Choosing a compatibilist free will perspective

brainby Dwayne Holmes

[This essay is part of a special “free will week” at Scientia Salon. The Editor promises not to touch the topic again for a long while after this particular orgy, of course assuming he has any choice in the matter…]

Despite the question having been around forever, the topic of Free Will (FW) has been pretty hot lately, including several entries at Scientia Salon [1-4]. Personally, I find the philosophical aspect of the topic of Free Will a bit pointless (either we have it or we don’t), but references to questionable “findings” in neuroscience and claims of how FW beliefs impact ethics and social policy do interest me (quite a bit) and force me to beg everyone’s patience for yet another essay on FW.  If you will, think of this as an entry on how not to interpret findings from neuroscience (or biology).

Let’s begin by cutting to the chase on the matter of definitions. First there is Libertarian FW (LFW), which holds a dualistic view of mind and brain and defines FW by the causal relationship between the two. Minds are situated somewhere other than the physical brain (perhaps being immaterial) and so can make choices independent of physical states related to the brain.  You could say, “mind writes to body” and so it is as free an agent as you can get.

Then there is Anti-Free Will (AFW), often known as hard determinism. AFW also defines FW by the causal relationship between mind and brain (with a distinct nature for both), which is why I consider AFW a form of “scientific dualism.” In this case, the brain processes inputs/outputs based on physical conditions that are deterministic and so (they argue) exclude choice and FW. In contrast to LFW, AFW proponents would say “body writes to mind,” trapping mind as an epiphenomenal rider, a transitory set of hallucinations (a sense of control and freedom of choice) that are mere by-products of normal brain function.

Finally, along comes Compatibilist FW (CFW), which maintains that the mind and brain are essentially one and so defines FW based on the relationship between an intentional agent’s natural potential to obtain personal desires and their practical ability to do so. An agent’s natural potential can be restricted in practice due to physical impairment of normal processing in the brain (i.e., tumors), or the activities of other agents. Since multiple agents with cross-agendas are an extremely common phenomenon, FW is commonly interpreted as one agent’s freedom from coercion/manipulation by others.

Note that I am leaving out the kind of FW-skepticism (FWS) described by Gregg Caruso in the last two FW essays at Scientia Salon [3,4]. This is because FWS seems to fit somewhere between CFW and AFW (or CFW between FWS and AFW).  Since I am still not confident about discussing FWS positions, it is up to such skeptics to figure out where they stand on my descriptions/arguments.

Redefining decisions as having no choice

Before getting to science, I need to address a definitional issue that tends to sidetrack discussions of FW and moral agency. While AFW and CFW agree on physical determinism, they may disagree whether “choice” exists in a deterministic Universe. While there may only be one choice possible at a certain moment given all inputs (as AFW proponents argue), isn’t that exactly what one would want from any decision-making system (ask CFW advocates): one choice (hopefully the best) from all alternatives?

According to CFW, in a deterministic system FW involves the ability to process a sufficiently large amount of information from potential inputs such that one can define the best choice from sufficiently large numbers of potential actions to obtain one’s desires (aka actualize one’s will).  Lack of FW (or loss of agency) involves the absence or reduction of potential by restricting possible actions, information, or processing capacity such that agents can’t manifest their will as they would under normal conditions. From this perspective, the locus of control in decision-making (choice) is placed firmly within a brain’s processing capacity and its potential to actualize the will of the agent, except where other agents, direct physical impairments, or dramatic historical events significantly reduce that capacity.

AFW proponents (and some FWS’s [3,4]) maintain that this processing of information to actualize desire does not result in a “true” choice but merely “selection,” since in some “ultimate” sense all prior events leading to the selection of an action had to happen, making an agent’s selection pre-determined. Notice that this notion of an “ultimate” sense of choice subtly shifts the locus of control from the potential provided by a brain’s processing capacity, to the factors it had to process. Your brain does not process inputs; inputs process your brain. Thus an intentional choice (even if vastly more complex in its mechanics) is no better than a falling rock changing direction because it happened to hit another rock. Both simply had to go in the direction events demanded they must. Such proponents often go further, pointing out that even if selection of an action could be considered a choice, the desire (and processing capacity) underlying the choice was not itself chosen. One is still a prisoner of one’s nature (a “will” and decision system constructed by prior events), and so all choices are chained to that (not to you).

Fair enough. Placing the locus of control is largely a matter of perspective, and so it is not objectively wrong to take either view. However, if this “ultimate” view of choice is accepted, no one can ever be said to “truly” choose or exhibit FW, even in principle, as the level of freedom demanded by this perspective is not even granted to Gods!

Let me unpack that claim and its consequences. Gods are presumably eternal and live beyond time and space, always existing. That means they always had a nature (Will) and it was not something they could have chosen for themselves. So, whatever nature a God has, its relation to that nature has to be the same as humans to the nature they were born with: their initial desires were not of their choosing, and can only change based on subsequent events shaped by their initial desires.

Then, at some point beyond time and space (whatever that means), Gods do something. Once a God pushes that first domino (a product of its unchosen Will), the next act must either be wholly random or in response to that first cause-effect event. All that follows (until the end of that God’s existence, if any) must inherently be a response to the inputs that God receives from the unwinding chain of causes and effects. Otherwise, a God is nothing more than a random number generator hooked up to an action lever.

Thus the concept of “true” choice advanced by AFW advocates (free of all prior events) is a myth. It is an impossible expectation, whether one has a physical brain or a mind composed of magical energy beyond time and space. It might as well be called “fictional” choice, because a choice fitting those criteria will never be found.

All real choices require a confluence of events impinging on an actor such that a decision is mandated. That would seem to be a defining character of any choice, and LFW proponents do not argue otherwise. What they argue is that minds as nonphysical entities are impervious to certain physical events, while the nonphysical mind can cause physical events, and (let us not forget) nonphysical events can affect the mind and the physical world. They do not demand choices be context free.

It is then questionable to use the very defining characteristics of a choice as criteria for excluding something from being a “true” choice. It also smacks of a true Scotsman fallacy. And in any case, it seems unnecessary to use a fictional entity to bring down a (arguably mistaken) theory, particularly when that theory does not use or demand such an entity.

The following sections explain why, when we move beyond fictional capacities for making “ultimate” choices (that even Gods do not possess) to factual capacities involved with making real choices, CFW accounts bring something to the table for discussions of FW and moral agency.

Mistaking Experimental Signals for Decisions and Awareness for Mind

Proponents of AFW like to reference data emerging from neuroscience. Studies, from Libet onward, purportedly show that the brain is making decisions before our mind is aware of them, thus nixing LFW outright and even suggesting that brain ≠ mind (thus nixing CFW) [5].

I am not going to address these studies directly as that would take a small book. Suffice it to say that the correlations found do not necessarily license the conclusion that a point of “decision” was identified. And even if correlations were sufficiently high to suggest a causal relation exists between a specific brain region/activity and a specific decision/action that would still not undercut CFW… or even LFW!

That last point might be surprising, but on reflection it should be obvious. Just because the (disembodied) mind feels the decision later than a physical manifestation in the brain does not mean that the brain caused the action.

Taking a devil’s advocate position on behalf of LFW, the brain region identified could be the spot where the mind connects to the physical brain (like a string to the puppet). That the mind only “feels” the decision later is perhaps because its awareness is so linked to the body by habit that it has an errantly delayed sensation of the self. In short it confuses the physical sensation of a decision imposed on the physical brain (when the brain feels it) as being the “real” point of having made the decision (even though it was made earlier, elsewhere).

Or, it could be argued the other way around, that the region found is the “string” of sensation leading from the body to the disembodied mind which really does make the decision (later than the recording in the brain region). It is just that we can reliably match powerful “sensations” from that region, to acts the mind is likely to make. This is analogous to finding sufficient nerve activity in a toe (by a fire), before the foot is retracted. Did the nerve in the toe make the decision? No, but it is a reliable predictor of what the body will do next [6]. And the retraction may even come before awareness of the pain.

Both LFW explanations for these findings align with the existential problem most LFW theists seem to have with the mind, that it is so drawn to the body by habit that it has lost awareness of itself. Hence the need to separate one’s true self (the mind) from bodily sensations.

Of course I’m not advocating LFW since there is plenty of evidence against disembodied minds from less demanding experiments than timed neural activity during decisions [7]. But I do like CFW.  So what do I make of those studies, assuming for the sake of argument that their correlations were meaningful regarding causation? My reaction is that it is interesting information but so what? What would a neuroscientist expect to find other than signals in a brain correlated with decisions?

On the issue of mind vs brain, just because the brain might process a decision for action before processing it for conscious experience, does not mean that the mind was not involved in the decision process. That is to conflate mind with conscious awareness, which CFW can reject as it links mind (or at least “you” as an agent) with the physical brain. Some, arguably most, decisions regarding actions are likely to be processed subconsciously, with those that are more important or require greater consideration/attention making it to higher levels of awareness.

Lack of awareness for some decisions would not negate the importance of such decisions (like they are done “without thinking” or more importantly “beyond your will”), nor does it suggest that conscious awareness has no influence in all decision-making. One criticism of such studies (and Libet’s in particular) is that they often do not demand much in the way of having to deliberate on a set of options that are important for you or your future [5]. Libet-style experimental settings don’t elicit much concern, and so do not trigger the need for higher order consideration on what to do.

Still, we shouldn’t assume that scientists have actually observed decisions being made prior to conscious awareness, rather than detecting elements that must be present prior to making the decision or registering awareness. For example, the brain region responsible for the message “press button” might be active a while before a command decision “ok” (made in another region) allows it to go ahead (perhaps by relieving repression of the signal at a third brain region).

For experiments keyed to changes in signal strength what may be detected is the precursor of a specific action as it is offered for decision (which would change over time), rather than the area that is consistently active in making decisions (and so presumably holding a near constant signal). Or (for any experiment) perhaps it is the area with the greatest coherent signal (or change in signal) that makes it likely the decision encoded will win out over other options being offered for deliberation across the brain.

In both cases it may take time to “tally” the inputs, via activation/repression over different networks, before the system “recognizes” the final decision so as to report it (which it should be noted is a completely different action than simply acting on the decision itself). The brain is not a single wire affair, instead displaying supplementary systems and feedback loops running across many regions. A decision, then, may be best understood as a set of activities, which might or might not include awareness, rather than any single signal correlated at some earliest time point with some subsequent action.

This can be analogized to how sounds are processed by the brain. A sound close to one ear will enter that ear first and begin to be processed by the brain before the same sound enters the opposite ear and begins to be processed on that side. Yet you hear the sound only once. How?  Mechanisms within the brain can modify signals (strength and speed), and perceptions are not necessarily reported in absolute real time (first come first serve). There can be a delay as a “representation” of the experience is constructed by hashing out signals. In this case you “hear” a construct of one sound with an added recognition that the source is located closer to one side than the other.

Presumably experiments would detect activity in the neurons that process information for the ear closest to the sound first. That would not mean that the “decision” the sound came from that side was “made” by those neurons. Rather, organized processing further down the chain in another region, using all relevant signals from both ears, creates the “decision” regarding location. (For those curious about how the brain accomplishes the feat of sound location, it involves two separate regions (the medial and lateral superior olive), which use two separate comparative criteria (timing of reception and loudness) [6].) It stands to reason that decisions of what to do could have equally complex decision matrices over diverse locations.

To be clear, I am not dismissing scientific investigations of decision-making, involving timing or locations of signals. They are important in trying to understand how the brain works. What I am trying to point out is that it is premature at best, and completely missing the target at worst, to use this data to advocate AFW positions on FW or choice.

Losing the mind for the neural activity

Hard determinists like to reduce everything to baseline causes and effects. While that is wonderful for accurate discussions of simple reactions, it is not as useful when discussing reactions taking places at higher levels of organization. For example, it works for how ion channels operate on the surface of a neuron, but not as well for how someone reading a book will come to understand (or feel about) a different culture, or decide the best way to install a new sink.

The human brain is an evolved system, with brain cells (both grey and white matter) networked in a way that their associations build representative models of the world around them. Learning involves the construction of extensive, integrated models of physical entities, internal states, and abstract concepts, by physical embodiment in cellular networks.

This system can identify objects and project potential responses based on their natural relationships in the world, and not merely “because neurons fire.” That means unless one is a neuroscientist studying specified brain activity, one is arguably better off discussing thoughts related to choice at the level of what the brain depicts rather than the biology lying below it, or one misses the “true” or functional cause-effect relationship in play.

