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.

141 thoughts on “Free Will

  1. 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.

    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 just another animal.

  2. 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.

  3. “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 as a disincentive, not to balance some cosmic ledger of justice. Responsibility, deservedness, just deserts, justice and all that are just ways to make that palatable. Even a simple algorithm can be “punished” – people living in a residental area don’t like commuters driving through, arrange a 20 km/h speed limit, my satnav will promptly choose another route. Incentives are simply inputs to calculation, nothing more. Justice means mostly just consistency, if we agreed we punish thieves then there should be no exception for those who have political pull etc. justice means that actions should have the socially expected consequences. I tend to argue that there is natural justice in the world: people who behave like assholes to others tend to get the same shit back. etc.

    What is deal with this Christian concept that punishment must be deserved in a real way, as a settling of a cosmic account as a result of a purely free responsible choice? It is just so weird to me.

    I mean, over 100 years ago Chesterton got it far better. He wrote (environmental, kinda Marxist) determinism does not lead to more forgiveness, criminals can be boiled in oil because the boiling oil is just a change of environment. What determinism rules out is that the criminal can be forgiven BECAUSE he was convinced to realize he did wrong and repents. This change of mind is what determinism rules out, and this change of mind is what gets forgiveness and leniency.

    It is really the same with genetic determinism. It just means criminals cannot repent, hence cannot be forgiven. I.e. that change of mind that makes punishment as future deterrence unnecessary does not happen. It leads to more punishment, not less.

    All this stuff about responsibility and morality is too much like drinking the own Kool-Aid. Punishment is simply a social technology, coming from the revenge instinct, which is coming from the self-defense instinct. One could abolish all official punishment and blood vengeance, vendetta would pop up in its place. Maybe official punishment requires some narrative of just deserts to make it palatable, but that is just springing some sugar on it, don’t take it too seriously!

  4. 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.

  5. 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 grabbing a toy that he was always going to grab.

  6. 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?

    • 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 in the middle is human beings attempting, with limited understanding, to build a mental sandcastle. If I didn’t believe in the first option, I would have to believe in the second option.

  7. 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.

  8. “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 of as punishment shouldn’t be thought of as such. For example I don’t believe in “Capital Punishment”, but I do believe in execution. When Old Yeller was shot, the owner was NOT punishing him. They were eliminating an extreme hazard to the family. Likewise if a person is an *incorrigible* dangerous criminal they should be painlessly euthanized. The purpose isn’t to punish them. The purpose is to preserve the safety of innocent people. The alternative of keeping them warehoused in perpetuity is also an unacceptable burden on the population.

    I once philosophized in a comment on one of Steve Sailer’s blogs, “If society was able to eliminate crime, how would we know who the criminals were?” He responded he was “Okay with that” meaning he thought eliminating crime was a preferable goal to enduring crime in order to identify criminals and eugenically weed them out.

    • 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.

  9. 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…

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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 each end: 1) man is not bound by genetics; or 2) man is absolutely bound by genetics; the answers are simply and completely unknowable. 1) = Western civilization and Christianity. 2) = 1984/Brave New World/unspeakable cruelty and derision of man to nothing but an ATM as Zman states.

    So make your choice and be clear about it. Because when 2) is chosen man is nothing but cattle to be dealt with accordingly by the state. Any horror is not only imaginable, but frankly justifiable. So I choose door Number 1. But don’t let the sophists or scientists get away with telling you that they can prove No. 2. They absolutely cannot no matter how damn well they claim their “science” is. Once how they can explain how the eye evolved, then we can talk. LOL

    • 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 the books, and she too can teach brain surgery at Sloan Kettering. But that’s American culture. Don’t tell Bruce Jenner that he’ll never be a woman… etc.

      • 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.

  13. 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 do to stop it. So just give in to every impulse that pops into that tiny noggin. Remember it’s not your fault, it’s your genes. Kill, burn, maybe set some HBD’ers on fire or simply beat them to death with a tire iron. They’ll understand because we’re all just random meat machines.

