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    Freedom and Free Will
    By Gerhard Adam | July 4th 2009 04:20 PM | 39 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Despite the glib use with which people invoke the idea of freedom. Freedom is a scary concept. The ability to do absolutely anything one wishes is simply overwhelming.

    Of course, in practice this isn’t really what we mean by freedom. Instead we immediately begin putting restrictions on it so that it isn’t simply chaos. Of course, we can’t behave in anyway that is outside the bounds of our physical bodies. We can’t simply will ourselves to fly. We can’t simply hold our breath indefinitely. So there are some obvious boundaries that every creature encounters when considering its “freedom”.

    This brings us more into line with a concept in mechanics which identifies the “degrees of freedom” that an object possesses. In other words, it describes the possible paths of motion it may take, based on the restrictiveness of its architecture or design.

    Similarly, we have degrees of freedom that will limit what we can actually experience or do. In a social environment, these degrees of freedom are further restricted to promote coexistence between members and to minimize the intrusions of one individual’s “freedom” into another’s. While we tend to pride ourselves in creating free societies, in truth, it isn’t freedom as much as order and predictability that we desire. It would seem that the average individual’s concept of freedom is simply the desire to be “left alone” by potentially intrusive outside forces (i.e. government, business, etc.). In other words, the desire to be left alone focuses on those entities that are in the most powerful positions to further limit the degrees of freedom one can have.

    Going a step farther, it would seem that one of the biggest obstacles to freedom is our own inhibitions. Which brings us to the second issue; free will.

    Free will is subject to the same “degrees of freedom” constraint that our physical freedom has, however, this is a more complex subject because we have the apparent capability of deciding on any abstraction that we can conceive of. Our brains wrestle with concepts like infinity as if they possessed a physical reality. Herein lies the first difficulty, which is the degree to which our imagination is limited in granting the full range of “free” thought. How does one differentiate between a creative new thought versus the thousands and millions of ideas that we are exposed to through our education and society influences? Are we truly thinking freely or are we simply being influenced by other viewpoints that coincide with beliefs we already accept?

    As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the belief system represents the data organization mechanism of the brain so that concepts can be included or excluded based on the framework that defines the worldview. Therefore, one restriction of free will is that it must fit into our existing framework to even be considered as a possibility.

    This particular aspect of brain function and data organization is especially pervasive because it defines the possible outcomes we accept based on the belief system we use. This is most strikingly demonstrated by various methods of coercion, propagandizing, and “brainwashing” that can occur which undermines the brain’s belief system and the power to differentiate our thoughts. These methods are specifically used to direct the “free will” of an individual into specific directions. Similar to the idea of hypnotic suggestions, this clearly illustrates that the brain is capable of being manipulated to perform in very specific, directed ways.

    What we have to consider then, is that the brain was ALWAYS directed in some fashion, and that these methods simply re-direct (or reprogram) the brain according to whoever wants to exert the influence. But it seems implausible that such thoughts and decision-making could be redirected if they weren’t already structured in such a manner to begin with.

    As with the case of hypnotic suggestions, false memories have been recovered, which clearly demonstrates how our data acquisition and filtering mechanisms can be compromised. In addition, it has been said that a hypnotized subject can’t be compelled to act in a manner that opposes their strict moral values, but it seems that even this is a bit overstated, since the context would be the determining factor in how successful such an attempt was.

    In general, there is no question that our minds have a significant number of “degrees of freedom” which will be determined by our brain, experience, knowledge, and belief systems. This creates an environment where literally millions of possible thoughts can come together. However, options are limited by the same constraints which define us as social beings with all its attendant inhibitions and prohibitions.

    So how “free” is our ability to think? Can we ever be sure that our belief in free will isn’t simply a product of our beliefs that have been passed on to us by others? How could we ever determine that a particular decision was truly “free” as opposed to being a composite of everything that we are mentally? Is my decision to write this blog entry a product of “free will”, or is it simply a directly predictable consequence of who I am given the opportunity for such expression?

    It is for this reason, that I’ve concluded that “free will” falls squarely into the domain of philosophy, because there is no objective way to determine its existence, nor to establish its range of functioning. I believe that we have free will to the degree that we can operate within the parameters of our mind’s worldview, but we cannot easily move outside that realm.

    Comments

    kerrjac
    Despite the glib use with which people invoke the idea of freedom. Freedom is a scary concept. The ability to do absolutely anything one wishes is simply overwhelming.

    Nice post.

    One side of the coin - as you focus on - looks at freedom&shows that we're really not as "free" to do "anything" as we might at first consider.

    The flip side however is that freedom is everywhere & we just don't realize it. This perspective has it's own scary-like feelings attached, but it's a little different than I think what you were referring to. It's that feeling you get when you're growing up & you realize that your parents aren't experts at how the world works, they're just grown up kids, who are making it up as the go along like everyone else. That various types of authority have degrees of artificiality. That you can look at the world critically without having extra degrees added after your name, & that the more self-proclaimed experts in a field explicitly proclaim that they're experts in the field, the less likely they'll actually turn out to be experts.

    The latter view is more in line with how I tend to see things - that freedom is all about, only it has various degrees of explicitness or implicitness as recognized by people. All fascist dictators may act the same, but even the most rigid fascist dictator has to make some choices on his own.
    Gerhard Adam
    The flip side however is that freedom is everywhere&we just don't realize it. This perspective has it's own scary-like feelings attached, but it's a little different than I think what you were referring to.
    Actually that's very much a part of it.  I used to do alot of backpacking in the wilderness for weeks at a time and one of the strangest feelings was the realization that you had absolute freedom when you were there.  Of course, the first problem was that you had absolutely no idea what to do with it and when presented with a problem you realized just how "alone" you really were.

    People often talk about nature being "hostile", but the point I'm making is that accompanying all this freedom was the tremendous feeling of "indifference" you got regarding nature.  The canyons, the mountains, the animals, the world .... had absolutely no interest in whether you knew what you were doing or not.  If you screwed up there were plenty of organisms prepared to make a meal of you as let you walk by.  In short, you realized that having freedom also meant that you were unequivocally on your own in terms of success or failure. 

