Free Will

Early humans, as best we can know, did not have a conception of free will, at least not in the way modern people think of it. Instead, they assumed the gods controlled the destiny of man, often directly interfering in the lives of people. What appeared to be your choice, was really just part of a bigger narrative that had been written by others. This is why it was possible for fortune tellers to exist. After all, if the future is not written, then how could anyone divine the future? Obviously, the future was already written.

The funny thing about these early notions of destiny is they did not exempt people from punishment for wrong doing. The thief was still punished, which does not make a lot of sense if his destiny was determined by the gods. Of course, the remedy here is to conclude that his destiny is to be executed and the destiny of the executioner is to be the one who punishes the thief. Even so, it suggests that people have always accepted some degree of free will, even in the age when people believed in gods controlling destiny.

The Greeks, of course, were the first to think about free will. They sort of crept up on the idea by first suggesting the natural world operated by fixed rules. A Greek philosopher named Anaximander proposed that there were ideal laws that governed material phenomenon in the physical world. The famous line from Heraclitus that “you can’t step twice into the same river” did not mean that the world was random. He meant that world is in constant flux, but the changes observed in nature follow a fixed set of laws.

It was not until a generation after Aristotle that the Greeks moved from the position where a set of laws controlled the physical world to a position where the atoms flowing through the void could suddenly swerve from their determined path. This ability of the physical world to deviate from the determined path meant that people could swerve from their determined path. Eventually, this chain of reasoning arrived at the conclusion that people could act from something other than chance or necessity. That’s free will.

The concept of free will has been essential to Western thought since the Greeks and it is an essential element of Christianity. You can’t have sin without free will and you cannot have communion without free will. People have to possess the ability to transcend chance and necessity in order to be held responsible for their actions. This is the fundamental assumption of Western society. Everything from civic morality to political organization is based on the belief that humans possess and exercise free will.

As is true in many aspects of this age, science in starting to question that old notion of free will. Genetics is revealing that our genetic code controls more than just our physical appearance. Our cognitive abilities are also controlled by our genes. Just as we cannot choose to be taller or be of another race, we cannot choose to be smarter or more patient or more prudent. It’s not just the larger aspects of pour personality that are fixed by our genetics code. Everything about us is written in our DNA.

People can accept something like intelligence being genetic. That’s something we begin to notice as children. When it comes to something like patience, for example, that’s where it gets more difficult to accept. It seems like you should be able to change that. The same is true of something like prudence. It seems like as we get older we become more prudent, more cautious about our actions. The mounds of self-help books all depend on the ability of people to alter these sorts of aspects of their personality.

Even though researchers are just scratching the surface with regards to the genetic causes of human cognitive traits, there are people ready to say free will is a myth. The HBD blogger Jayman argues that your choices can’t be “free” if they are so easily predicted by behavioral genetics. If we can predict behavior statistically and all human behavioral traits are heritable, it follows that what you think is free choice, is really just the complex execution of your code in response to external variables.

Again, the science of behavior genetics is just scratching the surface, but the data thus far certainly suggests this is correct. It’s certainly more complicated than what Hollywood imagines, but science says everything about us is in our code. There is probably not a criminal gene or a bad with girls gene, but there are a series of traits that influence these measurable qualities in positive and negative directions. Where you are on the spectrum of these cognitive traits is determined by your code.

Most people will find that rather monstrous, because of the implications. The most obvious is that genetic determinism rules out morality. People cannot be rewarded or punished, unless they can transcend chance and necessity. If their choices are simply the result of their code executing in response to environmental factors, they have no agency and therefore no responsibility. This also means there can be no such thing as sin, unless you believe God creates people coded to sin. The same is true of piety.

On the other hand, people with a background in math will know that not all algorithms produce a single result. A simple formula like f (x) = x² has the set of all positive integers for all possible values of x. Even though the result must always be positive, there is a qualitative difference between three and a billion and three. Something similar may be true about human genetic code. The possible result set is large enough to present a qualitative difference that is important to how we evaluate those results.

In other words, our code may make us like ice cream, but the range of ways that urge could express in our daily life is between murdering someone for ice cream and simply having some after dinner. Another bit of code, let’s call it the free will algorithm, controls how these cognitive traits express, based on the inputs from society. Just as random number generation is not actually random, but can be treated as such, the free will algorithm is not actually free will, but can be treated as such.

This notion of free will is certainly something that evolved. Your house pets do not have a concept of free will. This is a uniquely human trait. That means it may have arisen by chance, but it has a very important purpose. Rewarding and punishing people for their behavior must be essential to what defines as us people. Perhaps just as genes can arise from mutation, the replication process swerving from the path, our actions can also swerve from the path, based on some unknown capacity to choose.

