May 31 2016

Postdictive Illusion of Choice

fmri brainDo we truly have free will? This is a vexing question, and as with the question of consciousness, there are complementary philosophical and neuroscientific approaches. Philosophy gives thoughtful possible answers given what we know, but neuroscience advances what we know.

As I have discussed many times before, the totality of neuroscientific evidence strongly supports the conclusion that consciousness is a phenomenon of brain function. Dualist philosophies, those that posit that consciousness is anything other than or in addition to brain function, are simply trumped by the scientific evidence.

Free will, however, is a thornier question and more entangled with the philosophy. There are those who maintain that free will is entirely an illusion, because our brains are machines so they must follow physical laws which determine their behavior, hence our behavior, therefore no true free will. While I do not think this can reasonably be refuted, some think the real question is whether or not we make choices. If we do, whether or not those choices are free from physics, then perhaps that can be considered a form of free will.

Putting aside the philosophical question here, the neuroscientific question is this – to what extent do we make conscious choices vs subconscious choices?

In other words, when you make a decision, such as what to wear on a particular day, to what extent is that a conscious decision where you are weighing variables of which you are explicitly aware, and to what extent is that choice made by subconscious algorithms with you more automatically following that choice?

There is evidence that, at least to some extent, some of the decisions we make are made subconsciously, before we are even aware that we made a decision. There is at least preliminary evidence showing that some decisions are made in the brain (indicated by lighting up on fMRI) before the person is aware of the choice. And yet, when asked people will almost always indicate a conscious reason for the choice. They invent a justification for a choice they never consciously made, and they believe that was the true reason for their non-decision.

This is most dramatically demonstrated in the split-brain experiments. Briefly, if the major connection between the two hemispheres is severed, they cannot fully communicate. If you then show the right half of the brain an image and then ask the subject to choose an item with their left hand (the hand controlled by the right hemisphere) they will choose the image they just saw. If you then ask the left hemisphere why they did that (the left hemisphere doesn’t know) it will invent a justification – “I chose the bottle of water because I was thirsty,” when in fact their other hemisphere had just seen a picture of a bottle of water.

There is another neuroscientific phenomenon going on here as well, the extrapolation of reality briefly into the future. Imagine catching a baseball thrown quickly at you. There is an unavoidable delay in the time it takes for neurons to conduct signals, a few hundred milliseconds. In that time the baseball would whack you in the head. So how do you catch it? Well, neuroscientists have found that our brains extrapolate into the future to compensate for the delay in processing time. We see and feel things slightly before they actually happen in order to compensate for the processing delay.

This creates the illusion that we are perceiving now as it happens in real time, but we do not. As is often the case, this system works fine most of the time, but can be stressed to create perceptual illusions.

Recently neuroscientists asked how this phenomenon, projecting into the future, might influence the illusion of choice. Perhaps we not only project our perceptions into the future, but our decision-making as well. They conducted an experiment in which subjects were shown five what dots on a computer screen. After a warning a random dot would turn red. The subjects had to decide which of the dots was going to turn red, and then indicate if they guessed correctly. On some trials the time between the warning and the dot turning red was too short for the subject to make a decision, and they were told to indicate that they did not have enough time to choose.

When the subjects were given enough time to choose, they reported choosing the correct dot 20% of the time, which is in line with chance and demonstrates that they are honestly reporting their choices. However, when the interval between the warning and the dot turning red was decreased, sometimes they did not have enough time to choose. During those trials, subjects reported an overall 30% accuracy.

What the researchers think is going on is that for some trials (when the delay was in the sweet spot) the subjects perceived the dot turning red then chose that dot but had the illusion that they had made the decision beforehand. The researchers call this a postdictive illusion of choice.

They go on to speculate about whether or not this is a feature or a bug of the brain. Perhaps our brains are wired to give the illusion of choice, even when that choice is made after the fact, in order to enhance our motivation through belief in our own power. Even more interesting, perhaps some mental illnesses could involve an exaggeration of this feature. Delusional people might believe that they intended for something to happen before it happened, when in reality the intention came after the reality.

Conclusion

Given what we know about how our brains function, the notion of a postdictive illusion of choice makes sense. Our brains generally construct a narrative of reality in a very active process that involves perceptual attention, filtering, and selection, significant processing that weaves the various sensory streams together with our knowledge, expectations, and internal dialogue, and adding a generous helping of pure confabulation to fill in any missing pieces and make everything internally consistent. We already know that there is a temporal dimension to this construction. It is certainly plausible and consistent with existing evidence that the illusion of choice, even when that choice comes after events, can be part of that constructive process.

It also seems from this and other experiments that the question of whether or not choices are conscious or unconscious is not black or white. They are a combination, depending on events. There are certainly times when we consciously deliberate our choices, even while we may not be entirely aware of all the subconscious influences. Other choices, however, may be more automatic and involve little to no conscious choice.

Regardless of how much a choice is conscious or unconscious, we seem to be wired to have the illusion that our choices are conscious, even to the point of thinking we made a choice before we could have made it.

161 responses so far

161 Responses to “Postdictive Illusion of Choice”

  1. arnieon 31 May 2016 at 9:42 am

    So it seems the question of free will, yes or no, is a false dichotomy. If what our brain does in terms of choice is never entirely free of a combination of a variety of influences: genetic, past experiential, current perceptual, future goals, etc. and if, at any given moment of decision, we will not be aware, or only partially aware, of the role of at least some of those influences, and yet, if it’s true that we can make some use of what we are aware of in making a decision, it follows that, at that moment, there could sometimes be at least be a degree of, but never absolute, “free will” in the decision.

    If that is a true statement (if perhaps overly-simplified) from current neuroscience evidence, it makes me wonder why philosophers and scientists both can’t seem to let go of the question in its falsely dichotomous form and accept that some, if not all, choices fall somewhere on the free will continuum but never on the on the absolute-free-will end of it.

    Thanks for a great post toward that end.

  2. tudzaon 31 May 2016 at 10:16 am

    Wow, I’m really amazed that such a detailed article was generated by some meat machine, even if it was programmed to do so.

  3. mumadaddon 31 May 2016 at 10:20 am

    tudza,

    We prefer ‘fleshy automaton’ or ‘meat robot’.

  4. hardnoseon 31 May 2016 at 10:27 am

    Whether choices are conscious or not has nothing to do with whether we have free will. Most of our mental activity is outside of conscious awareness — if mental activity is outside of conscious awareness, that does not mean it’s “automatic.” And if it were automatic, whatever that means, that would not mean it’s determined by physics.

  5. joshguthon 31 May 2016 at 11:47 am

    Fascinating. I wonder if “knowing” that the choice is being made without our conscious awareness affects the outcome. My brain would have made a different decision had I not read this article, which I did not choose to do in the first place.

  6. hardnoseon 31 May 2016 at 12:12 pm

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mind

  7. hardnoseon 31 May 2016 at 12:14 pm

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116085105.htm

  8. hardnoseon 31 May 2016 at 12:16 pm

    “The origin of consciousness reflects our place in the universe, the nature of our existence. Did consciousness evolve from complex computations among brain neurons, as most scientists assert? Or has consciousness, in some sense, been here all along, as spiritual approaches maintain?” ask Hameroff and Penrose in the current review

  9. Steven Novellaon 31 May 2016 at 12:57 pm

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2013/12/22/quantum-theory-wont-save-soul/#.V03BdfkrKUk

    “To date, there is no evidence that such quantum processes are involved in neuron-to-neuron communication or brain function.”

  10. hardnoseon 31 May 2016 at 1:17 pm

    That was written before the research I linked.

  11. Steven Novellaon 31 May 2016 at 1:28 pm

    It is still true The research you linked is by one fringe pair of researchers pushing their theory. At best the evidence goes to plausibility, but is not evidence that quantum effects are actually responsible for any brain function, and there are still huge plausibility hurdles to get over.

    This is massive speculation at best. You cite it as if it is a conclusion.

  12. The Other John Mcon 31 May 2016 at 1:35 pm

    The moment I read this article, I thought, “oh great, hardnose is going to ruin the comments section again”. Thanks for not letting us down buddy!

  13. hardnoseon 31 May 2016 at 1:41 pm

    “there are still huge plausibility hurdles to get over.”

    They are only huge plausibility hurdles if you are a materialist!

  14. RickKon 31 May 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Still waiting for that example of consciousness without any brains involved.

  15. Ian Wardellon 31 May 2016 at 2:12 pm

    Steven Novella
    “Do we truly have free will? This is a vexing question”.

    No Steve, it is not a vexing question.

    Steven Novella
    “[T]here are complementary philosophical and neuroscientific approaches”.

    No Steve, it has absolutely nothing to do with science. By virtue of my direct experience my will is free since my body responses appropriately when I will something.

    Steven Novella
    “The totality of neuroscientific evidence strongly supports the conclusion that consciousness is a phenomenon of brain function. Dualist philosophies, those that posit that consciousness is anything other than or in addition to brain function, are simply trumped by the scientific evidence”.

    Sighs . . . you cannot have scientific evidence for that which no conceivable causal mechanisms could exist. You cannot bridge the chasm from the purely quantitative to the qualitative. It simply resides outside the purview of science, dimwit..

    Steven Novella, you are a philosophically clueless nincompoop, as are almost all the commentators on here.

  16. roadfoodon 31 May 2016 at 2:33 pm

    “you cannot have scientific evidence for that which no conceivable causal mechanisms could exist.”

    A more lucid statement of self-contradictory nonsense I have never read.

    “Steven Novella, you are a philosophically clueless nincompoop, as are almost all the commentators on here.”

    Well, that surely wins you the argument.

  17. edamameon 31 May 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Wardell: congratulations on the first post ever on the internet that somehow managed to contain more fallacies than sentences.

    Experiences are brain processes. I positively conceive of the neuronal instantiation of conscious experience as easily as I conceive of the biomechanical instantiation of locomotion in the praying mantis. You have given no reason to think otherwise. I’d spell out the details, but you have already proven you are a fallacy engine, so it is not worth the time to even try to engage in reasoned discourse with you.

  18. daedalus2uon 31 May 2016 at 3:51 pm

    We don’t have “direct evidence” of our own consciousness. What we have is a perception of what appears to be consciousness.

    We know that humans have hyperactive agency detection. It seems very plausible to me that what we think is “consciousness”, is simply hyperactive agency detection directed on itself. It is the false-positive detection of an “agent” by hyperactive agency detection.

    The very interesting experiments on light color choice seem to indicate that the time resolution of “choosing” and “detecting” and “remembering” and “choosing and detecting” is not that great and so confabulation occurs easily and frequently.

  19. mumadaddon 31 May 2016 at 4:07 pm

    You can define free will in a number of ways and get different answers to the question of whether or not we have it without introducing any woo into the equation.

    The classic definition squabbled over by philosophers would require the introduction of something non-deterministic (and non random) into our decision making apparatus in order work. I.e. something that cannot exist so far as we can tell.

    Isn’t that conversation dead in academia? Materialism won.

    Steve’s question is way more interesting because we don’t yet know what the answer is. How much of our decision making is automatic vs deliberated? Or where do specific types of choice fall on the spectrum of automatic vs deliberated? How accurate is our subjective experience of automatic vs deliberative?

  20. hardnoseon 31 May 2016 at 5:08 pm

    If a mental process is subconscious, that does not mean it is automatic.

  21. hardnoseon 31 May 2016 at 5:09 pm

    “Isn’t that conversation dead in academia? Materialism won.”

    How and why did it win? A philosopher decides something based on his personal preferences, and it therefore becomes an accepted fact?

  22. pdeboeron 31 May 2016 at 5:20 pm

    I never was convinced that a decision made before the feeling that the decision was made somehow means that we don’t have free will. Richard wiseman presented this as fact in one of his books. Never sat right with me.

    Hasn’t it been proven enough, in that people have psychiatric problems that can be helped with drugs?

    Your mind has been changed by drugs and the decision you make thereafter.

    While it doesn’t prove that all decisions are determined by predictable biology, some are.

  23. BillyJoe7on 31 May 2016 at 5:30 pm

    When they resort to name-calling (“materialist!”) and verbal abuse (“nincompoop” “nitwit”), you can be pretty sure they have lost the debate.

  24. BillyJoe7on 31 May 2016 at 5:35 pm

    Hameroff and Penrose: “Did consciousness evolve from complex computations among brain neurons, as most scientists assert? Or has consciousness, in some sense, been here all along, as spiritual approaches maintain?”

    And this is an explanation for consciousness?
    It has been there all along!
    Is, was, and always will be!
    God is dead, long live consciousness!

  25. hardnoseon 31 May 2016 at 6:13 pm

    From the article Steve N. linked:

    “Coherence is thought to be rare in biology, or exceedingly brief, because molecular noise in living cells tends to destroy the coherence… a few examples of quantum effects in biology have been reported, and this new field is gaining momentum, but some of the data are controversial… To date, there is no evidence that such quantum processes are involved in neuron-to-neuron communication or brain function.”

    It is a new field which is “gaining momentum.”

    The article I linked was written a year later.

    “a controversial 20-year-old theory of consciousness published in Physics of Life Reviews claims that consciousness derives from deeper level, finer scale activities inside brain neurons. The recent discovery of quantum vibrations in “microtubules” inside brain neurons corroborates this theory”

    So this looks like a plausible theory and we will have to see how the research goes.

  26. Ian Wardellon 31 May 2016 at 6:19 pm

    Have presented my proof that consciousness is necessarily causally efficacious. Have explained that the fact that our behaviour is predictable has no repercussions for free will. Have explained that the fact the future might exist, that our actions might be “inevitable”, has no implications for free will. Have explained that science as currently conceived cannot *in principle* explain consciousness. Have explained that even if materialism could be rendered intelligible — and I think it can’t — we have absolutely no reason to subscribe to it. Have explained that the mind body correlations could not make materialism true. Have explained that these mind -brain correlations might give evidence for the notion that consciousness is produced by the brain, but it is *non-scientific* evidence, and it is a very weak sort of evidence and does nothing to negate the fat that the brain producing consciousness is miraculous.

    I have explained all this and much more on my blog. But everyone simply ignores it, or those that read it simply fail to comprehend it. There is nothing more for me to do, nothing more I can do. Nothing more I can say. It is just a fact that most human beings cannot understand elementary philosophy. That certainly includes you lot. Yes I’m looking at you Steve Novella, and you Billyjoe. You’re all barking mad.

  27. Steve Crosson 31 May 2016 at 7:07 pm

    Ian,

    A bit of friendly advice: If you ever encounter a book on logic, and if you actually manage to read and understand it, especially the part about logical fallacies, then you should NEVER, EVER re-read your own blog — you’ll be really embarrassed.

  28. Steve Crosson 31 May 2016 at 7:17 pm

    Ian,

    Here is another tip to get you started on your road to enlightenment. Every time you used the word “explained” in your recent comment, simply substitute the more accurate word “asserted” — the parenthetical (without proof) should be self-evident.