    On the downside any society stupid enough to embrace this dreadful anti-life thinking, signs it’s own death warrant. All it would take is a group of primitive warriors like the Muslims that would roll up a society like that in a matter of a few decades without a shot being fired.

    • 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 fault, God just want’s me to be healthy and has guided me to that. Some people are just meant to eat Doritos on the sofa. If he wants me to pick up a tire iron and beat someone, I’ll do that too. I doubt that will happen, but you never know. I’m along for the ride.

  14. 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 be an Übermensch, a Zarathustra thinking deep creative thoughts on his mountainside.

  15. 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 the key to Aristotle’s virtue ethics, which Aquinas baptized and made the root of human morality. We become that which we repeatedly do or refrain from doing, and vice is the product of excessive acts or failures to act. Free will is the efficient cause of the “move” from human potential existence to actual existence.

  16. 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 free will of making them. There are marketing analytics experts who, if I filled out a short survey, could predict with reasonable accuracy what kind of car I drive, the food I like, my hobbies, and my income and probably +/- a few IQ points.

    He might even predict which candy bar I might choose at the checkout line. But, the fact that I put it back? Maybe just to spite him, or because I’m not hungry? That’s free will.

    I think when people start to say we don’t have free will, they’re responding to people they see with low impulse control.

  17. 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?

  18. 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 our free will derives from something immaterial, like a spirit or soul, and you’ve been only to look for material correlations and call them causal, you will find that everthing has material causes.

    Christianity’s problem for Man is NOT belief in God or even Christ, but belief in the Devil. A superintelligent malevolent being that wishes to destroy you and everthing forever. Some primitive cultures recognized demons and played games with amulets and talismans and charms. And God still limits Satan even such places. Only in Christ is there power to defeat the Devil, but you won’t excercise your free will choice when you don’t believe there is a choice, or that it matters.

    And “Born this Way” was a Lady Gaga track. To whatever extent you’ve sinned, you can repent (a 180 degree turn around). THAT is what defines Western Civilization. We must continually choose principle over pleasure, hard over easy, pain over ease, work over idleness, moderation over gluttony, courage over retreat.

    The Motivational speakers – the Zig Ziglars, etc. – say that if you believe you can, or believe you can’t you will be right in both cases. There are disabled people who do extraordinary things. Defeated people who rise up and succeed.

    We aren’t just bags of genes or epigenes with good or bad behavior. We have a soul and/or spirit.

  19. 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? Perhaps, but all I really get from the political arguments is that people will argue the expedient circumstances, at that moment in time, that will allow them to gain status and grab stuff.

    Which is perhaps a biologically driven imperative, in the absence of community standards and a sense of sacrifice to the greater community good? Such sense of community good perhaps hardwired more in some than in others? Turtles all the way down.

  20. 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.

  21. 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 where food is scarce most of the year.

  22. 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 created a means to get rid of these.

    A person living alone, outside society, has no need for responsibility and hence also no need for ‘free will’.

    Just IMHO of course 😉

  23. 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 within each individual human heart, and judges each with individual particularity. “To those who have been given much, much will be required.” God will, we estimate, judge Bill Kristol far more harshly (we hope) than some primitive crack-head stone-age negro. There’s no such thing as a mind-body problem, and there’s no such thing as a “brain in a vat.” Your soul is lodged in your mind, and your mind is lodged in your brain, and your brain is lodged in your skull, which is a part of your body.

    2. If God did not create the heavens and the earth, then the question is of no importance. It’s all just social engineering, and societies die just as certainly as we do.

    Let’s hope option 1. is true, just because on the Last Day it will be mightily entertaining to watch Bill Kristol weeping tears of blood before the Throne of Judgment, groveling and screeching and tearing out his own eyes, in a futile plea to avoid being cast into the Lake of Fire. It’ll be like the last stanza of “War Pigs.”

  24. 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 Methodist or Baptist would recoil at this. I just have a glass of scotch and relax. I don’t need to put points on some cosmic scoreboard.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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!”