    I have a photo that I've dubbed the "price of freedom" which shows a lone wolf in the artic tundra walking away from the photographer at sunset.  The photo conveys the sense of leaving all the security of the photographer's camp behind for a night of being alone, in the dark, and in the cold.  Yet, this is precisely what it means to be wild and to be free.  After all, wild is just another word for free.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Fred Pauser
    It is for this reason, that I’ve concluded that “free will” falls squarely into the domain of philosophy, because there is no objective way to determine its existence, nor to establish its range of functioning. I believe that we have free will to the degree that we can operate within the parameters of our mind’s worldview, but we cannot easily move outside that realm.




    Gerhard, you have yourself provided examples of instances in which human will has been objectively demonstrated to be manipulated by outside forces. False memory syndrome is a good example. (Elizabeth Loftus has done scientific experiments on this.)



    You say there is no objective way to determine the existence of free will, yet you apparently accept its existence (to some degree) anyway. Are you saying then, that your belief in some degree of free will is merely a subjective opinion?



    Has free will or no-free-will been scientifically confirmed? No. However, evidence is mounting, particularly through the study of neurobiology, toward no free will.



    As long as we don’t feel coerced, our choices seem free. But I invite people to examine their own choices to the source. For example, suppose Xyz has the opportunity to have an ice cream cone, and the choice is between chocolate and vanilla. Xyz is firm about wanting chocolate, not vanilla. Seems like a free choice. How did it come about? Years earlier, Xyz experienced both chocolate and vanilla, and *discovered* that the taste of chocolate provided a more pleasant sensation. (More endorphins, I suppose.) So the later choice of chocolate had been established by the person’s biochemistry, so strictly speaking, was not a free choice. (We see here also the pleasure/pain principle in effect, as usual.)



    Now suppose Xyz is to have a job interview and really wants the job. The boss and Xyz meet at a restaurant. For desert, the boss orders vanilla ice cream. Xyz decides to override the preference for chocolate and orders vanilla, in the hope that this hint of common interest might help land the job. So we have here the need for a job (survival, pleasure/pain), and the desire for this particular job (pleasure/pain), that controlled the decision to order vanilla.



    I suggest that every decision we make is the result of a chain of cause-and-effect circumstances. It can be especially instructive to examine one’s personal mistakes, errors in judgment. Trace them back as far as possible.



    In any case, as you have pointed out, both our freedom and “free will” are certainly constrained to some extent.



    I believe that ultimately, nature calls the shots. This is not a bad situation. Nature is wonderful and awesome. We are products of it, and expressions of it.
    Gerhard Adam
    This is one reason why I prefer to think of it in terms of "degrees of freedom".  It's not absolutely free, and it certainly is constrained by everything from our biochemistry to our indoctrination.  However, within those bounds we aren't not automatically compelled towards a response.
    Mundus vult decipi
    LauraHult
    This is one reason why I prefer to think of it in terms of "degrees of
    freedom".  It's not absolutely free, and it certainly is constrained by
    everything from our biochemistry to our indoctrination.  However,
    within those bounds we aren't not automatically compelled towards a
    response
    .

    Great blog, Gerhard.  Your degrees of freedom analogy makes a good deal of sense and inspired a re-watch of the TOS episode "A Taste of Armageddon":
    ___________________________________________
    Anan:  Do you realize what you've done?

    Kirk:  Yes I do.  I've given you back the horrors of war.  The Vendicans will now assume you've broken your agreement and are preparing to wage real war with real weapons.  They'll want to do the same.  Only the next attack they launch will do a lot more than count up numbers on a computer.  They'll destroy your cities, devastate your planet.  You of course will want to retaliate.  If I were you, I'd start making bombs.  Yes, Councilman, you have a real war on your hands.  You can either wage it with real weapons, or you might consider an alternative.  Put an end to it.  Make peace.

    Anan:  There can be no peace!  Don't you see, we've admitted it to ourselves.  We're a killer species, it's instinctive.  It's the same with you…your General order 24!

    Kirk:  Alright, it's instinctive.  But the instinct can be fought.  We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years.  But we can stop it.  We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today.  That's all it takes.  Knowing that we're not going to kill...today!
    _________________________________________
    That's all it takes.  Self-determination, personal responsibility, and self-control in the face of whatever bio and neurochemistry we've inherited.  Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we fail miserably, but I think it's the willingness to overcome out inheritance that is the important factor.
    Gerhard Adam
    Knowing that we're not going to kill...today!

    I always loved Kirk's response.  It seemed to encapsulate the idea that we don't need to deny our natures, but having a brain meant that we had to determine how that nature was going to manifest itself at any point.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Fred Pauser
    That's all it takes. [one day at a time, the instinct can be fought] Self-determination, personal responsibility, and self-control in the face of whatever bio and neurochemistry we've inherited. … I think it’s the willingness to overcome our inheritance that is the important factor.




    We not only inherited our instincts, we also inherited (had no control over) the culture into which we were born and raised, which shaped our personalities and provided our knowledge and way of thinking as we grew up.



    Besides exhibiting a warring nature, we are also social creatures. We have inherited a capacity to cooperate, which is in large part responsible for our fantastic technology and a population of 6.5 billion on earth.



    We also inherited the drive toward satisfaction of our needs, and the desire to avoid pain. That is likely what kept us out of nuclear war with the USSR during the cold war of the last century, not one day-at-a-time “self control” against our instincts. It is the totality of who and what we are that kept us out of that highly possible war.



    “Self determination?” What is the self composed of? Did not evolution, nature, determine who and what we are?



    I find it ironic that you resort to a work of *fiction* to make your point; and Gerhard uses the fictional “Larry Diamond!”
    Fred Pauser
    It's not absolutely free, and it certainly is constrained by everything from our biochemistry to our indoctrination. However, within those bounds we aren't not automatically compelled towards a response.