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The thief was still punished, which does not make a lot of sense if his destiny was determined by the gods. If God made someone a thief, punishing him is surely doing God’s work, since the guys doing the punishing don’t have free will either. Doesn’t make sense? Well, God works in mysterious ways. Musing about ‘free will’ is a young man’s game. Gets the noggin jogging, but ultimately it’s a futile exercise, little more than free-standing sophistry, because there is no way to determine the difference: the world would look exactly the same, irrespective of whether we have free… Read more »

Al from da Nort
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Al from da Nort

Felix; The soft-headed argument being made now under this topic heading is that the thief should *not* be punished, ’cause it’s just so, so unfair. He just can’t help himself, your honor. The obvious rejoinder is, if that’s case, then he must be removed from the gene pool for the good of society, present and future. This seems not to occur to those advocating no punishment for their pet POC’s (mostly) ’cause no free will. The compartmentalized hive-mind is a wonder to behold. It would be amusing if it were not so dangerous to the rest of us. PS: Great… Read more »

Member

Given that science is all over the place on the hard problem, it seems crazy to me to even imagine science has much to tell about free will. This is a philosophical question that contemporary science is a hindrance to answering, crippled as it is by being blinded by computers.

A-Bax
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A-Bax

I believe there have been studies analyzing, for example, the decision to move your hand to pick up a utensil. In those studies, it’s found that the electrical impulses from your brain to your hand PRECEDE the subjective experience of the decision to pick up the fork. It may be that our subjective experience of decision-making is the brain’s way of processing/representing things that the organism is already in the process of doing. Folk psychology in some ways is dimly aware of this. When facing very stressful, life-altering decisions (should I propose to her? Should I accept that job across… Read more »

The Right Doctor
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The Right Doctor

Consciousness may well have arisen in our early hunting groups as a means to understand what others intended to do, in order better to cooperate. This would have been a force-multiplier for creatures like us who would probably never survive on their own. (Sci-fi novel Evolution by Baxter has a compelling vignette based on this.) Now, here’s the sequence of events of volition as referred to by commenter A-Bax: 1.) neuro-chemical sequence initiates in the brain to cause an action. 2.) We ‘decide’ to do it. 3.) It happens. Add to that, we’ve got this cool tool to predict the… Read more »

Member

You’re confusing an ability to narrate your subjective experience with free will. I would argue it’s possible animals have free will but we wouldn’t expect them to narrate it to us. I don’t think my dog is an automaton. The question of whether or not you have free will is philosophical not scientific question. There’s way too much science can’t determine about the phenomenal universe to take it seriously on the question of free will. If you constrain the parameters of inquiry you can pretty much arrive at any outcome you want but that’s a parlour trick not something useful…… Read more »

Doctor Right
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Doctor Right

I believe I was positing consciousness as the reason we think we have free will. Consciousness gets a sneak preview of what’s coming and thinks it has the magical power to create the future.

A.B. Prosper
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A.B. Prosper

The Crucifixion runs into the same issue. If it was necessary and fated for Jesus to die as God ordained it, neither Pilate, the Jews nor Judas did anything but God’s will. If he is punishing them for doing his will than you get into the evil Gnostic version If it wasn’t Fate but Free Will than it would be possible this never would have happened which reduces what in Christian minds is the most important event outside of creation itself to happenstance or cleverness. The other option is Fate is outside of God which is very pagan. Most of… Read more »

Fred Zeppelin
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You seem to be forgetting that Jesus explicitly called for His Heavenly Father to forgive His executioners.

And God didn’t hang Judas; Judas did.

Oh, and all that self-condemning stuff about “His blood be on us…”

Fallible human historiography is not the same thing as the unfathomable mind of God.

Nice try, though. For freshman-dorm yadda-yadda.

Paaaass de doobie on de left-hand side…..

A.B. Prosper
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A.B. Prosper

You might want to stick to ditch weed Fred. The modern stuff is hard on the brain cells . Or you could do as I do and pass on both. Its “the unfathomable mind of God” or fallible human historiography is just dodging the question entirely . Its less than useless to someone who doesn’t follow your religion and the most pathetic form of apologetics. Try to answer the logical paradox without faith please. The answer is you cannot as there is no answer. Paradox is part and parcel of Myth Also the history is fallible than you bring a… Read more »

Murray
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Murray

OK, but this is such a watered-down concept of determinism that it pretty much is free will. If our genetic code “installs” a panoply of traits and characteristics that interact with each other in uncountable ways, such that no two individuals are exactly alike, and if every human that has ever existed is aware of the multiple options available to him at literally every waking moment of his life, and has the distinct notion of choosing among those options, well. What’s the difference, really? Perhaps I was fated from birth to move from (say) atheist liberalism to dissident-right Catholicism, and… Read more »

Compsci
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Compsci

Your last sentence made the entire post. Bravo.

Roger U
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I’ve always thought of free will as self denial in the sense of overriding your animal operating system. The Bible and the Church Fathers repeatedly talk about denying yourself and conquering passions, maybe, from an evolutionist’s standpoint, it could be said that humans have the ability to override genetically programmed behaviour. There are people who have stuck to vows of chastity, people who have gone on hunger strikes and, of course, self sacrifice unto death is held in high regard. If we can override basic self preservation could we not also override more mundane traits like impatience? I’m not implying… Read more »

Compsci
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Compsci

Roger, indeed. I have seen many interviews with criminals that show that punishment—or threat thereof, affects their behavior. Yes it seems that many simply move from one type of antisocial behavior to another, but they do change, if for nothing else to reduce the odds of capture or punishment.

