Jan 05 2018

The Return of “Traditional” Astrology

I guess this is a theme recently – the return of previous pseudosciences that had been fading into the background. If you type “astrology” into the search window on this blog you get exactly two articles specifically about this topic in the last 10 years. Hopefully this won’t really change and astrology will remain safely on the fringe, an old-school pseudoscience curiosity.

But there are those who are trying to give astrology new respectability. A recent article by Ida Benedetto outlines the strategy, which is two-pronged. First, blame astrology’s poor reputation on modern psychology. Then the fix is an appeal to antiquity – return to the ancient texts. She writes:

“Astrology’s contemporary flavor has a closer relationship with the social science of psychology than the observational science it used to be based upon. If we can set modern judgments aside and learn the language of the ancient astrologers—a language that is now newly available due to the recent revival of classical texts—we may discover lost insights.”

Let’s strangle this infant in the crib, as both prongs of this strategy are nonsense.

First, modern psychology is not to blame for the failings of any version of astrology. Benedetto argues that modern astrology followed the pattern of pop psychology, offering simple solutions to life’s complex problems, and giving people light and positive answers. I think she is misinterpreting the lines of causation here.

Rather, astrology is a form of pop (pseudo)psychology, which is not based on any respectable psychological science. All such pop psy follows a similar pattern – the easy and comfortable answers. Modern astrologers have always been client-based, selling their fortune-telling for cash, and they simply followed (like all other forms of pop psy) the format that brought in the most money –  tell people what they want to hear.

In other words, any similarity between modern astrology and other forms of pop psychology do not come from psychology, but from the behavior of typical snake oil salesmen and fortunetellers.

But I am actually more interested in the second pillar of her argument – that there is something potentially valuable in the ancient astrological texts.

“The ancients looked to the sky for clues about why things happened in the material world around them. Astrology had its heyday in the Mediterranean in the Hellenistic period, an era that took place between the 3rd century BC and the 1st century CE. These ancient astrologers based their interpretations on centuries of observations recorded by the Mesopotamians who came before them. They kept careful records of astronomical phenomenon, looking for correlations between what happened in the sky above them and the material world around them.”

This is classic “Toothfairy science.” This is also the “teachable moment” I thought was most relevant about this article. Benedetto has a background in the arts, so it is not surprising that she is somewhat clueless about science.

The key point is this – science is more than carefully collecting observations. As the Toothfairy analogy explains, if you carefully documented the amount, denomination, and timing of money left in exchange for children’s teeth, and correlated that information with all sorts of demographic variables, you might create a convincing imitation of doing real science, but none of that data would actually test the underlying premise – is the Toothfairy real?

Similarly, carefully documenting the position of the stars and planets and then correlating those positions with events on Earth might be impressive for ancient Mesopotamians, but it is not science. This type of observational behavior is not capable of asking the important underlying question – is there any causal relationship between what is observed in the sky and events on Earth?

Just making such observations is missing a critical ingredient, testing whether or not the stars have any predictive value. For this you need objective outcomes, blinded assessment, and statistical analysis.

To reverse an analogy we have commonly used, this is similar to what many people do with the stock market. You can track the market in great detail, and look for patterns with sophisticated analysis. However, such patterns in past market behavior do not predict what the market will do in the future – it is stock market astrology.

The ancients cannot be blamed for thinking they can gain insight into worldly events by looking at the stars. They lacked any serious cosmology or understanding of fundamental forces. They did the best they could, and carefully documenting observations was a good start.

But we have a couple thousand years of advancement between them and us. We know quite a bit more about how the universe is put together, and the forces that are at work. There is no plausible mechanism by which the position of the planets and stars can influence or predict events on Earth. That notion is pure magic.

Further, numerous attempts at scientifically demonstrating the existence of such a phenomenon have failed. We are not starting from scratch here – there is more than enough evidence to reject the highly implausible hypothesis of astrology. This is not closed mindedness, as Benedetto and others would have you believe. It is simple Beysian analysis – astrology is not very likely to begin with, and all evidence points to no.

I also fully reject Benedetto’s reverence for “ancient texts.” As a source of history, sure, they are invaluable. As a source of science and understanding the world, not so much. Such reverence for the alleged wisdom of the ancients in counter-enlightenment and anti-intellectual. It rejects the hard-won knowledge that we have accumulated over centuries. It infantilizes modern people and suggests we should submit to the ancient wisdom of our long past elders.

It is also, ironically, still looking for an easy solution to complex questions. The world is complex, and it takes hard intellectual work to sort it all out, account for our biases, to look at questions from new perspectives, and to conduct rigorous observations and experiments to systematically test our ideas against reality. The answers aren’t waiting for us to translate from some ancient text.

So I’m sorry, Benedetto, astrology is fake. You just don’t understand how science works. But that is easy enough to fix. There are plenty of sources for popular science communication out there, a mere mouse-click away.

137 responses so far

137 thoughts on “The Return of “Traditional” Astrology”

  1. JHGRedekop says:

    I came across this being promoted on Tumblr: “The Coolest Teen Astrologers are on Tumblr!” — an article in the Tech (!) section of “The Ringer”.

    https://www.theringer.com/tech/2018/1/2/16833922/teen-astrologists-of-tumblr

    “In the magazines you get a very shallow look at what astrology is,” Elwood, now a 19-year-old psychology major at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, told me. “It’s almost watered-down for public consumption. On Tumblr, you have these deeper guides to astrology that would be considered more proper.”

  2. MWSletten says:

    C’mon Steve, have a little fun! Astrology can be a really entertaining way to learn about yourself. For example, I was born cesarean. You can’t tell except every time I leave the house I go out a window.

    I’ll be here all week…

  3. BaS says:

    “Let’s strangle this infant in the crib” O_O I know what you mean, but damn. Nipping it in the bud isn’t enough?

  4. What have you got against plants?

  5. Willy says:

    I LIKE strangling the infant in the crib… Just sayin’.

  6. mumadadd says:

    “Let’s strangle this infant in the crib, as both prongs of this strategy are nonsense.”

    Ouch. As a parent I am offended by this violent metaphor!

    Nah, only joking; I love it. I will add this to my bank of witty one liners that I may have to wait years for an opportune moment to use. 🙂

  7. tb29607 says:

    Instead of strangling, I always heard it as “pinch its head off on the way out.”

  8. Kabbor says:

    Astrology gives us answers to questions that science simply can’t. Ask a scientist what your horoscope is and they simply can’t do it. Astrologers will give you a horoscope and will do it without worrying about whether it has any tie to reality. That is the only question they can answer, and that answer is invariably meaningless, but that won’t stop millions of people from asking the question!

    If a market for nonsense exists, someone will sell it with a smile.

  9. mumadadd says:

    I’m just racking my brains for any examples of hardcore, harmful astrology ideology — I can’t find any (and yes, availability heuristic accepted/excepted). For me, if there is any flavour of nonsense that falls into the ‘harmless’ category it’s astrology, except maybe Feng Shui.

    I have a little hypothesis as to why it’s so harmless: it’s not divisive. There is no in-group or out-group. Although it could be considered an alternative source of knowledge to its adherents, there is no taint or punishment for those who don’t follow it (though maybe they aren’t as in tune with on what day they might meet an interesting stranger, or should be cautious of expressing themselves to strangers). It’s not as compelling as, for example: if you don’t believe this you’ll be tortured for eternity. There is no agent who watches, judges and doles out punishment for lapses of discipline.

    It seems as though, in the ‘free-market of ideas’, this one is just a bit of genetic drift, unable to really take hold and propagate.

    Just to acknowledge my own ignorance: perhaps China has been ravaged by astrology and I’m just unaware of it. I can see a big downside to people believing that their fate is predetermined — a sort of fatalism.

  10. michaelegnor says:

    There are two reasons people give for not believing in astrology.

    First, that it’s not supported by the scientific evidence.

    Second, that it’s nuts: there’s no logical reason why the alignment of planets would make you more likely to fall in love if you have a certain birthday.

    But of course reason #1 is bogus: astrology hasn’t been tested scientifically, to my knowledge. Has there ever been a double-blind study of making new romantic relationships as a function of the location of the planets and birthdays? I am unaware of such a study. The NSF would look upon such a grant application with (appropriate) skepticism.

    So the real reason that we reject astrology as nonsense is that it’s logical nonsense: there’s no logical reason to attribute states of mind to alignment of planets.

    The interesting thing is that materialism is basically the same thing as astrology, in the sense of logical basis. There is no more reason, logically, to attribute states of mind to alignment of neurotransmitters and brain states than there is attribute states of mind to alignment of planets.

    Now, of course, there’s plenty of evidence that neurotransmitters etc. correlate to some degree with states of mind. But, as Steven says, correlation is not proof of causation.

    From the standpoint of metaphysics–of a logical chain of causation–astrology has the same logical grounding as materialism. We don’t know how the state of planets could make you fall in love, and we don’t know how the state of neurotransmitters could make you fall in love.

    The implication here is that what we are lacking in understanding the mind is a coherent metaphysical understanding of nature. Materialism, like astrology, is not a coherent understanding.

    Hylomorphism is.

    Hmmm…

  11. mumadadd says:

    Actually I’ve think I’ve got this backwards: if it were taken more seriously (if it were reinforced as a factual account of how reality functions) it would become divisive. The fact that it isn’t is merely a product of cultural contingency, rather than the specfics of the belief system.

    Sorry about that — I retract my last comment.

  12. mumadadd says:

    And again…

    Actually I’ve think I’ve got this backwards: if it were taken more seriously (if it were reinforced as a factual account of how reality functions) it would become divisive. The fact that it isn’t is merely a product of cultural contingency, rather than the specfics of the belief system.

    Sorry about that — I retract my last comment.

  13. BillyJoe7 says:

    “Let’s strangle this infant in the crib…”

    I think I would have avoided that metaphor.
    Not as bad as that cartoon posted on the anti-vaccination blog “Age of Autism that depicted pro-vaccination writers (Steven Novella, Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, Trine Tsouderos) eating babies as part of their Thanksgiving feast.
    Maybe: “let’s put this dying horse out of its misery”?

  14. BillyJoe7 says:

    mumadadd,

    If nothing else, astrology, even if not taken seriously, is pseudo/anti/non science, and, as such, promotes a pseudo/anti/non scientific worldview. Without trying to overstate its effects, this is harmful for any society.
    But I see you retracted your comment.

  15. mumadadd says:

    Michael!

    I thought we’d lost you!

    “The interesting thing is that materialism is basically the same thing as astrology, in the sense of logical basis. There is no more reason, logically, to attribute states of mind to alignment of neurotransmitters and brain states than there is attribute states of mind to alignment of planets.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen you acknowledge the fact that science lives and dies by how well it predicts future data. It’s like hemispheral neglect: this part of reality is just a black hole of non-existence to you.

    “From the standpoint of metaphysics–of a logical chain of causation–astrology has the same logical grounding as materialism. (1)We don’t know how the state of planets could make you fall in love, and (2)we don’t know how the state of neurotransmitters could make you fall in love.”

    1. Why would we even conside it?
    2. Is that your professional summary of the current neurological model for love?*

    * Here’s a recommended read for you: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Braintrust-Neuroscience-Tells-about-Morality/dp/0691156344

  16. BillyJoe7 says:

    SN: “this is similar to what many people do with the stock market. You can track the market in great detail, and look for patterns with sophisticated analysis. However, such patterns in past market behavior do not predict what the market will do in the future”

    This is interesting.

    A stock trader sells stock that he believes is overvalued and buys stock that he believes is undervalued. But the stock he sells is bought by another stock trader who conversely believes that stock is undervalued. And the stock he buys is sold by another stock trader who conversely believes that stock is overvalued. Meanwhile that stock has the value it has…because that’s its value! The value of the stock does vary over time, going up above its mean value at times, and going down below its mean value at other times, but always regressing to the mean.

    And that’s about it: “Regression to the mean”.

  17. michaelegnor says:

    mums:

    [I don’t think I’ve ever seen you acknowledge the fact that science lives and dies by how well it predicts future data.]

    You never asked, and I was being shy.

    [1. Why would we even consider (that astrology was true)?]

    That’s my point. There is no scientific evidence against astrology, because astrology is so crazy that no one in their right mind would test it scientifically. Therefore, the reason that we don’t believe in astrology isn’t because of scientific evidence (there isn’t any), but because it’s logically incoherent. There’s no logical reason to attribute states of mind (falling in love, etc) to planetary alignment.

    I argue that it is just as illogical metaphysically to attribute states of mind to molecular alignment (materialism). It’s the same damn thing. We see that it’s nonsense in astrology, but we don’t acknowledge the same nonsense in materialism.

