Sunday, May 11, 2008

Whither free will?

sblinn over on reddit raises an interesting point (particularly since we have a Calvinist lurking out there somewhere):


what does it mean to now have a good working theory of evolutionary morality while not having a good working theory of the free will to exercise it? ... If all we can do is carry out the mechanisms of biology and chemistry, according to our compositions and environmental stimuli, whatever right and wrong are we will still be doing whatever it is this mechanism computes.


There are a couple of answers to this.

First, we are not completely deterministic. At root we are quantum entities. Whether or not quantum randomness actually plays any significant role in our thought processes is not known, but the possibility cannot be ruled out based on our current understanding.

Second, even if we are completely deterministic that does not mean that our actions are completely predictable because of Chaos theory.

Third, even if we were completely deterministic and predictable we somehow have the illusion that we have at least a certain amount of free will. Imagine you get up in the morning and you have to decide whether to wear the red tie or the blue one. Whether or not you actually have free will in your decision, it certainly feels like you do. But there are also clearly things over which we do not exercise free will. You cannot choose to believe that the red tie is actually green, for example. (Well, maybe you can, but I can't.)

A belief in a certain amount of free will, even if in reality it is only an illusion, is a logical prerequisite to morality, and a practical necessity for the functioning of human society. If all our actions are truly out of our control (as the Calvinists would have you believe) then there is truly no reason for morality, because then everything that happens is merely a consequence of the laws of physics or the Will of God or the Hand of Fate (all of which become indistinguishable from each other in that case, by the way). The only reason philosophy (or religion) matters at all is that we each have this sense of self over which we feel like we exercise some degree of control. Absent that, nothing matters. There is no reason to punish murderers, or, indeed, not to become a murderer yourself, because whatever happens is just the inescapable consequence of whatever is out there pulling our strings. Absent free will, there is no more sense getting morally indignant about the Holocaust than about the fact that the sun rises in the morning.

22 comments:

Don Geddis said...

There is no reason to punish murderers, or, indeed, not to become a murderer yourself, because whatever happens is just the inescapable consequence of whatever is out there pulling our strings.

That's not quite true. Even if the universe is deterministic and predictable, punishing murderers has positive consequences for society. It reduces further crime by those individuals, and it deters future crime by other individuals who hear of (and fear) the punishment of the first.

When you live in a flood plain, you build levees to direct the water around your house. It doesn't matter whether the flood waters have "free will" or not. What matters is that your house will be destroyed without the levees, but the water will avoid your house if you build them.


There may not be a purpose to life, and there may not be free will. But actions still have consequences. What you wind up doing (whether you "choose" it or not) still matters.

Ron said...

> When you live in a flood plain, you build levees to direct the water around your house.

Yes, but you have to build the levee *before* the flood happens. There's no point in trying to prevent a flood by threatening to build the levee afterwards. Threats of punishment can only be effective against something with free will.

Don Geddis said...

Threats of punishment can only be effective against something with free will.

Is this a tautology? Are you defining free will by this statement?

It is clearly the case that threats of punishment can alter human behavior. You have people speeding on the highway, you add 10x the cops on the road, visibly pull people over, and ... miracle of miracles, people stop speeding so much in the future.

Does this observed fact mean necessarily that people must therefore have free will?

Because in your original post you say that free will is incompatible with determinism. But determinism is not incompatible with threats of punishment having observable consequences. I can easily program a computer, perfectly deterministically, where it has internal world models, imagination, projects actions into the future, and actually changes behavior based on threats of punishment.

Such a computer is deterministic, and responds to threats.

I don't know whether you think the computer has free will or not. Your position seems contradictory to me.

Ron said...

> Is this a tautology? Are you defining free will by this statement?

No. Trying to get a handle on what free will actually is is a very thorny philosophical problem. I (attempt to) sidestep this problem by not making a commitment as to whether we really have free will (whatever that means) or whether we just labor under the illusion that we have it. It's kind of like trying to figure out whether what we call "reality" is "really" real or whether it's some kind of "virtual" reality. In both cases, the practical consequences are the same, so it doesn't matter if free will and reality are "really" real or just illusions.