To lose sight of this observable reality while getting lost in the weeds of a philosophical/behavioral/genetics obfuscation seems silly.

Hoyos
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Hoyos

It’s like socialism going the other direction isn’t it, acting as if not only incentives don’t exist, but disincentives.

Maus
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Maus

As a former prosecutor, I can assure you that criminals are indeed well aware of the deterent effect of punishment. When CA raised the jurisdictional amount for felony grand theft to $950 and also eliminated the option to charge a petty theft with three or more priors as anything but a misemeanor (unlikely to serve a jail sentence dud to overcrowding), thieves were increasingly caught red-handed with “shopping lists” designed to keep their predation just slightly below $949. Since 2013, neither sale of narcotics nor felony theft of less than $100K results in an actual commitment to state prison (as… Read more »

Member

“The Bible and the Church Fathers repeatedly talk about denying yourself and conquering passions…”

Society will produce very few individuals like R. E. Lee at a given time. To expect otherwise just by exposing the masses to religion is to raise expectations to ludicrous heights. You then have to explain why those expectations are so rarely realized. Of course, comes the answer: “Many are called but few are chosen.”

Whew! Talk about elitism.

Roger U
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I like that you used Lee as an example!

Ursula
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Ursula

Amen. Well put, sir.

Member

Whether we have free will and are thus morally culpable for our transgression is a complex philosophical question that is above my pay grade. What is simple, though, is that we have to operate on the basis that free will does exist, and there must be sanctions for transgressions. Look at the impact of the criminal justice system “reforms” of the 1960s and 1970s, and the impact on crime rates.

Compsci
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Compsci

Again, observable reality. If nothing else, we locked those genetically deficient bastards up until they became too old, too weak, to wreck havoc on civilized (non-genetically impaired) society. Of course, our liberal/leftist brethren are about to validate this sociological experiment by reversing the paradigm—releasing them onto the street and check back on crime rates in 20 years. 🙁

Nathan
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Nathan

Primitive societies had a way to deal with those who were
antisocial. The eskimos arranged a “hunting accident” for them. Whether we have free will or to what degree wasn’t relevant—“push thief into crevasse” is the practical answer.

Unkown
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Unkown

The Hard problem is hard for reason. Roger Penrose believes that mathematical proofs in light of Godel’s theorem cannot be produced from a Turing machine. This is a mathematical proof that thinking cannot be a mechanical computer type of thinking. So what is consciousness? More and more philosophers think panpsychism, that consciousness itself is matter (which removes some sort of duality at the heart of ontology). Whitehead process theology and Leibnitz’s monads kicked around this idea. While it’s too simple to suggest some sort of quantum probability inherent in matter/consciousness explains free will, who knows what superposition can mean. Whitehead’s… Read more »

A-Bax
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A-Bax

Goedel’s theroem is that there are truth’s of a first-order system of logic (i.e, a system bound by formal rules, like a Turing machine, that are not provable within that system. That is, there are true statements within, say, arithmetic, that cannot be arrived at by the rules of arithmetic. Meaning arithmetic is “incomplete”. You can’t get to every true statement of the system via the rules of the system. This had the thunder-clapping result, in the first half of the 20th century, of slaying the notion that mathematics can be reduced to pure logic (which was a goal of… Read more »

A-Bax
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A-Bax

My favorite Geodel story is that when he realized it was time to flee the Nazis, he did so in a very ingenious way. Instead of trying to Cloak & Dagger his way west, he took the Trans-Siberian railway east, then boarded a ship bound for San Francisco. Then took a train to Princeton.

Brilliant.

Unkown
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Unkown

If you accept Turning machines are subject to Godel’s theorem notice how the Godel proof maps typographic strings to some natural math statement. Then ask yourself: How do mathematicians prove or disprove theorems? Do they have access to some Platonic reality? How do think outside the system? Human thinking can understand things by some transcendence of the axioms, which is sort of the whole Godel thing. So it seems to me that the whole thing is curious about what the hell consciousness is.

Pozymandias
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Penrose’s argument works by means of a “proof by contradiction” and is essentially this: He begins by assuming that human consciousness is ultimately some kind of computation and then shows that this has problems. In CS terms this means it is some “computable function”. He then describes what’s known as the Halting Problem (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halting_problem). The details are a bit thick but the point is ultimately to observe that it is provable that there is no computable function h(i,x) that can determine if program ‘i’ halts when fed input ‘x’ for all i and x. So what? It doesn’t seem all… Read more »