  29. tmac57on 31 May 2016 at 8:23 pm

    There is nothing more for me to do, nothing more I can do. Nothing more I can say.

    Oh thank you Xenu!
    So we no longer have to suffer from your endless whinging then?
    But of course you will continue Ian, afterall, it is beyond your free will.
    Forces compel you that exceed your ability to stop now.
    Isn’t that right Ian?
    Show us, Ian, your ability not to comment here further.
    I dare you Ian
    Prove me wrong Ian.

  30. Ian Wardellon 31 May 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Well Mr Cross, people have different opinions regarding whether I employ logic or not. Someone on the fb telegraph page has just said to me: “Why are you using logic on the Internet?”. Admittedly that was regarding a response of mine to a telegraph article about that gorilla rather than about free will or materialism. But still..

  31. Steve Crosson 31 May 2016 at 9:42 pm

    Ian,

    The rules of logic have nothing to do with whether someone on the internet agrees with you.

    Pro Tip: Most people believe themselves to be logical — they’re wrong.

    To be logical, your conclusions must necessarily follow from your premises — and, of course, your premises must actually be demonstrably true instead of unfounded assertions.

  32. Sylakon 31 May 2016 at 10:33 pm

    “This is most dramatically demonstrated in the split-brain experiments. Briefly, if the major connection between the two hemispheres is severed, they cannot fully communicate”

    How they do that? I know some people had their link between the two hemisphere cut ( Le corp calleux right? I don’t know how it is called in English or latin Corpus callous? l) by surgery, but can you do it temporarily? with drugs or electrodes? I wonder how they do that. It must be weird to experienced… now I’m curious.

    This is a fascinating topic! Of course this can seems vexing, but as with the simulated universe possibility ( which I’m pretty sure is nonsense, numbers like pi or e going infinitely is proof enough for me), do we really care? It seem like free will enough and it work. Yeah, we are meat bags? And what’s bad about that? I’m happy, I have fun, the universe is fascinating. Automated or not we can still poke around those question, and just just that it’s worth it.

    It seems logical that some choice are automated, or made by some unconscious mechanism, make sense and it’s consistent with the ways other stuff in the brain seem to work. And I think it also make sense from evolution stand point. But It’s probably both, automated and spontaneous for some more conscious mechanisms.

    Even if it was fully automated, no freewill, It’s still my brain that make decision, whatever mechanism is behind it. It is my mechanism, in my brain, so it’s still me making the decision. we are the total of our body, brain included. Dualist and “mind-body” spiritual practitioner/believers often try to make people believe THEY are the one uniting mind and body, When they are in fact they areseparating them. We say, us “materialist”, your mind is your brain ( our as Dr novella put it so well, the mind is what the brain does). Your brain is a complete part of your body. A organ within it. we are the ones ( materalist) uniting mind and body.

    But of course dualist take this personally, like a direct attack to their person, their belief, but it’s funny because belief is also a brain mechanism. speaking of dualist, I was reading this and I told myself “ooh hardnose, Wardell and Egnor are going to be SOOO over this… the later has not showed yet. lol 🙂

    This is such a great subject for, either interesting and deep discussion or intellectually dishonest ones from people defending their belief ( naturally that’s what the brains does all the time). Still, it is interesting to see it happen. We meat bags are funny quirky animals!

    And now I will quote the Awesome Rush song Freewill. Because it’s great and fit the topic lol 🙂

    “You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
    You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
    I will choose a path that’s clear
    I will choose freewill
    […]
    Each of us
    A cell of awareness
    Imperfect and incomplete
    Genetic blends
    With uncertain ends
    On a fortune hunt that’s far too fleet”

  33. jsterritton 31 May 2016 at 11:24 pm

    @hn

    “If a mental process is subconscious, that does not mean it is automatic.”

    I know better than to expect you to define terms or to use technical terms correctly, but here goes: “subconscious” and “unconscious” are mostly interchangeable with the latter being generally held to be more precise as a medical term. “Unconscious” has linguistic advantages across languages, which is one reason Freud famously favored it. Why? Short answer: because “un” and “non” are equivalent, whereas “sub” and “non” are not (e.g., “sub” implies an inferior status).

    So if a non-conscious (or unconscious) mental process occurs, it must be automatic or — like so many other crucial brain functions — autonomic. To suggest otherwise is tantamount to saying such a process is, impossibly, a conscious one. Either that or it has intent coming from outside the mind. Wait, I know: you’ll say the “consciousness” is coming from inside the mind (or the hive mind or whatever) and that we’re being too quick to dismiss a perfectly rational and obvious explanation on the grounds that we don’t yet have the mental capacity to understand it. This line of reasoning is moot (and also stupid).

    For all intents and purposes, an unconscious mental process must be considered automatic. It’s either that, or fairy godmothers (i.e., some other conscious agency ceaselessly interceding in a painfully predictable way).

    Sure, there could be midi-chlorians, the God of Abraham, or shoe-cobbling goblins connecting the dots. But I would argue that if the Force, God, and fairy-tale sprites act exactly the same way, every time, such that every human benefits from predictable unconscious mental processes, the result is automatic.

    Just like that door at the supermarket.

  34. Average Joeon 01 Jun 2016 at 5:53 am

    I remember a This American Life podcast (this blog too?) about a woman who could not form new memories. After a time period, she’d reset and say the exact same series of sentences. I dont remember much of the details but the narrative was to question whether freewill exists or not.

  35. BillyJoe7on 01 Jun 2016 at 7:09 am

    Ian,

    “No Steve, it is not a vexing question”

    For once I agree.
    It’s not a vexing question.
    A process can be either mechanistic or probabilistic and freewill cannot be acheived with either.
    The whole concept of freewill is therefore incoherent.
    Nice to know we agree here |:

    “No Steve, it has absolutely nothing to do with science”

    Yes, Ian, it has absolutely everything to do with science.
    (See how easy it is to do that!)

    “By virtue of my direct experience my will is free since my body responses appropriately when I will something”

    That is not freewill.
    That is the illusion of freewill.
    And no one is denying that the illusion of freewill is real.

    “you cannot have scientific evidence for that which no conceivable causal mechanisms could exist”

    The illusion of freewill certainly does have a causal mechanism.
    Freewill doesn’t, of course, because it doesn’t exist.

    “You cannot bridge the chasm from the purely quantitative to the qualitative. It simply resides outside the purview of science, dimwit..”

    It is actually how science works.
    Science starts with the qualitative and progresses towards the quantitive.
    The speed of light is friggin’ fast -> the speed of light is approximately 299,792 k/s
    Heat -> kinetic energy of molecules
    Temperature and pressure -> vibration of molecules.
    Qualia -> watch this space.
    (Oh, that’s the other thing, the work of science is never finished).

    “Steven Novella, you are a philosophically clueless nincompoop, as are almost all the commentators on here”

    Well, you’ve simply lost the argment.

  36. BillyJoe7on 01 Jun 2016 at 7:23 am

    “Yes I’m looking at you Steve Novella, and you Billyjoe”

    Why thank you, Ian.
    I don’t think I’ve ever been complimented by you before, what a pleasant surprise!
    But, nah, out of all humility, I have to reject the comparison, but thanks anyways.

  37. RickKon 01 Jun 2016 at 8:40 am

    When philosophy is confronted with contradictory evidence, it is philosophy that must give way.

    Geocentrism was a philosophy. The gods of Olympus were philosophy. Aristotle’s assertion that heavier objects fall faster was philosophy. The rise of the proletariat was philosophy. Philosophical frameworks only work if they can survive contact with evidence.

    In this particular debate, the evidence is clear: every single part of consciousness, of personality, of identity – in short every single part of what philosophers have called “the soul” – is a manifestation of physical processes in the brain. The datapoints are overwhelming and irrefutable – from fMRI studies to split brains to the cases that comprise Oliver Sacks’s books.

    Just because we perceive our consciousness from the inside doesn’t change the fact that consciousness is an electro-chemically generated phenomenon, and ceases to exist when those electro-chemical processes cease.

    The implications of this may be disturbing to some philosophers. But, better an uncomfortable truth than a comfortable lie. That’s my philosophy 🙂

  38. ccbowerson 01 Jun 2016 at 9:21 am

    ”I have explained all this and much more on my blog. But everyone simply ignores it, or those that read it simply fail to comprehend it.”

    Have you considered that it is not misunderstood, but rejected,  because your arguments are not convincing? Perhaps you are just wrong.

    I generally avoid these “free will” discussions because they take a lot of time, and unless we are dealing with these nonmaterialist advocates (who are strongly pushed by ideology), disagreements tend to stem from having a different concept of the term “free will.” Thus, nearly all of the time is spent arguing about slightly different things.

  39. Steven Novellaon 01 Jun 2016 at 9:23 am

    The question of free will is vexing because there are different ways one might define free will, and the implications are a matter of debate. I agree, strictly speaking, there is only the illusion of free will. Likewise, we only have the illusion of reality constructed inside our heads. But some illusions are persistent and do have a meaningful relationship to actual reality.

    To add to the overwhelming evidence that consciousness is brain function, my SBM post today: https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/pet-scans-predict-coma-outcome/

    From this evidence it looks like you need 42% of healthy overall brain metabolism in order to generate consciousness. Consciousness is an emergent property of overall brain function. If that function is reduced below a critical level – no consciousness.

  40. ccbowerson 01 Jun 2016 at 9:24 am

    But surely, most of us here are not talking about will that is free from biology, chemistry, and the laws of physics.

    But if we are talking about a meaningful term, then should it not be able to describe behaviors from reflexes to volition, and the spectrum in between? To some extent there is some post-hoc processing going on to all of our behaviors, but are they all equal in this regard? It doesn’t appear that they are, to the extent they are not the same, isn’t this what we should be really talking about?

  41. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 9:30 am

    “the overwhelming evidence that consciousness is brain function”

    Obviously we know that people cannot communicate without a functioning brain. And consciousness is defined here as being able to communicate.

    So the research really says nothing about consciousness.

  42. mumadaddon 01 Jun 2016 at 9:44 am

    BJ7,

    “A process can be either mechanistic or probabilistic and freewill cannot be acheived with either.”

    Maybe you can clarify something for me. Does probabilistic mean something that is ACTUALLY probabilistic (fundamentally non-deterministic) or something that is effectively probabilistic in terms or our ability to predict it? E.g. QM — I have heard Sean Carroll say that he believes that QM is deterministic, though we generally refer to it as being probabilistic.

  43. mumadaddon 01 Jun 2016 at 9:50 am

    ”I have explained all this and much more on my blog. But everyone simply ignores it, or those that read it simply fail to comprehend it.”

    This is veering into crank territory.

  44. Ivan Groznyon 01 Jun 2016 at 9:58 am

    “But some illusions are persistent and do have a meaningful relationship to actual reality.”

    How do we know this? In order to claim that something has a “meaningful relationship” to “actual reality” you have to postulate an independent way of knowing what is “actual reality”, beyond “illusions of reality constructed in our head”. Sounds like a confusion to me.

    On the other hand, you don’t need a Cartesian “ghost in the machine” ontology, even less any cruder Christian or other religious dualism to defend free will. Here is Martin Heisenberg (the biologist son) explaining how free will does not require a notion of consciousness as exempted from neurophysiological causality, but means a formation of “self-initiating adaptive behaviour”. You can have both the concept of consciousness as a brain function and free will in a relevant ethical sense.

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v459/n7244/full/459164a.html

  45. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 10:05 am

    “I have heard Sean Carroll say that he believes that QM is deterministic”

    If Sean Carroll believes it, it must be a fact.

  46. Steven Novellaon 01 Jun 2016 at 10:17 am

    HN – consciousness is not defined as the ability to communicate. That is an extremely naive statement.
    There are many markers for consciousness, and communication is only one. There is also every conceivable reaction to and interaction with the environment that is not purely reflexive but requires some level of consciousness. This could be fixing and following an object, localizing pain, following commands, or turning to a sound.

    So essentially you are saying that the brain is necessary for every possible marker of consciousness but not consciousness itself. First, you cannot possibly know this, by definition. Second, this is meaningless. What is consciousness without any manifestation of consciousness?

    This is classic denialism. The evidence is overwhelming – markers for consciousness correlate with brain function, globally and focally, with a clear arrow of causation. This is overwhelming evidence that consciousness is brain function.

    There is no more reason to doubt this than to believe (as I stated before) in light switch fairies.

  47. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 10:37 am

    “There is also every conceivable reaction to and interaction with the environment that is not purely reflexive but requires some level of consciousness.”

    Interacting with the environment requires a brain. Interacting with the environment is what the brain does.

    Consciousness is unrelated tot his, as far as anyone knows.

  48. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 10:38 am

    And when I said “communicating” obviously I meant interacting with the environment in some way. Receiving information through senses (input), moving muscles (output).

  49. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 10:41 am

    “What is consciousness without any manifestation of consciousness?”

    That is where you are stuck in materialist ideology. If you define consciousness as ability to interact with the “material” world (the world as perceived by the physical senses), then of course your definition has to be materialist.

    All of you evidence that supposedly shows the brain generates consciousness actually shows that the brain is needed for interaction with the physical environment.

  50. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 10:46 am

    We know that we are conscious while dreaming yet we don’t interact with the environment. However, being awakened easily is a healthy self-protecting response.

    A person with serious brain damage or disease may be unable to awaken or interact. How can you possibly know that they are not conscious?

    And they have found that coma patients are able to hear, and can respond with brain activation.

    And the ability of coma patients to hear is generally believed by medical professionals.

    So the entire foundation of your certainty that the brain causes consciousness is a fallacy.

  51. Steven Novellaon 01 Jun 2016 at 11:00 am

    You are asking me to prove a negative, which is fallacious. You have to prove that there is consciousness.

    The fact that some patients can react on fMRI to sounds does not prove your point at all. It simply means that some brain functions can be occurring even while overall the brain is unable to produce consciousness. Again – 42%. That means you can have 30% brain function, but no wakeful consciousness, but still there is some brain function which could, for example, process sounds.

    And you are again incorrect that interaction with the environment is the only evidence for consciousness. We also have the memories of people who were unconscious, specifically the lack of memories. There is no evidence that people form memories while their brain is not functioning.

    Bottom line – there is zero evidence of any manifestation of consciousness without brain function. This is not a materialist assumption, this is a fact. All you are saying is that I cannot prove invisible non-corporeal heatless unicorns don’t exist.

  52. edamameon 01 Jun 2016 at 11:04 am

    Hardnose:

    Someone can be paralyzed but conscious, true. Obviously consciousness didn’t evolve so we could have experiences while paralyzed.

    In general, just because consciousness can operate “offline” doesn’t mean it didn’t evolve as an online phenomenon, to help us while we are awake, to help us more successfully interact with our environment. In fact, when we are dreaming, we are mostly paralyzed too (indeed Dr Novella can probably tell us how disastrous it can be disastrous when this paralysis breaks down).

