Free Will, the Basics

71wZXjIRXLLby Massimo Pigliucci

[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…]

Sometimes it’s good, or even necessary, to go back to the basics. This is true of all complex and/or confusing issues, and free will certainly qualifies. Scientia Salon has published a number of essays on free will before [1], and this special “free will week” has begun with a vigorous, neurobiologically based defense of compatibilism and will end (in a couple of days) with a provocative, high-tech, apology for libertarianism!

Yet, underlying all current discussions about the topic is a large and sophisticated philosophical literature on free will, spanning centuries of writings and much more than the three basic positions (incompatibilism, compatibilism, and libertarianism) usually considered in lay summaries. Meghan Griffith’s Free Will: the Basics [2] is a splendid companion for anyone who is either dipping their toes into the debate for the first time, or has become sufficiently confused that they need to step back a little and re-examine the big picture.

The first thing to appreciate about Griffith’s book (other than its brevity!) is that it doesn’t seem to have an agenda. She is not attempting to convince her readers that a particular view on free will is obviously better than another, or that some approaches to the issues are so plain silly that it is hard to imagine why any rational person would even entertain them — contrary, it must be said, to a number of more or less obnoxious books and articles that have come to light recently.

Instead, most chapters follow the same standard outline: an introduction to a particular broad view on free will, followed by a discussion of a number of flavors within that broad view, then an explanation of how that view is supposed to solve the problem of free will, followed in turn by a consideration of objections raised against the view, a summary, and an invitation to further reading. This structure is similar to the one adopted in one of the books that most influenced my early development as a scientist and, later, as a philosopher: Alan Chalmers’ What is This Thing Called Science? [3], a tour de force in philosophy of science covering everything from induction to falsificationism, from paradigms shifts to research programs, from anarchist theories to Bayesian approaches. That’s the way to stimulate someone’s mind: provide them with the basic tools and let them do at the least some of the hard work.

Back to Griffith’s volume: it begins (chapter 2, after the Introduction) by tackling what the author calls “the compatibility issue,” that is the question of how it is possible to have free will within the context of a deterministic universe. In proper philosophical fashion, the chapter starts with a clarification of what “compatible” means, as people often confuse statements of compatibility with statements of factuality (two things can be compatible in principle, and yet only one, or neither, may actually be the case in practice). Griffith then moves to defining determinism, which implies a discussion of the (controversial) concept of laws of nature. Perhaps the most interesting part of this chapter consists in an attempt to separate determinism from causality: as the author says, “we do need to worry about a certain thesis that has often been confused with determinism. This is the thesis that ‘every event has a cause,’” since the two are not the same. More specifically, it is perfectly possible to maintain that determinism is false, but that universal causation holds (indeed, I find myself increasingly sympathetic to that particular position). Still within the same chapter, Griffith proceeds to untangle different conceptions of determinism, and finally begins to layout the territory by introducing the differences among compatibilism, “hard” incompatibilism and “libertarian” incompatibilism.

The next issue, of course, is the one that makes discussions of free will so much more than academic disquisitions: the question of moral responsibility (chapter 3). But, again, one cannot simply assume that we are all on the same page about what, exactly, it means to carry “moral responsibility” for one’s actions, and accordingly Griffith starts out by clarifying that particular but crucial preliminary. She introduces Strawson’s view that responsibility is linked to an agent being the appropriate target of certain attitudes; for instance, if you step on my toes by chance I will not (or should not!) blame you, but if you do it on purpose I am justified in remonstrating. Griffith then engages in a very clear discussion of the so-called Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP), the idea that a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise. Much hinges, especially for the compatibilist, on how exactly that “could” is cashed out, as the author explains at some length. This in turns leads to a crucial — and unfortunately little known outside of the technical literature — discussion of so-called “Frankfurt-style” counterexamples to the PAP, so named after philosopher Harry Frankfurt, perhaps best known to the general public for his marvelous booklet On Bullshit [4].

There are many variants of Frankfurt-style scenarios, which have of course been subjected to criticism and have accordingly been revised to take such criticism on board. Just to give you a flavor, however, the classic example runs something like this (summarizing Griffith): Kathy really wants to kill Virginia. Ned also wants to kill Virginia (we are not told why so many people want to bump off Virginia, but it’s irrelevant…). Ned figures that he can get away with murder by hacking into Kathy’s brain and implanting a switch that, when activated, will trigger a murderous action on Kathy’s part. Ned’s truly evil plan is to activate the switch only in the event that Kathy doesn’t go through with her own plan, as a fail safe, so to speak. Ned watches what Kathy does when in the presence of Virginia, is about to pull the switch, when in fact Kathy acts and kills Virginia. (I have always wondered why so many philosophical thought experiments are so gruesome, but that’s another story.) Now the question: is Kathy responsible for Virginia’s death? The idea is that we are inclined to say yes, because it was her decision. And yet, she couldn’t really avoid it, could she? Had she not acted, her brain, controlled by Ned, would have forced her to do it anyway. So we seem to have a counterexample to the PAP: someone who appears to be responsible for her actions even though she could not have done otherwise. Yes, yes, there are objections to Frankfurt-type scenarios, as I mentioned above, but also clever retorts. I will leave the reader — as Griffith so often says in the book — to work things out for herself.

From chapters 4 through 6 we are then treated to a survey of compatibilist (ch. 4), incompatibilist (ch. 5), and “other” (ch. 6) positions on free will. I will not go into any detail here, except for presenting what I hope will be a useful concept map of the major positions and sub-positions ably discussed by Griffith:

free will

It is, I think, instructive — and hopefully even a bit humbling — to contemplate just how many possible stances one can more or less sensibly defend concerning the question of free will.

The next to the last chapter (n. 7), before some concluding thoughts, deals with the issue that I’m sure has been on the minds of most readers for the past several minutes: what about science? Griffith begins by clearly stating that of course science is relevant to the problem at hand, just as it is relevant to any philosophical question that is not purely detached from the actual world (like, say, some discussions in modal logic). This, however, does not mean that the issue can or should be simply handed over to the scientists, contra much ink needlessly spilled recently by a number of authors with a clear scientistic leaning.

The first sciency topic is, of course, determinism, and therefore fundamental physics, and therefore quantum mechanics, even though it ought to be clear to any sophisticated reader of the free will controversies that actually determinism has comparatively little to do with the issue. A related but more interesting discussion concerns whether and to what extent quantum phenomena percolate up to the macroscopic level sufficiently to actually influence the way the brain works, thus providing part of the mechanism for free will. Griffith tackles this general topic, and even specific studies, such as one allegedly showing the existence of indeterministic processes underlying the behavior of fruit flies.

The author then moves to psychology, distinguishing psychological from nomological determinism, making the good point that psychological determinism (the idea that our behavior is determined by our psychological makeup) could be true even if nomological determinism is false, and thereby adding yet another layer of complexity to the discussion.

Next Griffith tackles the contribution of neuroscience, beginning with the well known (and much hyped, in my mind [5]) Libet experiments. Thankfully, she devotes a significant amount of space to Alfred Mele’s analysis of Libet’s experiments, which are among the most clear ones to show that Libet’s results, as interesting as they surely are, tell us pretty much nothing about free will.

Griffith also discusses the contention, advanced for instance by psychologist Daniel Wegner, that conscious will is an “illusion,” one of a number of recently popular (and, in my mind, a bit facile) “it’s all an illusion” positions. Again, Mele offers pertinent responses here, together with another philosopher, Eddy Nahmias. The two approach the issue differently: Mele describes a number of experiments that seem to show pretty convincingly that intentions do have causal efficacy; Nahmias raises what we might call the evolutionary conundrum: given how expensive, metabolically speaking, it is to maintain a brain apparatus that produces the “illusion” of consciousness, what, exactly, could justify such extravagance on the part of natural selection? A difficult question, made even more so by the fact that to this day we don’t really have good, empirically testable hypotheses to account for the evolution of consciousness.

Griffith concludes her book by acknowledging that the reader might be a bit confused after the fast paced whirlwind to which she has just exposed him. But that is okay, or indeed even part of the very point, since, as she puts it: “with philosophy, if you are not somewhat perplexed, you are probably not doing it right! It’s like physical training for fitness or sports. You need to feel some exertion in order to make progress. When doing philosophy, you need to break a mental sweat!” Or, as the Ninth Doctor put it (adapted from a different context): “The thing is, [philosophy / time travel] is like visiting Paris. You can’t just read the guide book. You’ve got to throw yourself in, eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers — or is that just me?” [6]

_____

Massimo Pigliucci is a biologist and philosopher at the City University of New York. His main interests are in the philosophy of science and pseudoscience. He is the editor-in-chief of Scientia Salon, and his latest book (co-edited with Maarten Boudry) is Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem (Chicago Press).

[1] Free will and psychological determinism, SciSal 21 October 2014; Free Will Skepticism and Its Implications: An Argument for Optimism, SciSal 22 December 2014 and 23 December 2014.

[2] Free Will: The Basics, by Meghan Griffith, Routledge, 2013.

[3] What Is This Thing Called Science? by Alan F. Chalmers, Hackett Publishing Company, 2013.

[4] On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt, Princeton University Press, 2005.

[5] See Choosing a compatibilist Free Will perspective, by Dwayne Holmes, Scientia Salon, 26 January 2015.

[6] The Long Game, Doctor Who: Season 1, Episode 7, 21 April 2006.

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81 thoughts on “Free Will, the Basics

  1. I think this is an excellent move: “we are beginning to publish book reviews and — forthcoming — interviews. Stay tuned.”

    Looking forward to it. As you know I’ve been following SciSal and its predecessor Rationally Speaking for many months and enjoy the commentary and replies, especially from the “regulars,” but perhaps some of it is becoming repetitive and stale.

    Thanks for your continued efforts to improve SciSal, Massimo.,

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  2. First thought: Quasi-Frankfurt thought experiments, of course, apply to discussions of consciousness. Does Griffith get into that very much?

    First thought, part two: Per the “guilt” issue, Frankfurt-type thought experiments of course approach Philippa Foot and the trolley problem. Does Griffith get into that very much?

    Second thought: On the quantum issue, is Griffith discussing thing that are then in the general vicinity of Penrose’s ideas in The Emperor’s New Mind and following works? (I’ve never found him close to convincing; if ideas like his need a “slapdown” still, fine; otherwise, I see them as half-dead sleeping dogs that can be let lie; indeed, I believe his most recent claims have already been swatted down.)

    Third thought: I’d like to hear more on your stance (which seems, to use broad labels, some subset within compatibilism) on this:

    More specifically, it is perfectly possible to maintain that determinism is false, but that universal causation holds (indeed, I find myself increasingly sympathetic to that particular position).

    At the same time, classical determinists, at least from my experience, will find her attempt to separate determinism and causality a no-go. Of course, many of said determinists, IMO, hold simplistic positions. It sounds interesting.

    Fourth thought: We’ll agree to disagree on Libet. That said, as I noted on Dwayne’s piece, does Griffith look in depth at the whole corpus of post-Libet experiments? Related: In the future, can we talk about something like “Libet-type experiments” or “Libet-class experiments” rather than “Libet experiments”? By “we,” it’s not just a rhetorical question for SciSal, but philosophical discussions of free will in general. I think it is a difference that makes a difference.