Stephen Macevicz
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Dear Un-kown, I am sure you are a nice person and I hope that you have a garage full of rifles and ammo and will fight on our side when the Great Disturbance arrives, but your post must be near a record for the density of obscure terms that make it nearly impossible for me to understand. Let’s see: Hard problem Roger Penrose Godel’s theorem Turing machine consciousness panpyschism Whitehead process technology duality ontology Leibniz’s monads (“kicked around”–ouch!) quantum probability inherent in matter/consciousness superposition Whitehead’s “novelty” Platonic reality Eckhart Tolle stick 12 step method All you need is a little… Read more »

Al from da Nort
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Al from da Nort

A. G.
Tl:Dr; People will go to any length to avoid bending the knee to God. The smarter you are the greater the length.

A-Bax
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A-Bax

That’s a bit harsh and unfair imho, but yeah there are some deep and esoteric ideas/terms flying around. You mention “access to some Platonic reality” as a sort of implied reductio ad absurdum, but curiously philosophy of math is one of the few areas of where appeal to something like platonic forms is not dismissed out of hand. Derbyhsire has mentioned this in some of his writing. (The nature of mathematical truth. If it’s not empirical, what is it? We know it can’t be pure logic. If you say then, well, maybe it IS empirical, what are the implications, etc.).… Read more »

Din C. Nuffin
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Din C. Nuffin
Stina
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Stina

That’s interesting. I do believe we are mostly pre-determined at the core, but that choice mostly happens at the fringe. I might have a genetic pre-disposition to eat more than I should. And in reality, that’s what I do. But I am not incapable of choosing not to. It might be hard and I’llfail more often than not, but there isn’t an invisible blockade preventing me from making that choice. Humanity’s default coding is sinful and depraved. We have controlled that depravity by arranging society to keep us within certain bounds of acceptable behavior. When those structures are removed, we… Read more »

anonymous
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anonymous

I’m in a bit of a weird place philosophically, which is why I appreciate the existence of dissident blogs like yours (even if I disagree with just about everything you write). Isn’t the respect for free will about boundaries? Sure, there is some set of stuff that is doing things in the world according to deterministic laws (and yes, QM is deterministic too, albeit in a very bizzare way), but we draw a box around some of it and call it “you”, because that’s what your brain has control over. You claim responsibility for you, I claim responsibility for me,… Read more »

John Derbyshire
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“You can do what you want, but you can’t WANT what you want.” — Schopenhauer (approximately).

Fred Zeppelin
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Are you sure it wasn’t Woody Allen who said that?

Roger U
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Groucho Marx?

John Derbyshire
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Ifrank
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Ifrank

If you could WANT what you want, what would you WANT to want?

Pozymandias
Guest

I like the implied infinite recursion here 🙂

Saml Adams
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Saml Adams

Having a couple of kids with LD has been a real eye opener. Spend years having detailed neuropsychological testing done, seeing efficacies (or not) of various medications and behavioral modification regimes and you will fall hard on the side of biology vs the tabula rasa. With one caveat…the shift in outcome due to genetics seem to be a mix of probabilistic and binary. We achieved some pretty remarkable results, but likely because the interventions were done early enough that there was sufficient “plasticity” to move the result favorably on the probability scale.

Member

When older societies punished someone, the goal was not to rehabilitate the offender, but to serve as a warning to other people who might engage in the same behavior. Ie..”Men are not hanged for stealing horses, but that horses may not be stolen.” This is why punishment was usually a public affair in old societies. To put it another way, Say I was born with a strong preference for vanilla ice cream, but during my formative years I saw that everyone who ate vanilla ice cream ends up hanging from a rope. I’m probably just going to avoid the whole… Read more »

Dutch
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Dutch

Public sacrifice of ill-doers: It is retribution. It is deterrence. It is eliminating the source of the problem. It is helping to remove that bad tendency from the future gene pool. It is the business of the authorities in eliminating mayhem and problems which might accrue in the popular judgement of their authority. It is also (yet to be mentioned so far) part of the bread and circuses that satisfy certain human demands. Public sacrifice of evil-doers—so little, yet it does so much!

Member

I think public executions were a symbolic expression of society’s preference for violent interdiction. It let the fringes know what they could expect if they stepped out of line. The spectacle part of it expressed the alpha male exhilaration for killing. (That would be the sacrificial aspect.) Think about the symbolism of the feminine Bush family’s patriarch intervening in the justified beating of Rodney King and allowing the alpha male cops to be punished instead. Heady stuff. The media recognized the importance of the symbolism. It’s going to take a lot of white alpha male macho to get that mojo… Read more »

Member

Suicide blondes. Blonde by their own volition. Biologians know it exists in our makeup. Cultural influence be damned. We cannot always say why we choose what we choose. As Derb would say “ask your aunt.”

Member
James LePore

The concept of free will is in direct conflict with the concept of an all-knowing God. I believe trying to sort this issue out will get us nowhere. Our DNA probably has DNA and so on. Where does the universe end? How did it start? There is no answer in biology, physics or metaphysics, or in any human analysis. I believe with Spinoza that we know and feel that we are eternal. No one knows how or why. No one can.

Roger U
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‘The concept of free will is in direct conflict with the concept of an all-knowing God’

You’re conflating knowing the future with dictating it.

c matt
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c matt

True – I would have thought the stronger objection to be free will is in direct conflict with the omnipotence of God.

