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Illusion of Freedom
Posted: 15 May 2011 05:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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I don’t know where you are getting this idea that if determinism is true we are no longer acting.  This is hardly the case.  If determinism is true, we are acting, we are choosing, deciding, etc. (as I said above, no determinist has ever disputed this), however, we are not doing this freely.  As I wrote in the Coke/Pepsi analogy, I was able to chose Coke, but the reason I chose it was not because of my free will.  It was because of antecedent events in my life that had to do with Coke, such as their advertising, or whatever experiences I’ve had while drinking a Coke that my psychology now equates with happiness.  Furthermore, my brain could be predisposed on a chemical level to find a red to be more pleasurable than a blue can.  These are all things that are outside of my own free will, and are what caused me to choose the Coke.

When you said you responded the way you wanted to, a hard determinist would say no, you responded the way you were causally determined to, and that you are only under the illusion that you responded the way you wanted.  You are probably shaking your head.  Let me ask you something that might give you a better understanding of determinism: Do you choose your beliefs?  Think carefully about this.  The knee jerk response is to say yes, you choose what to believe, and what not to believe.  But what causes you to choose?  I think it’s safe to say we make choices to believe things or not based off evidence, good arguments, reason, etc.  You are probably nodding, asking me what my point is.  My point is that you do not choose to believe evidence, but that evidence compels you to believe something.  Thus, there is no free choice in the matter.  For example, you believe in the force of gravity (I assume).  Do you choose to believe in this?  No.  Evidence, such as when you jump in the air and touch back down, compels you to believe that there is an invisible force that keeps you planted on the ground.  Similarly, you did not choose to respond the way you did.  You were compelled to do so by antecedent events, namely, events that have given you the illusion that you have free will.

As for morality, the agent is acting and choosing, however, because of antecedent events and the laws of nature, they are determined to make whatever choice it is they will make.  If they made the morally good decision, there is no way, to that point in their life, they could have chose the morally evil decision, and vise versa.  This is why if determinism is true, there can be no moral responsibility.  If I understand correctly, what you are saying is that it makes no sense to write about morality if there is no moral responsibility.  This is not so.

Imagine a businessman goes away on business, and on his trip, rapes, and murders a prostitute.  He does this, and nobody ever knows.  A hard determinist would say he is not responsible for what he did, given he had no control over this.  But does this change the fact that he brutally murdered a prostitute?  No.  Thus, he is not responsible, however, he still has broken what we would call a moral rule, which is to not rape and murder prostitutes, or anyone else.  Furthermore, imagine this businessman is perfectly sane and believes in determinism, and he tells his friend this story.  His friend, who also is a hard determinist, says “John, that is wrong, you shouldn’t have done that.”  The business man explains how it’s not his fault, how he cannot be held responsible.  His friend replies by saying “I know you’re not responsible, but think of the pain you caused that woman before ending her life.  What if she had a child or a boyfriend?  Think of all the pain you would have caused them.  Would you want somebody to do that to your wife?”  The business man says no, and now that his friend has pointed out these facts about suffering to him, he decides that he shouldn’t have brutally murdered the prostitute, nor should he ever murder anyone again.

Now, I know this is a simple analogy, so you don’t need to point that out.  Notice though, how a person can do wrong, even though he is not morally responsible for it.  Furthermore, notice how after doing this wrong, and not thinking anything of it, someone’s guidance can be the antecedent event that changes a person’s disposition.  The friend offered reasons why John ought not to rape and kill prostitutes, and those reasons compelled, just as they ought to compel any sane person, not to rape and murder prostitutes.  This is how a hard determinist, like Harris, and myself, can believe there is no moral responsibility, yet still be interested in how people ought to live.

Before I say what I have to say I will say that hard/biological determinist are hard to argue and you proved that very well so kudos to you.

Now here comes the fun part: Yes it is true that there are bio-chemicals, tradition, culture, psychology, etc plays a role in some of our actions. I can admit to that but although you choose coke you could have just as easily picked Pepsi as well, despite the fact that you eventually choose to drink coke (in spite of all the factor involved). Despite the internal and external influences of your decision the fact that you have the capacity to choose either coke or Pepsi is what makes you a free agent. I think it is absurd to state that your choosing is not of your own free-will because you also could have choose to drink neither, despite your internal and external influences and that is what makes your argument somewhat forlorn. I may have this innate biological urge for chocolate but I can choose when and when not to eat it. As for what your saying or what you seem to say is that the moment you are presented with such a choice you are so compelled to choose what has been biologically, psychologically, etc programmed for you to choose that you will have no choice in decideding not to drink coke. In other words what I am saying is that if your going to use such an analogy cover all the basis which is choosing neither one or both.It is not as simple as coke or Pepsi. It is choose coke, choose pepsi, choose both or choose none or choose something else.


