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Illusion of Freedom
Posted: 29 January 2012 08:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 91 ]  
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I’ll suggest that freedom is a matter of being able to do what you want to do when you want to do it, this not just just true for you, it’s true for everybody.  Since it is true not just for you, but for everyone, the matter of ethics emerges.  A person feels free when they are doing what they want to be doing, but I believe there should be consequences (and perhaps there are) when one persons freedom is depriving another persons freedom or sense of well being.  It is the general sense of well being that people are referring to when they refer to freedom IMO… the more well being we experience as a species the more freedom we experience as a species.

So freedom is not just a matter of doing what you want to be doing, it is a matter of this aligning with what makes sense to be doing with respect to the freedoms of others as well.

In saying this, I don’t think freedom is a mere illusion, the fact that we find ourselves doing what we want to be doing or experiencing what we want to be experiencing is not an illusion (and this is when people feel free), and the fact that when more people find themselves doing what they want to be doing we have more freedom, this too is also not an illusion.  So perhaps freedom is what we truly should be striving for, acquiring the most freedom, the greatest lump of that stuff we call a sense of well being as we possibly can collectively.  There are boundaries that are necessary to adhere to in order to achieve this, we have our differences and we have reality as it is that makes it true that one persons sense of freedom can be reducing the overall sense of freedom.

[ Edited: 29 January 2012 10:08 AM by 0username0]
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Posted: 07 February 2012 12:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 92 ]  
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Hi, I posted this on another forum as well, but just thought I’d see what you all have to say on it as well.
I am a firm believer in determinism.  I also do not believe in free will, but not entirely due to any sort of incompatibility with determinism.  Rather, I find the entire idea of free will to be completely nonsensical.
Free will as I understand it implies the ability to step outside the causal chain of the universe and make a decision based on…whatever is left.  It is some kind of an intermediary ability one exercises between having all the information relevant to a decision and narrowing down one’s options to just one action, the eventual choice.  But what exactly is left after you remove yourself from the causal chain of the universe?  It seems absurd to imagine that there could be anything else.  What form would this information possibly take?  I invite any believers in free will to please enlighten me if I have missed something.  It seems to me that everything that you are is based solely on genetics and experiences, both of which lie within the causal chain of the universe.
Now, where could this nonsensical illusion of “free will” come from?
I think that it is useful when discussing free will to also dip into the concept of control.  I feel like I am controlling an action or event when I consciously feel the desire to perform said action before or at least simultaneously with its actual occurrence.  When I type these words on the computer, for example, they are first processed through my consciousness.  After that, my fingers move on the keyboard and type them onto the page.  I identify these words with myself and believe I have caused them.  They are a manifestation of me.  If my thoughts did not precede the movements of my arms and fingers and my arms and hands started typing words on this computer “without me”, I daresay I would feel “possessed”.
When we extend this idea of control to the process of conscious thinking and decision-making, we have to reevaluate our standards for having control of something.  Notice that when we claim control of an action, we look no further than conscious mental events preceding its occurrence.  However, when claiming control of a decision, we have to then look for one or more thoughts that preceded it in order to claim control over the decision.  What notion of control can exist within one’s mind?  In my opinion, none can.
I think the illusion of free will comes from our rather unique skill of metacognition, the ability to think about thought, and from the extent to which we are conscious of our decision-making process.  This can probably be best explained with an example.  Let’s imagine a 33-year-old guy named James.  James works at a low-level position in a large company.  One day, James happens upon classified information revealing some form of corruption at a high level in the company.  He is now faced with a difficult decision of what to do with this information.  On the conscious level, how might this decision play out?  Well, first, James might ponder his options.  At this point in the decision-making process, there are innumerable options available:  he could jump off a bridge, blackmail the higher officials into giving him a raise or promotion, ignore the information, give the information to the police, create a pop song about the information, encode it and send it to the government, etc.  Immediately, however, some of these illusory options will be consciously ruled out as “real” options because they simply aren’t compatible with the kind of person James is.  For most people, jumping off a bridge would be immediately ruled out as an option in responding to the given situation.  However, if James happens to be particularly emotionally unstable and this last emotional problem became a tipping point, then perhaps jumping off a bridge would remain an option.  As the obvious illusory options are removed, James is left with a more realistic set of options.  Perhaps he now has to decide between three options: blackmailing the company officials, telling the police, and keeping the information to himself.  The next step for James would be to create a kind of mental pro-con list for each option.  James might also re-evaluate the information he has to see if he has missed anything important that might influence his decision.  The mark of a difficult decision is one that does not have sufficient information so as to make the decision obvious.  At that point, James will eventually pick the option that “feels the best” to him.  It is only until the end of the conscious process that James can realize there was only really one option: the one he took.  However, many people (mistakenly) look back on their thought process and think they could have done something different.
Again, I think the illusion of free will emerges primarily from our full consciousness of this entire process (rather than just the final decision).  With actions, we ascribe control to that which we consciously process before observing.  We mistakenly try to do this with our own thoughts as well.