    We can give drugs that take away your ability to dream, but they do not take away your ability to be conscious. You don’t suddenly become insane or lose your grip on reality. If we give you drugs that take away your consciousness, on the other hand, you become a vegetable and are useless. You can no longer effectively interact with your environment. The primary role of consciousness, the functional organization around which all the evidence points, is toward engaging with an environment online.

    Sometimes this evolved machinery can be activated in other, offline, secondary, contexts. But that’s like saying that orgasms evolved for the purposes of masturbation. Yes, you do it all the time, but that’s not what evolution cares about. 🙂

  53. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 11:18 am

    “There is no evidence that people form memories while their brain is not functioning.”

    Some people have memories of the time they were in a coma. And not remembering does not mean they were not conscious. We often are unable to remember our dreams, for example.

    Recent research on consciousness in coma patients:
    https://www.sciencenews.org/article/brain-activity-unconscious-patients-offers-new-views-awareness

  54. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 11:20 am

    “The primary role of consciousness, the functional organization around which all the evidence points, is toward engaging with an environment online.”

    We have conscious experiences every night while dreaming, and not engaging with the environment.

  55. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 11:24 am

    “there is zero evidence of any manifestation of consciousness without brain function.”

    How could you possibly measure consciousness without any brain function? You definition makes your belief necessarily true. But there is nothing scientific about it.

  56. mumadaddon 01 Jun 2016 at 11:31 am

    “How could you possibly measure consciousness without any brain function?”

    http://www.horizonresearch.org/Uploads/Journal_Resuscitation__2_.pdf

  57. Steven Novellaon 01 Jun 2016 at 11:54 am

    You can’t measure consciousness without brain function. The simplest interpretation of this is that consciousness is brain function. There is absolutely no reason to introduce any other phenomenon. It is not even wrong – it’s unnecessary and unfalsifiable.

    How do you know that when you flip the light switch to the on position there isn’t a light fairy that turns on the light?

  58. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 12:00 pm

    “The simplest interpretation of this is that consciousness is brain function.”

    No, that is an arbitrary ideological interpretation. Completely lacking any scientific evidence. But you feel no need to provide scientific evidence for something you believe well, just because, “well it has to be true because I believe it.”

  59. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 12:07 pm

    mumadadd that research you linked shows there may be consciousness during times of no brain activity.

    This kind of research is relatively recent. It is certainly definitely unscientific to state that consciousness results from brain activity, just because you prefer the materialist mythology.

  60. Steven Novellaon 01 Jun 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Your logic is simply wrong. That is the principle of Occam’s razor – you should not introduce unnecessary new assumptions. You have not said anything to refute or contradict the scientific position that the conclusion that consciousness is brain function is consistent with all the scientific evidence and is the simplest interpretation of that evidence. You cannot refute the science, or even state a coherent position, so you just keep crying “materialist.”

  61. mumadaddon 01 Jun 2016 at 12:11 pm

    “mumadadd that research you linked shows there may be consciousness during times of no brain activity.”

    It was negative. They didn’t get a single hit on their stated outcome measure.

  62. Steven Novellaon 01 Jun 2016 at 12:13 pm

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/aware-results-finally-published-no-evidence-of-nde/

  63. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 12:20 pm

    “That is the principle of Occam’s razor – you should not introduce unnecessary new assumptions.”

    Occam’s razor is often misused in that way. The “simplest” explanation is just the one you prefer.

    There is nothing simple about the materialist “explanations” of how the brain supposedly generates consciousness!

  64. mumadaddon 01 Jun 2016 at 12:23 pm

    Oh wow…

  65. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 12:23 pm

    It showed possible consciousness during times of no detectable brain activity.

    The stupid idea of seeing if patients could read signs on the ceiling of course failed.

  66. edamameon 01 Jun 2016 at 12:23 pm

    hn wrote: “We have conscious experiences every night while dreaming, and not engaging with the environment.”

    Yes, and my entire post addressed this explicitly, and why it doesn’t bely the main evolved function of consciousness: to aid in the interaction with the world. You did nothing to address my points. As I said, just because you have orgasms all the time while masturbating, doesn’t mean that’s the biological point of orgasm.

    You haven’t addressed any of the biological points I’ve made, but simply restated your original position, thereby begging the question.

    Until you do, I consider you aptly refuted. The burden of proof is on you, and simply restating your original claim is not sufficient. I have rebutted it.

  67. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 1:37 pm

    “The primary role of consciousness, the functional organization around which all the evidence points, is toward engaging with an environment online.”

    And who decided this? And why did they decide this without any scientific evidence for it?

  68. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 1:40 pm

    Oh wow mumadadd? What is amazing you? The idea that someone might not unconsciously and mindlessly accept the materialist ideas about consciousness?

    Since you all (unreasonably) reject everything discovered by parapsychologists, we can just ignore that (to keep this argument short) and say there is no proof either way. So your decision to accept materialism is either an emotional preference, or in obedience to authorities.

  69. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Quantum effects are being found in living systems — bird navigation and photosynthesis, for example. Ignore Sean Carroll when he rants about physicists understanding all about everything, including biology.

    The Penrose idea about quantum consciousness is not ridiculous and no one has found good reasons to ignore it.

    Steve N. is absolutely sure that consciousness is created by the brain because he defines consciousness as something that depends on a functioning brain. So he can’t possibly be wrong. Aside from being illogical and unscientific.

  70. mindmeon 01 Jun 2016 at 2:12 pm

    Occam’s Razor seems to have many different definitions. However, “the simplest explanation is best” is about the worst rephrasing of it. The simplest explanation to explain why my socks keep disappearing after the wash is sock stealing gnomes. There’s a more complex explanation that involves various ways they actually get thrown out with old clothes, fallen behind the dryer, and about a half dozen other “known entities”. The better rephrasing is the explanation with the fewest *assumptions* is the best. We don’t have to make any assumptions with the latter explanation. Although the sock stealing gnome is pretty simple, we have to make a huge number of assumption. The begin exists. There’s a mechanism for such beings to move through solid walls. These beings have an ability to detect from outside the home when no one is at home or everyone is asleep. And of course we have to assume such gnomes have a use for unpaired socks…

    To wit, an explanation that’s complicated, byzantine, clock work, like metabolic pathways, is preferable to “A happens, then B, then god does some stuff here and then Z happens”.

  71. daedalus2uon 01 Jun 2016 at 3:03 pm

    The idea that there is some immaterial (or quantum mechanical) “mind” that does the “conscious thing” doesn’t really explain consciousness. It just moves it from an emergent behavior of a fully materialistic brain (which can be analyzed) to something quasi-magical which can’t be analyzed, and also for which there is no evidence.

    Replacing “I don’t know” with something that can’t be known even in principle, isn’t any kind of progress in understanding.

  72. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 3:49 pm

    “Replacing “I don’t know” with something that can’t be known even in principle, isn’t any kind of progress in understanding.”

    That is NOT what happened. Steve N. says he knows that conscious is something generated by the brain. The truth is that no one knows what consciousness is or how it is related to the brain.

    Occam’s razor has nothing to do with this. It’s just an excuse for choosing your preferred “explanation.”

    The evidence shows, very obviously, that a person without a functioning brain can’t interact with our sensory world. That is ALL it shows.

    There is also evidence that a person who can’t interact with our world may have some brain functioning, and may have some kind of consciousness.

    There also seems to be some evidence, as in the research linked by mumadadd, that a person can have memories from times when their brains seems to have not been functioning. That is hard to demonstrate though.

  73. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 4:23 pm

    You say the brain generates consciousness, although you cannot say anything at all about how it does this. And then you say this is the simplest possible theory.

    No, a theory is not simple if it doesn’t explain anything. It’s just useless.

    And then you will say that I don’t have a better theory. But that has nothing to do with the fact that your theory is useless.

  74. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 4:23 pm

    At least I am able to admit that I don’t know what consciousness is or what causes it.

  75. BillyJoe7on 01 Jun 2016 at 5:15 pm

    SN: “The question of free will is vexing because there are different ways one might define free will”

    The problem is, when you define freewill to mean or imply that it is neither free nor willed, I think you need to change the word you’re using for whatever it is that you’re describing, because something that is neither free nor willed should not be called freewill. You might want to describe it as making choices or making decisions but, even then, it is choices and decisions that are essentially no different from the decisions and choices that computers make with their conditional statements and decision trees.

    Underlying it all there are only electrons, protons and neutrons obeying the laws of physics just like the electrons, protons and neutrons outside the brain.

    “I agree, strictly speaking, there is only the illusion of free will. Likewise, we only have the illusion of reality constructed inside our heads. But some illusions are persistent and do have a meaningful relationship to actual reality”

    The illusion of reality constructed inside our heads is based on what is actually out there. On the other hand, the illusion of freewill is constucted out of whole cloth.

  76. BillyJoe7on 01 Jun 2016 at 5:23 pm

    mumadadd,

    “Does probabilistic mean something that is ACTUALLY probabilistic (fundamentally non-deterministic) or something that is effectively probabilistic in terms or our ability to predict it? E.g. QM”

    Fundamentally probabilistic.

    “I have heard Sean Carroll say that he believes that QM is deterministic, though we generally refer to it as being probabilistic”

    Sean Carroll deals with QM as if it is probabilistic.
    Philosophically, he is in favour of the “many worlds” interpretations of QM where every possibilty is realised. That, of course, would make QM deterministic, while appearing to be probabilistic within each world.

  77. hardnoseon 01 Jun 2016 at 5:53 pm

    The laws of physics cannot determine life. Biology is a higher level of organization.

  78. Niche Geekon 01 Jun 2016 at 7:10 pm

    HN,

    “The laws of physics cannot determine life. Biology is a higher level of organization.”

    I’ve read this multiple times and still can’t parse it. Biological life is still governed by the laws of physics. Would you care to clarify your position?

    I’m also curious about your views on Penrose. Even if I accept the premise that consciousness arises from quantum processes within neural cells rather than arising from the interactions between them, it doesn’t change the plausibility of ESP, NDE or any of the other paranormal research that you then obliquely referenced. Clearly you see a connection I don’t. Would you mind clarifying this as well?

  79. The Other John Mcon 01 Jun 2016 at 7:11 pm

    Hardnose, imagine a mobile information processing system with extensive input sensors and various ways of interacting with the external environment (outputs). The goal of the system is to accurately model the external environment, have useful memories of such, and predict what will happen in the future of that environment if possible. Inside that system is a representation (model) of the external world. Inside that model is also a representation of the system itself interacting with the environment. The model can loop information to its own representation (including visual memory, imagination, auditory voices in our head, catchy tune, etc. etc.). The system doesn’t necessarily know if info is coming from inside or outside itself. It might ponder the strangeness of hearing its own voice without speaking, and being able to partially see what it’s visually imagining.

    This looping of representations feeding into and out of other levels of representation is our experience of consciousness. Hardnose’s explanation? “I dunno, maybe immaterial magic”

  80. hardnoseon 02 Jun 2016 at 7:34 am

    If someone could build that model and show that it feels itself to be conscious, that would be evidence for your speculations. But no one has built it and as far as anyone can guess, no one ever will build it.

    Mere speculation does not count as scientific evidence for a theory. That is why we mostly ignore philosophers now.

  81. hardnoseon 02 Jun 2016 at 7:34 am

    Well, we don’t necessarily always ignore philosophers. I should have said we no longer take their speculations very seriously.

  82. mumadaddon 02 Jun 2016 at 8:02 am

    “Mere speculation does not count as scientific evidence for a theory.”

    hnbot certainly has no self-awareness.

  83. arnieon 02 Jun 2016 at 8:22 am

    Appropo to the content of this post by Steve’s and to the string of comments since HN once again hijacked it, I think it’s time we a accept the fact that , strictly speaking, HN has no freewill to respond in any way other than with his anti-science ideological nonsense and his claims that anyone who is evidence-based and laws-of-physics based is simply ignorant and/or biased. His endlessly repetitive responses here, IMO, accurately reflect the conscious and unconscious dictates of his brain to his fingers on the keyboard. We might as well be arguing on and on with reason/logic/and evidence (and insults) to the pope or fundamentalist evangelist about the existence of god or the power of prayer.

    If we can accept HN as he is, including the hopelessness of his ever understanding the importance of evidence and plausibility, it should be a lot easier to ignore him and to allow the extent and impact of his boring impact on the blog begin to wither. My fear is that too many other pro-science/reason/logic/evidence commenters’ brains are equally currently programmed to repetitively take the bait and continue the endless return arguments and insults in response to his provocations.

    So that’s my also somewhat repetitive request to use everything in our will power (free or not) to limit our responses to HN to a few succinct, pointed, content-based responses to HN/s initial interjections into each post and then ignore further fully predictable and provocative replies from him. Incidentally, I think Steve N. has done a remarkable job of doing exactly that, i.e., one or several brief, very to the point, mostly dispassionate, content-based responses and then silence. That’s great model. Let’s use it as input empowering our brains to do it. The blog “discussion” will be the better for it.

  84. arnieon 02 Jun 2016 at 8:28 am

    error. I meant “post of Steve’s”, of course. and “the fact”.

    incidentally, I think that model would also be effective with IW, Egnor, and friends whose brains are similarly imprisoned and will be until something happens to stimulates or allows their brain to recover it’s inherent plasticity potential.

  85. mumadaddon 02 Jun 2016 at 8:41 am

    arnie,

    Yes, I see your point; it’s been expressed previously by many including myself (I think). it’s hit me me on a gut level these last couple of rounds that there is literally nothing that could cause him to change his mind/admit error. And you can’t even have a decent argument because the goal posts keep shifting and he can’t ever be nailed down to anything specific. So I will try to avoid feeding the troll in future.

  86. hardnoseon 02 Jun 2016 at 9:35 am

    There is no scientific evidence whatsoever showing that consciousness is created by the brain. Your mythology is based on illusions. Along with a need to see yourselves as more intelligent than the ignorant spiritual believers.

  87. mumadaddon 02 Jun 2016 at 9:55 am

    BJ7,

    Thanks for the clarification.

  88. Teaseron 02 Jun 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Suicide…….free will? I say yes.

  89. Ian Wardellon 02 Jun 2016 at 1:41 pm

    Steven Novella says:
    “Bottom line – there is zero evidence of any manifestation of consciousness without brain function”.

    Since consciousness is non-physical and other peoples’ consciousness is only revealed through the brain, then how the heck do you imagine one could have evidence??

  90. Ian Wardellon 02 Jun 2016 at 1:42 pm

    And no, consciousness is not physical. This is an untenable position for a number of reasons.

  91. arnieon 02 Jun 2016 at 1:51 pm

    mumadadd,

    I realize I haven’t been alone. You and others have at times also commented on his utter intractability and recommended seriously considering simply ignoring him after a very few, at most, pointed responses to his utterly and predictably noncontributory comments on anything that has touched his ideological sensitivities. Thanks for doing it again and I hope most others will soon get to the same “gut level” of having had their fill of it and join us in avoiding the feeding.

