Free Will is NOT An Illusion




Circles within circles

Many scientists think that free-will is an illusion. That is, intentions, choices, and decisions are made by subconscious mind, which only lets the conscious mind know what was willed after the fact. This argument was promoted long ago by scholars like Darwin, Huxley, and Einstein. Many modern scientists also hold that position and have even performed experiments since the 1980s they say prove it.

These experiments supposedly show that the brain makes a subconscious decision before it is realized consciously. In the typical experiment supporting illusory free will, a subject is asked to voluntarily press a button at any time and notice the position of a clock marker when they think they first willed the movement. At the same time, brain activity is monitored over the part of the brain that controls the mechanics of the movement. The startling typical observation is that subjects show brain activity changes before they say they intended to make the movement. In other words the brain issued the command before the conscious mind had a chance to decide to move. All this happens in less than a second, but various scientists have interpreted this to mean that the subconscious mind made the decision to move and the conscious mind only realized the decision later.

In a paper published in Advances in Cognitive Psychology, I challenge the whole series of experiments performed since the 1980s purported to show that intentions, choices, and decisions are made subconsciously, with conscious mind being informed after the fact. These experiments do not test what they are intended to test and are misinterpreted to support the view of illusory free will.

My criticisms focus on three main points: 1) timing of when a free-will event occurred requires introspection, and other research shows that introspective estimates of event timing are not accurate, 2) simple finger movements may be performed without much conscious thought and certainly not representative of the conscious decisions and choices required in high-speed conversation or situations where the subconscious mind cannot know ahead of time what to do, and 3) the brain activity measures have been primitive and incomplete.

I point out 12 categories of what I regard as flawed thinking about free will. Some of the more obvious issues that many scientists have glossed over include:

  • Decisions are not often instantaneous (certainly not on a scale of a fraction of a second).
  • Conscious realization that a decision has been made is delayed from the actual decision, and these may be two distinct processes.
  • Decision making is not the only mental process going on in such tasks.
  • Some willed action, as when first learning to play a musical instrument or touch type must be freely willed because the subconscious mind cannot know ahead of time what to do.
  • Free-will experiments have relied too much on awareness of actions and time estimation of accuracy.
  • Extrapolating from such simple experiments to all mental life is not justified.
  • Conflicting data and interpretations have been ignored.

A basic problem is that scientists do not yet have a good independent brain-function measure of the conscious generation of intentions, choices, or decisions. Without such a measure, it is not possible to measure the time at which a willed action occurs.

My paper concludes with a series of suggestions that scientists can use to test free-will issues. Equally important, the research I suggest would not only help identify reliable markers of conscious decision-making but would also help scientists learn what the brain does to achieve consciousness in the first place.

The implications of this debate are profound. It determines our world view of whether we are victims of genetics and environment or bear responsibility for our intentions, decisions, and choices. I contend we are responsible for what we make of our brains and for our choices and decisions in life. In a free-will world, people can choose to extricate themselves from many kinds of misfortune — not to mention make the right choices that can prevent misfortune.

In the real world, subconscious and conscious minds interact and share duties. Subconscious mind governs simple or well-learned tasks, like habits or ingrained prejudices, while conscious mind deals with tasks that are complex or novel, like first learning to ride a bike or play sheet music. Most deliberate new learning has to be mediated by free will, because subconscious mind has not yet had a chance to learn.

Reference

Klemm, W. (2010). Free will debates: Simple experiments are not so simple Advances in Cognitive Psychology, 6 (-1), 47-65 DOI: 10.2478/v10053-008-0076-2

  • http://xeronimo.tumblr.com Jerome

    Mr Klemm,

    Could you not have posted this comment? If yes, why didn’t you then?

    Also, let’s assume you’re faced with a certain choice and you’re trying to figure out what to do by thinking about the consequences, by remembering and extrapolating from your past experiences, by evaluation your current mood, etc.

    Let’s now also assume that the EXACT same situation exists in a parallel universe (faced with the same choice, having had the same experiences, remembering the same things, etc). Could this ‘you’ come to a different conclusion that you in this world?

    If yes then what made the difference? And how could you get a different result with exactly the same parameters?

    Thank you.

    • http://littlebangtheories.com Javaid Akhtar

      I don’t really believe in free will.
      But having the exact same parameters in both parallel universes would mean that you would need to measure both either simultaneously or in sequence…
      Maybe thats just not possbile in this pico-world to compare apples with apples …on such a minute level of the neuronal webs that make up a mind.

      So maybe we can live in a deterministic world and still have something that resembles free will ( its quacks and walks like a duck…lets call it a duck)

      • Dana

        Embedded in the conclusion “I don’t believe in free will” is a choice. You feel hungry, but the resulting behavior is not predetermined before you make such. To say you choose not to choose is contradictory.

      • monkey23

        funny duck comment, but no free will means we are all robots, so instead of calling it a duck, lets call it instinct

        • monkey23

          and if the subconscious mind made a decision, wouldn’t that make it conscious

    • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm Bill Klemm

      This parallel universe example seems to assume that the antecedent events (past experience, etc.) were not influenced at all by free choices. Doesn’t that make your argument circular?

    • Voice of Reason

      If one alternate existence is in itself an equal opposite of a situation then its existence is contingent upon the equal opposite which is in turn dependent upon that equal opposite resulting in them occurring at the same time. It is impossible otherwise. In such a situation, both would substantiate the other, but both would be independent of the other and each choice therein just as independent.

      If one existence contains a universe devoid of free will another one simultaneously exists. So how do you know which one has free will and which doesn’t? The answer is that the one that bears constructs capable of doing things, like contemplate their existence, has free will. Because everything that is anything is nothing but intangibility encoded on the only infinite tangible thing in the universe which is just another thing:

      Energy.

      That said, every word is just an empty vessel without meaning, and every meaning would not be without function, and every function would not be without desire, but desire would not be recognized without experience firsthand (as in conducted by the desirer–part of its own design). Same as a man born blind blue only means what it CAN MEAN to him. The materials for it to mean anything are contained within, and when called upon from memory that reference must exist to be recalled in the first place.

      Life is movement. The desire to move is life itself at its fundamental core. It is how life came to be, and on a quantum existence: thinking would just be the movement of stored movements creating significance, meaning. This would be exactly why science is discovering the same parts of the brain involved in motor function are also used in active thought, reasoning, problem solving, and controlling emotions. It’s all the same shit.

      Everything that moves is doing so in accordance to its will and if it has memory and awareness, it can now go “I” and recognize that will. Making it truly their own. The free part is that it is up to you, the moment that is compromised you would know. If you never had free will to begin with it: how could you possibly debate it. The words describe a function that is very much real–if it were not real, the word would apply to something else that is.

      That you at some point of life had to sit and think about whether or not you are the one deciding, proves that you are the one deciding.