  25. 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 – have always served a useful purpose in thwarting evil “destinies.” And if one’s behavioral DNA actually CAN be thwarted – mine is every day – then how powerful is the supposed “destiny.” If I can discipline my behavioral predispositions, that’s gotta be something different than the DNA that controls my height & pigmentation.

  26. 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:

    • 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 the ship.

    • 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.

  27. 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 disease seemed odd to me at the time.

    We also discussed race, intelligence, addiction . . . a fascinating few hours.

    His broader point was that “free will” made very little difference for most people. And yet, he managed to continue his efforts. I found him remarkable on many levels.

  28. > 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.

    • 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.

  29. 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.”

  30. “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 can also be constrained by the external environment (the extended phenotype)…the constraints on my behavior, decision making and the choices available to me will differ if I am socialized in a rural isolated town vs a large city.

    This doesn’t argue for a blank slate but for a range of choices -free will-constrained by the expression of our genotype in differing environments .

  31. 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 considered highly suspect in the West and most of the progress will come from China.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.”

  36. 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 frozen food section of the store my whole life and never discover that craving for vanilla.
    That is why the gay “born this way” putsch was so dumb. The easy answer is that people are born with all kinds of self-destructive, anti-social inclinations. I’m sure that the kleptomaniac and pedophile were born that way also and we expect them to control their urges.

    • This is not true. Consider the public execution or the public flogging. The great ceremony of the punishment is about expiation. The guilt of criminal acts is removed from the criminal and by extension, the society. Public executions were a form of human sacrifice.

      • I dunno, I think public hanging of murderers and horse thrives was more about retribution and deterrence than the absolution of guilt.
        Besides, in Christian Europe they believed that Christ had already made the ultimate human sacrifice to absolve society’s sins. Why would they need to keep publicly killing people as human sacrifices if they believed in the Christian narrative?

        • Retribution and deterrence do require public ritual. Into the 20th century, the public hanging was a community event.

          As to why Christians would maintain the public sacrifice, well, they maintained lots of pre-Christian traditions. Sacrifice turns up everywhere, so it is right to think it is baked into our nature as self-aware, social animals.

          • No understando why the above argument is either/or. I see Rosie and Z’s arguments as a number of cards on the table and both arguments have merit and can be in effect simultaneously.

          • Glad we have Wikipedia,. Now I can ignore all those scriptures I had to memorize in parochial school about about Christ being a lamb, a sacrifice, etc , whose blood was going to take away/cover the sins of the world.

          • I’m glad we have Wikipedia, too, so we don’t have to rely on dimly remembered and never-understood catechisms. You might try reading the first paragraph of the referenced article to get a clue as to where you are going wrong.

      • Nope, you’re wrong. Read the Chinese legalists, guys like Lord Shang and Han Fei. I don’t care myself whether they were “in the right” either morally or practically, but they are illustrative of what the best thinkers of an illustrious ancient civilization saw as the heart of the matter. “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” Adding a morality / expiation element may have been a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, in terms of making State cruelty seem justifiable and/or entertaining to the public, but the actual purpose of “rewards and punishments” is quite clear backstage to these rather grim and practical men.

        All the zany punishments commanded in the Torah can be read the same way, too.

      • Read up on Greek and Roman Religion. Human sacrifice was extremely rare, and executions had no religious ceremony attached to them, and were not attended by priests as far as I can tell. Have read two books on Roman religion, one on Greek and no discussion of this whatsoever. Also, when you read what people wrote concerning executions you find none of the religious contextual language that you see when they discuss giving hecatombs to the gods.

        I cannot say the same thing for Germanic and Celtic pagans, though. I don’t know enough about them, however, the Christian Church did not arise out of these cultures, and their mores did not end up ruling the continent.

      • Nope. I’ve considered it, and doubt one person in a hundred thought public execution or public flogging was about expiation.

    • 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!

    • 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 back. We need a public example, a demonstration of white power that the media cannot defeat. Something that can play on Youtube forever.

  37. 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.