    What exactly is it that a person can draw upon to make a decision that over-rides biochemistry (genetics,) and indoctrination (culture and information)? What can be utilized ourside of “nature and nurture”? it sound like you are describing what a few philosophers call “contra-causal free will.”
    Gerhard Adam
    I think the point is that we are not helpless products of our biochemistry or our culture.  We can choose to disagree and we can choose our own paths (albeit with the influences of our lives in tow).

    The point is that the brain is the engine of variation.  If it wasn't possible to vary its behavior, there'd be no point in having a brain.  Therefore if it can vary, it is possible for it to abstract solutions that may be cobbled together from a variety of experiences (even fictional ideas).  It is from this source, that our ability to "think outside the box" comes from.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam

    I don't think so.  Consider other scenarios where we have to exert our will.  Suppose my "nature and nurture" environment produced an individual that is afraid of heights.  I could decide that 1) I want to correct that situation, or 2) choose to ignore the fear (in effect, to simply "fight" my way through it.  I clearly had to do something that was outside my natural tendencies and my indoctrination to take that step.

    Similarly, we can change our responses to situations by training, whether it be in athletics or whatever, so that we gain more control (and options) for situations we may be in.  Whether it be mastering a musical instrument where the choices may be in determing which note should be played next when improvising a solo.  It may be in learning a fighting style so that the response to a confrontation affords more options and choices.

    Our nature dictates what our mind/body is capable of, while our nurture also creates an environment for these influences to form.  However, in making the choices I've indicated above, there is something that allows us to change the direction of our training and attitudes which cannot be casually linked to nature/nurture alone.  Once I've engaged with this training, then more options and choices are made available to me, which are a direct result of my deciding to train myself rather than simply respond to my intrinsic nature/nurture state.

    Perhaps part of the process that involves "free will" is also linked to the creative capability of the brain, since it would be hard to argue that creativity is a deterministic result of nature/nurture.  Obviously, whatever processes occur, they are intimately linked so that it isn't possible to point to some specific thing and say ... "there it is".  But it also seems that we can't rule out some degree of free will being present, even if it's not necessarily part of everyday thought processes or decision-making.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Fred Pauser
    Gerhard,



    Thank you for your gallant defense of free will !!



    Our nature dictates what our mind/body is capable of, while our nurture also creates an environment for these influences to form. However, in making the choices I've indicated above, there is something that allows us to change the direction of our training and attitudes which cannot be casually [causally] linked to nature/nurture alone. Once I've engaged with this training, then more options and choices are made available to me, which are a direct result of my deciding to train myself rather than simply respond to my intrinsic nature/nurture state.




    Galen Strawson is a philosopher who was addressed the free will issue very eloquently (IMHO). The following are his words which I think address your comment above in a succinct manner:





    (1) It is undeniable that one is the way one is, initially, as a result of heredity and early experience.



    (2) It is undeniable that these are things for which one cannot be held to be in any way responsible (this might not be true if there were reincarnation, but reincarnation would just shift the problem backwards).



    (3) One cannot at any later stage of one’s life hope to accede to true or ultimate responsibility for the way one is by trying to change the way one already is as a result of one’s heredity and previous experience.



    For one may well try to change oneself, but



    (4) both the particular way in which one is moved to try to change oneself, and the degree of one’s success in one’s attempt at change, will be determined by how one already is as a result of heredity and previous experience.



    And



    (5) any further changes that one can bring about only after one has brought about certain initial changes will in turn be determined, via the initial changes, by heredity and previous experience.



    (6) This may not be the whole story, for it may be that some changes in the way one is are traceable to the influence of indeterministic or random factors.



    But



    (7) it is foolish to suppose that indeterministic or random factors, for which one is ex hypothesi in no way responsible, can in themselves contribute to one’s being truly or ultimately responsible for how one is.



    The claim, then, is not that people cannot change the way they are. They can, in certain respects (which tend to be exaggerated by North Americans and underestimated, perhaps, by members of many other cultures). The claim is only that people cannot be supposed to change themselves in such a way as to be or become truly or ultimately responsible for the way they are, and hence for their actions. One can put the point by saying that the way you are is, ultimately, in every last detail, a matter of luck—good or bad.



    - - - - - - - - - -



    For more of Strawson’s thoughts on FW you may enjoy psychologist Tamler Sommers’ interview of him at:

    http://www.believermag.com/issues/200303/?read=interview_strawson



    (Strawson has a book out called Freedom and Belief, but I have not yet decided if I want to spend the price of $85 for it.)



    You wrote:

    I'm not disputing the fact that we are biological machines. Of this there can be little doubt. However, if it were simply being an automaton, then it would seem plausible that artificial intelligence could also be developed since it would only represent an increase in complexity. However, it is my contention that artificial intelligence could never be achieved because no matter how well you build a computer, it would never have the emotional connection nor motivation that is intrinsic in biological organisms. In other words, an inanimate object can never be as vested in survival as an organism that has the emergent property called "life". It is this tiny gap that suggests (to me) that there is room for "free will".




    As luck would have it, I stumbled across an article that provides interesting insights in regard to your thoughts above. The following is a quote from Giving Computer Free Will:



    “Counterfactual statements are the building blocks of scientific thought and moral behavior. The ability to reflect back on one's actions and envision alternative scenarios is the basis of free will, introspective learning, personal responsibility and social adaptation. Equipping machines with such abilities is therefore necessary for achieving cooperative behavior among robots and humans. The algorithmization of counterfactuals now brings us a giant step closer to understanding why evolution has endowed humans with the illusion of free will, and how it manages to keep that illusion so vivid in our brain.”



    The full article is at:

    http://www.forbes.com/2009/06/18/computers-free-will-opinions-contributo...