    Fourth thought: As I also noted on Dwayne’s piece, of course, free will may have originally been a spandrel that eventually showed itself to have adaptionist value. Ditto can be said for the idea of an illusion of free will, of course. Per “energy,” as long as it didn’t constitute a burden at the start …

    And, of course, we’re nowhere near advanced enough in knowledge of either neuroscience or ev psych to slice on either side of this issue with confidence.

    Specific to Wegner, whom I’ve read in depth, I don’t necessarily find him compelling, but I find his ideas stimulative as well as provocative, and certainly not something readily dismissible.

    So, from your review, Massimo, on my first, second and third thought areas, I’d probably find the book relatively interesting, and definitely in the third area; on my fourth and fifth thought areas, probably not.

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  3. If I may, I’d like to address our problem with Kathy. If Kathy kills Virginia, then the penalty should be based upon what is required to correct her future behavior and keep the rest of us safe.

    To “hold responsible” means to identify where correction needs to be applied. In this case, we have also uncovered Ned’s plot to force Kathy to kill Virginia (if she fails to do the deed of her own free will). So we have two crimes. Ned is guilty of at least attempted murder. Kathy is guilty of murder, having acted upon her own before Ned’s implant in her head was switched on.

    The context of what happens next is this: We previously agreed to respect and protect a right to life for each other. And, as Jefferson said, “to protect these rights governments are instituted among women” (UU version). So we constituted a state and nation, passed a law against murder (and conspiring to commit murder), created courts and jails, hired judges and police, etc. for that purpose.

    But back to the penalty. The point of a penalty is to (a) repair the harm (when feasible), (b) correct the offender (if possible), and (c) protect the rest of us by keeping the offender in jail until we are confident he or she will choose to behave differently next time.

    To be “just”, the penalty may do nothing more than that. If the penalty is more than what is necessary, then to that degree it is excessive and cannot unjustified.

    So our underlying problem is this: What penalty is sufficient to provide us reasonable assurance that Kathy will not present a threat to others?

    If she killed Virginia deliberately, of her own free will, then it is more difficult to correct her behavior than if she had killed Virginia by accident, or if she had been forced by Ned, against her will, to commit murder.

    If she killed someone against her own will, then it is unlikely that she will willingly kill again. If she killed deliberately, that is, after deliberating between following the law and respect Virginia’s right to live versus removing the inconvenience of Virginia from the scene, Then she may very well make the same choice again.

    To cause her to alter that choice the next time she deliberates whether to kill or not, she is given a severe penalty.

    Please note that both cause and effect (determinism) and free will (choosing without coercion) are simultaneously in play in these scenarios. Therefore there can be no conflict between them.

    We are causal agents, and our choices determine what becomes inevitable.

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  4. I read this partly as an exhortation to be more open and civil in the discussion, and that would indeed be nice; I can also readily agree that there may be “many possible stances one can more or less sensibly defend concerning the question of free will”. But as in many cases, while it may be hard to know what is true it is often easy to know that certain ideas are clearly wrong. And in the FW discussion, it grates to be constantly faced with incompatibilists who believe that compatibilists don’t accept determinism, or with libertarians who take the existence of a disembodied supernatural soul-mind for granted. Some things are simply demonstrably wrong.

    Towards the end this post contains some remarks on consciousness. That is an issue that I would like to see more discussion of, simply because I remain mystified that it is considered to be such a big thing. It would be nice to have a clear, non-question-begging definition that justifies sentences like “to this day we don’t really have good, empirically testable hypotheses to account for the evolution of consciousness”. Because to me, consciousness means simply information processing or, at the most narrow, information processing that includes information on the processor’s own place in the system they are processing information about. Under that definition, there is no mystery at all, and it seems to capture everything that humans are, do and experience.

    Those who think that consciousness is something really weird that is either still unexplained or can only be explained supernaturally appear to have some other definition, but it never seems to be spelled out clearly.

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  5. Sounds like a worthwhile read. Maybe I will finally find out what the compatibilist position is, or know what I have to read to find out.

    Regarding Libet, it is interesting that Libet himself did not think that his experiments contradicted free will. As for the whole genus of ‘free will’ type experiments that it spawned, well I sometimes think that people might not have read up on these too carefully. To my mind they get a pretty uncritical reception in general. But even if you ignore the problems and take them at face value they are still pretty underwhelming as evidence against free will.

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  6. I have been rather disinclined to comment on these free-will articles, because I have not found past discussions to be very illuminating. The various positions described as “the” positions all essentially commit the same error, though falling on different sides of it. The error is in thinking that in distinguishing voluntary from non-voluntary behavior, the relevant place to look is the internal states of the creature, preceding the behavior in question and the relevant question is as to the etiology of those internal states. This is exactly wrong. What distinguishes voluntary from non-voluntary is not some special cause, but rather, the fact that the former are those actions that are *interpretable* in a number of relevant ways and the latter are not.

    Part of what’s frustrating about this error and its ubiquity is that it was discussed at great length by Wittgenstein, in the Philosophical Investigations, as well as in Zettel and other assorted places. Indeed, it is Wittgenstein’s formulation of the issue that is most commonly used to begin virtually any discussion in action theory, so it is surprising that so few people seem to have paid attention to his discussion of it.

    His formulation is as follows:

    “Let us not forget this: when ‘I raise my arm’, my arm goes up.
    And the problem arises: what is left over if I subtract the fact that my
    arm goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?” PI, #621

    Wittgenstein’s discussion of this question is extended and somewhat interspersed with other considerations — such is the method of the Investigations — but the conclusion to which he arrives is quite clear. What distinguishes voluntary behavior from non-voluntary behavior is not a matter of the voluntary enjoying some special origin that distinguishes it from the non-voluntary. Rather, it is distinguished by (a) my inclination to describe my action under various sorts of intentional description — “I did what I set out to do” ; “I did what *I* wanted, not what *they* tried to make me do”; “No, it wasn’t an accident, I did it *on purpose*”; and the like (b) the inclination on the part of others to do so as well — “Did you see that *hostile* gesture?”; “What she did was a real act of kindness”; and the like.

    The question, of course, will arise: “Why am I/others inclined/disinclined to describe certain behaviors under these sorts of descriptions”? This is, of course, the sort of question that often gets us into trouble, in philosophy and in science: (1) because philosophers and scientists are predisposed to think there must be some answer or account (often incorrect); and (2) because their typical account involves seeking out a special antecedent of some kind, a very common, but dangerous red-herring that everyone then proceeds to chase down various irrelevant and useless rabbit holes — some of which involve appealing to a “free will”, others which drown us in a bunch of neurology, and even worse, invoke quantum mechanics (as if Heisenberg were going to tell us what it is about Junior’s throwing his spinach at the babysitter that makes it count as a tantrum). What makes the “antecedent state” approach dangerous is that every version of it leads to skepticism (arguments for which Wittgenstein also makes, but which space prohibits my rehearsing here.)

    Wittgenstein maintains that it is features of the *context* in which the behavior occurs that support / fail to support such descriptions, not its having some special origin (or not having one).

    “A child learns to walk, to crawl, to play. It does not learn to play voluntarily and
    involuntarily. But what makes its movements in play into voluntary movements? … Its
    character and its surroundings.” Zettel, #587.

    One can compile a list of these sorts of “surroundings” from Wittgenstein’s writing on the subject. The list is too long to post here, but is part of the following outstanding article on Wittgenstein’s theory of action:

    Michael Scott, Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Action. The Philosophical Quarterly
    Vol. 46, No. 184 (Jul., 1996), pp. 347-363.

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  7. “with philosophy, if you are not somewhat perplexed, you are probably not doing it right! It’s like physical training for fitness or sports. You need to feel some exertion in order to make progress. When doing philosophy, you need to break a mental sweat!”

    Seems to suggest that cognitive efforts (like physical efforts) have causal effects 🙂

    And if something is cognitively effort-full doesn’t that suggest it is the result of a conscious choice. Why would we do something unpleasant or effort-full (going against the principle of least action) if a more pleasant or easier choice were available in the moment?

    Could progress in understanding occur without free will?

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  8. Massimo,
    good book review; intrigues me enough to consider reading the book itself.
    My suspicion is that a lot of the frequent readers here are getting a little exhausted on this topic, and it’s easy to see why.

    As most people understand the topic, it should be fairly easy to determine a position and argue it directly: ‘See, I’ve moved my thumb – free will!’ ‘Neurons in the brain – no free will!’ And don’t we see some discussions that follow such simplistic lines of arguments? Yet the deeper we dig into the subject, the more complicated it gets, with positions branching off into increasing particularities requiring increasing precision.

    I suppose that’s one reason my sense is growing more and more that the issue that “makes discussions of free will so much more than academic disquisitions: the question of moral responsibility,” while informed by this discussion, cannot be decided by it or in any way dominated by it. The problem of moral responsibility, and related issues e.g. social justice, treatment of transgressors, etc, all need firmer ground, and reasoning that can be readily articulated in political and social contexts.

    SocraticGadfly,
    Recently overherd:
    Farmer John: “What do you think of Buddhist metaphysics?”
    Bessie (a cow): “Moo.”
    John: “Well, what do you think of the realism/anti-realism debate?”
    Bessie: “Moo.”
    John: “Okay, but how about the problem with free will?”
    Bessie: “Moo.”
    John: “Well, I was gonna ask what you thought about people eating more beef these days -”
    Bessie: “Now, don’t get me started!”
    (Meant with all good will!)

    There seem to be strong commitments to the various positions on the parts of those involved. Surely we should welcome any attempt at clarification that might also find common ground between many of the positions, which it sounds something Griffith may be attempting.

    Concerning the question of the relevance of the determinism/causality issue in physics: I am growing more persuaded that this is a red heifer*. While interesting in itself, whether or not sub-atomic particles function causally or deterministically – or not – doesn’t seem to have much relevance to the question of whether Katy kills Virginia or decides to go to bed with her instead. Consider the relevance of the following two sentences to each other:

    1. Combining hydrogen and oxygen makes water.
    2. Combining beer and salty peanuts via ingestion, John makes water (so there better be a restroom handy).

    I’m open to further reading and research on the matter; but my suspicion is that, after all the arguments exhaust themselves, we’ll find either some mistake of like nature – or some attempt at a holistic metaphysics functioning ideologically.
    —–

    * Originally ‘red herring;’ but see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_heifer: “The absolute rarity of the animal, combined with the detailed ritual in which it is used, have given the Red Heifer special status in Jewish tradition. It is cited as the prime example of a ḥok, or biblical law for which there is no apparent logic, and is therefore deemed of absolute Divine origin.”