  38. 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, and we deal with each other at a higher level of abstraction (and respect) than matter following predictable laws. This is both practical (because, despite the delusions of our silicon overlords, we *can’t* predict or control something as radically complicated as a human being in the same way as we program a computer), and necessary for what we call a civilized society.

    The alternative is to treat everyone else as a thing to be manipulatd for your own goals. To violate their boundaries in some way. (Compel their action with the threat of force, or try to hack their internal workings to manipulate them into buying your junk, or break their self-control by addicting them to drugs.)

    As for crime and punishment: It’s a deterrent. We don’t want $X happening to us. You presumably don’t want it happening to you either. We agree to follow these rules so we can live in peace with each other. If you’re the kind of person who has been trained to extend this benefit-of-the-doubt (courtesy) to strangers, then every first encounter doesn’t have to be a standoff between potential pirates or raiders. Isn’t that what morality *is*? It also seems to belong on a different level of abstraction than the atoms that compose us. It’s also a human affair, and it’s more than a little weird that humans universally assume its the domain of the gods, (who presumably have no stake in it). The punishment is just: “We really *mean* it when we say we don’t want $X here, and we’re going to make sure it’s a bad idea, even for $crook.”

    I don’t think dogs deal with each other as inanimate objects. They have a doggy theory-of-mind that they use when interacting with each other. It takes a sort of arrogance to treat another complex creature, or another human being as a thing.

  39. 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 devolve to our coding. Some willfully break the structures and act depraved. Most of us are comfortable operating within the structure, more or less.

    That tells me that we do have pretty basic pre-determined traits, some marginal use of free will, and an incredible capacity to place boundaries on our pre-determined traits when we work together to that end.

  40. 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 ‘novelty’, or who knows what, would mean that consciousness can connect to some Platonic realty and something new can happen. In experiential terms I think of this as Eckhart Tolle stick. Or even how the alcohol/addition success the 12 step method involves surrender a higher power.
    TLDR; Yeah, free will is possible because consciousness is weird,

    • 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 Bertrabnd Russell and an assumption of the early Positivists). The result was a sort of humbling of formal logic, which had finally advanced from Aristotelian syllogism to what we’re familiar with today from the work of Frege, et al.

      Applying Geodel’s Incompleteness Theorem to the realm of thought/thinking is pure speculation. Even by someone as smart as Penrose. Goedel’s result says nothing about what goes on in the brain/mind, but only the relationship between formal logic and arithmetic The urge to draw wider implications is understandable, and perhaps fodder for the very, very, smart, but is not warranted.

      • 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.


      • 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.

      • 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 ( 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 that important until you consider that we (following Penrose) are assuming that ALL of human thought is some sort of computation here. How then do we comprehend the proof? It seems that at least some human thoughts are non-computable at least using conventional computers (I believe Penrose leaves it an open question whether quantum computers might be more capable here).

        There’s a lot of detail to this stuff and to fully understand the arguments you need to get into things like Godel numberings and see the full formal “diagonal cross” argument written out. Essentially you get to where you can see clearly that h(j,j) (for a particular j) must halt but that this understanding cannot be one of h functions itself. You, whatever it is “you” are, can know something that seems to lie outside the realm of mere computation, outside the power of the h-system itself.

    • 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
      Whitehead process technology
      Leibniz’s monads (“kicked around”–ouch!)
      quantum probability inherent in matter/consciousness
      Whitehead’s “novelty”
      Platonic reality
      Eckhart Tolle stick
      12 step method

      All you need is a little Rene Thom, Ilya Prigogine and Smale’s Handlebodies and I would consider submitting your post to this year’s Golden Bull Award (or perhaps to one of Zman’s Xirl Science magazines).

      Please tell me if I got the gist of your post: Consciousness is too complex for our tiny pea brains to understand yet so that the notion of free will (if it exists) is beyond our understanding too.

      Best regards and keep posting. It’s better than coffee.

      • 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.

      • 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.).

        Only point i want to hammer home is that the Incompleteness theorem DISPROVES something (the claim that math is reducible to logic), but doesn’t also thereby establish what the nature of math is. The same way the Michelson-Morely experiment DISPROVED the existence of a luminefrous Ether, but did not thereby establish the nature of space.

