William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Free Will Cannot Be An Illusion

Unless my mind is tricking me, I once had a car like this

I get more than two dozen press releases and book announcements a week, a consequence of running a not-as-obscure-as-some-would-wish blog. The latest was from Gregg D. Caruso, an academic philosopher at SUNY Corning Community College.

He has a new book which asks a bunch of people questions about some thing. I immediately lost interest in it when I noted that Caruso boasted also writing Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will. On his homepage he says, “our subjective feeling of freedom, as reflected in the first-person phenomenology of agentive experience, is an illusion created by certain aspects of our consciousness.” Agentive?

He also says of himself, “In particular, he is an optimistic skeptic and disillusionist maintaining that, not only can we preserve meaning, morals, and purpose without belief in free will and desert-based moral responsibility, but that we would be better off without such beliefs.” Isn’t a disillusionist the kind of magician who keeps accidentally exposing how his tricks work? Never mind.

Now an illusion is mental phenomenon: it is when the mind experiences something as real which isn’t. An illusion cannot appear to or be caused in, say, a pile of bricks or a 1964 Barracuda for the simple reason that bricks and muscle cars do not have minds. Illusions do happen to us because, I feel it is necessary to stress, we have minds.

We often recognize illusions after the fact, as when vision or fever clears, and we sometimes see when others are suffering from one. Because we know there are such things as illusions we necessarily must know that we have normal states of consciousness, too. In other words, because we know the difference between illusion and reality and that a real world exists, it is logically impossible for everything to be an illusion.

Fully determinate objects, like cars and bricks, are “slaves” to physics in the sense Caruso means; they cannot have free will and neither can they experience illusions, even though we sometimes jokingly say, “That car has a mind of its own.” It is a poor enough joke, but it is made worse by adopting it as a basis for an entire philosophy.

We do have free will and we do experience illusions. It is we who come to decisions like “This is real,” or “That was an illusion.” The point is that there is a we, an us, an I or me that must exist for illusions to obtain.

Even if you imagine you are making a choice, you are still making a choice, you are still exhibiting free will. Suppose you, in your seat now, conjure up the scenario whereby you’re standing at a fast food counter and the clerk asks, “Would you like fries with that?” If you imagine yourself as saying “Yes” or “No”, you have used your mind freely. Bricks and cars never do things like that. You cannot imagine yourself not existing, not having thoughts. You cannot think, and mean it, “I am not thinking.” Thinking cannot be an illusion.

Caruso does not mean to say we are illusions as a figure of speech. He means it. Or thinks he does. And because he thinks he does, he doesn’t. But why?

Here might be the reason. Caruso penned the article “(Un)just Deserts: The Dark Side of Moral Responsibility” (pdf). He opens the piece with this:

What would be the consequence of embracing skepticism about free will and/or desert-based moral responsibility? What if we came to disbelieve in moral responsibility? What would this mean for our interpersonal relationships, society, morality, meaning, and the law? What would it do to our standing as human beings?

Caruso wants bipedal automatons, fully automated creatures who have no choice about anything, all their behaviors being absolutely determined by external forces, to freely choose, i.e. embrace, the idea that they have no free will. And that, once they choose to acknowledge they are incapable of choosing things, they will choose to abandon their desert morality and the world will be a better place.

This really is his argument. I am not a psychologist and so cannot name this form of insanity. Denying (an act of choice!) free will because one doesn’t like morality does seem to be the new opium of intellectuals, however. Caruso isn’t alone and represents a trend in academia.

He says one thing with which I can agree: “As public proclamations of skepticism [of free will] continue to rise, and as the mass media continues to run headlines announcing free will and moral responsibility are illusions, we need to ask what effects this will have on the general public and what the responsibility is of professionals.”

We do need to keep our eyes on these characters, if only to see what forms their insanity might take.

79 Comments

  1. Wow just wow.
    I preface with stating I have not read either book, nor is it likely that I will Choose to.
    “preserve meaning, morals, and purpose without belief in free will and desert-based moral responsibility”
    – So where does he wish to draw this well of social moral norms and purpose from?

    He says the belief in moral responsibility, rather than protecting
    rights for the accused, the convicted, or the unfortunate, is too often used instead to justify treating them in severe and demeaning ways. They get what they “justly deserve” what they get. It encourages punitive excess, perpetuate social and economic inequalities.

    This is where Liberals stumble. In their attempt to mold social views, ultimately those views conflict, crash and collapse. He sees moral responsibility as the inverse and opposite of protecting the rights of unfortunates. Does the same apply to successful individuals or just the down and out he talks about?

    If we are the product of our society and environment and LUCK, are we fated robots?

    He thinks the endless years I have invested and dedicated in improving my abilities are a waste and any famous artist was just a product of society and LUCK.

    Conversely, a drunk driver who runs a red light and kills people was just UNLUCKY and we should not be so hard on them…since society made him do it.

    Perspectives like this need to be seriously ridiculed.

  2. Sorry, I got to the part about Just World Belief (JWB) and Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA)with it bias and decided to puke.

    These people’s perspectives are nothing but trash wanna be’s in the same class as the climate change. They are wave riders competing with each other to see who can top the trampling and clapping each other on the back.

    BTW, good article and many thanks.

  3. August Berkshire

    April 23, 2014 at 10:01 am

    I think you are assuming that we are always able to recognize the difference between illusions and non-illusions. For scientific reasons, I think free will is an illusion (though it seems just as real to me as it does to you).

    The universe is mostly deterministic, which does not allow for free will. The parts of the universe that are indeterminate or random don’t allow for free will either since, by definition, we can’t control them.

    The only argument I ever hear from people who think free will is real is that it is “obvious.” Your essay never gets beyond that. You fail to demonstrate that free will is possible, given what I have said in the second paragraph. Free will is not necessary to explain any thought or action.

    Many people reject the illusion of free will because they don’t like what they perceive as the moral consequences of that premise. But not liking a consequence (which is an emotional response) has no impact on the validity of the premise.

    With or without free will, our actions have consequences. With or without free will, society will respond to our actions. It turns out that the best way to modify behavior (encouraging helpful behavior and discouraging harmful behavior) is to treat people, for the most part, as if they really do have free will. Thus we can justify praising or punishing people, not in a responsible or moral sense, but in a practical sense.

  4. Briggs

    April 23, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Gee, August, what made you decide to write your comment?

    That you did decide is all the evidence I need to demonstrate free will.

    It is your unwarranted assumption that the universe is deterministic that is in question. Now just because I or you don’t know how we have free will, this does not mean we don’t. Saying that because we don’t understand it therefore we don’t have it is like a lady who denies airplanes can fly because she can’t understand jet engines and wings.

  5. Your enemies are hard at work:
    Unless my mind is tricking me, I once a car like this

  6. Briggs

    April 23, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Conrad,

    Drat them!

  7. Just out of the blue, what if someone brings up the example of animals like mice, snakes, or even lower level animals etc. ? They have some kind of mental states yet we claim that they don’t have free will or some kind of immaterial consciousness.

    Thank you for the post!

  8. Briggs

    April 23, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Tom,

    An excellent question. Other creatures do not possess rational minds as we do. They are conscious, but do not possess understanding. They only can react. We can deliberate. It isn’t an explanation, but a consequence that animals cannot act against their natures, whereas we can and do.

    There’s no quick reply I can think of off hand (and now you ask, maybe I should), but here is a start.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06259a.htm

  9. Thank you for the quick reply. I’ll look at the link, but here is another question. What about some kinds of monkeys, orcas, dolphins and even pigs, don’t they possess understanding, deliberation? Do they not sometimes act against their own nature?

    I’ll make sure to print out the link you sent me

  10. Well. if he doesn’t have free will then something is compelling him to write that he doesn’t have free will so why should we believe him?