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  9. I have to say, my sense of disconnect only grows stronger. Why are we presumed to lack will, if it is governed by causal influences????? If we had no will, we simply would not exist.
    We are the product of literally billions of years of evolution. That is a lot of causality. The basic philosophic assumption here seems to be that we are discrete entities in an otherwise impartial context and seek some degree of freedom from it, even if we can’t figure out how.
    The fact remains we are intimately ingrained into our context and are very much a reflection of it. We are both caused and cause. The fact there are strings attached seems to be considered a negative. Even puppets pull back on their strings, giving meaning and focus to the puppeteer.
    Yes, we have this sophomoric linear paradigm, currently going from a big bang to multiverses and all it really means is we like a concentrated source and the future is probabilistic, no matter how we cut it.
    Contrary to some current physical and philosophic theories, there is a large difference between what has happened and what might happen. It’s not possible to know the configuration of the universe at a given moment, even in theory. That’s why GR did away with simultaneity.
    There are feedback loops throughout reality and to the extent we are a product of the universe, we are a reflection of it. Yes, it’s new agey, but the fact the more we try to connect and relate to all that causality, the better we understand and identify with it. We don’t become Masters of the Universe by stealing value from our fellow earthlings and destroying the environment in order to do so, but by our ability to reflect and incorporate that universe into our sense of being. We are what defines us and ultimately that is the universe.
    As for morality, our ideals are not absolutes. Evolution is a bottom up process and the more complex life and society gets, the more cooperation is necessary. Those who assume their ideals are absolute are fundamentalists.
    Don’t just read books. Go outside and get some fresh air.

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  10. Free Will is a (Quantum) architectural process.

    “Free Will”? Is there Will that is not free? Can Will be chained, or, let’s say played with, amplified? Is Will getting leveraged, like anything else in this singularity-of-technology age? Well, yes, of course. Just look at Jihadists; their Will is getting leveraged… Through an amplification from institutionalized hatred, much of it from electrons circulating in the Internet.

    Free Will will, of course involve all of Quantum Physics. It is not a question of Penrose (he did not get that ball rolling either). Penrose believed the Quantum would show up as originating from pretty large scale objects (“micro-tubules”). That was very far fetched.

    All what is sure, and that’s enough, is that all molecular processes (including DNA) will see the evolution of their finer features Quantum controlled.

    The reasons for this are overwhelming. Significant new experiments are coming down the line on this (and potentially a $49 million grant!).

    Quantum Biology will dominate biology, within a few decades. Meanwhile, physicists had to take into account the fact that we may have no Free Will whatsoever, and thus have been condemned, in a Quantum Sisyphusian way, to repeat the Quantum Non-Locality experiments after excluding carefully all and any human being.

    Per the delocalized nature of Quantum Processes, we will get there a framework for consciousness corresponding the intuition we have of it.

    Then the real question becomes: how Free is a Will that emanates from Quantum Processes? Quantum Processes are delocalized, and entangled, throughout. They make an architecture. Free Will, thus, is not a point-wise effect, in the instant. It is going to be an architecture.

    Free Will was not built yesterday. And it was built from a world of inputs and entanglements. We are observers, experimenters, tinkerers and explorers of our own minds. We may be free in some ways, but not of the heavens, hells, and routines we have built onto ourselves, and been imprinted with.

    We can will Will, but we are not free to will a Will we freely willed.

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  11. Aravis,

    People being lesbians or civil rights activists in America is ‘interpretable’ as voluntarily exposing America to harm by terrorists by forcing God to withhold his protection.

    Interpretations can be wrong.

    When the Australian Prime Minister some years back told us all to pray rain to end the drought, I did not pray for rain and this could be ‘interpreted’ as me voluntarily prolonging the drought, I might even feel guilty about this if I subscribed to a certain viewpoint. If I felt guilty and then later decided that my prayers had nothing to do with the lack of rain then I would probably regard this as ‘coming to my senses’ rather than simply changing my interpretation. I would probably be right.

    Take Wittgenstein’s raised arm. Suppose I see my arm raise and I think to myself ‘now why the digamma is that happening?’ Now take the situation where I raise my arm because I decide to raise my arm. Now subtract the fact that my arm goes up from both and you do not have the same thing left over. You have, in one case, the decision to raise the arm and in the other the surprise that something unexpected is happening.

    You may express the opinion that the only thing that distinguishes the two cases is my inclination to describe one as voluntary but that does not fit the facts.

    Also, Wittgenstein’s claim that we do not usually try to raise our arms can be seen as nonsense if you have ever (as I have) tried to raise your arm and found it would not respond. In that case I have actually experienced the subtraction of the fact of the arm going up from the the fact of me raising my arm. I am now thinking “Why the digamma isn’t something happening?”.

    We don’t notice the ‘trying’ because the attempt usually succeeds.

    If I try again and it does not raise then I am no longer surprised and yet there is still something left when the fact that the arm goes up has been subtracted from me raising my arm.

    I suppose that I could interpret that there was no difference between the two cases (for example if I was one of those who hold that intention and consciousness are naught but illusions or ‘caricatures’) but I don’t buy that there is no fact of the matter about which interpretation was right.

    I still have that finger poised above my screen between “OK” and “Cancel”. I could interpret this as deciding between two possible courses of action, or I could interpret this as waiting to find out which action was inevitable all along. I don’t buy that there can be no fact of the matter about which interpretation is right.

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  12. Sci Sal – “Next Griffith tackles the contribution of neuroscience, beginning with the well known (and much hyped, in my mind [5]) Libet experiments. Thankfully, she devotes a significant amount of space to Alfred Mele’s analysis of Libet’s experiments, which are among the most clear ones to show that Libet’s results, as interesting as they surely are, tell us pretty much nothing about free will.”

    And that’s all she wrote. Unfortunately you didn’t tackle it yourself. I am still waiting for details why philosophers have no problem with Libet. Still no detail. But I have this to work with from the last thread –

    “John, nobody *ever* claimed that all decisions are conscious or mediated by consciousness, so Libet’s demonstration that some type of very simple, semi-automatic decision occurs before awareness says nothing whatsoever about free will.

    What ? Libet dealt with conscious decisions. You cannot have an unconscious “decision”. It requires awareness, by definition. You can have as many unconscious actions as may be, but not decisions. That is patently false and perhaps the reason for your muddle with Libet (or inability to specify beyong the notion of unconscious “decisions”!

    I will summarize for you, rather than wait for Dwayne of Sci sal’s books on it. Libet showed brain activity for a decision, prior to it. That’s all. And phiosophers are divided between Eagleman, Harris etc on one side who say it is significant, and others who say it is not. Most others say it is not significant because they expect there to be some brain activity before any state of awareness, whether it is conscious and decisive as in the Libet experiment, or whether it is “unconscious”. Brain activity should be there for a brain to create the experience, no problem.

    But what does that show? It is brain acivity unknown to the subject, below the level of conscious decision making. It precedes desicion making and it follows a smooth build up to a decision. Have a look at the graph in Libet, it builds smoothly to a descision, consistent with it. It is not likely to be unrelated. It is likely to lead to a decision if it is not aborted by an equally unknown but quicker build up in the brain (as Marvin Edwards said).

    I agree that one would expcet activity before any state of awareness, but that just means you have a Homunculus brain – a little man intact in your head building up to what the little man wants to decide. You are out of the picture. That build up has been shown in experiment after Libet to be outside the subject’s awareness until he suddenly “decides” – its been shown by Haggard and many other too. No doubt some “poise” in readiness might be involved, but if you ask the subject, they say they have no conscious awareness of readiness to move, they just moves when they decided to do it. “Readiness” is shown in brain activity, not behaviour or awarness prior to decision – that’s the experimental result.

    You can value a little man in the brainbuilding up his decision, but I don’t. What you have, with that argument, is “out of the frying pan and into the fire”. You are just duck-shoving, or buck-passing decisions to the brain itself as an intact “enitity”. Is that a good thing? Depends if a brain really is an independent Homunculus I suppose, and whether you have thought it through correctly to test that idea.

    You various pundits haven’t tested your Homunculus theory for better alternative, pure & simple. How about a functional anatomy as a whole, with neurons as its facility. that is proposed widely also. Psychology securely within biology, to facilitate biology, nothing more. No psychological Homunculus with the “trump hand” over biological actions & fucntions (which are various actions) – just an automatic facility of biological functions.
    This is staisfying, and oit doesn’t mess with terms like Swaye did in the last thread.

    Marvin Edwards is quite correct that neural activity IS the decision-state, but mind is not only that neural activity, because as Libet showed, it builds by some unknown (Homunculus) cause. That cause is a functional anatomy building and subsiding “its” functional interfaces with a world. Quite obvious really. Pshychology is entriely encased within biology to do no more than automatically represent it by “awareness”. No need to dodge the issue by messing with terms, or staying silent to avoid getting your terms wrong. Its very basic.

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  13. Might as well wrap up Free Will properly. The reason why we have a comprehensive range of choices as we stand at the top of the stairs to yodel in the morning, is because we have a comprehensive biological anatomy well served by its psychology. We stand literally, as experienced and in fact by anatomical structure, pivotally wherever we stand. We can turn our attention to whatever course we “reasonably” choose. Part of the price to a comprehensive anatomy giving sufficient specific instruction to a brain for our type of pivotal experiences of awareness is “reasoning”. Not only do we move, but we create the concepts of mind by moving an anatomy equipped with far more value when neurologically represented that might appear (to some) “on the surface”.
    When the experience of awareness arises from neural finalization in a brain after 50 ms for vision, 35ms auditory, 150 ms touch, etc etc, all signals from all sites are integrated by networking simultaneously. It is timed current flow, to synchronously finalize across region from “one flow”. It has to be an ongoing intact current to split synchronously. The “value” to every chemical site of anatomical function is revealed in neurology, by representing all sites in one location. Every part in coordination contributes to concepts.
    Reasoning then steps in. Humans cannot avoid it from structure, much as some would like to. The causal level is functional interface with a world. Biology is within a world it interfaces, to grow from a zygote in complete immersion, including your next breath. So we look to that essential interface as the causal level, as it is imperative. But as I said, in humans, as opposed to squirrels, imperatives become subject to reasoning. That is all due to anatomical structure and its aligned functional capacities. Intuitively, you can’t deny it. You stand in front of a mirror and have a “think” while shaving and it’s not surprising that the nob you see in the mirror is thinking.
    You are reasonably free to shape the world to your purposes using the world’ determinism (laws of physics etc). You have subjective conditioning from unique immersion, but you know you can’t step out of line or you will get nailed. The causal level is biological interface, and that interface is both imperative and reasoned using its psychology. Libet is no impediment, because delay in necessary to process for sites. The only issue is that every one of you cannot feel anything until processed, so you are behind yourself and the world, fractionally, at all times. You do not feel in the exact present moment. You are open to a world, which is imperative. Just don’t be open to hypnotists or advertisers, because that is their means of hijacking your cycle. It’s not so much a problem as a double necessity for processing and for influence by a world (within a species in particular), and easily overcome by “choosing” to think about it and not be influenced.

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  14. John Smith,

    I know that you are hoping for Massimo Pigliucci to respond, but although I am not a philosopher myself I will have a go; at least I consider myself to be a representative of the position you are arguing against.

    I am still waiting for details why philosophers have no problem with Libet.

    Some philosophers surely have problems, they are a diverse bunch; the point is that (a) it doesn’t provide anything novel in this context because there have been people (including religious believers) assuming complete determinism and hashing out the consequences for more than two thousand years and (b) it doesn’t trouble compatibilists specifically.

    You cannot have an unconscious “decision”. It requires awareness, by definition.

    I think you will find that you are mistaken.