    [2. Is that your professional summary of the current neurological model for love?*]

    The current “neurological model” of love? You’ll have to ask a love neurologist. I am very interested in love–love of my family and friends, love of God. I’m interested in deepening it, protecting it, and growing it. I’m also interested in the metaphysical implications of love. Love is defined, in Thomism, as willing good for another. I like that definition, and contemplate it at times.

    Love’s “neurology” doesn’t interest me in the least.

  18. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    “astrology hasn’t been tested scientifically, to my knowledge

    So why do remain ignorant:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrology_and_science#Tests_of_astrology

  19. michaelegnor says:

    BJ:

    I stand corrected.

    However my point remains: people generally disbelieve astrology because it’s crazy logically, not because they’ve evaluated the scientific evidence against it, which I guess does, on a small scale, exist.

  20. mumadadd says:

    Michael,

    “Love’s “neurology” doesn’t interest me in the least.”

    But if you wish to dismiss it, and attempt to argue others out of it, you must at least know what it is.

    “we don’t know how the state of neurotransmitters could make you fall in love.”

    State = undefined
    Everything else = unacknowledged

    Why bring it up if you don’t want to talk about it and won’t bother to understand it?

  21. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    “There is no scientific evidence against astrology, because astrology is so crazy that no one in their right mind would test it scientIfically”

    Unfortunately, the craziest things are believed by the craziest people.
    So, yes, time and energy has been wasted testing this craziness.
    Again, why remain ignorant:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrology_and_science#Tests_of_astrology

  22. BillyJoe7 says:

    …sorry, didn’t see your acknowledgement of your ignorance. 😉

  23. Grimbeard says:

    “astrology hasn’t been tested scientifically, to my knowledge”

    Then you need more knowledge. Psychologists *have* scientifically tested astrology (e.g. Adorno, 1994; Fichten & Sunerton, 1983; Wyman & Vise, 2008 to name just a few) and guess what – it doesn’t work.

  24. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    “there’s plenty of evidence that neurotransmitters etc. correlate to some degree with states of mind. But, as Steven says, correlation is not proof of causation”

    But that is not to say that correlation cannot provide evidence of causation:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation#Use_of_correlation_as_scientific_evidence

    As an example, the health effects of cigarette smoking was established by correlational studies alone;

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_effects_of_tobacco#Studies

  25. michaelegnor says:

    mum:

    [But if you wish to dismiss [love neurology], and attempt to argue others out of it, you must at least know what it is. Why bring it up if you don’t want to talk about it and won’t bother to understand it?]

    “Love neurology” is the study of correlations between brain states and love. I’d rather watch paint dry.

    Correlations of that sort are not interesting to me. I don’t discount the science, I just don’t find it interesting.

    What I’m interested in is the metaphysical issues: what is love? Where does it come from, in a metaphysical sense? Why would such a desire occur in man?

    Those are interesting questions. Where the brain lights up on fMRI when we love, or what neurotransmitters are increased when we love, are of no interest to me.

  26. bachfiend says:

    mumadadd,

    I read Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor’s latest ‘contribution’, and strangely I didn’t have my usual almost instantaneous negative reaction. The radio I’m listening to almost simultaneously started playing ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations’ and my positive reactions to the expansive and glorious music outweighed whatever negative reactions I had to Egnor’s usual nonsense.

    ‘Love’ can’t be explained on the basis of neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin, in the same way that it can’t be explained on the basis of quantum physics. But it can be explained in a rough way on the basis of the interaction the functioning of various regions of the brain.

    There’s no one single centre of the brain that causes the phenomenon of love, in the same way that there’s no one single centre of the brain that causes the phenomenon of conscious awareness. The functioning of the brain (and hence the mind, because the brain is the mind and the mind is the brain) is complex. It’s naive to think that a single part of the brain could be stimulated to produce complex phenomena such as love or conscious awareness.

    As an analogy, there’s the Capgras syndrome which in some cases is due to damage to the connection between the temporal cortex where faces are recognised and the limbic system which deals with emotions. People with Capgras syndrome see a familiar face, such as a spouse, but don’t have an emotional response, so they think that the other person is an impostor.

    Egnor persistently attacks ‘materialism’ because he wants to cling to his delusion that the mind is immaterial and can, somehow, survive the death of the brain. As a result, he refuses to acknowledge the considerable progress neuroscience has made in understanding the brain (and the mind), even going to the extent of completely getting wrong the results of research, such as Benjamin Libet’s work on when conscious awareness of sensory stimuli occurs; Libet found that it occurs when nerve impulses produced by the stimulus reach the brain causing an evoked potential, Egnor claimed that conscious awareness of a sensory stimulus occurs the instant the sensory receptor is stimulated producing action potentials in the sensory nerve. That somehow the mind perceives objects at the objects’ location not in the brain.

  27. RickK says:

    I’m not interested in the nature of rocks or geology.

    What interests me is the metaphysics of volcanoes. Why do they erupt? Where does the will to erupt come from? What can I do to decrease the chance that the volcano will destroy my village? These are the important questions.

    Tectonic movements, fault lines and magma flow are of no interest to me.

  28. bachfiend says:

    Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor’s comment; ‘I don’t discount the science, I just don’t find it interesting.’

    I’ll correct it for him; ‘I don’t find science that contradicts my worldview interesting.’

    I’ll try to answer his questions.

    What is love? It’s the complex set of positive reactions to an external stimulus.

    Where does it come from? From the functioning of multiple areas of the brain.

    Why would such a desire occur in man? To ensure the persistence of pair bonding to allow successful rearing of offspring.

  29. mumadadd says:

    Michael,

    “However my point remains: people generally disbelieve astrology because it’s crazy logically, not because they’ve evaluated the scientific evidence against it, which I guess does, on a small scale, exist.”

    It’s not what you think (or wilfully imply) it is. Astrology has failed to make any tested and validated predictions as a hypothesis. If it had done so reliably and consistently it would have been incorporated into the scientific model/s of reality already — no metaphysical assumptions would have prevented this. We would have triangulated in on a relationship between the relative positions of celestial bodies at the point of birth and personal outcomes, if such a cause and effect relationship existed and had detectable effects. If you can predict a cause and effect relationship between two variables you’re in the game. Just show your work. Or who knows — historical contigency and all that — but given the current scientific methodology and basic history I think we would have spotted it. Of course that’s all because of Christianity, and the fact that it’s true.

    You are confining reality to your version of ‘logic’ (undefined, but supersedes evidence and constrains reality) which is apparently some system of relationships between ‘things that exist’ that were know by people millenia (or ceturies) ago, (an ontology that has been unadulterated by modern technology). The logic itself is then based on ‘facts’ about how these ‘things’ appear to behave and interact with each other. All extrapolated into some overriding set of prescriptive rules about how reality must function, and then into a set of ‘he beats me because I deserve it’ justifications for abuse of power.

    Hmm.

  30. michaelegnor says:

    R:

    [I’m not interested in the nature of rocks or geology…]

    Interest in rocks and geology is a fine thing, just not for me. Just like interest in “love neurology”. Not for me. I think it is basically high-tech phrenology, and of much less scientific value than first meets the eye.

    I am interested in the metaphysical and theological issues about love. How can we love, unless love is prior to us, in the sense of causation? Theologically, the Thomist view is that God is Love, in the sense that His attributes are merely different perspectives on His metaphysical simplicity. His Love is His Wisdom is His Omnipotence is His Mercy is His Justice, all of which are His Essence. And He is His Essence.

    That’s what interests me about Love, and of course, in addition to my personal experience of love in my family and friends.

    FMRI of brains during love? Yawn…

  31. michaelegnor says:

    bach:

    [Why would such a desire occur in man? To ensure the persistence of pair bonding to allow successful rearing of offspring.]

    You’re such a romantic.

  32. mumadadd says:

    Michael,

    “Theologically, the Thomist view is that God is Love, in the sense that His attributes are merely different perspectives on His metaphysical simplicity. His Love is His Wisdom is His Omnipotence is His Mercy is His Justice, all of which are His Essence. And He is His Essence.”

    If that means that I get to live forever in a state of bliss then I hope you’re right. Just tell me what to say on my deathbed and I’ll do it. Don’t give me any trash about a personal god who’s philosophically incapable of interacting with reality — just give me the magic incantations.

    Now, dammit! Don’t consign me to eternal damnation, man!

  33. mumadadd says:

    Michael,

    Just a side-point: I too appreciate your recent civility. You can and do set your own course — if you approach a bunch of people and call them *tards, assholes, and tell them you want to ‘make sure you are walking funny’ at the end of your discourse, you’ll be treated differently to making an honest attempt to string an argument togther and defend a position.

    This new, revamped, ME is much better!

  34. BillyJoe7 says:

    bachfiend,

    “Love’ can’t be explained on the basis of neurotransmitters, in the same way that it can’t be explained on the basis of quantum physics. But it can be explained in a rough way on the basis of the interaction the functioning of various regions of the brain”

    It is almost certain the qualia will be explained on the basis of “levels of description”.

    There is no colour at the quantum level.
    (Except that there is: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_charge 🙂 )
    There is no colour at the atomic level.
    (http://www.fnal.gov/pub/science/inquiring/questions/colorofatoms.html)
    But molecules do have colour – which is to say that they emit EMR of certain wavelengths.
    In the retina, chemical reactions transform these wavelengths into action potentials in neurones.
    In the brain, a pattern of neural activity correlates with the perception of colour.
    The perception of colour is a “level of description” above the level that describes the pattern of neural activity in the brain.

    This is also called “emergence”.
    For example, the differential emission of wavelengths of EMR “emerges” at the level where atoms combine to form molecules.
    This is not controversial or mysterious.
    Similarly, colour “emerges” at the level where neurones combine to form brains.

    Similarly, you can’t find “life” by looking below certain levels of description.
    Life emerges when organelles combine to form cells.

    On the other hand, there is no evidence for souls (whatever they could possibly be) and no possible mechanism for souls (colourless, odorless, tasteless, weightless, invisible, interactionless) to achieve this feat.

  35. BillyJoe7 says:

    “This new, revamped, ME is much better!”

    Dr Jekyll is Hydeing.

  36. BillyJoe7 says:

    …yes, I know.

  37. chikoppi says:

    [michaelegnor] Just like interest in “love neurology”. Not for me. I think it is basically high-tech phrenology, and of much less scientific value than first meets the eye.

    After all, it’s not like conditions such as alexithymia exist or that brain injury can result in the inability to recognize emotions oneself or others, or even induce acquired sociopathy. “Love” is an evolved and neurologically-induced behavior common to social animals and species that nurture their young.

    How can we love, unless love is prior to us, in the sense of causation? Theologically, the Thomist view is that God is Love, in the sense that His attributes are merely different perspectives on His metaphysical simplicity.

    How can there be sociopaths, unless sociopathy is prior to…oh no. God is a sociopath. That explains a great deal.

  38. michaelegnor says:

    chi:

    [“Love” is an evolved and neurologically-induced behavior common to social animals and species that nurture their young.]

    You confuse affection, which is an emotion, with love, which is an act of will.

    Animals of all sorts (man included) have affections. It may have “evolved”, whatever that means.

    Love is to will the good of another. Love is often involved with affections, but not always. And sometimes love is associated with anger rather than eros or agape. We may be angry with someone we love because they are doing something harmful to them.

    There is so much more to love than the materialist-Darwinist paradigm admits.

  39. mumadadd says:

    Ah, yes.

    What about jealousy and greed? These too must be facets of god’s ‘unchanging’ and ‘perfect’ (yet able to decide and implement changes) nature.

  40. michaelegnor says:

    chi:

    [How can there be sociopaths, unless sociopathy is prior to…oh no. God is a sociopath. That explains a great deal.]

    Evil is not a created thing, and there is no evil in God.

    Evil is the privation of good, as darkness is the privation of light.

    God, for His own reasons, created a Universe capable of evil. Human evil is understandable: He created us in His image, and we have free will and can choose good or evil.

    Natural evil is difficult to understand. The effort to do so is called theodicy.

    And atheists don’t believe in evil, because if there is no God, there is no objective standard of Good or Evil. There are merely events that have consequences we like or don’t like.

    So for an atheist to argue against God’s existence based on evil in the world, the atheist first must (unwittingly) presume God’s existence.

  41. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael: “Hyelomorphism”

    Some definitions:

    Matter: that out of which a Substance is made relative to something else (clay->bricks, bricks->house)
    Prime matter: matter with no Substantial Form of its own.
    Substance: an individual thing like a brick, or a horse, or a dead horse 😉
    Substantial Form: the Essential properties of a Substance.
    Form: the properties of a Substance that can Change (block of marble, statue of David)
    Change: a change in Form (block of marble->statue of David.
    Essential property: a property a Substance must have in to be that Substance.
    Accidental property: a property a Substance can lose/gain without changing into a different Substance.
    Life: an Essential property of living Substances.
    Soul: that which makes a living Substance alive.

    Hyelomorphism is a dictionary.
    It was made up by an ancient philosopher called Aristotle.