  11. Briggs

    April 23, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Tom,

    I chose “deliberate” unwisely, not because it’s strictly wrong but because it has connotations of neutral options. A bird can “deliberate” to light on this or that branch, but doesn’t use reason to choose. Animals do not engage in ratiocination: none would grasp a syllogism, for instance.

  12. I agree they cannot grasp a syllogism, but there are some forms of lower reasoning no? For instance, there are birds that will cut a twig and use it as a tool to fish out grub and insects from holes too deep to reach with their beak. Or how monkeys can realize they are wrong when making choices: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100324094640.htm , or evidence of dolphins having “metacognition” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090914172644.htm

    Perhaps we can think of animal souls and human souls? I think some Islamic traditions hold to this opinion.

  13. RE: “We do need to keep our eyes on these characters, if only to see what forms their insanity might take.”

    So True!

    Caruso is not just “an academic philosopher” as Briggs notes…

    …he’s a FULL ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY.

  14. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 23, 2014 at 11:29 am

    desert-based moral responsibility

    At first I thought this was the morality that led one to refuse the ice cream on the apple pie after dinner. Otherwise, it is unclear on which desert Aristotle based the Nichomachian Ethics. Then I realized the truth! Mr. Caruso believes free will is some sort of religious thingie and, since religion is obviously wrong, free will must be an illusion.

    For scientific reasons, I think free will is an illusion …

    It is difficult to imagine any reason in natural science that would justify a belief like that.

    The universe is mostly deterministic, which does not allow for free will.

    This violates the rule of Sumbunall. It assumes that because some human actions are deliberate that all actions in the universe are deliberate. Not even close. As T. Aquinas noted, not all human actions are deliberate and gave the example of an absent-minded professor tapping his foot or stroking his beard. Then, too, the universe is mostly sub-light, but this allows for relativistic effects. (The term for speed of light does not appear in either Galileo’s or Newton’s equations. Doesn’t mean it isn’t there.)

    The only argument I ever hear from people who think free will is real is that it is “obvious.”

    1. The will is the intellective appetite, a desire for, or aversion to, the products of the intellect. (It is parallel to and governing over the sensitive appetites for the products of perception.)
    2. It is impossible to want what you do not know.
    3. If knowledge were perfect, the will would be completely determined toward its object. (The expression “2+2=4” in stanadard meaning is completely known and the will cannot withhold its consent.)
    4. But knowledge is seldom complete. It is always possible to conceive of different ratio for the same sense impression. (Is H pronounced “en” or “aitch” or does it mean “hospital” or is it the cross-section of an I-beam?)
    5. To the extent that the intellect is incomplete, the will is not fully determined.
    6. Thus, there is “play” or “degrees of freedom” to acts of the will.
    The freedom of the will is thus a necessary consequence of the possession of an intellect.
    The next stage in denialism will be to claim that thinking is also an illusion.

    Just out of the blue, what if someone brings up the example of animals like mice, snakes, or even lower level animals etc. ? They have some kind of mental states yet we claim that they don’t have free will or some kind of immaterial consciousness. What about some kinds of monkeys, orcas, dolphins and even pigs, don’t they possess understanding, deliberation?

    If an animal is hungry and perceives food, it will eat. Period. This is entirely explicable based on perception and emotion (or, generally, on “imagination” rather than intellect). They are of course conscious, but no deliberation or understanding is required to explain the behavior and one should not multiply entities without necessity. A human being, having an intellect and volition, may under the same situation refrain from eating either because he is fasting for sacred reasons, dieting for secular reasons, does not like Brussels sprouts, judges the time and place inappropriate for chowing down, has not the coin wherewith to buy the food, etc., etc. That is, the will may overrule the appetites. (Some wags call this “free won’t.” 😀 )

    As Aristotle notes, an animal knows flesh, but a human knows what flesh is. Should any monkeys or dolphins possess intellect and will (and not simply imagination and emotion) then they are also humans, metaphysically if not physically. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

    Coincidentally, I put this up last night:
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/04/theres-way.html

  15. Ye Olde Statisician,

    Thanks. Always enjoy reading your comments.

  16. Perhaps we can think of animal souls and human souls?

    Well, if it was good enough for Aristotle and Aquinas, it oughta be good enough for us.

  17. The only argument I ever hear from people who think free will is real is that it is “obvious.”

    Not that it’s a great argument, but it really is pretty darn obvious.

  18. Briggs

    April 23, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    YOS,

    Thanks! As always.

  19. You may have free will, you don’t have free choice.

  20. Briggs

    April 23, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Hans,

    Right. If I hold a deck of cards out and say, “Pick one”, you can freely choose any of the 52. But you can’t have a choice of a different deck or to pick, say, a carrot.

  21. For scientific reasons, I think free will is an illusion …
    It is difficult to imagine any reason in natural science that would justify a belief like that.

    What if his choices were the result of cost/benefit analysis over which he has no control?

  22. The author has so thoroughly divorced thought from perception that even Kant would wince.

    Freewill exists because I perceive it. Nuff said.

  23. Freewill exists because I perceive it. Nuff said

    That’s like saying optical illusions exist because I see them. Where does that get you in determining when an illusion is present?

  24. Briggs

    April 23, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    DAV,

    I’m guessing you didn’t think you were suffering from an optical illusion when you read this post and its comments.

  25. Briggs on 23 April 2014 at 12:21 pm
    Now I’m confused. Is than an agree or a disagree?
    (I am a non-native english speaker)

  26. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    A. For scientific reasons, I think free will is an illusion …
    R. It is difficult to imagine any reason in natural science that would justify a belief like that.

    What if his choices were the result of cost/benefit analysis over which he has no control?

    There is nothing in an act of will that precludes it being moved by reason. In fact, quite the contrary. The intellective appetite is almost by definition presented with the “counsel of the intellect.” The C/B analysis may be an input to one’s decision, but one must first decide that he will obey the C/B without question. (What if the analysis involves risk to human life?) One may as well say that a wide receiver has no free will because the quarterback calls the play. But the receiver may decide not to follow the pass pattern.

    Besides, no one — including Thomas — ever contended that every act of a human is a deliberate act. Knowledge and habits (incl. genetic, accidental, cultural, personal) all have an effect on the will. Example: getting stinking drunk. Free will means that you can choose a different course, not that you will.

  27. YOS,

    I meant he literally has no choice but to follow his best analysis. Just because you don’t know don’t know how his choice was determined doesn’t mean he made it freely.

    Besides, no one — including Thomas — ever contended that every act of a human is a deliberate act.

    Irrelevant except you seem to be allowing for at least some choices to be being not freely made.

    Briggs,

    I’m guessing you didn’t think you were suffering from an optical illusion when you read this post and its comments.

    The point is that perceiving free will doesn’t mean it’s really there.

  28. It’s unfortunate that Free Will appears to be the flip side of Responsibility. Without Free Will, no one is responsible for their actions, and no one needs to be held accountable for their actions. Without the possibility of Free Will, there is hence no Judgment of one’s actions that is meaningful, and no real need to discern the Truth. Consequently, there is really no need for much of Philosophy, and certainly no need for any Professors of Philosophy.

    I personally prefer Turing’s attitude to the problem of free will.

    I recall someone had linked to John Conway’s Free Will Theorem on this blog previously, and this should be of interest to the “scientific” crowd:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0604079

  29. Briggs:

    “Caruso wants bipedal automatons, fully automated creatures who have no choice about anything, all their behaviors being absolutely determined by external forces, to freely choose, i.e. embrace, the idea that they have no free will.”

    He isn’t the first to to “want” such a thing. But such “wanting” would be a tacit admission that it is not so. Therefore, I doub’t he’d *choose* to call it a “want”.

    “Denying (an act of choice!) free will because one doesn’t like morality does seem to be the new opium of intellectuals, however.”

    The ones you choose to publicy discuss, at any rate.