    One question here is what consciousness is. As I have indicated in my earlier comment, to me it is nothing special at all and comes in a gradient: a thermostat has a very simple consciousness, a wasp has more, a rat has yet more, and humans have a very well developed one. So under my definition there is no decision without at least a bit of consciousness because you need some information processing to make a decision, and information processing is what I understand to be consciousness.

    But taking for a moment the position that only a very complex system of perception and data processing counts as “conscious”, then clearly there can be unconscious decisions. Decision Theory is an entire field of research with relevance for example to computer science and statistics. Computers, even very simple ones, make decisions all the time, and clearly even plants need to decide how to allocate resources based on environmental cues.

    And phiosophers are divided between Eagleman, Harris etc

    Just an aside, but since when is Sam Harris a philosopher?

    I agree that one would expcet activity before any state of awareness, but that just means you have a Homunculus brain – a little man intact in your head building up to what the little man wants to decide. You are out of the picture.

    From this sentence on I cannot really claim to understand your comment any more. But judging from the repeated use of “Homunculus” and, especially, from the phrase “you are out of the picture”, I can only assume that the underlying mistake is the same as with most incompatibilists: the unwitting acceptance of mind-body dualism.

    There is no Homunculus who is me and has to accept what the brain he lives in decides for him, nor is there a Homunculus in me who makes decisions for me – whichever of those models you mean. In reality, I am my body, all of it together, nothing more and nothing less, so when (some part of) my body makes a decision then I make a decision, and that is that. You could just as well say that I don’t digest food because my stomach does it “for me”, or that I do not see the screen because my eyes do it “for me”, or that I do not walk to the bedroom because my legs do it “for me”. No, I am not just a conscious mind being carried around by a body, I am the body doing the carrying, the seeing, the digesting, and the deciding.

    Does that help?

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  15. Socratic,

    “Quasi-Frankfurt thought experiments, of course, apply to discussions of consciousness. Does Griffith get into that very much?”

    Yes, she devotes a significant amount of space to them. But remember, this is a basic introduction. She also lists a number of good resources to dig deeper.

    “Frankfurt-type thought experiments of course approach Philippa Foot and the trolley problem. Does Griffith get into that very much?”

    No, and frankly I don’t actually see the relevance.

    “is Griffith discussing thing that are then in the general vicinity of Penrose’s ideas in The Emperor’s New Mind and following works?”

    Nope.

    “I’d like to hear more on your stance (which seems, to use broad labels, some subset within compatibilism) on this: More specifically, it is perfectly possible to maintain that determinism is false, but that universal causation holds”

    You will, once I finish the latest boot co-authored by Lee Smolin and write a review of it for SciSal (actually, probably two reviews, since it is two books into one).

    “does Griffith look in depth at the whole corpus of post-Libet experiments?”

    No, it’s an introduction. But frankly, I don’t see why you think it’s relevant, as I said before.

    “ree will may have originally been a spandrel that eventually showed itself to have adaptionist value. Ditto can be said for the idea of an illusion of free will, of course. Per “energy,” as long as it didn’t constitute a burden at the start”

    Maybe, but I’d like to see a detailed evolutionary argument about that, and I’m not aware of any. (One can’t just nod toward “spandrel” and be done with it. Or toward “adaptation,” for that matter.)

    Marvin,

    “If Kathy kills Virginia, then the penalty should be based upon what is required to correct her future behavior and keep the rest of us safe. To “hold responsible” means to identify where correction needs to be applied.”

    That assumes a particular view of moral desert, which in turns depends on what view one holds of free will.

    “we have two crimes. Ned is guilty of at least attempted murder.”

    No question, though of course that wasn’t the point of the thought experiment.

    “The point of a penalty is to (a) repair the harm (when feasible), (b) correct the offender (if possible), and (c) protect the rest of us”

    I may agree, but, again, it depends on one’s conception of moral desert.

    “our underlying problem is this: What penalty is sufficient to provide us reasonable assurance that Kathy will not present a threat to others?”

    Actually, that’s irrelevant to the point of the thought experiment, as much as it is an interesting question in its own right.

    Alexander,

    “to me, consciousness means simply information processing or, at the most narrow, information processing that includes information on the processor’s own place in the system”

    That definition both beg the question (unless one adopts a concept of information so wide as to be essentially useless) and is not specific enough, since it includes all sorts of other processes that few people would consider conscious.

    “Those who think that consciousness is something really weird that is either still unexplained or can only be explained supernaturally appear to have some other definition”

    I don’t think the latter, but I do think consciousness sis “weird” as in being comparatively rare, as far as we know, and a late arrival in evolution.

    Philip,

    “Machine free will: Is free will a necessary ingredient of machine consciousness?”

    That’s a whole huge discussion, which we’ve had before. My hunch is that consciousness does come with free will (properly understood). Then again, I make a distinction between artificial intelligence (which is possible, and we already have tantalizing examples of it) and artificial consciousness, about which I’m much more doubtful, and I think requires a solid *biological* understanding of how consciousness works before we can even talk about it.

    Robin,

    “Regarding Libet, it is interesting that Libet himself did not think that his experiments contradicted free will.”

    Right. One wonders if the Libet-invoking crowd has actually read Libet.

    Aravis,

    “This is exactly wrong. What distinguishes voluntary from non-voluntary is not some special cause, but rather, the fact that the former are those actions that are *interpretable* in a number of relevant ways and the latter are not.”

    I disagree. Why should we “interpret” actions that are the product of the same exact internal processes differently? Wouldn’t that be a mistake, or an arbitrary decision? Are you actually suggesting that conscious and unconscious mental processes are exactly the same, that there is no causal difference at play? Is the difference therefore illusory, or socially constructed?

    “Part of what’s frustrating about this error and its ubiquity is that it was discussed at great length by Wittgenstein”

    I hear you, but not everyone has such a high opinion of Wittgenstein. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the guy and always read him with pleasure. But his anti-science stance in philosophy is detrimental, and is tendency to talk in riddles rather frustrating.

    “”Let us not forget this: when ‘I raise my arm’, my arm goes up.
    And the problem arises: what is left over if I subtract the fact that my
    arm goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?” PI, #621”

    Right. What’s left is that your arm may have gone up because someone else pushed it. A pretty crucial distinction, if you ask me.

    “What distinguishes voluntary behavior from non-voluntary behavior is not a matter of the voluntary enjoying some special origin that distinguishes it from the non-voluntary”

    Wittgenstein here appears to be just wrong on neurobiological grounds. While neurobiologists haven’t figured out the free will problem (and often don’t even know what they are talking about) they have demonstrated different, if interconnected, pathways for voluntary and involuntary action.

    “Wittgenstein maintains that it is features of the *context* in which the behavior occurs that support / fail to support such descriptions, not its having some special origin”

    Seems to me that on this one Witty is just factually wrong.

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  16. ej,

    “My suspicion is that a lot of the frequent readers here are getting a little exhausted on this topic, and it’s easy to see why.”

    Oh yes, I promise not to publish anything more on free will for a few months. (Indeed, I just had to reject a couple more submissions spurred by Free Will Week, just because I couldn’t bear myself to think about the issue for an additional five minutes!)

    “Yet the deeper we dig into the subject, the more complicated it gets, with positions branching off into increasing particularities requiring increasing precision.”

    This is, of course, not unique to free will. See this essay on Gettier problems that I wrote for Rationally Speaking, for instance: http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2013/07/progress-in-philosophy-gettier-case.html

    brodix,

    “If we had no will, we simply would not exist.”

    That may be a bit strong: plants, as far as I know, don’t have will (in this sense), and they exist, and have done so for much longer than humans.

    “We are the product of literally billions of years of evolution. That is a lot of causality.”

    True, but causality isn’t synonymous with free will.

    “Even puppets pull back on their strings, giving meaning and focus to the puppeteer.”

    Hmm, do they?

    “Don’t just read books. Go outside and get some fresh air.”

    Always good advice… 😉

    John,

    “And that’s all she wrote. Unfortunately you didn’t tackle it yourself. I am still waiting for details why philosophers have no problem with Libet.”

    Actually, Griffith does go into some details about why Libet-type experiments don’t tell us much about free will. You may want to look at it. If you are seriously interested in an excellent discussion of this and related topics, check this paper: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic889975.files/May%202nd/May%202nd%20papers%20to%20be%20presented/Roskies%202010.pdf

    It takes care of all your points, and the some.

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  17. John, I think I understand you saying that self is the result of the interaction between the biological organism and it’s environment over time. The only exception I have is that you underestimate the squirrel. The squirrel may lack a voice and verbalization to reason using language, but squirrels are reliable problem solvers when it comes to overcoming obstacles in raiding your bird feeder. I suspect they reason with images, and that is sufficient to choose what tactic they will try next.

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  18. Looks like an interesting book to see how diverse/complex the concepts of free will are.

    To Robin, whether one agrees with it or not did I not provide an explanation of the (I guess I should say ‘a’) compatibilist position? It may not be able to tell you when a decision was irretrievably made (because it’s not designed to), but it can reasonably discern (based on circumstances) whether you made the decision or the decision was made for you.

    To Aravis I agree with Alexander that it is hard to see the difference from compatibilism. Your statement…

    “The error is in thinking that in distinguishing voluntary from non-voluntary behavior, the relevant place to look is the internal states of the creature, preceding the behavior in question and the relevant question is as to the etiology of those internal states. This is exactly wrong. What distinguishes voluntary from non-voluntary is not some special cause, but rather, the fact that the former are those actions that are *interpretable* in a number of relevant ways and the latter are not.”

    That sounds pretty close to what I was arguing, if not in details then in practice. I was sort of hoping I wouldn’t disappoint you with my essay.

    To Socratic I agree that people should refer to Libet-type experiments. Unfortunately fMRI based ones (making up many post-Libet studies) make things less impressive, not more so. The temporal/spatial resolution is not adequate. Indeed none of these techniques are capable of mapping the ‘whole brain’, particularly at the speed at which it functions. I’ve seen correlations of less than 70% said to prove a decision point was found (and that is based on statistical analysis looking for changes, which as I pointed out may not exist where a decision is made).

    To Ejwinner hahahaha 🙂

    To John Smith, I am not writing a book on it, but from what I understand there is one. Other than saying essentially ‘does too’, I’m not sure where you undercut the points I made about brain anatomy and function as it relates to decisions. Are decisions sometimes created by activity at different points in the brain and different times which are then compared somewhere else to generate a conclusion? Yes, I gave the example of sound location. Is the earliest signal in one region the decision? No. It is your job to explain why the signal Libet found is the decision. As it happens (if you read Libet’s own interpretation) he said we still had the power to nix the decision… which basically results in the very thing I discussed. This is not to get into the spatial/temporal issues related to measuring brain activity. As an aside: I read your comment at my site, and its fine, but I’m not putting it through because you posted it to my “about” page. If you want to resubmit it to the post page for my essay I will put it through.

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  19. Aravis Like some others, I have to disagree with you and Wittgenstein. At the risk of being accused of oversimplification, this sounds like doubling down on Dennett’s heterophenomenology in a way that he never did himself. In “Consciousness Explained” and “The Intentional Stance,” yes, he talked about external perceptions being involved with us making a judgment as to whether another creature had consciousness, but he never said those heterophenomenological perceptions should be used to be key in defining what free will is. Or consciousness. Riffing on Alexander, Dennett is a fairly straightforward compatibilist, even if he doesn’t like the word.