Admittedly neuroscience has revealed that our awareness (external and internal) is not as great as we might believe, and that much of our decision-making is influenced by or takes place within subconscious systems. In other words, the model we hold of ourselves as agents in the world is not complete or wholly accurate. But humans were aware of that long before neuroscience emerged [8]. And more importantly, that does not remove the fact that, subconscious or not, the brain is acting on collective representational information and not simply on the fact that “a bunch of neurons are firing.”  Even the “tricks” mentioned by some determinists, like the smell of baking bread or certain colors influencing decisions, describe associations feeding into relations considered at the level of the represented subject.

While neuroscientists discover how the brain accomplishes these feats through the activity of neural networks (and that is important), that should not be confused with or used to dismiss what feats are being accomplished. Indeed, by limiting one’s interpretations to brute neural activity one fails to recognize the model of the self (mind) being created and utilized in meaningful decision-making by that neural activity. This would seem to be a crucial oversight!

So what is being accomplished? I would argue that the human brain’s evolved capacity to build extensive, complex, and highly interactive models of the world provides enough degrees of freedom regarding potential actions to warrant the term “choice” and so a FW that is worth talking about. This is especially true as the brain runs simulations that allows the prediction of future events and so the generation of novel behavior to obtain goals. This is a point AFW proponents seem to downplay in discussing choice. Human brains are to some degree capable of moving outside immediate input-output causal relations, by generating their own inputs (of estimated future events) for consideration in a recursive feedback mode.

This is arguably why people take time and seek relaxing environments (even sleep) before making important decisions or while working out complex problems. Sleep (some neuroscientists claim) helps consolidate experiences for better model building and resting states allow for more free association of thoughts with minimal distractions (external inputs). Time spent in consideration (simulation mode) potentially reduces the effects of the irrelevant, background noise of immediate experience (fresh bread, colors) in our decisions.

And the extent of human agency doesn’t end there. Our new fangled brains have evolved such sophisticated simulation capabilities that they can generate novel information by mixing and matching experiences to produce entities and associations that we can’t directly experience, have never existed, and possibly can’t exist (yet are captured in our cellular networks). In short, we exhibit creative thought.

Wholly fabricated entities and associations can develop and be considered in the mind, and manifestations of those things created in the world where they certainly never existed before.  Whether real or not, it becomes a practical reality as if they did exist. People can sacrifice large portions of their lives to these things, and force others to sacrifice their lives to servicing them as well. From religious beliefs to popular works of known fiction (such as a scifi TV show), people can be so inspired by events within their minds that they shape the world around them (and so the future of the world) in their image.

And let’s not forget that these “fabricated entities” are not always wholly fictional! In addition to theoretical concepts about the world like general relativity and quantum mechanics (which are not directly observable but result in actual technology) we have engineered artificial elements, molecules, and even living organisms based on our imaginations to suit our interests.

With creativity, humans extend degrees of freedom of thought and (to a limited extent) action beyond their immediate environment, even beyond reality itself. This, if nothing else, should grant credibility to a concept of functional CFW. Human agents are more than simply the sum of their experiences, because they process experiences into novel beliefs and potentials not possible without their personal agency. One might say this presents a new option for causal relationships: “mind writes to the world and across other minds.”

After considering the how and what of brain activity, one might ask why brains developed (or require) this level of function?

While speculative, it seems likely that our vast processing capacity (with real world modeling and creative thought in support of decision making) developed as part of an “arms race” of agency. Dan Dennett suggests this sort of pressure for increased agency in a recent interview [9].

In a world of inanimate objects, there is no need for advanced processing, much less a sense of agency. Once systems emerge that are capable of reacting to the environment, better processing to enhance response naturally evolves. A crucial problem is then posed by the need to distinguish these reactive, animate objects from inanimate objects in the environment. Animate objects can be modeled with how they interact with the world (behaviors), which naturally lends itself to viewing others as intentional beings, acting toward goals. In short, we come to ascribe agency, and that sort of modeling easily extends to the self.

Dennett intriguingly posits defense against manipulation by others as an important reason for evolving advanced concepts of (self) intentionality. Agents need to take into account (model) what their own desires and required goals are, and what others might do in reaction to such knowledge, in order not to be manipulated away from obtaining them.

For AFW scolds of CFW, this is where the concept of CFW exhibits explanatory power and utility that AFW lacks. Evolutionary pressures drove increased degrees of freedom (potential ways to act) in organisms, leading to modeling of competitors as agents capable of intentional action (to be opposed), and ourselves as agents with our own intentions requiring freedom from coercion/manipulation by opposing agents.

Our sense of choice (locus of control placed within ourselves) and CFW are part of that model, and arguably an important part of the recursive simulations we run in order to make decisions in support of our own goals over those of others. To view oneself and others as “meat puppets” (as some AFW advocates state we are) places the locus of control entirely outside the actors working in the world and so is unlikely to generate accurate simulations. At the very least it would seem to make such simulations unnecessarily complex and communication about our simulations unwieldy.

Given all this, it is not clear what reason there is to artificially limit discussion of FW to the relative relation between one’s mind and physical brain (arguably an errant — inspirational if not very useful — product of our creative thinking). This is especially true when it is clear that competitive organisms actually exist with varying degrees of freedom in obtaining desires and that our brains have developed efficient modeling techniques regarding that agency.

Take home message

CFW, of course, provides relevant context and meaning for discussions of moral agency and social policy. In fact, it is the only theory whose definition of FW involves interactions between minds, a seemingly crucial part of any consideration of ethical and social policy.

From the point of view of CFW, LFW appears bankrupt given the decidedly strong physical connection between the brain and manifestations of the self. While AFW/FWS concepts of “true” choice are inherently flawed, CFW proponents can take onboard the understanding that prior events shape the course of events that follow, including decisions. Indeed, in considering manipulation by other agents CFW inherently possesses that perspective. As with FWS and AFW proponents, things like luck can be factored in while considering policies, only without the need to disregard humans as “intentional” agents.

The locus of control (at least for major decisions) is best considered internal to the agent due to 1) the recursive simulations and 2) the capacity for creative thought (novelty) that our brains deploy to attenuate external inputs and to oppose manipulation by others in pursuit of our goals.  This is not invalidated just because some decisions may be made subconsciously or because the representative models are not wholly accurate. Using conceptions of ourselves as intentional agents our brains process information into action, including attempts to make personal dreams a reality.

Finally, human communication regarding future action (to ourselves and others) normally references what the brain produces (meaningful representations) and not how the brain produces it. It seems a mistake, or at least impractical, to demand we consider how to the exclusion of what. The strength of compatibilist FW is that it (as the names suggests) it allows one to use both sides of brain activity in their appropriate frame of reference.

Epilogue (fanfare for a cell-based soul or requiem for a meat puppet)

We are not meat puppets, but living, cellular decision engines. These cellular souls are poised at the culminating edge of all events that have come before. The history of the universe has gone as far as you, and while you live your little corner of it won’t go further without a decision made by you, even if that choice is to do nothing at all. From this edge onward, you peer into a wholly unshaped universe. So it is a certain mistake to view yourself trapped like a fly in the amber of a life story already petrified from beginning to end, as dead flotsam pushed about on the tide of history, or an object wholly manipulated by forces beyond your control. You hold a privileged role in this universe’s unfolding, having been allowed to see the possible directions it might go and selecting whatever path seems best to you. What you can choose may be limited compared to your greatest dreams and desires, but wherever your corner of the Universe goes next is unquestionably up to you.

And if, after all, the doomsayers are right and you are fated in whatever choice you must make, fate has to work through you all the same. So you might as well decide that fate favors your best deliberated opinion. Fate will never know the difference, but you will.


Dwayne Holmes is a PhD student studying Neuroscience at the Free University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, with prior degrees in philosophy and molecular biology. He is particularly interested in how science and philosophy impact our understanding of ethics (from molecules to social norms). He writes about brain and mind at Emerging Mind.

[1] Free will and psychological determinism, by Steve Snyder, Scientia Salon, 21 October 2014.

[2] Back to Square One: toward a post-intentional future, by Scott Bakker, Scientia Salon, 5 November 2014.

[3] Free Will Skepticism and Its Implications: An Argument for Optimism — Part 1, by Gregg Caruso, Scientia Salon, 22 December 2014.

[4] Free Will Skepticism and Its Implications: An Argument for Optimism — Part 2, by Gregg Caruso, Scientia Salon, 23 December 2014.

[5] See this video for a nice quick explanation of Libet.

[6] Principles of Neural Science, 4th ed., McGraw Hill (esp. Chapter 23 Touch, Chapter 24 Pain, Chapter 30 Hearing).

[7] As has been pointed out in prior FW threads at Scientia Salon, the fact that physical alterations of brain regions effect not only perception but also action and personality in predictable ways suggests a strong, meaningful connection between brain and mind.

[8] The description of subconscious activity from the brain was recognized as early as Hippocrates and extensively explored by Freud well before formal neuroscience began as a field of study.

[9] The truth about free will: Does it actually exist?, Salon, 28 December 2014.

116 thoughts on “Choosing a compatibilist free will perspective

  1. Hi everyone I’m just writing a short note of assurance that I will have more posts tonight. I just got back from work and need to read through everything and take time to make useful replies. It looks like there are a few common issues being brought up so I will likely tackle them in one go.

    As an aside…

    Socratic, you can call me DB or Dwayne. Brandholm was an internet pseudonym which I have just about retired (only twitter left to go).

    You have a valid point that I did not use all encompassing definitions, and since others seem to have a problem with that as well I will be addressing that in a larger post.

    I am of course sympathetic to the idea that subconscious brain activity has to start being accepted, included in concepts regarding normal decision making.

    philonous13, I think you read something more into my opening statement than was there. I was not attempting to insult philosophy, and (as I have a degree in it) am well aware the terms I am using are used by philosophers to discuss free will.

    The only thing I meant by “I find the philosophical aspect of the topic of Free Will a bit pointless” is that knowledge of it per se has no inherent value/interest for me. This is because if someone came up with an ironclad argument that we have no free will, it would effect my daily life to the same degree as if someone came up with an ironclad argument that we definitely do have free will. Thus my interest is primarily in practical issues surrounding the topic.

    I sincerely hope that Massimo is not so cruel as to publish an essay with completely misguided use of philosophical terms 🙂 But for sure, I will address your and Daniel‘s criticisms in my larger response.


  2. You are right on the money, Alex. The LFW and AFW are both irrational reactions to the false problem of “how can I be free to choose if everything is inevitable?” The answer is that people are causes as well as effects. What becomes inevitable depends upon our own choices.

    If we recognize the silly semantic trap, and step past it, then we can discard the irrational Libertarian Free Will school and the equally irrational Anti-free-will determinist school. And once we’ve done that, we can also discard the Compatibilist school as well, because we’re back to simple free will and simple cause and effect determinism, which were never incompatible to begin with. We only thought they were for a moment because of the misunderstanding of the word “inevitable”.

    And the Gordian Knot is sliced!


  3. I want to pick up further on the issue of “confabulation” and free will.

    I mentioned in my second comment that the evolution of the brain to produce “pattern detectors” and “agency imputers” could also, whether as a spandrel, or a deliberate add-on for better running of the pattern and agency “programs,” have also created the idea of free will.

    Brodix hints at this, but I’m going to run a lot further. And that’s that, per the likes of Elizabeth Loftus, on things like memory, our brain is a great big confabulator. Along with that, why wouldn’t we also confabulate our own sense of agency at times? In short, that “agency inputer” of evolutionary psychology fame may be imputing agency to ME, myself, as well as YOU.

    Simple, simple concept. But, again, one that traditional defenders of a more robust version of free will might not like.

    David Ottlinger I said on my piece here, and I’ll stand by it, that I think at least some of Nahmias’ claims are overstated. As part of that, I’ll stand by my second comment that, at a minimum, Libet has shown (along with others, such as Kahnemann et al from psychology) we need to narrow our ideas about the amount of human mental activity that is fully conscious.

    Thus, for you, Massimo and others who look at free will to fair degree through the lens of consciousness, he and follow-ups do make a degree of difference. That’s especially true per my idea of self-imputation of agency, above.

    This, in turn, is another reason I say “mu” to the issue more and more. Consciousness is of course not the same as free will. But, they are entangled enough that lack of knowledge in consciousness affects lack of knowledge elsewhere.

    I think until we know more about the details of how tasks that start becoming habitual are eventually pushed into semantic memory to be run automatically, we should be a bit leery about talking about free will and conscious vs. autonomic, or subconscious or whatever term you prefer for less than fully conscious behavior.

    Also, given the amount of follow-up experiments to Libet’s originals, and the interest in them by philosophers, too, I think this claim:

    It’s the the common opinion of philosophers that Libet is very little obstacle to free will.

    On my essay, I used the phrase “free willer of the gaps.”

    As for the fact that Libet and post-Libet experiments only cover a limited range of actions? Well, that’s about current limitations in neuroscience research; it doesn’t mean that what Libet found is guaranteed to only apply to such a limited range of mental actions.