    By the way, how do you know he doesn’t like morality? How would you answer if I opined that the reason you want there to be a God who decides for you what is moral and what is not is that you’re too lazy to define your own, and too much of a misanthrope to work with others and define a collective morality that most of the group can agree on?

    And what’s wrong with opium exactly? How can one be an intellectual and a smack junkie at the same time? Did I just miss an intentional irony here?

    August:

    “The universe is mostly deterministic, which does not allow for free will. The parts of the universe that are indeterminate or random don’t allow for free will either since, by definition, we can’t control them.”

    If you’re correct, then the universe as a whole is awfully good at fooling us into believing that we can control the stochastic bits. I ponder how that would come about in the first place, and whether the universe is aware that it’s doing it, and if so if it’s doing it by choice?

    Your own personal experience of sentient consciousness should at the very least allow the consideration that you *can* exercise some control over the non-deterministic parts of your brain. Unless, of course, you simply have no choice in the matter. In which case all of this is pointless.

    I do think you and I would agree that the “random” portion of the universe makes it inherently unpredictable. Aquinas, Luther and Calvin too … though they’d differ from me, and themselves, on the definition of “omniscience”. (My definition being “impossible”.)

    Empiresentry:

    “This is where Liberals stumble.”

    All of them, always?

    “In their attempt to mold social views, ultimately those views conflict, crash and collapse.”

    Of course, no non-Liberal would ever do the same thing. Because all non-Liberals know right from wrong, and always choose correctly.

    “I got to the part about Just World Belief (JWB) and Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA)with it bias and decided to puke.”

    Fighting bias with bias?

    “These people’s perspectives are nothing but trash wanna be’s in the same class as the climate change. They are wave riders competing with each other to see who can top the trampling and clapping each other on the back.”

    Well yeah, humans like to be in control, and like their beliefs to be affirmed by others of like-mind. So there is a tendency for most people to do this kind of thing.

    “BTW, good article and many thanks.”

    My point exactly.

  30. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 23, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    I meant he literally has no choice but to follow his best analysis.

    Sure, he does. He could quit. “I was just following orders” doesn’t cut it.

    Don’t confuse the motion of the will with all choices being consequence-free — or that the person does not weigh those consequences when making those choices. The will is the intellective appetite, so the counsel of the intellect is actually a requirement. The end of the will is the good. To the extent that the cost-benefit analysis really does indicate the better choice, why would a rational being not choose it? A freely-willed choice is not an unpredictable choice, let alone an arbitrary one. But much depends on your fellow’s knowledge: how well does he know the analysis indicates the best choice.

    That said, not every act-of-a-human is a freely-willed act. Don’t forget sumbunall — ‘some, but not all’. Rational animals are still animals and some acts will be governed by the imagination rather than by the intellect, provided we give them no thopught.

    +++

    Without Free Will, no one is responsible for their actions, and no one needs to be held accountable for their actions.

    That may be the whole point.

  31. Sure, he does. He could quit.

    How do you know that?

    “I was just following orders” doesn’t cut it.

    What orders? He is taking the best action as he sees it. That he can do otherwise is unwarranted assumption.

    Don’t confuse the motion of the will with all choices being consequence-free

    Who says I am? I’m saying the best course viewed is always taken. Anything else is insanity.

  32. That said, not every act-of-a-human is a freely-willed act. Don’t forget sumbunall

    Well, explain that. If some, why not all?

  33. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 23, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    Sure, he does. He could quit.

    How do you know that?

    Slavery is illegal. Therefore, a corporate employee who does not like that the cost-benefit analysis tells him to evict an old widow or fire a dozen hard-working men always has the option of quitting instead.
    + + +

    I’m saying the best course viewed is always taken.

    Well, duh? Why do you suppose that free-will means you will choose something you do not prefer? The will chooses deliberately, not randomly. The proper object of the will is the good, so of course one always wills that which is considered as good, and higher goods will be preferred to lesser ones. But so long as our knowledge is indeterminate, our will will also be indeterminate, because you cannot desire what you do not know.

    Suppose the counsel of your intellect is that the best course is to write a comment on the Blog of Briggs. But how will the comment be worded? When will you sit down to write it? How long shall it be? When will you post it? And so on.

    Maybe the problem is that Late Moderns do not understand clearly what was meant by liberum arbitrium? This dialogue may be helpful:
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/interior-dialogue-on-free-will/

    Useful reading on the subject:

    Brennan, Robert E. Thomistic Psychology. (Macmillan, 1941)
    Chastek, James. http://thomism.wordpress.com/?s=free+will
    Gilson, Etienne. The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1994)
    Vallicella, Bill. http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/free-will/

  34. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 23, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Well, explain that. If some, why not all?

    Because most acts of a human are due to the autonomous nervous system or to animal instinct. We need not will our heart to beat, nor do we will to become hungry or to see colors. To possess a power does not mean that the power is continuously exercised. A human being possesses legs that enable us to run. But we do not run all the time.

    The contrary is more difficult to defend. Those who claim that human beings are only automatons blown by the winds of chance as the dead leaves in a darkling forest are blown by the winds cannot allow even a single instance of deliberate action; whereas defenders of deliberate action can cheerfully admit that not all actions are deliberate.

  35. YOS: Animals can choose not to follow their instincts. A hungry dog may ignore food to, for example, wait for its master. Is it because it knows it will be punished or rewarded, or it may displease its master? Or is it in distress until it’s master returns? Nothing is ever simple, or black and white where animals are concerned. As anyone who spends a lot of time with them knows.

  36. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 23, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    Animals possess memory and imagination, which means they can be trained. Whether an animal in the wild behaves in such a way is more doubtful. But you are right that the results of imagination often look very much like the results of intellect. Did you see the story of the “jail break” by some chimps at a zoo recently?

  37. August Berkshire,

    Are you seriously telling us that someone with no free will can claim that God doesn’t roll dice even though our modern wizards of Physics most assuredly tell us he does through Quantum Physics??

  38. August Berkshire

    April 24, 2014 at 1:25 am

    As far as I can tell, no one who believes in free will has addressed the main point of my first post: “The universe is mostly deterministic, which does not allow for free will. The parts of the universe that are indeterminate or random don’t allow for free will either since, by definition, we can’t control them.”

    So, please tell me how, when deterministic cause-and effect is operating, we can break into that chain with an uncaused cause and have free will?

    Alternately, please tell me, when indeterminism/randomness (I/R) is operating, how we can control it in order to have free will. Because if we could control I/R it would no longer be I/R. And we can’t control I/R with I/R, so it must be that we would control it (if it is controllable) with determinism. And then we’re back to the initial problem.

    Determinism and indeterminism/randomness cover the entire spectrum of what’s possible in the natural world and neither can generate free will.

    If you want to appeal to a supernatural world to give us free will, that is god-of-the-gaps magic. You have to tell us what a god is and how a god does it. Otherwise “God” is not an answer because it provides us with no information.

  39. August:

    Part of the problem may be with your definitions. Deterministic only means the absence of randomness in the outcome. I’m having trouble formulating this in the abstract, so I’ll use an analogy. For practical purposes, a billiards table and balls are a fully deterministic system. A perfectly perceptive and precice billiard player (think infinitely accurate robot) could predict where any balls struck would come to rest prior to actually striking them with the cue. And given the exact same initial state again, could repeat the exact same results. However, just because a perfect player could repeat the same play over and over does not necessarily mean that it *must* make the same play for any given initial state. Prove it you say? Replace the billiard balls with squirrels and tell me what our pool-playing robot can do.

    By the by: in my estimation, for any gap-filling god to be omniscient, the universe must be fully deterministic and all of us must therefore lack free will. Begging the question, what is the point of setting in motion some complex creation where the outcome is already known? 99.8% of the fun of billiards is *not* knowing the ending configuration from the beginning, but trying our best to influence the unknown outcome in our own favor.