Your next argument I found to be pretty interesting but despite this I would still have to say that we have the capacity to believe what we want to believe. You are right in the sense that certain factors are involved in our decision to want to believe a certain thing. It is true that prior experiences causes us to not believe in, lets say that the sky is indeed not green but blue but how does this make you come to the conclusion that we are not free. What you said about evidence in regards to free-will kind of irked me. How is it that if kiki is presented with evidence that gravity is a true force within the universe and she then chooses to believe that gravity is a true force in the universe how does this take away from her being a free agent? That does not make any sense for the simple fact that despite kiki being presented with evidence about gravity being a real force in the universe she could choose not to believe that gravity is real. Could her decision have been influenced by prior events such as being sitting in a classroom and being presented with the facts but this does not take away from her being a free individual. If you ask me this would be a great choice on her part. When talking about free-will we must not disregard the capacity to make choices and the choices we do make should not be deemed inevitable. All because I choose to log onto this forum and respond to your post does not mean that I could not have choose to watch t.v. instead. All it means is that I choose to go on sam harris.org and not watch t.v.


I agree with Kiki, it makes no sense to write about morality if there is no moral responsibility. Just think about it? Why waste our time creating moral codes or discussing moral values if there would be no need for them? If we are incapable of making the correct moral decisions because our actions are determined by other external and internal forces then what is the need for laws or even prisons? why lock up a man for something he have no personal responsibility for? There has to be some moral responsibility for individuals otherwise we’d all be immoral s.o.b.‘s. As for your analogy of the businessman he had total responsibility for his actions. Once again he could have choose not to rape the prostitute and instead pay her for her services. To actually kill another individual is actually a choice. A conscious decision on the part of the businessman. If I was to go to your doorstep and shoot you in the head what would have compelled me to do so? Is there a reason for everything? yes of course but these reasons alone are not fully responsible for me killing you. I could have 1,000 reasons to want to kill you on your doorstep but to actually act upon that impulse, desire, ambition, etc takes a conscious decision. One more thing. You never stated what compelled the business man to kill the prostitute. All you stated was that he just killed the prostitute for absolutely no reason. You did not really prove that we can have no moral responsibility for killing another individual in a deterministic way. All you really did was vindicate the businessman from his actions to support your own conclusion that determinism is true.

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Posted: 15 May 2011 11:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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The analogies I have used are off the top of my head, and are to be used as simple illustrations.  I suppose it is fine you have pointed out the little flaws within them, however, let me try to resolve them.  In the Coke/Pepsi analogy, I assumed (perhaps wrongly) that it was understood you could only choose between the two, and could not abstain, or choose both.  Lets re-introduce the analogy in which you need to buy soda for a party, you get to the soda aisle, there is only Pepsi and Coke, and they are priced the same.  If determinism is true, you would not have been able to ever choose differently in that same situation. 

In the case of the businessman, I can’t think of a reason for why he would kill her, and perhaps it turns out this is not a great analogy.  Nonetheless, if you ignore the slight problems you addressed, the concept is still a good way to illustrate what I was talking about.  If determinism is true, there would be no way for him not to kill the prostitute, and thus no moral responsibility, yet, when given guidance on this issue, his mind can be changed about immoral behavior on the basis that the guidance caused him to change his mind on murder.  It is imperative to notice that none of this was done has anything to do with his free will.

As for my argument about beliefs, like I said, no determinist has EVER said we do not have choice, but that our choice is not free.  Kiki, or anyone for that matter, can choose to believe in gravity or not.  However, this choice is not free.  Evidence will either compel you to believe in gravity, or whatever antecedent information you have in contrast to the law of gravity, will compel you to reject it.  Suppose you were taught since you were a child that invisible butterflies were what actually kept you held down.  Either the evidence for gravity will overcome the invisible butterflies, or it will not, but regardless, you have no choice in the matter.

One of my favorite ways to illustrate hard determinism is a question that is very straight forward.  Imagine Hitler is born again in the exact same environmental circumstances (same time, parents, home, etc.), with the exact same brain (same chemistry, genetic predispositions, etc.).  Is it possible for him to not become the Hitler who killed 6 million Jews?  Clearly, the answer is no, it is not possible.  With the exact same heredity and environment, it would be impossible for him to become some guy who sold shoes, or anybody but who we know him as.  The reason for this is hard determinism.