    And, again, let’s note that phrase “post-Libet.” Per Wiki, there has been a lot of additional study here.


    Finally, and once again, none of these critiques of current ideas of free will mean that determinism is “the default option.” Again, let’s please stop thinking inside old two-position polarity boxes.


  4. Hi Dwayne,

    I do look forward to your response, but I just want to note a couple of things-

    1) you said that the philosophical aspect of the topic of free will seems pointless to you because whether or not it is true that you have free will has no practical bearing on your daily life.

    -I don’t think you were making the following claim I am about to discuss, but I think it is worth noting that just because certain controversies or claims will have no practical bearing on one’s life doesn’t mean they interesting. Whether or not many historical events happened one way or another won’t have any practical bearing on your life, but they are interesting to discuss and learn. Same goes for many very abstract ideas in physics, english literature, etc. In other words, let’s not be too quick to dismiss almost every field in the humanities except for much of science and applied philosophy…

    2) You pointed out that you have a degree (undergrad) in philosophy as a kind of assurance that you are well aware of the terms that are being used by philosophers.

    – I just want to point out that there are plenty of people with undergrad degrees in philosophy who really don’t know how philosophers use certain terms or understand the literature with a degree of depth that is helpful or representative of mainstream views. Consider Sam Harris, for example. he has a B.A in philosophy from Stanford, but explicitly claims he doesn’t need to engage in any of the literature in meta-ethics or ethics to make claims about both of these fields. This has obviously resulted in much criticism (warranted, I think) since he clearly isn’t drawing the right distinctions. Additionally, he thinks much of philosophy is worthless (he insults philosophy, you can see more on this from technical and non-technical papers Massimo has written on the “new atheist movement.”). So having an undergrad degree unfortunately doesn’t tell us much about how much respect someone has for philosophy or for how much they know about the field.

    This is not intended to be hostile or nit picky, I just think these things are important to recognize.


  5. John, the “mind” is not actually “connected” to the brain, the mind IS the physical nervous system when it is thinking. “Choosing” is one of the things we think about. It involves multiple areas of the brain. “Deliberation” before making a choice, is mostly conscious, I suspect. We can usually recall the options we considered and why we made the choice. In fact, we can keep track of them on paper if the problem is complex, perhaps listing the pros and cons in two separate columns. And to make the process even less subjective, we could perform the choice as a group, using group methods.


  6. The past is determined, while the future is not. Until we get beyond the folk intuition that time is a narrative vector along which the point of the present moves, with the future ultimately no different than the past and which both QM and GR codify by reducing time to measures of duration and start to recognize the physical process by which collective input creates determined output, ie. future becomes past, then these conversations which will inevitably go nowhere will continue, because the underlaying premises are flawed.
    Will is our conscious input into the process of determination. There is both the input of causal factors into our decisions and the output of consequences to them and if we eliminated one, the other would be lost as well.
    Free will is an oxymoron.


  7. Hi Robin, you addressed your comments to DM, but the sentences you quote come from me, so I suppose I should reply to them. The “ghost in the machine” is Gilbert Ryle’s vivid way of expressing the way that he thought most people think about the mind-brain relationship — “mystical creature living inside our brain” is my own even more vivid (perhaps too vivid) way of putting it.

    Regarding the confusion between determinism and compulsion, I wrote a small essay about that for my personal web site, “Free will and the psychology of freedom”, at It probably doesn’t address the aspect that concerns you, though.

    Best regards, Bill Skaggs


  8. Massimo sorry for the duplication I meant to post this here.

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Hi everyone,
    As someone who has studied philosophy of mind as an undergraduate and graduate student I would endorse all the corrections noted by pjilonious13 above in a very well composed comment. The one exception is the claim that Hume is a dualist which strikes me as false but not mattering since philonous could have used Chalmers to make the same point, namely: you don’t need to be a monist to be a compatabilist. Further the point was made early on in the functionalist tradition (I think by Armstrong) that functionalism is compatabile with dualism. I see a few other problems as well.

    The author claims: “AFW also defines FW by the causal relationship between mind and brain (with a distinct nature for both), which is why I consider AFW a form of “scientific dualism.” Most philosophers would reject the idea that a causal relationship between the physical and mental implies dualism (really I say “most” but I can’t think of one who would make such a claim). Consider the fact that my typing (a physical event of fingers hitting keys) has a causal effect on the software on my computer (and yours, and and a server somewhere). Does this imply software dualism? If not then why so for minds? The trouble lies in the “distinct natures” part. Take the sentence “The cat is on the mat.” On the one hand a token of this sentence (picture the sentence written on a page, that writing is the token) can be considered as just markings. Physical stuff on a page. On the other hand it can be interpreted as bearing the information “The cat is on the mat”. It has two “distinct natures”. On the one hand it has physical properties (color, size, shape) on the other it has properties of bearing information (meaning). The point is, neither nature is of the type the dualist imputes to minds. We may be (and most philosophers of mind think we are) like this, bearing different sets of properties, some mental, some physical. This is NOT dualism, however.

    The author claims “All real choices require a confluence of events impinging on an actor such that a decision is mandated.” but this claim is never motivated and would be rejected by incompatabilists. The author seems to assume that if an event is not *uniquely* determined by reasons or factors then it must be “random”. Why should this be so? On a classical incompatabilist picture I am causally impinged upon by all my thoughts and desires but further, to act, I must exercise a free action of the will. If I do it on the basis of my thoughts and desires that does not necessarily mean I am thereby completely causally determined by them in the sense hard determinists urge. The confusion rests in the fact the entire debate between compatabilists and incompatabilists is a debate on whether or not my previous mental states are causally *sufficient* for my having acted in the way I did. The incompatibilist need not deny any causal role for previous mental states (and typically will not).

    These aren’t the only problems I have (the treatment of gods for instance strikes me as quite idiosycratic) but I will leave it there.

    The author doesn’t directly make comments like “most philosophers believe” or “some traditional philosophical positions are” but the statements in the article of the kind typified by “there is Libertarian FW (LFW), which holds a dualistic view of mind and brain and defines FW” seem to impute these views to philosophers. On that score I think the author, I am afraid to say, seriously misrepresents what philosophers have to say about freedom and the mind.


  9. SocraticGadfly,
    The problem with desire is that it is blind. Even in the discussion of first order desires, we find it shaped in terms of desired particular ends – the person wants to eat a candy bar, or wants a drink, or wants to get away from an annoying person. But this all arises from some more primitive, basic source – let’s call it ‘sub-order desire,’ of an organism that is not yet a person. The organism’s sub-order desire is not to eat a candy bar, but to shovel sweet substances down its gullet. It doesn’t want to drink, it wants to drown in a vat of ‘substance making it feel good.’ It doesn’t want to avoid the annoying other organism, it wants to smash it, kill it, end its annoyance completely.

    When the sub-order desire triggers for sex, it doesn’t want sex with any particular person, or even a particular gender – all that comes later, as the desire filters through consciousness. The initial desire is simply ‘sex – now!’ Lenny Bruce cut to the quick of this in his remark that “men will schtup mud,” if there aren’t any available chickens on the desert isle they find themselves on.

    The one thing I liked about the Continentalists’ discussion on this topic is that it recognized the fundamental blindness of primitive desire. But then they carry it away into abstraction. Freud recognizes this blindness when he labels primitive desire ‘the It,’ but then elaborates a theory of containment that turns it into a mysterious force rather than an animal’s impulses. Two generations later, we find Lacan talking about it as though it had its own theology.

    The psychology developed among Buddhists has a far richer account of ‘sub-order’ desire and how it determines human behavior than we have in the West. Unfortunately, it also constructs abstractions that obscure rather than clarify the issue. Perhaps it can only really be revealed for reflection in the creative arts.

    This primary desire finds no easy place in the broad positions of this debate. As the impulse of an animal, it is biologically determined; yet it is unanswerable to deterministic explanations of its influence on behavior, because, being blind, its goals seem to vary whimsically – one moment it urges eating, the next schtupping – probably it would do both at once if it could.

    Primitive desire is what much of the brain exists to control and redirect.

    So primitive desire complicates any discussion of will, as understood as either desire realized or desire enacted (I think there is equivocation on this throughout the literature on will, going back centuries). Unless, with Schopenhauer, we read it as Will per se – which only gets us another abstraction.

    Finally, regarding Libet: If I am on the right track, then as such experiments have nothing to do with primitive desires, they can tell us nothing about the problem of will. (Mr. Bruce, high on smack, in the clinic; ‘press the button, doc? sure!’ – begins schtupping the control panel.)


  10. Inevitability compels nothing. Inevitability is an observation of how events unfold and how they relate as effects of prior events and causes of future events. The innate will of biological organisms to satisfy basic needs and the conscious will of thinking organism so secure those needs directly or indirectly through the pursuit of higher level needs and desires drive us to interact with the environment to satisfy them. The ability to think, plan, imagine, experiment, and choose are all part of the package that we are made of. It is always you, and you alone, choosing to press OK or CANCEL according to your current needs or desires. And what happens next is totally up to you (the whole package that we call “you”).


  11. Marko,

    there is a whole continuum of possibilities between strict determinism and complete “capricious chaos”. And our brains are tuned to be somewhere-in-between

    I fail to see how that makes any difference. Why would somebody who rejects determinism, because otherwise they’d feel like a soulless machine ticking along, and who sensibly doesn’t consider random behaviour to be free will, because it clearly doesn’t actually involve any will, be comforted by a mixture of determinism and randomness?

    I believe that if they hated chocolate and strawberry then giving them a half chocolate / half strawberry ice cream as a compromise wouldn’t make them happy either, so I can only assume that they haven’t really thought this through. What they need is vanilla (soul-thingie influencing events in a way that follows from their moral character and experiences but at the same time strangely doesn’t follow from anything at all, because that would be deterministic). But unfortunately that flavour is all out.

    I don’t know what your issue is with ‘random’. The point is that either people do things for understandable reasons because there are deterministic rules underlying their behaviour (e.g. somebody who is known to be a kind and peaceful person is always kind to you unless you made them angry) or they behave randomly because there are no deterministic rules underlying their behaviour (e.g. somebody is a pacifist one day, then viciously attacks a random person on the street without provocation the next day, tries to eat a rock on day three, and wears their pants on their head on day four).

    This is not complicated.


    The answer is that people are causes as well as effects.

    That phrase might go a long way towards achieving the necessary shift in perspective!


  12. Free Will Is Important Mostly As A Meta Controller
    Free Will requires a conscious choice. However, most of the brain’s work is unconscious. So the notion of Free Will, directly, and instantaneously applied, has little bearing on one’s mind’s choices. Free Will, exerted in the instant is, most of the time, NOT how one controls one’s mind.

    Generally, we do not decide to breathe: it’s subconscious. However the activity becomes subject to conscious control when one runs in the mountains, or when one dives in the sea by just holding one’s breath. That we become a postiori conscious of some decisions by the brain is totally non-surprising. After all, that’s what happens when one sprains an ankle. Most of the time, the brain decides from its installed architecture. Consciousness is called to the rescue only after an unexpected situation surfaces.

    Thus, if we want to call consciousness, and thus a decider, we need to quit routine, completely neurologically automatized, and institute change.

    Thus Free Will, to appear, will need change, itself often the consequence of Free Will applied at a distance, at a meta level.

    If one wants to control one’s mind, one will have to control its architecture, in depth and the long term.

    Consciousness is called in when a high level executive decision is required (it could be in a dream; it does not have to be in the “real” world; dreams are crucial to make one’s mind). Applying consciousness cannot change most of the mind, right away, because most of the mind has enormous inertia.

    Mental inertia comes not just from the proverbial 10^14 neurons, but from all the glial cells, dendrites, synapses, and axons in between (axons are not just cables, they have varying topology, under oligodendrocyte control). Changing any of this requires vast and continual Hebbian (or anti-Hebbian) learning. Thus it requires vast amounts of energy (often coming in part from one’s muscular activity!)

    Indeed, we can consciously tweak our unconscious, our entire mental architecture, by deliberately engaging in particular activities that will force to engage our subconscious differently (say by deciding to learn tango, or choosing to become a couch potato, or by learning Mandarin Chinese, or calculus, or reading poetry, or by becoming hyper-critical, or hyper emotional).

    So Free Will is not just a matter of deciding to lift that finger, or the other. Free Will can be used as a long term meta-controller. We can deliberately influence our moods, and our brain architecture, long term (some youth chose to convert to Islam, so as to engage in Jihad, for example).

    Using Free Will as a long term pressure on all of one’s mind is how to use it to combat Rousseau’s “General Will” (Social Peer Pressure).