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Posted: 08 February 2012 10:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 93 ]  
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We clearly have concepts for freedom, mainly, experiencing what you want to be experiencing.  This is when a person feels free.  So far as the concept of will is concerned, this is about what you want.  The question of freewill is are you experiencing a want that you want to be experiencing.  If not, there is a sense that there is not a freedom with respect to the will, if so then there is a sense that there is freedom with respect to the will.

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Posted: 08 February 2012 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 94 ]  
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0username0 - 08 February 2012 10:37 AM

We clearly have concepts for freedom, mainly, experiencing what you want to be experiencing.  This is when a person feels free.  So far as the concept of will is concerned, this is about what you want.  The question of freewill is are you experiencing a want that you want to be experiencing.  If not, there is a sense that there is not a freedom with respect to the will, if so then there is a sense that there is freedom with respect to the will.

I do not think your definition of freedom is really the type of freedom most people mean when they discuss free will.  You say that freedom is experiencing what you WANT to be experiencing.  What is important to realize is that wanting something is itself an experience.  Your definition of free will involves experiencing a desire to experience what you are experiencing.  I posit both that we do not always experience what we want to be experiencing and that we do not have control over what we want to be experiencing. 
My first claim is easy to defend just by looking at my life (I’m sure anyone can fing things like this in theirs.)  I do not want to desire food as often as I do.  The same calls for sleep.  I also wish I was more motivated to help other people and to spend less time lazing around.  There are all kinds of things that we want but wish we didn’t want.
My second claim, that we cannot control what it is that we want nor what we want to want, is less easy to see through experience.  The best explanation of this view simply lies with the fact that in order to change what we want, we have to experience a desire to change what we want.  We do not command this desire to change upon ourselves; desire to change simply happens to us.  Once we feel this desire, it becomes part of our will.
We cannot will what we will and it is hence not free.

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Posted: 10 February 2012 12:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 95 ]  
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madmanbob - 08 February 2012 12:47 PM
0username0 - 08 February 2012 10:37 AM

We clearly have concepts for freedom, mainly, experiencing what you want to be experiencing.  This is when a person feels free.  So far as the concept of will is concerned, this is about what you want.  The question of freewill is are you experiencing a want that you want to be experiencing.  If not, there is a sense that there is not a freedom with respect to the will, if so then there is a sense that there is freedom with respect to the will.

I do not think your definition of freedom is really the type of freedom most people mean when they discuss free will.  You say that freedom is experiencing what you WANT to be experiencing.  What is important to realize is that wanting something is itself an experience.  Your definition of free will involves experiencing a desire to experience what you are experiencing.  I posit both that we do not always experience what we want to be experiencing and that we do not have control over what we want to be experiencing. 
My first claim is easy to defend just by looking at my life (I’m sure anyone can fing things like this in theirs.)  I do not want to desire food as often as I do.  The same calls for sleep.  I also wish I was more motivated to help other people and to spend less time lazing around.  There are all kinds of things that we want but wish we didn’t want.
My second claim, that we cannot control what it is that we want nor what we want to want, is less easy to see through experience.  The best explanation of this view simply lies with the fact that in order to change what we want, we have to experience a desire to change what we want.  We do not command this desire to change upon ourselves; desire to change simply happens to us.  Once we feel this desire, it becomes part of our will.
We cannot will what we will and it is hence not free.