I found the Hitler thought experiment particularly useful when people bring up the whole “I could have chose differently” game.  If you could have chosen differently, why didn’t you?  If the world could have so easily been altered by one decision, why wasn’t it?  You can argue hypotheticals and “If I"s all you want, but the fact of the matter is, the world is the way it is, and it cannot be any different than that.

Finally, while you lot have been happy to criticize hard determinism, you have not given any kind of counter argument to what the true state of free will would be.  It is either hard determinism: every action is causally determined by antecedent events and the laws of nature, which is not compatible with free will.  Or libertarianism: there is free will, which is not compatible with determinism.  And finally soft determinism: hard determinism is true and compatible with free will.  I realize hard determinism is jarring and counter-intuitive, but when compared with the only other theories, all the evidence is on the side of hard determinism.

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Posted: 15 May 2011 11:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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BTW: I’m not sure what you mean by “Before I say what I have to say I will say that hard/biological determinist are hard to argue and you proved that very well so kudos to you.”  Excuse my cynicism, but I’m not sure if you were giving me a genuine compliment or being sarcastic.  lol

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Posted: 16 May 2011 01:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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This thread has exploded. I don’t know where to start with my response.


I’ll just make a few points.


1) Making intelligent and rational decisions does not prove freewill. A computer with a sufficiently smart AI could do the same. Will computers get freewill when they reach this level? I don’t think anyone would want to claim this. We are just biological computers.


2) Where do thoughts come from if not from brain processes?


3) Determinism says that there is no separate actor to act moral. It does not say that there is no moral action or that people cannot learn to act differently. (i.e. more moral)


Kikl just doesn’t want to understand this point. No amount of explanation will convince him. 


4) I think it is highly unlikely that quantum theory proves freewill or even that the world is mostly non-deterministic. I can see with my own two eyes that most processes are explainable and predictable according to the law of cause and effect. How is this possible if the world is mostly causes by non-deterministic processes?


5) fMRI works in predictable ways, does it not? Must not be that non-deterministic after all in the practical sense. 


6) Also, again, non-determinism is not a good basis for freewill. Explain to me how it could be?


7) I didn’t answer the question about the origin and function of consciousness because we (the scientist in general) do not really know. Anything at this point in time is speculation.

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Posted: 20 May 2011 05:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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The analogies I have used are off the top of my head, and are to be used as simple illustrations.  I suppose it is fine you have pointed out the little flaws within them, however, let me try to resolve them.  In the Coke/Pepsi analogy, I assumed (perhaps wrongly) that it was understood you could only choose between the two, and could not abstain, or choose both.  Lets re-introduce the analogy in which you need to buy soda for a party, you get to the soda aisle, there is only Pepsi and Coke, and they are priced the same.  If determinism is true, you would not have been able to ever choose differently in that same situation.

In the case of the businessman, I can’t think of a reason for why he would kill her, and perhaps it turns out this is not a great analogy.  Nonetheless, if you ignore the slight problems you addressed, the concept is still a good way to illustrate what I was talking about.  If determinism is true, there would be no way for him not to kill the prostitute, and thus no moral responsibility, yet, when given guidance on this issue, his mind can be changed about immoral behavior on the basis that the guidance caused him to change his mind on murder.  It is imperative to notice that none of this was done has anything to do with his free will.

As for my argument about beliefs, like I said, no determinist has EVER said we do not have choice, but that our choice is not free.  Kiki, or anyone for that matter, can choose to believe in gravity or not.  However, this choice is not free.  Evidence will either compel you to believe in gravity, or whatever antecedent information you have in contrast to the law of gravity, will compel you to reject it.  Suppose you were taught since you were a child that invisible butterflies were what actually kept you held down.  Either the evidence for gravity will overcome the invisible butterflies, or it will not, but regardless, you have no choice in the matter.

One of my favorite ways to illustrate hard determinism is a question that is very straight forward.  Imagine Hitler is born again in the exact same environmental circumstances (same time, parents, home, etc.), with the exact same brain (same chemistry, genetic predispositions, etc.).  Is it possible for him to not become the Hitler who killed 6 million Jews?  Clearly, the answer is no, it is not possible.  With the exact same heredity and environment, it would be impossible for him to become some guy who sold shoes, or anybody but who we know him as.  The reason for this is hard determinism.

I found the Hitler thought experiment particularly useful when people bring up the whole “I could have chose differently” game.  If you could have chosen differently, why didn’t you?  If the world could have so easily been altered by one decision, why wasn’t it?  You can argue hypotheticals and “If I"s all you want, but the fact of the matter is, the world is the way it is, and it cannot be any different than that.