    I have my own small area of medical specialty expertise but I am almost entirely a learner, not knowledge contributor, on this blog and regularly learn a lot from not only Steven N. but also from a number of you regular contributors. I can’t remember having ever learned anything from HN except maybe how persistently wrong one person can be without ever realizing it even in the face of incontrovertible evidence and endless confrontation.

  92. arnieon 02 Jun 2016 at 1:53 pm

    BTW, as I mentioned in my earlier post, the same goes for IW. No different, really, than hardnose.

  93. mumadaddon 02 Jun 2016 at 2:16 pm

    Other John,

    “imagine a mobile information processing system with extensive input sensors and various ways of interacting with the external environment (outputs). The goal of the system is to accurately model the external environment, have useful memories of such, and predict what will happen in the future of that environment if possible. Inside that system is a representation (model) of the external world. Inside that model is also a representation of the system itself interacting with the environment. The model can loop information to its own representation (including visual memory, imagination, auditory voices in our head, catchy tune, etc. etc.). The system doesn’t necessarily know if info is coming from inside or outside itself. It might ponder the strangeness of hearing its own voice without speaking, and being able to partially see what it’s visually imagining.

    This looping of representations feeding into and out of other levels of representation is our experience of consciousness. Hardnose’s explanation? “I dunno, maybe immaterial magic””

    Nicely worded summary. How would you factor in prediction and planning to this model? In a couple of senses – both planning future actions/goals (adding a temporal dimension to the brain’s model of reality), and the generate & test scenario of representation (i.e. the stuff that gets messed with in optical illusions). Hope I’ve phrased that well enough to convey what I’m asking.

  94. steve12on 02 Jun 2016 at 3:12 pm

    The closest thinking I’ve seen that tackles free will at a level that isn’t incredibly depressing or magical is Dennett’s take, which I’ve sort of combined with my own thinking to allow sleep at night.

    Essentially, this thinking goes that discussion of “free will” in terms of physics is misplaced. Determinism indeed kills that absolute level of free will (and no, QM “randomness” cannot save it).

    Instead, we should think of freedom of choice at an ecological level, the level that’s really pertinent to our conscious existence as individuals. Vis a vis this ecological level, I think that whatever “I” am has some degree of choice. If I view “I” as simply a collection of neurons, and I could crunch all the numbers, then no – there’s no free will. There’s also no “I” though, so do I care about this level?

    At the ecological level, “I” can’t begin to comprehend the 10^bajillion interacting physical antecedents interacting with the 10^bajillion interacting brain state antecedents that led me to make the 10^bajillion decisions that I’ve made or will make. At the level at which “I” exist, these interacting antecedents are sufficiently complex and unpredictable as to constitute an unfixed future that ”I” can, to some extent, influence.

    To the extent that there a cohesive agent, Steve12, I have freedom of choice. To the extent that there is no single agent, but a collection of neurons that for some reason fancies itself an agent, there is not.

    “I” don’t care about levels of existence at which “I” don’t even exist.

    So at the level Steve12 exists, I have freedom of choice.

    Not perfect, but it keeps me from running out of my office screaming and drinking heavily. So there’s that.

  95. arnieon 02 Jun 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Steve 12,

    But isn’t that sense-of-I level (subjective experience of identity) also one of the myriad activities of the brain. I don’t experience any choice about having a sense-of-I. It’s certainly been present as long as I can recall. But that sense-of-I seems to come inherently with something else: a sense of choice, intention, agency. I have no problem if every decision “I” make can be detected by fMRI a split second before I consciously experience making the choice or decision. If my conscious sense of choice making a decision or action has an illusory element to it, so what? Nothing depressing to me about my brain doing the decision-making followed almost instantaneously by my conscious sense of making the decision. Each step in the algorhythm (including the sense-of-I level) is my brain (me) at work. That seems neither depressing nor magical to me although I wish I could live long enough to know exactly how I (my brain) do that on a physio-chemical-electro-unconscious level. Sadly (but not depressingly so), it’s obvious my brain will no longer be doing its conscious or unconscious activities by then.

    But then, maybe that’s just a nonsensical narrative that keeps me euthymic and sober also at this moment.

  96. steve12on 02 Jun 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Arnie:

    Glad none of this depresses you! I find it scary / depressing sometimes, but then I snap out of it….

    Sense of self is certainly a product of the brain, and at an all encompassing mechanical level, sense-of-self (“I” for short here and above) and free will as we experience them phenomenologically are illusory.

    I’m arguing that this is the wrong level at which to pose the Q in the first place. Because whatever free will COULD be, it has to be at the level of “I”. W/o “I” free will is irrelevant, right? At the ecological level, the only level at which “I” can exist, the physical antecedents leading up to actual choices are sufficiently complicated as to be irrelevant. At the full-view physics level, “I” don’t exist. So to the limited extent that “I” exist, “I” have free will. When considered as a purely physical system, “I” disappear therefore my free will must also disappear.

  97. hardnoseon 02 Jun 2016 at 4:55 pm

    If you think in terms of levels of organization, this all makes more sense. If you think physics is the only level of organization, no wonder you feel crazy. Your belief makes absolutely no sense.

  98. ccbowerson 02 Jun 2016 at 5:08 pm

    Steve12 – What do you think makes this topic unsettling for many? I mean, what is it that we want your will to be free from? Surely it is not biology, chemistry, or laws of physics, right, at least for most of us who frequent this blog.

    Is it that we want ownership of what we do? Well, we can still have that for the most part, to the extent that our behaviors are attributes of ourselves. Is that we want “credit” for who we are or what we do? I think that makes less sense, but doesn’t really matter. It seems that the ownership and credit are really the same thing. And for practical purposes, how does the question really impact anything?

  99. hardnoseon 02 Jun 2016 at 5:14 pm

    And the concept “free will” makes no sense anyway.

  100. arnieon 02 Jun 2016 at 7:05 pm

    Steve 12, It is not that I really disagree with you as you phrased it. It certainly is true that the physical (internal and external) antecedents are incredibly complicated. They’re all relevant, I guess, but not from a “figuring them all out” standpoint.

    It’s more that I view it along the lines well expressed by ccbowers. What is it important to be free of, or not influenced by, in exercising our “will”? And as ccb wrote, ” how does the question really impact anything?” Illusion or not, our brains still produce a sense of agency, ownership, and responsibility and this sense most likely has had survival value to have evolved so “centrally” in our species.

    You asked “What do you think makes this topic unsettling for many?” My speculation is that it has something to do with our concomitant existential awareness. That seems to be the non-illusory downside of our sense of agency and ownership at least contributing to the unsettled, dysphoric feeling associated with lack of whatever people mean by “freewill”. I’m not sure if any other current species share that factor with us. As I said, this is heavily laced with speculation, not laden with evidence :).

  101. The Other John Mcon 02 Jun 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Steve12 and arnie, I like your spin on Dennett’s take. I think I agree but need to roll it around in my head for a bit.

    Mumadadd, not sure if I get your question but there subsystems and sub sub systems all with highly specialized functions constantly working in the background (unconsciously); some to predict what’s about to happen in the next instant (balance, reflexes, catching a ball, blinking), some for a few seconds out. Then there are reality-checking conflict-detecting systems to see if things are behaving as expected, looking for anomalies or surprises, relating very strongly to attentional allocation. The reality testing systems are often what is tweaked in illusions, by pitting one subsystem against another and letting them duke it out (you can watch this confliction process happen in real time with tricks like invilving binocular rivalry of color or surface pattern — it’s quite trippy)!

  102. The Other John Mcon 02 Jun 2016 at 7:45 pm

    Good paper explaining perceptual rivalries: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0020910

  103. The Other John Mcon 02 Jun 2016 at 7:48 pm

    ‘Invilving’ should be invoking, above. DYAC! What the hell is invilving?

  104. The Other John Mcon 02 Jun 2016 at 9:08 pm

    Probably a better intro to rivalry: http://visionlab.harvard.edu/Members/Olivia/tutorialsDemos/Binocular%20Rivalry%20Tutorial.pdf

  105. arnieon 02 Jun 2016 at 9:44 pm

    The Other John Mc,

    I suspect your paragraph addressed to mumadadd is pretty accurate and consistent with evidence gathered so far. It’s also relevant to Steve 12’s comments about the 10 bajillion interacting and unconscious antecedents leading to an extremely complex and unpredictable dynamic and ever changing process and/or state in the brain all of which is brought to bear on what the fMRI shows just prior to emergence into the conscious sense of intentionality and choice. Bottom line, “my brain” and “I” are two linguistic expressions for one reality, not two, and my conscious sense of that is both reality and illusion with the reality normally to some extent embedded or represented in the illusion.

    Really tough to try to capture these concepts in meaningful linguistic form and metaphor.

  106. mumadaddon 03 Jun 2016 at 7:13 am

    An interesting discussion on free will and the implications of people knowing it doesn’t exist:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-free-will/480750/

  107. mumadaddon 03 Jun 2016 at 7:46 am

    T’Other John (added some Yorkshire for you),

    “Mumadadd, not sure if I get your question”

    I can see why; I’ll rephrase. I guess I’m asking if the ‘degree’ of consciousness, or at least the degree to which it resembles our experience of consciousness, is tied to the complexity of the representations. The need to plan far into the future (rather than just an intuitive physics capable of tracking prey etc.) and project complex social relationships into the future would make a huge difference I would suppose. I think I’ve answered my own question but I’m rusty on this stuff – does this fit with your understanding?

  108. daedalus2uon 03 Jun 2016 at 9:14 am

    HN, physics isn’t the “only” level of organization, but it is the most fundamental level of organization. The proper behavior of all “higher” levels of organization depend on all “lower” levels of organization behaving consistently, reliably, predictably and without direct intervention from “higher” levels.

    In other words, the reason that computer chips “work” is because the physics the computer chips rely on doesn’t depend on what the computer chips are doing. If the computer chips could “game” the physics the chips are operating on, then they couldn’t work.

    This is why organisms don’t have direct access to the physiology that keeps them alive. If they did have access, they might screw it up and end up dead. The lower levels of physiology operating without intervention from the upper levels is essential for the upper levels to function properly.

    If some immaterial mind could interact with and direct things at more fundamental levels, there would be the possibility of screwing it up.

    This might be difficult to understand, but if the “agent” can affect the physiology that instantiates the “agent”, then there is the risk of interfering with the physiology that allows the “agent” to exist and to function. If the physiology that allows the “agent” to exist and function is degraded, so is the ability of the “agent” to do anything, including reconstitute physiology back to a more functional state.

  109. hardnoseon 03 Jun 2016 at 11:22 am

    daedalus2u,

    I completely agree with you, the higher levels must not interfere with the lower levels. It’s the same thing with software design — we have successively higher levels of organization, and higher levels do not know or care how lower levels work.

    But in software, the higher levels do not simply follow from the lower levels. Yet that is what the materialists here are claiming about nature — that everything on higher levels follows from the lowest level, physics.

    That is not possible. And even if you believe it is possible, there is no evidence that nature works that way. There is only one reason for believing it — “It has to be this way, because otherwise materialism is not true.”

    No, that is not a good enough reason.

  110. daedalus2uon 03 Jun 2016 at 3:08 pm

    No, that is not at all what materialists claim.

    Materialists claim that the higher levels are emergent from the lower levels. There are many, many, many possible higher levels, given the physics of the lower levels, but in no way do those emergent properties derive from the physics of the lower levels.

    For example, a book is a collection of particles of ink, arranged on pages comprised of fibers of cellulose. The composition of cellulose and its properties, as well as the properties of the ink, depend upon the chemistry of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen and a lot of other stuff.

    A book relies on the chemistry of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen to exist.

    The plot of a story printed in a book does not depend on the chemistry of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. There are astronomically many different “plots” (and languages) that can be instantiated in a book using the same chemistry of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

    There is no need for any kind of mythical “plot fairy” to instill a plot into a book.

  111. ccbowerson 03 Jun 2016 at 3:28 pm

    “This is why organisms don’t have direct access to the physiology that keeps them alive. If they did have access, they might screw it up and end up dead.”

    Like getting distracted by a movie and failing to contract our hearts in normal sinus rhythm. Or forgetting to breathe or regulate our body temperature every time we took a nap.

    “There is no need for any kind of mythical ‘plot fairy’ to instill a plot into a book.”

    Tell me more about this plot fairy. I would like to harness her powers.

  112. BillyJoe7on 03 Jun 2016 at 5:29 pm

    d2u,

    “Materialists claim that the higher levels are emergent from the lower levels”

    Fine.

    “There are many, many, many possible higher levels, given the physics of the lower levels”

    But this can not be correct.
    Emergence is not random. A molecule H2O is produced by combining two hydrogen atoms with one oxygen atom. The properties of the oxygen and the hydrogen atoms don’t tell us what the properties of H2O will be, but every H2O molecule will have exactly the same properties.

    “but in no way do those emergent properties derive from the physics of the lower levels”

    How can that be true?
    If the properties of H20 are the same every time, how could they not derive from the lower level of the hydrogen and oxygen atoms? We just don’t know how they do. Otherwise, what exactly is it that produces the properties of the H2O molecule?

    And I think your book analogy is misleading because the story in the book emerges from your brain, not from the physical properties of the book (and you can just as easily read the story on kindle).

  113. hardnoseon 03 Jun 2016 at 9:51 pm

    “The plot of a story printed in a book does not depend on the chemistry of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. There are astronomically many different “plots” (and languages) that can be instantiated in a book using the same chemistry of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
    There is no need for any kind of mythical “plot fairy” to instill a plot into a book.”

    Exactly my point. That is why higher levels of organization are obviously needed. And although they depend on the lower levels, they do not follow from the lower levels. Yes you can say they “emerge” from the lower levels, but how and why?

  114. BillyJoe7on 04 Jun 2016 at 4:39 am

    The delusion of compatibilist free will.

    Free will compatibilists believe that free will is compatible with a deterministic brain. The question here is not whether or not the brain is deterministic but that, IF the brain IS deterministic, is free will still possible. The answer surely is that it is not possible. If we accept that all the processes occuring within the brain are deterministic, then the products of the brain must surely be…determined! How could they not be? Deterministic processes produce determined outcomes. If you disagree, please explain how it is possible. As far as I can tell, there is only one other possible type of process: probabilistic. And probabilistic processes also cannot produce free will. Metaphorically tossing a couple of dice is not free will. It might explain the “free” part (“free” from determinism), but it cannot explain the “will” part. It’s just a random toss. No “will” involved. To believe otherwise, you would have to provide a possible process, one that is neither deterministic or probabilistic, whereby the dice can be “willed” to fall on, for example double sixes.