  40. August Berkshire

    April 24, 2014 at 2:47 am

    It sounds like you are talking about Laplace’s Being (or Demon, as some call it). Now, the only difference between the billiard balls and the squirrels are that the former are inanimate and the latter are animate. Yet they are all composed of atoms and subject to the same physical laws. And the only reason Laplace’s Being doesn’t work on the entire universe, inanimate and animate alike, is because of quantum indeterminacy – which affects prediction (and thus outcome) but which we can’t control, and thus it offers us no avenue for free will.

    There are all kinds of proposed work-arounds for an omniscient god and free will, and while these can be fun to talk about in the abstract, as an atheist they hold no reality for me.

  41. @August Berkshire,

    “Reality” itself is an abstraction that you have no sound reason to believe in. In other words, it should be that “reality” holds no reality for you. Your claims about god and free will holding no reality for you should be put in this context: that you are an absolute skeptic who is capable of denying everything because you have no possible “god-of-the-gaps” reason to affirm anything. In other words, there is nothing really interesting you could possibly say.

  42. “The universe is mostly deterministic, which does not allow for free will. The parts of the universe that are indeterminate or random don’t allow for free will either since, by definition, we can’t control them.”

    That this metaphysical claim of determinism presumes materialism makes it inherently self-defeating.

    If determinism were true, then all thoughts would be predetermined, with no guarantee that their products accurately correspond to reality. Since concluding to determinism would also be predetermined, such a conclusion would lack any assurance of accuracy. Therefore the only honest epistemology in a truly deterministic cosmos would be intellectual nihilism.

    “If you want to appeal to a supernatural world to give us free will, that is god-of-the-gaps magic…’God’ is not an answer because it provides us with no information.”

    Saying that ‘God’ fails to explain free will by adding no information confuses the God of classical theism with a demiurge. The claim isn’t that God steps in to supply missing data. It’s that a transcendent God is necessary to ground rationality.

    God-of-the-gaps arguments point to perceived exceptions to physical laws and posit divine intervention to explain them. Free will is a faculty that concerns conceptual; not material, reality and is therefore not beholden to physical laws.

    Assuming default materialism and framing spiritual reality as an unsupported conjecture views the matter backward, as if in a mirror.

    To answer how free will can coexist with temporal laws of cause and effect, refer to the wise admonition against taking refuge from one error in another. We find ourselves confronted with two realities: free will and causality. The former is necessary to even arrive at an understanding of the latter. Therefore, despite any apparent tension, they cannot be mutually exclusive and one would be in error to deny either.

  43. This sounds to me like the logical conclusion of solipsism. You are all automata. There’s no evidence to convince me otherwise. But how likely is it that I’m the only real person in the Universe? Very small. Conclusion: my belief must be an illusion so I’m an automaton too whatever I may think.

    So the argument about the illusion of free will is irrefutable like solipsism for the same reasons. Few people take solipsism seriously. Caruso’s thesis should share that fate.

  44. Well, duh? Why do you suppose that free-will means you will choose something you do not prefer? The will chooses deliberately, not randomly.

    And I’ve pointed out how a system that makes optimum choices needs no Free Will. In fact, if the choices are always optimal (from the system’s viewpoint) then there is no freedom.

  45. @Brandon
    “A perfectly perceptive and precise billiard player (think infinitely accurate robot) could predict where any balls struck would come to rest prior to actually striking them with the cue. And given the exact same initial state again, could repeat the exact same results.”

    This is a misleading type of argument often made by those who believe Determinism can exist. No two events in the Universe – no matter how similar – have the “exact same results”. Each event in the Universe is unique and never to be repeated.

    The “sameness” of events is established by two things: 1) the precision of the unit of measure that the observer chooses to apply and 2) what he choses to include and/or exclude from observation.

    The outcome of events are not Deterministic because no two events, no matter how similar, are ever truly the same. Each moment in the Universe is unique and never to be repeated. Similarity, while objective, is none the less epistemological at it’s root.

  46. @DAV
    “That’s like saying optical illusions exist because I see them. Where does that get you in determining when an illusion is present?”

    Optical illusions do exist because you see them. An Escher drawing would mean nothing to an earth worm. Escher’s illusions a product of the specific nature of man’s sensory mechanisms.

  47. August:

    I wasn’t thinking of Laplace when I was writing, but I see the parallel. The problem with his demon is that it only works if the universe is fully deterministic, and therefore reversible. Another way of putting it is that given the exact same starting position, the universe would play out exactly the same way each time it is “played”.

    Obviously, the universe is ultimately stochastic which we know from the proven concept of quantum indeterminacy. But your assumption that we cannot control the randomness fails. We know that we can influence the outcome of a quantum process empirically from laboratory experiment, specifically two-slit and/or interfereometer particle experiments. Briefly, if we give particles two paths to follow on the way to striking a fixed target, the wave nature of their movement projects an interference pattern so long as we don’t attempt to observe which particular path any given particle “chose” to travel. Once we attempt to observe which particular path any given particle travelled, all of the particles’ wave functions collapse and the interference pattern resolves to a discrete dot on the target.

    This works even when only one particle is sent through the device at a time, i.e., a single particle can interfere with itself when we do not attempt to determine which path it took. Another way of saying this is that the particle travelled both paths simultaneously. Or exisisted in two different states simultaneously. Which is Shrodinger’s Cat. Quantum superposition is simply astounding, so discomfortingly anti-Newtonian as to seem impossible, but I digress.

    The takeaway here is that we can’t control which of all possible paths a given particle will take — each particle’s wave fucntion simultaneously takes *both* when left unobserved, resulting in a stochastic/random/indeterminate outcome. As soon as we look at them, we then affect the outcome in a very predictable, precise, determinate fashion: a small dot on the target. *The experiment thus takes away the effects of quantum indeterminacy.*

    Animate/inanimate matter is a key distinction. A billiard ball and a squirrel are made up of the exact same stuff at the subatomic level. Some who were attempting to solve the mind-body problem proposed two types of matter. They were on the right track, but reached the wrong conclusion. I see it as not different types of matter, but different configurations of matter.

    To date, neuroscience has mostly endeavored to explain this via chemical interactions using classic physics — that chaotic processes alone could explain our pseudo-random behavior. It turns out that our brains are structured so that quantum effects *must* be taken into account. A specific brain feature I know of is that synapses, the electrochemical conductors of nerve impulses, contain multiple, practically identical, ion channels that are small enough (as in a two-slit experiment) to allow superposition and interference as charge-carrying particles travel through them. The receptor target is smaller than the area within which a given ion could possibly move. IOW, some percentage of ions miss the bullseye. A significant implication is that our brain processes are not reversible. We are squirrels, not billiard balls.

    Yet neither we, nor squirrels, behave in a truly random fashion as the above might suggest — we behave chaotically, not stochastically. Our behaviors follow patterns (attractors) which arise form experience and become reinforced by subsequent similar experiences. This is manifest in the changing pattern of brain neurons firing in response to stimulus. This “loads” the dice that Einstein objected to, and weighs the frequency of possible outcomes toward something other than the normal distribution that we’d expect to arise from pure chance.

    If we don’t “like” the outcome of a particular reaction to a stimulus response, at the very least our neurons rewire to weight a slightly different future response — *before* the next stimulus even happens (if ever).

    Free will, if it exists, implies that we can choose to proactively rewire our own neurons by congnition between stimuli. We say to ourselves, “The next time this happens, I’m going to try *this* instead of *that* or the *other*, and see what happens.” We exhibit behavior that appears to have the quality of purpose. Planning. Strategy. Choice! A desire to direct a particular outcome to conform to our will and not some other possible result that we percieve as otherwise equal (or more) likely.

    Gaining skill at billiards is an example of this in action. Same as riding a bike. First efforts are clumsy and often fail but get progressively better through practice. Between sessions, we can replay prior experiences and think about what me might do the next time, pre-rewiring our neurons as it were, so as to improve the outcome before it even happens. Baseball players talk about visualizing the ball and hitting it, both when they’re not playing and as a pitch is hurling toward their bat in present time.