Finally, while you lot have been happy to criticize hard determinism, you have not given any kind of counter argument to what the true state of free will would be.  It is either hard determinism: every action is causally determined by antecedent events and the laws of nature, which is not compatible with free will.  Or libertarianism: there is free will, which is not compatible with determinism.  And finally soft determinism: hard determinism is true and compatible with free will.  I realize hard determinism is jarring and counter-intuitive, but when compared with the only other theories, all the evidence is on the side of hard determinism.

I understand that it is hard to tell if one is being serious or not over the internet. Anyhow my compliment was genuine. Moving on.

Your analogy was a great one so give yourself some credit. I understood what your analogy. What I did was only point out what I believe to be one of the flaws of a biological/hard deterministic argument. What irks me the most about a deterministic argument is that any choice that we make, it is deemed that the choice was inevitable. For example, lets say Pepsi was chosen over coke, you would have given the same reasons as to why the person choose Pepsi over coke, when there could have been a completely different reason as to why one choose Pepsi over coke. A determinist would have said that the choice of Pepsi over coke would have been inevitable. What I’m basically saying is that, yes there are reasons as to why choices are made but another choice could just as easily been picked. The capacity to have chosen differently, producing a different outcome is what I believe to be the reason why deterministic arguments are somewhat forlorn.


As for your businessman analogy I believe there are several things you are leaving out: 1) Everything that we do is dictated by motive. As for the businessman, unless he is a sadistic psycho-path who gets a thrill out of killing others or was just really upset, he would have had to make a conscious decision to have killed her. If he was your average individual the fear of getting caught would have hindered his decision to want to kill the prostitute. Nonetheless, there is a reason for everything. With this being said there are two things that get me confused. 1) I still do not see how the business man would be deprived of moral responsibility? If this was the case then a lot of individuals would be out of prison or would never had been in prison in the first place. If determinism is indeed true, then even if he was consulted by a friend that his actions were unjust and law breaking, if some sort of internal or external force compelled him to kill a prostitute the first time, what would make you think he would not do it a second time, despite the fact that he was told of his wrong doing? As humans we have the capability to control out impulses and make rational choices. Sometimes our emotions and other things get the best of us but to actually kill another person is indeed a choice. So the issue clearly has something to do with free-will otherwise a lot of murders would be in prison. I think there is something innate within us that allows us that makes us automatically sympathetic to others and also allows us to know that killing is a mad thing. That murder is one of the greatest losses that one can experience or have.

As for you butterfly example, I would have to disagree in the sense that yes, there is a choice involved. Being conditioned to believe certain things does have an influence on ones worldview but at the same time this should not be viewed as a way of depriving one of their own free-will. To believe in something takes a choice.


Hmm, with your Hitler example your saying his past is the reason as to why he killed 6 million Jews? I mean I understand that he had a dislike for Jewish people. I mean to say that he would not be the Hitler that we have come to know would be pure speculation but you really do not believe that he could have choose a different path? I understand your argument and I understand that given the same circumstances that he “may” have chosen the same path but at the same time he had the choice to make to kill 6 million jews, just how Schindler had the choice to save as many Jewish people as he could possible have (despite his conditioning). So in this case I would have to say that Hitler could have chosen a different path, despite the external influences he had that compelled him to kill 6 million Jews. I do understand what your saying and your right, why didn’t I choose x over why? sometimes we make mistakes? And yes Hitler did choose genocide. My issue is not the fact that Hitler made a choice but hard determinist state that there could not have been any other choice (and that is where I think it is wrong).Once again any choice that is made is obviously made for a reason. That I can agree to but where we are different at is the fact that your stating that the choice is not of our own doing, it is not our free thought and that is where I think we bump heads.

I was going to answer you question about free-will and offer you a counter-example but you pretty much touch up on it by bringing up libertarianism.

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Posted: 20 May 2011 05:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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This thread has exploded. I don’t know where to start with my response.


I’ll just make a few points.


1) Making intelligent and rational decisions does not prove freewill. A computer with a sufficiently smart AI could do the same. Will computers get freewill when they reach this level? I don’t think anyone would want to claim this. We are just biological computers.


2) Where do thoughts come from if not from brain processes?


3) Determinism says that there is no separate actor to act moral. It does not say that there is no moral action or that people cannot learn to act differently. (i.e. more moral)

1) Your right making intelligent and rational choices does not prove free-will nor determinism. As a matter fact it does not prove anything. We cannot really compare ourselves to computers when it comes to free-will…When we are talking about free-will we are talking about choices and taking responsibility for such choices.  (not intelligence).Making conscious decisions is what separates us from computers. This special element known as consciousness is the difference since from what I know about computers, they cannot have “conscious experiences”. But making conscious, intelligent and rational decisions does indeed give us a little bit more liberty than most other living organisms, especially a computer.