    - - - - - - - - -



    I get a charge from Neitzsche’s comment about “freedom of the will.”:



    “The causa sui is the best self-contradiction that has been conceived so far; it is a sort of rape and perversion of logic. But the extravagant pride of man has managed to entangle itself profoundly and frightfully with just this nonsense. The desire for “freedom of the will” in the superlative metaphysical sense, which still holds sway, unfortunately, in the minds of the half-educated; the desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibility for one’s actions oneself, and to absolve God, the world, ancestors, chance, and society involves nothing less than to be precisely this causa sui and, with more than Baron Münchhausen’s audacity, to pull oneself up into existence by the hair, out of the swamps of nothingness.”
    Gerhard Adam

    It is ironic that I should find myself in the position of defending "free will" regardless of how tenuous the concept seems, since I have never been a strong proponent of it.  However, where I run into the problem (and this is where the computer analogy comes in), is that I can't accept the idea that the human brain is completely deterministic.

    Now the contradiction, is that we know that it is deterministic, but I think my inclination is to view it as a chaotic system whereby we can't ever truly know all the initial conditions, so the behavior shown is not random or merely unpredictable, but that it can actually give rise to totally unexpected behaviors.  It is from this, that I'm construing "free will" to exist. 

    Even your point about computers and free will, I think, begs the question which is that experience isn't simply about information.  It's the difference between flying a flight simulator and flying an actual airplane.  There is a point at which you have a clearly vested interest in the outcome which affects your psychology when applied to a problem (that can never be present in a machine).  I've often commented that you could build a machine that could beat me at chess, but you'd never have one that cared that it did.

    It's those motivating forces that give rise to the "chaotic" potential we have that leads us to those singular moments of "free will".  This probably sounds like gibberish, but it's as close as I can come right now to try and suggest that there is "something extra" there.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam

    Fred;

    Where I tend to think of "free will" is in the domain of our belief systems and abstraction processes.  We do have the ability to go against our basic "programming" and adjust the boundaries of what we consider to represent our reality.  In the same way that someone outside can manipulate our mind, so can we ourselves. 

    I'm not suggesting that it doesn't require some effort, but since it is possible, I have to conclude that we do have a means of determining that we don't like how our mind is arranged, and make changes.

    To paraphase a fictional character, Larry Diamond (1), when he indicates that he recently rearranged all the furniture in his brain, and like any new room he keeps bumping into things that he forgot were there.... until he gets used to it.

    This ability is where I see "free will" existing.

    (1) Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, Tom Robbins

    Mundus vult decipi
    Fred Pauser
    Where I tend to think of "free will" is in the domain of our belief systems and abstraction processes. We do have the ability to go against our basic "programming" and adjust the boundaries of what we consider to represent our reality. In the same way that someone outside can manipulate our mind, so can we ourselves.






    Free will may seem apparent in regard to our belief systems. If we do adjust our “basic programming,” isn’t it because we have new information that conflicts with our program? Or we feel dissatisfied and look for something else? In other words, if we succeed in changing our beliefs, there are causes that bring that about. The desire to change, new information, or whatever leads to the change is caused, it does not just come out of thin air.



    Changing some undesirable aspect of our own behavior is generally more difficult than changing beliefs, and in many cases the attempt is not successful.





    This is one reason why I prefer to think of it in terms of "degrees of freedom". It's not absolutely free, and it certainly is constrained by everything from our biochemistry to our indoctrination. However, within those bounds we [are] not automatically compelled towards a response.




    Yes, most people, including me, feel repelled by the notion that we may be just automatons, robots. Intuitively this just seems false. But logical analysis seems to indicate that we are “machines,” – as Mark Twain described extensively in his essay, “What is Man?”



    But how can we counter Twain’s logic? Perhaps the area in which it most seems like we exercise free will is in creative endeavors. When we brainstorm, invent, and come up with something the world has never seen, doesn’t that reflect free will? This seems to somewhat belie the automaton image.



    The universe is obviously very creative. We are one of its many inventions. So, since nature has endowed us with sufficient abilities to be creative, it’s not surprising that indeed we are creative. As I described in Laura’s article randomness is a characteristic of nature. This means that the creativity of nature and humans is not entirely predictable, which imparts a sense of freedom to our explorations and endeavors. If there is a Creative Intelligence, a God, perhaps even he/she/it can not know exactly how evolution will unfold. Nevertheless, even random mutations are naturally caused, as are random aspects and chance discoveries of our creative work. Human will reflects the nature of evolution, but the will is not free. There seems to be a cause or causes behind every whim, thought, deed.



    So far, (in a nutshell) that’s the best I can do toward resolving the robot problem.
    Gerhard Adam
    I agree with much of what you say.  However, I would also consider the role of the frontal lobes of the brain and the role they play in inhibiting behaviors and responses.  This would suggest that we have our own internal "censor" that ensures that we don't run completely amok.

    There's no question that we could be the ultimate reductionists and find evidence that links every thought to some electro-chemical reaction, which could be further reduced to some atomic-molecular interactions, which no doubt are the result of some other chemical reaction which is established by our genes. 

    Even your point about random processes carries the problem of how "random" are things really when we can establish the initial conditions.  We know from physics that there are some aspects of the sub-atomic world that are simply unknowable by the uncertainty principle, but does that really make them random?  Even if we concede that they are random, do they really have manifestations in the macro world that would ultimately make a difference?

    A consideration I've raised in another post is to compare the cooperative nature of human society with that of ants.  In the ant colony, I see that cooperation tends to be more "hard-wired" with little room for variation (to the extreme of where it can be exploited by insects that know how to blend in).  In "higher" animals I see the brain providing a great deal more flexibility in it's ability to respond to a range of circumstances, presumably to improve the survival potential of the animal. 

    Whether this qualifies as "free will", I think it does fit in to my view of "degrees of freedom" whereby we may not be able to be completely "free" (and even chaotic), but rather that we have flexibility in exercising our will that could be considered an emergent property.  In this way, the total exceeds the predictable sum of its parts and could be considered "free will".