      And if you missed this: basically the alternate reality in which free will does not exist at all: is infinite non-existence. Because death is eternal where movement is not possible. Evolution ensures that we do not collapse into that curious entropy.

      • http://lagevondissen.wordpress.com Lage

        Voice of “Reason”,

        If one alternate existence is in itself an equal opposite of a situation then its existence is contingent upon the equal opposite which is in turn dependent upon that equal opposite resulting in them occurring at the same time. It is impossible otherwise. In such a situation, both would substantiate the other, but both would be independent of the other and each choice therein just as independent.

        I don’t think such a situation is possible whereby an alternate existence is contingent upon that of an equal opposite, and yet also be independent of. Contingency implies dependence, not independence.

        I’m curious, what exactly are you getting at here, and how is it relevant to the debate? You’ve proposed a hypothetical situation whereby an alternate existence is accompanied by some equal opposite version…and? I could simply respond with a hypothetical in which the equal opposite existence/situation doesn’t exist…and?

        If one existence contains a universe devoid of free will another one simultaneously exists. So how do you know which one has free will and which doesn’t?

        Only if your hypothetical situation is true, and even that is contingent upon how we define the equal/opposite reality, since I don’t believe there is any objective way to define this. For example, if one existence/universe had different shades of red over any and all objects, then what color would the objects be in the equal/opposite universe? Or since there were objects in one universe would that negate any and all objects in the equal/opposite universe? Or would we have no choice but to say that the equal/opposite universe would be one without anything at all, no existence, etc. (in which case it may be that neither has free will). If that’s the case, then we could pick a million different scenarios and the “equal/opposite” case would be the same for all of them (i.e. non-existence and/or nothingness). Clearly, it is difficult for anyone to even define an equal/opposite universe, let alone do so and then derive any useful conclusions concerning free will. We have to go back to the first principles when it comes to free will. We have to limit ourselves to defining what free will means and then seeing if that definition is compatible with the way the world operates based on weighing the majority of the scientific evidence. Klemm’s argument is mostly concerned with whether or not the conscious mind of unconscious mind is responsible for willed actions. In my opinion, Klemm is missing the bigger point here, that is, even if psychological research has been incorrect by implying that the unconscious mind is responsible for (or primary to) everything entering the conscious mind (thus negating free will) — Klemm doesn’t seem to be concerned with the fact that science has overwhelmingly supported the idea that genes, environment, and a physical causal chain ultimately govern everything that happens (whether its the supposed “choices” we make, the beating of our heart, or the leaves blowing in the wind — they all are governed to happen the way they happen based on the laws of nature).

        The answer is that the one that bears constructs capable of doing things, like contemplate their existence, has free will.

        That is ridiculous as it doesn’t resolve the problem of how we define free will and what the scientific evidence suggests about that defined free will.

        Life is movement.

        So this is how you are defining life? Movement? You are entitled to define things any way you like, but I don’t see it adding much to this discussion.

        The desire to move is life itself at its fundamental core.

        So is life “movement” as you said a moment ago, or is it “the desire to move” as you are now saying. “Movement” and the “desire to move” are two completely different things. So which is it? Either way, I don’t see what “movement” or “the desire to move” has to do with the free will debate.

        It is how life came to be, and on a quantum existence: thinking would just be the movement of stored movements creating significance, meaning.

        You’re delving into complete speculation about life, meaning, etc. Isn’t this discussion about free will?

        This would be exactly why science is discovering the same parts of the brain involved in motor function are also used in active thought, reasoning, problem solving, and controlling emotions. It’s all the same shit.

        What science has suggested so far is that the brain is responsible for controlling multiple autonomic functions, voluntary motion, speech, thought, etc. Different parts of the brain carry multiple roles as the brain is interconnected to such a high degree…and what is your point?

        Everything that moves is doing so in accordance to its will and if it has memory and awareness, it can now go “I” and recognize that will.

        This is somewhat reasonable, although I would want to know how you are defining “will”.

        The free part is that it is up to you, the moment that is compromised you would know. If you never had free will to begin with it: how could you possibly debate it. The words describe a function that is very much real–if it were not real, the word would apply to something else that is.

        You are forgetting the core of the debate here and that is “how do we define free will?” and “Does the scientific evidence suggest that we have free will based on how we define it?” Most people that use the term “free will” are referring to self-caused actions that could have happened differently had the same moment of “choice” repeated itself if one went back in time to replay the scenario. Science has illustrated that there are two ultimate possibilities based on the evidence:
        1) determinism is the case and the “choice” is actually fixed and not free due to it resulting from a causal chain of events outside the control of the cognitive agent.
        2) randomness is the case and the “choice” is actually a result of random variables which are outside the control of the cognitive agent.

        In either case, there is no room for free will, unless you want to define “free will” in a way that detracts from the significance of the debate altogether. For example, if we just define “free will” to be “the feeling of being free to make a choice”, then there is no debate, and we can all agree that we have this FEELING. However, if we are defining “free will” to be a will that is unconstrained in a way such that a different choice could have been made given the same initial conditions, then science has demonstrated overwhelmingly that this isn’t the case.

        That you at some point of life had to sit and think about whether or not you are the one deciding, proves that you are the one deciding.

        Clearly you haven’t been paying attention to the writers here or the arguments presented in this debate. You seem to think that simply because one sits and thinks about free will, that they must necessarily have free will (perhaps you are misapplying DeCartes’ “cogito ergo sum” — which has to do with existence, not free will). That has no scientific basis whatsoever when referring to the classical definition of free will. We are products of our environment, genes, etc. So the thought of whether or not we have free will results from the fact that our particularly wired brain has been exposed to particular books, schools, and people that have spawned these interests. On top of this, if our thoughts are ultimately a result of mental operations mediated by chemical reactions in the brain which are governed by the laws of physics, and merely follows a causal chain into the past (this is what science suggests) — then our thoughts are ultimately the result of the state of the entire universe at any point in time with the change surrounding that point in time being governed by the laws of physics. There is no room for us to step in as “Gods” of some sort, and remove us from the causal chain such that we can make truly free choices. In a causal world, there is no room for the “causa sui” required for classical free will.

        And if you missed this: basically the alternate reality in which free will does not exist at all: is infinite non-existence.

        So according to your hypothetical scenario of equal/opposite worlds existing, you think that the reality without free will is the one that has infinite non-existence? Well, this would imply that it is not a reality of any sort, since it doesn’t exist, so you can’t even call it a reality. Also, I can’t see how or why you are concluding that a world with no free will is one that doesn’t exist. Unless you are just pointing out that in your hypothetical scenario, you’re defining one world to have free will and the opposite world would be one that not only doesn’t have free will, but it also wouldn’t exist at all. If this is the case, it’s fine and dandy, but has no bearing on the argument regarding classical free will here.

        Because death is eternal where movement is not possible.

        What? You seem to have defined life and death in non-traditional ways. Either way, I don’t see how it is relevant to this discussion.

        Evolution ensures that we do not collapse into that curious entropy.