  42. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    “And atheists don’t believe in evil, because if there is no God, there is no objective standard of Good or Evil. There are merely events that have consequences we like or don’t like. So for an atheist to argue against God’s existence based on evil in the world, the atheist first must presume God’s existence”

    Define sophistry.

  43. mumadadd says:

    ME:

    “And atheists don’t believe in evil, because if there is no God, there is no objective standard of Good or Evil. There are merely events that have consequences we like or don’t like.”

    Well… you can’t extrapolate from rejection of of god claims to disbelief in evil.

    But anyway: evil isn’t a force ‘out there’ in the world that can corrupt people. It is a definition we may or may not apply to acts and the people who commit them. We may also choose to discard the concept altogether in favour of a ’cause and effect’ explanation — you know, that which applies to everthing that began to exist but apparently ceases to function once you want to lump somebody into the ‘them’ category.

  44. mumadadd says:

    “because if there is no God, there is no objective standard of Good or Evil. There are merely events that have consequences we like or don’t like”

    Your system of basing morality on everything we know about human nature is fatally flawed — unless it’s anchored in something that exists outside the universe and can’t be known, it’s impossible to say objectively what is better or worse.

    Like, in general, people don’t share the same instincts and preferences. You can’t possibly accept your observations that other people experience suffering and joy in the same way as you, and you can’t possibly be part of a social species for whom altruism and general interest in the fate or your your family and tribe is relevent. You just can’t!

    Amen.

  45. BillyJoe7 says:

    The real argument (as opposed to Michael’s sophistry).

    There is a spectrum in human behaviour ranging from “good” to “evil”, and all human behaviour lies somewhere along this spectrum. The spectrum is not set in stone. It changes through space and time, cultures and individuals. Some cultures, and some individuals within a future, would place certain human behaviours in one point in the spectrum and other cultures, or individuals within these cultures, would place the same behaviour at other points in the spectrum. The spectrum has also changed over time, often dramatically so. There are certain types of behaviour that most people and cultures through space and time have generally, but not exclusively, agreed are in the “good” part of the spectrum, and others in the “evil” part of the spectrum. Killing is largely but not exclusively, “evil”. Happiness is largely but not exclusively “good”.

    No atheism or theism required.
    There is no objective morality.
    Morality is just all-too-human agreements and disagreements about spectrums of human behaviour.

  46. bachfiend says:

    Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor,

    ‘God, for His own reasons, created a Universe capable of evil. Human evil is understandable. He created us in His image, and we have free will and can choose good or evil.’

    Except, we don’t have ‘free will.’ Free will involves making decisions. Decisions may be conscious and caused, conscious and uncaused, subconscious and caused, or subconscious and uncaused.

    ‘Caused’ means on the basis of the individual’s genetics and experiences (including education and religious indoctrination), and the particular circumstances at the time the decision is being made. And is theoretically completely predictable if an external observer has complete information about the individual. If a decision is completely predictable, then the individual couldn’t have decided anything else. ‘Uncaused’ implies that the decision is random, similar to making decisions on the basis of a throw of a die.

    For free will to exist, decisions would have to be conscious and uncaused. But Libet showed that decisions are subconscious, being rationalised later to be conscious. And no one thinks that decisions are uncaused and random.

    People don’t have free will, but they do have ‘free won’t’ – the ability to veto decisions before carrying them out. People are still responsible for their actions despite not having free will.

    Free will isn’t a magic free get out of goal card for the existence of natural evil in the world. It doesn’t excuse a god for creating a universe capable of producing the Great Lisbon Earthquake on November 1, 1755 which killed thousands, including worshippers in the Lisbon cathedral.

    Science provides an explanation for the Lisbon earthquake and resulting tsunami. They occur on planets with active tectonic plates and oceans. And perhaps life only originates on planets with active tectonic plates and oceans to provide a site of origin in alkaline hydrothermal vents?

  47. bachfiend says:

    Anyway, has anyone else started to read Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury’?

    If it’s fiction, then it’s very funny fiction.

    The trouble is, I don’t think it’s fiction.

  48. BillyJoe7 says:

    bachfiend,

    “People don’t have free will, but they do have…the ability to veto decisions before carrying them out”

    I don’t see how this could work.
    What is the mechanism by which the output or “decision” of the mind/brain is vetoed? Do you mean that the subconscious mind makes a “decision” and that, when the conscious mind becomes aware of that “decision” some milliseconds later, it can “veto” that “decision”? It that is the case, wouldn’t there have to be a mechanism for the “decision” to “veto” that original “decision”. And wouldn’t the mechanism that makes the “decision” to “veto” the original “decision” have to be subconscious and only revealed to the conscious mind some milliseconds later just like all the other “decisions” In which case, doesn’t it all come right back to unconscious mechanistic “decision” making processes?

    “People are still responsible for their actions despite not having free will”

    How can individuals be responsible for their behaviour if they could not have behaved otherwise? Surely it means that individuals are not responsible for their behaviour. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t deal with an indiviual’s “evil” behaviour. We do lock away murderers. But we lock them away to keep them from murdering again. The reason we lock them away is to protect others from being murdered, not to punish the muderer – because, in the circumstances, they could not have done otherwise. It would be the same as someone with a frontal lobe tumour that caused a personality change that lead to murderous behaviour.

  49. bachfiend says:

    BillyJoe,

    ‘We do lock away murderers. But we lock them away to protect others from being murdered, not to punish the murderer – because, in the circumstances, they could not have done otherwise.’

    There’s a book ‘the Punisher’s Brain. The Evolution of Judge and Jury’ by Morris Hoffman, a Colorado
    judge and part-time neuroscientist, dealing with this topic. He notes that there’s four reasons for punishment: retribution, deterrence (of the individual and others in general), incapacitation (if a murderer is in gaol, he can’t murder anyone else other than other prisoners or the warders- and they can look out for themselves) and rehabilitation.

    He didn’t believe that punishment deters anyone, because the only defendants he ever saw were the ones who weren’t deterred. The ones whose free won’t wasn’t strong enough to tell them that what their subconscious was telling them to do wasn’t a good idea (perhaps their subconscious wasn’t coming up with the further decision that the original decision wasn’t a good one in the first place?)

    Until a criminal law professor argued against the idea that punishment doesn’t deter by noting ‘I’m pretty sure there are one or two people I’ve come across in my life I may have killed if I thought I could have gotten away with it.’

  50. chikoppi says:

    [michaelegnor] You confuse affection, which is an emotion, with love, which is an act of will. Animals of all sorts (man included) have affections. It may have “evolved”, whatever that means.

    Love is to will the good of another. Love is often involved with affections, but not always. And sometimes love is associated with anger rather than eros or agape. We may be angry with someone we love because they are doing something harmful to them.

    Animals don’t “will the good of another?”

    Damage to the brain can disrupt the ability of a person to “will the good of another” or otherwise have the capacity for “love.” It doesn’t matter how much you attempt to presume in the definition or how finely you attempt to parse it.

    So for an atheist to argue against God’s existence based on evil in the world, the atheist first must (unwittingly) presume God’s existence.

    I don’t accept the definition of either “good” or “evil” as being relative to the imagined properties of a thing called “God,” so I don’t have to “unwittingly” presume anything. Anyone who willfully creates a universe that includes suffering is a sadist, a sociopath, or merely not omniscient/omnipotent.

  51. BillyJoe7 says:

    bachfiend,

    I wasn’t meaning to be all inclusive when I said that we lock away murderers to protect others. I’m well aware of those three other reasons, including the argument that punishment of the murderer can be justified as a means of deterring other potential murderers. And there’s even another justifiable reason to punish the murderer. The family whose daughter was murdered, for instance, deserves something more than an explanation that the murderer couldn’t have done otherwise and, therefore, he shouldn’t be punished. The family has been damaged by this murderer and they deserve more consideration than that. But, a muderer, or any one else in prison for a major crime, has not had an easy life and faces an even worse conclusion to his life as result of something he could not actually have avoided. Whatever we do with people who have committed serious crimes, we need to keep all these factors into account.

    But my main point was that I find the “veto” role of the conscious mind pretty unconvincing.

  52. BillyJoe7 says:

    bachfiend,

    I forgot this bit:

    “Until a criminal law professor argued against the idea that punishment doesn’t deter by noting ‘I’m pretty sure there are one or two people I’ve come across in my life I may have killed if I thought I could have gotten away with it”

    So, let me get this straight…the only reason he didn’t murder these two people is because he didn’t think he could get away with it and he wasn’t prepared to pay the penalty of life imprisonment???
    Jesus…all I can say is…I hope he isn’t a friend.

    I have pretty bad things done to me on a couple occasions which have dramatically changed my life for the worse, but I’ve never considered murdering the people responsible. And I haven’t gone around hating them or wishing bad things would happen to them. Last year something really shocking happened to one of these people and I can truthfully say that I felt no schadenfreude. Any feelings of hatred, retribution, or schadenfreude would have had no effect on these people, but they would certainly have been harmful to me, sitting there eating away from inside. It has also helped to realise that things could not have turned out otherwise.

  53. bachfiend says:

    BillyJoe,

    Morris Hoffman notes in his book ‘the Punisher’s Brain’ that his original view on sentencing was that it was for retribution (for the benefit of the victim, the victim’s family and fiends, and society as a whole) and incapacitation.

    He completely disagrees that it’s for rehabilitation, which he says doesn’t happen, and which perversely has led to more severe sentences in America. The argument being that if a short sentence doesn’t rehabilitate, then a long sentence will.

    He thinks that the main reason for sentencing is to deter – both the individual and others.

    You don’t think that penalties for wrong deeds deter by encouraging a person to veto decisions by virtue of engaging free won’t? Haven’t you ever made a decision to do something, and then in the split section before carrying out the action, cancelled it after realising the possible consequences?

    If so, you’ve just demonstrated free won’tin vetoing the acting out of decisions. Not everyone is capable of demonstrating free won’t to the same degree, some hardly possess it, and many have their free won’t degraded by drugs such as alcohol or amphetamines.

    My main point I was making to Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor was that free will doesn’t exist. It’s not a free get out of gaol card for theodicy. But people are still responsible for their actions.

  54. bachfiend says:

    BillyJoe,

    You were typing your last comment while I was typing mine. I should have noted that the criminal law professor made his comment during a debate on whether the death penalty for murder deters. An economist noted that the author (the judge) only sees defendants who are not deterred by the death penalty for murder. He never sees the ones who were deterred (and obviously he also never sees the many more people who were never tempted to kill some one in the first place, which was left unstated because it’s so obvious).

    The judge turned to the criminal law professor for support of his original belief that the death penalty doesn’t deter. The law professor’s comment was a rhetorical tongue in cheek reply made during a debate.

  55. sarah_theviper says:

    Ancient Greek horoscopes were mean, and they did not describe the characteristcs of the signs in glowing positive terms. I am pretty sure there are examples in A Curio of Greek Oddities. Not finding my copy right now, or I would give examples. I think the difference has to do with us being more skeptical. It is easier to sell nice than mean, and I don’t think the ancient horoscopes would fly today.

  56. michaelegnor says:

    BJ:

    [How can individuals be responsible for their behaviour if they could not have behaved otherwise? Surely it means that individuals are not responsible for their behaviour. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t deal with an indiviual’s “evil” behaviour. We do lock away murderers. But we lock them away to keep them from murdering again. The reason we lock them away is to protect others from being murdered, not to punish the muderer – because, in the circumstances, they could not have done otherwise.]

    The problem with dealing with transgressors as agents without free will is that there’s no moral reason then for proactively “punishing” them to keep them from committing crimes. If prison is preventative (no free will), rather than retribution (assuming free will), then as a matter of public policy it would make sense to identify people at greater risk than normal of committing crimes and lock them up before they do anything wrong. Why wait until they have committed a crime to prevent them from committing crimes?

    And if you don’t believe in free will you can’t say “But they’re innocent, so you can’t lock them up if they haven’t done anything!” because if you deny free will, you deny innocence, just as you deny guilt.

    If there is no free will, there is no guilt or innocence. There are merely objects doing things, to whom you may do whatever you deem helpful to control behavior.

    If you deny free will, totalitarianism is the logical outcome. People essentially become livestock, to be managed, not fellow men and women with rights and dignity.

  57. michaelegnor says:

    Should read:

    “The problem with dealing with transgressors as agents without free will is that there’s no moral reason then for not proactively “punishing” them to keep them from committing crimes.”

  58. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin.

    Lock people away before they’ve committed a crime?
    How exactly are you going to identity these people?
    What sort of testing procedure will you use?
    What percent of false positives and false negatives will you tolerate?
    How often should each person undergo the test?
    If your purpose is to increase overall happiness, how will putting everyone under the threat of incarceration if they fail a test for potential crimes?
    Absence of free will does not mean absence of emotions!
    Absence of free will does not mean we treat people like cattle!
    Absence of free will does not mean we deny human dignity and human rights!