    I'm not disputing the fact that we are biological machines.  Of this there can be little doubt.  However, if it were simply being an automaton, then it would seem plausible that artificial intelligence could also be developed since it would only represent an increase in complexity.  However, it is my contention that artificial intelligence could never be achieved because no matter how well you build a computer, it would never have the emotional connection nor motivation that is intrinsic in biological organisms.  In other words, an inanimate object can never be as vested in survival as an organism that has the emergent property called "life".  It is this tiny gap that suggests (to me) that there is room for "free will".
    Mundus vult decipi
    rholley
    A bit tangential, maybe, but how about this, from G.K.Chesterton?
    Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

    The madman's explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ's.
    If you like, you can read more about the Maniac on  http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/orthodoxy/ch2.html.   As for me,


    Mein Kind, ich hab’es klug gemacht,
    Ich hab’ nie über das Denken gedacht
       (Goethe)

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    LauraHult
    "The madman's explanation of a thing is always complete"
    Your quote is most appropriate, for herein lies the "madness" of scientific inquiry.  Researchers are not completely objective, thus bias creeps into all experimentation somehow.  And yet, even though this bias may be unknown to the scientist(s), conclusions are drawn based on flawed data...sometimes conclusions of great import and impact.

    Psychology seeks to proclaim itself a science.  It is not, nor do I ever believe it will become a science.  How can we quantify the human experience?  What numbers can be ascribed to joy, sorrow, elation, love, or hate?  But by attempting to do just this, scientists are becoming Chesterton's madmen.


    Mensch werden ist eine Kunst   -Novalis ("Becoming human is an art.")
    Good points, especially that there may never be an "objective way to determine its existence." There is, however, strong evidence against it.

    For instance, free will could never have evolved in the face of ordinary biological pressures. Because the forces of nature and phenomena of culture are largely predictable or "regular," biological individuals with free will would be at a substantial survival disadvantage compared with their rule-bound competitors. Therefore, under natural selection, a capacity for free will could never have become established and, if it had ever emerged, it would have quickly died out.

    Unfortunately, however, beliefs in free will, and the way they are used, have enormous potential for harm by justifying the infliction of human suffering.

    For a more detailed presentation of the evolutionary case against free will and the harm predicated on freewill beliefs, see http://law.pace.edu/jhumbach/Free_will_ideology.pdf or on SSRN at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1428002.

    Gerhard Adam
    I didn't get a chance to review the papers in detail, but I found some of the arguments a bit weak regarding the evolutionary connection to free will.



     
    The deliberate infliction of human suffering in this context—currently one of major activities of government—is frequently  justified by the idea that offenders deserve punishment because they freely chose to offend. As it is sometimes said, they bring it on themselves. But this justification for infliction presupposes the factual existence of free will, and it ultimately stands or falls on that presupposed fact. By definition, it would be unreasonable to punish a person based on her own free choices unless it were reasonably certain that she actually had a free choice. However, if we lack reasonable certainty about the very possibility of free choice, then all we can say with confidence is that the government engages in the naked infliction of human suffering.

    The problem being that if the individual committing the crime isn't truly accountable because they lack free will, then you can't very well argue that those punishing them have any more free will than the original criminal in carrying out the punishment. 

    However, in this argument I find the seeds of a suggestion that there really is a degree of "free will" that we must address and it relates specifically to our emotional side.

    While we can never truly know what someone feels, we can abstract what it is likely that others feel by our ability to emotionally relate to others.  We can watch a sad movie, or laugh at a comedy precisely because we can relate at an emotional level with the story.  So while you can make the argument that we are the subjects of our biology and indoctrination when it comes to the choices and decisions we make, that is a harder argument to make when it comes to the emotional connection we make with others.

    If we assume that when people feel joy or sadness, that they experience something comparable to each other, and that they aren't simply "faking" the experience, then we may be able to conclude that the emotional bond is the one that helps us identify whether a decision is an act of "free will" or one that is a "programmed" response.

    In other words, if an individual commits a crime, and they appreciate the fact that they have done something wrong according to society's rules, then we can conclude that they really did it by their own "free will", if (1) they enjoyed the act and (2) felt no remorse for it.  In other words, one cannot claim to know that what was done was "wrong" and not be remorseful, unless one feels that they were entitled to do as they wished (basically acknowledging that it really was their free choice that allowed them to commit the act). 

    It is similar to the situation where someone goes on a hunger strike.  It is clear that our body's need for food and our internal programming requiring food and water is pretty rigid and will create many internal psychological pressures to ensure that we take care of our needs.  However, we can still exercise our will to override those needs and basically starve ourselves to death if we choose. 

    "Free will" is essentially a pre-requisite for knowing something to be right or wrong, and then electing to do the opposite of it anyway.   I understand the arguments about immature brains and not having formed all the requisite connections to appreciate the consequences of one's actions, but for adults that reasoning doesn't hold.  So, if we know an action is wrong, and we know it will cause suffering, and we enjoy doing it, and we aren't remorseful about it, and if we know what the consequences will be and we elect to do it anyway ......   sounds alot like "free will" to me.



    Mundus vult decipi
    Fred Pauser
    Hello John,



    I read your essay. It is a valiant effort, but you have provided the opposition with much unnecessary leverage. (I’m essentially in your camp.) (Do we have another Clarence Darrow in the making?) :)





    For instance, free will could never have evolved in the face of ordinary biological pressures. Because the forces of nature and phenomena of culture are largely predictable or "regular," biological individuals with free will would be at a substantial survival disadvantage compared with their rule-bound competitors. Therefore, under natural selection, a capacity for free will could never have become established and, if it had ever emerged, it would have quickly died out.




    Natural selection has led in humans to the development of a complex brain, and one of its main functions is complex decision-making. You talk about decision-making with survival in mind. But most decisions are not made with a threat to survival close at hand. It is more accurate to consider decision-making as based upon satisfaction of needs and desires, and avoidance of pain (pleasure/pain principle). Actually, if you analyze various decisions, you will find that the PP principle covers them all. And it is ultimately nature that determines what it is that causes us satisfaction and pain. As we grow up we learn about those causes and effects, and how to make decisions that we hope lead toward satisfaction and away from pain.