        Collapse into what? Evolution is just change over time, whether it is change from something to nothing (possible), or from one something to another something. Entropy? Entropy is typically associated with a level of disorder. The evolution of the universe also appears to be heading towards a state of maximum entropy (i.e. second law of thermodynamics), so what do you think that evolution is ensuring exactly?

        • Vocie of Reason

          Before I get into this. A few questions:

          Do you believe it is you that is thinking all these things you think? When you say “I am” is that you saying that? If not, then what is? And what does that make you if not the one saying “I am”? Are you are, or are you not aware of a “self”?

          • http://lagevondissen.wordpress.com Lage

            Voice of Reason,

            You asked:

            Do you believe it is you that is thinking all these things you think? When you say “I am” is that you saying that? If not, then what is? And what does that make you if not the one saying “I am”? Are you are, or are you not aware of a “self”?

            My answer is “yes”, in the sense that we have defined the “self” to be our consciousness (generally speaking), and this consciousness is constituted by whatever mental processes we are directly aware of. It is this “self” that does the experiencing (based on how we define experience). However, having a self or having self-awareness doesn’t in any way imply that we have free will. In my opinion, it is analogous to having a secondary CPU. Does having a central processing scheme imply that free will is a necessity? I think not. Our central processing scheme, the self, is some accumulated sense of being, but if it results from programming, genes (brain wiring & plasticity), etc., then the fate of all thoughts or will resulting from that self are fixed and out of our control. There is no freedom in any choice made because the brain is wired to make THE choice, not A choice. It is wired to respond and give an output based on the programming, hardware, and inputs. Having a self (on its own) doesn’t say anything about what mental processes caused that self, nor does it say anything about that self’s will as being free or constrained. The self is just the being that we ascribe our experiences to. So why are you interested in the self? What does the self have to do with physical determinism or randomness governing all processes in the universe (and thus negating classical free will)? You can read my most recent blog post if you’re interested in my definition or concept of the self.
            (http://lagevondissen.wordpress.com/)

            Free will is an illusion. Does it mean that the feeling of having free will is an illusion? Nope. It means that a truly free will doesn’t exist, but only appears to exist. It is this feeling of free will that largely defines our conscious experience. We feel that we are in control, even if all of the computations and necessary brain responses are occurring in the background (unconscious mind, etc.) out of our sense of awareness. Does the fact that I recognize that free will is an illusion change my reality in any significant way? Well yes and no. On the one hand, now that I’ve seen the evidence for a few years now, I’ve modified my beliefs and become an illusionist. On the other hand, having this knowledge doesn’t change the fact that I live right in the thick of this illusion and can’t help but go with it. It is what it is. Also, fundamentally, since I don’t have free will, I had no choice but to write this response to you, and to believe what I believe. It is a result of the way my brain is wired, how it’s been programmed or changed by the environment around me, etc. Thus it is the causal chain (and the laws of physics) that led to my existence as a human being, and that led to every one of my resulting actions. If randomness is at the heart of the universe, ontologically speaking, then it is still out of our control. Determinism and randomness (the only two possibilities supported by science, with the majority of evidence supporting the former) both negate free will.

        • Voice of Reason

          You said that you agree we have a sense of self.

          My definition of free will is the self choosing freely among options for the self. Without another being forcing its choice.

          I’m sure you’ve encountered situations where your realized you had several options, you then consciously made a decision process weighing pros and cons and went with the one with most pros. You have had processes where you have thought and planned ahead of an action and then acted in accordance to the plan. We think about things and refer to memory in order to learn something. We can choose not to perform an act based on discovered reason after thought, or we can even choose to ignore reason.

          All of this happens, it is not an illusion. We are aware of multiple options. The reasoning and planning clearly had an impact on our next action and resulted in the next action.

          If you pick up a ball there are thousands of combinations of what you can do with it. You can hold it, rotate it, throw it anyway, at various speeds, angles, at various targets, or you can not throw it at all. These options really exist.

          Now you reason that yes, the options exist, but you are pre-programmed to reason a certain way and therefore you are pre-programmed to eventually choose a certain way.

          I would agree with that. We are pre-programmed. Programmed to think, reason, and choose. I would argue free will is part of the programming. Just because you didn’t choose your make up doesn’t change the fact that you are choosing amongst options per your desire to choose the best method of achieving those desires.

          You are you, no matter how you came to be, once you became yourself, you became aware of yourself and your own desires. Upon doing so you then started realizing there were better or worse ways of attaining those desires and goals. You realize options, you think about those options, you choose. There is no two people inside your body, there is only one.

          If the unconsciousness is guiding the decision and controlling the awareness, then the consciousness is an extension of the unconsciousness, and that unconsciousness is clearly deciding. There would be no two, just one. Same as if you cut the hand from your body, sit down and watch it for 2 hours. It does not move. Because it was just a part of the whole body. The consciousness dependent upon, operated, and interpreted by the unconsciousness is just an extension of the unconsciousness. So if the consciousness is aware of itself, that is the “unconsciousness” aware of itself.

          So if we are not making the decisions we are what is making the decisions. Or do you believe the consciousness is a separate being within a being? If so what would the consciousness’s function be if it has no power to control function?

          • http://lagevondissen.wordpress.com Lage

            Voice of “Reason”,

            My definition of free will is the self choosing freely among options for the self. Without another being forcing its choice.

            First of all, it is doubtful that the self can choose freely since the brain already has pre-dispositions and programmed outputs based on certain inputs and the current brain wiring. When you are “choosing” to do something, the choice has really already been made in that in could have only happened one way. If you think that you have freely “chosen” to do anything, ask yourself, “what motivated me to make that choice?”. It was your values, beliefs, likes, dislikes, the way your brain works, etc., that caused you to “choose” that choice. You would have to have an independent entity change your values, beliefs, likes, dislikes, etc., in order for you to have chosen differently. It is not free. You had no real freedom in the choice, because you are programmed to choose what you choose. So while there may not be another “being” forcing the choice, your brain forces the choice (whether or not you want to call the brain a “being” is up to you). Furthermore, the brain does what it does based on genes, environment, chemical reactions, and ultimately a causal chain mediated by the laws of physics.

            I’m sure you’ve encountered situations where your realized you had several options, you then consciously made a decision process weighing pros and cons and went with the one with most pros. You have had processes where you have thought and planned ahead of an action and then acted in accordance to the plan.

            Exactly. This is the brain weighing options and deciding based on what weight it puts on the variables. This is the brain making a programmed decision based on the programmed criteria for said decision-making.

            We think about things and refer to memory in order to learn something. We can choose not to perform an act based on discovered reason after thought, or we can even choose to ignore reason.

            Yes, but whatever faculties we use or don’t use are not up to us. It is up to our brain to decide how to think based on how it is wired, and thus what outputs will result from any inputs.

