"Free Will" - defining it and looking for it

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Jeff D
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"Free Will" - defining it and looking for it

Postby Jeff D » Thu Jul 22, 2010 8:18 am

An interesting blog entry at Jerry Coyne's blog site, and some good comments.

I'm in the compatibilist "camp" that maintains the following:

1) Classical "free will" of the Cartesian sort doesn't exist except as an imaginary construct.

2) We human beings can and do make choices.

3) At the neurological and molecular levels, all of those choices are "determined" to greater or lesser degrees by a multitude of other "causes," events, and circumstances.

4) Many of our choices can be sensitive to reasons, unpredictable, and in a meaningful sense "rational" and "voluntary," because we had and have the capacity to do otherwise in many situations.

5) Human social systems produce better results -- happier, more productive, and more fulfilled citizens -- if those citizens treat each other as if the weak form of "free will" implied by 2) through 4) is a real phenomenon.
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Re: "Free Will" - defining it and looking for it

Postby nmblum88 » Thu Jul 22, 2010 6:17 pm

Jeff D wrote:An interesting blog entry at Jerry Coyne's blog site, and some good comments.

I'm in the compatibilist "camp" that maintains the following:

1) Classical "free will" of the Cartesian sort doesn't exist except as an imaginary construct.

2) We human beings can and do make choices.

3) At the neurological and molecular levels, all of those choices are "determined" to greater or lesser degrees by a multitude of other "causes," events, and circumstances.

4) Many of our choices can be sensitive to reasons, unpredictable, and in a meaningful sense "rational" and "voluntary," because we had and have the capacity to do otherwise in many situations.

5) Human social systems produce better results -- happier, more productive, and more fulfilled citizens -- if those citizens treat each other as if the weak form of "free will" implied by 2) through 4) is a real phenomenon.

Works for me....it always has, and I am consistently puzzled on how the religious can argue otherwise.
But of course they do.
The concept of "free will" as thrust upon innocent children is, even more than "Genesis, " necessary to the perpetuation of a belief in an all powerful god, who is also benevolent (as the Christian god is represented as being).
Certainly we engaged in acts disrespectful or contemptuous of god, so any punishments inflicted were nothing more or less than the result of our having acted freely, our choices the result of deliberation rather than inevitable.
We are, even now as then, treated to the idea that if we didn't WANT to get cancer we wouldn't get cancer, so questioning god's involvement in either our health or welfare is both heresy and unintelligent.

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Skepticism:
" Norma, you poor sad lonely alcoholic. You entire life is devoted to interrupting other people's posts on this forum, regardless of the topic, to tell them what's wrong with them. The irony is, here you are doing it again, with this very post.
Your fanciful card games, movie sojourns and exciting overseas trips, that all take place within the four walls of an aged care retirement home, do not suggest your own children offered you the care, I gave my parents."

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Jeff D
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Re: "Free Will" - defining it and looking for it

Postby Jeff D » Tue Jul 27, 2010 9:37 pm

I thought briefly about posting, on this thread, a link to an article / essay in the New York Times on reactions -- by a non-scientist humanities professor, William Egginton -- to some neuroscientific research that "threatens" the classical conception of free will.

I thought about posting the link, but something made me refrain from doing so.

Now, I see that Jerrry Coyne has linked to that NYT piece and has offered his own exegesis, which is pretty good.

Here a couple of tastes:

While Egginton doesn’t explicitly define free will (a recurrent problem in these sorts of discussions), he clearly knows its opposite: any behavior that can be predicted. But Egginton mistakes “predictability” for “determinism.” Our own behavior might well be completely determined by the concatenation of our genes and our environment (with perhaps a dollop of quantum indeterminacy thrown in for fun), but not be very predictable. It’s clear, in fact, that even if we are molecular automatons, we’ll never know enough to have more than a rudimentary ability to predict people’s decisions. We need to know not only how molecules, chemicals, and neurons interact with each other and their environment, but also how these interactions occur in own own unique configuration of molecules. On top of our inability to know everything is the fact that some things simply can’t be known: things like where an electron will move and when an atom will decay. But nobody thinks that free will resides in quantum indeterminacy.

. . . .

Surely our ever-increasing understanding of how the brain works and how it affects behavior must play an important role in how we see “free will.” People like Egginton, who see those advances as mere annoyances, are akin to theologians who constantly revise what the Bible really means in light of our increased understanding of physics, geology, and biology. Indeed, studies of the brain are pushing back notions of free will in precisely the way that studies of evolution have pushed back the idea of a creator-god.

We simply don’t like to think that we’re molecular automatons, and so we adopt a definition of free will that makes us think we’re free. But as far as I can see, I, like everyone else, am just a molecular puppet. I don’t like that much, but that’s how it is. I don’t like the fact that I’m going to die, either, but you don’t see me redefining the notion of “death” to pretend I’m immortal.
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Re: "Free Will" - defining it and looking for it

Postby Lausten » Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:03 am

I don’t like the fact that I’m going to die, either, but you don’t see me redefining the notion of “death” to pretend I’m immortal.
Great sound bite!

The boys at Reasonable Doubt have revisited this a couple times and are starting to joke about spending too much time on it. There is, I think, only so much that can be said. If you are a masochist for discussions like this, you might head over there and listen to one of them being interviewed on a Christian apologists radio show. Spoiler alert, it ends with Jeremy from Reasonable Doubts saying he has wasted his time and hanging up on them. http://doubtreligion.blogspot.com/2010/06/rd-extra-jeremy-on-don-johnson-radio.html

You might remember Herk not being too happy with my thoughts on free will, but this last round from Reasonable Doubts helped me a lot. A couple things I now keep in mind: we have a long way to go, and maybe will never fully understand the interactions of all particles well enough to make any reasonable predictions about what will happen next. And, things like debating, punishing criminals, teaching morals, and fighting for what you believe still all make sense because, even though it is determined, you still feel like you make a difference, and your taking an action will determine some future action, so in a way you do make a difference.

What you can hear in the hosts of the radio show above is the fear of this idea. Both because it will take away their sense of what Christianity is, and they will have to look for real jobs, and it will take away their sense of having any value at all. I get the sense that they worry about that a lot.
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