    Some compatibilists redefine free will to mean something that is not actually free. In other words, they do not mean that free will is free of the determinism that underlies biology, chemistry and physics. If that is the case, then, in my opinion, they should use another word that does not include the four consecutive letters of the word “free” to describe whatever it is that they are describing. Maybe “decisions” would be more apt, preferably in scare quotes to denote that they mean nothing more than the similar use of that word to describe the conditional operators and decision gates etc of a computer program.

    Some compatibilists argue that we can distinguish different levels of thinking about the brain and on one of these levels we can talk about free will, and that that is perfectly reasonable. The philosopher Daniel Dennett, and the physicist Sean Carroll are two examples. That’s fine as far as it goes. In our everyday dualist language we talk freely about making decisions and choices as if we are dictating to our brains what to do. No argument. Correct non-dualist language is too cumbersome and uneccessary in everyday discourse. Worse still would be trying to talk in the language of quantum physics! Or talking about computers at the level of zero and ones!! But that doesn’t negate the fact that what we are talking about is actually deterministic. It doesn’t suddenly bcome “free” because we are talking at a different level. It just makes it easier to talk about. But we need to remain aware of the underlying reality because…

    It does have some implications for society. If we acknowledge that there is no free will, then that should prompt us to revolutionise our criminal justice system. We would need to change our criminal justice system from one that blames and punishes the criminal to one that attempts to reform of the perpetrator whenever this is possible, and, at the same time, protects the public.

    Sean Carroll, in his support of compatibilism, makes the analogy to a “gas in a box”. We can describe this in terms of the properties (position, momentum, and interaction) of each and every molecule in the box. Or we can describe it in terms of heat, temperature, and pressure. This is certainly true and the second method is many orders of magnitude simpler. But you can’t get away from the fact that “pressure” and “temperature” ARE simply different ways to measure the sum total of the vibrations of all the constituent molecules, and “heat” IS the sum total of the kinetic energy of all the constituent molecules. “Pressure”, “temperature”, and “heat” are just labels for the same thing at a differnt level. This is bought out by the fact that “pressure” and “temperature” actually fluctuate about a mean value (which is why they call it statistical mechanics).

    Another argument, related to the above, is in terms of emergence. This is probably the best argument, but it still fails. A good analogy is the emergence of determinism out of probabilty as we move from quantum descriptions at the level of the fundamental particles and forces to the macroscopic descriptions at the level of our everyday lives. The question is: if free will emerges out of the deterministic brains, what is it that actually emerges? If it is “freedom” that emerges, what does this “freedom” consist of? We know what we mean when we say that the deterministic nature of our macroscopic world emerges out of the probablistic nature of the quantum world. We know what we mean by both these terms and they are well described by their respective physical laws. But what about “freewill”? By definition, there CANNOT be physical laws describing “freewill”, otherwise its not “free” or “willed”. The laws that we know of are either probabilistic or deterministic, and neither are adequate to describe “free will”.

    “Free will” is like that checkerboard illusion. If there was no way to decide, we would believe to our dying day that those squares are different shades of grey. But there are ways to decide the issue, and we know that this is an illusion. Artists even compensate for this illusion. An artist painting a three dimensional setup of a real checkerboard (not the painted one on that video), a real light source, and a real cylinder casting a real shadow over the board, would use exactly the same colour to paint those two squares. But there numerous examples in our everyday lives of illusions similar to the checkerboard illusion which we don’t even recognise as such – everytime an object of one shade or colour is surrounded by objects of a different shade or colour!. “Freewill” is like the checkerboard illusion played out in nature. We just don’t see the illusion. And it feels real. But we can actually check by looking at the brain and finding nothing but determinism.

  115. BillyJoe7on 04 Jun 2016 at 4:56 am

    I just came across a quote that I couldn’t remember while responding to comments in this thread:
    “The three most dangerous words in medicine: in my experience”.

    It is a corrollary to the more famous quote:
    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool”

    Some commentators here need to take this to heart.

  116. mumadaddon 04 Jun 2016 at 5:41 am

    BJ7,

    I agree with you totally that you can’t get anything but determinism/probabilistic outcomes from a deterministic/probabilistic system. I think it’s fairly obvious and there’s no counter to that conclusion. I also think it doesn’t really matter. It has no implications in terms of how we conduct ourselves personally or as a society. Much more meaningful at this level is genetic/biological/environmental determinism, and a better understanding of these factors can have a positive effect. It can help to break down divisions between people, inform the justice system, help us to make better decisions on a personal level. So if people want to reframe ‘free will’ to pertain to everyday existence I have no problem with it. Deterministic physics may be a fact but I think it’s largely irrelevant.

  117. BillyJoe7on 04 Jun 2016 at 8:54 am

    mumadadd,

    I don’t think it’s ever irrelevant to get things right.

    And I may have been a little too accommadating above, because I think it does have important implications not only for the criminal justice system, but also for how we live our lives. If there is no free will, what’s the point in holding grudges, getting even, hating people for what they’ve done to you. There’s no point, and, what’s more, all of the above make your own life so much more miserable. It’s hard work to hold grudges and to hate people, it uses up a lot of your energy, diverts you from more worthwhile pursuits, and lowers your actual enjoyment of life.

    There is a counter-argument that not believing in free will leads to nihilism; and there are short term studies that back up that view. Some compatibilist are actually driven by the fear of that eventuality, even some incompatibilist (I know because they have said so). But, really, no one’s going to lie in bed for very long. I mean, just lying in bed all day gets pretty boring after a while, the power soon gets switched off, and eventually you get evicted. Not a heap of fun.

  118. mumadaddon 04 Jun 2016 at 9:34 am

    BJ7,

    The way I look at it is this: Whatever happens, whatever you do, it is impossible for you to have done otherwise. Whatever choices we make, we could never have made otherwise; we DO make choices, but they are deterministic — they are made by brains, which are physical objects in a physical system. If one takes a fatalistic attitude and says there is no free will and the future is already determined, and as a result they tank their life, then that was determined by the laws of physics, but it was still their choices that put them in this situation. In the here and now, we can make choices that affect the trajectory of our lives, and whatever those choices are, whatever the trajectory, it’s still deterministic.

    I think that more or less anyone who doesn’t have a woo ideological axe to grind and takes some time to think about this would acknowledge that free will is impossible on the basis of physics. But what can you do with that information? The determinism of physics, as it relates to human behaviour, is quite possibly forever beyond our grasp.

    In terms of actually making a difference, I think it’s more important to acknowledge and understand the determinism of genetics, biology and social factors. E.g. it’s absolutely germane to a criminal trial that, at the time of the crime, the defendant had a brain tumour in his frontal lobe that interfered with his impulse control. We can absolutely understand and apply this stuff in real life, whereas we can’t with the physics angle.

  119. edamameon 04 Jun 2016 at 1:53 pm

    BJ7 I think you are reading a bit too much into some compatibilist views. The move for compatibilists that I like is rejecting the view that determinism (or better, naturalistic rule following) and free will are mutually exclusive. It’s like saying being red is inconsistent with being round. The move is to reject this entire way of framing the problem.

    To reject compatibilism based on naturalistic metaphysics is to buy into a dualistic way of framing the psychology of choice. I reject that from the get go, so compatibilism is fine for me.

    For me, choice, or “free will” (that is decision making and choice) is not done against the laws of nature, so the problems just don’t come up. I don’t accept the framing of free will in such terms.

    Psychologically speaking, we clearly make decisions such as choosing which candy bar to get at the vending machine. We can study such things at the neuropsychological level. We are free (i.e., unconstrained) to choose whichever candy we want, and psychologically we have the experience of being able to pick either one, even though obviously there are neuropsychohistorical social factors that have gone into that choice. We also “hold people responsible” for their decisions (that is a story for another time), partly this means we want to shape their neuropsychohistorical social factors to help them make better choices in the future, when their vending machine is giving them the choice “Go out and get a gun, or stay home and watch TV.”

    This is all compatible with determinism (or more accurately, naturalistic rule-following, which includes indeterministic statistical rules at the quantum level if they ever turn out to matter at the behavioral/psychological level).

  120. mumadaddon 04 Jun 2016 at 3:05 pm

    BJ7,

    “If there is no free will, what’s the point in holding grudges, getting even, hating people for what they’ve done to you. There’s no point, and, what’s more, all of the above make your own life so much more miserable.”

    This goes to what I was saying. Understanding that people’s actions are determined by their genentics/biology/environment and not by some free-floating acausal will could mitigate all this. We can track and statistically analyse these things and use that data to inform decision making, policy and judgement. Physics — not so much.

  121. BillyJoe7on 05 Jun 2016 at 2:06 am

    edamame,

    Thanks for the feedback.
    However, I’m having trouble understanding your position and the reasons for it.

    “The move for compatibilists that I like is rejecting the view that determinism…and free will are mutually exclusive. It’s like saying being red is inconsistent with being round. The move is to reject this entire way of framing the problem”

    I have framed it several ways.
    Are you rejecting all of them?
    If so, how would you frame it?

    Because, it seems to me, you just want to talk about freewill at the psychological level where we certainly do seem to have freewill. The operative word being seem. I’m saying that this is not actual freewill but the illusion-of-freewill. I’m not saying that nothing to do with freewill exists. I’m saying that it is the illusion-of-freewill that is real, not actual freewill. The illusion-of-freewill has a mechanism, and that mechanism is deterministic, and it is represented in the deterministic brain. But freewill has no mechanism (or maybe I should say “no process“, because freewill can’t actually have a mechanism if it’s going to be free – this is what leads me to say that the whole concept of freewill is actually incoherent).

    It’s like the squares on that checkerboard, if I can make that analogy: We can talk about the differentlyColouredSquares. And we can talk about the illusion-of-differentlyColouredSquares. The first does not actually exist – the squares are not actually differently coloured. The second does – there really IS an illusion that the squares are differently coloured. Freewill is analogous to differentlyColouredSquares. The illusion-of-freewill is like the illusion-of-differentlyColouredSquares. The first does not exist. The second does.

    “To reject compatibilism based on naturalistic metaphysics is to buy into a dualistic way of framing the psychology of choice. I reject that from the get go”

    This is actually not correct.
    There are three positions: incompatibilist freewill, compatibilist freewill, and contracausal freewill. Contracausal freewill is clearly dualist. Incompatibilist freewill is clearly monist. And, in my opinion, compatibilists struggle to explain how compatibilist freewill is not dualist.

    “For me, choice, or “free will” (that is decision making and choice) is not done against the laws of nature, so the problems just don’t come up. I don’t accept the framing of free will in such terms”

    You are just stating that [free will is not done against the laws of nature] as a fact. You haven’t explained how it is possible to have freewill that is not inconsistent with physical law. I have explained why it IS inconsistent with physical law, but you have not offered any refutation of that explanation. Just saying that you “don’t accept the framing of free will in such terms” is not really a sufficient response. It leads me to think that what you are really talking about is the illusion-of-freewill, and I have no problem with the illusion-of-freewill existing.

    “Psychologically speaking, we clearly make decisions such as choosing which candy bar to get at the vending machine”

    At the psycological level, yes. I covered that in my previous post. It is Sean Carroll’s argument. It’s fine to talk about making decisions in everyday life. It’s probably the best word I can think of that decribes what we do (better than choosing, and certainly better than freewill). Yes, we make decisions every day. And these decisions are determined by our brains and there’s no freedom about it – analogous to how computers make decisions through the deterministic conditonal operators in their algorithms.

    “We can study such things at the neuropsychological level. We are free (i.e., unconstrained) to choose whichever candy we want, and psychologically we have the experience of being able to pick either one, even though obviously there are neuropsychohistorical social factors that have gone into that choice. We also “hold people responsible” for their decisions (that is a story for another time), partly this means we want to shape their neuropsychohistorical social factors to help them make better choices in the future”

    You are not free to choose whatever candy you want. You decide to take a particlar candy and that decision is determined by your deterministic brain.
    Let me ask you a question: Suppose it was possible to go back to the exact same situation you were in five minutes before deciding on the “Chocolate Jesus” candy bar. Play the whole scene over again, exactly as before, right up until the moment of your decision. Would you necessarily decide on “Chocolate Jesus” again? Or could you decide to have the “Sweet Mary” this time? If you agree that you would necessarily decide on the “Chocolate Jesus” again, then freewill is effectively refuted. If you think you could decide to have the “Sweet Mary” this time, then you need to explain how this is possible. And you need to do it without refuting determinism in the brain (because then you’d be supporting the dualist’s contracausal freewill), and without resorting to probabilistic processes (because tossing a coin can’t constitute freewill). What exactly is it that switches your choice from the “Chocolate Jesus” to the “Sweet Mary”? If you can’t give a good account of what is going on here, then freewill is again effectively refuted. Or at least unsupported.

    “This is all compatible with determinism”

    But you saying so, does not make is so. You need to explain how it is possible for freewill, as opposed to illusion-of-freewill to be compatible with determinism. I have made the argument for the illusion-of-freewill, you need to make one for freewill. And I think you need to do so by addressing the arguments against freewill as well as for the illusion-of-freewill, not by simply rejecting the framing.

    Okay, lots of tags to stuff up (I found only one error on proof-reading), but here goes…

  122. BillyJoe7on 05 Jun 2016 at 2:13 am

    …thank heaven’s for that. 🙂

  123. ccbowerson 05 Jun 2016 at 10:07 pm

    “If there is no free will, what’s the point in holding grudges, getting even, hating people for what they’ve done to you. There’s no point, and, what’s more, all of the above make your own life so much more miserable.”

    But this sort of criticism for these certain behaviors makes as little sense as what it criticizes. If you are being consistent with the application of your stance, without free will there is no ability to do anything different for you or anyone else. There is no “point” to doing anything as you have no say in it. There just what is, what was, and what will be.

    But from my perspective, the lack of the type of will that is free from the laws/rules of nature (encompassing any biology, chemistry, physics, etc that apply) is irrelevant to our actual lives. Why even use the term in that way if it is an incoherent? From this perspective, it is the type of illusion that really does not matter in a practical sense. In practice, free will can be used to distinguish/describe varying complexities of behavior, with the simplest (e.g. a reflex) not displaying free will, and others displaying varying levels of complexity responses to the environment. Why waste the term on an incoherent concept rather than use it for what is closer to what people seem to mean when they say it?

  124. BillyJoe7on 06 Jun 2016 at 12:51 am

    ccbowers,

    There is no inconsistency.

    It was determined that I would hear about free will being an illusion.
    It was determined that I would find the arguments for free will being an illusion convincing.
    It was determined that I would find the counter arguments unconvincing
    It was determined that, having been convinced that free will is an illusion, I would then deduce that there is no point holding grudges, getting even, and hating people.

    I don’t see a problem here at all for the illusion of free will.

    And still don’t see why you want to call something that is neither free nor willed, free will.

  125. ccbowerson 06 Jun 2016 at 8:57 am

    “I don’t see a problem here at all for the illusion of free will.”