    I could go on but….

  59. michaelegnor says:

    BJ:

    [Absence of free will does not mean we treat people like cattle!
    Absence of free will does not mean we deny human dignity and human rights!]

    That’s exactly what it means.

    If you deny free will, then men are cattle, morally. They have no choice. They do as their instincts and neurotransmitters and genes tell them.

    The whole idea of punishment as retribution depends on recognizing men as free agents, capable of knowing and conforming their will to objective moral law.

    If we are not free, and punishment is merely a means of social control, then no logically coherent argument can be made to restrict social control to only those who have broken the law.

    If social control is the only basis for punishment, and actual guilt (which is unintelligible without free will) is irrelevant to punishment, then there is no rational reason not to preemptively jail people who are disposed to crime.

    If you deny free will, and propose to use punishment only as a deterrent, you have no reason not to select certain groups–young minority males–and preemptively incarcerate them. After all, they have no real guilt if they are not free, but that means they have no innocence either.

    That is the crux of denial of free will. If free will is not real, there is on guilt and there is no innocence. There is merely management of behavior, and if you want to be efficient, you can manage behavior proactively, without waiting for a crime to occur.

    And you can’t argue “but they’re innocent– they’re not guilty of anything!”.

    You have denied guilt and innocence by denying free will.

    Free will is the essence of human dignity.

  60. michaelegnor says:

    Also, free will is the foundation of human reason.

    If you have no free will, then your opinions are just determined wholly by chemicals and genes.

    Chemicals have no truth value: no chemical reaction is more “true” than another.

    So opinions by agents that lack free will are merely chemical reactions, and lack truth value.

    If you deny free will, you assert that your denial has no truth value.

    Denial of free will is self-refuting. If you have no free will, you have no capacity to reason. You are just a chemical soup.

  61. chikoppi says:

    The above are arguments from consequence.

    Brain function determines how an individual is capable of perceiving and acting in situations wherein those actions may cause harm to another. Impulses to act are created by the brain and impulse control is the ability of the brain to accurately project and weigh the outcomes of conflicting impulses prior to committing action.

    Understanding the epidemiology of brain injuries is important for the justice system and how we judge people who are accused of crimes. A study about perceptions of traumatic brain injury patients published in the journal Neurorehabilitation last year found that people perceive the criminal acts of an individual with a traumatic brain injury as more excusable. Participants in the study understood that the morality of such individuals was changed by their injury and their crimes should be understood within that context and receive a reduced penalty. The injury reduces culpability because it’s avolitional, meaning it’s apart from personal resolve. Such an injury that causes problems in cognition and judgment is external to the person, and others can behold that individual as a victim.

    https://www.statnews.com/2017/12/07/traumatic-brain-injury-crime/

    Social behavior, of which “moral” judgement is a subset, is a complex cognitive process that involves multiple overlapping functions. Disruption of these functions impares the capacity for moral reasoning or moral perception (the ability to even conceive moral implications).

    Moral neuroscience is an intricate and expanding field. This review summarizes the main scientific findings obtained to date. Morality is a set of complex emotional and cognitive processes that is reflected across many brain domains. Some of them are recurrently found to be indispensable in order to emit a moral judgment, but none of them is uniquely related to morality. The orbital and ventromedial prefrontal cortices are implicated in emotionally-driven moral decisions, whereas the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex seems to mitigate the salience of prepotent emotional responses. These competing processes may be monitored by the anterior cingulate cortex, which is also crucial for ToM. The TPJ and the STS play important roles in the attribution of others’ beliefs and intentions. The insular cortex is engaged during empathic processes, and seems to be in charge of the evaluation of disgust and inequity. Other regions such as the posterior cingulate cortex, the anterior/middle temporal gyrus and the inferior parietal lobe seem to play a more complementary role in morality, being recruited in order to accomplish general cognitive processes engaged during the moral tasks proposed (e.g., working memory or cognitive control). On the other hand, regions like the amygdala seem to play an important role in the processing of emotions involved in moral judgment. Some of the emotions processed are more central to morality than others, but all emotions contribute to moral judgment given specific contextual situations.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3770908/?report=classic

    There is quite a lot of research on brain function and the ability to engage in moral reasoning:

    https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=1%2C14&as_vis=1&q=brain+injury+moral+judgement&btnG=

  62. michaelegnor says:

    chi:

    Man is a composite. A rational animal.

    The animal part is material, and victim to all material maladies. We are obviously influenced by matter in profound and at times overwhelming ways. No one denies that.

    We are also rational, and the rational part of man is immaterial. It has to be immaterial, because the rationality entails abstract thought, and abstract though is about immaterial things like universals and propositions and mathematics and moral law. When we think abstractly we are engaging in an immaterial act: abstractions cannot be actually in matter, and thus cannot be actually in brain matter. And representations of abstract thought, which may be material, presuppose the abstract thought they represent, so to say “our brain represents abstract thoughts” doesn’t get you out of the immateriality of abstract thought scenario.

    Of course our abstract thinking is influenced by matter. But influence is not the same as generation, and abstract thought is immaterial and not generated by matter.

    Man bridges the gap between the material and the immaterial (spiritual) world. That is ancient teaching–from Aristotle through the Scholastics–and it is true.

  63. michaelegnor says:

    The strength of the hylomorphic/Thomist way of understanding man is that it encompasses all of material science and immaterial theology/psychology at the same time.

    We can understand much about man be studying the brain, the amygdala, neurotransmitters. But what we are understanding is only a limited aspect of man–his material aspect.

    We also need to understand man’s spiritual nature–his immaterial aspect. This includes his free will and his moral life, which entails his immaterial intellect and will.

    The Thomistic perspective is that we are the bridge between the material world and God–we have, so to speak, one foot in each world. Our position is unique and fascinating. We are the only creatures who experience material existence and immaterial existence–we are the only creatures who can reflect on life and on the deepest questions about reality.

  64. chikoppi says:

    [michaelegnor] Man is a composite. A rational animal. The animal part is material, and victim to all material maladies. We are obviously influenced by matter in profound and at times overwhelming ways. No one denies that.

    I reject the premise “man is a composite” that has a “material animal part” and some other part that is “influenced by matter.” If these supposed parts interact at all then both should be detectable by the other. Provide the empirical evidence.

    We are also rational, and the rational part of man is immaterial. It has to be immaterial, because the rationality entails abstract thought, and abstract though is about immaterial things like universals and propositions and mathematics and moral law. When we think abstractly we are engaging in an immaterial act: abstractions cannot be actually in matter, and thus cannot be actually in brain matter. And representations of abstract thought, which may be material, presuppose the abstract thought they represent, so to say “our brain represents abstract thoughts” doesn’t get you out of the immateriality of abstract thought scenario.

    You have talked yourself into nonsense. Abstractions are similar perceptions processed in similar ways by the brain. Take the fusiform gurus. If your fusiform gyrus is damaged you will be incapable of recognizing faces. If it is hyper stimulated you will perceive faces everywhere—faces that do not actually exist.

    http://nationalpost.com/news/new-study-finds-were-hard-wired-to-see-faces-even-when-theyre-not-there

    When we speak of conceptual categories we are speaking of how the brain itself processes information—cognitive systems. Damage to the brain can impede or eliminate the ability to even conceive of particular abstractions of information that a normative brain processes effortlessly, even unconsciously. “Universals” most certainly can and do reside in matter and they can be deleted when the particular cognitive processes of the brain are interrupted.

    Of course our abstract thinking is influenced by matter. But influence is not the same as generation, and abstract thought is immaterial and not generated by matter.

    We can demonstrate that damage to a brain impairs the ability to engage in modes of thought, including reason about or perception of conceptual categories. Demonstrate that thought of any kind is generated by something other than a brain, demonstrate evidence that this hypothetical thing exists, and demonstrate how the brain and this thing interact.

    Man bridges the gap between the material and the immaterial (spiritual) world. That is ancient teaching–from Aristotle through the Scholastics–and it is true.

    It is made-up apologetics invented to excuse-away things people didn’t understand, but wanted an explanation for nonetheless. That is true.

  65. michaelegnor says:

    The notion that the fusiform gyrus is essential for facial recognition is overstated. I have hundreds of patients with damage to the fg and they recognize faces just fine.

    Besides, facial recognition is perception and sensus communis, which is a wholly material power, and is from the Thomistic perspective expected to be generated by brain function.

    Abstract thought is clearly dependent on material processes in the brain, which are necessary (ordinarily) but not sufficient for abstraction.

    The argument that abstraction is immaterial is a logical/metaphysical argument, like the argument that the square root of -1 is i. It is not an empirical assertion, and is not tested empirically. It is tested logically.

    However, empirical neuroscience clearly supports the immateriality of abstract thought. As Wilder Penfield, the neurosurgeon who pioneered epilepsy surgery, noted: why are there no intellectual seizures?

    https://evolutionnews.org/2016/04/wilder_penfield/

    Seizures never evoke abstract thought: people who are seizing don’t contemplate mercy, or propose economic theories, or do calculus.

    Seizures only evoke motor and sensory events, and memories/perceptions related to such.

    Penfield started his career as a materialist, and ended it as a fervent dualist. I have followed the same path.

  66. chikoppi says:

    Re: fusiform gyrus. Stimulation of the gyrus causes people to perceive faces where none exist, to hyperactively superimpose the cognitive processing associated with facial recognition. The brain is quite clearly capable of routing perception to specialized systems of cognitive function, systems that are in turn determined by the processes of the brain. Categories of shapes, spatial relationships, temporal relationships, metaphors, analogies, etc. All examples of cognitive processing.

    Abstract thought is clearly dependent on material processes in the brain, which are necessary (ordinarily) but not sufficient for abstraction.

    The argument that abstraction is immaterial is a logical/metaphysical argument, like the argument that the square root of -1 is i. It is not an empirical assertion, and is not tested empirically. It is tested logically.

    Nothing in this statement substantiates the claim that the brain alone is not sufficient to process abstract thought or engage in sequential reasoning.

    Numbers themselves are abstract concepts. “i” represents a relationship within a number system.

    https://www.math.toronto.edu/mathnet/answers/imaginary.html

    Seizures never evoke abstract thought: people who are seizing don’t contemplate mercy, or propose economic theories, or do calculus. Seizures only evoke motor and sensory events, and memories/perceptions related to such.

    That wouldn’t be evidence the brain isn’t responsible for abstract thought. That would at best be evidence that the ability of the brain to engage complex cognitive functions is disrupted during seizures, which would be unsurprising.

  67. bachfiend says:

    Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor,

    ‘Seizures never evoke abstract thought: people who are seizing don’t contemplate mercy, or propose economic theories, or do calculus. Seizures conly evoke motor and sensory events, and memories/perceptions related to such.’

    What is abstract thought? You need to define it first. One definition of abstract thought is that it’s the ability to think about objects, principles and ideas that are not physically present. By including ‘memories/perceptions related to such’ you’re defining a lot of abstract thought out of existence, including ‘objects not physically present.’ Is the experience of deja vu in focal temporal lobe epilepsy abstract thought?

    Abstract thought isn’t localised to a single region of the brain, unlike the motor, somatosensory and visual cortex. Focal seizures, affecting a discrete region of the brain, therefore won’t necessarily produce abstract thoughts. Generalised seizures, affecting more than a single region of the brain, could produce complex thoughts, but they also lead to loss of consciousness and the person isn’t unable to report the experience.

    People don’t have free will. Free will would, if it exists, involve making decisions that are conscious and uncaused. But Libet showed that decisions are subconscious. And decisions are caused, strongly affected by the person’s genetics, past experiences and the circumstances at the time of the decision. An outside observer, with perfect knowledge of the person and circumstances, would be able to predict with 100% certainty the person’s decision. And if a decision is predictable (the person could not have made any other one), then how could the person be said to have free will? Free will could exist if decisions are uncaused, made randomly, determined by chance unpredictable events such as the throw of a die. Do you really believe this?

    People are still responsible for their actions. People have free won’t – the ability to veto carrying out decisions made subconsciously. People are punished for actions involving deficiencies of free won’t not deficiencies of free will.

    Free will isn’t a free get out of gaol card for theodicy.

  68. michaelegnor says:

    chi:

    [[The fact that we don’t have intellectual seizures] wouldn’t be evidence the brain isn’t responsible for abstract thought. That would at best be evidence that the ability of the brain to engage complex cognitive functions is disrupted during seizures, which would be unsurprising.]

    That’s a case of special pleading. If the brain generated abstract thought, you would predict that occasionally a seizure would evoke some aspect of abstract thought. After all, most of the brain is non-eloquent association area, where (putatively) abstract thought would be generated. And of course seizures are disorganized activity, so you wouldn’t expect profound abstract thought to be routinely generated.