2) Thoughts come from our brains (unless I’m missing some important fact about thoughts or dualism has been proven to be true).....now that I’m perplexed would you mind explaining to me what you mean by brain processes? (just so we are on the same page and before I make my next point)....

3)What determinism does is vindicate actions that would otherwise be deemed immoral. As I mentioned before, If I was to go a shoot another person in the head and then blamed it on random brain processes do you really think that would follow in court? What if I just decided to go and rape every first born child and then blamed it on a bad childhood, would a deterministic argument really fly in this situation?

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Posted: 21 May 2011 12:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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ohawkins21 - 20 May 2011 09:21 PM

1) Your right making intelligent and rational choices does not prove free-will nor determinism. As a matter fact it does not prove anything. We cannot really compare ourselves to computers when it comes to free-will…When we are talking about free-will we are talking about choices and taking responsibility for such choices.  (not intelligence).Making conscious decisions is what separates us from computers. This special element known as consciousness is the difference since from what I know about computers, they cannot have “conscious experiences”. But making conscious, intelligent and rational decisions does indeed give us a little bit more liberty than most other living organisms, especially a computer.

2) Thoughts come from our brains (unless I’m missing some important fact about thoughts or dualism has been proven to be true).....now that I’m perplexed would you mind explaining to me what you mean by brain processes? (just so we are on the same page and before I make my next point)....

3)What determinism does is vindicate actions that would otherwise be deemed immoral. As I mentioned before, If I was to go a shoot another person in the head and then blamed it on random brain processes do you really think that would follow in court? What if I just decided to go and rape every first born child and then blamed it on a bad childhood, would a deterministic argument really fly in this situation?

1) Your claim is not supported in any way by evidence. You just like to believe that we are 1) fundamentally different from something mechanical like a computer (even though we are all build of the same stuff: atoms) 2) that consciousness somehow gives us freedom from cause and effect.


It just doesn’t seem to work that way. In what way would consciousness give you the ability to ignore cause and effect? I just don’t see how that could work. Your argument seems to be “just because it does”, you don’t actually explain the mechanism. 


When it comes to the cause and effect explanation of things (determinism) however we can point to the fact that everything in nature seems to obey this relationship and various experiments that have if perhaps not conclusively proven it do indicate that our decision process does obey cause and effect whether conscious or not.


2) Yes, I agree, thoughts do come from the brain. Brain processes are simply processes within the brain.


3) First, it would not be about random brain processes. My whole point is that it is not random but determined. It doesn’t really matter if people see that your action as determined or not, because you are a danger to society and must be dealt with.


If however we knew for sure you would never do anything like this again, what wold be the point of locking you up?


If we had the ability to change people, lets say we reprogrammed them, then we could make sure that people don’t repeat their mistakes. Is your argument going to be that we should continue to rely on people to change themselves wasting a lot of resources in the process (jail ain’t cheap you know) all out of an misguided notion of freewill?

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Posted: 21 May 2011 02:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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With all due respect, this is the part of the debate where I get frustrated.  Many people do not have a good grasp on determinism, and instead of just listening to how the theory works, they like to raise objections while it’s being explained.  Hawkins, please allow us to just explain this before you try to tear it apart.  I’m going to be as straight forward as I can be.


It is not up for debate whether we choose our beliefs or not.  Any professional that has put any thought into this has concluded we can’t choose to believe things, but that we are compelled one way or the other.  Even Pascal, with regards to his Wager, said you can’t make yourself believe in something you don’t (however, he did say that you can put yourself in a position to have a better chance of having your mind changed).  It sounds all well and dandy that we can change our beliefs, but have you actually tried to?  Think of your favorite color.  Now change it.  Sure, you can say you changed it, but do you really believe it?  Of course not.  So let’s get away from this silly notion we can freely choose beliefs.


Again, will all due respect, I could care less if the implications of determinism “irks” you.  It irks me that I’m not a billionaire and having sex regularly with Marisa Miller, yet I don’t choose to reject the true state of my life because of it.  I agree determinism is jarring, and fairly counter intuitive, however, we can’t let our initial squeamishness obstruct what could be true. 


Determinism says all things are determined by antecedent events and the laws of nature.  This does not mean we have a fate, or a set path.  There is still contingency: B can’t happen without A, C can’t happen without B.  Determinism does not say that since A then D, but that if A -> B, then B was the only event that could have happened next due to antecedent events and laws of nature.  From A there may come D, but only if B and C happens, which is completely contingent on antecedent events and laws of nature.  Do not confuse Determinism and Fatalism.