> It is clearly the case that threats of punishment can alter human behavior.

Yes, I don't think anyone disputes that.

> Does this observed fact mean necessarily that people must therefore have free will?

No, not necessarily. It's possible that we're just computers of the sort you describe, and that our subjective perception that we have free will is just an illusion. I explicitly called out this possibility in my post.

> Because in your original post you say that free will is incompatible with determinism.

Right, but the illusion of free will is not. I think it is possible in principle to build a deterministic computer that has the illusion of free will, which would raise all manner of thorny issues, not least of which would be where such a machine would get its moral intuition. But to have the illusion of free-will one must first have self-awareness. All indications are that building a self-aware machine is rather tricky, so it will probably be a while before we have to face that possibility.

Don Geddis said...

Oh, ok, I guess I missed the subtlety of your post. When you wrote "A belief in a certain amount of free will, even if in reality it is only an illusion, is a logical prerequisite to morality" I didn't quite realize that you meant only the illusion is necessary. But actual free will itself is not necessary.

See I think I got caught up by the next sentence: "If all our actions are truly out of our control then there is truly no reason for morality, because then everything that happens is merely a consequence of the laws of physics". That one seems to suggest that the reality of free will actually matters. And I think that is too strong a claim, because I think there is a "reason for morality" even if there is no "true" free will.

But if all you're arguing is that the illusion of free will matters ... well, I still think you're wrong, but that's a much more minor point.

Ron said...

> But if all you're arguing is that the illusion of free will matters ... well, I still think you're wrong

Why?

Don Geddis said...

Ron said: "Why?"

OK, so the relevant original sentence is: "A belief in a certain amount of free will, even if in reality it is only an illusion, is a logical prerequisite to morality, and a practical necessity for the functioning of human society."

My point with the levees was meant to show that actions have consequences, whether things are determined or not. It is a matter of fact that (most?) people have the illusion of free will. But you're asserting that such an illusion is necessary for morality.

I don't believe I have free will (although I suffer from the illusion just like anybody else). But it is still the case that threats work to change my behavior. Even if my decision making is perfectly deterministic -- even if it is predictable ahead of time! -- it's still the case that one of my inputs to my decision making process is the external environment of threats and punishments.

Hence my example about computers. We certainly know externally that their behavior is deterministic, and yet they can also respond appropriately to threats. I think you went down a red herring to suggest that the computers might acquire a sense of free will. To me, it doesn't seem to matter. Whether they have that illusion or not, they'll still have different behavior in the presence of effective laws, than they would otherwise.

As do I. Your illusion requirement seems to suggest that if I pierce the illusion and discover the (deterministic/random) basic physics, that somehow laws and ethics and morality will no longer hold any sway on me.

My reaction is actually analogous to your "morality without God" thoughts. Despite all of us having the free will illusion, and most of us crediting that for our sense of punishment and responsibility, I think the credit assignment is mistaken. With morality, you have eloquently expressed some of the non-God reasons to have morals. I think it's the same case here. Even in a deterministic, predictable world, there are still plenty of reasons to be a law-abiding citizen (and to craft a society with laws, for that matter).

Ron said...

> But you're asserting that such an illusion is necessary for morality.

That's right. Because the definition of morality is that it is the thing that makes people do the "right thing" in the absence of external coercive influences. Without free will, by definition your actions are governed exclusively by external influences, and so there can be no morality.

Try this another way. At root, everything is just physics. But we can still usefully distinguish between three qualitatively different kinds of phenomena:

1. Direct physical influences, like building a levee to protect against floods, or wearing a bullet-proof vest (or forcibly taking their gun) to protect against someone killing you.

2. Coercion that requires some information-processing in order to be effective, such as the promise of reward or the threat of punishment. Such influences are only effective against things with brains. But this is not morality.

3. Evolved moral intuition, which constrains our behavior even in the absence of physical constraints or external coercion.