        In fact, to get a bit technical, the conclusion of Goedels’ Theorem states that any first order system of logic capable of expressing truths of arithmetic cannot both be consistent and complete. Since inconsistency is a thermonuclear poison pill in first order logic (if it sneaks in, any and all propositions are provable), we land on “incompleteness”.

        But who knows. Maybe at some weird level “inconsistency” really is a hobgoblin of small minds. Maybe in some circumstances it’s a mapping of binary categories onto something that doesn’t fit. (Schrodinger’s Cat.) I don’t know.

        But Goedel’s theorem doesn’t establish anything outside math/logic. It may suggest some things, and that’s pretty cool, but it doesn’t establish them.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

    • 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. 🙁

  43. 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 it’s easy or common (saints are thin on the ground), but simply that its possible though likely only for a limited time rather than a permanent rewriting of the code.

    • 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.

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

      • 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 opposed to probation and local jail or an ankle monitor). The rates of controlled substance crimes, particularly involving heroin, and property crimes have subsequently increased dramatically. I rather doubt that the leftists who control CA will ever adjust fiscal policy to recognize the HBD-rooted truth that you cannot educate the problem away but you can imprison it; so spend tax dollars accordingly.

    • “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.

  44. 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 to comprehensively amend my youthful behavior in response to some really bad mistakes, but what of it? It just doesn’t seem very meaningful to contend that billions of inbuilt genetic interactions in response to trillions of stochastic external stimuli renders void individual responsibility.

    (And yes, I’m aware that I had the option to compose that last sentence in a more comprehensible fashion, but I chose not to.)

  45. 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 will or not.

    • 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 Post Z Man. No softballs evah.

    • Used to be true, but science is making that less true. Crime is the most obvious example. Let’s say we identify fifty areas of the genome that influence cooperation. If all fifty are positive, the person is over on the extreme edge of submissiveness. If they are all negative, the person is a serial killer. Since everyone will be somewhere on that spectrum, determining your likelihood of criminal behavior is possible. It’s not hard to see where this lands us back into those grad school debates.

      • Still not sure it matters. Suppose that some have a genetic proclivity to commit violent crimes. Giving them a harsh prison sentence may seem harsh if they had very little “free will”, but if they are a ticking time bomb, perhaps we are are just looking for a reason to lock them up.

        Would make immigration interesting. Immigration ban based on genetics?

        • But the nature of punishment is not purely self-defense. In the West, punishment is about expiation. The burden of criminal acts is removed from the criminal through the punishment. If crime is genetic, then we rethink the reason with punish crime. It’s no longer about behavior modification. More important, it has to lose its symbolic nature of criminal punishment.

          • Z Man;
            Well, maybe in a shame-based culture punishment is an individual’s expiation of the shame brought on the group by his own misbehavior. Since we live in a shameless culture now, that framework seems a bit esoteric.

            The hot new shameless idea right now is apparently to avoid punishing obvious criminals based on their having deterministic necessity to commit crimes. This *clearly* needs rethinking, genetics or no. Kudos to you for bringing this up, BTW.

            Thing is, even tree-hugging Gaia worshipers are OK with taking out tigers, bears, etc. that attack humans with (mostly) no discussion of these animals’ free will vs. determinism. That man-eating tigers or grizzly bears are an obvious potential danger is enough. So, does this idea also apply to human beings, particularly in light of supposed genetic determinism_? After all, it *is* The Cloud’s ‘precautionary principle’ applied elsewhere from ‘Climate Change’.

          • Al, we have selective shamelessness. Everyone to the right of left-center is continuously shamed about everything, 24/7. We endure the shaming as part of the mental landscape in which we live. White Privilege is the catch-all for why we are shamed for simply existing.

            Now, the others, they accrue no shame for anything they say or do. The flip side of White Privilege, and we may as well call it “Non-White Privilege”.