    You are arguing that a person should not do certain behaviors because others have no ability to do otherwise (because of the lack of free will). Yet your argument presupposes that that person has an ability to do otherwise by not holding grudges, etc.

    If I extrapolate from your follow up explanation, and that the apparent inconsistency is due to limitation of language and the shorthand of how we communicate, then your point of not holding grudges et al. doesn’t necessarily follow without free will. At least to the extent that holding grudges is no less logical than anything else we do. I agree in a practical sense a person who doesn’t do those things is often better off, but I don’t that the concept of free will impacts whether that is true or not. If you are arguing that there is no point to holding grudges, then there is a true slippery slope in which there is no point to any particular behavior and all of the things that we value as humans, except for them being determined having the subsequent experiences that come from them. Logically, I cannot refute that perspective, but I don’t think it is the only one.

  126. ccbowerson 06 Jun 2016 at 9:08 am

    “And still don’t see why you want to call something that is neither free nor willed, free will”

    Because it is a term that is used to describe certain behaviors. It makes no sense to break up the term and piece it back together; language doesn’t work necessarily that way. If you can’t use that term, then you can’t “decide” anything or “choose” etc. Those terms are used to distinguish behaviors that are deliberative or apparently purposeful actions versus accidental or reflexive ones. If you are arguing that without free will there is no distinction to be made amongst those, then you’ve shown how this concept provides little insight into behavior and is an obstacle in many ways.

  127. edamameon 06 Jun 2016 at 9:50 am

    BJ7

    Free will vs spooky will
    I am not defining free will the same way you are. That was my point. You have bought into the dualist’s conception of free will, have framed the debate in their terms, where “free will” is mutually exclusive from law-governed. For dualists, if we are law-governed, we do not have free will. This is exactly what me and most compatibilists reject. The alternative is exactly what I described: the exercise of free will is just another word for the neuropsychological exercise of decision-making, choice, whatever happens when you pick one candy bar over another. It is not an illusion, because I make such choices all the time. Calling it an illusion means you have bought into the weird libertarian dualistic worldview which I reject from the outset.

    It’s all neuropsychological dynamics, of course, but it’s studied all the time by people like Shadlen, Newsome, Glimcher, etc, in what is now called neuroeconomics. Ultimately it gets down to semantics: do you want to buy into one particular reading of the old-school definitions? Or do you want to let the meaning adapt and be flexible with science, and continue to be useful, but reject the bit that never really contributed anything anyway?

    I frankly don’t care that much, but I’m just here giving a more sympathetic, charitable reading of the compatibilists. I think you could make the case that they are changing the meaning of the terms involved. If you really pin them down and say “Fine, let’s call it ‘spooky-will’ then. Do you believe that we have spooky-will in the sense that when we make decisions that we operate outside the rule of natural law?” When you pin them down like that, then they should say no;compatibilists should deny spooky-will. That’s pretty much definition, right? They aren’t stupid, it just means they have changed some definitions compared to you, and don’t frame the issues the same way you do. And I’m actually fine with this. Not everyone has always framed free will this way, after all: it is a richer notion than simply ‘acting contrary to natural law’. The compatibilists ignore that part, and focus on the more interesting bits.

    Replay the universe, replay the behavior?
    It is unlikely that replaying the universe with the same initial conditions would yield the same result, because QM. That is why I pose things in terms of law-governed behavior, or rule-governed behavior, rather than determinism, because this move allows for statistical rule-following from QM.

    For instance quantum fluctuations in thermal isomerization rates of rhodopsin molecules in your retina might influence your behavior in a visual detection task in the dark. This is one possible explanation for why you have false positive on some trials in visual detection tasks, and not on other trials (this could happen even though your retina starts in the exact same microphysical state).

    While direct quantum effects haven’t been demonstrated in brain tissue, it would be very surprising if they weren’t important for things like dark noise (and single ion channel function more generally), which is likely important psychologically and behaviorally.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8913594

  128. BillyJoe7on 06 Jun 2016 at 4:59 pm

    ccbowers,

    “your argument presupposes that that person has an ability to do otherwise by not holding grudges”

    Of course. Provided some time has elapsed between him holding grudges and not holding grudges, determinism has no trouble explaining the change. Suppose that up to 20 years ago a person held grudges, and that now, 20 years later, he does not hold grudges. His not holding grudges now is the result of his deterministic brain processing deterministically all the inputs into his brain through the intervening 20 years.
    This is very different from saying that you could have chosen the “Chocolate Jesus” instead of the “Sweet Mary” yesterday. A deterministic brain can not explain how that is possible, but it certainly can explain why you would choose a “Chocolate Jesus” yesterday and Sweet Mary” today.

    “If you are arguing that there is no point to holding grudges, then there is a true slippery slope in which there is no point to any particular behavior”

    Obviously, what I meant was that, if there is no freewill, there is no reason to hold grudges.
    Similarly, if there is no freewill, there is no reason to punish criminals for their criminal behaviour. But, of course, still good reason to imprison them (to protect the public) and to attempt rehabilitation if possible (same reason – to protect the public after they have served their sentence and are released).

  129. BillyJoe7on 06 Jun 2016 at 5:39 pm

    edamame,

    Regarding definitions:
    If the compatibilists’ definition of “Freewill” is no different from the incompatibilists’ definition of “illusoryFreewill”, then all we are arguing about is whether the compatibilists’ label for what we are both defining is apt. In my opinion, defining “Freewill” as something that is neither “free” nor “willed” is a rather strange thing to do. But horses for courses. If the compatibilists want to use this definition, fine, but they shouldn’t be surpised if they are misunderstood when they use that word.
    (Forty years later Einstein is still misunderstood when he used the word “god” to mean “the awesomeness of the universe as revealed to us by science”).
    The other problem, of course, is that some compatibilists believe that you can actually get true genuine freewill from a determinstic brain – the emergence argument (which I have covered above).

    Regarding QM:
    You seem to be implying that I have ignored QM effects. However, I have specifically mentioned QM effects (quantum probability) several times. I have also dismissed quantum probability as a way to get freewill. Tossing a coin does not give you freewill. If you disagree, please explain how.
    And it’s irrelevant to my example and the question I posed that you have avoided answering. So let me ask it in another way: Yesterday you picked the “Chocolate Jesus”. Could you have picked the “Sweet Mary” instead? If you answer is “yes”, and assuming that you don’t think that a quantum fluctuation could give you freewill, please explain how this could have been possible.

  130. edamameon 06 Jun 2016 at 11:18 pm

    BJ7 as I’ve said I’m not advocating the view of free will you are fighting, and so haven’t made any claims that QM would give you free will in that sense. I’m just making the more general point that folks should be wary of arguments that we would make the same decision given the exact same initial conditions. I actually find this unlikely.

    As you rightly point out, quantum flux doesn’t give you freedom in the sense the dualists want, at least not in any obvious or straightforward way (though it isn’t as simple as “Coin flips aren’t freedom they are just noise”: see Boltzmann machines–noise isn’t always bad–noise can be helpful and essential for solving certain computational problems; however, it is unclear how this could be used by the (spooky) free willers: maybe it could they are often pretty clever…).

    Ignoring such niceties, for purposes of discussion with most dualists pushing for spooky free will, slogans like “Adding coin flips to the brain isn’t freedom, it’s noise” is probably good enough to get the conversation started, to see if they have thought about it enough to make them worth your time. The smart ones will have clever responses to this obvious bumper sticker, but the less thoughtful ones will be left befuddled in my experience.

    In my experience, the conversation doesn’t get much further than that bumper sticker because the assumptions they end up having to make about the brain for that randomness to be interesting (rather than just noise) end up being pretty questionable…but I’ve never seen the boltzmann angle explored. But that’s b/c I’m not sympathetic I bet if you search ‘boltzmann quantum free will’ you will find some paper that has explored this…. 🙂

  131. ccbowerson 07 Jun 2016 at 9:03 pm

    “A deterministic brain can not explain how that is possible, but it certainly can explain why you would choose a ‘Chocolate Jesus’ yesterday and ‘Sweet Mary’ today.”

    Sweet Mary? It’s got to be a chocolate Jesus.

  132. BillyJoe7on 08 Jun 2016 at 7:09 am

    ccbowers: “It’s got to be a chocolate Jesus

    Another Tom Waits fan. 🙂

    “Chocolate Jesus”

    Don’t go to church on Sunday
    Don’t get on my knees to pray
    Don’t memorize the books of the Bible
    I got my own special way
    But I know Jesus loves me
    Maybe just a little bit more

    I fall on my knees every Sunday
    At Zerelda Lee’s candy store

    Well it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus
    Make me feel good inside
    Got to be a chocolate Jesus
    Keep me satisfied

    Well I don’t want no Abba Zaba
    Don’t want no Almond Joy
    There ain’t nothing better
    Suitable for this boy
    Well it’s the only thing
    That can pick me up
    Better than a cup of gold
    See only a chocolate Jesus
    Can satisfy my soul

    When the weather gets rough
    And it’s whiskey in the shade
    It’s best to wrap your savior
    Up in cellophane
    He flows like the big muddy
    But that’s ok
    Pour him over ice cream
    For a nice parfait

    Well it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus
    Good enough for me
    Got to be a chocolate Jesus
    Good enough for me

    Well it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus
    Make me feel good inside
    Got to be a chocolate Jesus
    Keep me satisfied

    Tom Waits.

    From the album:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYq0Imx3gF8

    Live on The Late Show:
    (Have to be a hard core fan for this one)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S06yQEp6cVc

  133. BillyJoe7on 09 Jun 2016 at 7:54 am

    Anyway…

    The crux of the argument against freewill is that, if you chose the Chocolate Jesus on Sunday, determinism or quantum probability has no trouble explaining why you chose the Sweet Mary on Monday. But determinism can’t possibly explain how you could have chosen the Sweet Mary on Sunday instead of the Chocolate Jesus that you did choose; or the Chocolate Jesus on Monday instead of the Sweet Mary you did choose. And, although quantum probability might get you there (provided “the many worlds” interpretation of QM is not correct; or provided quantum effects are possible at the level of the brain), this is no basis for freewill.

    So…

    It remains for the compatibilist to explain how freewill could function to make it possible for you to have chosen the Sweet Mary on Sunday instead of the Chocolate Jesus that you did choose; or the Chocolate Jesus on Monday instead of the Sweet Mary that you did choose. If the compatibilist cannot do this, then he can believe in freewill only by redefining it in such a way that it is neither free nor willed. But then you have to ask yourself, why are they striving so hard to retain a word that, through its redefiniton, has lost all meaning?

  134. mumadaddon 09 Jun 2016 at 11:53 am

    “But then you have to ask yourself, why are they striving so hard to retain a word that, through its redefiniton, has lost all meaning?”

    I’m not familiar with compatibilism, so this is not a defence of that position unless by coincidence.

    BJ7, I agree with everything you say above — free will is impossible in our universe (in principle in any universe so far as I can see) — but I really can’t see the problem with redefining the term to something that relates to factors we can potentially track and manipulate, and degrees to which we can act/choose rationally/morally within these constraints. I think that’s a conversation worth having, collectively, whereas your point is too abstract to do anything with.

    Determinism/probability can be used retrospectively to explain absolutely anything anyone does, ever, whether ‘evil’ or ‘heroic’, but not to make predictions or draw inferences about how people are likely to behave in a given situation.

    As determinism/probability affects every action or choice made by anybody, anywhere, at any time, equally, it cannot be used to differentiate between actions, or to weight mitigating factors, or to inform when a custodial sentence is more or less appropriate, or what response is more or less appropriate in any situation at all.

    I would just acknowledge that free will is technically impossible, and move the conversation on to more tangible factors — those which affect our choices, are beyond our control (therefore deterministic) but can be used to make predictions and draw inferences about future behaviour, and

    So, such that there’s a meaningful conversation to be had about free will, it’s at the level of genetics, biology and environment rather than physics.

  135. mumadaddon 09 Jun 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Left a dangling ‘and’…

    I meant to say:

    I would just acknowledge that free will is technically impossible, and move the conversation on to more tangible factors — those which affect our choices, are beyond our control (therefore deterministic) but can be used to make predictions and draw inferences about future behaviour, and can be tracked and manipulated in a way that meaningfully relates to our behaviour.

    Or something like that.

  136. BillyJoe7on 09 Jun 2016 at 5:24 pm

    mumadadd,

    The decision to redefine freewill is not without its consequences.

    Firstly, the vast majority of the population will misunderstand you no matter how carefully and explicitly you define your version of freewill.
    Secondly, if your definition of freewill is something that is neither free nor willed, then you deserve to be misunderstood.
    Thirdly, many of those who redefine freewill or accept the compatibilist redefinition end up talking like we really do have freewill by the original definition (contracausal freewill).
    Fourthly, your definition of freewill has real world consequences for your own life and for the criminal justice system.

    Also, you can do biology, and evolution without ever mentioning freewill.
    In fact you yourself didn’t use the word above untill the very last sentence.

    Finally, why not just use the word “decision”? We make “decisions” – not “freely”, but like a computer algorithm makes “decisions” through its conditional operators and decision gates. What is added by saying “we make decisions of our own freewill” rather than simply “we make decisions”. Does a computer have freewill?

  137. BillyJoe7on 09 Jun 2016 at 5:34 pm

    mumadadd,

    “determinism/probability…cannot be used …to inform when a custodial sentence is more or less appropriate”

    Of course it can.
    If you do not believe in freewill, you will see no point in blaming, hating, and punishing the criminal. It will simply be a matter of rehabilitating him where this is possible and protecting the public by imprisoning him while treating him humanely.
    As I said, accepting or rejecting freewill has real world consequences.

  138. ccbowerson 09 Jun 2016 at 8:50 pm

    Tom Waits? Never heard of him. 😉 I liked that live version, but it needed more rooster. He often sings like he’s full of bourbon.

    “The decision to redefine freewill is not without its consequences.
    Firstly, the vast majority of the population will misunderstand you no matter how carefully and explicitly you define your version of freewill.”

    You are framing it as “redefining,” yet I think it is more appropriate to say defining. Too often these discussions become semantic arguments framed as substantive ones. People are willing to jump into the discussion without defining what we are even talking about. Once clarified, the disagreements fall away (at least in this setting). Frankly, until we define what are talking about, it is a waste of time.

    As far as confusion the “vast majority of the population,” this topic is rarely discussed in the general public, so any discussion would be confusing. You seem to be assuming that the average person assumes the definition you are using. I am assuming the average person has not even thought of a definition and just has an intuitive sense of what the term means. I think that this is of little consequence. There is a spectrum of causal complexity in which free will is tapping into. To oversimplify: there are simple behaviors like reflexes, automatic ones that are not usually modified (breathing, blinking, automatic ones that are often modified easily (like running, typing), system 1 decisions, and system 2 decisions. When people use the term free will, they are more likely to assume system 2 (and often system 1) decisions, but not the others.