Member

As the poet says, “Science can tell us how, but it can’t tell us why.”

Member

Currently reading the Ilead. Probably written in 8th century BC, most certainly before the PreSocratics. The gods don’t control everything, and at times agree to back off and “let the best man win”, but at the same time even they find themselves unable or unwilling to change the outcome of things that are preordained. I find this compatible with the most modern concepts of materialistic determinism being confronted by free will.

Member

Whether we have free will in an ultimate metaphysical sense or not, it is obvious that negative and positive reinforcement work — they’re part of the algorithm that deterministic machine uses.

Thus, there is no reason to treat criminal justice differently due to lack of free will.

Anyone who thinks differently, well, you’re just a genetic machine with no free will, so you can’t help disagreeing with me.

Member

The implications of greater genetic “determinism” may be greater at the group rather than at the individual level. Any individual’s behavior is the result of a complex set of genetic characteristics that interact and influence each other. For large groups (i.e., races) those individual characteristics and interactions tend to wash out (the law or large numbers) and it will make it increasingly easier to predict behavioral characteristics based on genome configuration. This will, as other commentators have noted, probably have the effect of vindicating earlier stereotypes about the characteristics of certain races. For this reason, behavioral genetic research will be… Read more »

Yves Vannes
Member

“The HBD blogger Jayman argues that your choices can’t be “free” if they are so easily predicted by behavioral genetics. If we can predict behavior statistically and all human behavioral traits are heritable, it follows that what you think is free choice, is really just the complex execution of your code in response to external variables.” This does not negate free will though it does constrain its expression. Think of a joint: my leg or arm has a certain range of motion but not any motion. So I can choose to move in different but limited ways. Acts and decisions… Read more »

Member

Z: “Your house pets do not have a concept of free will. This is a uniquely human trait.” Not saying you’re wrong. But sometimes my dog will obey me and not eat the slice of pizza on the coffee table while I take a phone call. Sometimes he won’t. He seems to realize he has a choice, to munch, or not to munch. “I could BE a good dog, and obey and stay in master’s good graces. Or I could BE a bad dog, enjoy a slice and endure the wrath of master.”

Member

Your dog probably also knows when he chose poorly. Mine hides behind the couch.

Mr. Brown
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Mr. Brown

> Even though the result must always be positive, there is a qualitative difference between three and a billion and three.

This is not true. There’s a difference, but it’s purely quantitative, not qualitative.

There’s a qualitative difference between three and infinity. But not between three and a billion and three — or between three and a positive number of any size.

Al from da Nort
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Al from da Nort

Mr Brown;
Since we’re all about quoting philosophers here: To quote a famous Marxian philosopher who disagrees:

“Quantity has a quality all of its own.” J Stalin.

He was able to apply this insight with great effect. So much so that in his day no one dared disagree.

ConservativeFred
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ConservativeFred

A few years ago I had a lengthy discussion with a retired priest. He spent over 40 years counseling all manner of people. The topic of homosexuality arose, and he believed it was a “spectrum,” and some people could choose not to be homosexual (broad spectrum), and some would be homosexual no matter (their spectrum was very narrow). This remains a controversial topic because it allows the possibility of conversion therapy. But he didn’t stop there, he was open to both the idea that homosexuality was either a genetic trait or environmental (bacteria – disease?). The concept of a homosexual… Read more »

Jack Boniface
Member

Luther wrote “The Bondage of the Will” and Calvin’s rejection of free will was almost Islamic. See: TULIP, the Five Points of Calvinism. Granted, modern Protestants don’t always follow their forebears. But it is Catholics who always have maintained free will as a dogma, best described by Aquinas: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1083.htm

JR Wirth
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JR Wirth

Luther wrote a lot. He was always trying to half ass it, stay Catholic while reforming (see Consubstantiation). Calvin said, go big or go home. We’re all in bondage, that’s called life. Just relax and enjoy the show. I like taking things to their logical consequences. If you do something good to get free points in another dimension, you have an unclean motive. If you do something bad, you were always going to do it, and God either forgives it or he doesn’t. It’s amazing how much baggage you drop when you realize that you’re not in the wheelhouse of… Read more »

JR Wirth
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JR Wirth

Augustine is yuuuggee in Calvinism. He had the better argument but lost the fight. The first Paleocon. People just like to think they’re in control. Even unwashed, uneducated peasants.