          • There’s a documentary floating around YouTube wrt the Japanese prison system. The film crew was allowed in to film and interview (select) prisoners wrt their treatment and such, etc. Also filmed was how a day goes by for the inmates and guards and such. Quite an eye opener.

            Most amusing was the repeated efforts at shaming the prisoner. Always the emphasis was on how they let their family, friends, and community down by being criminals. All of this was interspersed with strict discipline and emphasis on living a Japanese “sorted” existence upon release. They dress, eat, shit in the proscribed manner and live communally—prepare food, clean group quarters, etc.

            I was impressed.

          • Still not seeing it Zman, albeit your point is well taken. I don’t care about symbolism—which is what I liken your expiation referral to. I care for what produces results.

            We have known for years that for the worse offenders (violent psychopaths) punishment/shame/rehabilitation/expiation means little. Recidivism is high and with those folk, recidivism means someone gets killed or assaulted on the street. Since we are a meek society with little intestinal fortitude to execute these folk, then we must lock them up for as long as it takes. It will be worth it in a cost/benefit analysis.

            I read a piece awhile back quoting a prison official. Basically, he said something that intersects what you are saying. “We lock up prisoners until their testosterone levels fall low enough to safely release them back into society.” Note, he was not talking about rehabilitation, but about biology. Perhaps a fan of yours? 😉

          • But then homosexuality is genetic–and perhaps gender-fluidity is also genetic. What you propose is a re-write of human nature. That takes more than a little brass.

        • Think of criminals as defective products. When they come off the assembly line, they should be discarded. Why beat your breast about it?

          • I don’t and never have. Indeed, this used to be the case. Prisons—which we also call penitentiaries, are a relatively new thing and stem from religious reformers who thought that such solitude as a few years in a prison cell would cause the confined to reflect on their errant ways and emerge a reformed godly man.

            Unfortunately god died, and the penitentiaries remained.

          • Because you’re a defective product too. It’s just that the degree to which your defects exist have not risen up into the criminal code resulting in jail time. Or, put another way, you have defects that are not giving you the propensity to break the law. Or, maybe you just haven’t been caught yet, who knows.

            While I do believe there are people who are beyond saving – utterly irredeemably bad – I also know that we as a society have helped people get their lives turned around after screwing up. It may not be a high %, but that number does exist. I think the white collar crime recidivism rate is a little less than 50%. Those who are repeat-offenders are generally the low-impulse-control, high-instability, types. We don’t need DNA to figure out who is who.

        • What if the genetic markers for violent crimes exist, but the person you are debating the prison sentence for has genetic markers that over lap with law enforcement or military people who do legal violence on behalf of society?

          Maybe instead of sending him to jail, we should send him to the Police Academy…

      • As long as you can’t predict individual behavior 100%, you still have the fundamental question unresolved: why do some people go against the genes?

        • Do they? The determinist would reply that what appears to be “going against their code” is in fact part of their code. if the ATM spits out more money than requested, it is no proof of choice. It’s proof of defects in the code.

          • And if the ATM is shown to be loaded with “sticky” or “gummy” bills causing two or more to be counted as one?

          • You need a different example. An ATM detects doubled bills by their reduced optical transmission, so what you suggest might happen can’t.

          • Zman, the problem is you are presenting a tautology. It’s literally the same argument that was presented in GATTACA. A: “No one exceeds his [genetic] potential.” Q: “If he did?” A: “Then it just means that we did not accurately measure his potential in the first place.” That’s not science, that’s merely another form of religion, one would become a “Genomist”….

          • “Determinism” is not new, either; it’s been around since at least the early 1900’s and one of our “honorable” Supreeeeeme Court blackrobes, Oliver Wendell Holmes, made a rather infamous remark about ‘enough imbeciles’ with the clear suggestion that removing them from the gene pool is the solution.

            Margaret Sanger and A. Hitler famously followed up on that, each in their own way.

          • “It’s proof of defects in the code” meaning “the code is a lot more complex than we realized”. It’s a fools errand to go around thinking that if we can just get all the bugs out of the code, we’ll have all the answers. That’s utopian.