    Free Will is the best friend wisdom and cognition can have. But, most of the time, it’s of little help in the instant


  13. Hi Bill, Interested, I looked at your web site. To quote the punch line “The reason why determinism seems incompatible with freedom is that it is thought of as a form of compulsion.”
    Perhaps a common (mis)perception, but do any philosophers argue that a brain is capable of “compelling” itself to do things it does not want to do? This is my interpretation of “compulsion”: a brain can’t hold a gun, metaphorical or real, to its own head!

    (see also my earlier comment at Jan 27 11.34 am)


  14. There are a few criticisms which have been mentioned several posters and so I want to address them generally by topic rather than each poster. Hopefully answer all of the concerns.

    My essay does not address all variations of LFW, AFW, CFW:

    Fair enough. The scope of my essay was not to review and analyze all views on FW. If I have discovered anything on this subject it is that there are no hard-set terms used consistently across lay people and professionals alike.

    My goals were more modest. I was addressing arguments by some hard determinists (and FWS’s) which work against a compatibilist concept of free will. So I set out definitions for the terms I would use that were relevant to best address the specific arguments. I knew not everyone would necessarily agreed with my definitional limits. But it seems that is necessary to keep an essay from spinning out into a book.

    While people are correct that there may be more than the single LFW version I set out (for example), the relevant question to me is did I need to address all of those others? In what way do they affect the arguments I made? The extended example of LFW versions not needing disembodied minds (based on parallel processing which is nondeterministic), retains the same essential quality I gave for the first definition of free will… Free Will is related to an independence from wrote deterministic physical states of the brain. I even suggested other possible variations on LFW by cutting out bodies (referring to gods) but I could have cut out minds. The effective definition is arguably the same.

    That was posed against using a definition for Free Will based on a relationship between an agent’s potential to obtain desires (a nod to some criticism this could be goals) and their ability to do so.

    Admittedly I was assuming a materialist/naturalist position regarding the brain (it exists as a physical object working in deterministic fashion) but that was largely the focus of my essay, an argument between two camps that had already embraced materialist positions. Hume may very well have been dualist (another argument for another day) but Dennett is not.

    Philonous13 you were correct with your statement…

    “Perhaps what you really had in mind is that you want to spell out very specific positions within each of those broader ones (compatibilism, hard determinism, or libertarianism)”

    While you say you don’t know why I’d choose them it’s because that is where there has been a lot of activity recently. Am I incorrect in believing there is an ongoing argument between hard incompatibilists (determinists) and compatibilists using roughly the definitions/positions I described? It seems according to DM I am incorrect. I will deal with that idea in a post to him. However, if I am correct that such an argument does exist, then I’d like to know how all of those other potential positions effects the arguments I was addressing. That some would not identify with the label is not enough.

    As an aside you also state “I’m also not sure why you’re considering a peculiar version of hard determinism that also believes in a soul.” I did not mention any hard determinism that believes in a soul. Just an epiphenomenal mind.

    But most importantly…

    “but this makes me think that you’re defining your terms in such a way that places both Libertarianism and Hard Determinism in an implausible light so you can easily argue for Compatibilism (as your title suggests). Honestly, this almost feels like you’re trying to make it easy to get to your own conclusions.”

    I certainly did not intend to do this. But I am very sensitive to this charge, even if it was unintentionally overlooking harder positions that would hinder the arguments I made.

    Can you show how any of the alternative positions would negatively effect the arguments I made, other than people simply not agreeing with a label? I am genuinely interested.

    Before bringing up LFW positions based on nondeterminism, I should mention that introduces a total side bar discussion. Marko and Philip have already brought up nondeterminism and I have to say I would disagree that (even if I accept nondeterminism as useful for free will) that it results in LFW. Both of those posters rightly (to my mind) have posited its potential as being part of CFW in the scheme I proposed.


  15. In the Libet experiments and others that replicated his findings, the subjects were invariably asked to perform some action at a “random” moment. I find it very difficult to understand what it might mean to consciously choose to press a button at a particular moment for absolutely no reason at all. Isn’t it possible that what the subject does in attempting to fulfil her commitment to participate in the experiment is to simulate a random process (to delay action for n seconds) and report the result when the unconscious process is completed? Consciousness is involved in deciding to initiate the decision-making process and again in reporting the result. If this is the case it seems to me that neither occasion of conscious involvement should be privileged as the “moment of decision”.


  16. Another set of criticisms, largely from Daniel have to do with…

    Use of glittering generalities (arguments from fascination), and special pleading

    Again this is not something intended, and I hope to argue did not happen (even unintentionally).

    Regarding special pleading in my rejecting of Libet (by Alexander, my point was largely that given interconnections and processes involved with any brain function Libet-style study enthusiasts are doing the pleading. They have found a connection between some specific brain activity and a behavior. That does not mean they have charted the course of a decision “being made”. The brain is just as much repression as it is promotion, and can have secondary audits (like the sound location example). The burden of proof is on them, not on others.

    Regarding arguments from fascination (by Daniel, to try to express informally the nature of the brain’s complexity is not necessarily trying to ‘gee-whiz’ something past people. I realize my epilogue (which I considered ditching) might lend itself to that analysis as it was rhetorical rather than analytical, the rest was not.

    Yes, I was trying to argue that increased capacity for generating choices to select from was what creates a level of practical free will worth talking about. I was not suggesting that it created LFW conditions (independence from physical states), rather that it made discussions of FW in context with an agent’s potential to obtain goals a reasonable activity… in short it justifies use of CFW (not proves it).

    That kind of attribution would not be useful for a venus fly trap or an amoeba but increased complexity in decision making does at some point make such concepts useful. This is exactly the point I was making with my discussion of ‘degrees of freedom’. The concept of degrees of freedom is simple enough. I agree the discussion of how much is necessary for CFW to be worthwhile is interesting to me. However, I think it is reasonable to assume that living organisms crossed that line at if not before reaching homo sapiens.

    If this is not reasonable to assume, I would like to know why.

    As it happens I did offer an argument in support of such an assumption. I have advanced creativity (and I would include imagination) with providing essential power in creating increased degrees of freedom of behavior. Perhaps I should have been more explicit but that is crucial to shifting the locus of control from outside events to internal concerns. One of my key arguments in justifying use of CFW regards recognizing that shift in locus of control from outside to inside the agent (I note that that was not addressed by Daniel or Philonous13 at all). That is what creativity (and imagination) have to do with agency. And I don’t think that argument was based on poetry.

    As an aside to Daniel… I agree that being practical isn’t the only reason something should be considered interesting. So I definitely wasn’t arguing everyone should find raw discussions of FW uninteresting. I was only explaining why it isn’t for me and so what led me to write an article with FW as a topic. I was trying in some way to set some boundaries on what I was planning on addressing.

    Your use of Harris to illustrate the non-meaning of degrees as indicators of serious interest… Well played, sir 🙂 Point taken.


  17. Marvin,
    Compulsion. I find the logic motivating. Would you argue will is not an expression of determination?


  18. ejwinner–I like your introduction of desire into the conversation. How do we distinguish desire from suffering—of which pleasure is the alleviation? You seem to suggest that our sense of agency is a means whereby we channel the suffering of desire into more efficient paths to pleasure. This makes sense to me, but I’d add that it seems to me this sense of agency itself increases, exponentially, the capacity for both suffering/desire and it’s corollary pleasure. Which, in turn, increases agency, –and so forth in an upward spiralling feedback loop.
    I’m talking under the influence of my Kierkegaard (the ur-continentalist) reading, but his focus on this paradox is really not much of an advance on my previous readings (and religious inculcation) of Jesus, St. Paul, and the passion of the crucifixion. Blessed are the mourners, the thirsty, the seekers–in short all the sufferers—because their suffering is a necessary condition for their bliss.

    SocraticGadFly– I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but it’s my understanding that if the ‘confabulation’ that ‘foists’ an experience of agency on us actually serves a function, than that is by definition–not a spandrel. Also, if it serves a function, I don’t see how terms like ‘confabulation’ and ‘foists’, really add any other information. Our sense of agency, like everything else, is defined by it’s function, and is no less real simply because we don’t all agree on everything about it.

    For me, I see agency’s primary function as an ethical one which plays out in moral responsibility, remorse, forgiveness, all of which are aspects of love. I know that these are all religious terms, as you said, but that doesn’t make them less real or human. Neither are they something incompatible with the evolutionary view that nature selects for what flourishes. In fact, to the degree that one believes that human flourishing is a function of good ethics, than the unprecedented success of the human species on this planet, while not conclusive, certainly supports the theological/religious notion that love/compassion is the primal force for increased creativity and meaning in the universe.


  19. “While people are correct that there may be more than the single LFW version I set out (for example), the relevant question to me is did I need to address all of those others?”

    No, that’s not even the issue. The issue is that you proposed definitions of Libertarianism, Compatibilism, and Determinism. You explicitly said:

    “Let’s begin by cutting to the chase on the matter of definitions.”

    Technically, what this statement means (whether you intended it or not) is that you are providing definitions of Libertarianism, Compatibilism, and Determinism. This statement mislead many readers to think that you were proposing definitions of three very broad positions within the Free Will debate. What you really intended to do is to spell out very specific positions within each broad positions and then address these positions instead of providing definitions, but you should have made this very clear from the beginning which you failed to do, hence creating unnecessary and avoidable misunderstanding among your readers. The problem here is that you are spelling out some of the specific positions that very few people accept. Very few neuroscientists and philosophers of mind are epiphenomenalists. Very few philosophers (of mind) and neuroscientists are Substance Dualists and Libertarians (except people like Plantinga and William Lane Craig).

    ” I did not mention any hard determinism that believes in a soul. Just an epiphenomenal mind.”

    Yes, but you did say “two distinct natures” which seems to imply the “soul”, but I don’t think this really matters (I think one comment pointed out that “two distinct natures” need not imply the soul, so I stand corrected). Suppose I grant you that I was wrong for accusing you for attacking a version of hard determinism that doesn’t believe in the soul. My main points still remain: first, whereas epiphenomenalism implies hard determinism, hard determinism does not imply epiphenomenalism. This point was made under the impression that you were trying to define hard determinism. But then I made my second main point: very few philosophers of mind and neuroscientists accept epiphenomenalism, because most of them are materialists. However, you did ask me the following question:

    “Am I incorrect in believing there is an ongoing argument between hard incompatibilists (determinists) and compatibilists using roughly the definitions/positions I described?”

    My point was not that there are no ongoing debates between various positions using your definitions, but rather my point is that you are bringing in positions that are implausible to the point that it gives compatibilism an unfair advantage. You bring in a version of Libertarianism committed to substance dualism and a version of Hard Determinism committed to Epiphenomenalism. Both of these versions are implausible because substance dualism and epiphenomenalism are widely rejected by philosophers of mind and neuroscientists. However, a significant portion of philosophers are materialists and compatibilists, so you’re really competing a very plausible version of compatibilism with really implausible versions of Hard determinism and Libertarianism. You’re setting up a debate that plays in favor of your position whether your intended this or not.

    “Can you show how any of the alternative positions would negatively effect the arguments I made, other than people simply not agreeing with a label? I am genuinely interested.”

    Introducing alternative positions wouldn’t “negatively effect” your arguments. At best, your arguments show that your version of Compatibilism that is committed to materialism is superior to a substance dualistic version of Libertarianism and an epiphenomenalist version of Hard Determinism. But this is almost trivial: almost every respectable philosophers of mind and neuroscientists would agree with you that the materialist version of Compatibilism is superior to the other alternatives you showed, because they prefer materialism over dualism. But if you introduced more alternatives like materialsit versions of Libertarianism and Hard Determinism, then your arguments wouldn’t be negatively be effected but it would just be as controversial. In other words, you would have to do more extra work to show why your version of compatibilism is still superior to materialist alternatives of libertarianism and determinism, which I suspect you want to avoid.


  20. Hi DM, I am somewhat confused by our discussion. You say that an epiphenomenal mind is more important to discussions of consciousness than free will. However AFW proponents (I guess I now have to caveat with ‘some popular’) treat consciousness as critical in discussing mind in conjunction with free will. It is claimed that the ‘conscious mind’ is merely a by-product. The hardest say it has no connection to future activity, while softer elements might allow the ‘report’ of prior activity to influence the future in an indirect fashion.

    That seems a crucial distinction from suggestions that some conscious activity does influence behavior (and additionally that subconscious activity should be included in concepts of the mind).

    The former concept does suggest a near useless appendage. I am not claiming it is actual dualism (an actual split substance) but rather ‘scientific dualism’ (sort of functionally distinct entities). You may find that label provocative (point taken), but I don’t see how it is inaccurate.

    “According to AFW the choice and moral agency accepted by CFW are not true choice or moral agency, because true choice and moral agency are the LFW concepts and don’t exist.”

    Yes, but that would be (at the very least) a true scotsman fallacy on their part.