CAPT S
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CAPT S

While I agree that our genetics can predispose us to civility or sociopathy, geneticists would seem unable to explain why our culture today is exploding with overt Machiavellian narcissists, or why in the past uncivil behaviors were successfully curbed. Are the narcissists mere victims as progressives would have us understand the science? In other words, the “sin” of fallen man is preexistent and unchanging, but previous cultures have managed to control society’s predispositions with things such as shame or the potentiality of punishment. Seems to me that the mere threat of negative consequences – whether shunning, excommunication, or exile –… Read more »

JR Wirth
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JR Wirth

I’m a Presbyterian, so I consider free will is an illusion, or perhaps vice versa. The universe is just a big, complex machine created by God, every subatomic particle. Of course the logical conclusion to this thought process is that some people are saved and some people are not, and it’s out of their control. My response would be, so? Maybe some people exist merely to be a lesson to others as to what not to do. Maybe God can do what he want’s, for his own reasons. There’s no ballot boxes in heaven. Thank God for that. Your standard… Read more »

Member

Ah, yes. Predestination. That sort of thing requires a very sadistic sort of God, doesn’t it? He just puts all the chess pieces out knowing every single possible move beforehand. That would imply this God is doing all this for the sport of it. Hmm.

JR Wirth
Guest
JR Wirth

Who better to put out the chess pieces? I know it sounds sadistic, but not as sadistic as putting someone on some spiritual treadmill, turning up the speed, and then getting upset when you fall off.

Member

That’s the Fundamentalist view of God. “Hey, I think I’ll put some forbidden fruit out and see what happens. They better not make me come down there!”

Fred Zeppelin
Guest

Well of course free will exists. Why, just this morning, I exercised my free will. I freely chose to teleport myself to the Rings of Saturn, where I opened up a Sno-Cone franchise. “SAINT: God tries each man According to a separate plan.” –WB Yeats 1. If God created the heavens and the earth, then He created the particular physical and metaphysical properties by which we encounter our souls, our will, our choices, etc. DNA, human behavioral psych, various contingent environmental circumstances, it’s all part of His Divine Plan. We know from the Gospels that God sees into what lies… Read more »

Rhodok
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Rhodok

Free will is just an expresion (concept) we use to be able to assign blame, i.e. ‘free will’ is downstream from responsibility. In order for society to survive, it has to have a mechanism to prune unwanted behaviour. This is what we call ‘responsibility’. As (people in) cultures became more self-aware, especially with christianity, a responsibility in and of itself became unacceptable unless we also create a concept that would cause people to become responsible. That was free will. Evolutionary speaking the algorithm that is at work operates at the societal level. The algorithm also produces unwanted results and has… Read more »

TomA
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TomA

Most of the genetic influence on behavior is expressed as a predisposition, bias, or proclivity; and not as an absolute determinant. Also, the panoply of these effects overlap and can be washed out by complexity or chaotic circumstances. Often times, these traits only become evident when studying large numbers of individuals over time. Because of the way evolution works, all of these traits came into existence because somewhere in history it helped a particular population to survive and thrive in a particular environment. Scots are known to be thrifty, and that makes sense if you evolved in the Scottish Highlands… Read more »

Member

And of course there is the issue of insanity. Since this is a flaw, how can we maintain that God has given us free will when there are so many people with mental problems? No free will for them! Fundamentalists really have a problem with this. Many of them actually deny the existence of insanity. They insist the person is “possessed”. So my next question is: whose fault is it that a person is “possessed”? Comes the response: that person was a sinner and fell into the power of Satan. You can’t win with these people.

dad29
Guest

First thing, let’s agree on what is “insane” and what is merely aggressive lack of self-control. (And then we can have fun with possession, which DOES happen.)

Member

See what I mean?

Dutch
Guest
Dutch

On the free will vs. genetic code or otherwise predetermined outcomes, the political answer (because everything is political now) is that when people act up, it is their genes showing (“blacks are emotive”, Latinos are pious”, etc.), and people are ”born” gay or as a woman in a man’s body, and so on. At the same time, politics tells us of the Magic Dirt, the Magic Schools, and the Magic everything else that will transform bad-acting malcontent underachievers into smart and successful people. So which is it? Free will inside an envelope of acceptable or conceivable boundaries set by biology?… Read more »

Member

You are asking materialist scientists to determine causality. The possibility there could be a soul or spirit is outside the scope. Christianity has noted we are Tempted and have predisposition to sin differently for each man and are responsible for developing virtue or repenting when we fall. “The just man falls 7 times each day”. It is like the old joke. What are you doing under the street lamp? Looking for my keys? Where did you lose them? In that dark alley over there. Why are you looking under the street lamp? The light is so much better here. If… Read more »

Maus
Guest
Maus

And yet we have this uniquely human compulsion to reward and punish other humans’ behaviors. Why? What is the evolutionary basis for it? Justice, like love, is one of those realities whose existence no one doubts, but is impossible to reduce to an objective material phenomenon that can be subjected to empirical quantification or study. Then, again, we destroy rabid dogs not because they chose to become infected and dangerous, but because they cannot be cured and thereby rendered safe to roam freely. Why should we treat dangerous humans any differently?

Member

So basically, the end of “The Matrix: Reloaded”… Free will is simply our way of expressing how we make decisions based on our biological make-up, our personal experiences, our human rationality, and the given situation with which we are faced. Our ability to reason is what gives us free will, and it separates us from common animals. The prison system is loaded with people who have poor impulse control which is probably one part genetic and one part upbringing. Free will does not mean people’s choices cannot be predicted. Or rather, our ability to predict choices does not diminish the… Read more »

JR Wirth
Guest
JR Wirth

It’s the VALS consumer group system, and it’s hauntingly accurate.