I think as far as the concepts go, when people refer to freedom (not freewill) they are referring to having an experience they want to be having.  The question of will gets to the want itself.  Do you or do you not actually want the want that you have?  I think when people are content with their wants, they experience what they consider freewill, and when they are not content with their wants they experience something other than freewill.  I do think these terms are definable, I do not think they are nonsense ideas.  I agree with you that circumstances can change peoples wants, and that perhaps we are not willing these circumstances into being, rather they are the result of our collective encounters with each other in life perhaps to some higher organizing principle in life which is to collect the greatest amount of freedom given our conditions.

[ Edited: 10 February 2012 12:15 PM by 0username0]
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Posted: 24 March 2012 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 96 ]  
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The fact that we can’t know where a particle is located precisely -> the particle is free to choose to be any where inside of the accuracy margins of its observer (it’s not exactly located in a certain location in the real world no mater who is looking at it).

How misleading can philosophy be by using the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in this way?

[ Edited: 24 March 2012 08:16 PM by reza]
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Posted: 18 June 2012 09:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 97 ]  
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“Does free will have to be conscious to be called free will?”

It is obvious that our bodies will obey the autonomous dictates of the unconscious brain stem and subconscious limbic system when it senses an emergency. Its like our left brain and frontal lobes—which seem to be where our conscious decision-making process tend to happen—is more like an adolescent that is left to its own choices until and unless there is an imperative need to follow the status-quo dictates of the subconscious “parent brain”.

Normally we think of the conscious “free will” aspect of the mind as the most mature and the part of our human intellect (or at least the most evolutionary-advanced part). We assume that it carries the most authority and power over what our actions will be. It does have the ability to override certain impulses in order to remain “socially acceptable”.

But it seems more to me like our conscious free will is an experiment that is only allowed free reign in times of “peace”. Whenever there is something that threatens our inner “status-quo” the more powerful and dominant parts of our brain pull the plug on conscious decision making and revert to the automatic “tried and true” response.

This automatic “tried and true response system” seems to be directly tied to the “survival skills” we learn in childhood. So if those skills were based on a dysfunctional family system, or even based on religious fundamentalism, then the dominant aspects of the adult personality will not demonstrate effective, rational ways to handle present time conflict. The person will fail to adapt responsively to new paradigms on offer by his or her environment.

I think that unconscious conflict is directly tied to what worked then versus what is expected of us now.  Children that were neglected will neglect themselves despite the ability to do otherwise as adults. Abused children become abusers or find codependent relationships to carry on the victim role into adulthood. They do it unconsciously and even when they begin to recognize the patterns in therapy they still continue to be attracted to scenarios that use their ability to survive dysfunctional systems instead of being attracted to new healthy systems to get their life needs met. Many abused women in therapy say “I am just not attracted to healthy men…”.

Bottom line: If we do have something that can be termed “free will” then it has to reside in the subconscious, parent brain, and not in our conscious cognitive mind.

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Posted: 27 June 2012 01:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 98 ]  
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Hey guys,

I need some help understanding all this. I have two questions.

First of all, and i may answer this myself, I’m confused on what Sam means when he says we don’t have free will. Is he just referring to the “illusion of the self”? As in, we don’t actually have an active mind (?), etc? I think the phase “free will” confuses me.

Next, I was watching a speech of his and he said that many people, after reading his book, ask him what our purpose is and why shouldn’t we just give up on life. I do believe he explained (or started to) why to not give up, but I either didn’t watch the rest or forgot. Could someone fill me in? When arguing with my friends, etc. they often bring up that point and i’d like to know how to respond.