    Note above I said, “if free will exists.” I am logically agnostic to it for I have no rigorous logical proof. In practical terms, I believe free will exists because that is how my sense of self experiences external stimuli and internal cognition. Available evidence suggest to me at the very least that it is not impossible.

    As for god(s), I am also logically agnostic. In practical terms I am atheist: I have not experienced god, so for me there is none. The gods described by extant religions don’t make logical sense either, so I reject them. But push me into a corner and make me choose yes or no, and I choose neither. Or perhaps, true to the behavior of the calcium ions in my synapses, both simultaneously. Either way, it is the same as saying, “I can’t tell.”

  48. August Berkshire

    April 24, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Anona: “Reality” itself is an abstraction that you have no sound reason to believe in. In other words, it should be that “reality” holds no reality for you. Your claims about god and free will holding no reality for you should be put in this context: that you are an absolute skeptic who is capable of denying everything because you have no possible “god-of-the-gaps” reason to affirm anything. In other words, there is nothing really interesting you could possibly say.”

    I guess I should have know better than to use the word “reality” so loosely in a philosophical discussion. It was late; I was tired. My bad.

    Reality is not an abstraction. Either something exists or it doesn’t. Those two options exhaust all the possibilities, whether it be a natural or a supernatural realm. If it exists, it is real; if it doesn’t exist, it is imaginary.

    So let me try to state my meaning better. Since I don’t know what a god is, nor how a god operates, nor have seen any good proofs of the existence of a god, and since a god is such an extraordinary proposition that we would expect to find some proof of, then the word “god” for me is not an answer to anything since it provides no information. It always amounts to a god-of-the-gaps.

    Therefore, when I consider a question, “god” never occurs to me as a possible answer because it has been so repeatedly a dead end in the past. Of course, none of this is proof of the non-existence of a god, nor even that a god might really be an answer to something. And when I see someone argue that a god is the answer to something, using an argument I haven’t encountered before (extremely rare at this point) it does pique my intellectual curiosity. So far, though, I see no reason to appeal to any gods to provide answers.

    As far as a god’s omniscience vs. human free will, it is an interesting mental exercise because a person has to be very creative to reconcile the two. The three attempts I have seen are:

    (1) A god cannot do anything that is illogical. If there is human free will then a god cannot logically know the future of our actions. Therefore, a god can still be defined as omniscient because it knows all that it is logically possible to know. I find this argument somewhat convincing.

    (2) A god voluntarily gives up knowledge of the future in order that we might have the greater good of free will [open theology]. I find this less convincing because giving up knowledge is giving up knowledge, and thus by definition you are no longer all-knowing.

    (3) Past-present-future are instantaneous and/or meaningless to a god that is outside of time and space, so free will is possible. I do not find this argument convincing at all.

  49. Jim S:

    I quite agree with your concerns. How I myself arrived at the conclusion that Determinism is bunk is by using a like argument against it. The key for me was the ball/squirrel dichotomy.

    Perhaps you could help me with one thing for which I don’t have a ready answer. Suppose that wave functions are pseudo-random and not truly random. Or better, suppose that all wave functions are pre-loaded with “random” values at the initial state and “play” them only as a function of time — IOW, not conditional on any interaction with any other wave function.

    Would we be able to design an experiment to tell the difference? (Have we?)

    And yeah, I’m thinking about brain in a vat, solipsism and epistemological nihilism here.

    Thanks,
    B

  50. August Berkshire

    April 24, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Brian: “If determinism were true, then all thoughts would be predetermined, with no guarantee that their products accurately correspond to reality.”

    Ah, but there is a non-free will, non-random filter: evolution. Our thoughts and perceptions are generated by our bodies and our bodies are selected/deselected by evolutionary forces. It’s not perfect, because evolution “rewards” what works, not what is true. But often what is true is also what works. Our perception of a tiger really being there when it is really there gets rewarded more than our failure to perceive a tiger that is really there.

    The evolutionary weaning process for illusions depends upon the impact of that illusion on our lives. Very few of us, at the edge of a cliff, would imagine a non-existent bridge there and step off into a canyon.

    But there are other illusions that have little or no cost. In fact, an illusion might even be useful (such as overcoming the blind spots in our eyes). It seems to me that this applies to gods and free will. It is only very recently in our history (too soon for evolution to have done any weaning) that the downsides to those illusions are having an impact, and even so, it is so slight that it’s doubtful that it confers any reproductive advantage. Of course, to the extent that the illusions of the existence of gods and free will are not genetically determined, we will be able to perceive them as illusions much faster.

  51. August:

    I’ll add a 4th. God is making a movie from a basic script. This god’s equipment consists solely of a powerful simulation software. From many prior runs, it is known which general directives can increase the odds of a desired outcome. Runs continue until the most pleasing outcome is the result. God can then claim that “he” knew all along what was going to happen, and submits as evidence the holy writ introduced in Act I that predicted the events of Act III. The actors are astounded, for they didn’t know they’d gotten the part, or even that they were playing one. The audience goes wild.

    Thus far, my favorite plotline is that scene from the in-game movie, Spaceballs. You know, the one where the Spaceballs grab the VHS copy of the movie Spaceballs from the cabinet and fast forward far enough to see what they’re supposed to do next. But they’re apparently too lazy to go far enough ahead to realize that they lose in the end. Of course, that isn’t how they were scripted in the first place, so obviously they didn’t have any choice in the matter to begin with.

    Calvin and Luther obviously watched Spaceballs well before it was officially released, therefore god does exist *and* knows the ending.

    The defense rests.

  52. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 24, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    If you want to appeal to a supernatural world to give us free will…

    But Aristotle made no such appeal. One needs only a) an intellect whose knowledge is incomplete, and b) an intellective appetite that desires the products of the intellect. Given a), then b) must have degrees of freedom. Nothing supernatural is involved except logic.

    they are all composed of atoms and subject to the same physical laws.

    But not everything is physical. This message is in one sense composed of atoms, since the signs you see before your eyes are arrangements of phosphors or some such thing. But the semantic content is not composed of atoms and the motion from premise to conclusion is not governed by Newtonian mechanics.

    And I’ve pointed out how a system that makes optimum choices needs no Free Will. In fact, if the choices are always optimal (from the system’s viewpoint) then there is no freedom.

    Sure there is. What is “optimal”? “Optimum” is a value judgement and will differ according to circumstances. Killing a meddlesome business partner may seem optimal to the perp, less so for the partner.

    That people always choose what seems to be the good at any given point does not mean they make “optimum” choices, especially if they do not recognize any transcendent Good.

    Ah, but there is a non-free will, non-random filter: evolution.

    Ah, the all-purpose theory-that-explains-everything! The evolution-of-the-gaps argument.

  53. YOS said, “Ah, the all-purpose theory-that-explains-everything! The evolution-of-the-gaps argument.”

    I haven’t seen that one before, it made me chuckle. Thank you.

    Evolution implies one of two things (perhaps more, but I have only two):

    1) It is a process consistent with what we would expect in the absence of a Creator.

    2) The Creator chose to make Creation appear as if no Creator were necessary.

    I deem both logical and plausible considering the givens at my disposal.

    “But not everything is physical.”

    One way know that would be through empirical observation, which I take as impossible by definition. Another is through logical proof, but I’ve yet to meet an ontology that couldn’t also be used to prove the absurd. Or something not quite as absurd, but whose qualities were better suited to my own particular tastes. As one anonymous atheist put it, “All gods are bespoke. They’re all made to perfectly fit the prejudices of their believer.”

    Am I missing something?

  54. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 24, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    [Evolution] is a process consistent with what we would expect in the absence of a Creator.

    In the absence of a Creator there would be no process.