            There are something like 20,000 genes which can be configured in nearly infinite numbers of combination producing an organism that – because of anything from poor diet to too good of a diet to too little sleep to too much sleep to just this amount of hormone x needed but the body produced x plus 10 of that hormone due to an overactive pituitary gland yielding behavior y that overides genetic marker z.

            About 3% of your DNA goes into creating genes. The other 97%? Scientists have no idea.

            It’s unknowable.

          • There you go, making my point for me. You can keep this game going until you achieve 100% individual predictability, i.e. forever. It’s the free will of the gaps, metaphysics.

        • I think the answer here has been mentioned elsewhere by Zman. Plomin in his new book discusses this in detail. Think of proclivities induced by genetic heritage as a “spectrum”, from one side of the bell curve to the other. Most of us are in the middle of the curve and that position is therefore considered normal. Some poor folks are way off to one end or another (many genes expressing and reinforcing the trait) and they are considered abnormal and manifest observable symptoms/behavior.

          My take is that folks successfully resisting certain antisocial traits are not full blow on one side of the curve or the other and therefore resistance is possible, or at least the undesirable behavior is moderated.

          So for example, when you cut me off in traffic I give you the finger and the horn. When you cut off some of our more vibrant brethren, you get a bullet through your windshield.

          • But without doing a single genetic test, we already can profile the guy who shot the bullet through your window: he or she has low impulse control and high levels of instability. I can pretty much guarantee those “genes” exist in every human being. The problem, genetically speaking, is you have zero idea what other genes or environmental factors enhance or moderate the “low impulse” genes.

            I have low impulse control for buying cool gadgets, but I have exceptionally high impulse control for shooting at other drivers. You can’t tell me those are different genes.

      • Except we all know that free will is actually real. It’s really not uncommon to have two brothers with crazy close genetics, one goes right and the other goes left.

        We’re reaching pseudo-scientific augury, if we just assume all behavior is genetic, there is no argument against any action being just determined, including arguing about it. It’s just a tautology. We can’t even find a gay gene no matter how many time it’s announced, but we’re thinking a blood test can predict antisocial behavior? Nah.

        We all know we have free will through direct experience. There is no real argument against solipsism, so this can be argued, but literally no one lives their life as if we didn’t or doesn’t have the instincts towards the actions of others as if they didn’t.

        Does science have everything about us “in our code”? How would we know if it did or didn’t? We all basically know it doesn’t, man doesn’t behave like any other animal. You can backwards rationalize all behavior, but c’mon no other animal even approaches a human level of consciousness.

        • I think people confuse what they think is the lack of free will with the fact that human beings as herd animals are fairly predictable when it comes to the menu of available choices. We’re predictable, so we don’t have free will, so it must be genetic in nature.

          It’s like a left handed batter trying to hit against the shift. He has few options against a left handed pitcher throwing up in the zone. 92.57% of the time he’s going to hit a ground ball to the short stop who is standing in shallow right-center.

          The batter has free will, but a small menu choices. So it looks like he has no control over his destiny. When, in fact, his choices are constrained by the choices of others in his environment.

        • No one is arguing that “all behavior is genetic”, so your argument that the same genetics produces different choices fails to prove the existence of free will. Of course the outcome of a program with inputs usually depends on the inputs as well as the code. That doesn’t prove it’s not determined.

          No, the need to punish does not depend on any assumption about “free will”. The possibility of punishment is itself an input. Were there no possibility of consequences there are a lot of people I should like to knock on the head.

      • You can’t un-bake a cake. Also, I can precisely measure and map every ingredient down to the tenth of a mg. But if I bake that cake in an oven that is too hot, or the relative humidity is very high, or I simply mis-read the scale on the measuring cup, the cake will not turn out exactly as the recipe states. There are simply too many factors to consider. It is unknowable. In fact, we would learn more about each individual simply by looking at the parents, where the person grew up and went to school, and their patterns of behavior than we would ever learn from their genes.