I don't see any way in which that third mechanism can function in the absence of a sense of self and (at least the illusion of) free will. In fact (this just occurred to me) it's not out of the question that this is why we have evolved a sense of self and (the illusion of) free will. Wow, wouldn't that be cool?

Don Geddis said...

"Because the definition of morality is that it is the thing that makes people do the "right thing" in the absence of external coercive influences."

OK, if you say so. But I wonder why the distinction is so important. The materialism view on this is that these "internal mental" influences you speak of were shaped by genetics + childhood environment. Again, free will really doesn't come into it.

When you make a decision, you have various inputs. Possible actions you're considering, imagination at the likely consequences of those actions, etc. One of the inputs is this "innate moral sense". But to me, that's not particularly different from any of the other inputs. Just like self-awareness isn't especially different from your other senses; it happens to sense internal things, whereas the more common senses detect external things. But is that really an important difference? Is proprioception really significantly different from sight or hearing? They're all just inputs to your brain.

"Without free will, by definition your actions are governed exclusively by external influences, and so there can be no morality."

Not just external. There are also internal influences. You don't have to be purely reactive to current inputs; you can also have some state. But still no requirement for (even the illusion of) free will.

"3. Evolved moral intuition, which constrains our behavior even in the absence of physical constraints or external coercion. I don't see any way in which that third mechanism can function in the absence of a sense of self and (at least the illusion of) free will."

I guess my suggestion is: people are machines, and they can be programmed (via genetics or environmental influences). And you can build into them a module that affects their decision-making. In essence, it's a quick compiled rule-of-thumb for helping make effective decisions in the presence of uncertainty.

You've got a 3-year-old who is a sadist. He likes pushing down other kids and making them cry, and he likes smashing bugs and snails. Through the influence of teachers and parents, you explain desired behavior, and punish the bad behavior. Eventually, he learns to predict whether he'll be happy with some further sadism. Much later, as an adult, he's driving a car and sees a squirrel in the road ahead of him, and slows down instead of speeding up. He may no longer even remember his 3-year-old experience; he may not have introspective access to why he doesn't run over the squirrel, but, as he thinks about it, there's a strong feeling of "wrong" that gets associated with imagining killing the squirrel. Which was put there, through bitter experience earlier in his life.

He may not be able to articulate the current threats of reward or punishment, because they've all been compiled away to easy-to-compute rules-of-thumb we call "morality".

But I still don't see where his philosophical perspective on free will needs to enter into it.

Ron said...

> I wonder why the distinction is so important.

Which distinction? I hope the distinction between the three types of behavioral influences is obvious. Whether or not type-3 influences require "free will" (whatever that is) is mostly a quibble over terminology. The point is that type-3 influences are qualitatively different from type-1 and type-2 influences (even though at root everything is just physics). Moreover, this distinction has real social and political consequences. For example, religious people are taught that the only possible source of type-3 influences is divine guidance, and so atheists do not -- and can not -- have any type-3 influences whatsoever. People who believe that (and that is, sadly, most of the people in the U.S.) don't vote for atheists. That's bad. I don't see how insisting that we have no free will is going to help improve that situation.

> Is proprioception really significantly different from sight or hearing?

Of course it's different. At root all experience is just an input to your brain. That does not mean that there is no useful distinction to be made between e.g. eating chocolate and getting a root canal.

> You've got a 3-year-old who is a sadist.

Geez, with friends like you and Dawkins, atheists really don't need enemies. Do you understand that Christians actually believe your little story is true? They believe that we are all naturally sadists -- and worse -- and that we've got it so bad that only God's influence suffices to remedy the situation.

I do not believe that we are all naturally sadists. I believe that we have an evolved moral intuition which tells us that it is wrong to inflict pain for no reason even in the absence of indoctrination from adults or the grace of God. Kids who are sadists are aberrations. They are instances where the normal mechanisms of behavioral control have broken down. They are not, as the Calvinists would have us believe, the normal state of affairs. Moreover, any suggestion that this is the normal state of affairs reinforces the religious view that atheists have rejected the only possible source of moral guidance and therefore cannot be relied upon to behave morally.