    The Creator chose to make Creation appear as if no Creator were necessary.

    In the absence of a Creator there would be no Creation.

    A fellow named Michael Poole put it this way:
    Second, there is the idea that the universe should contain ‘traces – evidence of His involvement’. Dawkins questions whether the apparent ‘fine – tuning’ of the universe for life is one of those ‘traces’. He also asks what it would be like ‘if God did indeed set things up so that life would evolve, but covered His tracks so brilliantly that no clues remain; if He made the universe look exactly as it would be expected to look if He did not exist’. But Christian theology does not envisage the universe as being different from what it might have been if God did not exist, rather that there would be no universe. It is the whole universe that is the ‘traces’, not some little piece tacked on by way of a signature. To think otherwise bears certain similarities to searching the components of a jet engine for traces of Frank Whittle. The search is in vain; it is the whole engine which owes its being to Whittle’s creativity, rather than any individual part bearing his signature. Furthermore, to expect the existence of God to be open to scientific tests is like trying to treat the existence of Whittle as an engineering question!

  55. Me: And I’ve pointed out how a system that makes optimum choices needs no Free Will. In fact, if the choices are always optimal (from the system’s viewpoint) then there is no freedom.

    YOS: Sure there is.

    So, where is this “freedom”? It certainly wasn’t enumerated in what followed.

    What is “optimal”? “Optimum” is a value judgement and will differ according to circumstances.

    Precisely my point. Why should what was seen as the best choice have to agree with your perception of it?

  56. “But Christian theology does not envisage the universe as being different from what it might have been if God did not exist, rather that there would be no universe.”

    I once had a severe case of vertigo brought on by some particularly viscious infinite regress and declared, “But nothing is still something, therefore something!” and then danced a jig. The causeless cause is a Gordian knot for Christians and Dawkinsians alike, but slicing the darn thing apart and then choosing a half to swallow which looks most palatable has never much eased my heartburn. I’ve eaten both halves, and they’re both bitter.

    “It is the whole universe that is the ‘traces’, not some little piece tacked on by way of a signature.”

    A good way to tell Dawkins that he’s not being creative enough, for sure. I can conceive of a Creator that is powerful enough to fool any and all who try to find the “signature” of Creation (or lack thereof) but who isn’t powerful enough to create a rock so big that He can’t move it. Such attempts never end up looking like Genesis though. And never in a million years would I come up with the Gospels — despite them being my favorite books of the lot.

  57. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 24, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    So, where is this “freedom”? It certainly wasn’t enumerated in what followed.

    You claimed there was a “system” that made “optimal choices.” And because the choices were “optimal” they could not (for some reason) be deliberate. I simply pointed out that a “system” does not make choices, only people do; and that we make what seems to us the best choice given what we know. This may or may not be “optimal.” To wit:

    B: But we desire these goods only so far as we know them?

    A: yes

    B: Now do we know everything we desire with absolute clarity, or not? If we want peace, do we know exactly what the peace will consist in, how we will get to it, how fast we can attain it, and all the other relevant details?

    A: No.

    B: But then our knowledge of these goals is vague and indeterminate, and could be fulfilled in any number of ways.

    A: Right.

    B: But if I truly desire, say, peace, and desire follows knowledge, then if the knowledge is indeterminate then the desire is indeterminate. But isn’t an indeterminate desire the opposite of a determinate desire? So isn’t this an undetermined desire- a free will?

    The freedom lies in the indetermination of the intellect. You cannot desire what you do not know. The less perfect your knowledge, the more alternatives present themselves to your will.

    Why should what was seen as the best choice have to agree with your perception of it?

    “What was seen as…” by whom? And no, it doesn’t have to agree with my perception. I don’t recall that I said that. If your will has to agree with mine, that would make your will unfree, nicht wahr? (That does not mean there is no objective good. Just because someone things their best choice is to murder their spouse does not make it objectively good.)

  58. You claimed there was a “system” that made “optimal choices.” And because the choices were “optimal” they could not (for some reason) be deliberate.

    No. I said that a system that can only make optimal choices (from its viewpoint) has no freedom. I have no idea where the NOT deliberate comes from. Doing something “consciously and intentionally” does not mean the choice wasn’t forced — it just means the “consciously and intentionally” are superfluous.

    I simply pointed out that a “system” does not make choices, only people do

    Are you being silly?

    1) People ARE systems. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/System
    2) Prove that non-people systems are incapable of choice. Roaches select paths when faced with obstacles. A computer program makes a choice based upon current state. It’s irrelevant that the outcomes are built-in. Where I come from “making a selection” and “making a choice” are synonymous terms. Do you have some bizarre notion of the word “choice”?

    noun: choice; plural noun: choices
    an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.

  59. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 25, 2014 at 10:24 am

    I said that a system that can only make optimal choices (from its viewpoint) has no freedom.

    So because humans often make “sub-optimal” choices….. Hmm. The freedom of the will may also be a consequence of the inherent contingency of what we know.

    Why assume that a lattice has a unique maximum,or “optimum”?

    I have no idea where the NOT deliberate comes from. Doing something “consciously and intentionally” does not mean the choice wasn’t forced

    That’s simply the way liberum arbitrium [which btw literally means “free judgment”] was expressed in the old days. In order to present to the will, the intellect must deliberate on matters. (That was before Nietzsche proclaimed the Triumph of the Will and the post-modern subordination of intellect to will began.) I’m not sure what you mean by “forced.” The requirement for a free will is only that the choice not be determinate. The mugger who says, “Your money or your life” may more often than not succeed in securing your wallet, although even there there is often “play.” However, it is interesting that in cases like these we often speak of the person acting “against his will.”

    You have not explained how you can desire something that you don’t know.

    People ARE systems.

    Naughty, naughty English Language. You mean that people can be considered as systems for a partial understanding. In what sense is it asserted that People ARE systems? “For ‘is’ is used in many senses.” (Aristotle, The Physics, Book I, Part 2). But conclusions about people cannot be extended to “systems” simplicitur. Organs are systems; organisms are systems; organizations are systems. But organs are not organisms, nor are organisms organizations.

    Prove that non-people systems are incapable of choice.

    They are not incapable. For example, roaches select paths when faced with obstacles.

    The difference is that the choices are governed by instinct and imagination, not by intellect. Man’s free will is specifically a desire for products of the intellect; that is, for concepts. So a hungry man may refrain from eating, even in the presence of food, because of a desire for an intellective concept like fasting or dieting. That is why these pseudo-scientific “experiments” that try to test freedom of the will by having WEIRD students decide to twitch a finger or press a button (under conditions in which they are encouraged to surrender their will) miss the point utterly.

    Really, Aristotle and Aquinas considered these things a long time ago.
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/04/theres-way.html

    A computer program makes a choice based upon current state.

    “Free will is self determination, as opposed to being determined by something other than the self.” (cf. http://thomism.wordpress.com/2006/09/12/free-will-as-free-choice/) The computer has no more self-determination than does a thermostat when it “makes a choice” to turn the furnace on or off “based upon current state.” The choice was made by the programmer (or resident) and the machine is simply an instrument to carry out that will, no different in principle than setting an alarm on a clock or lighting the fuse on the dynamite.
    + + +

    It’s too easy to start with freedom of the will and devolve into talk of freedom of choice instead. Once you get to “making a choice” the range of choices is already determined.

    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2004/08/16/free-will-and-free-choice/

    There is also the sumbunall problem that absolutists have. That human beings have free will is an immediate consequence of their having an imperfect intellect. You can’t desire what you don’t know, and you don’t know everything. But this does not mean that every human act is deliberated. If you fall from the top of the PPL building in Allentown, you will be in free fall, but you cannot choose in which direction to fall. The absent-minded stroking of the beard, the drunken pass at the chick in the bar, the brainwashed prisoner in the communist POW camp,… Life is full of instances where the will is impaired. This is no more mysterious than that our legs give us the power of running, but we do not always exercise that power.