    “According to AFW, the choice and agency of CFW are not quite real, or at least not ultimate, and CFW are doing a bait and switch in claiming them as the real thing.”

    Well the problem is that CFW proponents (none I have heard of) argue for this ‘real’ or ‘ultimate’ agency. That makes this a strawman or ad hominem.

    Neither of these are language disagreements, though I agree embracing either involves vastly different use of language.

    If it is as simple as you suggest, what exactly is going on between the likes of Dennet, Coyne, and Harris? All of these people seem to be claiming something more is going on. Indeed, if I remember right Gregg had distinguished hard determinism/incompatibilism from free will skepticism based on the former’s use of concepts that seem very much like the conscious mind has no influence on future activity.

    BTW to all on today’s repliesI hope I am not coming off too harsh. I appreciate everyone’s replies. I started after work and have been pushing through being tired… and as it happens suffering a pretty bad cold at the moment. So that mixed with brevity may make wording a bit strong/dismissive sounding and it’s definitely not what I intend!

    Think I will go to bed now, sleep in, and address more tomorrow.


  21. Wm. Burgess: “For me, I see agency’s primary function as an ethical one which plays out in moral responsibility, remorse, forgiveness, all of which are aspects of love. I know that these are all religious terms…”

    I disagree. “Moral” is secular. “Responsibility” is secular. “Remorse” is secular. “Forgiveness” is secular. “Ethics” is secular. “Free will” is secular. Even “faith” is secular. You certainly have our permission to use these terms in church, but please be mindful to use them correctly.


  22. But whose determination? Was it not your OWN determination, the fact that “YOU find the logic motivating” that caused you to post the comment? Your only compulsion was your own motivation. And without you being free to choose the action it never would have happened.

    The problem with trying to invalidate free will with determinism is that you end up invalidating will, and then yourself, by the same logic. And that’s a little too much meaning to destroy simply to get one up on the friar.


  23. Marvin,
    If you read the full extent of what I wrote, you might better understand my view.
    We project onto the future, but our actions only serve to create what becomes past and the past is determined. Thus our will is our consciousness determining what is to be. I have a great deal of respect for causality, both precipitating and consequential, so I haven’t much problem with the sense that I am part of a larger whole. As I see it, life is like a sentence. Our job is to connect what comes before with what comes after as best as possible. If you read my post on the 26th, 1:45, what I’m essentially arguing is that that essence of self, of consciousness, is really the same thing, fragmented among all of life and so I can accept being part of a larger sense of being and in fact, find it quite useful in making sense of others motivations, both in how they connect with one another and how they act and react to isolation from others.
    Personally I grew up as a younger child in a large family and quickly realized there is a lot of personal space in not fighting to get to the head of the line, in fact, avoiding the line altogether. Professionally I break young race horses and while their sense of consciousness is usually focused on wherever the next boogyman is coming from, or what the other horses are doing, what I’m tuning into are their other senses, balance, footwork, heart rate, etc. and so operating through the backdoor of their minds, to calm them down and get them to focus on what I want them to.
    As such, I realize that much of our social and civil processes seek to do this with the population at large and so I am very tuned to those inputs into my sense of direction and motivation and given this process has been evolving for billions of years, do not expect to reach the bottom of it either. Though I often find simple processes building in complex situations. Such as waves through complex mediums, complex organisms motivated by simple desires, complex societies falling into basic patterns, etc.
    So rather trying to rush ahead, fall behind, or take one side over another, as a mature person, what I seek out is balance between all these elements and how to smooth some of the rough edges and otherwise make my corner of the world a more pleasant place to be, without loosing sight of all that is going on outside of it.

    This is my last post on this thread and will make any further replies on the next posting on free will week.


  24. Hi Dwayne,

    Thank you for the reply. It may turn out that I really just don’t understand some of the claims you have made (a problem on my end), but let’s see what we can do.

    You said, “Yes, I was trying to argue that increased capacity for generating choices to select from was what creates a level of practical free will worth talking about. I was not suggesting that it created LFW conditions (independence from physical states), rather that it made discussions of FW in context with an agent’s potential to obtain goals a reasonable activity… in short it justifies use of CFW (not proves it).”

    I first want to point out that my critique wasn’t trying to show that you were using arguments from fascination to claim that LFW exists, I was trying to show that you were using arguments from fascination to claim that some meaningful sense of free will worth talking about exists (some kind of CFW). I hope this was evident from things I said like this, “It looks like you might be attempting to argue that if a system is creative that shows that it has some sense of agency worth talking about.”

    Second, you say that “[you] were trying to argue that increased capacity for generating choices to select from was what creates a level of practical free will worth talking about.” If this is the case, I repeat another concern others have had about lack of novelty. This is basically the exact thing Dan Dennett says about free will. He points out the “Life world” analogy and goes on to argue that just as determined entities in the life world are “free” because they evolved abilities to be “eaters” or “avoiders” (have the potential/ability to engage in a broad range of different actions), so too we are “Free” because we have evolved the ability to engage in a broad range of different actions; avoiding harms, premeditating future events and avoiding them in this way, etc.

    Perhaps there is still some novelty that you could attempt to appeal to, which would be this:

    “I have advanced creativity (and I would include imagination) with providing essential power in creating increased degrees of freedom of behavior. Perhaps I should have been more explicit but that is crucial to shifting the locus of control from outside events to internal concerns. One of my key arguments in justifying use of CFW regards recognizing that shift in locus of control from outside to inside the agent (I note that that was not addressed by Daniel or Philonous13 at all). That is what creativity (and imagination) have to do with agency. And I don’t think that argument was based on poetry.”

    I haven’t seen anybody claim this, so it could be novel. However, I have several concerns with this: first, you argue that creativity and imagination are the things that provide essential for providing increased degrees of “freedom” (where I take it now that freedom here refers to capacity for generating choices to select from). But creativity (if you assume my definition; ability to engage in combinatorial feats like combining “my” and “father” words to create the partial sentence of “my father”) is something most would say many simple symbol-crunching computers have, but none of us are prepared to say that this adds any extra practically meaningful sense of “freedom” worth talking about in the computers. Additionally computers can be made to model certain things about the world, so the same point would hold about “modeling abilities” too.


  25. So, there is really only imagination that could be the ingredient to give us your “power to generate choices to select from.” Here my concern is that a person could be completely quadriplegic and have an imagination, but nobody would say this person has any extra meaningful sense of “freedom” just because they have imagination. You would have to revise this to say that the imagining system must be hooked up to the right anatomy in order to have a meaningful sense of freedom, but admittedly this is an easy fix for you.

    These points aside, the bigger concern is that you haven’t really given us any reason to believe that being creative or imaginative gives us a meaningful sense of freedom except for intuition. Your argument seems to be this:

    1- Having power to create a more diverse set of behaviors to “choose” from is a meaningful sense of freedom
    2- Creativity and imagination create more diverse sets of behaviors to choose from
    3- We have creativity and imagination
    C- We have a meaningful sense of freedom.

    The problem here is you have just assumed premise 1. I didn’t see any defense of this. On premise one you merely asserted it “So what is being accomplished? I would argue that the human brain’s evolved capacity to build extensive, complex, and highly interactive models of the world provides enough degrees of freedom regarding potential actions to warrant the term “choice” and so a FW that is worth talking about”

    You then spent the rest of the section developing what it means for us to have creativity and imagination in higher level descriptions (representational level descriptions), then concluding that we have a meaningful sense of freedom. That is why I said you were basically performing an argument from fascination. There was no defense of premise 1 (the most crucial premise), and then a bunch of descriptions of creativity and imagination (fascinating ones), then a conclusion that we have a meaningful sense of freedom.

    Lastly, I am not sure what you mean by “moving the locus of control from outside the agent to inside the agent.” I took it that you meant something like, if we describe how the brain works, we don’t find free will, but if we describe what the brain does in a mental level of description, then we find a meaningful sense of free will. I get this from this passage, “To view oneself and others as “meat puppets” (as some AFW advocates state we are) places the locus of control entirely outside the actors working in the world and so is unlikely to generate accurate simulations.”

    The problem here is that, assuming that the mind is reducible to the brain, if you don’t find free will in the brain, it should follow you don’t find free will in the mind. After all, the reductionist believes that ontologically all of the mind is reducible to the brain. So, no free will in the brain level of description, no free will in the mind level of description. The level of description shouldn’t matter if ontologically the mind reduces to the brain. If nothing else this requires much argumentation, an argument that would fall into the “philosophical” discussion of free will.

    I hope this cleared some things up about my concerns or gave you some more things to think about in your argument. Let me know if this was helpful.


  26. Hi Brodix, Nice to meet you. After my father died in a murder-suicide when I was around 12, I started questioning my church’s teachings on Hell. I concluded there was nothing anyone could do in a finite time on earth to justify even having one’s knuckles rapped throughout eternity. And I decided that a God who could actually torture someone throughout eternity could not, must not, exist. So I started spending less time with the Bible and more time at the Richmond Public Library where I ran into some philosophy books.

    One of them discussed the paradox of determinism and free will. At first I got sucked into the mind trap of seeing myself as a passenger on a causal chain that was out of my control. But further reading and thinking led to the conclusion that determinism was a constant that was always on both sides of the equation. Inevitability didn’t really change anything, and was therefore irrelevant.

    Over the years I’ve run into discussions about the paradox. And I felt that I understood something that other people were missing. In recent discussions I was finding that, rather than escaping the mental trap, people had piled more complexity upon it, making it even more difficult for rational people to deal with.

    When I first ran into the paradox, it was just a question of free will and determinism. Today we are entertained by the myriad variations and “schools of thought” like Libertarian Free Will, Anti-Choice Determinism, and Compatibilism. And, like you suggested, everybody seems to be taking sides.

    I’m especially disappointed that atheists seem intent on destroying the concept of free will because they think it is a way to attack religion. That seems pretty stupid to me, and as a humanist/atheist I find it very embarrassing.

    When reading your posts, I found some things difficult to follow. But the “free will is an oxymoron” comment was something I could address, so I did.


  27. Free will debates seem to always provoke the most interesting (and frustrating) discussions. Where others see a boring rehashing of old ideas, I see a remarkably lucid unpacking of some of the most controversial points in this long lasting discussion. Where yet others see an unfair straw manning of opposing points of view, I see a welcome definitional clarity that allows a rejection of still widely held competing positions even though it doesn’t (and maybe can’t) do justice to the nuance in the contemporary philosophical discussion.

    I used to be an AFW in my youth along the lines described in the paper until Daniel Dennett made me realize that the discussion I was interested in (and should be interested in at any rate) was one about competence. And that I was only “fooled” (perhaps naively) by some LFW and AFW proponents into thinking that any interesting form of “free will” needs to somehow free us from the shackles of “deterministic laws”, be it in form of a miracle or some sort of (quantum) randomness.

    What Dennett made me realize was that when I claim that “I could have done otherwise” I emphatically don’t mean “rewind the time and I’ll do something different” (how would I ever test that!?). What I mean is: “take me as I am now and put me in a situation where all/most relevant external factors are (approximately) the same and I will do something different”. I claim that I have that kind of competence. And this competence is decidedly different (even if sometimes only in degree) compared to other collections of matter like rocks or plants or ants or cats. And that this competence is of (moral) significance.

    In retrospective it seems weird to me how I could have ever missed the wood for the trees and I would like to thank Dwayne for his thoughtful exposition that would have convinced me all over again.


  28. Hi Dwayne,

    Sorry for my part in contributing to your confusion!

    > The hardest say it has no connection to future activity

    Well, okay, but perhaps a reference would help to clarify what you’re talking about. From where I’m standing, it looks like the difference is on emphasis or the preferred level of explanation. A computer-controlled action can be explained as arising either from the state of the hardware or from the state of the software. A die-hard physicalist may reject the software explanation because the software is just a high level description of the hardware state. I would disagree with such a physicalist because I see the two as equally valid yet complementary levels of description. Similarly I would disagree with an AFW proponent who claims that mental events have no causal powers because the brain does the work.

    But I see that as a side issue and not directly related to the core AFW position, which is simply to deny that free will exists because our decisions are ultimately determined by events outside our control. Attitudes to the ontological or causal status of the mind (as opposed to brain) are strictly orthogonal.

    > Yes, but that would be (at the very least) a true scotsman fallacy on their part.

    Well, no, that’s not quite No True Scotsman. No True Scotsman is being presented with an example to refute your claim, and then excluding the example for spurious reasons. If there is a fallacy here, it is some other kind.

    But whether there is a fallacy is questionable and depends on how you understand the phrase “free will”. For AFW, free will is just the traditional and common sense (yet incoherent) concept of LFW and doesn’t exist. For CFW, “free will” picks out a set of circumstances we intuitively recognise (e.g. not being coerced or mentally incapacitated in some sense). The point of AFW is to deny that LFW exists. The point of CFW is to provide an alternative account. The two schools of thought see each other as antagonistic to each other’s goals, and not without reason.