            All of this happens, it is not an illusion. We are aware of multiple options. The reasoning and planning clearly had an impact on our next action and resulted in the next action.

            The decision making being “free” is an illusion. I never said that the decision making itself is an illusion. It is the feeling of having made a decision FREELY that is an illusion. The brain certainly makes decisions all the time, but we have no choice to make the brain decide differently. It will decide the way it decides and there’s nothing we can do to change it — even if we think we are really making an unconstrained choice. We are not.

            Now you reason that yes, the options exist, but you are pre-programmed to reason a certain way and therefore you are pre-programmed to eventually choose a certain way. I would agree with that. We are pre-programmed. Programmed to think, reason, and choose.

            Exactly. We are programmed to think, reason, choose, etc. Since it is a result of programming, it is not free in any way. Any choice or reason is fixed and a result of programming.

            I would argue free will is part of the programming. Just because you didn’t choose your make up doesn’t change the fact that you are choosing amongst options per your desire to choose the best method of achieving those desires.

            This is contradictory. Free will (classical free will anyways) is incompatible with programming.
            Programming implies learning to respond in a particular way based on an input. Having free will implies that we will not respond in a particular way based on an input, but rather that we have the freedom to respond in a number of ways. This isn’t the case. We don’t have the freedom to respond in a number of ways if we are programmed. We can only respond/choose in one way based on that programming. All of the decision making to achieve desires, including the desires themselves are a part of the programming and hardware. So again, they are not free.

            You are you, no matter how you came to be, once you became yourself, you became aware of yourself and your own desires. Upon doing so you then started realizing there were better or worse ways of attaining those desires and goals. You realize options, you think about those options, you choose. There is no two people inside your body, there is only one.

            My awareness of myself or any desires I have are a result of programming and hardware. Any options that may physically exist to achieve my pre-programmed desires will be reduced to the one option that my brain chooses based on its programming and hardware. It isn’t free. You are only continuing to describe the FEELING of being able to make free choices (which of course this FEELING exists), but you are not providing an argument that supports free will.

            If the unconsciousness is guiding the decision and controlling the awareness, then the consciousness is an extension of the unconsciousness

            By definition, consciousness is not an extension of unconsciousness, although they can have overlap or interact with one another. This seems to be the case (that the conscious mind interacts with the unconscious mind).

            So if we are not making the decisions we are what is making the decisions. Or do you believe the consciousness is a separate being within a being? If so what would the consciousness’s function be if it has no power to control function?

            Our brains are making the decisions, end of story. Regardless of if any portion of that decision making experience enters the conscious mind or not, it is still not free because the brain makes decisions based on programming and hardware, and is thus deterministic and fixed. I don’t like to think of consciousness has having some particular function per se. We just infer what the functions of our body and brain may be. It seems that consciousness is an artifact of the brain’s evolution. It isn’t necessary to have conscious awareness for the brain to compute and produce mental or bodily actions. It is there, so I ascribe it to merely being an artifact from evolution. Here’s an analogy. Think of a computer which has a CPU and some programs to mediate computation for raw data inputs to produce raw data outputs. Now imagine that there is a secondary CPU which monitors the same inputs and outputs (albeit a representation of those inputs and outputs rather than raw data) and gets a representative signal from the primary CPU indicating what the primary CPU will do with that input (although it doesn’t detect where it is getting the signal from). That is, it sees the computation in some form (likely a symbolic representation of it), but it has no control over it. This is a rough idea of what I think consciousness is. It is the part of the brain that sees a representation of the inputs, outputs, and sees at least part of the computation. It doesn’t perform the computation (i.e. decision making), but merely sees how the computation is being done. Clearly this is just an analogy, as computers work quite differently from brains (although there is a bit of overlap too).

        • Vocie of Reason

          You consent to the fact that the brain is deciding and that its decisive process is influenced by “genes, environment, chemical reactions, and ultimately a causal chain mediated by the laws of physics.

          My argument is that if the brain is driving all of the body processes you are your brain. How can you be anything other than your brain? That is why I was asking what did you define you as? What do you believe has the sense of self if not other than the brain itself? My point is yes, the brain was set up due to forces beyond our control, but that bran allows us to sense ourself. The “self” that is being sensed is the brain. The brain is aware of a multitude of options in order to acquire what it desires. The desire being of course, pre-programmed. Our base desires being our base self. We are aware of that base.

          Again I say, we are the brain that is deciding. If we are not the brain that is deciding what are we? Where else can our sense of self reside if not the brain? If the brain is making itself aware, controlling its awareness, using its awareness, then the awareness is nothing more than the extension of the brain in otherwords we are the brain that is deciding.

          And it IS deciding. Even you acknowledge that. The brain once it becomes what it is, no matter how that may be, the moment it becomes aware of itself, it becomes aware of desired results. It recognizes multiple ways of attaining whatever it wants just like there may be more than one way to solve a math problem. It then reasons and decides.

          By “free will” I am saying that the brain is deciding for itself;, if the brain itself is a result of these genes and everything else that compose it, then that means the only one influencing its decisions is its own being. In other words it is choosing freely of anything other than itself how it is expressed, how it attains its goals, it is capable of recognizing it has options and choosing which one to go after. You say experiences influence its decisions, but if the experiences ARE ITS OWN. Then the only thing influencing its decision is none other than itself.

          Not only that, but the brain can even reason with itself. Everything happens for a reason. The reason I mentioned evolution because as you said evolution is just things changing overtime. However, without a force to cause the change, a change does not occur. I said movement is life as in the being that is capable of moving itself, expressing itself, changing itself is alive. There has to be a driving force for the change otherwise there is nothing to cause the change. Nothing changes, all you have is stillness. Which is why death can be visibly defined as cessation of function. Function implies work, change, dynamics, movement.

          So everything happens for a reason is observing what resulted in what. The cause of the result.

          Using this the brain/person can look into it/themself and question itself. It can by act of reasoning uncover the core of not just who it is, but what it is, how it must have come to be. What happens is that with each newly discovered reason, how it perceives itself alters.

          The brain, through reasoning is altering its own perception, its own point of view. Nothing else but the brain can do so, and nothing else but the brain is in control. Again you point to influencing genes and chemicals, but all that does is enable the functions, enables self, enables reason, enables the power to choose (willpower). That doesn’t change the fact that a self is reasoning and choosing. We may not have gotten to choose the starting point, but we do choose everything from the starting point. We ARE the brain that is deciding and we can decide to go as far as to even alter our own point of perception which is akin to altering ourselves because perception is everything.

          We are what we sense we are, and from the base perception we can alter our perception through the power of reasoning and essentially recreate ourselves. You said it yourself that the way you perceive things changes upon realizing that free will was an illusion however the illusion did not dissipate.