    If there were such a thing a free will, why would this will want to do anything other than make decisions leading to the experience pleasure/satisfaction and the avoidance of pain?



    If there were such a thing as a free will that could divorce itself from genetic and environmental-indoctrination influences, what would that free will base its decisions upon? Do you see? There is nothing else there!



    Freedom to make decisions without coersion and undue constaints is a very valid concept, and something we fight for. We call it liberty. But a will that is free of natural factors and influences, is not possible.





    Consider, for example, a deer that is raised by humans and comes to regard people as benign and caring. If such a deer, released into the wild, later encounters a hunter looking for a kill, it could be catastrophic for the deer to act towards the hunter in a rule-bound way. The deer's experience-based disposition to approach and trust humans would probably lead to its death. By contrast, a freewill deer would at least have a chance of survival—by ignoring its lessons of experience, and fleeing.




    Nope, that makes no sense. On what basis would it decide to flee? What would even give it the notion to consider fleeing under the circumstances described above? What would induce the fear to cause it to flee? Possibly a human behaving in an aggressive fashion thus triggering in the deer a genetically initiated fear reaction, but certainly not free will.



    Consider, for example, what it would be like for an individual that has a free-will mind. Guided by reflection and thought, such an individual could override the constraints of the rules it has learned and make freewill choices to do things other than what its experience would dictate for the conditions it currently perceives.




    Again, if not genetic influences and experience, what could a decision possibly be based upon?
    Gerhard Adam
    ...biological individuals with free will would be at a substantial survival disadvantage compared with their rule-bound competitors. Therefore, under natural selection, a capacity for free will could never have become established and, if it had ever emerged, it would have quickly died out.

    Not necessarily.  Rules (or instincts) are useful when the circumstances of an organism's life are not subject to long-range changes.  So in insects, it makes sense to set up a "programmed" set of behaviors, because the likelihood of any insect living long enough to encounter exceptions becomes exceedingly rare.  However, the longer-lived an organism is, the greater the likelihood that the problems it will encounter may extend even beyond the experience that a parent can teach, so the ability to be more flexible (i.e. have more freedom of will) becomes a benefit as new and novel solutions may be needed since the future problems cannot be anticipated.

    We need to be careful that we don't equate freedom with chaos or randomness.  There doesn't need to be a complete lack of structure to still have degrees of "free will", so while it is obviously constrained by our biology and indoctrination, I think that there is a segment of our mental processes that could be considered "free" from constraint.  In some cases, these may be difficult hurdles to overcome, but in the end, I think that the element that we call "creativity" is that portal into "free will".
    Mundus vult decipi
    LauraHult
    However, the longer-lived an organism is, the greater the likelihood that the problems it will encounter may extend even beyond the experience that a parent can teach, so the ability to be more flexible (i.e. have more freedom of will) becomes a benefit as new and novel solutions may be needed since the future problems cannot be anticipated.
    I agree, Gerhard.  But what I think John Humbach was trying to demonstrate (and correct me if I'm wrong) by:
    Because the forces of nature and phenomena of culture are largely predictable or "regular," biological individuals with free will would be at a substantial survival disadvantage compared with their rule-bound competitors.  
    was possibly in reference to lower-order animals, like say gazelles.  They feed a lot of lions.  They also reproduce pretty quickly.

    For humans though, I think you are spot-on, Gerhard. 
    Gary Herstein
    I would agree with Gerhard here. Situations can be so nuanced (perhaps especially in complex social situations) that mechanical rules do not suffice to provide a reasoned insight into said circumstances. A being that behaved mechanically (i.e., bound by fixed, pre-determined rules) could not qualify as rational.

    My favorite example here is the mud wasp (but I draw here upon my own memory, so take this with a grain of salt). The mud wasp goes through a fixed set of steps in forming its nest (with the paralyzed prey that will be eaten alive by the wasp's larvae). A minor interruption of that routine -- for example, a stick placed in the wasp's path by a curious &/or sadistic naturalist -- and rather than just walking around the stick, the wasp has to begin its entire routine over from the start. Mud wasps are not generally so interrupted, so relying on purely mechanical rules is sufficient for them to keep making more of themselves. But not every creature is, or ought to be, a mud wasp.

    (I wish I could give a citation to the above. But it was from some nature program either on PBS or National Geographic a considerable number of years ago.)
    logicman
    Gary:  I remembered reading about this, so readily found a citation.  It's Sphex ichneumoneus, the digger wasp.  The original citation is: Woodridge, D. (1963). The machinary of the brain. New York: McGraw Hill.  There is a web article here:
    http://www.personalityresearch.org/evolutionary/sphexishness.html

    hth :)
    Gary Herstein
    Thanks for that citation. Not only is that helpful, it satisfies me that there are actually people in the world werider than I am that you would remember it off of my sorry description! (Seriously, that's fabulous -- thanks again!)
    Gerhard Adam
    Actually I misstated what I should have said. 

    I said
    " However, the longer-lived an organism is, the greater the likelihood that the problems it will encounter may extend even beyond the experience that a parent can teach,..."

    What I should have said, and really meant to say was, that the longer an organism takes in reaching adulthood (a longer childhood), then the greater the likelihood that problems may extend beyond that which a parent can teach.  So basically, the point is that the longer an organism needs to be under the parent's control and/or teaching, then the greater the need for mental flexibility.  The shorter the time between birth and sexual maturity (or adulthood), then the greater the role instincts could play.

    This is why in humans with such a long development time, it becomes more important that the problems faced by new adults may be significantly different than those faced by their parents.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thanks for all your comments so far. They help my thinking about this.

    Just to clarify two points:

    I’m afraid that things may have gotten a bit sidetracked with Gerhard Adam's opening phrase “Rules (or instincts) are useful when….” I do not in any way equate “rules” with instincts. Indeed, I’m not even sure that human beings have “instincts” (at least not in the insect sense).