Member

Yep, I’ve used it to write business plans. It’s just this side of stalker-level-knowledge.

Maus
Guest
Maus

One way out of the free will quandry is a return to Aristotelian metaphysics. He distinguished between potential reality, a passive state of that which might be, and the active state which caused that contingent being to become an objective reality. For example, my genetic inheritance may predispose me to physical strength or speed of a greater potential than some other human specimen; but without repeated use and cultivation, the capacity won’t be actualized or fully realized. Instead of an Olympic medalist, I become a couch potato. Human activity realizes potentiality. This is the basis for the habituation that is… Read more »

Christopher Chantrill
Guest
Christopher Chantrill

I think that the uncertainty principle is the best argument against determinism. It tells us that Nature hasn’t made up its mind yet. One big transition is from the Iliad, where the gods determine everything, to the Odyssey, where Odysseus is busily outwitting the lesser immortals. My Three Peoples theory deals with all this. First we Subordinates believed in the Big Man making all the decisions. Then we became Responsible, with God setting the rules for us to follow. But now we have the notion that humans are Creative and able to create whatever world we want. Or at least… Read more »

Rod1963
Guest

You just made a great case for Calvinism and Predestination as well as nihilism. ‘It’s not your fault, you’re just born that way’ kind of situation. Depressing as hell since the only fix for your behavioral problem is death. Hey, science tells us behavioral modification doesn’t work and can’t since we’re hardwired for ‘x’. So we’re damned right from the start. On the bright side it does simplify things immensely. You can skip gym and working out because we’re not programmed for it. If you like eating junk food by the pound. It’s okay because there is nothing you can… Read more »

JR Wirth
Guest
JR Wirth

Our current society, since at least the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800’s has embraced the exact opposite of Calvinism. You too can be a winner! You too can achieve salvation! Just follow this step by step guide for self perfection (which you will fail at). And we’ve been following it for most of this country’s history, until everyone is popping happy pills in a self help section of a book store. They just don’t measure up to their own standards, let alone God’s. As a Calvinist, I have a pilates instructor and drink kale shakes. It’s not my… Read more »

Johnny Johnson
Guest
Johnny Johnson

Test

Johnny Johnson
Guest
Johnny Johnson

This is why GATTACA is my favorite movie. It’s so deep on so many levels. Also, a great movie is always found where the male and female leads marry afterwards: Hawke+Thurman. Free will is nothing more than an ignorance of what will happen or of your own genetic capabilities. At polar opposites of the debate it simply is unprovable. Which, frankly, reinforces the entire idea of free will. As Dostoevsky commented in horror, if the State provides bread with no moral considerations, then it could result in intentional famine, presaging the Bolsheviks and Stalin by 50 or so years. At… Read more »

JR Wirth
Guest
JR Wirth

Have you been to a Walmart? It proves number 2. Bad genes all around. Number 1 isn’t inherently Christian, just the dominant strain of Christianity, by far. Calvinism will always be Christianity’s minority report. People think it’s cold and sadistic. I find warmth in it. Free will is a cruel lie. By choosing number 2, you have to believe that even one string banjos can be in the NY Philharmonic if they just try hard enough. Like some Disney movie with a Hollywood ending. I never cared for “Rudy.” Free will is like asking Shanequa from the projects to hit… Read more »

Johnny Johnson
Guest
Johnny Johnson

This is why GATTACA is such a killer flick. They answered your exact analogy. After watching a classical piano concert, Hawke walks outside and sees the poster of the pianist has 12 fingers, genetically engineered of course. Photo of pianist covering his face/eyes as if in horror/despair. Hawke comments: “one finger or twelve it’s how you play”. Thurman retorts, “that piece can only be played by twelve.” And there you see the dichotomy. Hawke doesn’t respond, as it’s obvious the difference in worldview is something that he can’t convince the brainwashed of.

Johnny Johnson
Guest
Johnny Johnson

Also, one more “hate fact.” The “theory” of evolution was not first raised by Charles Darwin, but rather by his grandfather, a noted freemason and poet. That’s right, the first expounded discussion of evolution, at least within the Darwin family, was in a poem. Macroevolution, and the skepticism thereof, is one of the biggest redpills to take. But you see how this has been setup for generations.

Member

Goethe actually mused about the concept, though in connection with plant life. The idea was definitely floating around.

Johnny Johnson
Guest
Johnny Johnson

Even since the ancient Greeks.

Johnny Johnson
Guest
Johnny Johnson

And finally, because I know big brains read Zman, is the FACT that observation can CHANGE CURRENT EMPIRICAL RESULTS AND THE PAST. It’s the old duality of light/multi slit theory. Use a photon detector, observe a particle pattern. Don’t use one, you see light behave as a wave. But as scientists at MIT showed, mere observation can change the past behavior of light. This is insanely fascinating as it indicates the possibility of time travel. They did this with a shite ton of mirrors, etc. Breaking edge stuff and an experimental result that has fascinated me for decades.