    But on occasion, you would expect some kind of abstract thought–for example, some mathematical calculation– to be evoked by epilepsy. It might be simple mathematics, or confused mathematics, or wrong mathematics.

    But we never–never–see that. We never see intellectual seizures, as Penfield (the foremost pioneer in epilepsy surgery) noted. I’ve spoken with colleagues who are epilepsy surgeons about this, and they agree with Penfield. It’s a very astute observation.

    The experiment has been run. This is the result: there are no intellectual seizures. That is precisely what Aristotle/St Thomas would have predicted. Yet virtually every perceptual/motor ability has been evoked by seizures–motor movements, sensations, flashes of light, memories, aberrant perceptions, smells, etc.

    But never abstract thought.

    Follow the evidence.

  69. chikoppi says:

    [michaelegnor] That’s a case of special pleading. If the brain generated abstract thought, you would predict that occasionally a seizure would evoke some aspect of abstract thought. After all, most of the brain is non-eloquent association area, where (putatively) abstract thought would be generated. And of course seizures are disorganized activity, so you wouldn’t expect profound abstract thought to be routinely generated.

    But on occasion, you would expect some kind of abstract thought–for example, some mathematical calculation– to be evoked by epilepsy. It might be simple mathematics, or confused mathematics, or wrong mathematics.

    No it isn’t. If abstract thought is the result of multiple cognitive processes interacting systemically and sequentially (as evidence appears to indicate) then we would not expect a seizure (disorganized activity, your definition) to result in abstract cognition.

    But we never–never–see that. We never see intellectual seizures, as Penfield (the foremost pioneer in epilepsy surgery) noted. I’ve spoken with colleagues who are epilepsy surgeons about this, and they agree with Penfield. It’s a very astute observation.

    No it isn’t. “Intellectual” is here defined as those thoughts associated with higher cognitive functions, which entail systemic cognitive processes. We would expect seizures to distrupt exactly that type of cognition.

    Follow the evidence.

    Stop kidding yourself.

  70. bachfiend says:

    Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor,

    You’re making a false dilemma fallacy. Abstract thinking (and as I’ve already noted you need to define it more specifically) isn’t either localised to a single localised region of the brain or immaterial, with nothing in between. There’s not just two polar possibilities (either/or) with no other alternatives available.

    No neuroscientist thinks that abstract thought is carried out in a single localised area of the brain. It’s done by most of the neocortex, if not all of it.

    You need to answer my question; is the experience of déjà vu in focal temporal epilepsy an abstract thought? Is the feeling that a new situation, object or person has been actually previously experienced a memory or an abstract thought? What do you actually think déjà vu is, and why?

  71. michaelegnor says:

    chi:

    [No it isn’t. If abstract thought is the result of multiple cognitive processes interacting systemically and sequentially (as evidence appears to indicate) then we would not expect a seizure (disorganized activity, your definition) to result in abstract cognition.]

    Riiiight.

    It just seems that abstract thought, unlike any other aspect of brain function, is unelicitable by seizure.

    Funny how that works.

  72. chikoppi says:

    [michaelegnor] It just seems that abstract thought, unlike any other aspect of brain function, is unelicitable by seizure.

    Not “unlike other aspect of brain function.” It is associated with types of brain function that involve the systemic coordination of multiple cognitive systems. You know…the “intellectual” ones.

    Furthermore, in their review, Alvarez and Emory state that: “The frontal lobes have multiple connections to cortical, subcortical and brain stem sites. The basis of ‘higher-level’ cognitive functions such as inhibition, flexibility of thinking, problem solving, planning, impulse control, concept formation, abstract thinking, and creativity often arise from much simpler, ‘lower-level’ forms of cognition and behavior. Thus, the concept of executive function must be broad enough to include anatomical structures that represent a diverse and diffuse portion of the central nervous system.”

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions

  73. bachfiend says:

    Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor,

    ‘Seizures never evoke abstract thought.’ ‘Never’ never occurs in Medicine. Something, no matter how highly improbable, will eventually happen, regardless whether it’s a spontaneous regression of a metastatic tumour or a focal seizure producing an abstract thought.

    There’s no need to postulate miracles or immaterial causes, just because they agree with your worldview.

    You need to define abstract thought specifically. Is déjà vu in focal temporal epilepsy an abstract thought or not?

    You’re still committing the false dilemma fallacy (aka the false dichotomy or fallacy of the excluded middle). Abstract thought isn’t just either immaterial or localised to a single localised region of the brain, with no other possibilities in between.

  74. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    “there are no intellectual seizures…Yet virtually every perceptual/motor ability has been evoked by seizures–motor movements, sensations, flashes of light, memories, aberrant perceptions, smells, etc.”

    Maybe I’ll put this as a question:
    Can epilepsy produce, for example, organised motor activity? For example, can an epileptic seizure cause a person to suddenly start walking along a footpath? Or would an epileptic seizure cause the motor activity of a person walking down a footpath to become disorganized or even completely disrupted?

    “That is precisely what Aristotle/St Thomas would have predicted”

    I’m not sure that you can predict what millennia dead philosophers and theologians would have predicted. But, if you can, so can I. My prediction is that these clever fellows would have assimilated all the scientific knowledge that we now have available to us and, as a result, would have reached quite a different conclusion.
    But perhaps we should just leave millennia dead philosophers and theologians out of this. 😉

  75. bachfiend says:

    BillyJoe,

    ‘Can epilepsy produce, for example, organised motor activity? For example, can an epileptic seizure cause a person to start walking along a footpath?’

    Since I doubt that Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor will answer your question (or even understand its point), I’ll answer it.

    The answer is yes. They’re called focal onset impaired awareness senzures (previously known as complex partial seizures). They often produce automatisms which sometimes including walking (which can be hazardous particularly if it’s into traffic).

    The ‘impaired awareness’ is important. The person usually has no memory of the seizure afterwards. How would anyone know whether there was any ‘abstract thought’ occurring during the seizure when there’s no memory layed down capable of being retrieved later?

  76. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    “The whole idea of punishment as retribution depends on recognizing men as free agents…”

    That is not correct. There are justifications for punishment other than freewill. Those who do not believe in freewill can still find other justifiable reasons for punishment (I mentioned a few in a comment posted yesterday – post #49).

    “…recognizing men as free agents capable of knowing and conforming their will to objective moral law”

    I do not believe there is anything we can call objective moral law (and I gave my reasons in a comment posted yesterday if you are interested – post #43)

    “If we are not free, and punishment is merely a means of social control, then no logically coherent argument can be made to restrict social control to only those who have broken the law…there is no rational reason not to preemptively jail people who are disposed to crime…you have no reason not to select certain groups–young minority males–and preemptively incarcerate them”

    That’s funny, because I provided an argument yesterday. My expanded argument is that there are considerations other than freewill that play a role in “restricting social control to those who have broken the law” (note: man-made law – laws which vary across time and space, cultures and states). For example, the fact that humans are conscious; that fact that they are self-aware; the fact that they that they have memories and are capable of forward planning; the fact that they are aware of their own mortality. Do you think these factors are not relevant? If not, you will need to explain why not.

    “That is the crux of denial of free will. If free will is not real, there is no guilt and there is no innocence. There is merely management of behavior, and if you want to be efficient, you can manage behavior proactively, without waiting for a crime to occur”

    I agree that there is no quilt or innocence if there is no freewill. But I disagree that freewill is the only consideration here. Explain why you think consciousness and self-awareness, memories and forward planning, and awareness of mortality are not relevant factors. Your argument would apply to p-zombies but not to human beings with all those attributes listed above.

  77. michaelegnor says:

    bj:

    [Maybe I’ll put this as a question:
    Can epilepsy produce, for example, organised motor activity? For example, can an epileptic seizure cause a person to suddenly start walking along a footpath? Or would an epileptic seizure cause the motor activity of a person walking down a footpath to become disorganized or even completely disrupted?]

    Complex partial seizures

    https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/types-seizures/focal-onset-impaired-awareness-seizures-aka-complex-partial-seizures

    [But perhaps we should just leave millennia dead philosophers and theologians out of this.]

    Nah. To leave Aristotle out of philosophy of mind is like leaving Pythagoras out of modern geometry.

    Our modern disciplines are built on classical insights, even when we aren’t aware of them.

  78. michaelegnor says:

    bj:

    [I agree that there is no quilt or innocence if there is no freewill. But I disagree that freewill is the only consideration here. Explain why you think consciousness and self-awareness, memories and forward planning, and awareness of mortality are not relevant factors. Your argument would apply to p-zombies but not to human beings with all those attributes listed above.]

    My point is simple: if you deny guilt and innocence, then you can’t say “but he’s innocent” as a defense.

    The only reason for punishment, aside from retribution for freely-chosen evil, is social control. And social control need not be exerted only on people who have already broken the law. It can be (and has been) exerted on people preemptively.

    Denial of free will is a recipe for totalitarianism.

    And you didn’t respond to my point that denial of free will is self-refuting, because if you assert materialistic determinism, you assert that there is no truth-value to your assertion. Chemicals don’t have truth-value.

  79. BillyJoe7 says:

    bachfiend,

    Thanks for the reply.

    The two interesting points for me is that they are automatisms, and that there is no memory of the event. So, as you say, there could be abstract thoughts during epileptic seizures that are simply not remembered after the seizure. And an abstract thought could not be described as an automatism (I think that must be correct, but I’m open to being corrected here)

    …hmmm, maybe not. A creative thought could not be an automatism, but an abstract thought that you’ve had previously could conceivably recur as an automatism during an epileptic seizure.

  80. michaelegnor says:

    chi:

    [If abstract thought is the result of multiple cognitive processes interacting systemically and sequentially (as evidence appears to indicate) then we would not expect a seizure (disorganized activity, your definition) to result in abstract cognition.]

    You’re close to getting it right. Abstract thought is the result of multiple perceptual (not cognitive) processes interacting systematically and sequentially. The perceptual processes (perception, imagination, memory, sensus communis) are material, and they present the immaterial intellect with sensible species from which the active intellect abstracts intelligible species. Thats the Thomistic understanding of the relation between perception and intellect.

    Seizures involve the material powers of the mind, which include motor and sensory (perceptual function).

  81. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    BJ: “But perhaps we should just leave millennia dead philosophers and theologians out of this”

    ME: “Nah. To leave Aristotle out of philosophy of mind is like leaving Pythagoras out of modern geometry”

    Okay, that “Nah” probably means you understood what I said to be a joke, but that you felt a need to respond anyway. 😉

  82. michaelegnor says:

    bj:

    [That’s funny, because I provided an argument yesterday. My expanded argument is that there are considerations other than freewill that play a role in “restricting social control to those who have broken the law” (note: man-made law – laws which vary across time and space, cultures and states). For example, the fact that humans are conscious; that fact that they are self-aware; the fact that they that they have memories and are capable of forward planning; the fact that they are aware of their own mortality. Do you think these factors are not relevant? If not, you will need to explain why not.]

    Livestock that are sociable and plan forward are still livestock. If we lack free will, we have the moral standing of cattle.

  83. bachfiend says:

    Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor,

    The only reason for punishment, aside from retribution for freely-chosen evil, is social control.’

    No. There are four reasons for punishment: retribution, deterrence (of the individual in the future and others), incapacitation (a person in gaol can’t recommit the offence for which he was gaoled) and rehabilitation.

    This is well discussed in Morris Hoffman’s book ‘the Punisher’s Brain. The Evolution of Judge and Jury.’ Hoffman is a Colorado judge and part-time neuroscientist.

    I think the main consideration of punishment should be deterrence, particularly others, in encouraging people to cultivate their free won’t. People are hardly likely to suppress their natural desires if they see others getting away with murder, both literally and figuratively.

    You’ve missed the point, as I predicted, regarding focal onset impaired awareness seizures.

    The claim that ‘seizures never produce abstract thought’ is the flip side to the claim that near death experiences indicates that there’s an immaterial soul/mind that can survive the death of the body.

    How is it possible to exclude the possibility that a person isn’t producing abstract thought (and you still haven’t produced a good definition of it) during a focal onset impaired awareness seizure when the person isn’t laying down memories capable of being retrieved later?

    The opposite is the case with NEDs. The person recovering from a near death event may have memories, but it’s impossible to prove that they were layed down at the time of the event instead of much later.

  84. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    “My point is simple: if you deny guilt and innocence, then you can’t say “but he’s innocent” as a defense”

    Well, I won’t disagree that your point is simple 😉
    And I don’t disagree that you cannot say someone is innocent or guilty.
    But I’m not sure why you keep bringing up points on which we agree.

    “The only reason for punishment, aside from retribution for freely-chosen evil, is social control. And social control need not be exerted only on people who have already broken the law. It can be (and has been) exerted on people preemptively”

    So you said before.
    But you haven’t explained why you think the other human attributes are not important.
    You haven’t explained why you would treat a human being (assuming no freewill) any differently from a p-zombie.