          You say “who I am is causing me to pick this way”. I say yes, you are who you are, and who you are is picking. Nobody besides you is picking for you. That is free will. Just because you didn’t get to pick how you were assembled doesn’t change the fact that you are now aware of your assembly and deciding based on that assembly. You are just basing your decision on what is there as you have nothing else to go off of. That said, if you take yourself down via reasoning to your very core:

          The choice of life or death, you realize that you can in fact choose either way. Choose life and you are now a creature in support of life, that is where your perception starts. Everything past that, how that decision is expressed is up to you.

          The only thing you did not choose is that it is in your programming to be able to choose for yourself. I say that the act of choosing for YOURSELF is free will. You also have no choice but to trust what you see as the truth because past what you are aware of–there is nothing else, until you are made aware of it. However, the most your perception does is control the amount of options available, past that is is pure reasoning and self-reflection which includes prediction.

          So I guess I would have to see I believe in free will with some limits. Limit being, I have to choose and that I must operate within my perception of reality. But within the perception of reality, my choice is my own. Since it is MY perception and I am my perception, nothing other than me is making the decision for me. Even you say in your perception of reality where you do not have free will the illusion persists. If that illusion has the same longevity as your existence, it is not an illusion. It is reality. It is the same as how you tell the difference from a dream and the real world when you are awake. Consistency, you wake up from the dream over and over again to a consistent reality with consistent physics, you remember it and you know it is the same. That consistency causes you to conclude that the inconsistent dream states must be a sub-reality within your greater reality.

          Genes and environment provide a makeup, they are not some separate entity forcing you to decide. If you believe that, you must ask yourself what exactly is this “you” that is being forced to decide then?

          • http://lagevondissen.wordpress.com Lage

            Voice of “reason”,

            You consent to the fact that the brain is deciding and that its decisive process is influenced by “genes, environment, chemical reactions, and ultimately a causal chain mediated by the laws of physics.

            Exactly.

            My argument is that if the brain is driving all of the body processes you are your brain. How can you be anything other than your brain? That is why I was asking what did you define you as? What do you believe has the sense of self if not other than the brain itself?

            If you read my blog post which explained my own concept of self (I don’t think you did this), you’d probably recognize that my idea of the conscious self is defined as “me”, that is, the way we see ourselves, the conscious self. This “me” is what people tend to refer to when they use the words “I”, “Me”, etc. It is what people are referring to when they speak of what “they” did, or what “they” believe. What you are describing, that is, the brain as a whole (unconscious, etc.) is what I would call the “I”. So, in short, I do not think that there are many people that think of themselves as their brains, nor think of their self as being the entire brain. Not at all. Rather, it is the conscious aspect of our brains that people refer to (including myself) when they think of who they are. It is the only part of the self that we have direct access to.

            My point is yes, the brain was set up due to forces beyond our control, but that bran allows us to sense ourself. The “self” that is being sensed is the brain.

            Yes the brain allows us to sense ourselves, and that is what self-consciousness is. See my previous comment above. However, I do not believe that the brain (as a whole) is the sensed “self”. The only thing that we are directly aware of is our conscious self. The rest of the brain (i.e. unconscious self, etc.) is not sensed by our consciousness. That is why one part is consciousness and the other part is an opposite counterpart, named unconsciousness.

            Our base desires being our base self. We are aware of that base.

            I’m not sure what you’re trying to communicate here by this comment.

            Again I say, we are the brain that is deciding. If we are not the brain that is deciding what are we? Where else can our sense of self reside if not the brain? If the brain is making itself aware, controlling its awareness, using its awareness, then the awareness is nothing more than the extension of the brain in otherwords we are the brain that is deciding.

            As I said earlier, “we” are the conscious portion of ourselves, based on how the majority of how people define their selves. People generally do not include the unconscious portion of their brain in their concept of self. They think of themselves as the “Me” which I described above and on my most recent blog post which I referenced. So I would say that we are not the brain that is deciding, we are the conscious part of our brain that is NOT actually deciding.

            And it IS deciding. Even you acknowledge that. The brain once it becomes what it is, no matter how that may be, the moment it becomes aware of itself, it becomes aware of desired results. It recognizes multiple ways of attaining whatever it wants just like there may be more than one way to solve a math problem. It then reasons and decides.

            Yes, the brain is deciding things all the time. I’ve not argued otherwise. However, there is no free will from those decisions since another choice couldn’t have been made with all of those decisions.

            By “free will” I am saying that the brain is deciding for itself;,

            But the brain is not choosing “freely”. Perhaps you don’t have the same definition of “free” as most others do. What you are saying detracts from the whole purpose of the free will debate. The brain may decide for itself based on its hardware and programming, but “we” (i.e. the conscious self) have no influence over that decision. So you are defining “free will” differently from the classical definition and this makes the argument pointless to discuss. If I said that I define free will to be a will that is controlled by the brain, then of course everyone has free will. That is not the argument here. The argument is based on the classical definition of free will. The argument is based on one simple scenario. That is, if we are given a choice, do we really have more than one possible outcome if we were to go back in time and repeat the initial conditions when making the choice. If not, then we never had a “choice”, we merely had an input and a programmed output. If I went back in time and saw you “making a choice” 5 years ago, is it possible that you would make a different choice. What if I traveled back in time to the same point 5 years ago 1 million times. Will any of those events change? If not, then you never had free will. If so, then you could possibly have free will (unless the change in events was brought on by randomness rather than a free will). There is no evidence to support that going back in time and replaying events would produce different results. The scientific evidence supports determinism and thus no free will.

            if the brain itself is a result of these genes and everything else that compose it, then that means the only one influencing its decisions is its own being. In other words it is choosing freely of anything other than itself how it is expressed, how it attains its goals, it is capable of recognizing it has options and choosing which one to go after.

            Nope. It is not “choosing freely” as you put it. It is choosing unfreely based on a program. There is no such thing as “freely choosing” in the classical sense of the word “free” with free will. It is not free at all. That is the point here.

            You say experiences influence its decisions, but if the experiences ARE ITS OWN. Then the only thing influencing its decision is none other than itself.

            Yes and no. On the one hand, the brain is making decisions based on its own programs. On the other hand, the brains programs are constantly changing based on environmental influences, mutated genes, neural plasticity, and various learning schemes. So the brain is constantly being influenced by the environment around it. It is never static. It is never the same brain for that matter as it is constantly changing. So I think it is misleading to say that the only thing influencing its decision is itself, simply because “itself” is constantly changing and being updated by outside influences.

            Not only that, but the brain can even reason with itself. Everything happens for a reason. The reason I mentioned evolution because as you said evolution is just things changing overtime. However, without a force to cause the change, a change does not occur.

            I’m not sure what you are implying by saying that the brain reasons with itself. As for evolutionary forces, the forces that cause the change are the laws of physics (i.e. the physical forces in nature: electromagnetic, strong, weak, gravity, and any others that remain to be discovered.

            I said movement is life as in the being that is capable of moving itself, expressing itself, changing itself is alive. There has to be a driving force for the change otherwise there is nothing to cause the change. Nothing changes, all you have is stillness. Which is why death can be visibly defined as cessation of function. Function implies work, change, dynamics, movement.