Rob
Guest
Rob

In this vein I have just read about a decision we had in Canada. A nurse addicted to narcotics stole them from her place of work, even to the point of taking some destined for her patients. She was obviously fired for this dishonesty but an arbitrator ordered her reinstated and accommodated. Apparently her addiction made her lack free will and hence rendered her non-culpable. Human rights legislation doing its job…

http://www.mondaq.com/article.asp?articleid=778130

Cloudswrest
Guest
Cloudswrest

“People cannot be rewarded or punished, unless they can transcend chance and necessity. If their choices are simply the result of their code executing in response to environmental factors, they have no agency and therefore no responsibility. ” Why not? “Laws control the lesser man… Right conduct controls the greater one.” -Mark Twain You can sort people into three sets. “The righteous”, i.e., Twain’s “greater one”, “The Law Abiding”, and “The Incorrigible”. Reward and punishment certainly has an effect on “The Law Abiding”. You can think of it as one of the “external variables”. Also, things that are often thought… Read more »

Maus
Guest
Maus

Indeed, in focusing on the common good of society, Aquinas justified the state’s authority to resort to capital punishment by analogizing it to the doctor who removes a gangrenous limb to save the patient’s body. He specifically referred to it as medicinal. This exemplifies the principle of double effect. You don’t will the destruction of the criminal, but the health of the body politic. The rabid dog analogy makes the same argument.

dad29
Guest

Errmmmmhh…..”Science Says” is not exactly an argument-stopper, and really hasn’t been for a few hundred years.

That aside, there is also an inborn “right/wrong” coding. It can be defeated, and usually is, through the process of “rationalization.” And there are people who, through sheer effort and sometimes prayers which were heard, managed to control their impulses.

Roger U
Guest

Isn’t questioning the existence of free will futile? If we don’t have free will, could we actually answer the question? Would that answer be meaningful? On the other hand, could we ever be sure any conclusion of free will wasn’t preprogrammed? Are we prevented from realising we don’t have free will to protect us from the psychological fallout of finding out we’re puppets? Would there be any fallout if it weren’t preprogrammed? Can we be sure of anything once down that rabbit hole?

JR Wirth
Guest
JR Wirth

That’s why Blade Runner is an awesome movie. Can’t existence and thought alone be enough? Can we be rebels if we were designed to rebel in the first place? Can we be finite beings and love God all the same? When you boil it all down you have two options, 1) the universe is a complex machine that we don’t control, that there is an ex-machina force guiding it, that we just try to live in and try to understand with our five senses, 2) We’re just blobs of matter, permutations in an accidental universe that’s a permutation itself. Anything… Read more »

Johnny Johnson
Guest
Johnny Johnson

Agreed that Blade Runner is an awesome movie.

JR Wirth
Guest
JR Wirth

Reading a lot of posts here, I think I’ve figured out how to think of free will. Think of free will like a parent rewarding a toddler with a toy at the toy store. The parent, who created the child, feeds him, dresses him, drives him to the toy store, walks him to a certain isle, puts the child in front of the toy on the shelf. The child grabs it and says “mine! I found the toy.” The parent pats him on the head, and says, “yes you did son, yes you did.” He exercised his free will in… Read more »

Member

Sam Harris is instructive on this stuff. In so far as you can trust a popular Prog intent on sustaining his status. But that’s the problem. It’s a subject where each side strongly suspects the motives of the other side.

Dividualist
Guest

“The most obvious is that genetic determinism rules out morality. People cannot be rewarded or punished, unless they can transcend chance and necessity. If their choices are simply the result of their code executing in response to environmental factors, they have no agency and therefore no responsibility.” This is one aspect of Christian thinking that IMHO makes no sense at all. And it is BIG all across the political spectrum i.e. I saw libs saying the same, in a deterministic universe nobody deserves to be punished… I mean, really, just what the fook? The purpose of punishment is to serve… Read more »

Johnny Johnson
Guest
Johnny Johnson

The reason that the duality of light experiment is so important is as follows: If mere observation can change the underlying pattern of how light acts, then imagine how much ACTION can do it. In other words, human behavior whether observation/action appears to be able to CHANGE the otherwise predetermined outcome. So Ethan Hawke’s genetic code says his heart can’t take certain stresses/will give out early. His intense training and dedication proves otherwise. It really is the only answer that retains dignity for man. And rather than attack that dignity, advanced science actually reinforces it.

Al from da Nort
Guest
Al from da Nort

There is a Christian answer to the question of ‘why not go with the game warden approach and just eliminate the potentially dangerous animals’ or the stock breeder approach ‘just cull the (genetic) freaks or weaklings: don’t wast time and money feeding them up’. It is that humans are qualitatively different for all other animals because they bear the Image of God: The Imago Dei. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_of_God The Wiki discussion at the link is pretty thorough, although even here they cannot resist the Higher Criticism and Feminist pozz. Main point is that The Bible clearly forbids treating your fellow man like… Read more »