    To borrow an analogy from Dennett, free will is a bit like magic (especially if a lot of people believe in magic). The AFW camp thinks it is important to educate the public on the non-existence of magic. The CFW objects that of course magic exists, otherwise what is it that David Copperfield has made such a successful career of? CFW’s goal is then to explain how it is that David Copperfield does what he does and make it compatible with naturalism, which is exasperating to AFW who deny that that is real magic at all. The reply from CFW is that real magic is surely the magic that exists rather than the kind that doesn’t.

    So, to AFW, CFW are shifting the goalposts or explaining something that is not quite free will (as understood by AFW). That’s not an obvious fallacy (as the magic analogy demonstrates). Whether it is reasonable depends only on what the most reasonable definition of free will is deemed to be.

    > what exactly is going on between the likes of Dennet, Coyne, and Harris?

    Well, I agree that this is more than a language disagreement. It is a disagreement on an approach to the problem and an antagonism rooted in what they each see as the other camp confusing the issue and unhelpfully undermining their position, creating confusion in the general public. It is especially clear in the Harris vs Dennett debate that they have no disagreement on what is actually happening when a brain decides, and Harris himself recognises this.

    Harris: We agree about so many things, in fact, that at one point you brand me “a compatibilist in everything but name.”

    According to Harris, his disagreement with Dennett is twofold, first (the one I highlight) whether what Dennett is talking about is really “free will”, and second, on whether determinism has any implications for moral responsibility, which Harris says it does (and I agree) — it doesn’t invalidate moral responsibility altogether, but it does undercut any justification for retribution or hatred.


  29. Good points, Bill. I was saying much the same earlier. There is perfectly good account of freewill given in mysticism but it makes no headway against the folk-view that prevails elsewhere. The trick would be to see that freewill and determinism are two ways of looking at the same phenomenon. This solution is predictably ignored elsewhere, where it is the problem that is perennial rather than the solution.


  30. Dwayne – Thanks for the reply. You say…

    “Hi Peter, I definitely wasn’t trying to argue that neuroscience is the key to answering metaphysical questions. The first section doesn’t deal with neuroscience at all, and the second uses evidence from neuroscience to show its limits in trying to refute metaphysical entities. Admittedly there are a lot of references to neuroscience, but the main goal of the essay is to undercut AFW/FWS arguments against CFW conceptions of free will. That means it is focused on a debate between two sides which already accept materialism/naturalism. It seems clear that if both sides agree they are only dealing with a physical brain, evidence from neuroscience becomes relevant.”

    This was my objection, that you’re discussing ideas that don’t work in metaphysics on the basis that that some people think they would work in neuroscience. I was objecting to other ideas being ignored.

    …”That said, I do have a footnote discussing what evidence from neuroscience makes it hard for me to accept disembodied minds and so LFW. That does not dismiss other forms of argument on the topic. Perhaps I am wrong, but I believe that philosophy should use all available evidence to construct arguments one way or another.”

    Yes, philosophy. Not neuroscience. The idea that neuroscience can solve the freewill problem is a non-starter. It is a metaphysical problem requiring no more than an armchair and a lot of thought.


  31. To: SciSal(Jan26 11:59am)
    I use a Comment, and NOT a “Reply”, to the above to raise a problem.

    Had I sent this as a Reply, it appears on the web-site in its “correct” place under SciSal’s. Yet the email generated to “sub’s” would show no indication of its actual published position and the only way to find it is by scrolling until you spot it.

    I have suggested once before the numbering of Comments and Massimo regretted that the site did not enable this. If this still applies may I alternatively suggest: could the “Reply” option be deleted and each “Comment” be published in *chronological* order, beginning with a header such as I’ve used for this Comment, which quoted a Name and *the “Time”* to indicate its “target”.
    Each comment (and each sub-comment where more than one occurs) should start with headers as appropriate identifiers -reference “hooks”: e.g. “To OP”(date not reqd.), “To Dwayne(Jan 27 xx.yypm)”, etc., etc.

    It would also more simulate the interesting *flow* of arguments that happens in a physical Discussion Group where speakers take turns to “pontificate” making reference back to previous speakers as required.


  32. mogguy, I’m publishing this comment because it is of general interest, though not pertinent to just this thread. I have tried the solution you suggest (minus the “header,” which I’m not going to add manually, of course). It doesn’t seem to work well. The two-level commenting seems to me the best compromise, as it is possible for users to either respond directly to a sub-flow or comment on the general flow of the discussion. Yes, it is useful to be specific about who you are responding to, as I usually do. But the current system is the best available under the limitations of the platform.


  33. This is in reply to issues mentioned by Robin Herbert, Wm.Burgess(thanks for the compliments!), ejwinner, Coel,SchlaflyPhilip, and Marko… hope I didn’t miss anyone (and in case I forgot to thank Alexander earlier, thanks! I’m glad you liked the essay).

    On deterministic systems/nondeterministic systems:

    I agree with the open question, posed by Robin, of when the point of impossibility in a decision is reached. From my own perspective, I’d suggest that for behavior it may become a physical impossibility once all neural “gates” which could cancel an action command have been passed through. So once the action potential is racing down the right motor neuron(s) and say the finger will by all physical laws move, regardless of your change in mind. That decision is out of the box and has been made. That is not of course to say it is impossible to be regretting that decision before the finger actually moves.

    Purely mental decisions (for example what do I think about X) are something more complicated. In fact that would always seem to be a moving target. In any instance it may (stressing may) be impossible to hold more than one decision like that at any moment. As we have seen decisions can be compartmentalized and so contrary opinions held (split brain patients being theist and atheist depending on which side is answering). But when were any of these points 100% determined? Open question.

    I want to make clear that I’m not claiming that only deterministic mechanisms can do something useful. But without some level of deterministic ‘underpinnings’, it is hard to see how there would be any longterm stability of a system. Some nondeterminism is useful for introducing novelty, with certain evolutionary mechanisms being an arguable example. But evolution certainly is working with stably deterministic systems.

    I am also not claiming that quantum indeterminacy as Marko and Philip initially introduced as an element of FW is wrong. But I am skeptical. Part may be from incorrect views of the nature of randomness/unpredicatability so I am interested in more information on that issue. However my larger concerns are related to three points…

    1) What is the model by which the initial effect gets amplified within a neural cell, and from there to a full network? While I get Schlafly’s point that it can be useful in circuits (which are designed to use these effects), it is not clear at all that individual cells are/can be sensitive to such effects. These are buffered systems with many elements. It is inaccurate to compare the on/off firing of circuits to a neuronal action potential which involves many more components. That is before we get to the single neuron’s effect on a network. It is not simple enough to claim that it would ramp up over a network, when there are inhibitory signals and dampening effects requiring ‘significant’ thresholds being crossed. System stability usually involves ignoring single outliers (even single cell organisms can use quorum sensing). Wouldn’t a quantum effect at best create a neuron acting as an outlier?

    2) How is that effect localized to only produce novel choices of action? The location of such events are themselves ‘random’, right? If not, how are they organized/specified? If the locations are random then their effects are not just regarding choice but any information. It also means information going to, coming from, and traveling about the brain. This would create hindrances to consistent operation. I suppose it could be argued that only the alterations related to novel choice are the type to become part of permanent networks, but that is not clear.

    This last point answers Robin’s question of why would the brain need to eliminate (I’d restate as dampen or moderate) quantum non-determinism and yet develop a cell-level pseudo-nondeterministic (like that name) system. The latter can develop as a discrete structure(s) with specific ranges of effects.

    3) Robin’s question aside, there is no necessity to involve quantum indeterminacy. Coel’s response on the computational networking involved, provides sufficient resources for complex response, mimicking if not producing novel options.

    On desires
    I think it is useful to discuss desires within the concept of choice and free will. Again, in some quarters that constitutes an overriding of the self. It is what may ‘decide’ what button one will press, before you feel that the decision has been made. It eliminates choice. That seems to miss the concept that it helps drive novel option generation. It grows the range of choices.


  34. I would like to support mogguy’s request. I can’t always check in daily and would like to find newest comments at the end of the thread. Currently, if I don’t want to miss something, I have to check all the comments again just in case there is a comment-specific reply and that’s simply too time consuming.


  35. First, to EJ on the issue of desire. Per my one essay here, I’d file desire in that sense under psychological determinism.

    Second, and to start the meat of my comment, to WmBurgess and others on “spandrels.” A spandrel can be something which originally was an evolutionary “byproduct,” but later became found to have some value, and then got repackages. Chomsky described language as a spandrel.

    Sorry I wasn’t clearer on that. That said, this was an issue in original Gould-Dennett debates; Gould noted immediately that point. The key issue is that as long as some “byproduct” of an evolutionary adaptation does not have an immediate negative weight, it can “lie around” until … it has positive value.

    Third, a more scientific name for “confabulation” would be “retrospective construction.” And, it’s been talked about in discussion of Libet and the 30 years of post-Libet, but Libet-based, experiment in this area.

    Fourth, that point needs highlighting. If Libet really had that little to say, why would we have 30 years of neuroscience experiment based on this? Again, I note I reject “scientism,” but I do welcome where science can — and should — shed legitimate light on philosophical issues.

    As part of this, some post-Libet experiments have addressed the time to form a desire, among other things. Again, Libet’s original work was 30 years ago and a lot of work has been done since then. I’ve read books by Wegner, and others, on post-Libet work. No, I don’t agree with all of it, but again … it’s work that has developed off Libet’s work from 30 years ago.

    Fifth, Brodix, on the issue of ideas about volition being “driven” by the past, Martin Seligman has developed the idea of “prospection.”

    More here. Warning: Templeton Foundation alert! Warning 2: Martin Seligmann future fund-raising alert!

    More seriously, due in part to references to teleology, I find Seligmann’s ideas thin soup, though I can understand why Templeton would love them for the same reason.

    Also, to Brodix, Daniel Tippins and others: There is, of course, a difference between believing we have the ability to make choices and actually having that ability. Believing I have such an ability in no way guarantees I do; it is in no way itself free will.

    Finally, I’ve got more detail about all of this in a new blog post. Regular readers shouldn’t be surprised that I have named this my third “mu to free will vs determinism” post.


  36. To OP -quote “To view oneself and others as “meat puppets” (as some AFW advocates state we are) places the locus of control entirely outside the actors working in the world and so is unlikely to generate accurate simulations.”

    Meat puppets is a mis-description of humans: we do not dangle from strings. Highly-developed (evolved) meat robots is nearer, I suggest, and each one a unique sample: the important point being that even as Determined Actors we ARE the locus of control of our own actions. Everything that we do, even under the most extreme coercion, is entirely inspired within our own brain, consciously or unconsciously at work from essential blood circulation to supernatural beliefs. But they are all events directly resulting from (i.e. determined by) earlier events. Philosophy may call event Y, the Cause Y of event Z, and call that an Effect Z but Cause Y is effect Y from Cause W which was previously Effect W from Cause V.. with infinite regress -and there has been nothing uncaused (barring that you accept miracles) right back to the inscrutable, impossible-to-imagine First Cause.

    To Marvin Edwards (27Jan 7.42pm)
    quote 1: “And without you being free to choose the action it never would have happened.”

    Unconscious knee-jerk reactions are not free will actions or even consciously chosen but they happen nevertheless!
    quote 2: “The problem with trying to invalidate free will with determinism is that you end up invalidating will, and then yourself, by the same logic.”
    Determinism negates the “uncaused” element intrinsic to “free will” but it does not remove “choice” that is inseparable from sentient life which cannot always rely on an inbuilt knee-jerk (reflex, instinctive or emotive) response to select from several fairly equal alternatives open to it in a given set of circumstances.

    To PeterJ (28Jan 12.24) quote: “It (FW) is a metaphysical problem requiring no more than an armchair and a lot of thought.”

    Plus a whole lot of acquired data from your memory supplemented with other accessible relevant information: i.e. “causes”.


  37. Wm. Burgess,
    Philosophers within the Buddhist tradition have such a rich discussion of desire because, per the Second Noble Truth, desire unfolds into the human experience of life as disappointment, which we feel as suffering. Of course when controlled and redirected in an appropriate (and preferably detached) manner, desire can lead to pleasant experiences; but every suffering finds its origin in some desire.

    Our brains have developed a huge number of marvelous methods for obscuring disappointment, often to the point of denial. That warm, mellow glow after a meal, for instance, does it not cloud the body’s (at least possible) disappointment that the meal is over? Do not those who eat gluttonously, well past the point of satiation, provide us with evidence for this disappointment, is not their urge to eat pushing them to satisfy it, no matter what? (Of course there are complex psychological factors involved, this is but a trace outline of the issue.) But the resolution here seems obvious – to eat mindfully; that is, consciously enjoy what you have, be grateful that you have it, let go of it when its gone. Less, eating, less mellow afterglow, less disappointment, less suffering.