Thus, if I chose Coke, it was not fated since my birth that I would choose it.  However, because of the life I’ve lived, there would be no way for me to not choose it.  My life, which was contingent on my parent’s lives, and so on, was going to culminate in that moment (heredity and environment), to chose Coke.  If I had chose Pepsi, then the same principle is ture, except something would need to be different leading up to that Coke/Pepsi situation.  The point to take away from this is that we can choose, but the choice is not free. The choice is dictated/determined by antecedent events governed by the laws of nature.


Now, if determinism is true, then you can’t blame me for choosing Coke.  As I said, I chose it, but did not choose it freely.  Similarly, if the Businessman kills the prostitute (I have no idea why he would), he cannot be blamed for doing so.  He was determined to do it.  He has done something immoral, however, we cannot hold him morally responsible for what he did, for moral responsibility implies you could have done differently.  The Businessman did not hold the belief that murder was bad, but after he talked with his friend, and his friend gave evidence as to why murder is bad, the friend’s argument against murder compelled the Businessman to change his mind about murder.  Notice, free will was not involved in this situation, nor was moral responsibility.


However, say the Businessman is not convinced, and he thinks its fine to murder, and he does it again, and is caught by the police and put on trial.  You made the point that we can’t punish him if he isn’t morally responsible.  He was determined to do this, it was out of his control.  This is a valid point, however, it is easily defeated when considering why we are either executing him, or imprisoning him.  If we are going to be punishing him retributively, then clearly we are doing something wrong.  He does not deserve whatever act of retribution we are trying to get, for he was not responsible.  However, can we not sentence him to keep the rest of society safe from him?  Think of a rabid dog that bites someone.  Do we have that dog put down because we think it deserves it? No.  We see a sick animal who is a threat to our safety, and who will continue to hurt people if we don’t do something.  If you’re not satisfied, here’s another example.  Think of children.  When a 4 year old sees somebody say something profane, and then repeats it to his mother, do we get mad at the child?  I would hope not.  We tell them they are not to say such things, and if they continue to do so, we punish them in order to correct the behavior.  Notice the child is not morally responsible, it doesn’t even know what right and wrong is, yet it is still perfectly fine to use corrective punishment. 


As for the Hitler example, how can you say that a man born at the exact same time as Hitler, in the exact same environment as Hitler, with the exact same brain and genetics as Hitler, would not grow to be the exact same Hitler that killed 6 million Jews?  If there are things that makes Hitler the Hitler that killed 6 million Jews, it MUST be all these conditions.  As I said earlier, if things could have gone differently, why didn’t they?  I think it’s obvious that things couldn’t have gone differently.  To say it’s possible for Hitler to have ended up anything but a genocidal maniac with the exact same brain and environment is ridiculous.  Our brain and environment completely dictate who we are and what we do. 


I think this is a pretty thorough answer to all your questions.  If you would like to give an argument demonstrating why determinism is false, based off of the account I’ve given of it, and not based on just how you feel about certain things, or the way things seem to you, then feel free to try.  If not, then I think this discussion is over, especially given that I’ve answered the questions of the OP.

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Posted: 31 May 2011 12:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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Sam Harris appears to be reading this forum, because recently he has felt compelled to post kind of a response on this blog. This is what he says in a nutshell about why he thinks morality , right and wrong, and complete determinism may coexist:

“What we condemn in another person is the intention to do harm—and thus any condition or circumstance (e.g., accident, mental illness, youth) that makes it unlikely that a person could harbor such an intention would mitigate guilt, without any recourse to notions of free will.”

So now people are condemned for their “INTENTION”. That’s interesting, since their intentions do not guide their behaviour. For a utilitarian (Sam is one), intentions don’t matter, but consequences do. So he is contradicting himself.

Last but not least, it doesn’t really make sense to condemn someone for his intentions, if they are merely a function of the brain and completely determined by the laws of nature. One should condemn the author of the intentions, i.e. the deterministic laws of nature;-)

Sam, you are turning in circles and stop making sense.

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Posted: 31 May 2011 05:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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Just thinking:


You could have someone who has the intentions to kill, but is so incompetent that every time he tries to kill he fails. Is this person evil? Should we put this person behind bars?


And what about someone who has no intention to kill, but is so good at it that he kills many times just by accident. I.e. he walk in a store, turns around, but clumsy that he is smacks someone in the face, unintentionally killing that person. Is this person evil? Should we put this person behind bars?


Perhaps from a completely utilitarian perspective the question about evil would be ignored and only the second person would be put behind bars, because he is an obvious danger to others. This is I think to most practical standpoint, but probably not one that will convince a lot of people. Maybe that is why Sam talks about intention and then takes one step back saying that this intention is not caused by a free will.