            Everything is in motion and in a constant state of change because of the laws of physics. They are what has driven everything from the infinite past to the present state and into the future. Life is an arbitrary distinction because it is just a particular arrangement of matter with dynamics mediated by the physical forces. What you define to be “living” is no more capable of moving itself than any other matter in nature. They are all moving the way they do because of the fundamental forces causing every constituent particle, etc., to move as they do. When an electric field is applied to a conductor, electrons will move in response to that potential. They have no choice but to move in one direction. When we as “living” beings think we are making a choice to move or perform some action, our brain is merely executing the same kind of physical/chemical reactions that the electron was constrained by. Action potentials in the brain, mediated by neurotransmitters, etc., are controlling what the brain is doing. These are all in turn controlled by fundamental physical forces moving particles in a defined direction.

            Using this the brain/person can look into it/themself and question itself. It can by act of reasoning uncover the core of not just who it is, but what it is, how it must have come to be. What happens is that with each newly discovered reason, how it perceives itself alters.

            Certainly. The brain continues to learn as it acquires new data, new programs, and when the hardware changes during ontogenic evolution, mutations, etc.

            Nothing else but the brain can do so, and nothing else but the brain is in control.

            Well, even defining what the brain is can be difficult or impossible because the brain doesn’t have a definable boundary. It is constantly exchanging atoms from and interacting with its environment. So we can argue that the laws of physics are in control. Everything else, including the brain is controlled by these physical forces.

            Again you point to influencing genes and chemicals, but all that does is enable the functions, enables self, enables reason, enables the power to choose (willpower). That doesn’t change the fact that a self is reasoning and choosing.

            I never argued that the brain doesn’t reason, decide, or choose. What’s being argued is whether or not the brain can reason, decide, or choose freely. All signs point to “No”. It is not choosing freely. It is deciding based on a fixed program, which will ultimately do the deciding (the program).

            We may not have gotten to choose the starting point, but we do choose everything from the starting point. We ARE the brain that is deciding and we can decide to go as far as to even alter our own point of perception which is akin to altering ourselves because perception is everything.

            “We” don’t choose anything. The brain’s programs do. “We” aren’t the brain in the sense of how the majority of people in the world describe themselves. As I said earlier, most people think of themselves as the conscious self only, and the conscious self isn’t doing any of the decision making. Even if it was, it would be based on a program forced to pick one “choice”, with no freedom at all.

            You say “who I am is causing me to pick this way”. I say yes, you are who you are, and who you are is picking. Nobody besides you is picking for you. That is free will.

            No that is not free will. You can define it that way if you want to, but it takes away all meaning from the word “free”, as used in the classical definition of “free will”. What you are describing is not free. To be sure, it is a will, but not a free will, because it is constrained by programs and determinism. There is no freedom when making a choice, rather the choice has already been decided based on the programs, hardware, laws of physics, etc.

            Just because you didn’t get to pick how you were assembled doesn’t change the fact that you are now aware of your assembly and deciding based on that assembly. You are just basing your decision on what is there as you have nothing else to go off of.

            None of that matters, because it is still all governed by deterministic processes. Sure we have nothing else to go off of, but that in no way implies we have a free will. It just means that all we have to go off of is a non-free will. It is all we have. A predetermined will. No acausal freedom at all in the decision making process regardless of if “we” are doing it, or “our brains”, or whatever.

            The choice of life or death, you realize that you can in fact choose either way. Choose life and you are now a creature in support of life, that is where your perception starts. Everything past that, how that decision is expressed is up to you.

            I can’t choose either way. My brain will choose what it chooses based on its program and hardware. Nothing is up to me. It is up to my brain as a whole, including the decision making part that I don’t have any direct access to in the unconscious, etc.

            I say that the act of choosing for YOURSELF is free will.

            If you are implying that non-freely choosing for yourself is free will, then your definition is meaningless to this debate, as it is not the classical definition. I can say that I define my non-free will to be free will, but simply calling it free doesn’t magically make it free. It is not free, so it is merely a will, not a free will. Your definition ends up being futile.

            So I guess I would have to see I believe in free will with some limits. Limit being, I have to choose and that I must operate within my perception of reality. But within the perception of reality, my choice is my own.

            I disagree that the choice is your own. It is not. It is up to the brain which you have no control over. The brain is controlled by chemical reactions and the laws of physics. You are controlled by the laws of physics, and thus your decisions are as well. The choice isn’t really yours other than the fact that an output is produced by your brain or body — a fixed output that has nothing to do with a free choice.

            If that illusion has the same longevity as your existence, it is not an illusion. It is reality.

            I think that is false. An illusion is an illusion, regardless of how long the illusion persists. Your claim here is ridiculous. Yes it is a part of my reality, that is, the illusion of free will. But that doesn’t allow it to cease being an illusion. So if I’m on top of a building and everyone down below looks like they are really small, this is an illusion. If I stay on the building my whole life, the apparent small size of the people below is still an illusion. They don’t magically become small people simply because of the duration of the illusion. The illusion just persists for that length of time. Free will is an illusion regardless of how long the illusion lasts (my entire life). It is a part of my reality indeed, and the feeling of having a free will is indeed NOT an illusion. However, actually having a free will is indeed an illusion.

            It is the same as how you tell the difference from a dream and the real world when you are awake. Consistency, you wake up from the dream over and over again to a consistent reality with consistent physics, you remember it and you know it is the same. That consistency causes you to conclude that the inconsistent dream states must be a sub-reality within your greater reality.

            I agree. This is how we seem to detect whether or not we are dreaming. And your point is? This says nothing about the illusion of free will, unless you are pointing out that both dreams and free will are illusions — in which case I agree. Yes, both dreams and free will are illusions.

            Genes and environment provide a makeup, they are not some separate entity forcing you to decide. If you believe that, you must ask yourself what exactly is this “you” that is being forced to decide then?

            Genes, environment, and ultimately the laws of physics are what force the brain to decide as it does. Whether or not you want to think of the laws of physics as being some separate entity is beside the point (although many would say that they are in fact a separate entity from anyone’s self). We could say that the entire universe and all forces are one single entity or a trillion separate entities if you’d like. It doesn’t change the result of us having no free will based on the classical definitions. What I’ve gathered from you so far is that you think that a constrained brain forced to choose one way based on programming is free will. This detracts from classical definition of free will and thus makes the argument futile and void.

        • Voice of Reason

          I must thank you. You’ve challenged me enough to realize that I must work on translating what I know into a language that others can understand.

          I have always kind of sucked as explaining myself to others, but I do know that I am right. I just have to go about explaining that the right way and revealing it the right way too.

          So I’ll leave it at here for now, I feel no pride lost even if you mock and dismiss. It pains me to say I’m going about this the wrong way, but if somebody else who understands does not express it first–I will in another form at another date. Till now I don’t mind being “wrong”, because I think me being wrong right now is the right path to follow.