        For example, the same person who has genes that indicate a higher than average probability of being a serial killer might also have higher than average genes for being risk averse. So, he might fantasize about the act, but never commit it, because his motivation to do so is outweighed by his desire not to get caught and be punished for it. Or, less violently, the “genes” say that a person has low ethical barriers and would be a prime candidate for financial crime. Except he sucks ass at math. Or a person has the reflexes and forearm strength to generate gobs of bat speed, so they send him to baseball camp…only to learn that he has a slight offset to his vision that makes it harder for him to judge speed and distance, so he whiffs 90% of the time.

        I don’t care how smart the gene code people think they are, we will never have the ability to read somebody’s DNA with predictive certainty. Certainly not enough to make any broad determinations on their life choices sufficient to take definitive action.

        The analysts at those huge marketing firms that break people down into broad and then narrow socioeconomic categories have made using DNA to try and map people out pretty much irrelevant. The analytics experts in Major League Baseball have similarly figured out how to use massive volumes of data to predict, plus or minus 3 feet, just how far to the right of 2nd base the shortstop should play the shift for a left handed pull hitter facing a righty pitching him fastballs up and in.

        We have all the information we need right in front of us. We just don’t always like the answers it tells. Market segmentation is amazingly accurate, and would give you the impression that we do not really have free will. In reality, we make decisions based on who we are, the environment we live in, AND what we perceive to be our menu of available choices.

        The batter facing the shift has all kinds of free will. He has precious few choices.

      • GATTACA is a pretty good movie, and the answer to genetic determinism then becomes more determinism, in that an embryo is diagnosed with anti-social genes and they are then engineered out of him for “favored” genes by the powers that be.

        You get Ed Dutton’s genius famine then, but you then engineer such into being as the powers think necessary. (Kept on a secret island or something.)

    • 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.

      • 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 the country), often the advice is to “go with your gut”. To not “overthink it”. The hind-brain realization seems to be that conscious deliberation is not all that important, because it doesn’t really play a starring role in our behavior.

        • 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 behaviors of others. When the best tool in your survival kit is a behavior-predictor, you turn it on yourself. It seems like everything you ‘predict’ in your own case comes to fruition (I thought I would eat that particular fruit, and I did!)

          When everything you think you are about to do happens, it sure feels like being the boss.

        • 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… unfortunately that’s the way of a lot of modern “science” because it’s the outcomes that matter not the science.

          • 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.

    • 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 Christianity is pretty consistent and requires a minimal buy in in terms of stuff you have to believe but the metaphysics of the Crucifixion is a big exception

      That said one can have a nature and free will all at once if we understand the brain is part of the body. One can be susceptible to certain behavioral traits , greed, laziness, anger and in most cases the muscle of the brain can get stronger. Same as puny men can put on some muscle.

      Even most psychopaths can learn to control the urges

      There will always be limits of course but fitness that is making the brain strong for most people is possible though obviously not easy.

      The ones that can’t, compulsive killers and thieves , people with unmanageable rage and most pedophiles can be locked up or put down.

      That said most of the people these days who spend time an dink on these topics want to brainwash people, drug them into tolerating mass immigration with Oxytocin, weeding out rebellion with Lithium in the water and that sort of thing.

      The rest seem to be using their skills to make people addicted to the latest Fortnight clone

      This renders the fields psychology and to a degree philosophy suspect on its face which is shame

      • 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…..

        • 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 lot more into question than you might want too.

          All that aside, Christians at least accept the idea of human nature unlike the left. They just have the conceit that people are broken or evil which is nonsensical.

          We may not have all the details of evolution yet but human behavior fits a banding tribal primate accustomed to small groups living in a profoundly unnatural state to a tee.

          Now Christianity is an excellent hack allowing people to live and operate together with less social costs and friction. Its a behavioral hack allowing higher levels of trust and larger social order with less costs. High costs, no kids.

          Its also appears to be destroying the developed West too and its coming to an end.

          This means we will increasing social costs as Christian memes wear off till in Europe Christianity is all but gone and in the US it takes over

          How we cope with that change without tyranny ala China is a tough question and one we can’t answer. Our leaders don’t care, they want tyranny ASAP

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