    Does this require greater agency? No. It requires training, habituation. There is a moment’s insight when one realizes that such a path leads to less suffering, but eventually it’s a matter of habituating the same response to the same stimuli, while maintaining a mindful openness to the vagaries of contingency and chance.

    (By the way, that’s not so esoteric as it sounds – William James said as much only a hundred or so ago. I prefer the Buddhist approach because it is more deeply rooted and more complexly developed.)


  38. This is in reply to issues mentioned by Philonous13, Daniel Tippens, and David Ottlinger. Perhaps there is something instructive to be had for all of us in this…

    Obviously, after the replies by the above mentioned authors I would seriously rewrite the introduction and FW definitions to avoid the confusion (and apparently stepped on toes) my intro caused. I also regret using sloppy language when describing ‘scientific dualism’, since it led some to think I meant some common substance dualist concept. This has resulted in a digression from the kind of discussion/feedback I hoped to have with other academics.

    In my defense, the confusion I caused seems primarily limited to academics (and primarily philosophers). It has otherwise been well received and I think some of the confusion might represent a disconnect between academics and how FW is being discussed on ‘main street’.

    The site’s subtitle is “from the ivory tower to main street”. While there are many concepts discussed by academic philosophers (APs) on this topic, most of those variants are not held or discussed on main street (which if polling is right is largely theologically inclined dualist). And what passes as messages from academics to main street recently has arguably been the forms of FW which I gave. This is in fact what motivated me to write an essay from an academic to main street, on a specific issue that is ‘hot’ right now and using terminology most related to that debate.

    While APs can dismiss the likes of Coyne et al. or theologians as not being academic philosophers well versed on free will, they are the ones that appear to be dominating public discourse on this topic as if experts. They have (on main street) a lot of adherents.

    Thus the claim that no one holds or uses the definitions I used seems errant, limiting ‘existence’ to a select group which I was not directly addressing in the essay. I may be faulted for not making my targets and definitions more clear for academics who are used to wider ranging discussions with greater variations in concepts, but I am surprised with the absolute nature of dismissive commentary suggesting a lack of understanding my targets (and concepts) exist at all.

    First, neuroscientists. Harris (whether you hate him as a philosopher or not) is a neuroscientist. His book on the subject of free will pretty well uses the definitions I give (except for his inability to articulate CFW). His book contains references to other neuroscientists whose research (along the lines of Libet, another one) use similar working definitions when discussing the implications of their work. In my local area is Victor Lamme, who not only wrote a book titled “Free will does not exist” (which describes the conscious mind as a mere spectator) he runs a (successful) neuroscience company based on that concept. While many neuroscientists I know don’t care about the topic, or view it as largely a semantic issue, there are clearly vocal neuroscientists arguing exactly what I described.

    Second, philosophers. Daniel Dennett is a philosopher who (correct me if I’m wrong) has been engaged with Harris rather publicly on basically the same topic I was addressing. He has also recently recommended a book by another philosopher taking neuroscience studies (like Libet) to task for coming to the conclusions I discuss.

    To take things further to main street (to indicate why this discussion is important), we just had a popular author publish an essay here (whose work delves into the AFW position I described) discussing the potential for post-intentional futures.

    And I included a link to a recent cartoon produced by the BBC on the ‘History of Ideas.’ Outside of concerns DM has whether it is ‘fair’ to call Coyne’s position ‘scientific dualism’, the three FW positions I addressed can be found in that video. Are any of the variations portrayed to me as the only ones existing shown there?

    I posit that all these people above exist, and that they have lots of followers. This seems to be the fight taking place on main street. That is why my essay was designed primarily for the main street, not the ivory tower, in support of efforts like Dennett’s to stem the rising tide of poorly held concepts and misuse of neuroscience data.

    So I think the level of criticism on this aspect of my essay, with suggestions I was cherry-picking easy targets, or defining away hard ones is unwarranted.

    I would be more than happy to discuss alternative FW theories, as I already have been with Marko. That is especially true if (with these others safely discarded) someone has an argument for a more reasonable concept of FW than the CFW concept I argued for.

    Note: I will deal with Daniel’s criticism of my arguments in another post.


  39. This article shows how big mess this issue is, totally off track. It should be divided into three cases.

    C1, is there an ultimate will? If yes, is it free?

    C2, is ‘Physics” a will? If yes, is it free? [Note: this depends on the definition of “Will”, and how that will can be expressed in physics.]

    C3, is life having will? If yes, is it free?

    For free will to be a genuine issue, these three cases must be unified in their essence. However, they are different on the superficial level.

    When a life is boxed up (with predetermined fate or else), can it defiant that box (fate)? If the answer is yes, then it has ‘free will’. If the answer is ‘always’ yes for all lives (humans or cockroaches), then the free will is a faculty of Life. Life can face two ultimate boxes.

    B1, it faces death. If a life is fighting that deadly force with all its “Might”, it has a free will regardless of the outcome (success or failure). This Might is called ‘will to live’ by Schopenhauer. This Might is free by definition, defiant the external oppression. [Note: if this type of free will is real, the “Nature Selection” becomes total nonsense. I will discuss this later.]

    B2, it faces …, but not deadly. Can it (a life) reject this box? If it can always reject this box (whatever that is), it has free will. Yes, life can always reject all boxes with suicide. Life is definitely having this type of free will.

    Is there an ultimate free will? How to define it?
    The ultimate will (if any) can be free only if it cannot be interfered by any means; that is, the immutability. The arguments that any ultimate will cannot be free is wrong. This issue can be divided into two questions.
    Q1, is immutability a Reality?
    Q2, if it is real, does it have any relevancy to the mutable universe?

    The answers for these two questions are two big yes, but I will discuss these later.

    Then, is Physics having free will?
    This is really related to the ultimate will issue but with different expressions. Physics on the one side is immutable as laws. On the other side, it governs a mutable universe. However, this issue can be divided into two parts.
    P1, what is free in physics? A ‘free’ particle is a particle free from the interference from any ‘external’ force (see, ).

    P2, what is will in physics?
    Will = Consciousness + Intelligence

    Then, can both Consciousness and Intelligence be defined in physics? See, .

    The “intelligent decision” can play a PART in the execution of free will but is not a part of its definition. Free will is the ability (faculty) of defiant (or to expel) all external forces. Then, what {he awareness and the automatic responses} got to do with the free-will issue?


  40. Dwayne, the objections are not just from academic philosophers.

    You say that you consider AFW a form of “scientific dualism.” With quotation marks. Now you say that you were using Harris’s definition. Were you quoting him with “scientific dualism.” How does your definition relate to his?

    It might have been useful if you, as a neuroscientist, focused on what other neuroscientists like Harris say. Instead you mainly endorse CFW based on dualistic straw man versions of the other views.


  41. Hi DM, okay we can set aside the issue of mind (v brain) as a separate and not important part of the primary definition/discussion. It is true that if an AFW proponent did not have such a functional distinction between the two, I would still have issues with the position (only my wording would be different).

    But (just for information) I will leave you with an example from Massimo’s own blog. He had interviewed Coyne for rationally speaking ( While some comments already suggest it, one of his last makes it pretty explicit.:

    “[we need to contemplate] the notion that things like consciousness, free choice, and even the idea of ‘me’ are but convincing illusions fashioned by natural selection …  With that under our belts, we can go about building a kinder world.”

    Also, the cartoon I linked to showed Coyne suggesting this (feeling of choosing is a report of what the brain did), but intriguingly when I went to check I noticed another link at BBC to an audio program on free will. While not Coyne it has a neuroscientist explaining conscious components to decision making as not happening (attn:philonous13 here is another link where you can hear a current neuroscientist and a philosopher in opposition using the same concepts I discussed):
    (the neuroscientist’s direct comments are about 4min in).

    “The point of AFW is to deny that LFW exists. The point of CFW is to provide an alternative account.”

    Let’s leave aside an argument on what kind of fallacy it is (or isn’t). I don’t necessarily agree with your assessment of actions here. There are/were several conceptualizations of free will. Both AFW and CFW deny LFW exists. The “point” of CFW is not to provide an alternative, it simply is a completely different concept.

    It is odd for someone to look at several concepts, rule one out and then claim the rest (since they also discuss the same subject) are trying to “provide” an alternative to the first. Why wasn’t the one removed attempting to provide an alternative (now cancelled) for the one remaining?

    I like your example with Dennett and magic, but again I think it is a bit off to make out that CFW says of course magic exists. That is to use the fact that there are similar sounding words to mask the definitional differences. AFW says that magic(1) does not exist. CFW says that magic(1) never existed, but that magic(2) always has.

    In fact your example might be a bit ironic. I was thinking of using Dennett’s magic analogy regarding this concept of ‘real’ or ‘ultimate’ responsibility that keeps getting insisted on. What’s the only ‘real’ kind of responsibility, the kind that does not actually exist.

    “According to Harris, his disagreement with Dennett is twofold”

    You are incorrect on this assessment. You can look at Harris’s own site to see their dispute range beyond this (

    On the concept of the conscious mind, Dennet says:

    “Like many before him, Harris shrinks the me to a dimensionless point, “the witness” who is stuck in the Cartesian Theater awaiting the decisions made elsewhere. That is simply a bad theory of consciousness.

    [quoting Harris] “I, as the conscious witness of my experience, no more initiate events in my prefrontal cortex than I cause my heart to beat. (p. 9)”

    If this isn’t pure Cartesianism, I don’t know what it is. ”

    I could go further but I hope that is sufficient?


  42. Hi Dwyane,

    My concern about your choices of subject is that you appeared to be implying that you can dismiss libertarianism by dismissing dualism or the supernatural.

    But this is not so, there is no dependency from one concept to the other. I might equally imply that I could dismiss all non-libertarian positions by dismissing dualism and supernaturalism since so many of these are deterministic.

    So the amount of time spent on the concepts of dualism and the supernatural are, to my mind, completely irrelevant to the concept of libertarian free will. In addition you never really get to grips with libertarian free will itself in the article.

    I understand that your focus is to look at various ‘compatibilist’ positions, but then why mention those other subjects at all.

    (On the other hand, naturalistic libertarian free will might be considered a ‘compatibilist’ position. I am never quite sure what that term covers).

    Also, it would be refreshing if, when stating what it is that LFW proponents argue, you could give an idea of which LFW proponents have argued thus. I look in vain for anyone who argues that free will is the result of ‘magical energy beyond time and space’. It would be nice to hear the opposing view put in the opponent’s own words.


  43. Hi Daniel, first let me say that I really appreciate your feedback and much of your last two replies are exactly the kind of exchange I wanted from academics.

    On the question of novelty. I should have placed this in the previous reply to you, Philonous and David. Given that I was writing an essay on a debate happening on ‘main street’, the goal was not primarily to present novelty and especially not something that would be wholly novel to academic philosophers. So the complaint rang strange to me. And to riff on your earlier message to me, just because something isn’t novel doesn’t mean it can’t be interesting.

    That said, I thought I had introduced a couple of novel elements to arguments throughout even if not overall arguments. The ‘god’ take-down of ‘real’ responsibility might have been a novel argument in itself (I thought it was), but I can’t be sure someone else hadn’t brought it up prior to me.

    You are correct that the “increased capacity for generating choices creates a practical free will” can be found in Dennett, though I’d suggest it could probably be found earlier than him.

    Yes, I thought one of my novel elements was to bolster the above concept with a discussion of the locus of control.

    On your first issue (creativity v imagination). Given limited responses (for you) I will not argue that creativity (in the sense you mean) can add any practical degrees of freedom. I do believe it helps (and so counts), but agree that imagination is the stronger and more important aspect/force. I was certainly attempting to argue a combination of the two. Your quadraplegic example is spot on. While writing my initial draft I started to discuss this kind of thing, but scrapped it to save space. In my essay you will still see “physical impairments, or dramatic historical events” listed as potential reducers of capacity towards FW.

    On your second (no reason given to believe it grants a meaningful sense of freedom). I would not have broken down the argument the way you did, but agree to some extent that a complete argument was not necessarily given (again space).

    Since this ties into the last issue (not sure what I mean by shift in locus of control) I will tackle them both at once.

    Let’s say object A is found to react to stimulus of some kind. If it is a single degree of freedom, then its basically push=move forward. And if it is always external stimuli leads to reaction then the locus of control is fully outside A.

    That B might have some added degrees of freedom allowing for more external stimuli to result in more reactions, does not shift the locus of control. It is a controlled or fully reactive thing.