          I may not agree with your observation, but I do agree with you desire to walk an enlightened path. So there is no confusion I am admitting my defeat, I am not wrong, but my reasons for trying so hard here–now closely examined–will not be achieved in the best possible manner. As often is the case there is a better way, once its existence is discovered, and it is known to be plausible, possible, and reasonable. Only a fool would look away and settle for less.

          Good fortune, fellow student of life, although I am sure you assume me a failed one. For now.

          • http://lagevondissen.wordpress.com Lage

            Voice of Reason,

            I must thank you. You’ve challenged me enough to realize that I must work on translating what I know into a language that others can understand.

            I think you’ve come across perfectly clear. The main problem is that your definition of free will doesn’t match the classical definition, and so the free will that you believe exists is really NO FREE WILL in the classical sense. This makes your argument for free will in this discussion futile.
            It would be like me saying that “pigs fly”, and if you disagree, I would clarify by saying that I call airplanes “pigs”. Your argument is following similar lines. You are equating the actions of the brain as a whole with free will, but this doesn’t even resemble the classical definition. That’s the main problem here. All of your comments have alluded to that position.

            So I’ll leave it at here for now, I feel no pride lost even if you mock and dismiss.

            I don’t have any intention to dismiss you, as I’ve explained in my comment above in this response. I’ve just pointed out that the differences in our definitions make the argument pointless. What you would have to do is start by agreeing to use the classical definition of free will, and then build your arguments from there regarding what you want to say about free will. I just don’t think you could get very far (nobody ever has thus far). If you want to refer to “no free will” (classically speaking) as “free will”, that’s fine. It just doesn’t do much other than confuse others and detract from the main point of the debate.

            Good fortune, fellow student of life, although I am sure you assume me a failed one. For now.

            Peace and love brother. I don’t assume you to be failed. None of us have free will, so we all are what we are — period. We just gotta’ roll with it and be ourselves. There is no real reason to congratulate anyone or shame anyone for their actions. We don’t have a choice in the matter, whether it is our supposed accomplishments, or our supposed failures. They couldn’t have been any other way, or if so, the only scientifically supported alternative would involve randomness and still be out of our control. So keep on keepin’ on! :-)

  • http://www.annevis.com Anne

    Let’s just take a few pieces of your argumentation:
    “the subconscious mind cannot know ahead of time what to do”
    Is that true?
    Or:
    “subconscious mind has not yet had a chance to learn”
    Is that true?

    How do you know? It is called “subconscious” after all, isn’t it?
    This is a complicated subject … great to keep investigating it!

    • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm W. R. KLemm

      My comments were meant to emphasize that the subconscious mind cannot know (and learn how to respond) in advance for NEW situations and contingencies which the brain has never confronted.

      Now, it comes to mind the possibility that subconscious mind might have a kind of free will. That is, perhaps brain can make some choices and decisions subconsciously with a degree of freedom, not completely programmed by experience or genetics. This leads into consideration of determinism, and the possibility that brain actions can be probabilistic. Certain, in a Bayesian sense, this is probably partially true. Some of these ideas are discussed in my forthcoming book from Singer, “Atoms of Mind.”

  • Ulla

    How is the readiness potential taken into consideration?

    • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm W. R. KLemm

      I have an extensive discussion of the readiness potential (and its misinterpretation) in the original paper. It is too extensive to cover here. See Klemm, W. (2010). Free will debates: Simple experiments are not so simple Advances in Cognitive Psychology, 6 (-1), 47-65 DOI: 10.2478/v10053-008-0076-2

  • gregorylent

    more mature understandings of brain, mind, awareness, intention, attention, conditioning will further the understanding of this … and also, using languages other than english to grasp the concepts underlying the investigations … english is simply too clunky

  • Myecelia

    I agree that the experiment is flawed, but I do think free will is illusory. For me to have free will would imply that my thought process is somehow separate from my environment- that is, not a reaction to stimuli. I only can react. If I decide to have yogurt rather than cereal for breakfast, that is the result of (for instance) a built-up preference for yogurt, not some on the fly decision that’s being made. It’s a conditioned response. I can’t think of an example of making a decision separate from your conditioning/personality. Anything you do is a result of what has happened to you in the past, your genes, etc. Nothing happens “in the moment” separate from the past.

    • Ashwattha

      @Mycelia: While your argument does hold true for many, many cases of human behavior (quite possibly the vast majority in fact), I’m not so sure it holds in every case. Creative works for example. Is all art merely the result of the past influencing what we create, or is true innovation spontaneous? Revelation seems possible to me as a source for novel actions to be made that are not merely the constructions of past experiences.

      That’s my two cents, but obviously more research is required.

      • http://xeronimo.tumblr.com Jerome

        @ashwatta:

        > Is all art merely the result of the past influencing what we create, or is true innovation spontaneous?

        Could you give an example of ‘spontaneous true innovation’? Innovation doesn’t just come out of the blue. Even innovative things or ideas rely on stuff or ideas that existed before. Nothing is created ex nihilo. How could it?

        And spontaneous ideas aren’t the result of a conscious decision anyway. They just ‘creep up’. And once there they’re not any different from any other stimuli we’re exposed to (and we react to).

        Also, people can’t imagine what they haven’t experienced, in some way, first. A blind person can never come up with ‘blue’. A person that doesn’t know that elephants exist can’t just come up with one. Etc.

      • Richard

        There are quite a few recent studies in the psychology of music that shed light on human creativity. In them, computers have been trained to improvise jazz music. People train computers in a few different ways, mostly neural networks or note/scale libraries. These two different ways are how musicians can learn improvisation techniques–by copying from others and/or learning the theories behind scales. It turns out that computers can improvise decently well (more training would be needed to teach jazz techniques of velocity, intricate note lengths, vibrato, etc.).
        So that goes to show, even in the most human fields of art such as music improvisation, computers can be taught to be creative.

    • http://xeronimo.tumblr.com Jerome

      @Mycelia: good and valid points.

    • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm W. R. KLemm

      No,no, no. I do not accept your premise that free will has to exempt one from interacting with the environment. Environment presents options. Which option one chooses may be automated subconsciously, but why would you assume that free will cannot exist in the context of environment. Conscious awareness of what is in the environment enables freely willed choices to be more informed. Likewise, why can’t freely willed choices be informed by past learning and programming? I do not claim that anything the brain does occurs “in the moment” without influence of the past.

      The subsequent postings on creativity are important, but I think you have misconstrued them. The issue is not whether creativity is influenced by the past, but whether one can freely choose which creative idea to pursue and choose.

    • Krellman

      I sadly** agree with you.

      **Isn’t it a [the most] depressing idea?

  • Roebaby

    What a wonderful investigation! I enjoyed reading this and doing some of my own research on the side as well. We would all like to think that human beings have the ability to make their own decisions in life, but what if it is all just a dream. On the other hand it is called the “subconscience” mind for a reason. What a puzzling concept.