    Even if free will is “confabulated” in the way I said it could be, in Dwayne’s essay, my last comment, that’s far different than your angle. Even such a “confabulation” is indeed a special antecedent.

    I’m going to go back to science. The baseline assumption for studying volition via neuroscience, etc., would be that there is free will, and we then proceed from there.

    Next, I’m going to do a bit of intellectual judo. Having mentioned the c-word already, I see that whatever Wittgenstein says about free will applies in like manner to consciousness.

    Do you really believe you are conscious because others perceive you are? Do you really believe that there is no special antecedent producing a state called “consciousness”?

    To me, the “difficulties” in discussing free will in particular, or consciousness in general, or other particular issues inside consciousness besides will and volition, is not primarily due to confusions in definitions, or category mistakes or anything similar.

    Again, per Dwayne’s essay, all definitions could be better written for broader agreement and it would still be a hard problem.

    It’s a philosophical problem that has definite scientific factors, factors about which science, to date, has little to tell us.

    ==

    Massimo Thanks for the detailed responses.

    I brought up Foot and the trolley problem because, especially in the last decade, free will discussions have focused more and more on guilt/moral responsibility. Of course, that’s what the trolley problem is about, as noted. Hence the relevance, at least to some approaches to free will.

    Of course, I’m on record as saying too much weight is at times put on that approach; I was just curious if Griffith brought it in herself.

    And, we’ll agree to disagree on the relevance of ongoing Libet-class research.

    On spandrels, oh, I agree, that, it would take more evolutionary argument as to how it did evolve, if possible. But, it’s theoretically possible. I referenced that in part to show that this issue is more complex than many would have it.

    Related? We KNOW memory confabulates. We still don’t know much about the why, but we know the that.

    Otherwise, give me several months, and more detailed ideas may pop up.

    What are the quantum issues, if not closely related to Penrose?

    ==

    Dwayne Yes on Libet-class work and limitations. That said, those are “structural,” not “foundational.” Maybe not soon, but eventually, we’ll learn more.

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  20. SciSal: “That assumes a particular view of moral desert, which in turns depends on what view one holds of free will.”

    To understand the functions of morality and ethics please see my post at:
    http://marvinedwards.me/2014/04/22/morality-and-ethics-2/

    In the judicial system (and pretty much any other meaningful communication between non-philosophers) free will simply is a decision you make on your own without the coercion of someone else. In the real world, the justice system assumes that if you did something deliberately, then the penalty would be more severe than if you did something accidentally. Why? Because it probably will take more to change the behavior of someone who is convinced the wrongful act was okay (e.g., habitual offender with bad intent) than it would to change the behavior of someone who did not intend to commit the harm (and who only needs to learn to be more careful). The penalty is corrective if it makes you think twice next time and make a different choice.

    Both cause and effect (deterministic universe) and free will are presumed to be in play in the judicial system. And this has nothing to do with religion. Both are secular concepts.

    As to differing “views one holds of free will”, that question helps to keep philosophy professors employed but are not much use to the rest of us. Geez, look how confused you’ve made the scientists!

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  21. Massimo,
    “That may be a bit strong: plants, as far as I know, don’t have will (in this sense), and they exist, and have done so for much longer than humans.”
    Yes, we would be in a vegetative state. As I understand it, will is the conscious expression of choice. So if we lack will, than either we lack consciousness, or the ability to express it, i.e. a vegetative state. People described as lacking will are those incapable of making choices. They might be motivated by impulse, like plants, but lack an ability to decide between different options and so circumstance makes the decision.
    The issue I am having problems with is the assumption that it isn’t really will, if it is motivated by causal influences. What does will have to be “free” of, to qualify as will? If someone were a drunk and the opportunity to have a drink arose, it would be an expression of will to resist it, based on the causal influence of knowing it would be a bad choice. That decision is not free of input, or random, but is still an effective form of will.
    Consciousness is very much one of those influences into causality. As to the source of consciousness, is it a consequence of cognition, or the cause? Either way, it is still an input.
    The further issue would seem to be whether determinism is necessitated by causality. This then gets back to to my point that we project the narrative of hindsight as foundational and so consider the future to be as determined as the past, with the point of the present as a minor detail, yet it is actually the changing configuration of the present which creates this effect of time and so the events go from future to past and neither of which are physically real. So causality does not necessitate determinism, because the actual occurrence of these events is required for them to be determined and while the interactions arising from causality do the determining, the input into this process only occurs with its happening and without input, there is no output. Probability precedes actuality. Thus determination is an effect of cause, not equivalent to it.
    As for the subconscious, introspection and retrospection effectively magnify one’s thought processes and thus the sense of consciousness and more importantly the memory functions, but the element of consciousness can be quite fleeting and still qualify as conscious, even that which is not remembered, as we all have many episodes fall in that category. The line between consciousness and subconscious is extremely fuzzy.

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  22. Lots of different replies and objections, so let me do this in bullets.

    1. Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn wrote: I really do not understand why you think that all positions involve the same mistake. What you describe through Wittgenstein sounds pretty much like the compatibilist position.

    —————————————————————
    Wittgenstein is not a compatibalist about free will or any other kind of -ist. If this is what you took from my post, then either you misunderstood or I miscommunicated.

    Compatibilism is the view that one can still speak of the will as free, even though it is also caused. Like its libertarian and determinist opponents, it conceives of the free will question as being *about* the will and what we can say about it, given certain facts about nature and human action. But the Wittgenstein/Ryle view — and mine — is not a view about the will at all, but rather about the different ways in which we classify behaviors, in a variety of social contexts.

    As for your failure to understand why so often I turn to Wittgenstein, Ryle, and others belonging to the Ordinary Language tradition, it is because I agree with them that many of the classic philosophical problems are actually pseudo-problems that arise from misunderstandings in our uses of language. With respect to the current issue, it’s because I agree with Wittgenstein and Ryle that the free will problem is one that arises for philosophers and scientists, due to misunderstanding of the role that terms like “voluntary” and “involuntary” play in language.

    ——————————————————————-

    2. Sci-Sal wrote: While neurobiologists haven’t figured out the free will problem (and often don’t even know what they are talking about) they have demonstrated different, if interconnected, pathways for voluntary and involuntary action.

    ——————————————————————-

    Given that Wittgenstein — and others like Austin and Ryle — want to argue that the traditional philosophical uses of “voluntary” and “involuntary” are confused, I don’t see how any appeal to science can serve as a counter. They are denying that “voluntary” and “involuntary” describe antecedent mental events, so pointing to antecedent mental events — in the form of neurological events — is unresponsive.

    Remember that there is a *reason* why this tradition goes in this direction. It’s because efforts to address the problem head-on, so to speak, have yielded nothing but skeptical results or dilemmas. The move to the dissolution of some of the classic philosophical problems, via the analysis of language, a la Wittgenstein, Austin, and Ryle, comes *after* this sort of failure of traditional approaches; it is not an argument *for* their failure. That job was already done by the skeptics. (Yes, I know that Hobbes and Hume were compatibilists, but I don’t actually think compatibilism is a viable position. The free will problem, then, is a classic example of a two horned dilemma, precisely the sort of thing that begs for an ordinary language analysis)

    With respect to your characterization of Wittgenstein’s later work as “talking in riddles,” I think this is a misrepresentation. Wittgenstein is trying to come at problems in a way that really precludes the straightforward, methodical method preferred by traditional analytic philosophy. Put another way, the style suits the method and the method is crucial to avoiding the mistakes he is trying to avoid.

    Finally, Wittgenstein is not anti-science, as you allege — the man was an architect and a mechanical engineer. He is against philosophy trying to mimic the methods and subject matter of science, and he is absolutely right about that.

    ————————————————————————————

    3. EJWinner wrote: One reason my sense is growing more and more that the issue that “makes discussions of free will so much more than academic disquisitions: the question of moral responsibility,” while informed by this discussion, cannot be decided by it or in any way dominated by it. The problem of moral responsibility, and related issues e.g. social justice, treatment of transgressors, etc, all need firmer ground, and reasoning that can be readily articulated in political and social contexts.

    —————————————————————————————

    I think this is essentially correct and is partly what those who take the approach I am suggesting are getting at, if not directly. Free will, in my view — and according to my understanding of Wittgenstein and Ryle — is misplaced as a concept belonging to the philosophy of mind or psychology. Rather, it is a concept that belongs entirely to the social levels of description and discourse — it represents the way in which we interpret a number of significant — indeed, key — social, political, and moral propositions. It is posterior to action, not prior to it — a post-hoc description of behavior, indicating certain types of social significances, not a reference to prior states of mind.

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  23. Massimo,
    congratulations on your lucid and pertinent review. Reviews of books on philosophy are one of the important ways that the Ivory Tower can offer guidance to Main Street. We, in the Main Street, are subject to a plethora of choice, good, bad and indifferent. Excellent reviews, like yours, are exactly what we need to make sense of the competing choices. Since I am one of the lucky few who possesses libertarian free will with real consciousness, I can take full advantage of your advice!

    The first thing to appreciate about Griffith’s book … is that it doesn’t seem to have an agenda.

    That will be most refreshing after reading the endless restatement of tired prejudices that populate the comments thread.

    contrary, it must be said, to a number of more or less obnoxious books and articles that have come to light recently.

    Quite so. You could add some comments to that list.

    I have always wondered why so many philosophical thought experiments are so gruesome, but that’s another story.

    To rephrase Samuel Johnson – ‘the thought of death concentrates the mind wonderfully’.

    Thankfully, she devotes a significant amount of space to Alfred Mele’s analysis of Libet’s experiments

    Alfred Mele is one of the leading thinkers in this field and he has written an excellent book:
    Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will See Daniel Dennett’s not unbiased review of the book – http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/features/are-we-free

    Libet’s results, as interesting as they surely are, tell us pretty much nothing about free will.

    Some bad ideas are endlessly resurrected by ideologues. That is how ideology is sustained.

    how expensive, metabolically speaking, it is to maintain a brain apparatus that produces the “illusion” of consciousness, what, exactly, could justify such extravagance on the part of natural selection?

    Illusions are the last refuge of the intellectually bankrupt.

    we don’t really have good, empirically testable hypotheses to account for the evolution of consciousness.

    To quote Churchill “it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key

    Except that no-one has found the key. There are many claims to have found the key but it has never been seen. You might just as well believe in Gollum’s ‘precious

    Once again, thanks for an excellent review. I look forward to more.

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  24. @ Marvin Edwards,

    “In the judicial system (and pretty much any other meaningful communication between non-philosophers) free will simply is a decision you make on your own without the coercion of someone else. In the real world, the justice system assumes that if you did something deliberately, then the penalty would be more severe than if you did something accidentally.”