    If we use just “decisions” we are missing something. Free will is the term we have and use. You may not like that it is a misnomer, and I agree that it can be problematic, but a lot of words that we use are misnomers and that is why we have to say what we mean by the words we use. Using your definition does not remove the confusion, as demonstrated by your conversation with mumadadd.

  139. ccbowerson 09 Jun 2016 at 8:52 pm

    Also, from my perspective, distinguishing between the illusion of free will, and the version of free will that we don’t think exists, is of little practical consequence. You seem to think it has significant consequences.

    “If you do not believe in freewill, you will see no point in blaming, hating, and punishing the criminal. It will simply be a matter of rehabilitating him where this is possible and protecting the public by imprisoning him while treating him humanely.”

    But you can have that attitude whether you believe in free will or not. In fact many people do, as the concept of free will is commonly accepted. The desire to blame or hate does not occur after a careful consideration of the person’s will. It is usually reactionary with little regard for the other person’s perspective. People who are forgiving and value rehabilitation over punishment don’t necessarily minimize the person’s will, but often emphasize external explanations, which works in the world with no free will as well as one with.

    And if you are going to throw away blame, then you must throw away “credit.” In fact, much of the values we have regarding behaviors disappear if you maintain internally consistent argument. I disagree that there are these implications at all, and think that none of this has to matter.

  140. BillyJoe7on 11 Jun 2016 at 2:53 am

    ccbowers,

    “You are framing it as “redefining,” yet I think it is more appropriate to say defining. Too often these discussions become semantic arguments framed as substantive ones. People are willing to jump into the discussion without defining what we are even talking about. Once clarified, the disagreements fall away (at least in this setting). Frankly, until we define what are talking about, it is a waste of time”

    Hmmm…I thought we were pretty clear on definitions, but I see from the other thread (roadtoad’s comment) that that may not have been the case.
    There are three definitons (and I’m happy to call them definitions rather than redefinitions and, in fact, I have used the two words interchangeably in my comments above):

    Contracausal freewill: The dualist version of freewill.
    Deterministic freewill: The compatibilist version of freewill.
    Illusory freewill: The incompatibilist version of freewill.

    The first is the Dualist version of freewill in that it requires something other than the brain and brain function to explain it – something immaterial, non-physical, or supernatural separate from the brain and infuencing or controlling the brain. We both agree this form of freewill does not exist.

    The second is the compatibilist version of freewill. Compatibilists believe that a certain kind of freewill can arise out of the deterministic functioning of the brain. There are mainly two types of compatibilists, those who believe freewill is an emergent phenomenon of the brain, and those who define/redefine freewill as being something that is neither free nor willed.

    The third is the incompatibilist version of freewill. Incompatibilists claim, in effect, that there is no freewill, only an illusion-of-freewill. The incompatibilist illusion-of-freewill is identical to that of compatibilists who see freewill defined/redefined as being something that is neither free nor willed. They just don’t see the point in defining/redefining freewill to be something that is neither free nor willed, and that will inevitably be confused with the dualists conception of freewill.

    I hope that clears up roadtoad’s confusion 😀

    “As far as confusion the “vast majority of the population,” this topic is rarely discussed in the general public, so any discussion would be confusing. You seem to be assuming that the average person assumes the definition you are using”

    Of course they do.
    If you think the general public thinks of freewill other than as something free and willed, maybe go ask some of them. I think you will be surprised.

    “I am assuming the average person has not even thought of a definition and just has an intuitive sense of what the term means.”

    I agree. And their intiution would surely tell them that freewill is something that is free and willed. I would guess that if they were asked the following question (the pivotal question in these debates): “Could you have chosen the Sweet Mary yesterday instead of the Chocolate Jesus that you did choose yesterday”, they would answer: “Yes”. And that answer would imply contracausal freewill, even if they had not thought about it in these terms.

    “If we use just “decisions” we are missing something”

    What’s missing?
    At the very least, by using the word “decisions”, we are avoiding the words “free” and “will”, neither of which are intended to apply to your defintion of freewill, but both of which are essential in the definition of the contracausal freewill of the Dualists.

    “Free will is the term we have and use. You may not like that it is a misnomer, and I agree that it can be problematic, but a lot of words that we use are misnomers and that is why we have to say what we mean by the words we use. Using your definition does not remove the confusion, as demonstrated by your conversation with mumadadd”

    I think I was showing how you could speak about decisions humans make without ever needing to use the word “freewill” as mumadadd did in his last post. And, as I said above, using the word “decision” removes the words “free” and “will”.

  141. BillyJoe7on 11 Jun 2016 at 8:31 am

    ccbowers,

    “But you can have that attitude whether you believe in free will or not”

    But, if you don’t believe in freewill, you have no reason to blame, hate, or seek revenge.
    And, if you do believe in freewill, you have a good reason to blame, hate, and seek revenge.

    “The desire to blame or hate does not occur after a careful consideration of the person’s will. It is usually reactionary with little regard for the other person’s perspective”

    Well yeah, it sure does feel as if we all have freewill, doesn’t it? The illusion is pretty damn good. That’s why we usually react as if the person could have done otherwise. But they couldn’t have done otherwise could they? We’re both agreed on that aren’t we? If you actually disagree with this, then I go back to a question in one of my previous posts: by what process, neither deterministic nor probabilistic (neither of which could account for freewill), would it have been possible for that person to have done otherwise? If he could not have done otherwise, then a “careful consideration” would make it unreasonable to believe in freewill and would make it unreasonable to blame, hate, and seek revenge. On the other hand, if you can contort yourself into believing in freewill despite all the above considerations, then you would have good reason – based on your false belief in freewili – to blame, hate, and seek revenge. That’s a pretty big difference.

    “People who are forgiving and value rehabilitation over punishment don’t necessarily minimize the person’s will, but often emphasize external explanations, which works in the world with no free will as well as one with”

    That’s the problem with compatibilist freewill, it slips so easily into contracausal freewill. The external causal factors that impact the brains decision making are acknowledged. But the internal factors within the brain somehow still allow for (a bit of) freewill. The question I will ask again is “what exactly is it within the brain that entails (that bit of) freewill?

    “And if you are going to throw away blame, then you must throw away “credit.” In fact, much of the values we have regarding behaviors disappear if you maintain internally consistent argument”

    Of course. And so what? We all benefit from “creditable” behaviour, so we “credit” it so as to encourage more “creditable” behaviour for the benefit of us all. But, even is this wasn’t so, it wouldn’t refute the argument that freewill does not exist. Wanting to apportion blame and credit doesn’t resurrect freewill for us. We would just have to suck it up. Like if there’s no afterlife you just have to suck it up.

    “I disagree that there are these implications at all, and think that none of this has to matter”

    Well, the truth alone matters. And the truth has implications that a false reading of life doesn’t. We now know that we are not the centre of the universe. We now know that all life extant today evolved from a common ancestor. These truths have implications on a personal level and on a societal level.

  142. ccbowerson 11 Jun 2016 at 9:28 pm

    “The illusion is pretty damn good. That’s why we usually react as if the person could have done otherwise. But they couldn’t have done otherwise could they? We’re both agreed on that aren’t we?”

    Yes.

    “On the other hand, if you can contort yourself into believing in freewill despite all the above considerations, then you would have good reason – based on your false belief in freewili – to blame, hate, and seek revenge. That’s a pretty big difference.”

    I think this is where we start to diverge, perhaps not on the facts, but the implications. People can have an abstract intellectual understanding of this idea, but in practice it will largely have little to no effect. It’s like the quote ‘In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.’ This is why even very religious people who think their “souls” depend on certain behaviors (or avoiding them) are still unable to avoid those things. It is not just an intellectual process of deciding, even when the stakes seem high.

    Even if the belief or lackthereof of this immaterial free correlated with the hate, blame, etc, I would still question the causality. I doubt that convincing a person intellectually of illusory free will will have any lasting effect on their attitudes of others’ behavior. Perhaps I could see it helping with delayed reflective judgments of a person’s behavior, but I suspect that people will otherwise behave as they do.

    One obviously huge obstacle for the implications of free will belief is that many of these positions conflict with many religious beliefs. This is likely a bigger factor for judging others’ behaviors. What I mean is that the cultural and religious attitudes are huge confounding variables to the question of how belief in free will impacts these questions and are hard to disentangle.

    “Wanting to apportion blame and credit doesn’t resurrect freewill for us. We would just have to suck it up. Like if there’s no afterlife you just have to suck it up.”

    My point was not to resurrect anything. The point was that I don’t think addressing this issue will accomplish much from a practical standpoint. You were advocating for benefits of a specific understanding of the concept of free will (i.e. it doesn’t exist as they think it does). I was attempting to show that that was a one-sided perspective and that it would cut both ways. You apparently agree.

    There are other possibly implication of a lack of belief in free will: with a lessened sense of responsibility, individuals may be more likely to commit actions that they would normally view in a negative light because, hey, they had no control anyways. I doubt this would be a large effect, because I think there is a limited impact that these beliefs have on such things.

    But as far as your “truth alone matters.” Sure. I agree. But there are lots of truths that I think are more important to spend time on. And I don’t think this one has the major implications for human behavior that you seem to thinks, at least from a practical standpoint.

  143. BillyJoe7on 11 Jun 2016 at 11:59 pm

    ccbowers,

    Perhaps, in the short term, you’re right about theory not carrying through into practice, but I think history tells us that, over time, practice does change. We have the examples of slavery, race, femininsm and homosexuality.

    For me, living in a multicultural society, race has never really been much of an issue, but women were always second class citizens and “Spokesperson” used to sound awkward but now it just rolls off the tongue. As a result of the acceptance of homosexuality generally amongst the population, my view has changed along with everyone else’s. And everyone probably has a relative or two who has come out about their homosexuality and been accepted without much ado.

    As an example, my brother used to be a typical homophobe, mellowing over the years as a result of increasing public acceptance of homsexuality. But, when his son came out a couple of years ago, his attitude changed completely. He fully accepted his son’s sexuality as well as his male companion, treating him as he would anyone else. It has actually added a whole new interesting dimension to family dynamics and family relationships. I doubt this would have been possible had the background acceptance of homosexuality not been there.

    But perhaps you would say that this change in practice was not driven by theory?

    “There are other possibly implication of a lack of belief in free will: with a lessened sense of responsibility, individuals may be more likely to commit actions that they would normally view in a negative light because, hey, they had no control anyways. I doubt this would be a large effect, because I think there is a limited impact that these beliefs have on such things.”

    You are right on that point. I did mention this in one of my previous comments. Initial studies demonstrated negative consequences of reading a text that explains that freewill is an illusion (such as increased likelihood of cheating in an exam when given the opportunity to do so, lying in bed instead of getting up and doing something). But subsequent studies have shown this to be a short term effect. It turns out that it’s not much fun cheating, especially getting caught cheating, or lying in bed all day instead of going to work, and your power soon gets disconnected, and eventually you find yourself living under a bridge.

    “But as far as your “truth alone matters.” Sure. I agree. But there are lots of truths that I think are more important to spend time on”

    You’re sounding a bit like Mr. Horgan here. 😉

    For me, the illusion of freewill, along with the illusion of self and the problem of “identity, is one of the real biggies.

    What I’ve learned from science over the last couple of decades has dramatically changed my outlook on life. I was once a god fearing, homophoblc, religious fanatic whose life was geared towards the afterlife. I also believed in the paranormal (especially levitation for some reason) and was igorant about evolution, cognitive science, cosmology, relativity and quantum physics. Learning about these subjects has radically altered my wordview.

    Perhaps, though, I shouldn’t extrapolate my own experiences to the general population – what do they say about anecdotes!

  144. ccbowerson 12 Jun 2016 at 12:40 am

    ” But subsequent studies have shown this to be a short term effect.”

    Which is what I was arguing would be the duration of effect that any realization about free will would have, because the illusion of free will is so fundamental to our experiences. I don’t think any of the downstream implications would be long lasting, unless they changed the attitudes of the larger group or culture.

    “You’re sounding a bit like Mr. Horgan here.”

    There are a couple of big differences. First, I am speaking for myself. If others want to ponder this question, go right ahead. The other is that I don’t think it is a big issue because I don’t see good evidence that intervening in this belief 1. could be effective or 2. have a clear net positive outcome if effective.

    The illusion seems so fundamental to so many basic human experiences that we really couldn’t maintain this realization in real time throughout our lives. Perhaps we could remind ourselves periodically to the point it could make a small difference. Maybe. In addition, I am not sure what the net effect would be. I am not convinced it would be a net positive. I think in practice it would have very small effects some good, some bad, but mostly neutral. Of course I could be wrong as this is all speculation.

  145. ccbowerson 12 Jun 2016 at 12:46 am

    “I was once a god fearing, homophoblc, religious fanatic whose life was geared towards the afterlife. I also believed in the paranormal (especially levitation for some reason) and was igorant about evolution, cognitive science, cosmology, relativity and quantum physics. Learning about these subjects has radically altered my wordview.”

    About what age did these changes begin to take place? Do you identify a trigger for starting the process, or was it so gradual that you don’t?

  146. BillyJoe7on 12 Jun 2016 at 2:14 am

    Towards the end of my teenage years.

    The initial trigger was thinking about the eternity of the afterlife. If you think about it long enough it starts to feel a bit scary. Then real scary. You know…a trillion years and you’ve only just begun. In fact you’ve only ever just begun! A trillion times a trillion years and you’ve still only just begun. And how many different things can you do or learn about before all you have left is to start doing them all over again. Ten times. A hundred times. A trillion times. A trillion times a trillion times. And even after all that time you’ve still only just begun.

    [But I would like to live a fair bit longer than three score and ten – an eternal afterlife to live as you choose to live and that you could opt out of at any time, would be pretty cool though.]

    Anyway, that was the trigger for me to start exploring things outside the circle in which I was enslaved.

  147. BillyJoe7on 12 Jun 2016 at 2:54 am

    ccbowers,

    As for the illusion of freewill in everyday life – no I don’t bring it into my everyday life of interacting with other people – unless the conversation turns to a philosophical or scientific discussion about freewill! – but it is always there in the background to act as a corrective whenever the need arrives.

    And it’s important to remember that the illusion-of-freewill is not nothing.
    It’s like colour. Objects in the external world generate, reflect and transmit electromagnetic radiation. A selection of this EMR enters our eyes and part of the spectrum sets off chain reactions that produces the experience of colour within the brain. So colour is an illusion: It is not a feature of the external world – out there it’s just objects generating, reflecting and transmitting electromagnetic radiation. And it’s not in our brains – you can’t find colour anywhere in the brain! So colour is also an illusion – just as much as the differently coloured squares on that checkerboard illusion, just at a different level. In other words, our brains produce an illusion-of-colour. That’s not nothing. Similarly the illusion-of-freewill and the illusion-of-self is not nothing.