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Posted: 31 May 2011 07:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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lente - 31 May 2011 09:32 AM

Just thinking:


You could have someone who has the intentions to kill, but is so incompetent that every time he tries to kill he fails. Is this person evil? Should we put this person behind bars?


And what about someone who has no intention to kill, but is so good at it that he kills many times just by accident. I.e. he walk in a store, turns around, but clumsy that he is smacks someone in the face, unintentionally killing that person. Is this person evil? Should we put this person behind bars?


Perhaps from a completely utilitarian perspective the question about evil would be ignored and only the second person would be put behind bars, because he is an obvious danger to others. This is I think to most practical standpoint, but probably not one that will convince a lot of people. Maybe that is why Sam talks about intention and then takes one step back saying that this intention is not caused by a free will.

Good questions. Does putting this person behind bars maximize the overall well-being? Whether the person intentionally did harm or not doesn’t really matter in this respect.  I find it difficult to calculate the answer,  but there may be an answer to the question;-) Future supercomputers may help us in the attempt to calculate the right thing. By the way concepts like retribution do not play any role in this utilitarian calculus.

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Posted: 01 June 2011 04:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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1) Your claim is not supported in any way by evidence. You just like to believe that we are 1) fundamentally different from something mechanical like a computer (even though we are all build of the same stuff: atoms) 2) that consciousness somehow gives us freedom from cause and effect.


It just doesn’t seem to work that way. In what way would consciousness give you the ability to ignore cause and effect? I just don’t see how that could work. Your argument seems to be “just because it does”, you don’t actually explain the mechanism. 


When it comes to the cause and effect explanation of things (determinism) however we can point to the fact that everything in nature seems to obey this relationship and various experiments that have if perhaps not conclusively proven it do indicate that our decision process does obey cause and effect whether conscious or not.


2) Yes, I agree, thoughts do come from the brain. Brain processes are simply processes within the brain.


3) First, it would not be about random brain processes. My whole point is that it is not random but determined. It doesn’t really matter if people see that your action as determined or not, because you are a danger to society and must be dealt with.


If however we knew for sure you would never do anything like this again, what wold be the point of locking you up?

If we had the ability to change people, lets say we reprogrammed them, then we could make sure that people don’t repeat their mistakes. Is your argument going to be that we should continue to rely on people to change themselves wasting a lot of resources in the process (jail ain’t cheap you know) all out of an misguided notion of freewill?

1) When it come to the discourse of consciousness, it must be noted that any study on consciousness is in its elementry stages. No one, not chomsky, not Harris, not Pinker, can say that they know for sure what consciousness is. In spite of this we know that it is there (Just like dark matter. No one knows what it is but they know that it is there and they know how it functions). As far as humans being different than computers this is just pure common sense. Your right, we are all made of atoms (In a way everything in the known universe is interconnected one way or another). I do not need to provide evidence about the distinction between humans and computers. Anything I say is automatically implied for the simple fact that its pure commons sense and emperical. Can a computer think? Can a computer interpret pain? Can a computer expereince suffering a pleasure? Can a computer philosophize? In other words, computers are limited to what is has been programmed to do, but for humans we have to the potential many other things. As far as other living organisims, physically I do not think humans are different than that of, lets say a dog but on a neruological level we are vastly different and this is something that we already know through observation and other studies. Secondly, I never implied that consciousness gives us freedom from cause and effect. I was stating that in regards to comparing computers and humans, consciousness is what gives us a little bit more liberty to make choices…Every event has a cause, a reason behind it. What I am saying is that all because Joey choose to do X does not mean that it is inevitable that Joey would choose to do X over W and Z if put in the same circumstance. Now in regards to making decisions in regards to cause and effect if you are stating that “the reason why I am typing this paper is due to the fact that my brain is sending a signal to fingers telling my fingers which letters to type therefore leading to this very long paragraph then of course, I would have to agree with you..In regards to determinism the fact that I am on this computer right now does not mean that I had no choice but to be at this computer, it just means that I choose to do so and given the same circumstances, I could choose to go for a walk, instead of jumping on the computer.

 

2) Ok, so we are on the same page..What irks me is that when I hear deterministic arguements, thoughts are always ignored and it is usually implied taht before we think, our brains have already made a decision of what to do without us being away of it…this I have a problem with.