    However, the will (like any other power) is ordered to its proper object, and the proper object of the will is the good (and ultimately the Good). No one desires what he himself deems evil. (Although he may recognize that others deem it bad, “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. But that the will is determined toward the good does not preclude it from being free in any particular instance, because it is seldom clear just what the good is in this case or how to attain it. (It is good to satisfy hunger. But do I order the cheeseburger or the hoagie? Or given the cheeseburger, what is the best course to follow: McDonalds? Joe’s Steaks? Cheeburger, Cheeburger? Porter’s Pub? Richards? It is not as if there were an equation to identify the vertices of a simplex and have the choice automatically descend upon the “optimum.”

    If we had a perfect knowledge of the goal, and a perfect illumination of how to get to it, and a perfect rectitude of our will to attain it, and most importantly, if there were no intrinsic contingencies in the very natures of things that made goals uncertain, then we would not be free in the sense that I now say we are free.

    More simply, if we stood face to face with the goal of our life, and knew it as such, then we would have absolutely no choice but to choose it.
    — James Chastek

    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/interior-dialogue-on-free-will/

  60. YOS,

    Your wrote: [i] You have not explained how you can desire something that you don’t know. [/i]

    I’ll play the devil’s advocate here and say that people working in labs get exposed to chemicals that make them desire or crave things they don’t know. For example, a man may have pure nicotine spilled on his thigh where it is directly absorbed into the bloodstream. The individual gets hooked on nicotine and he constantly desires it yet on the conscious level he knows he’s desiring something but he does not exactly know what this desire or craving is.

    Now perhaps the above maybe something related to appetites which we share with animals so let’s consider psychology. Teenage girls entering all sorts of unhealthy relationships because of a unconscious desire for a father figure, a father figure that was absent in their lives.

    Finally, you speak of the intellect preceding the will. Can you give us a classical premodern definition of what the intellect is?

  61. @Brandon
    “A specific brain feature I know of is that synapses, the electrochemical conductors of nerve impulses, contain multiple, practically identical, ion channels that are small enough (as in a two-slit experiment) to allow superposition and interference as charge-carrying particles travel through them.”

    This is from a Wiki article:

    How the Self Controls Its Brain[1] is a book by Sir John Eccles, proposing a theory of philosophical dualism, and offering a justification of how there can be mind-brain action without violating the principle of the conservation of energy. The model was developed jointly with the nuclear physicist Friedrich Beck in the period 1991-1992.[2][3][4]

    Eccles called the fundamental neural units of the cerebral cortex “dendrons”, which are cylindrical bundles of neurons arranged vertically in the six outer layers or laminae of the cortex, each cylinder being about 60 micrometres in diameter. Eccles proposed that each of the 40 million dendrons is linked with a mental unit, or “psychon”, representing a unitary conscious experience. In willed actions and thought, psychons act on dendrons and, for a moment, increase the probability of the firing of selected neurons through quantum tunneling effect in synaptic exocytosis, while in perception the reverse process takes place.

  62. Brandon,
    I meant to add to the above that John Eccles has similar lines of thought to yours or that may interest you.

  63. So because humans often make “sub-optimal” choices

    Why do you keep insisting YOU get to decide what is optimal rather than the system?

    Why assume that a lattice has a unique maximum,or “optimum”?

    It doesn’t have to be unique — just perceived that way.

    That’s simply the way liberum arbitrium …

    You mean that people can be considered as systems for a partial understanding. In what sense is it asserted that People ARE systems?

    I linked to a relatively good definition what part does not apply to a person?

    A system is a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole[1] or a set of elements (often called ‘components’ ) and relationships which are different from relationships of the set or its elements to other elements or sets

    he computer has no more self-determination than …

    Neither do people when following directions. A decision (choice) is still being made just not freely made.

    It’s too easy to start with freedom of the will and devolve into talk of freedom of choice instead. Once you get to “making a choice” the range of choices is already determined.

    They are intertwined. The range doesn’t matter. Let’s assume for the sake of argument the choices are all binary.

    There is also the sumbunall problem that absolutists have. That human beings have free will is an immediate consequence of their having an imperfect intellect. You can’t desire what you don’t know, …

    Gobbledegook. Explains nothing.

  64. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 25, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    @Tom
    Can you give us a classical premodern definition of what the intellect is?

    Briefly, it is the faculty by which we reflect on our perceptions (memories, imaginations) and abstract from them universal concepts. Some comments here:
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/principles-to-divide-intellect-and-sense/

    Try the discussion found here:
    http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02001.htm#2 and #3

    The system chart is here:
    http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0002.GIF

    The appetites for perceptions are called the Emotions; the appetite for conceptions is called the Will. Recalling that a human being is a composite of matter and form (body and soul) it is easy to see that a human may know things in a bodily fashion as well as an intellectual fashion. A gymnast may know her moves without conscious thought; the body may know a craving for nicotine without even a conscious knowledge of the source. The body knows even if the soul does not. Recall the analogy between digestion and education, taking in something and making it a part of you, and that sexual relations were often described as “carnal knowledge” as when Adam knew Eve.

    @DAV
    Why do you keep insisting YOU get to decide what is optimal rather than the system?

    I don’t. It just often turns out that way.

    In what sense is it asserted that People ARE systems?

    I linked to a relatively good definition what part does not apply to a person?

    Who says it does not? But do we say a human es a system or a human está a system? In what sense are you using “to be”? It’s a distinction not easily made in English — nor in Latin or Greek; but Aquinas and Aristotle knew the distinction. If you asked me, “What is an apple?” and I answered, “An apple is red,” would you regard that a satisfactory answer? If an old flame who appears suddenly at your door and you said, “What are you doing here?” would a detailed explanation of internal combustion engines and the highway system answer your question? IOW, of course an organism is a system; but it is not only a system. Ontologically, there is something different about an organism vis a vis an organ or an organisation , even though all three are “systems.” And while some insights can be gained by abstracting from an empirical human only her systemic attributes, we ought not fall into the trap of regarding this abstraction as being the person. An aeronautical engineer may abstract from the passengers for a proposed airframe only their weights, but that does not help in selecting the meals or the movies to be made available during flight. Only the weight is of interest to the engineer because he intends to design a plane and needs to know only how much weight it must lift; but the engineer’s intentions do not limit the actuality of the human beings.

    The computer has no more self-determination than …

    Neither do people when following directions.

    Sure, they decide to follow the directions.

    A decision (choice) is still being made just not freely made.

    No one says that all acts of a human being are undetermined. Hit them under the knee and their legs will jerk. Humans are rational animals, which means that they are also animals, and therefore subject to the stimulus-response actions imagination and instinct.

    That human beings have free will is an immediate consequence of their having an imperfect intellect. You can’t desire what you don’t know, …

    Gobbledegook. Explains nothing.

    Then explain how you can desire [not merely crave] something you do not know. Or how, if your knowledge is imperfect, your will is nevertheless completely determined to a course of action.

  65. Or how, if your knowledge is imperfect, your will is nevertheless completely determined to a course of action.

    I have, more than once.

    This is ridiculous: That human beings have free will is an immediate consequence of their having an imperfect intellect.

    The intellects of ants are even more imperfect when compared to humans. Do they have more freedom of will than humans? What about computers? Where do their intellects fall on the intellectual scale. Zero? Do they have more or less will than humans?

    No. free will is NOT an immediate consequence of less than perfect intellect. At best, you can only say free will is not precluded.

  66. Some of us are pre-programmed with the faith gene. Mommy logic: it’s true because I say it is.

  67. Thanks YOS, I’ll print out the links you sent me.

    But I’m not sure how the unconscious daddy seeking teen fits into the carnal knowledge category, perhaps you can explain the latter more?