    I think things are more complicated than that in legal literature. For example see this paper by the philosopher of law Michael Moore on “volitional excuses” that makes it clear that the law has become intertwined with some of the philosophical problems of free will.

    http://www.law.northwestern.edu/research-faculty/colloquium/legal-theory/documents/Moore-%20Cant%20Wont%20Distinction.pdf

    Like

  25. No love for Ludwig, it seems.

    I’ve read PI probably more times than any other book, and each time the desire increases to go back in time and find out what he’d make of the things that computer science, cognitive science and cognitive linguistics would later burrow into. I think his take would have been more positive than Massimo’s “anti-science” accusation suggests. A case could be made that his focus on language may have expanded into a focus on conceptualization, since it is really at the root of how language is used.

    (By the way – to describe Wittgenstein’s stances as “anti-science” is facile and, I think, wrong. There is a lot of context that enters into how he talked about science – and mathematics – and the aspirations of scientists and philosophers of the time were different then in important ways that, it can be argued, needed some push-back.)

    I’ve always liked Frankfurt cases, although maybe not for the same reasons Frankfurt himself did. If a Frankfurt case tells us anything, it’s that our conceptualization of free-willing responsibility as “being able to have done otherwise” is the point of categorical mismatch between a “scientific” view of causality and our “folk-psychological” concepts of agency and intention. Thinking about why we might intuitively rebel against a Frankfurt case as a counter-example helps us to examine whether and how a category difference might be affecting our arguments about free-will and responsibility. In a sense, action theory can be considered an attempt to fix the mismatch by keeping everything on the same categorical footing conceptually.

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  26. Wittgenstein here appears to be just wrong on neurobiological grounds. While neurobiologists haven’t figured out the free will problem (and often don’t even know what they are talking about) they have demonstrated different, if interconnected, pathways for voluntary and involuntary action.

    Besides just wanting to savor Massimo saying that neurobiology is relevant to something in philosophy, it’s worth pointing out that from an evolutionary standpoint, voluntary action can be seen as an incremental and incomplete hijacking of automatic processes. This is why voluntary processes and involuntary processes overlap a lot, and also why we can see a continuum of voluntariness amongst animals. Further, it’s a reason why there’s no clean dichotomy between voluntary and involuntary.

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  27. Hello! I’ve been enjoying this lively and engaging discussion. Thanks! And many thanks to Massimo for such a generous and thoughtful review of my book.

    Forgive me if I’m missing important context from previous discussions or retreading old ground. But a few thoughts….

    On determinism versus universal causation: I think the main reason that philosophers distinguish these two ideas is that many philosophers think causation could be probabilistic rather than necessitating. So every event could have a cause (universal causation) but if at least some of these causes are non-necessitating, then determinism is false. As Elizabeth Anscombe asserts in her landmark paper, “Causality and Determination”, there may be an important difference between something being determined right when it happens and being predetermined (perhaps brodix is making a similar point above?). The thesis of determinism is taken to be the claim that given the past and the laws, everything in the future is fixed. Every event could have a cause but the future not be fixed.

    On libertarianism: I think it’s important to note that philosophers who work on free will do not typically assume that libertarianism assumes a dualistic view of mind/body. There are some notable exceptions, but most libertarians are not relying on the assumption of a nonphysical soul. Some of the most important contemporary views even explicitly invoke brain processes in their accounts.

    On moral responsibility: As Massimo has pointed out, there are different conceptions of responsibility. There is the kind of consequentialist notion based on influencing behavior, and there’s the deeper “desert” notion. I think some philosophers want to defend the deeper notion because it seems to them that there are cases in which it would be useful to blame someone but intuitively unjust to do so (if this is right, there may be real world reasons to care about the desert notion). Also, the deeper notion seems like the harder notion to account for, so if one’s view can adequately account for it, perhaps that makes the view all the stronger. Maybe this is why discussion of Frankfurt cases seems to utilize the deeper notion. If alternatives aren’t even required for the deep desert notion, then why are we worried about determinism (which appears to rule out alternatives, according to one line of thinking)?

    I think all these different views do matter to us because (among other things) they get us to reflect on what kinds of capacities we think are required for moral agency. So, to take one real-world example…. We might wonder whether psychopaths should be morally blameworthy. What about thirteen year olds? Well, this is going to depend not only on what science can tell us about psychopaths and thirteen year olds (not to put these two in the same category!) but also on what we think responsible behavior requires. Does responsible agency require the ability to reflect on one’s own desires (along the lines suggested by Harry Frankfurt)? Does it require the ability to be responsive to certain kinds of reasons (as Fischer and Ravizza and others claim)? (Free will and responsibility are not the same concept, of course. But many of the views discussed by philosophers are trying to set out the kind of freedom required for responsibility, because responsibility is one of our most pressing concerns when it comes to free will.)

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  28. Hi Aravis,

    I sometime have a hard time understanding your wittgensteinian concerns. I saw you referred us to a link on wittgenstein’s take on this subject in particular, could you recommend other general sources on learning wittgeinstein’s strategies for dissolving traditional philosophical problems? I would appreciate it as I have always had a hard time grappling with Wittgenstein.

    I think when Massimo said that Wittgenstein “frequently talks in riddles” he was talking about how Wittgenstein was notorious for leaving slight gaps in his arguments and making the reader try to figure out what exactly was arguing (this was a point Crispin Wright made in the Philosophy of Language course that I took). That Wittgeinstein was notorious for this has some evidence from the fact that there is “Kripke’s Wittgenstein,” which is basically Kripke solving the “riddle”of figuring out what (plausibly) wittgenstein was arguing for in his work on how there is no private language.

    I would agree this method makes it difficult to come at the problems in a straightforward manner as you pointed out, but I guess I was never sure how this method was supposed to be better than being clear and simply laying out “kripke’s wittgenstein” in the first place (meaning, why didn’t wittgenstein just make it clear what all of the moves of his argument were?).

    If this is What Massimo was talking about, I too share his frustration in trying to figure out what exactly he was arguing.

    Maybe I’m not quite getting what sense of “talking in riddles” is being used here, but this is my cursory side-note take.

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  29. Hi Daniel.

    1) Thanks for the link to the Moore document. I started to read it before I remembered my policy of not accepting homework assignments. Here’s the thing: (A) If you found it meaningful enough that it gave you a good grasp of the subject, then you should be able to make your point yourself. (B) If it left you uncertain or unconvinced, then how is it supposed to make sense to me? In the worst case scenario, I would end up reading it for you and explaining it to you. And that doesn’t seem fair, to me.

    2) In Richard Carrier’s on-line course on Free Will, one of the resources was a couple of Supreme Court cases where free will was used in the correct (meaningful) sense. So I feel I am not off base in my original comment.

    3) There is surely much more to say, and Moore appeared to be saying a lot of it. There are many different scenarios. And surely many ways of repeating the correct answer in different ways. And there are plenty of incorrect answers to explore as well. I’m trying to keep it simple, and layout the relationship of concepts (responsibility, free will, justice, penalty, etc) in a meaningful fashion. Anyone who wants to go exploring should certainly follow the link you gave.

    4) One of the interesting topics is the case of the mentally ill. We commonly say that they are not responsible for their actions, nevertheless, if they present a threat to the community then we will commit them to a mental hospital for correction, if they can be corrected by medical treatment. To me, this means they are still being held responsible and subject to correction and limits on their freedom. So the functional model and its logic remain essentially equivalent to the non-mental cases.

    5) Early on, I thought of myself as a “pragmatist”, but the Wikipedia definition seems to have wandered off into something else. I like to discover the function of concepts, as in “why?”, or “what does this really mean?” ,or “what’s this about?” or “what is the point of this?” For example, after my father committed murder and suicide, I thought a lot about what is the point of Hell, or more specifically, what is the point of penalty? When I was on the Honor Court at Richmond Professional Institute, I again explored the point of penalty and decided that the single sanction of expulsion was not justified in most cases on a first offense of cheating. So I pushed to change it from an Honor Court based upon honor to a Student Court based upon student laws against lying, cheating, stealing.

    And that’s what grabbed me about the Kathy, Ned, and Virginia scenario.

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  30. @Daniel Tippens – Re: “talking in riddles”

    Aravis put it nicely when he said, “the style suits the method and the method is crucial to avoiding the mistakes he is trying to avoid.”

    If your basic idea is that philosophy runs into unsolvable conundrums because of the way in which language is used, then using language in that same way to present your ideas is not a tenable approach.

    The best analogy I can come up with is the way in which fiction or poetry conveys ideas. Instead of using straight exposition or logical argument, a poem evokes thoughts in the reader that can lead to an understanding of what is being conveyed. If you have ever read a story/poem/novel (or experienced any work of art) and it’s led you to an epiphany about life or reality that is difficult or impossible to express directly, then you have an idea of what Wittgenstein was trying to do.

    For that reason, the best general source for Wittgenstein is Wittgenstein. A lot of people who are uncomfortable reading PI (or On Certainty, or whatever) find that it’s much less uncomfortable when you do so without the expectation that you’re “figuring out” what he’s “trying to say”. He’s more like someone you’re hiking with who knows the area a lot better than you, but spends the hike pointing at things, asking questions, and inviting you to think about them and ask your own.

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  31. Aravis I know where you’re coming from. In fact, primarily in reference to Coel, on other essays here, I’ve used the phrase “category” mistake myself.

    But, I just don’t see that as what’s in play here.

    As for anti-scientific, I can’t speak for Massimo, but no, my critique is that taking your angle, or Wittgenstein’s, is being nonscientific on an issue where there’s relevant scientific input.

    Unfortunately, as I’ve already noted, there’s not much of it so far, and it is … “grainy,” to riff on quantum mechanics. But it is a start.

    And, as noted in my previous comment, clearing up the linguistic confusion that does exist wouldn’t “solve” this issue.

    Let my flip this back, with the big interrogative word in journalism as well as philosophy.

    Why do you think this is a sociological issue rather than a psychological and a scientific one? Is it just “failure,” which I have noted isn’t failure, but lack of information? Are there other reasons, as well?

    I agree that related issues — like consciousness, per my first query to you about whether you would posit that it is also a sociologically-defined state — need “firmer ground.” Those, too, though, the firmer ground, while it may in part be sociological, will surely also be in part due to scientific findings.

    Asher If not exactly the same tree, you’re “barking” in the same neck of the woods as I am with my spandrel idea.

    Speaking of, Massimo, here’s my first small light bulb in that vein:

    One way (a confabulated pretense of free will) would have adaptive value is with a rise in teleology in general and goal-directed behavior in particular. The belief that there was some “I” behind certain goals, and especially, an “I” freely choosing such goals, would increase the energy investment in pursuing them.

    Then, due to pruning, what goals were better to attain and easier to attain would be selected for, as would better and easier strategies for achievement.

    That’s just one possibility, of course. As noted on Dwayne’s essay, I don’t think ideas of teleology evolved nearly as early as “agency imputers” and “pattern detectors.”

    Meghan Thanks for your first response, including the different levels of responsibility. You said:

    We might wonder whether psychopaths should be morally blameworthy. … Well, this is going to depend not only on what science can tell us about psychopaths … but also on what we think responsible behavior requires.

    That said, on the science side of things. I think this should also include something like: “what science can show us about what the mind actually affords in terms of ‘responsibility.’ “

    Otherwise, I think we risk putting carts in front of horses. Or, at a minimum, to give you another analogy, we risk loading up a four-horse cart of responsibility when we only have two horses to pull it.

    And THAT is Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” That’s the Wittgenstein applicable to discussions of free will.