Thanks a lot guys!

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Posted: 28 June 2012 07:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 99 ]  
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I think this is one of Sam Harris’s finest talks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCofmZlC72g If you take the time to listen to it with your undivided attention, I am sure you will have your questions answered

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Posted: 04 August 2012 03:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 100 ]  
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Hello Jkernen,
I’ll take a stab at it.


Imagine how ineffective Science would be if researchers had to disprove every new theory that came their way. This is why, logically, the burden of proof rests with the person proposing a new hypothesis.  If one wishes to argue free will then it’s up to that person to present reasonable evidence for its existence.  But this, as it turns out, is very difficult to do.  Inevitably, free will becomes a metaphysical argument of faith.
Suppose, for example, that you were born to Chinese parents in the city of Peking.  What language would you speak?  What about your religious, political, and food preferences?  And would you have made those choices freely?  Is it possible that most of what you do and think is determined by antecedents, that is, what came before in your life- the environment you’ve been exposed to throughout your life?
When arguing free will you are saying that your history of learning (and possibly genetics) has had no impact on decision making- that there is this “thing” out there that operates independent of any outside influence whatsoever—and that, to me is an unsatisfying answer.

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Posted: 05 August 2012 04:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 101 ]  
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Wreck of M Deare - 04 August 2012 03:24 PM

....
Suppose, for example, that you were born to Chinese parents in the city of Peking.  What language would you speak?  What about your religious, political, and food preferences?  And would you have made those choices freely?  Is it possible that most of what you do and think is determined by antecedents, that is, what came before in your life- the environment you’ve been exposed to throughout your life?
When arguing free will you are saying that your history of learning (and possibly genetics) has had no impact on decision making- that there is this “thing” out there that operates independent of any outside influence whatsoever—and that, to me is an unsatisfying answer.

I would like to answer your questions.

The idea that free will presupposes that man is not influenced by his environment is a straw man. No one would argue that people are not influenced by their surrounding or genetic predispositions. There are definitely limits to free will. For example, you can’t fly by spreading your arms and jumping off of a tower, even if you wanted to. If you turn out to be male (genetically determined), you most probably will be sexually attracted to females. Why? Because you spread your genome by making females pregnant. This in turn increases the likelihood for the survival of your species and your own genes.

But, conversely, this doesn’t mean that your actions are completely determined by your surrounding. There are definitely males who are not attracted to females, in spite of their genes and evolutionary predisposition to reproduce with females.

Finally, there is no use in trying to shift the burden of proof around. We are trying to explain human behavior. One theory posits that human behavior is entirely determined by external factors (determinism). However, these theorists cannot predict human behavior according to their theory.

Another theory posits that this is not true, but that people may be influenced by their environment but that they do make decisions and act according to their decisions. So this explains the unpredictability of human behavior. The external influence may increase or decrease the likelihood for a particular action, but it doesn’t determine the action. Just like the belief in jihad martyrdom increases the likelihood of performing a suicide bombing, although most believers actually do not perform suicide attacks.

The answer to the question, which theory is right depends on how accurately these theories describe human behavior and whether they are consistent with logic.

Regards

Kikl

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Posted: 06 August 2012 09:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 102 ]  
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Hello Jkernan


“I think the phrase “free will” confuses me.”
Actually, Jkernan, it confuses many people


Within the philosophy of Science, falsifiability or refutability is a quality or characteristic of a scientific hypothesis. You’ll note that in my previous post I did not refute the possibility of “free will”.  And there is a good reason for this—it’s called the “black swan problem”.  In Europe, prior to the age of exploration everyone knew swans were white – there were NO black swans.  But a negative statement is often difficult or impossible to prove.  Unless you’ve scoured the universe, you can’t be sure that something doesn’t exist.  A positive statement, on the other hand, can be proven—to demonstrate there are white swans, you simply produce a white swan.  This is why, when presenting a hypothesis, you must argue from the positive, in this instance, that there is free will.  The Scientific literature is rife with evidence for the influence of genetics, personal history, and environment on behavior, and despite arguments to the contrary, the predictability of behavior.  The difference, then, is that those approaching an issue from a Scientific viewpoint are never quite sure while those refuting Science are almost always “sure”.  The real danger with the concept “free will” is that it’s an explanatory fiction—why did this person commit a horrible crime? Well, he did it of his own free will—end of story, end of inquiry.  The question is which approach seems more rational to you.
 