    I think it was Steve who expressed some trepidation at the thought of freewill as an illusion, but if colour doesn’t scare you*, so neither should the illusion of freewill.

    *When I showed my wife the following test a couple of years ago…
    https://visionaryeyecare.wordpress.com/2008/08/04/eye-test-find-your-blind-spot-in-each-eye/
    …she nearly freaked out and didn’t want to look at it again or talk about it, or think about it! But some people are just strange (:
    Ironically this site says it’s a FUN test!

  148. BillyJoe7on 12 Jun 2016 at 3:04 am

    BTW, that is what Sean Carroll means when he says he’s happy to refer to freewill at the level of our everyday lives – you wouldn’t exchange “illusion of colour” for every mention of “colour” in our everyday lives, and same for “freewill”. The thing is, though, you don’t need to use the word “freewill”, so why would you if it’s neither “free” nor “willed”? We can just as easily use the words “choices” or “decisions” (maybe mentally in “scare quotes” to remind us that these “choices” and “decisions” are different only in complexity to the “choices” and “decisions” made by computers through their algorithms).

  149. ccbowerson 12 Jun 2016 at 10:02 am

    “I think it was Steve who expressed some trepidation at the thought of freewill as an illusion, but if colour doesn’t scare you*, so neither should the illusion of freewill.”

    You have to be using a very loose definition of illusion to make this connection. I understand the point, but there is a difference between the perception of color and free will. In the latter, we are having an experience about something that doesn’t actually exist, while with color we are constructing a perception based upon something that does exist, EM radiation. Color is an illusion in the same way that all of our perceptions and experiences are because they are constructions, but we usually reserve the term illusion to mean something more specific than that (as discussed in many previous blog posts here).

    I find it fascinating that people get freaked out when they are show that their perceptions are not perfect. There are so many examples in everyday life, this has seemed obvious to me as far as I can remember, although I think I have appreciated it more in recent years due to following skepticism. How is it that people don’t learn the many ways they could be wrong in their perceptions by their previous experiences of being wrong? That they are so confident in their perceptions when there are so many reasons not to be? This is delusional and shows that rationalization and selective memories are powerful things

  150. mumadaddon 12 Jun 2016 at 10:42 am

    BJ7 & CCB,

    I’ve been away the last couple of days and see the conversation has been fleshed out significantly by you two, so I’m left without much to add.

    This by ccb:

    “The illusion seems so fundamental to so many basic human experiences that we really couldn’t maintain this realization in real time throughout our lives. Perhaps we could remind ourselves periodically to the point it could make a small difference. Maybe.”

    I’ve definitely found it helpful in my own conception of people, and their circumstances and behaviour, to understand that free will is illusory. You can look at it at different levels:

    1. We are only the product of genetics and environment.
    2. To the extent we’re able to manipulate our genes/genetic expression and environment, we aren’t free to choose how they have already determined our goals at the time of doing so.
    3. The level BJ7 has articulated: we are part of a system governed by deterministic and probabilistic laws, and it is impossible to derive free will from such a system.

    On the basis of number 1 alone, I think it’s possible go a good way towards mitigating our innate tendency to blame others for their bad luck while crediting ourselves for our own good luck (fundamental attribution error-ish…); to develop a more compassionate stance towards others; to acknowledge that blame and retribution are not worthwhile.

    We can also relate to these factors in a meaningful way — we can see causal connections between genes/environment and how people behave. One real-world example for me is homelessness – I no longer see homeless people as lazy and irresponsible, because I understand that they are likely to be the product of pretty terrible circumstances and/or often have mental health problems. Whatever causes led to their situation, may well have led me to the same situation. And I can, as ccb said, “maintain this realization in real time throughout my life.” (btw I do acknowledge that if all the causes were applied to ‘me’, then I would be that homeless person and the outcome would be inevitable.)

    I don’t really see adding in number (2 and) 3 having much impact on how people act towards others if they have already accepted number 1.

  151. ccbowerson 12 Jun 2016 at 11:14 am

    Mumadadd-

    “On the basis of number 1 alone, I think it’s possible go a good way towards mitigating our innate tendency to blame others for their bad luck while crediting ourselves for our own good luck (fundamental attribution error-ish…)”

    I agree that you can mitigate our innate tendency to blame, but I’m not sure that it really gets down to addressing free will in the sense we are discussing here. Even with a belief in free will, you can realize the external factors can predominate under many circumstances and develop a compassion for and maintain a default benefit-of-doubt for others. This could be an intellectual decision, but for many it is predisposition with a sort of post hoc rationalization.

    One example that illustrates my point is thinking about the spectrum of Christianity demoniations in the US. On one end, we have the extreme judgmental Westboro baptist Church and on the more liberal end, the Unitarians or Episcopalians. The differences are not in their belief in the existence of free will, as they all believe in this as a central understanding, but their default predisposition of compassion.

    And as far as the maintaining “this realization in real time throughout my life.” I think it is nearly impossible in an absolute sense, not just the way you were applying in specific situations. I think the way you are applying it is helpful, and appears to be a good practice for your, but there are many potential implications of this which perhaps are beyond the scope of this discussion. I have engaged in the topic, because there seemed to be interesting discussions to be had, but it is not really a topic that personally resonates with me.

  152. arnieon 12 Jun 2016 at 11:44 am

    “This is delusional and shows that rationalization and selective memories are powerful things”–ccb

    Old Sigmund Freund couldn’t have said it better. I’m not a Freudian, by any means, but he wasn’t wrong about everything, especially of the largely unconscious extent of our mental life, i.e., our brain activity.

  153. arnieon 12 Jun 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Uhhh….Freud, not Freund (minor slip of the fingers 😉

  154. mumadaddon 12 Jun 2016 at 4:22 pm

    A Freudian slip?

  155. mumadaddon 12 Jun 2016 at 4:23 pm

    Hmm, I think that’s what you were going for anyway, but was too subtle for me. Sorry!

  156. arnieon 12 Jun 2016 at 6:07 pm

    mumadadd….You got it! And since “freund” means “friend” in German, I suppose you now think I unconsciously wanted to be Freud’s friend. Not really, but kicking back with a cigar and scotch together might have been nice. Between his pretty fair English and my very rusty German………Hmmm Enough with that grandiosity (both his and mine).

  157. BillyJoe7on 13 Jun 2016 at 12:52 am

    ccbowers,

    “I understand the point…”

    Good, because that’s all an analogy is meant to do.
    But it is actually a very close analogy…

    “…there is a difference between the perception of color and free will. In the latter, we are having an experience about something that doesn’t actually exist, while with color we are constructing a perception based upon something that does exist…”

    But, putting it like that, you are comparing apples with oranges, so of course you won’t see the analogy as being apt. The correct comparison would go something like this:
    With freewill the brain is constructing a sensation based on something that does not exist, while with colour the brain is constructing a perception based on something that does exist
    So, when you make the correct comparison, it is easy to see that the above statement is actually incorrect. The illusion of freewill is based on something that does exist, although within the brain itself. The illusion of freewill is based on the fact that the inner workings of the brain are hidden from the conscious part of the brain.

    “You have to be using a very loose definition of illusion to make this connection”

    But where do you draw the line?
    Just to explain this a little…

    There are actually two levels of illusion associated with colour.
    The first level is when the brain constructs the perception of colour based on the wavelength of EMR that enters the eye. So, for example, the colour red corresponds to wavelengths of roughly 650-720 nm entering the eyes. So we have the illusion of red constructed by the brain based on the wavelength of incoming EMR within the range of roughly of 650-720 nm.
    The second level is when the brain constructs the colour red based not only on the wavelength of EMR entering the eye from the object in question, but also based on the wavelengths of EMR entering the eye from adjacent objects. So an object can appear to be red when the incoming EMR is outside the range 650-720 nm.
    The checkerboard illusion is an example: http://brainden.com/images/same-color-illusion.jpg – squares A and B are the same shade of grey.
    Here is another: http://www.buzzhunt.co.uk/2009/06/22/green-and-blue/ – the green and blue spirals are the same colour.
    Both of these illusions are based on things that exist in the world external to our brains.

    But there are also illusions based on what happens in the retinal cells, which are the interface between the external world and the brain. Here are a couple of examples:
    The colour fading illusion: http://cdn.instructables.com/FME/PC1L/F3SYOYKH/FMEPC1LF3SYOYKH.MEDIUM.jpg – stare at the dot for long enough and it disappears.
    The colour persistence illusion: http://brainden.com/images/girl-afterimage.jpg – stare at her right eye for 30 seconds then look at a white wall.

    You could also classify visual auras associated with migraines as illusions.
    For a personal example: I have recently started getting partial or complete central scotomas (fortunately I get only the aura, not the headache!). My first experience occurred while I was writing a note. The tip of the pen and the word I was writing suddenly disappeared, and, when I looked up, the person in front of me had no face. It took a while to realise what was going on. On another occasion whilst driving, I noticed that the left back wheel of the car in front of me was missing. It took a few seconds to realise it was also an aura.
    These illusions occur based on something that exists in the brain itself – reduced blood supply due to constriction of arteries supplying the occipital lobe of the brain.

    What about freewill?
    The illusion here is based on the fact that the “decisions” made by the brain are hidden from consciousness. The conscious brain becomes aware of the “decisions” after the unconscious brain has already made the “decisions”. If the conscious part of the brain was fully aware of all the processes within the brain leading to these “decisions”, there would be no illusion-of-freewill – we would know that we don’t have freewill and we would have no illusion of having freewill.
    So, freewill is an illusion based on something that happens in the brain itself.
    The only sight difference between the illusion-of-freewill and the illusion-of-colour is that the former is not based on any imput from the external world. But there not much difference between the illusion-of-freewill and the illusions based on what is happening in the retinal cells that mediate between the external world and the brain, and there is hardly any difference between the illusion-of-freewill and a migraine aura.
    So it sort of depends on where you draw the line in defining illusions.

    In any case, I’m happy to have made my point 🙂

  158. BillyJoe7on 13 Jun 2016 at 12:54 am

    I have responded above but there is one too many links, so I’ll split it in two.
    Here is the first part:

    ——————————–

    ccbowers,

    “I understand the point…”

    Good, because that’s all an analogy is meant to do.
    But it is actually a very close analogy…

    “…there is a difference between the perception of color and free will. In the latter, we are having an experience about something that doesn’t actually exist, while with color we are constructing a perception based upon something that does exist…”

    But, putting it like that, you are comparing apples with oranges, so of course you won’t see the analogy as being apt. The correct comparison would go something like this:
    With freewill the brain is constructing a sensation based on something that does not exist, while with colour the brain is constructing a perception based on something that does exist
    So, when you make the correct comparison, it is easy to see that the above statement is actually incorrect. The illusion of freewill is based on something that does exist, although within the brain itself. The illusion of freewill is based on the fact that the inner workings of the brain are hidden from the conscious part of the brain.

    “You have to be using a very loose definition of illusion to make this connection”

    But where do you draw the line?
    Just to explain this a little…

    There are actually two levels of illusion associated with colour.
    The first level is when the brain constructs the perception of colour based on the wavelength of EMR that enters the eye. So, for example, the colour red corresponds to wavelengths of roughly 650-720 nm entering the eyes. So we have the illusion of red constructed by the brain based on the wavelength of incoming EMR within the range of roughly of 650-720 nm.
    The second level is when the brain constructs the colour red based not only on the wavelength of EMR entering the eye from the object in question, but also based on the wavelengths of EMR entering the eye from adjacent objects. So an object can appear to be red when the incoming EMR is outside the range 650-720 nm.
    The checkerboard illusion is an example: http://brainden.com/images/same-color-illusion.jpg – squares A and B are the same shade of grey.
    Here is another: http://www.buzzhunt.co.uk/2009/06/22/green-and-blue/ – the green and blue spirals are the same colour.
    Both of these illusions are based on things that exist in the world external to our brains.

  159. BillyJoe7on 13 Jun 2016 at 12:56 am

    But there are also illusions based on what happens in the retinal cells, which are the interface between the external world and the brain. Here are a couple of examples:
    The colour fading illusion: http://cdn.instructables.com/FME/PC1L/F3SYOYKH/FMEPC1LF3SYOYKH.MEDIUM.jpg – stare at the dot for long enough and it disappears.
    The colour persistence illusion: http://brainden.com/images/girl-afterimage.jpg – stare at her right eye for 30 seconds then look at a white wall.

    You could also classify visual auras associated with migraines as illusions.
    For a personal example: I have recently started getting partial or complete central scotomas (fortunately I get only the aura, not the headache!). My first experience occurred while I was writing a note. The tip of the pen and the word I was writing suddenly disappeared, and, when I looked up, the person in front of me had no face. It took a while to realise what was going on. On another occasion whilst driving, I noticed that the left back wheel of the car in front of me was missing. It took a few seconds to realise it was also an aura.
    These illusions occur based on something that exists in the brain itself – reduced blood supply due to constriction of arteries supplying the occipital lobe of the brain.
    What about freewill?
    The illusion here is based on the fact that the “decisions” made by the brain are hidden from consciousness. The conscious brain becomes aware of the “decisions” after the unconscious brain has already made the “decisions”. If the conscious part of the brain was fully aware of all the processes within the brain leading to these “decisions”, there would be no illusion-of-freewill – we would know that we don’t have freewill and we would have no illusion of having freewill.
    So, freewill is an illusion based on something that happens in the brain itself.
    The only sight difference between the illusion-of-freewill and the illusion-of-colour is that the former is not based on any imput from the external world. But there not much difference between the illusion-of-freewill and the illusions based on what is happening in the retinal cells that mediate between the external world and the brain, and there is hardly any difference between the illusion-of-freewill and a migraine aura.
    So it sort of depends on where you draw the line in defining illusions.

    In any case, I’m happy to have made my point 🙂

  160. mumadaddon 13 Jun 2016 at 7:26 am

    @ccb,

    What I was getting at is that I agree with you that it doesn’t matter on a practical level whether people buy into the illusion of free will a being real. To be fair, there’s a fair bit of agreement between you and BJ7 so it’s not like I’m picking one side or another. My position, as simply as I can state it, would be: there is no free will, emergent or otherwise, but I don’t mind if people talk of free will as if it is real, provided they make some basic concessions to deterministic factors such as environment and genetics.

    The truth is that whatever way you look at it, on whatever level, most of the intricate web of causal factors behind any action are invisible to us, and we can only really track the obvious stuff at a statistical level and try to give it appropriate weight in extreme situations. But I do think this carries more weight practically as these factors are understandable and relatable, whereas the physics angle consist of factors that are 100% invisible as far as behaviour is concerned.

  161. mumadaddon 05 Jul 2016 at 3:21 am

    Sam Harris’s latest podcast is a conversation on free will with Dan Dennett. Dennett defends his compatibilist position.

    https://www.samharris.org/podcast

    (Harris hasn’t yet added the podcast to his site but it is available here: https://soundcloud.com/samharrisorg and through iTunes.)

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