    In any case I’d guess that 99.99% of the “rules” humans follow are learned, from experience. What I’m saying is that the way we deal with a new experience is by drawing on lessons learned from analogous prior experiences and (here’s the “rule”) by acting in accordance with those lessons. The alternative, to act in disregard of what past experience has taught, is essentially to take a shot in the dark.

    Nor would I suggest in any way that we should take the obviously self-destructive (non-adaptive) step of not dealing with persons who commit crimes. As I write in the paper:

    “When faced with criminality we are morally obliged to do something, of course: To simply ignore those who commit harmful acts among us would pose unreasonable risks to everyone. Therefore, for pragmatic and utilitarian reasons, when inflictions are inseparable from reasonable programs of incapacitation, carefully calibrated deterrence or honest efforts to rehabilitate, they are mitigated and justified by their tendency (or, at least, purpose) to protect others from harm. But when inflictions are for such purposes as retribution, expressing social outrage or providing an ‘appropriate response,’ they are in a different category: Without a sound theory of just deserts, social programs that are deliberately designed to reach out and hurt human beings as a goal, and not as merely a side effect, would not enjoy the mitigating justification that they traditionally have claimed. They would be an evil that is unmitigated.”<\blockquote>

    And that last is my main point. The intentional infliction of human suffering, except to reduce overall suffering, is an unmitigated evil—whatever may be the pretext.

    Gerhard Adam
    The reason I distinguished rules learned by experience from instinct, is that those that are not "hard-wired" occur only by rational behaviors (regardless of how badly the lessons may have been taught).  Therefore if it is something that has been taught or indoctrinated, then it can be "untaught".  Instincts don't provide such easy solutions, and therefore would be more in line with difficult to overcome biological traits (especially since you were talking about evolution determining such successes).



    The intentional infliction of human suffering, except to reduce overall suffering, is an unmitigated evil—whatever may be the pretext.


    I do wonder what you mean by this sentence, since it is evil to intentionally induce human suffering for whatever reason.  Now, if you mean that humans may suffer by being punished for crimes, that is different since it isn't the "intent" of anyone simply to initiate arbitrary suffering.  While it could certainly be argued that incarceration is suffering, it doesn't exist for the sole purpose of inducing suffering, but rather it is intended to isolate a dangerous individual because they can't be trusted in society. 



    I would agree with you that regardless of the circumstances, retribution is NOT a societal right.  Society has a right to protect itself and to take the necessary actions to ensure its security and peace, but it does NOT have the right to exact vengeance.  If it exists, it can only exist with the victim or the victim's representatives, since they are the only people that can claim to have been wronged. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    I don't think we have any real substantive difference here, just maybe some terminological wrinkles to iron out.

    Mainly, it is the use of the word "arbitrary" that seems a little problematic to me. In my profession I often see people, and the criminal justice system as a whole, initiate suffering for the purpose of getting "even," exacting "pay back" (the literal meaning of retribution) or giving a person what he "deserves." I would say that such inflictions of suffering, if predicated on a free will ideology, are "arbitrary." That is to say, they are in sharp contrast with inflictions where any resultant suffering is a highly regretted by-product of programs honestly meant to reduce human suffering overall (e.g., by incapacitation or deterrence).

    However, I recognize that many (though not necessarily you) would disagree with me.

    Gerhard Adam

    I guess it would depend on specific circumstances as to whether one argues that what an individual does is a product of "free will" versus actions that are a by-product of their indoctrination or genes. 

    However, let's consider a person that commits a particularly heinous crime and when we examine them we discover that they are just "wired wrong".  Once could potentially argue that this is the precise state that the psychopath or sociopath is in, and legitimately raise the question of whether their actions are a result of "free will" or just "something gone wrong in their heads".

    It's pretty obvious that there is a significant difference between a Ted Bundy, Andrea Yates, or some kid that shoots a clerk during a robbery.  Each are going to have different degrees of "free will", as well as the factors that influence (or inhibit) their decision-making processes resulting in their crimes.  Similarly, I think we can all agree that there is something wrong with all of them, since they are obviously operating from a place that the majority of people can't relate to, so in that respect they are all somewhat "crazy".

    However, in the end, I don't think it's the role of the legal system to get into the retribution business.  After all, one doesn't need much of a philosophical or legal mind to come up with an "eye for an eye" kind of approach, so to use that as a criteria (after a significant history of showing how ineffective it is), just seems like political pandering. 

    The overall problem with inflicting suffering, in any form, as a means of exactly revenge, always ends up rationalizing a criminal act and setting a double standard (it's wrong to kill, however it's justified for me to kill you).

    Ironically enough, if one resorts to game theory regarding cooperation (through something like the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma), the one attribute that always becomes a significant factor in any strategy is that it must be capable of "forgiveness".  I'm not suggesting this in any biblical or moral sense, but rather than the game theory analysis indicates that any encounter that is not prepared to "forgive" past transgressions will always degenerate into an unrecoverable round of retributions from which there can be no return to normalcy. 

    This suggests that if an individual is to ever re-enter society, then there must be that element of "forgiveness" to have a new beginning, or we have to acknowledge that we aren't interested in such a thing and evaluate how we permanently keep people out.


    Mundus vult decipi
    LauraHult
    it is evil to intentionally induce human suffering for whatever reason.
    Gerhard, I agree with your statement, but what would you have done in President Truman's place?

    It was estimated by Bill Shockley for then Secy of War Henry Stimson that the physical invasion of Japan would have meant that anywhere between 1 - 4 million Americans would have been killed or injured, while 5 - 10 million Japanese (including civilians) would have died (Frank, R.B. (1999).  Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. New York: Random House).
    Gerhard Adam

    Laura, you bring up an excellent point that we haven't actually addressed, namely do our standards of behavior apply across social groups?  It would seem that we have different criteria depending on whether an action affects someone within one of our important social groups versus those that are outside of it.

    In the example you gave, using the nation as the our defined social group, it is obvious that we can rationalize the concept of war, despite the fact that there is no corrollary to war occuring within such a social group (since it would be considered a crime).  Therefore it would seem that our criteria for what is "evil" is also tempered by such considerations, so the short answer to your question, is that the decision made by Truman makes sense within that context.