Most people in the U.S. (perhaps the world) believe that. I want to change that. You're not helping.

mar13 said...

If all our actions are truly out of our control (as the Calvinists would have you believe)

I thought it was hyper-Calvinist would think that way.

Have you read Don Knuth's "Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About"? Here the author of "The Art of Computer Programming" reconciled that free-will is actually a humongous binary-tree of decisions/outcomes. He even threw in the Holy Spirit as a tree re-balancing mechanism. Fascinating.

Don Geddis said...

I think you really need to separate two different things, and I'm having some trouble because you keep switching back and forth between them.

The first is a search for truth. What is the world actually like?

The second is a persuasive effort in society. What political/marketing approaches will have a sympathetic reception?

I had assumed, in this (admittedly public) conversation between you and me, that we were "merely" seeking truth. Yet some of your criticism seems to be that my statements would not be well received by the general public. I don't disagree! But I was trying to resolve, with you, what the situation actually is, before moving on to how best to market it to the public.

In any case, no, I don't see a significant difference between type-2 and type-3 influences. As you say, it's all physics, and for me it makes more sense to say that you're making decisions under various influences, some of which happen to be internal and some external. I don't see the point in calling the internal ones "morals", as a separate category. (Especially because there are plenty of internal influences -- "temptations" -- that don't seem to be "moral" influences.)

You write: "the only possible source of type-3 influences is divine guidance".

That's clearly just false. There's all sorts of conditioning and brainwashing that you can do on people, that has nothing to do with divine guidance. Consider the military: they get young guys to both be extremely respectful of authority, and at the same time to kill the enemy. A well-trained soldier does this out of "honor" or "patriotism", i.e. your type-3 influences.

"People who believe that don't vote for atheists. That's bad. I don't see how insisting that we have no free will is going to help improve that situation."

Separation of topics. Question #1 is: is there free will? Question #2 is: whatever the answer to #1, how can we most palatably market this to the masses?

You don't answer question #1 by complaining about consequence #2.

"Of course [proprioception] is different."

I'm asking, why is the difference between internal and external influences significant? Why have you made such a sharp distinction between type-2 and type-3 influences? You seem to be assuming that the distinction is significant, and it doesn't appear to be so to me.

"Geez, with friends like you and Dawkins, atheists really don't need enemies."

I wouldn't use this language when trying to persuade a religious believer.

But with you, I was trying to emphasize clarity and truth, despite discomfort.

Did I misjudge my audience?

"I do not believe that we are all naturally sadists."

That's a very, very, very interesting question.

I don't know about "all". But I sure feel that it's far more "natural" than you appear to believe.

Have you spent much time around 3-year-old boys, especially in the absence of parental supervision? Have you read Lord of the Flies? Did you think the book implausible? Have you studied "primitive" isolated tribes, like in the Amazon or New Guinea? Do you know about animal behavior, e.g. cats playing with mice?

I think a lot of morals are socialized by society, in order to make groups of humans function more effectively together. But the natural state of a single uneducated teenage boy, raised outside of any society ... I doubt you'd recognize his "morals".

"Kids who are sadists are aberrations."

This is a factual question of frequency, isn't it? How small does the proportion of such kids need to be in order to call them "aberrations"? I'm guessing the number is something like 25-50% of 2-3 year old boys.

"any suggestion that this is the normal state of affairs reinforces the religious view that atheists have rejected the only possible source of moral guidance"

But a gift from God is not the only source of moral guidance! I'm kind of surprised. I thought that you wrote a great explanation of tit-for-tat, and how moral behavior can evolve even in a purely selfish environment. Yet you're now arguing the other side?

"I want to change that. You're not helping."

I thought this post was about, "is there free will?", and maybe "do you need free will in order to behave morally?"

I believe the answer to both those questions is: no.

It's an interesting -- but to me, totally different -- question of: how can you convince religious people that atheists are not to be feared, and will act just as "morally" as religious people do?

I agree this latter question is important, but I wasn't attempting to address it in the comments on this post.

Ron said...