    “Denial of free will is a recipe for totalitarianism”

    It definitely wouldn’t matter for a civilization composed of p-zombies.
    For human beings with consciousness and self-awarenes…Nah!

    “And you didn’t respond to my point that denial of free will is self-refuting, because if you assert materialistic determinism, you assert that there is no truth-value to your assertion”

    Well, maybe if you respond to my points…
    But, if I understand your point and, I have to say, it’s not easy to parse that sentence, I think what you’re saying is that: if determinism is true, then we have no freewill and, therefore, we can’t arrive at any truths about nature. If that is what you are saying, then I would simply respond: non sequitur. What exactly precludes us from determinstically arriving at truths about nature. Scientists have been doing this for four decades.

  85. bachfiend says:

    Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor,

    ‘Livestock that are sociable and plan forward are still livestock. If we lack free will, we have the moral standing of cattle.’

    Humans don’t have free will, the same as cattle. Humans have free won’t. And cattle do have moral standing, at least in most civilised countries. They have the right to be treated humanely and not to have pain inflicted unnecessarily. In the same way that condemned criminals are supposed to be free of ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’

  86. michaelegnor says:

    [And cattle do have moral standing…]

    We brand them, keep them in pens, milk them, and butcher them for food.

    Some “moral standing”.

  87. sarah_theviper says:

    Messed up on the title “A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities” Vettius Valens had this to say about Scorpios “People born under Scorpio die from sword wounds to the genitals or buttocks, retention of urine, putrefaction, choking, snakes, violence, battle, attacks by robbers or pirates, political activity, fire, impaling, creeping creatures.”

  88. chikoppi says:

    [michaelegnor] You’re close to getting it right. Abstract thought is the result of multiple perceptual (not cognitive) processes interacting systematically and sequentially. The perceptual processes (perception, imagination, memory, sensus communis) are material, and they present the immaterial intellect with sensible species from which the active intellect abstracts intelligible species. Thats the Thomistic understanding of the relation between perception and intellect.

    Seizures involve the material powers of the mind, which include motor and sensory (perceptual function).

    I do not care what the “Thomistic understanding” is. Tom knew squat about neuroscience and made it up as he went along to agree with his biases. Show me the experimental evidence for an “immaterial mind” and precisely how it interacts with the “material mind.”

    “I don’t understand X, but if I invent Y then I can explain-away the bits I don’t understand.” Never mind whether Y is real, so long as it is comforting.

    Not only is the above assertion entirely baseless, it conflicts with actual research. Different areas of the brain are engaged in different capacities based on the type of reasoning task (for instance, inductive vs. deductive) that a subject is asked to perform within an experimental condition.

    https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/782167

    If the brain is an antenna that sends and receives information then the impact of that reception must be detectable as a physical process. Where is the evidence? Nowhere. Because it is an invented fiction.

  89. bachfiend says:

    Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor,

    “We brand them, keep them in pens, milk them, and butcher them for food. Some ‘moral standing’.”

    But they have the moral standing to be treated humanely, the same as condemned criminals, and not to have unnecessary pain or suffering inflicted upon them.

    You’re certainly living up to Willy’s nickname for you. You’re a master of ‘ducking’ questions you’re incapable of answering.

  90. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    “Livestock that are sociable and plan forward are still livestock. If we lack free will, we have the moral standing of cattle”

    Well, I reject the word “moral”. The word “moral” is a loaded word with religious implications that I reject. We have simply produced laws (which have varied between cultures and states and varied over time) that regulate our behaviour. Hopefully the purpose of such laws is to improve our well-being and happiness. This, of course, is not always the case. Some of these laws have been based on what some have taken to be “absolute morals” borrowed from one religion or another. Over time, we have modified these influences to make them more person friendly.

    As I said, hopefully the purpose of these laws is to improve our well-being and happiness. To that end, we have decided to incarcerate or by other means discourage those who negatively affect our well-being and happiness. This has the three fold consequences of removing the negative influence from our societies, deterring others who might potentially act likewise, and to assuage the harm done to those who have been negatively affected. We have also decided to attempt rehabilitation (where possible) of those who are incarcerated in order to prevent further negative affects on society when they are released.

    We have done all this without free will and by modifying the effects of so-called absolute morals to make them more people friendly.

  91. michaelegnor says:

    [We have done all this without free will and by modifying the effects of so-called absolute morals to make them more people friendly.]

    ‘We have done all this without free will and by modifying the effects of so-called absolute morals to make them more livestock friendly.’

  92. michaelegnor says:

    [Show me the experimental evidence for an “immaterial mind” and precisely how it interacts with the “material mind.”]

    Billions of seizures in human history. Never a single intellectual seizure.

    Not bad experimental evidence, unless you have a bias against the evidence.

  93. BillyJoe7 says:

    Still not engaging with the argument are you, Michael. No idea how to answer the question about why you would treat a conscious self-aware human being (assuming no freewill) any different from a p-zombie?

  94. michaelegnor says:

    [No idea how to answer the question about why you would treat a conscious self-aware human being (assuming no freewill) any different from a p-zombie?]

    You’re right. I have no idea how to answer it. The question is word salad.

  95. bachfiend says:

    Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor,

    ‘Billions of seizures in human history. Never a single intellectual seizure. Not bad experimental evidence, unless you have a bias against the evidence.’

    As I’ve noted, how would you be able to exclude the possibility that a person is experiencing abstract thought (and you still refuse to provide a definition of what you’d regard as abstract thought) during a focal onset impaired awareness seizure (previously known as a complex partial seizure), when no memories of the seizure are being layed down that are capable of beingf retrieved later?

    That a person who is performing a complex motor activity such as walking along the footpath as a result of a focal onset impaired awareness seizure might be doing it as a result of complex subconscious abstract thought? An observer can observe the motor activity, but can’t observe whatever mental processes occurring in the person’s brain.

    ‘You’re right. I have no idea how to answer it. The question is word salad.’ The philosophical zombie is a hypothetical construct of some philosophers such as Chalmers as an irrefutable (in their opinion) criticism of physicalism (otherwise known as your hated ‘materialism’).

    Chalmers thinks that if something can be imagined, and that it’s logically coherent, then it exists. It reminds strongly of Thomism. And the soul. And the immaterial mind. They all are imaginary constructs that don’t exist in reality.

  96. bachfiend says:

    And Thomism is just ‘word salad.’

  97. bachfiend says:

    Chikoppi,

    ‘Abstract thought is the result of multiple perceptual (not cognitive) processes interacting systematically and sequentially. The perceptual processes (perception, imagination, memory, sensus communis) are material, and they present the immaterial intellect with sensible species from which the active intellect abtracts intelligible species. That’s the Thomistic understanding of the relation between perception and intellect.’

    Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor’s explanation to me seems like incoherent word salad.

    Like you, I’m still trying to work out how an immaterial mind could interact with a material brain.

    During a seizure, which disrupts the physical processes occurring in the physical brain, according to the ‘Duck’ the presentation of perception, imagination (which to me sounds like abstract thought, if you’re thinking about something not present – although the ‘Duck’ has a peculiar dictionary in his mind with bizarre definitions: he once defined ‘imaginary’ on his defunct blog as the process of forming images in the brain), memory and sensus communis to the immaterial mind is also disrupted, so the immaterial mind should either stop abtracting ‘intelligible species’ (whatever that is, I suppose it’s abstract thoughts) if the presentation of ‘sensible species’ stops, or abtract corrupted ‘intelligible species’ If corrupted ‘sensible species’ (due to the seizure) are being presented.

    But what is happening to the immaterial mind during the seizure? Is it abtracting ‘intelligible species’ from previously presented ‘sensible species’? And what’s happening to the ‘intelligible species’ it has abtracted from ‘sensible species’ it was presented with before the seizure? People who have had a seizure have varying periods of preictal amnesia, including abstract thought.

    So what are the properties of the immaterial mind? Does it have a very small memory, with abstract thoughts having to be transferred almost immediately to the physical brain otherwise they’re lost? Or does the seizure disrupt the function of the immaterial mind as well as the physical brain?

    If it’s the first alternative – a very small memory – then it’s being virtually defined out of existence. If it’s the second alternative – the seizure physically disrupts the function of the immaterial mind – it’s a contradiction, the immaterial mind is material in that it’s also affected by material physical processes such as a seizure.

    I expect the ‘Duck’ might come up with some more word salad to ‘explain.’

  98. bachfiend says:

    The problem with the ‘Duck’s’ incoherent word salad is that it’s just almost meaningless jargon. It uses complex words of uncertain meaning when simpler words are available. The distinction between ‘sensible species’ and ‘intelligible species’ isn’t particularly obvious (and I think I may have used one instead of the other in my previous comment).

    The ‘Duck’ uses jargon to demonstrate how much smarter he is than everyone else. Donald Trump is the same, but he’s not smart enough to use the jargon (by the way, go and look at the first 1 star review on Amazon for ‘Fire and Fury’. It’s an absolute classic of satire. Most of the commentators realise the joke, but some, apparently, don’t – unless they’re writing a satire on top of a satire).

  99. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    “You’re right. I have no idea how to answer it. The question is word salad.”

    You should have stopped after the second sentence.
    The third sentence is just a disingenuous way for you to avoid answering the question.

    Your claim is that, if we have no freewill, then any form of social control is justifiable, including incarcerating people who could potentially commit crime.
    My response was that absence of freewill is not the only feature to take into consideration when considering if we can justify applying social controls as extreme as incarcerating people for crimes they might commit.
    In my opinion, the fact that we are conscious, and self-aware, and have emotions are other features to take into consideration.
    As I said, I would agree with you if we were p-zombies (not conscious, not self-aware, no emotions)

    Anyway, I’m not going to get an answer so I’ll leave it there.
    …of course that also means your claim that freewill is self-refuting has not been substantiated.

  100. BillyJoe7 says:

    absence of freewill

  101. michaelegnor says:

    [Like you, I’m still trying to work out how an immaterial mind could interact with a material brain.]

    That’s because you’re (unwittingly) stuck in Cartesian metaphysics–the belief that there are two kinds of stuff–physical and mental.

    Hylemorphic metaphysics is quite different. There is one kind of stuff (ousia–substance), and there are two principles that determine it–matter and form. Matter is the principle of individuation, and form is the principle of intelligibility.

    The soul is the form of the body. It dowsn’t “interact” with the body; it is the principle of intelligibility of the body.

    This is basic Aristotelian metaphysics.

  102. michaelegnor says:

    bj:

    [of course that also means your claim that freewill is self-refuting has not been substantiated.]

    If you are not free, then your opinions are determined by purely chemical processes (neurotransmitters, genes, etc)

    Purely chemical processes aren’t propositions and thus have no truth value: a neurotransmitter isn’t “true” or “false”. It’s just a neurotransmitter.

    So if something that is neither true or false is entirely the cause of your opinion, then your opinion is neither true nor false.

    Denial of free will is denial of the truth value of the denial, which is self-refuting.

  103. Willy says:

    I don’t think a lack of free will implies that our thoughts are purely, or even mostly, chemical. I think the sum of our genetics, plus our life long experiences, lead us to being the persons, and minds, we are today. As an example, in my case, I do not have the ability–the free will–to choose to be a believer. Maybe future life experiences, thoughts, observations, etc, will result in a change of mind.

    I don’t really have a dog in the free will debate, but I do know that, for at least some things, I don’t have the free will to just choose one side or another. Who I am excludes the possibility of some choices for me.

  104. arnie says:

    No doubt Aristotle would be screaming in his grave every time ME writes his ancient nonsense. I just hear him screaming, “Egnor, whoever you are, let me go, I did the best I could with what I had to work with. Don’t keep embarrassing me. Join the 21st century and pay attention to the evidence. I’m trapped with all I said that is neither truly logical nor evidence based. But you don’t have to be. Wake up to all the latest knowledge, research, and evidence”. But Aristotle is truly dead and gone and can be of no help to ME who is so hopelessly lost and trapped in his worship of past thinkers whom he thinks confirm his ideological commitment that he, at his current age, likely could never reverse the emotional/psychological conversion to supernatural and magical “salvation”.

    As his current hero might sway, “So sad, so very sad, believe me, believe me, I know and can do everything”.

  105. michaelegnor says:

    willy:

    Free will doesn’t mean that you are omnipotent regarding choice. Of course there are some things you can’t do just by willing it.

    Free will means that your choices are not wholly determined by matter. Free will is real, and denial of free will has profound implications for psychology and for our society.

    Of course, denial of free will is also self-refuting, but self-refutation is endemic among materialists, who don’t seem to notice or care.

  106. michaelegnor says:

    arnie:

    [No doubt Aristotle would be screaming in his grave every time ME writes his ancient nonsense…]

    If you have something intelligent to say, feel free.