  68. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 25, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    @Tom
    Teenage girls entering all sorts of unhealthy relationships because of a unconscious desire for a father figure, a father figure that was absent in their lives.

    A human being is a whole person, matter and form. She is not a “spook” sitting inside the body and directing it like a driver. Unconscious desires are still desires; but the girl surely knows that her father is missing, she knows that she wants a boyfriend, she is confronted with an array of possibilities and will pick one or the other depending on which seems the best to her. That doesn’t mean she will choose wisely. Our choices are informed by all sorts of influences.
    +++
    This is ridiculous: “That human beings have free will is an immediate consequence of their having an imperfect intellect.” The intellects of ants are even more imperfect when compared to humans. Do they have more freedom of will than humans?

    Ants do not possess either intellect or will, only imagination and emotion (if even that much), so the matter does not arise.

    No. free will is NOT an immediate consequence of less than perfect intellect.

    And yet that was definitional for the people who coined the term liberum arbitrium. If you don’t know everything about X, your options wrt X are wider. I think you may be arguing from a concept of Will influenced by Descartes and Nietzsche. It’s really far less complex.

  69. Jim S: Yes, that is the sort of thing I find interesting, thanks for the tip.

    Already on my bookshelf is _Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer_ (2007) by physicist Henry Stapp. It’s quite technical, and I set it down after a few chapters when I started losing the thread of his argument. What I wrote above about synapes was introduced to me by this book.

  70. Really, really enjoy YOS’ remarks.

  71. GOOD LORD Briggs; You owned a “Formula S” Barracuda???
    My opinion of you just increased tenfold.

  72. It is quite easy to believe one has free will. It is quite different to really put oneself in line for this.

    For anybody who is really interested knowing whether they have free will, I recommend stopping intellectualizing about it and doing an easy experiment: try to really change some simple habit that you have had for a long time. Try to change it, no matter what.

    If you have free will, you can do it.

    If you cannot do it, it opens up the question, why it was not possible. If you really try this experiment, instead of just mentally thinking about it, you will experience your own rationalizations why it is better to quit this experiment etc. There will be other obstacles in the way also. These are normal obstacles in the process of change.

    The usual reply to all this is that you lacked the willpower to change the habit. But if we lack the willpower, to do even a small change in habits, how is that functionally different from not having free will?

    For me, in quite pragmatic sense, almost nobody has free will, because our habits are very ingrained in our lives.

  73. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 27, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    …try to really change some simple habit that you have had for a long time. … If you have free will, you can do it.

    Who said it was effortless magic? There is no magic pixie dust. There are all sorts of impediments to the will, generally placed under the category “habits” by Aquinas. This included what we would call genetic predispositions, cultural customs, personal habits, and accidentals. That’s why human nature must be supplemented by forming a “second nature” through strengthening exercise.

    To tell someone who has not exercised his will enough, but has allowed his appetites to govern his actions, to “just do it” regarding some habit or other is like telling someone who has not exercised his body enough, but has allowed himself to become a couch potato, to “just do it” and run a marathon.

    Hence, the importance of exercising prudence, courage, and temperance — as well as justice and the intellective strengths of understanding, knowledge, and wisdom.

  74. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 27, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    But if we lack the willpower, to do even a small change in habits, how is that functionally different from not having free will?

    But if we lack the leg power, to run even a short race, how is that functionally different from not having legs? Functionally? Perhaps, but that is the conundrum that consequentialism always runs into. Adam tries to shove an old lady out of the way of a bus and succeeds. Bruce tries to shove an old lady into the way of a bus and fails. Functionally, they both “shove old ladies around” and the old lady comes out okay. So what’s the difference?

  75. Wow all these comments and all deterministic. Must be a miracle!

  76. Michael Larkin

    May 2, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Dr. Briggs,

    I enjoy your blog a great deal and am with you on a lot of (if not all) things: certainly, I think we genuinely have free will. But on the point that animals are not rational beings, I think there is good evidence that at least some of them are:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQQJkIJA-UI

  77. Ye Olde Statisician

    May 2, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    But on the point that animals are not rational beings, I think there is good evidence that at least some of them are:

    You may be confusing “rational” with “clever” or “intelligent.” Many animals endowed with imagination and the estimative power can solve puzzles. But the rational intellect is of a different order: it means that the agent intellect can illuminate the phantasms of sensible objects captured by the imagination and abstract from them intellective objects which the dynamic intellect can use to produce ideas. It’s the difference between perception and conception.

  78. Ye Old Statistician,

    Since this is a topic about freedom of the will and rationality, I thought I’d ask you a question about the relation of free will and God’s existence.

    My question is how can we prove that the Necessary Existent self-conscious and intelligent. I have come up with some arguments myself and I wanted to see what you thought about them if that’s ok.

    I think the choice in creation may be a powerful argument (Ghazzali suggested something similar). However, I think that the atheist might object in that how do we know that it was an act of choice? Perhaps there was something other at play that was other than choice and this “other” something also happens to be part of the nature or essence of the Necessary Being. This as far as I have experienced, is usually the argument used by atheists to avoid the conclusion that the Necessary Being is God by claiming that we cannot know if it was really volition/choice, but it may have been something else.

    Now obviously the atheist’s objection in one way is weak in my opinion as it is a confession of ignorance but he might still claim that we are just being presumptuous and that we have no strong argument to suggest that it was choice and not something else. In other words, how do we know with any relative confidence that this is the case? Our experiences on this earth are limited and we can’t simply superimpose them on the nature of the Necessary Being (i.e. whether it did something by choice or not).

    My counter-objection would be this: the impetus to create cannot be external as the NB is the source of all reality, so the impetus must be internal. This internal impetus, as it is an essential quality of the NB is necessarily unconditioned and pure and this is the basic definition of pure will and cannot be anything else. As there is will, then it necessitates the qualities of intelligence, self-awareness and consciousness. All of this is the basic definition of God.

    What do you think? Do you feel that this is credible? How do we respond if the atheist still continues to assert that we are only superimposing our own finite concepts and limited experiences on something that is utterly transcendent.

    And finally and MOST IMPORTANTLY, what arguments do you think are the most powerful in suggesting that the NB is self-conscious and intelligent?

    Thanks!

  79. Michael Larkin

    May 12, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Ye old statistician said:

    ‘You may be confusing “rational” with “clever” or “intelligent.” Many animals endowed with imagination and the estimative power can solve puzzles. But the rational intellect is of a different order: it means that the agent intellect can illuminate the phantasms of sensible objects captured by the imagination and abstract from them intellective objects which the dynamic intellect can use to produce ideas. It’s the difference between perception and conception.’

    According to the World English dictionary, “rational” is defined as:

    1. using reason or logic in thinking out a problem
    2. in accordance with the principles of logic or reason; reasonable
    3. of sound mind; sane: the patient seemed quite rational
    4. endowed with the capacity to reason; capable of logical thought: man is a rational being
    5. maths expressible as a ratio of two integers or polynomials: a rational number; a rational function
    6. maths a rational number

    From the Etymology online dictionary, its origin is:

    Late 14c., “endowed with reason,” from L. rationalis “of or belonging to reason, reasonable,” from ratio (gen. rationis) “reckoning, calculation, reason” (see ratio). Rationalist “physician whose treatment is based on reason” is from 1620s; applied to a philosophical doctrine

    Definitions 1, 2 and 4 accord with what the crow was doing. That human beings can do it to a greater degree, I will concede. That they can do something qualitatively different rather than quantitatively different seems to me to be an assertion you make and back up using rather flowery language which you conclude by implying that crows can merely perceive, but not conceive.

    I submit that that’s patently untrue. If it *were* true, the crow would have been able only to perceive the reward, and maybe have tried to get at it by pecking, rather than conceiving of a way to obtain the reward using reason. Younger children cannot solve problems of similar complexity, and indeed many an adult might have taken a comparable time to do so. Does that mean that such an adult can only perceive but not conceive?

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