> I had assumed, in this (admittedly public) conversation between you and me, that we were "merely" seeking truth.

First, why would you assume that?

Second, there are many different kinds of truth. E=mc^2 is one kind of truth. That flowers can be beautiful is a different kind of truth. The question of free will is much more akin to the second kind than the first. In fact, it doesn't even make sense to talk about free will in the context of a search for truth of the first kind because free will cannot be adequately defined.

> I don't see a significant difference between type-2 and type-3 influences.

That is unfortunate.

> You write: "the only possible source of type-3 influences is divine guidance". That's clearly just false.

You left out some very important context. I wrote: "[R]eligious people are taught that the only possible source of type-3 influences is divine guidance." Of course it's false. What matters is not that it's false. What matters is that many people believe it is true.

> Separation of topics. Question #1 is: is there free will? Question #2 is: whatever the answer to #1, how can we most palatably market this to the masses? You don't answer question #1 by complaining about consequence #2.

Why not? The question of free will is a matter of truth-of-the-second-sort. Why should politics not have a legitimate role to play when addressing such questions?

> I'm asking, why is the difference between internal and external influences significant? Why have you made such a sharp distinction between type-2 and type-3 influences? You seem to be assuming that the distinction is significant, and it doesn't appear to be so to me.

Because people believe the distinction to be significant. And no, this is not circular reasoning. When it comes to questions of truth-of-the-second-sort, people's beliefs matter. It is true that beliefs about significance can become self-fulfilling prophecies, but it is important to remember that self-fulfilling prophecies are nonetheless actually true.

> I sure feel that it's far more "natural" than you appear to believe. Have you spent much time around 3-year-old boys, especially in the absence of parental supervision? Have you read Lord of the Flies? Did you think the book implausible? Have you studied "primitive" isolated tribes, like in the Amazon or New Guinea? Do you know about animal behavior, e.g. cats playing with mice?

None of these are evidence that sadism is "natural" in adult humans. Cats are a different species. Primitive tribes with moral codes that deviate significantly from the human mainstream are at best exceedingly rare (which is evidence that those strategies are not evolutionarily stable). And 3-year-old boys exhibit behaviors that differ from adults in myriad ways, and learning cannot account for all the differences. For example, most boys outgrow the belief common among 3-year-olds that "girls are gross" without any instruction from adults.

To say nothing of the fact that genes need not be the carriers of evolved moral intuition. Evolved moral intuition may well be a meme, not a gene.

I don't see what any of this has to do with free will.

> This is a factual question of frequency, isn't it?

Or a question of the definition of "sadist". I think human children who intentionally cause intense physical pain to other humans for their own pleasure are quite rare. But I could be wrong.

In any case, I'm starting to think this whole free-will thing is really just a red-herring.

Don Geddis said...

"I'm starting to think this whole free-will thing is really just a red-herring."

Now I don't know whether to respond or not. :-) If you don't want to continue, that's fine.

Otherwise...

"there are many different kinds of truth. E=mc^2 is one kind of truth. That flowers can be beautiful is a different kind of truth."

I find that a really odd thing for you to say. Even the flower thing is confusing. Perhaps you could have used "do you like the taste of chocolate?" as a purely subjective thing. Beautiful flowers do have an element of subjectivity. But then you could start making it more objective by talking about group voting, etc. Not to mention exploring an objective theory of beauty, or perhaps good art.

But fine. Your point seems to be that some questions are not "merely" seeking objective truth.

"free will cannot be adequately defined"

Well, I suppose that can be your position, and then I really have nothing more to say about it. But it does seem to me in that case that your original post was too categorical, e.g. "A belief in a certain amount of free will, even if in reality it is only an illusion, is a logical prerequisite to morality [...] If all our actions are truly out of our control [...] then there is truly no reason for morality".

You didn't use any weasel words, so that sure appeared to me on first reading that you thought there was some real referent to the phrase "free will". It appears to be something that is a necessary component of morality, whatever that thing might be.

"I don't see what any of this has to do with free will."