  107. Johnny says:

    michaelegnor: “Free will means that your choices are not wholly determined by matter. Free will is real, and denial of free will has profound implications for psychology and for our society.”

    Free will is not something I have read about very much, but I know that it is a contested question within philosophy and science. You clearly have a very determined standpoint on the matter. Since you confidently assert that it’s real, would you please produce some evidence for it?

  108. bachfiend says:

    Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor,

    ‘That’s because you’re (unwittingly) stuck in Cartesian metaphysics – the belief that there are two kinds of stuff – physical and mental.’

    No, I’m not. I accept that there’s only one ‘sort of stuff’ – physical. I reject the idea that there’s an immaterial mind as being incoherent. I accept the consensus of neuroscience that has been settled for decades that the mind is the brain, and the brain is the mind. The mind isn’t something that the brain does. It is the mind. There’s a conscious brain (and a conscious mind), and a subconscious brain (and a subconscious mind). The conscious brain (and mind) thinks it’s in charge, but the subconscious brain (and mind) is really in charge, making most of the decisions, with the conscious brain (and mind) later rationalising them. Or vetoing them, as part of free won’t.

    You still haven’t answered how you’d know that someone having a seizure (which prevents the laying down of memories capable of being retrieved later) isn’t producing abstract thought during the seizure? How many patients have you seen who have memory of the seizure? Not just the preictal aura or the postictal confusion.

    ‘Billions of seizures in human history. Never a single intellectual seizure. Not bad experimental evidence’ isn’t evidence at all for an immaterial mind.

  109. Willy says:

    I don’t accept that “matter” is what causes our actions and thoughts. These things are in our minds as a result of the sum of our history and they cause us to act as we do. To portray this as just random chemistry is misleading and seems to me to be a straw man.

    I agree that if everyone accepted that we have no free will (I’m personally agnostic due to not being well educated on this topic), there be very negative consequences for society. Nuclear weapons have drawbacks, too, but we can’t deny their existence because of that.

    There have been very smart people on both sides of–and no doubt several shades of gray in between– this topic for millennia and for you to claim that those who disagree with you are just flat wrong seems rather like the epitome of hubris–these are the facts fer shure and y’all are idiots.

  110. bachfiend says:

    Willy,

    ‘I don’t accept that ‘matter’ is what causes our actions and thoughts. These things are in our minds as a result of the sum of our history and they cause us to act as we do. To portray this as just random chemistry is misleading and seems to me to be a straw man.’

    Agreed, the chemistry isn’t ‘random’. It’s determined by the ‘sum of our history’ (which I consider to be the sum of genetics, experiences and education – including religious indoctrination). ‘Matter’ Is the only thing to cause our actions and thoughts.

    The reason for not thinking that free will exists is that free will would evolve making decisions that are conscious and uncaused. But most decisions are subconscious and caused, with the conscious coming along later and rationalising them. Or vetoing them, as part of free won’t.

    An individual still ‘owns’ the actions he did, despite there being no free will. It’s his subconscious making the decision. And he should have engaged his free won’t and vetoed the subconscious decision if necessary.

    Free will isn’t a free get out of gaol card for believers to explain the existence of natural suffering in a world created by an omnibenevolent and omnipotent deity.

    Anyway. Have you read ‘Fire and Fury’ yet? It’s very good.

  111. arnie says:

    Bachfiend, “There’s a conscious brain (and a conscious mind), and a subconscious brain (and a subconscious mind). The conscious brain (and mind) thinks it’s in charge, but the subconscious brain (and mind) is really in charge, making most of the decisions, with the conscious brain (and mind) later rationalising them.”

    I agree with you and, interestingly, so would/or did Freud. No, I’m not a Freudian, but he was certainly not wrong about everything. He was a neurologist and wanted, and tried, to be more of a neuroscientiit but simply didn’t have the tools.

    One thing that it seems I do disagree with you on is the “free won’t”. No evidence that it’s more or less free that the “will”. Each has it’s multi-determined causes. No basis for thinking that “I won’t” is any more or less of a free, undetermined decision than “I will” as the evidence is that both begin basically with non-conscious processes before they are consciously experienced, enacted, rationalized or not, etc. The evidence for this is growing even as we exchange arguements with the Trolls about it.

  112. Willy says:

    bach: I agree that “matter” is the substrate for our thoughts as the physical brain is able to store and process information. I felt that Dr. Egnor’s description of our opinions as “formed by chemical processes” is misleading. Beyond some simple stuff, though, I am not well informed here. While I do not like the idea of not having free will, I do realize that evidence against it is growing as arnie says.

    I’m off to Amazon to check the book out. Originally, I wasn’t going to buy it because I thought Bannon was the writer and I didn’t want my money in his pocket. From the bits and pieces I’ve heard so far, the book describes a Trump that is exactly like the opinion I’ve formed of watching him and reading interviews with him and those who are close to him.

  113. bachfiend says:

    Willy,

    Apparently the book is also available as a .pdf on Wikileaks. Not that I’d recommend Wikileaks nowadays after they handed Trump the election. I’m a little suspicious about their motives since they moved their servers to Moscow. Whether they’re in Putin’s pocket.

    I’ve come across a great new insult. I’ll just call someone ‘a very stable genius.’

    Arnie,

    The reason why I prefer “free won’t” to “free will” is that “free will” gives the impression that it’s all encompassing and apparently all powerful giving the illusion all one’s decisions are conscious and well reasoned out (and in addition giving believers the false belief that they have an explanation for natural suffering in this world which they think was created by an omnibenevolent and omnipotent deity).

    Whereas most decisions are actually subconscious and not reasoned out. “Free won’t” is just a way of pointing out that individuals still ‘own’ and are responsible for their actions. That they’re not innocent of blame for whatever they do.

    I agree with you that “free won’t” isn’t a very good term. Perhaps some variation of ‘executive function override’? I assume it’s mainly a frontal lobe function. I don’t have any good evidence that it’s any less subconscious and caused than the original subconscious and caused decision it’s overriding.

  114. arnie says:

    Thanks for your clarification, Bachfiend. I can appreciate your concerns as expressed in your first paragraph.

    I think the brain’s unconscious processes makes complex, multi-determined “will” and “will not” decisions all the time and that the executive function of the frontal lobe is often involved in the “override” as you say. Sounds like we don’t have any fundamental disagreement but could maybe nitpick with each other if we “chose” to so so.

    I also don’t see any logic in suggesting that decisions and behaviors free people from “ownership” of those decisions and behaviors simply based on the fact that those decisions and behaviors are multi-determined and not consciously initiated. It is still their brain and their decision/behavior. That doesn’t mean they should be made to suffer in the form of retribution or punishment for what the didn’t will or didn’t not-will, but that their human environment needs to respond to their behavior in a manner appropriate to the consequences of their behavior on others. That is true regardless of their mental state but the nature of the environmental response might be different based on the “offenders” mental state and degree of capacity to function freely in their environment without high risk to others. Concepts of “innocence” or “guilt” are too superficial to adequately inform the human environments response, IMO. And certainly ME’s simplistic, ideology informed views on these issues are irrelevant.

  115. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    You seem to have lost track.

    Your argument was that, if there is no freewill, then we can subject the population to extremes of social control by, for example, incarcerating individuals who might potentially commit crimes. My argument was that other factors such as the fact that we are conscious, self-aware, and have emotions would be reasons against implementing such extremes of social control. Therefore the presence or absence of freewill is irrelevant in this regard.

    But, as I say, I’m resigned to not getting a response from you.

  116. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    Now for your other argument that absence of freewill is self-refuting:

    “If you are not free, then your opinions are determined by purely chemical processes…[which] aren’t propositions and thus have no truth value: a neurotransmitter isn’t “true” or “false”. It’s just a neurotransmitter”

    I often come across stupid discussions in which “Reductionism” is pitted against “Emergentism” (often called “wholism”, but I hate that word!). As if it’s one or the other. But they are simply different approaches to the same problem and both are legitimate.
    You, Michael, are a talking like a “reductionist” in the above quote.
    You have failed to realise that, out of all the neural activity that occurs in the brain, there emerges “thought” processes that are capable of making “decisions” about what is true and what is false.
    Again, the presence or absence of freewill is irrelevant here.

    “So if something that is neither true or false is entirely the cause of your opinion, then your opinion is neither true nor false”

    And atoms cannot have pressure and temperature because quantum particles don’t?
    And molecules cannot be coloured because atoms aren’t?
    And cells cannot be alive because molecules aren’t?

    “Denial of free will is denial of the truth value of the denial, which is self-refuting”

    No, Michael, you are in denial of Emergentism.
    Add that into the mix and you don’t have an argument against freewill.

  117. bachfiend says:

    BillyJoe,

    The ‘Duck’ believes we have free will and this means we don’t subject the population to extremes of social control by, for example, incarcerating individuals who might potentially commit crimes.

    But we already incarcerate individuals who haven’t already committed a crime, or at least not one causing harm to another person.

    People regularly are gaoled for conspiracy to commit a crime, such as Kidnapping another person or a terrorist act. And often the penalty for conspiracy to commit a crime is harsher than the penalty for committing the crime, largely because it’s more difficult to prove a conspiracy.

    The fact that there’s a theoretical possibility that the members of a conspiracy might change their minds about committing the crime right up to time the crime was going to be committed doesn’t save them from being prosecuted, convicted and gaoled, if they’ve made any preparations for the crime (such a buying the masking tape to restrain the victim of a Kidnapping).

  118. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    “Free will means that your choices are not wholly determined by matter”

    So what ARE our “choices” determined by, if not by matter alone?
    For me, freewill is a incoherent concept:
    Firstly, it is not “free”. It is – as surely everyone will agree – at the very least partly determined by the neural activity in the brain.
    Secondly, if you are going to make the lesser claim that it is “partly free”, you have to explain how even this is possible. There can’t be a mechanism that makes it “free”, because that would be a contradiction. It can’t be “free” if there is a mechanism for it. It can’t be a coin flip, because, apart from being just another mechanism and therefore not “free”, a coin flip is hardly the basis for freewill.
    So, what exactly is it about freewill that makes it (at least partly) “free”. How does this freedom come about without resorting to mechanism (or coin flips which are mechanisms in any case).
    Explain why it is not an incoherent concept.

    “Free will is real, and denial of free will has profound implications for psychology and for our society.”

    Maybe, but not necessarily negative as your imply. In the long run, the psychological effects are likely to be neutral to positive. In the short term, some individuals may be inclined to an attitude of nihilism, but, in the long run, they are likely to come to the realisation that they need to go to work, to eat, to sleep, to socialise, and to have interests and concerns…because…you know…this is the very likely the only life you’ll ever have and you may has well enjoy it. Lying in bed all day ever day is not fun.

    Personally, I have found the realisation that there is no freewill liberating – it hasn’t had any negative consequences and life has basically gone on as before. In fact, there is a positive aspect in that blame, hatred and retribution – all negative emotions that adversely affect your enjoyment of life – are pretty hard to justify and therefore their influences tend to fade over time. That, at least, is my experience.

  119. BillyJoe7 says:

    bachfiend,

    I’m not sure that that fits with his suggestion that we incarcerate certain social subgroups in our society because they are likely to commit crime. No actual plans to commit a particular crime, just a tendency towards criminality based on the social subgroup to which they belong. The criminality in our society can be avoided by incarcerating them.

    Anyway, he seems to have retracted-by-default this particular claim regarding freewill.

  120. Robney says:

    Egnor,

    I quite like your contributions, because you often provide intelligent (if flawed) arguments for positions or views I disagree with. But you’ve completely lost me with this line of reasoning:

    “If you are not free, then your opinions are determined by purely chemical processes…Purely chemical processes aren’t propositions and thus have no truth value: a neurotransmitter isn’t “true” or “false”. It’s just a neurotransmitter. So if something that is neither true or false is entirely the cause of your opinion, then your opinion is neither true nor false.”

    If there is no free will, and conscious thought arises purely from physical matter then abstract propositional beliefs can be said to be either true or false depending on to the degree to which they correspond with external reality.

    For example, if I place one apple into an empty basket, and then place another apple into that same basket, then the net result is that there are two apples in that basket. The truth of this is a fundamental property of the reality in which we find ourselves. The abstract mathematical representation of this, that 1+1=2, can be said to be true to the degree that it corresponds to this reality. Inductive and deductive reasoning (like Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction) are further abstract representations of this same reality.

    If we created computer AI which believed that 2+2 = 4 then the truth of the AI’s belief (that 2+2 = 4) would either be true or false irrespective of whether the AI’s belief was the product of determinism or free will.

    I don’t understand how rejection of free will is self-refuting.

  121. Robney says:

    Egnors arugment about free will and punishment is inteeeating, I think – and not one I have heard before.

    If there is no free will then moral responsibility does not exist, if moral responsibility does not exist then there is no functional difference between guilt and innocence. If guilt and innocence do not exist then there is no ethical difference between punishing a guilty person and punishing an innocent person to prevent crime.

