

    We simply don’t know enough about the various inputs determining thoughts and behavior even to distinguish them from each other, let alone to count them or assign them various weights like strong and weak or to decide which take precedence at any given time.

    It probably is a weak factor since it’s so easily superseded.

    Yes, in some circumstances, conscious ideas are superseded by other factors determining our decisions. But we don’t know enough to generalize from that to the relative strength and weakness of one factor versus another in all circumstances. Especially given the possibility that the “other factors” may include prior conscious states which have fed back into preconscious decision making.

  35. In reply to #84 by BanJoIvie:
    In reply to #79 by louise:

    For me consciousness is related to an emotional/aesthetic test of salience. Only conscious experiences make short term memories. Only a few short-term memories become long term ones after review.

    The conscious experience all the way through to retrievable memory, (because of how experiences are mostly stripped down to archetypes and categories of actions etc.etc.) make edited, entirely personal narratives, cognitively skewed by earlier experience.

    Narratives of failure and defeat say, in healthy minds, lead to rehearsal of actions, the better to act willfully (as you most often wish it) in the face of real or imagined threats. Successful people, willful people, I contend, particularly plan and rehearse their actions and notional encounters. Its training the otherwise impetuous beast to follow your wishes.

    Jonathan Haidt has a metaphor for we humans being like a horse and rider, a smart willful beast astride a dumb willful beast. It takes a lot of practice to work together. Practicing crossing bridges before you come to them, by rehearsing, may better keep you out of the water to both parties’ advantage…

    The conscious experience is not related to or directly causal of immediate action, but it is the very root of future willful acts, or at least those acts of which we will become most proud and feel the greatest ownership of.

  36. In reply to #85 by phil rimmer:

    Hi Phil. Yes, I too think that something like what you describe will probably turn out to be the case. Our conscious experiences may not drive our immediate decisions in the way that many instinctively assume, but I suspect they provide input back into our subconscious which could significantly impact our future actions. As you say, the things we think most often or most vehemently are probably more likely to show up in our behavior down the line.

  37. In reply to #1 by aquilacane:

    There can be no morality without free will. Therefore, a blog about real-world morality must discuss real world free will.

    There is no evidence of “morality”. Hell, people can’t even agree on what it means, which suggests it’s just a concept and not anything real.

    The term is problematic, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have technical definitions that are coherent. The same is true of free will, but I’ve seen no such definitions for it, whereas I have seen things at least resembling them for morality.

  38. In reply to #6 by tkoeller:

    The heart of the question concerns whether an agent “could have done otherwise”.

    Whether some past event ‘could have gone otherwise’ is a totally unscientific question, because there is no way of answering it.

    This is, strictly, untrue. Situations can readily be created that have several possible outcomes in a meaningful sense. Rolling a die, for instance. If I roll a die and get a five, it’s not meaningless to say it could have been a six. If the situation is recreated, it could have gone otherwise.

    However, I see what you mean. Once events have happened, they can’t change. The missing part of the conception is of models of the future. One should talk about, e.g., people having reasonable prior expectation that a situation could have gone otherwise. The thing with models is that they allow you to anticipate and influence a situation. I could weight my die, for instance. Such actions are a consequence of will, and give the impression that will can subvert determinism. But will is an emotion operating on deterministic models anticipating deterministic outcomes. Their structure allows ambiguity because of the unknowability of the specific outcome. This creates the illusion or intuition that will acting on the world has a similar structure.

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