    Adding some internal issue, let’s say C has uranium in it it that through a process of decay the object causes an action to the environment (production of heat). That could be said to push the locus of control in the system between environment and object toward the object, but rather infinitesimally compared to the potential effects coming from outside. And in any case, the activity is singular and repetitive without a goal for C.

    Now we jump to living organisms. They have many internal processes, and can move to obtain goals to sustain internal systems from normal processes of decay. While this activity can be quite complex even in small organisms, they are largely dependent on the environment for cues to what they should be doing/how to react. One could still ‘model’ them as agents with wills, but predominately predictable based on external cues to basic reactions.

    Now lets jump to living agents with the capacity for creativity and imagination. What this has done for the living agent is to create a system for generating not just novel responses to the environment, but goal seeking behavior entirely irrelevant to self-sustaining requirements within an environment. It can even seek to change the environment dramatically, or itself, for reasons that are not found in some necessary causal relationship between these two in that system. If modeling the system, the primary source of action will be the agent acting by itself on the environment (or itself). And the actions may be increasingly unpredictable when first seen by the modeler, but found to be ultimately goal oriented. In that system the locus of control has arguable shifted internal to the agent, especially as the agent can create an environment wholly dependent on their continued controlling agency.

    That is what I consider a meaningful sense of free will. In modeling the system, the capabilities of the agent (in creating its own purpose) forces one to treat the agent as the primary source of activity, which are ultimately for the agent’s benefit (pursuit of its own goals), and may involve increasingly novel actions toward that end.

    Your next to last paragraph seems to make a mistake in returning to an LFW/AFW account of FW to judge the validity of a CFW account. Yes you will find brain activity causing behavior and thought, in a generally deterministic way. The only relevant question is if that activity can produce (for the agent) sufficient behavior in the system of agent and environment, such that it becomes meaningful to consider the locus of control fully within the agent rather than its environment.

    And further (in contrast), treating the locus of control as outside such an agent, because the brain (inside the agent) works deterministically seems meaningless. It treats the brain of the agent as something separate from the agent (indeed, now a part of the environment).

    I hope this has strengthened the case I was trying to make.


  44. Hi Robin I was not trying to suggest all LFW accounts can be knocked out by refuting dualism, though this is often intertwined by AFW proponents citing Libet-like studies. You can see in my last response to philonous, daniel, and david that I admittedely should have been more clear in my intro to explain my targets, why they were chosen for the essay, and that they did not encompass all possibilities.

    The LFW account used can be found largely in Descartes, but more appropriately by many theologians. It is considered a generic template for libertarian free will by some current AFW proponents (like Harris).

    I am not claiming that is the best one. But is a common enough concept (routinely used as a target by AFW) and so what I was using. I didn’t go into it much because the main focus was the current debate between AFW and CFW accounts (not LFW).


  45. Hi Schlafly I said primarily, which means not all. I knew you were there.

    Actually the use of quotation marks appears to be a change from the article I sent to Massimo, He makes editorial changes and he appears to have switched my single marks to full quotations marks. My assumption is that he treats them all as ‘scare quotes’. So no, I was using the term myself. And nowhere did I claim that Harris used that term.

    What I have said is that Harris uses that concept of AFW I outlined (which I consider ‘scientific dualism’). If you look to my last post to DM, you will find a quote from Dennett regarding Harris’s free will beliefs as “Cartesianism” (that is a quote). So I don’t think I’m totally off base with my opinion and label.

    I will refer you also to my last post to DM for links to both neuroscientists and philosophers using the “dualistic strawmen” you ascribe to me. In another reply I mentioned Lamme and all the neuroscientists quoted by Harris in his book.

    It’s funny that I keep finding people using these concepts so easily, while being told how nonexistent it is.

    Of course I realize there are other concepts, and have admitted (in my last reply to philonous, daniel and david) that I could have (and should have) done a better job explaining that it was a subset, and why I chose them (for clarity to academics and anyone else who might understand this debate at a higher level).

    As I mentioned to Philonous I am interested in hearing any variation which has a better (more useful) conception of FW than the CFW account I gave.


  46. Right now I am thinking that there is no substantive difference between CFW and LFW. I think someone cannot actually believe a concept that they can’t understand and articulate. I’ve never heard anyone articulate an LFW position that didn’t end up being a form of CFW, nor do I think anyone can.

    I’m thinking the real substantive difference is between AFW’s & FWS’s on one hand and CFW’s on the other. I’m thinking the difference can be clearly articulated this way.
    AFW’s know we can be aware that our choices are determined but this awareness has no effect on how they are determined.
    CFW’s know we can be aware that our choices are determined but hold that this awareness becomes a very significant determinant in itself.

    So free will is the belief that simple awareness THAT choices are determined, but also WHAT determines our choices can alter choices we’d otherwise make.
    Let’s call this ability to alter choices through awareness: AGENCY

    CFW’s recognize that human behavior can be determined by ideas. So the idea that a person has agency can actually create more agency. This is called ‘moral responsibility’. When AFW’s tell people they don’t have agency–this idea creates less agency since the person who holds to the idea believes that their awareness of what determines them cannot alter anything at all.

    CFW’s recognize that ideas can be communicated (education) in various degrees of effectiveness. So, ‘moral anger’ or indignation is a highly effective form of communication which educates people that greater awareness (agency) on their part can make a real difference in their lives. Meanwhile AFW advocates think such means of education is just being a big meanie and serves no other purpose than to be a big meanie.

    CFW’s recognize the role of guilt/remorse. It is recognition that, through greater awareness/agency, one can change one’s future behavior going forward–and more importantly, the more deeply felt the awareness that this has always been the case, ( in particular, before one made the mistake one is guilty over,) the greater the increase in one’s probability of altering one’s future behavior.
    AFW’s can’t understand the purpose of guilt because they deny that awareness affects anything.

    CFW’s recognize the role of forgiveness. It is recognition that no one has perfect awareness and agency at all times —combined with recognition that failure in any particular instance could have been avoided through greater awareness. It is recognition that a person experiences being forgiven only to the degree that they feel guilt, and that this wonderful experience can be greater inspiration for greater agency in the future.
    AFW’s again, seem to have no basis for understanding their own emotional experience of truly forgiving someone who has hurt them or of being forgiven. This wonderful experience could never happen if not for the condition (moral anger) that they think is unkind and unjustified and the felt guilt (their own or others) that they think is unjustified and pointless.


  47. This is very fast-paced discussion, it’s hard to keep up. If I missed to respond to anyone, don’t take it personally… 🙂


    if you figure out the number of different configurations that a 10^14-synapse brain could be in, it’s such a vast number that one really doesn’t need any other source of novelty.

    There are two issues here. First, on epistemological grounds, I agree with you that the number of degrees of freedom in the brain is arguably large enough to introduce enough novelty that one does not necessarily need a nondeterministic source for CFW. However, a nondeterministic source is already there (whether FW needs it or not) and can arguably have large impact on the functioning of the brain. So I think nondeterminism should not be ignored when discussing FW, as is often done. This was one of my questions to Quentin from the beginning.

    Second, on ontological grounds, full-blown determinism would imply that all our actions are just a playback of a predetermined movie (to use the movie analogy for determinism), and that we have FW as much as your favourite hero on a DVD disc has FW — that is, none. This is one of the main arguments of AFW. But the fact that nature is fundamentally nondeterministic eliminates this argument. In this analysis, the number of synapses in the brain is irrelevant, the issue is about the (non)existence of determinism in Nature.

    you want to invoke quantum non-determinacy in order to explain human brains, but don’t want to invoke it to explain the second law of thermodynamics.

    The second law of thermodynamics is a *restriction* on the behavior of a physical system (certain initial conditions are forbidden by it). The free will of the human brain is the *freedom* (i.e. absence of restriction) of behavior of a physical system (a brain). Nondeterminism is all about fast-growing error-bars, and can only eliminate restrictions, never impose them. So nondeterminism is fully in line with the lack of deterministic behavior of the brain. The second law, on the other hand, can be said to hold *despite* nondeterminism, not because of it. 🙂


    Why would somebody who rejects determinism, because otherwise they’d feel like a soulless machine ticking along, and who sensibly doesn’t consider random behaviour to be free will, because it clearly doesn’t actually involve any will, be comforted by a mixture of determinism and randomness?

    According to the two-stage model of free will — when faced with a decision-making situation, the following happens in the brain: first comes the nondeterministic seeding of ideas expressing which decisions can be made and what are arguments for and against those; second comes deterministic deliberation (simulations of various scenarios, in Dwayne’s terminology) which is based on the inputs from the first stage (this is crucial), and the best course of action is evaluated and determined as a preferable *choice*. In short, the choice is deliberated based on nondeterministic imagination.

    As a thought experiment, imagine two completely identical brains (down to molecular level), in an identical state, presented with the identical question. Generating ideas is nondeterministic, partially independent of the state of the brain, and thus different for two identical brains. Faced with different ideas, the two brains deliberate using the same deterministic techniques on two different seeds of ideas, and reach different choices. That is both “free” (since the initial state of the brain does not determine the outcome), and “will” (since deliberation was used to determine the best outcome).

    When comparing each others final choices (and possibly deliberation trains-of-thought), one of the two brains is typically going to have a “gee, that never crossed my mind”-moment. So the will of the two brains is deterministic (it was *me* who made a choice) but the initial data on which this choice is based is free (I can hope to make a choice different from anyone else — my very own free choice, despite everything else being equal with the other guy, including the brain structure).


    I have to say I would disagree that (even if I accept nondeterminism as useful for free will) that it results in LFW. Both of those posters rightly (to my mind) have posited its potential as being part of CFW in the scheme I proposed.

    This is arguably a matter of terminology distinction between LFW and CFW. But if we roughly agree on the terminology, my argument is that presence of nondeterminism implies that LFW and CFW are operationally impossible to distinguish. Namely, one cannot distinguish whether nondeterministic component has an “other-worldly source” which “drives the randomness” in the brain (call it mind, soul, whatever), or that the nondeterministic component is just a property of the physical laws depending on an uncomputable function. The physics of the brain is the same, while the metaphysical interpretation of uncomputability is different. Since this type of metaphysics is essentially a matter of taste, one can argue that LFW and CFW are basically two points of view for the same phenomenon. That’s why I argued that the two-stage model is somewhere “in between” CFW and LFW.

    What one cannot say is that AFW can eliminate LFW (it would if the world were deterministic, but it isn’t), and that CFW can eliminate LFW (because the difference is only metaphysical, untestable, vanilla-or-chocolate type of thing).

    On to your three questions:

    1) What is the model by which the initial effect gets amplified within a neural cell, and from there to a full network?

    I am not familiar with the details of the brain physiology, so I cannot answer in detail. But the mechanism for amplification is quite generic, arguably ubiquitous in nature, so I expect it to be present in the brain as well, to some degree. As a naive example, imagine a sphere sitting precisely on the top of a symmetric hill (in an unstable equilibrium). Any quantum microscopically-sized uncertainty in its postion (which invariably exists) will make the ball roll down the one or the other side of the hill, amplifying this quantum uncertainty to macroscopic sizes. In chaos theory, this is called a “bifurcation point”. Moreover, there is a theorem in chaos theory that virtually any nonlinear (i.e. highly interacting) physical system is bound to reach such an unstable equilibrium every now and then (even a pendulum, let alone a brain). How fast this will happen is quantified with the Lyapunov time, which is dependent on the details of interactions in the system, and can be widely different for various physical systems (ranging from a fraction of a second to 50 million years, so to say). As for a typical human brain, I have no idea on a value, except that electro-chemical reactions in general have a fraction-of-a second range Lyapunov time. The gross design of the brain may slow this down considerably, or not, I wouldn’t know.

    2) How is that effect localized to only produce novel choices of action? The location of such events are themselves ‘random’, right? If not, how are they organized/specified?

    The word “random” in QM is very loaded — it doesn’t mean “disorganized”, it means “uncomputable”. An uncomputable function can display a highly organized behavior, or not. We cannot say, because it is not computable (also see this). By the way, a metaphysical LFW argument could be that the uncomputable data comes from an “other-worldly mind”, capable of organizing its influence on the brain particles in a sophisticated way. The issue is that there cannot be any evidence for this, except for that mind to force the brain into saying “Hi there, yes I exist!”. And even then one cannot be sure if it is the mind or the brain speaking. It is highly implausible that LFW and CFW can be experimentally disentangled in this sense.

    3) Robin’s question aside, there is no necessity to involve quantum indeterminacy. Coel’s response on the computational networking involved, provides sufficient resources for complex response, mimicking if not producing novel options.

    See my response to Coel above. I agree with him regarding the resource availability, but indeterminism is there whether we like it or not, so it should not be ignored either way.


    I’ll switch the format to a single comments thread.

    I second this choice! A branchless linear chronological discussion is easier to follow through, in my opinion. 🙂


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