Oh, and by the way, in 1790 black swans (Cygnus atratus) were discovered in Australia.

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Posted: 06 August 2012 09:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 103 ]  
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Wreck of M Deare - 06 August 2012 09:23 AM

Hello Jkernan


“I think the phrase “free will” confuses me.”
Actually, Jkernan, it confuses many people


Within the philosophy of Science, falsifiability or refutability is a quality or characteristic of a scientific hypothesis. You’ll note that in my previous post I did not refute the possibility of “free will”.  And there is a good reason for this—it’s called the “black swan problem”.  In Europe, prior to the age of exploration everyone knew swans were white – there were NO black swans.  But a negative statement is often difficult or impossible to prove.  Unless you’ve scoured the universe, you can’t be sure that something doesn’t exist.  A positive statement, on the other hand, can be proven—to demonstrate there are white swans, you simply produce a white swan.  This is why, when presenting a hypothesis, you must argue from the positive, in this instance, that there is free will.  The Scientific literature is rife with evidence for the influence of genetics, personal history, and environment on behavior, and despite arguments to the contrary, the predictability of behavior.  The difference, then, is that those approaching an issue from a Scientific viewpoint are never quite sure while those refuting Science are almost always “sure”.  The real danger with the concept “free will” is that it’s an explanatory fiction—why did this person commit a horrible crime? Well, he did it of his own free will—end of story, end of inquiry.  The question is which approach seems more rational to you.
 
Oh, and by the way, in 1790 black swans (Cygnus atratus) were discovered in Australia.

This is a complete misrepresentation of the present scientific situation.

“....despite arguments to the contrary, the predictability of behavior”

There exists no theory that may accurately predict human behavior. If so, then please present it! Why do we watch sports events like the Olympic games, if the outcome of the competition could easily be predicted?

“The difference, then, is that those approaching an issue from a Scientific viewpoint are never quite sure while those refuting Science are almost always “sure”“

This is not an dispute between “science” and “non-science”. The idea that there exists a free will is a scientific proposition. So proclaiming that anyone who differs from your opinion as being unscientific is cheap propaganda.

If you think that human behavior is completely predetermined without having a working theory that allows the precise prediction of human behavior, you are performing a leap of faith.

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Posted: 09 August 2012 09:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 104 ]  
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kikl - 06 August 2012 09:35 AM
Wreck of M Deare - 06 August 2012 09:23 AM

Hello Jkernan


“I think the phrase “free will” confuses me.”
Actually, Jkernan, it confuses many people


Within the philosophy of Science, falsifiability or refutability is a quality or characteristic of a scientific hypothesis. You’ll note that in my previous post I did not refute the possibility of “free will”.  And there is a good reason for this—it’s called the “black swan problem”.  In Europe, prior to the age of exploration everyone knew swans were white – there were NO black swans.  But a negative statement is often difficult or impossible to prove.  Unless you’ve scoured the universe, you can’t be sure that something doesn’t exist.  A positive statement, on the other hand, can be proven—to demonstrate there are white swans, you simply produce a white swan.  This is why, when presenting a hypothesis, you must argue from the positive, in this instance, that there is free will.  The Scientific literature is rife with evidence for the influence of genetics, personal history, and environment on behavior, and despite arguments to the contrary, the predictability of behavior.  The difference, then, is that those approaching an issue from a Scientific viewpoint are never quite sure while those refuting Science are almost always “sure”.  The real danger with the concept “free will” is that it’s an explanatory fiction—why did this person commit a horrible crime? Well, he did it of his own free will—end of story, end of inquiry.  The question is which approach seems more rational to you.
 