    Where I think this argument falls down is that our actions are determined by more than one ethical principle. Yeah, you could justify punishment of innocent people on utilitarian grounds (if it resulted in a net reduction in suffering), but there are competing deontological ethical principles, such as the principle of fairness, that would prevent us from doing so.

    That there are examples where conpeting ethical princples compete in our decision making is not exactly new

  122. BillyJoe7 says:

    Robney,

    “Where I think this argument falls down is that our actions are determined by more than one ethical principle”

    The problem is that there are no ethical/moral principles if you follow Michael’s argument.

    This is Michael’s argument:
    No freewill -> no guilt/innocence -> no moral responsibility -> anything is permitted
    I agree with his argument.

    But,be ven though it is permitted, this does not mean that we will actually end up incarcerating potential criminals. There are other considerations. Emotions are processes within certain parts of our brains. They are deterministically influenced by other brain processes and they, in turn, deterministically influence other brain processes and thereby contribute to the brain’s output (“decisions”). A feeling of well-being and happiness is a positive feeling. And misery is a negative feeling. As a result of this deterministic input from emotional centers in the brain, the brain’s deterministic output will such that it will tend to deterministically increase our feelings of well-being and happiness. Therefore we collectively and deterministically will tend not to “decide” to incarcerate people for potential criminal activity because we individually might end up being a victim of such a “decision”. And that would be detrimental to our feelings of well-being and happiness.

    Freewill was not used and is not required in this explanation.

  123. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    Revisiting this:

    “If you are not free, then your opinions are determined by purely chemical processes…[which] aren’t propositions and thus have no truth value: a neurotransmitter isn’t “true” or “false”. It’s just a neurotransmitter”

    This is the philosophical principle called homoeomeria, the false philosophy of Anaxagoras, because it depends on the logical fallacy called “The Fallacy of Division”.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_division

    In the philosophy of the ancient Greek Anaxagoras…it was assumed that the atoms constituting a substance must themselves have the salient observed properties of that substance: so atoms of water would be wet, atoms of iron would be hard, atoms of wool would be soft, etc. This doctrine is called homoeomeria, and it depends on the fallacy of division.

    This the point I was making in post #17

  124. Robney says:

    @BillyJoel,

    I had the same thought but couldn’t quite articulate it.

    I think another way of putting it, is that Egnor is using using the features of one layer of description to argue against the properties of another layer of description (because one emerges from the other)

    But this is equivalent to arguing that since consciousness/agency arises from the organisation of atoms, then atoms must be morally responsible for the actions of conscious beings. You can’t apply properties of one layer of description to another layer of description from which t emerges – and vice versa.

    But in the same way that we can’t hold atoms morally responsible for the actions that emerge from them, we also cannot hold individuals morally responsible for their actions (if determinism is true). Egnor’s argument on this point is stronger.

  125. michaelegnor says:

    Romney:

    [If there is no free will, and conscious thought arises purely from physical matter then abstract propositional beliefs can be said to be either true or false depending on to the degree to which they correspond with external reality.

    I don’t understand how rejection of free will is self-refuting.]

    It is true that truth is correspondence with reality.

    But the problem with denial of free will is that the denial itself is an assertion that the denial is wholly the product of physical laws–chemistry, etc.

    But physical laws do not in themselves include any assertion of correspondence with truth. If I make a chemical reaction in my chemistry set, it is absurd to say “this chemical reaction is telling the truth, whereas that chemical reaction is not telling the truth”.

    Truth or falsehood is a characteristic of propositions, not of chemical reactions.

    But denial of free will is assertion that the mind is wholly determined by chemical reactions (and environment, genes, which are all kinds of chemistry/physics). Therefore, the denial of free will is wholly determined by chemical reactions which do not inherently point to either truth or falsehood.

    Thus, it is possible that a materialist’s mind says something true, in the same sense that ink accidentally spilled on paper may form the shape “1 + 1 = 2”, but that is coincidence, and it is nonsense to say that the ink was telling the truth.

    Just like spilled ink can’t tell the truth or tell falsehood, materialist minds can’t tell truth or falsehood, even when the actual output of the mind is (coincidently) true.

  126. michaelegnor says:

    BJ7:

    [This is the philosophical principle called homoeomeria, the false philosophy of Anaxagoras, because it depends on the logical fallacy called “The Fallacy of Division”.]

    The fallacy of division is reductionism, and I’m not a reductionist.

    I believe that materialists, in insisting that there is truth value to their denial of free will, are committing the pleonastic fallacy– the notion that an unbridgeable explanatory gap can be crossed by multiplying the things that aren’t explainable.

    Chemical reactions have no truth value. They aren’t propositions. And lots of chemical reactions, very complex chemical reactions, etc. aren’t propositions either, and they don’t have truth value.

    If you deny free will and assert determinism, you are asserting that your thought is a very complex chemical reaction, and nothing more. Therefore, your thought is not a proposition, and has no truth value.

    Thus, to deny free will is to deny the truth value of your opinions.

  127. michaelegnor says:

    Robney:

    [I think another way of putting it, is that Egnor is using using the features of one layer of description to argue against the properties of another layer of description (because one emerges from the other)]

    The only laws we know of that govern matter are physical/chemical laws. Physical/chemical laws are not propositions, and thus have no truth value.

    If our minds are purely determined by physical/chemical laws, our thoughts cannot have truth value, in the sense that a proposition that can be true or false.

    Our materialistic thoughts are secretions, so to speak, not propositions that can be true or false.

    There is no way around the view that the intellect and will are immaterial, and that free will is real.

  128. michaelegnor says:

    BJ:

    [Anyway, he seems to have retracted-by-default this particular claim regarding freewill.]

    Obviously I do not advocate precautionary incarceration of innocent people. I advocate just the opposite: respect for human dignity and free will.

    My point is that if you deny free will you necessarily deny guilt and innocence.

    Thus, you can’t use the argument “he is innocent!” to protect people from preventative incarceration.

    Remember: if there is no free will, there is no guilt or innocence. The goal of punishment then is social control, and if you have a system of social control in which you deny the possibility of innocence (and guilt), you have a system that very easily becomes totalitarian.

  129. bachfiend says:

    My argument against free will existing, and I’ll repeat it again, is that free will involves making decisions to perform actions or not perform actions.

    Decisions can be conscious and caused, conscious and uncaused, subconscious and caused, or subconscious and uncaused.

    Caused means that the decision was based on the circumstances at the time the decision was being made, and the person’s nature and nurture – which includes the person’s genetics, past experiences and education (including religious indoctrination). An external observer knowing everything about the circumstances and the person would be able to predict with 100% certainty the person’s decision – the person could not have done anything else – and if he couldn’t have done anything else, then how could he have free will?

    Uncaused means that the decision is truly random and unpredictable, similar to a throw of a die.

    Libet showed that most decisions are subconscious with the conscious later coming along and rationalising them.

    For free will to exist, decisions would have to be conscious and uncaused. But they’re mostly subconscious and caused.

    Instead of free will, people have free won’t – or more accurately executive function override, the ability to veto decisions before being implemented (which may be just as subconscious and caused as the original decision being overridden).

    Even if free will doesn’t exist, people still own their decisions, they’re still responsible for them. It’s their nature and nurture that caused them to act as they did, and they’re still responsible if they didn’t use their executive function override if they had the chance to do so.

    The ‘Duck’ claims that there are only two reasons for punishment; retribution or social control. And if free will doesn’t exist, then the person is blameless not deserving of retribution leaving social control as the only reason for punishment.

    Actually there are four reasons for punishment; retribution, deterrence (of the individual and others in general), incapacitation (a person in gaol can’t recommit the original crime usually), and rehabilitation.

    Deterrence, with punishment of the innocent as a form of social control, has been tried such as in Stalin’s Soviet Union, although the innocent were actually fairly arbitrarily defined as committing a crime – being not adequately enthusiastic about the workers’ paradise.

    The ‘Duck’s’ favourite ‘historian’ Rodney Stark (he’s actually a sociologist) claimed in one of his books that Christianity discovered free will (as if the Romans and Greeks didn’t have any idea of the concept). Christian apologists overstress free will only because they think it’s a free get out of gaol card for the problem of natural suffering in a world created by an omnibenevolent and omnipotent deity (it isn’t). Middle Ages Christians took free will to extremes, ascribing free will to domesticated animals – if a horse kicks and kills a human, then it was put on trial and executed.

  130. bachfiend says:

    Michael ‘Duck’ Egnor,

    ‘There is no way around the view that the intellect and will are immaterial, and that free will is real.’

    Yes there is. And you’ve got no evidence that the intellect and will are immaterial in the first place.

  131. Robney says:

    Egnor,

    “If you deny free will and assert determinism, you are asserting that your thought is a very complex chemical reaction, and nothing more. Therefore, your thought is not a proposition, and has no truth value. ”

    I think this is the point where your argument fails.

    The determinists/materialist view isn’t that thoughts are just complex chemical reactions.

    You are conflating the different layers of description. Chemical/physical properties may emerge from particular arrangements of atoms and atomic forces, but you can’t extrapolate the properties of atoms and apply them to the macro world (or apply forces that operate in the macro world and apply them to the atomic world).

    So describing consciousness in terms of chemical reactions does not really work, in the same way describing plate tectonics with quantum theory wouldn’t work. There are higher levels of organisation at play with plate tectonics that don’t apply to sub atomic particles – even if those higher levels of organisation can in principle at least be reduced to the aggregate of those atomic particles.

    Your argument seems to be more about whether consciousness can emerge from physical matter. But leaving that aside, and assuming it can, the truth value of conscious thought (as measured by congruence with reality) seems entirely independent from whether those conscious thoughts are the product of determinism or free will/dualism.

  132. Willy says:

    “There is no way around the view that the intellect and will are immaterial, and that free will is real.”

    So, despite the fact that your position is a minority one, you can’t even accept the possibility that you might be wrong? You KNOW the the TRUTH, truth that is so obvious, yet has escaped so many people for millennia and continues to escape them today?

    “…you have a system that very easily becomes totalitarian.” Kinda like the Church not so many centuries ago??? I remember you being the guy who claimed the Inquisition didn’t go far enough.

    Regarding free will, I am UNABLE to accept the Christian God (or any other god), for whatever reason(s). Yet this remarkable Creator KNOWS that I am worthy of eternity in misery???? WTF??? Can’t you see the difference between a being that could create this universe–full of awe, spectacular wonder, and horrific brutality vs. the petty, little, all-too-human POS portrayed in the Bible? WHY would the creator of the universe allow itself to be be portrayed as it is in the Bible? Who is right, Doc? The Fundamentalists or the apologists (like you)? And why?

    For a chuckle, read about Balaam and then tell me why the story is ludicrous. You can’t.

  133. Robney says:

    @ bachfiend

    That’s kind of my objection to free will. Even if you accept dualism, the metaphysics of free quickly will break down – at some level you have to assume the emergences of an uncaused conscious thought – unless there is an infinite regress of thoughts being chosen. But if conscious thought has no prior cause, then in what way is it free? Could I choose not to think what I’m about to think? How would that work without me thinking it and where would my choice not to think it come from?

    When I reflect on my own stream of consciousness, I have no control over which thought will appear in my consciousness in the next moment. So even the illusion of free will can be easily dissolved.

  134. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael,

    “If you deny free will and assert determinism, you are asserting that your thought is a very complex chemical reaction, and nothing more”

    No.
    Denial of freewill is not denial of Emergence.
    Asserting determinism is not denial of Emergence.
    I’m not sure where you get these bad ideas from.

    “Thus, you can’t use the argument “he is innocent!” to protect people from preventative incarceration”

    Agreed.
    And I haven’t used that argument anywhere.
    I don’t know why you keep addressing an argument I haven’t made.
    And I don’t know why you keep avoiding the argument I have made.

  135. Willy says:

    Dr. Egnor argues that because of “X”, then “Y’ would happen; thus “X” isn’t correct. Consequences do not necessarily invalidate a premise. F’rinstance: if Donald Trump is incompetent, why, that would mean the US electorate didn’t make the right choice. But, but, but, that just can’t be!

    Yet, you are perfectly happy to agree that in 2008 and 2012, the US electorate DID make the wrong choice. Doc, can you have your cake and eat it too?

  136. Nidwin says:

    I don’t think free will is even possible for humans. Even our personal choices are predictable to some extend by at least ourselves and people close to us.

    What our sentiency allow us is to opt for what we personally would consider the most appropriate choice. But even that choice is linked to who we are and predictable to some extend.

    Determinism is only correct in regression mode, to evaluate past decisions vs the past. Because of mind delay our decissions are always made in the past.
    As, normally, we constantly change or correct our past (memory wise) consciously and non-consciously the future can’t be predicted and will remain partially unknown.

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