    This has also been demonstrated by the willingness of generally rational people to inflict suffering on others that are outside their social group, be it national, religious, etc.  

    Why do we feel differently if a crime is committed by someone within our group versus someone outside of it? Why is there a difference in attitude towards domestic terrorists versus foreign terrorists?  Does it make a difference to be murdered by a U.S. citizen versus an "illegal alien"?

    It would seem that there is an implicit (or additional) level of "trust" that we include in defining our social groups and cooperation within such groups (i.e.altruistic behaviors) that would suggest that the difference in attitude we feel is because of a trust being violated.  Only an inside member of a group can betray that trust, so we formulate our laws and philosophies around that idea.

    So despite my earlier post and this rambling on, it seems that our concept of the law and "evil" isn't necessarily as standardized as I implied, since there are obvious degrees to which we may be willing to let it slide if it effects those outside our social groups.

    Mundus vult decipi
    LauraHult
    It would seem that there is an implicit (or additional) level of "trust" that we include in defining our social groups and cooperation within such groups (i.e.altruistic behaviors) that would suggest that the difference in attitude we feel is because of a trust being violated.  Only an inside member of a group can betray that trust, so we formulate our laws and philosophies around that idea.
    The issue of trust relative to in-groups and out-groups is important, but I don't think it's the only determinant.

    If we look into the American perception of attacks on both Pearl Harbor and the Twin Towers, there are great similarities.  My Dad has lived through both, and recalls that the post-attack desire for vengeance was similar, but the main difference was in the speed with which our government decided to retaliate.  The foot-dragging after 9/11 has only added to unrest and distrust.  Speedy reprisals appear to absolve survivors of guilt. 

    I don't want to get into blaming any of our leaders, but it seems as though FDR's decisiveness and rapid declaration of war against the Japanese served not only to satisfy the collective need for revenge, but also united the nation - unlike the post 9/11 environment which was perceived by many as a unnecessary morass of red tape and diplomacy.

    Hence, in my opinion, there was time for individuals to slip into a variety of psychoses, ending for some as domestic terrorism.  In these cases, a loss of trust in our government may have been the tipping point.  I may have time to finish my thoughts tomorrow, but right now I'm exhausted.
    Gerhard Adam

    The problem with those comparisons is that FDR had a nation that was observing war for over 2 years before Pearl Harbor ever occurred.  Europe and Asia were both in turmoil and Churchill had been requesting U.S. assistance in Europe for quite some time.  This basically gave the nation plenty of opportunity to develop opinions and ideas about what was happening in those parts of the world.  Once the U.S. was attacked, everything was primed and ready for a military response, so being decisive was almost a forgone conclusion.

    With the world of 9/11, there are plenty of people that no longer trust the government (after the debacle of Viet Nam) and are much more skeptical regarding the motives of military use.  This was reinforced by our half-hearted involvement in Afghanistan and what looked like the "excuse" to invade Iraq.

    If you consider that the Oklahoma City bombing occurred well before 9/11, it is remarkable that the public attitude towards Tim McVeigh (and the state militias which spawned him) is significantly different than that which accompanied the 9/11 attacks.  It's almost as if we accept the idea that there may be fringe groups within the U.S., but outside fringe groups garner suspicion of the entire collective of outside social groups (ie. nations or religions) that spawned them. 

    This was also the case during WW II with the Japanese internment camps, because regardless of the actual history of the people living in this country, once war started, the level of "trust", within the social group they belonged to (the U.S.), evaporated.

    Ultimately my point is only that our standards of behavior regarding good and evil is divided into different categories depending on whether you are part of the social group or not.  If you are outside, then many of the conventional views regarding what is evil or wrong becomes less well-defined.  Probably the most striking example today is the Guantanamo detention facility. 

    Regardless of how one feels regarding the individuals being kept there, we would never be as tolerant of this facility if it contained members of our own social group.  However with outside members being detained, then the considerations regarding evil, rights, and even the law begin to radically diminish.

    Speedy reprisals appear to absolve survivors of guilt. 
    Back to your point, I have no doubt that this would be true, because it fits into our sense that if a response is delayed than it becomes harder to justify that your response is truly a retaliatory one.  Everything begins to look more contrived, because we are prepared for people to react in the "heat of the moment", but if time is taken to reflect on events and then action is taken, it becomes calculating.  It's the difference (in legal terms) between killing someone in a fit of anger and planning it over time.  The former being easier to understand or relate to than the latter.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Gary Herstein
    This has also been demonstrated by the willingness of generally rational people to inflict suffering on others that are outside their social group, be it national, religious, etc.

    On the surface, at least, this statement appears to conflate the psychological facts of what some people do or do not say and do, with the logical issues of what those and other people ought to say and do.
    So despite my earlier post and this rambling on, it seems that our concept of the law and "evil" isn't necessarily as standardized as I implied, since there are obvious degrees to which we may be willing to let it slide if it effects those outside our social groups
    Same issue, though I may have skimmed to quickly over some context. Whether this is actually what is happening here or not, I will nonetheless observe that it is a kind of modal fallacy to conflate "is" with "ought."
    Gerhard Adam
    Actually the point is simply that there are different standards depending on whether one is inside or outside a particular social group.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gary Herstein

    That remains a merely psychological observation, not a logical one. "Is" does not (by itself) inform us about "ought".

    Gerhard Adam
    I don't believe that I offered any "ought" perspective, beyond the initial observation.  My suggestion is merely that there may be a socio-biological reason for having a different set of standards (i.e. altruistic) for those we associate with our social group and that what we consider to be a moral objective, is actually subjective when applied to those outside our group.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Maktub
    The brain, freedom, and free will are three very interesting topics.  Some, most even, of this research is accurate; however, it may suffer from the diagnosis: tunnel-vision.  Perhaps, freedom and free will require a bigger picture: the future....