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  32. Hi Marvin,

    Re: You don’t accept homework assignments, then your request that I explain it to you:

    Because I also don’t want a lengthy homework assignment, I am happy to give you a very brief summary. If you decide you want to look into it for yourself for more details (after looking over the credentials of the author, perhaps), please do. One reason for not wanting to go into details and simply providing you with the paper is:

    a) this platform does not permit anyone to do justice to a lengthy and intricate topic

    b) as a result of (a), people many times raise all sorts of objections or concerns to the initial commenter that are quickly handled in the paper, but due to space constraints on the platform, the commenter couldn’t cover in his exposition.

    c) as a result of (b), a very superfluous exchange between commenter and audience takes place that could have been avoided had most just read the paper

    I suspect that these are the reasons why you referred SciSal to your post on another site, instead of explaining your points on here, so I hope you can understand why I didn’t say more earlier.

    Essentially Moore is discussing what are known as “volitional excuses” in the legal system. An excuse, generally, is something that is appealed to in court cases when an agent has committed a wrong action and his action was not justified, but we feel he ought not be blameworthy.

    A good illustrative ordinary example would be that of a elementary schooler who completes his homework only to have his dog eat it two hours before class. Now, the student could do the homework again, but he doesn’t, and turns it in nothing. Many of us feel that he was still wrong not to turn in the homework and his action wasn’t justified, but he is nonetheless not blameworthy because the cost for him to complete the homework was much greater than the other students (he would have to put in twice the effort compared to the other students)

    A volitional excuse is an excuse that removes culpability because the agen’t didn’t have the “ability to do otherwise.” Moore discusses for a bit how this has been understood in different ways (whether the judges or jurors realized it or not) based on the verdicts of certain court cases (he points to Lyons v. Oklahoma, 322 U.S. 596, 601 (1944) and Miller v. Fenton, 474 U.S. 104, 116 (1985).

    So, it looks like the law is becoming sensitive to the various senses of “free will,” i.e the ability to do otherwise. One reason for this could be that in some ruling academic literature on a relevant topic can be appealed to to inform a decision- perhaps some philosophers’ of law literature on what it means legally to be able to “do otherwise.”

    In summary, you said, “In the judicial system (and pretty much any other meaningful communication between non-philosophers) free will simply is a decision you make on your own without the coercion of someone else.”

    However, it looks like since what it means to “make a decision on you own” has clearly different senses being appealed to in the law, the matter of free will in the judicial system isn’t so “simple” after all.

    @Asher Kay

    Thanks, I’ll think about this more.

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  33. Is there anyone up to folding the Nietzsche/Sartre lineage about free will and responsibility into the science discussion? That would be, I think, that we all have experiential knowledge of the concepts of necessity and contingency, and are aware of being embedded in a past that is knowable and real while forced into a future that is not yet either. Choice is then an emergent property of subjectivity, and it follows there is an existential imperative for a social being to disclaim victimhood and take responsibility for all one’s acts and life. Though this position notoriously involves moral contradictions, mightn’t they be incorporated as definitive, like those of QM?

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  34. Massimo,

    A great review, thanks! 🙂

    Meghan,

    Massimo did a great job of advertising your book, and your comments have also cleared up a couple of additional things, thanks! Unbiased books about free will are hard to find, and I usually steer clear of most of them. But since your book is not like that (I trust Massimo’s judgement on this), I feel motivated to get the book and read it through! 🙂

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  35. Massimo,

    Asher and Aravis are correct to protest your characterization of Wittgenstein as anti-science. He wasn’t anti-science at all. In fact, that description misunderstands what he is up to here, which is to describe how we interpret people’s actions as part of a social practice, *not* argue against the neurology of arm movement at all. I am actually a bit surprised at your take on this, since Wittgenstein’s position is congenial to the sort of anti-reductionism you usually espouse. Wittgenstein was not anti-science; he just thought there was much more to the question in terms of how we use different language games to describe things.

    Asher: Love the hiking analogy. I’ve read descriptions of Wittgenstein’s style as circling round and round a question (which he does), but this is better.

    SocraticGadfly: the category mistake is to misunderstand what ascriptions of voluntary movement are about. They are *not* about your nervous system, but about how we conceptualize and think of certain movements in certain ways using certain language games. Thus the attempt to reduce the question to the physical misses what we mean when we say an action is voluntary.

    As a side note: Juergen Habermas recently (2007) wrote about this issue in the context of an article article rebutting 11 neuroscientists who came out with a manifesto about the vanquishing of the notion of free will in a prominent German brain sciences journal in 2004. Here’s some of what he had to say:

    “The conception of oneself as a person stands or falls conceptually with the distinction
    between doing and occurring, where ‘doing’ is subject to a further distinction between
    spontaneous behavior and intentional or ‘self-initiated’ action. The objectivating redescription
    of persons and their behavior recommended to us by the neurosciences
    abolishes these fundamental distinctions….”

    On Wittgenstein:

    “Natural scientific descriptions are based—at the levels of abstraction involved in theoretical
    concept-formation—on spatiotemporally identifiable events that can, in principle, be
    explained nomologically (that is, as deterministic events). …As Wittgenstein was never
    tired of pointing out, semantic content is instantiated only in those symbolic expressions,
    artifacts, and sign systems whose meaning remains inaccessible as long as we haven’t mastered
    the generative rules of a corresponding grammar and instead merely describe the
    physical substratum.”

    Juergen Habermas. “The Language Game of Responsible Agency and the Problem of Free Will: How can epistemic dualism be reconciled with ontological monism?” Philosophical Explorations 10:1 (2007), pp. 13-50.

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  36. DBHolmes – “I’m not sure where you undercut the points I made about brain anatomy and function as it relates to decisions.” I won’t go into your mish mash in the last thread again, I answered it there and here. I also answered the furphy about a fool foolishly correcting himself with prior neural activity for that correction, when answering Marvin Edwards. Be economical. Libet is conscious decision making, a build in a brain towards it, clearly explained above. I don’t care a whit whether you ummm… transfer a comment from your home page to to your site, or whatever? Did I send you a link? I hope you read it, and I don’t care what you do with it. I think you are off track for the reasons stated, and apparently you follow Sci Sal’s approach that “decisions” can be “unconscious” – by definition they are NOT. These past two threads are a mess of misconceptions in my view.
    DBHolmes “It is your job to explain why the signal Libet found is the decision.” I agree with Marvin Edwards that the decision-state is a state of neural activity. Why don’t you prove that its not? That would more worthwhile. You are pushing Libet up hill. Didn’t you see the smooth build up in his graph – directly to FLEX a wrist and somehow, you say, unrelated to a decision to do so? I see ….hmmm. Well, when neuroscience gets is head straight we might confirm that neural activity corresponds to decision-making and that is combines across cortices including wrist motor cortices in this case, despite the blinding obviousness of it. But then there’s the “hard problem” of correlating subjective experience with scans. Why don’t you work on that, or just read here for some answers – http://1drv.ms/1tnKM6f
    Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn, don’t worry, I don’t hope for anything when it comes to blogs, they are a mish mash of bad opinions, mostly. But specifically, no, you don’t have a proper defintion of decision there. The whole point of Libet and following experiments is to get the subject to consciously DECIDE something. You know yourself when you do that, and you know when you have not done that, when, instead, you just moved without a decision prior to it. You are just confusing things for yourself and others trying to say that just because there is a gradient of awareness from unconscious to conscious, decisions somehow become unconscious – they are at a peak, at the conscious level of intention! Neither you nor Sci Sal is at all correct that the gradient down to unconscious levels includes decisions at unconscious levels – illogical, counter to definition, and counter to your own gradient, which must build higher, to be conscious sufficiently to make an intentional decision. A bad error by both of you.
    Sci Sal – “Actually, Griffith does go into some details about why Libet-type experiments don’t tell us much about free will. You may want to look at it. If you are seriously interested in an excellent discussion of this and related topics, check this paper.” I appreciate the sentiment. I was looking for any reason in your coverage of Griffith to look into it, but I couldn’t find it. There is better reading available.
    Marvin Edwards – “The only exception I have is that you underestimate the squirrel. The squirrel may lack a voice and verbalization to reason using language, but squirrels are reliable problem solvers when it comes to overcoming obstacles in raiding your bird feeder. I suspect they reason with images, and that is sufficient to choose what tactic they will try next.” Birds are terrific, but humans are much more terrific. The way I would put it is in terms of Fred Hoyle. He proposed that if mutations are entirely random, then humans are constructed by a whirlwind in a junkyard. Sequential piece overlaying piece, like sequential DNA assembling by mutation – forget about Selection and just look at specific sequencing. Obviously it will survive or not, but the random accumulation of the sequence for the phenotype is the key – to have something in the first place thrown up to see if it survives. Using that long winded explanation, birds would be something less than a 747 – they just taxi on runways but are no doubt much more “reasoning” than a plant.

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  37. Meghan,
    Thank you for recognizing the point. While I’ve internalized my views to the point they are normal to me, the premise that some of our foundational assumptions are backward doesn’t get taken seriously by many.
    On time, as individual beings, we experience a sequence of events and so the narrative from past to future seems foundational. In fact, it is effectively codified in Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity by reducing time to measures of duration and thus from one event to the next, rather than considering the underlaying process of these events being created and dissolved. To wit, the earth doesn’t travel some dimension from yesterday to tomorrow. Tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth turns. This makes time an effect of action and thus similar to temperature, rather than space. Time is to temperature, what frequency is to amplitude. I will leave it at that, given I’ve made these arguments here a few too many times, but they do have bearing on a lot of different issues.
    As for morality, I think the problem is that we naturally look at it top down, but as it evolved bottom up, to make sense of it requires going there. For instance, the logical fallacy of monotheism is that it assumes the spiritual absolute as apex, when a physical absolute of a universal state would be equilibrium/basis. So a spiritual absolute, if one is inclined to consider that, would be the essence of awareness from which we rise, not an ideal form of knowledge and judgement from which we fell. Therefore good and bad are not some cosmic dual between the forces of righteousness and evil, but the basic biological binary code of attraction to the beneficial and repulsion of the detrimental. What is good for the fox, is bad for the chicken and there is no clear line where the chicken ends and the fox begins. So yes, when complex organisms and societies have to develop structure and processes of cooperation and competition, there are a lot of fuzzy areas and overlapping prerogatives. In fact, knowledge is a function of distillation. We have to extract the signal from the noise. Such as with a camera one has to set focus, speed, aperture, lighting, direction, lens, etc. Otherwise something such as leaving the shutter open too long causes whiteout. In stead of getting more information, information is lost. The noise overwhelms the signal. Yet necessarily many different signals exist in the same “noise.” So the very premise of a “God’s eye view,” or universal top down frame, is a contradiction of the very nature of knowledge, which is the peak of the individual frame.
    One idea to keep in mind is the dichotomy of energy and form. Energy manifests form, while form defines energy, even if it’s just the frequency and amplitude of a wave. The overwhelming evidence for this relationship is that evolution has given us a central nervous system to process form/information and the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems to process energy. Now energy is conserved and dynamic, while form is static and transitory. So the energy exists as what we call the present and its constant shapeshifting is the effect of time, as these forms come into being and dissolve.
    Now what is interesting here is that consciousness essentially functions as an energy, in that it is always in the present, while thoughts are the forms it manifests and which define it. Which then coalesce out of the future and dissolve into the past. Also, biologically, species move onto the future and future generations, while shedding the old, as these generations go from being in the future to being in the past. Much as the product of a factory goes from start to finish, while the process moves the other direction, consuming raw material and expelling finished product. Ultimately this could be extended to galactic processes as gigantic convection cycles of expanding radiation and collapsing mass. As well as those feedback loops through everything, including the conscious energy pushing out and the forms of thought gravitating in. Etc.
    Now those professions most focused on the intellect logically like to view reality in terms of form and so its all static and digitized. Yet that energy and consciousness keeps pushing outward in inconvenient fashion.
    Then when we look at society, the civil strictures and rules are form pushing in and down, while the social energies are constantly bubbling up and either carrying the whole onward and outward, or pushing through the cracks and dissolving the entity from the inside. So while they are often in conflict, they are still two sides of the same coin.
    Hope this is somewhat comprehensible and not too much, but as you seek objective understanding, I thought you might find this an interesting view.