It went like this: You say, "you need free will for morality". You say, "morality is internal mental influences in decision making." I say, "internal mental influences can be behavior programmed into brains by society". My example is 3-year-old sadists who become ordinary moral adults. We can watch the construction of these mental influences, and there doesn't seem any need to bring free will into it. Hence, I claim that morality is possible without free will.

In particular, you wrote: "3. Evolved moral intuition, which constrains our behavior even in the absence of physical constraints or external coercion. I don't see any way in which that third mechanism can function in the absence of a sense of self" I don't know why you find it so difficult, but it seems straightforward to me that you can have internal mental motivations that contribute to your decision making, whether or not you have free will, and whether or not you even believe in the illusion of free will. There's simply not a necessary connection between that belief, and the (both internal and external) things that influence your decision-making.

Ron said...

OK, I need to give this some more thought, and I probably won't be able to get to it until the weekend. But I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate the commentary, and that I'm not ignoring it.

quantamos said...

See, it's so difficult to arrive late at a conversation. This is why my website idea is a good one! :-) Since this looks like it got interesting, I'll read through everything later. In the meantime, I thought I'd mention 2 things:

1) Jeffrey Schwartz, whether or not he's right, would agree that quantum effects are present in the mind:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_M._Schwartz
http://www.magazine.ucla.edu/year2004/fall04_01_13.html
I listened to a talk he gave about the Zeno paradox in the mind, and he sounded plausible.

2) Over the last many years, I've become convinced that calvinism is an incomplete theory. It makes sense to me to argue that God created space (the 3 dimensions), and therefore by general relativity, he created the time dimension as well. If God created time, then he is outside of it, and asking questions involving time about God are meaningless. For example, "Did God know what I was going to do before I did it?" has no answer, and "Does God know who's going to be saved" is unintelligible.

In this framework, any question that is isomorphic to a question applies the words "before" and "after" to God are invalid. This blurs the distinction between cause and effect, so you have to be careful with assertions such as "God predestined x", or "God caused me to do x". You can't say "God did x" if you are implying that God wasn't doing x before some point in time, and now he is. I'm sure these few careless sentences lead to a contradiction somewhere...

But this is having my cake, and eating it too: God is omniscient, and I have free-will.

Anyway, calvinists would *all* say, no different from anyone else I think, that even if you weren't free with regard to a decision, you are still responsible for the consequences. That is, you're not allowed to use predestination as an excuse for your actions.

Ron said...

> It makes sense to me to argue that God created space (the 3 dimensions), and therefore by general relativity, he created the time dimension as well. If God created time, then he is outside of it, and asking questions involving time about God are meaningless.

This seems to me clearly at odds with what the Bible says about God's nature. The old testament clearly describes God as a being localized within time and space (e.g. Genesis 1:2, 1:27, 3:8, Exodus 33:11, 33:23). Of course, I have have no particular quarrel with an extra-Biblical view of God (obviously), but the last time I checked you considered the Bible authoritative. Has that changed?

(Hm, hadn't noticed this before, but Exodus 33:11 and Exodus 33:23 seem like a pretty clear contradiction to me.)

> In this framework, any question that is isomorphic to a question applies the words "before" and "after" to God are invalid. ... You can't say "God did x" if you are implying that God wasn't doing x before some point in time, and now he is. I'm sure these few careless sentences lead to a contradiction somewhere...

I don't think they lead to a contradiction (it sounds like straightforward pantheism to me), but it does seem at odds with the Bible, which clearly speaks of God doing things in temporal sequence using the words "before" and "after" e.g. Genesis 3:24, 13:10.

> Anyway, calvinists would *all* say, no different from anyone else I think, that even if you weren't free with regard to a decision, you are still responsible for the consequences. That is, you're not allowed to use predestination as an excuse for your actions.

No different from anyone else? *I* certainly disagree with the Calvinist position. I suspect lots of other people do too.

quantamos said...