3) hahaha. I’ll start with your last statment first. The reason why we lock up people is because we hold them responsible for their own actions, not because we think they can change themselves and we hold them accountable for that.  Now that you mention it though we do have to change ourselves. People can tell us what to do and give us the best advice but we have to make the choice to do it. Secondly if what you say is true about putting people on the right path how is it that about 80% of people who spent time in jail usually end right back in jail after they are released? Yes, Jail is not cheap but simply rehabilitating them is not going to make sure that they will never do it again…eventually it all comes down to the choices you make and what you are willing to do to change, to improve yourself and your right, we cannot trust everyone.

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Posted: 01 June 2011 11:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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Well, Sam most be getting some heat from his readers. Therefore, he posted another response on this website “proving” that no free will exists. The only hard evidence he supplies are the famous Libet experiments. Unfortunately, Sam hasn’t read Wikipedia. Otherwise he would have noticed that his interpretation of the results by no means is held unanimously, namely that they prove no free will exists. Let me therefore quote:

“A study conducted by Jeff Miller and Judy Trevena (2009)[15] suggests that the readiness potential (RP) signal in Libet’s experiments doesn’t represent a decision to move, but that it’s merely a sign that the brain is paying attention. In this experiment the classical Libet experiment was modified by playing an audio tone indicating to volunteers to decide whether to tap a key or not. The researchers found that there was the same RP signal in both cases, regardless of whether or not volunteers actually elected to tap, which suggests that the RP signal doesn’t indicate that a decision has been made”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience_of_free_will
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810009001135
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17835-free-will-is-not-an-illusion-after-all.html

Well well,... if I can refute his only scientific argument with a short glance at a wikipedia article, then I must say, Sam is not paying attention to his critics and not paying attention to their arguments.

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Posted: 01 June 2011 11:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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This is just an irrational overreaction to the religious idea of a soul.  It’s completely ridiculous to think we don’t make choices and we can’t think through and weigh our decisions against external data.  It’s amazing and amusing to watch people like Harris deny this reality in the name of ‘reason’.  Wait, there is no such thing as reason, it’s all a chemical reaction.  We are nothing, our thoughts aren’t ours, our brains aren’t ours.  And why did I write that?  And that?  Who am I?  “I”?? Huh?

To quote a dead person: “The idea of a meaningless universe is in itself a highly creative imaginative act. Animals, for example, could not imagine such an idiocy, so that the theory shows the incredible accomplishment of an obviously ordered mind and intellect that can imagine itself to be the result of nonorder, or chaos - [you have] a creature who is capable of mapping its own brain, imagining that the brain’s fantastic regulated order could emerge from a reality that itself has no meaning.”

Cheers! raspberry

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Posted: 02 June 2011 12:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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Let me refute his residual “arguments”. His first argument is: Free will doesn’t exist because our actions are completely determined by the laws of nature and preceding events. That’s his interpretation of the Libet experiment. The action potential in the brain causes the person to act. Therefore, no free will is involved.

Then someone answers: Hey, but the brain is not completely determined by preceding events and the laws of nature are not completely deterministic!? So the premise of your argument is false! You couldn’t prove your case and therefore the possibility of free will does exist!

Well, if true, that is a clear and irrefutable refutation of his original argument. This is how Sam Harris responds:

“If I were to learn that my decision to have a third cup of coffee this morning was due to a random release of neurotransmitters, how could the indeterminacy of the initiating event count as the free exercise of my will?”

Oh, but nobody claimed that the existence of non-predetermined events proves the existence of a free will. So Sam is responding to an argument nobody made. The observed indeterminacy doesn’t show that free will exists. It merely disproves his argument that free will is an illusion, because everything is predetermined. Sam can’t argue: Free will doesn’t exist, 1. because everything is predetermined or 2. not everything is predetermined. That’s absurd. But, that’s how he is arguing.

“And the indeterminacy specific to quantum mechanics offers no foothold. ” Really? Does Sam understand anything about quantum mechanics? I don’t think so!

“Even if our brains were quantum computers, the brains of chimps, dogs, and mice would be quantum computers as well.” So what!?

“And quantum effects are unlikely to be biologically salient in any case.” The very existence of a chemical bond - any kind of chemical bond - can only be explained with quantum mechanics. A chemical bond is a quantum mechanical state. Chemical bonds are irrelevant for biology!? DNA!? Think about it Sam! That’s scientifically nuts!

“But most neuroscientists do not view the brain as a quantum computer.” So what!? Most neuroscientists are honest enough to admit that they are only beginning to understand how the brain works. The models of the brain are incomplete and imprecise. Most neuroscientists admit that the brain is made up of atoms, whose behaviour is governed by the laws of physics. Sam appears to deny this or he is postulating some kind of two world thesis: The world of atoms governed by physics and the world of brains not governed by physics. Again, this position is scientifically nuts.

Repent Sam!, repent!

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