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  38. Socratic,

    “free will discussions have focused more and more on guilt/moral responsibility. Of course, that’s what the trolley problem is about, as noted. Hence the relevance”

    I can see that, but I’m not even sure that trolley problems have to do with guilt, necessarily. To me they are a way to bring forth people’s intuitions about moral situations, nothing more.

    “On spandrels, oh, I agree, that, it would take more evolutionary argument as to how it did evolve, if possible. But, it’s theoretically possible.”

    It is. But as an evolutionary biologist I got a bit tired of spandrelism or adaptationism just being thrown out there without argument or evidence, hence my allergic reaction to your initial suggestion. But yes, it’s a possibility.

    Marvin,

    “the justice system assumes that if you did something deliberately, then the penalty would be more severe than if you did something accidentally. Why?”

    Because most of us make a distinction between accidents and deliberate action. Which makes sense to me.

    “As to differing “views one holds of free will”, that question helps to keep philosophy professors employed but are not much use to the rest of us.”

    As Meghan said in her gracious comment, no, these questions also have very practical import (for instance, on the justice system). Certainly more import than to figure out whether the universe is made of strings or not…

    brodix,

    “The issue I am having problems with is the assumption that it isn’t really will, if it is motivated by causal influences. What does will have to be “free” of, to qualify as will?”

    I agree, I think “free” in unnecessary and confusing. That’s why I prefer to term volition, used by psychologists, to free will.

    “The line between consciousness and subconscious is extremely fuzzy.”

    It is. That, however, doesn’t mean that there is no meaningful distinction to be made.

    Aravis,

    “Given that Wittgenstein — and others like Austin and Ryle — want to argue that the traditional philosophical uses of “voluntary” and “involuntary” are confused, I don’t see how any appeal to science can serve as a counter.”

    Well, at the risk of being considered a heretic, I think it is Wittgenstein (and Austin, and Ryle) who are confused, if they truly reject the distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions.

    “Remember that there is a *reason* why this tradition goes in this direction”

    Sure, but is it a good reason? Is it actually helpful? In this case I think Witty is certainly right to point toward certain language games involving concepts like free will, they are certainly part of what is going. But it ain’t *only* language games.

    “The move to the dissolution of some of the classic philosophical problems, via the analysis of language, a la Wittgenstein, Austin, and Ryle”

    Call me an old fashioned Popperian, then. Did you read Wittgenstein’s Poker? Written for the public by two BBC journalists, but definitely worth it even for the professional philosopher.

    “Wittgenstein is trying to come at problems in a way that really precludes the straightforward, methodical method preferred by traditional analytic philosophy.”

    I know, but my opinion of philosophers is inversely proportional to their lack of clarity or explicit argumentation. Witty is not the worst offender, but that’s why I have little patience for Heidegger and absolutely can’t stand Derrida.

    “Wittgenstein is not anti-science, as you allege — the man was an architect and a mechanical engineer. He is against philosophy trying to mimic the methods and subject matter of science”

    Well, that depends on what he (and I) exactly meant. I would agree that philosophy need not mimic the methods of science; but I would completely reject the further claim that scientific notions are irrelevant to a number of philosophical debates. One of which happens to be the one about free will.

    labnut,

    “Excellent reviews, like yours, are exactly what we need to make sense of the competing choices.”

    I thought you might like the idea. I will do more of these myself, and hopefully will be able to get some of my colleagues to write additional ones.

    Asher,

    “to describe Wittgenstein’s stances as “anti-science” is facile and, I think, wrong.”

    Obviously, I hit a Witty-related nerve… But see my reply above to Aravis, hopefully it helps putting my comment in context.

    Meghan,

    thanks so much for your post, it is nice to see the author herself following the discussion! Any time you wish to publish something in SciSal, just let me know…

    astro,

    “Choice is then an emergent property of subjectivity, and it follows there is an existential imperative for a social being to disclaim victimhood and take responsibility for all one’s acts and life”

    I’m less of a fun of Sartre than I am of Wittgenstein, I’m afraid. Yes, I suppose one could think of free will as an emergent property, but we better not just throw the word in there and be able to provide an account of what that means. As for the existentialists in general, I always thought they subscribed to a naive view of human nature, way overestimating the actual degrees of freedom we have to make decisions and shape our lives.

    jarnauga,

    “which is to describe how we interpret people’s actions as part of a social practice, *not* argue against the neurology of arm movement at all”

    Again, see above in response to Aravis, but isn’t the argument that the neurology of arm movement is irrelevant? If so, I take that position to be anti-science insofar as it excludes a valuable scientific contribution to a philosophical debate.

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  39. Meghan Griffith “many philosophers think causation could be probabilistic rather than necessitating. So every event could have a cause (universal causation) but if at least some of these causes are non-necessitating, then determinism is false. As Elizabeth Anscombe asserts in her landmark paper, “Causality and Determination”, there may be an important difference between something being determined right when it happens and being predetermined.”
    Really? Aren’t you just splitting terms and obfuscating their meaning? Causes do not exist without effects – there is action-reaction at the instant of causes creating effects, that’s all. From those instants, we conclude (or not) that there is a logical thread between all the events by which causes create effects, at action-reaction instants. When those logical relations between “events” set patterns and directions, we try to root out a compelling structure leading somewhere. We always use retrospect – in all science – to know the logical patterns to action-reaction events. Scientists are filled with hubris about prediction, but we know everything in retrospect, after having evolved and after a universe having evolved, presumably by action-reaction with an underlying pattern of cause driving effect. For example, “the neutron” decays and compresses with others for a Periodic Table, which then creates a planetary surfaces for interesting compounds. We do not know the POTENTIAL of a neutron until it plays out – then we simply compile a compendium of what “the neutron” can do. Emergence is just ignorance of potential and a foolish desire to predict rather than use retrospect to actually see the patterns. Predetermination is simply the logical pattern we find to action-reaction events when looking back at all times. Its actually not hard to see how the patterns are settled from a Big Bang of decaying neutrons, to supernovae, to planetary surface and to life – you just have to have the discipline and insight to do it – look here for clues – http://1drv.ms/1tnKM6f
    Marvin Edwards – No credible legal system will bend to the plea that “Humans Lack Free Will”. If you follow the logic of my argument, if we reason sufficiently (which many of us clearly can do) then we present choices to ourselves, reasonable choices for DECISION to act – not unconscious decisions for which we are not responsible because we are in a semi-conscious stupor – along the lines of unconscious decision-making by Sci Sal and Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn. Its pretty obvious that if neural activity for actions & decisions follow anatomical functions to represent them after a processing delay (50 ms eye, 35 ms ear, 150 ms touch, or whatever, by function) then there is no Homunculus, there is no “missing agent”, there is only anatomy represented by neurology after inevitable delay. No issue whatsoever unless you are prone to persuasion during automatism (explained above). Just be an enquiring and disciplined mind, not a frivolous and superficial one that spreads mish mash & nonsense. You probably know that anyway, instinctively, because all I have done is explain an EXTANT process.

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  40. Massimo:

    You say the exclusion of neurology is anti-science because it leaves out “a valuable scientific contribution to a philosophical debate.” But the contention is precisely that voluntary/involuntary is a matter of social practice, not neurology. No one is denying the neurology, least of all Wittgenstein. What he is denying is that the neurology will clarify the issue, because it is not that kind of question. To then reassert that neurology does have something important to tell us about the issue simply assumes that the issue is reducible in this way. And why would one simply assume that without explaining why the social practice answer is insufficient? Why must free will focus on antecedent neurology instead of a picture of a person’s actions under a particular description embedded in a social practice?

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  41. Jarnauga No, in this case, I see the “category mistake” as being the idea that “how we conceptualize and think of certain movements in certain ways using certain language games” is what makes certain movements voluntary or not. To reduce the question to the linguistic misses what we say when an action is voluntary.

    Again, per my question to Aravis, would you make the same claim about consciousness in general? Do you think that certain broad behavioral states should be called “conscious” merely due to how we conceptualize and think of them using certain language games?
    From where I stand, the analogy is very apt; if you logically say yes to defining consciousness that way, do you then believe in p-zombies?

    Astrodreamer If we’re talking about “radical freedom,” don’t you have to have the ability to be radically free? Don’t you have to have the ability to choose? Existential imperatives mean nothing if I don’t have the ability to follow through on them.

    Labnut Dennett was my intro to modern philosophy, when in high school. That said the older I get and the more he writes, the less he impresses me. That includes pulling his punches, on the “Cartesian” issue. As I’ve said before, if there is no Cartesian meaner, why is there still a Cartesian free willer? I mean, his “classical” compatibilism is just that, which is part of why I think he’s so hostile to Wegner. More below.

    EJ Your red heifer, Photoshopped by yours truly, is right here: https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-3JFrFuXEi7s/TiXvULOyTqI/AAAAAAAADvg/ZxwBBs8Lq9c/s624/RedHeiferJerky.jpg

    All I have never said myself that Libet-class experiments “disproved free will,” and certainly not that he’s “disproved free will and thus proved determinism.” Rather, my contention has been that he’s undercut some current ideas about free will, namely, issues about consciousness and free will.

    I will note one specific other thing in relation to that. Dennett says:

    Daniel Wegner’s case amounts to generalising the surprising discovery that in Ouija-board situations, people can often be made to feel they are the authors of acts that are in fact caused by the experimenter’s accomplice.

    Among other things, the flip side of Wegner (and others) on this or pseudo-limb manipulation is the old phantom limb phenomenon, which of course occurs regularly outside laboratories.

    Beyond that, Dennett tilts near the bullseye fallacy at times.

    Massimo Your Harvard paper shows more nuance in critiquing Libet than Dennett does. It does note the difficulty in separating out different concepts related to free will, such as intention, decision, freedom, etc. I do note that under decision-making, she speaks about “the types to care about.” A Dennett aside, isn’t this part of the issue? But, at the same time, it’s potentially subject to either “god of the gaps” or sorites issues. “Nope, this isn’t ‘something to care about.’”

    Back on the science side are other issues. Neuroscientists find the brain less “modular” than then did a decade ago, for example. This too is part of the big picture.

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