Well, you could have just mentioned Jesus, who by reason of the Trinity, is God, and who "stepped into time". The mental picture I have in my mind is that of a yardstick, measuring not distance but time. God, holding the ruler, can choose to put his finger on the ruler at a certain place if he likes, and in the language of the analogy, has a fingerprint around t=33ad. So God would have had to decide to do this, but when? Did God decide to send Jesus before t=33ad?

How would you express this concept in writing? You might use language like Exodus 3:14, Psalms 90:4, Revelation 1:4, or John 8:58:
"58Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.""

How do you logically make sense of "Before x was, I am"? It sounds like Jesus' "present tense" includes the past and future. I think there is a self-consistent model in here somewhere.

I didn't mean to say that you agree with Calvinism, what I meant was that everybody (whatever your perspective on free-will) all agrees that you are still responsible for the consequences of your actions. It seemed like you were claiming that Calvinism allows people to justify doing something bad because they believe they were predestined to do so. But in practice, I think that almost nobody operates this way, because we don't intrinsically feel *compelled* to do the bad thing and be punished.

Ron said...

> Well, you could have just mentioned Jesus

Good point.

> I think there is a self-consistent model in here somewhere.

OK, but I think the burden is on you to explain what it is.

> I didn't mean to say that you agree with Calvinism, what I meant was that everybody (whatever your perspective on free-will) all agrees that you are still responsible for the consequences of your actions. It seemed like you were claiming that Calvinism allows people to justify doing something bad because they believe they were predestined to do so.

I think predestination renders the entire concept of "justification" meaningless. If everything is predestined then you can no more "justify" murder (or punishment) than you can "justify" comet Shoemaker-Levy colliding with Jupiter or the sun rising in the morning. Predestination renders meaningless the concept of "ought" and "ought not". Under predestination there is only "will" and "won't."

wrf3 said...

In the discussion on comp.lang.lisp regarding Free Will, message id <rNOSPAMon-C952A6.09462725052010@news.albasani.net>, you wrote: Quantum randomness is a "real" phenomenon (with "real" in scare quotes because it is only "real" relative to a classical universe, which isn't "really real") but it's (almost certainly) not a factor in mental processes.

But here you wrote, At root we are quantum entities. Whether or not quantum randomness actually plays any significant role in our thought processes is not known, but the possibility cannot be ruled out based on our current understanding.

Now, "cannot be ruled out" leaves room for "(almost certainly) cannot be a factor", but I'm curious as to why you wanted to leave room in one article yet tried to exclude it in the other.

wrf3 said...

I want to comment on the statement, A belief in a certain amount of free will, even if in reality it is only an illusion, is a logical prerequisite to morality....

I agree that something has to be free, but it may not need to be the will. It depends on where the lines in the model of our wetware are drawn. The "thing that chooses" operates on "things to be chosen". When there are multiple things that can be chosen, we use our metric of "good and evil" to hone in on the "best" choice we think we can make.

"Good" is simply a word that describes "nearness" (for some ill-defined distance metric) between _is_ and _ought_. Ought is a product of our imagination, which is a function of minds with creative power. Our imaginations are, for all intents and purposes, what is free. Maybe it's based on quantum randomness; as you said, that can't be ruled out. But it doesn't really matter for this discussion -- something drives our imagination and it has a huge state space.

However, this doesn't make it a logical prerequisite to morality. A Calvinist, for example, could say that man is responsible: not because he is free, but by divine fiat. Likewise, the state could say, "you are responsible because we say you are." The typical response to both cases would be "but that's not fair", but then the question becomes "by whose standard?" Saying "you're not fair" to God is logically incoherent; there is no such inherent incoherence in such a statement to the state.

Ron said...

> Now, "cannot be ruled out" leaves room for "(almost certainly) cannot be a factor", but I'm curious as to why you wanted to leave room in one article yet tried to exclude it in the other.

I dunno. Because it's two years later? Because I'm going for a different rhetorical emphasis? Because Mars is in Scorpio? Because I felt like it? What difference does it make?

> A Calvinist, for example, could say that...

> ... the state could say ...

And a Scientologist could say that it's not us, it's the thetans that live inside our bodies. People say all manner of things. Just because a thing is said doesn't mean it merits attention.