Oh, and by the way, in 1790 black swans (Cygnus atratus) were discovered in Australia.

This is a complete misrepresentation of the present scientific situation.

“....despite arguments to the contrary, the predictability of behavior”

There exists no theory that may accurately predict human behavior. If so, then please present it! Why do we watch sports events like the Olympic games, if the outcome of the competition could easily be predicted?

“The difference, then, is that those approaching an issue from a Scientific viewpoint are never quite sure while those refuting Science are almost always “sure”“

This is not an dispute between “science” and “non-science”. The idea that there exists a free will is a scientific proposition. So proclaiming that anyone who differs from your opinion as being unscientific is cheap propaganda.

If you think that human behavior is completely predetermined without having a working theory that allows the precise prediction of human behavior, you are performing a leap of faith.

 

It is the brain, using its survival oriented program, that “decides” when presented with options.
The sense of self emerges after the so called decision and claims responsibility.
Given the choice between coffee or orange juice the brain processes innumerable factors that are deeply beyond personal awareness.
The brain “decides” for one or the other in the only way it can.
In that sense what it decides, even its change of mind, is inevitable but not predictable.

 

 

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Posted: 10 August 2012 05:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 105 ]  
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toombaru - 09 August 2012 09:33 PM
kikl - 06 August 2012 09:35 AM
Wreck of M Deare - 06 August 2012 09:23 AM

Hello Jkernan


“I think the phrase “free will” confuses me.”
Actually, Jkernan, it confuses many people


Within the philosophy of Science, falsifiability or refutability is a quality or characteristic of a scientific hypothesis. You’ll note that in my previous post I did not refute the possibility of “free will”.  And there is a good reason for this—it’s called the “black swan problem”.  In Europe, prior to the age of exploration everyone knew swans were white – there were NO black swans.  But a negative statement is often difficult or impossible to prove.  Unless you’ve scoured the universe, you can’t be sure that something doesn’t exist.  A positive statement, on the other hand, can be proven—to demonstrate there are white swans, you simply produce a white swan.  This is why, when presenting a hypothesis, you must argue from the positive, in this instance, that there is free will.  The Scientific literature is rife with evidence for the influence of genetics, personal history, and environment on behavior, and despite arguments to the contrary, the predictability of behavior.  The difference, then, is that those approaching an issue from a Scientific viewpoint are never quite sure while those refuting Science are almost always “sure”.  The real danger with the concept “free will” is that it’s an explanatory fiction—why did this person commit a horrible crime? Well, he did it of his own free will—end of story, end of inquiry.  The question is which approach seems more rational to you.
 
Oh, and by the way, in 1790 black swans (Cygnus atratus) were discovered in Australia.

This is a complete misrepresentation of the present scientific situation.

“....despite arguments to the contrary, the predictability of behavior”

There exists no theory that may accurately predict human behavior. If so, then please present it! Why do we watch sports events like the Olympic games, if the outcome of the competition could easily be predicted?

“The difference, then, is that those approaching an issue from a Scientific viewpoint are never quite sure while those refuting Science are almost always “sure”“

This is not an dispute between “science” and “non-science”. The idea that there exists a free will is a scientific proposition. So proclaiming that anyone who differs from your opinion as being unscientific is cheap propaganda.

If you think that human behavior is completely predetermined without having a working theory that allows the precise prediction of human behavior, you are performing a leap of faith.

 

It is the brain, using its survival oriented program, that “decides” when presented with options.
The sense of self emerges after the so called decision and claims responsibility.
Given the choice between coffee or orange juice the brain processes innumerable factors that are deeply beyond personal awareness.
The brain “decides” for one or the other in the only way it can.
In that sense what it decides, even its change of mind, is inevitable but not predictable.

 

 

If the “decision” is inevitably determined by external factors then it is indeed predictable! All you need to know are the external factors. Sorry, you can’t wiggle your way out of this contradiction!

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