  • Bishoy Alphonse

    Hello,
    i do support the idea that it’s not an illusion.
    though i ‘m a little bit against the title of the subject, because i think there is a difference between “free will” and “conscience”

    there is always this race between the subconscience and conscience minds where subconscience is trying to take over the conscience one.

    why i assumed there is this race, because i remember at some point of time, one could get to the result of a mathematical operation before performing the calculations.
    or generally can think ahead without going through the proper sequence for analysis.
    eventually the learning process is very much affecting the outcome of this “battle”.

    subsconscience is definitely faster than the conscience one which by any means is reliving for the conscience who becomes lazy and less responsible and the “free will” as well is benefiting from the fact that it wants to reach a conclusion for an issue that fastest possible.
    that’s why again i make a difference between the free will and sub and consc. minds.

    so basically subconcsience acts like a database, very unique one, because it has this powerful combination of memory storage of one’s personal experience and human kind experience.

    at the end the database needs to be filled with information to operate.
    and this happens in someone’s conscience.

    • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm W. R. KLemm

      I am intrigued by your statement: “there is always this race between the subconscience and conscience minds where subconscience is trying to take over the conscience one.” We apparently have a language problem here, because in English “conscience” means something quite different from “conscious.”

      But back to your point about the “race.” I would put the matter in the opposite way: there is always this race where conscious mind is trying to take over the decisions and choices of the subconscious mind. This lies at the heart of an assertion in a paper in “Cognitive Neuroscience” where the author asserts that consciousness may have no adaptive value. On the contrary, I think the capacity evolved and appears apparently only in higher animals precisely because it has adaptive value. One can go on at length postulating what those adaptations might be, but let’s not take time to do that here, except to point out that it is otherwise hard to explain why animals with consciousness have larger and a more flexible behavioral repertoire.

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  • http://reunitedselves.blogspot.com shen

    This is a fascinating article. What do you think of this scenario?

    Two children – identical twins – grow up in the same house, same environment, and both are sexually abused. One grows up to perpetrate the same kinds of abuse as an adult, the other abhors the very thought of it.

    or, two boys who grow up in the same neighborhood, both with a single mother who is a drug addict. Both end up joining gangs in their early teens in order to belong. Both are faced with the dilemna – say at the same exact age – of having to commit an abominable crime. One makes the choice to go ahead with the crime, one does not.

    I have a hard time believing we have no free will because I know I personally am presented with decisions constantly. I know there are primitive urges that creep up that I will not entertain if the time or place is not right. I know that I am able, for instance, to think, “this child is misbehaving and it is making me angry” and then I am able go through a series of choices in my mind, ranging from the urge to smack the child reactively to trying to restrain the child from what they are doing in a very non-violent, uninvasive way.

    It seems to me, the brain activity which is noted in the experiment could be this kind of process. A person given the choice of pushing a button whenever they want to may be thinking:

    Has it been long enough?
    How long was it between the last two times I pushed to button?
    I wonder what it will tell them if I wait a moment before I push it?
    Oh yeah, the button. (I got distracted)

    We have no way of knowing what the split second “subconscious” thoughts may have been, therefore any conclusion drawn from this is speculative.

    While I find this interesting, I’m not certain it falls in the right category to be included in the Steppers Wisdom blog carnival. Free will is certainly a twelve-step consideration, so for that reason I am still considering including your entry.

    • http://xeronimo.tumblr.com Jerome

      @shen:

      > Two children – identical twins – grow up in the same house, same environment, and both are sexually abused. One grows up to perpetrate the same kinds of abuse as an adult, the other abhors the very thought of it.

      That’s not a proof for free will though. The children surely have NOT experienced the same things (or met the same people) 100%. So of course there can be a difference in reaction to a certain event: different input, different output. Doesn’t mean that either had a choice.

    • http://ronmurp.blogspot.com Ron Murphy

      Biologically twins will diverge from the moment they become twins: not every cell division will be identical, not every gene will be expressed in just the same way, variations in protein production,…

      …and by the time their nervous system starts to develop they are already different. The connectivity in their brains will differ. Their experiences in the womb will differ, even according to how much of the blood supply and nutrient supply they receive.

      The amazing thing is that twins are as alike as they are. Difference should be expected.

    • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm W. R. KLemm

      Shen:

      I agree with you, b but also agree with your respondent who pointed out this is not very compelling proof.

      By the way, your comments on button press thinking are “right on.” I made some of the same points in the original paper.

    • Lage

      Unfortunately free will does not seem to exist. I’ve seen no logical argument thus far that indicates that we do. I’ve seen plenty of evidence and simple philosophical-logical arguments that demonstrate that it can’t exist.

      In order for free will to exist, a person has to have the ability to make a choice — and this means that the future can’t be determined. So most theistic religious folks out there who believe in an omniscient “God” who knows the past, present, and future — demonstrate that free will can’t exist — due to this future being known. If this “God” doesn’t know the future, then that “God” fails to be omnipotent and by definition, fails to be “God”. Ironically, it is these same religious folks who have no choice but to believe that free will — even though true free will’s existence would contradict\ the very idea of an all knowing “God”.

      Religion aside, in order for people to believe in free will, they have to agree that the world is at least adequately determined. If everything was random and unpredictable, then the choices that you think you make or the actions you perform would be inconsistent with each other. Paradoxically, that very determinism implies the absence of free will, for the more deterministic your actions become, a more fixed path is set and alternatives disappear. On top of this, uncertainty or indeterminism (currently proven with strong evidence in quantum theory) suggests that at the most fundamental level of existence, matter/energy behaves in a random manner (no 100% predictability). Unfortunately, this just creates another mechanism for lack of free will, because randomness is still something out of our control. So technically speaking, the fact that the universe operates under either determinism, or indeterminism, or a combination of both — implies that the universe operates in a way that eliminates free choice altogether.

      To summarize, people are products of their genes, environment, and chance — thus no free will. Even if free will was possible, which logically it isn’t, it would comprise the smallest fraction of reality with the majority being determined or random.

      In order for free will to exist, we’d have to get rid of both determinism and indeterminism (chance), which then we would have nothing left. We’d have to have people that are “causa sui” to use the Latin term, or “creators of their own cause” (thus god-like). You have to abandon logic altogether to believe in free will — which one can do, but then can never have a scientific discussion regarding the matter. Does this mean that life is meaningless? Not at all. It means that although I don’t have any choice in the matter, I am able to experience life, beauty, variety, a slice of unpredictability and love — which makes life worth living.

      • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy
        • Lage

          Ron,

          Yes, I agree with the statement in the first article that says “…even if the universe is ontologically deterministic, it must be epistemological indeterminate to internal entities.”

          This goes in-line with the Kantian philosophy stating that the “I” can not know itself — that is, the seer can’t see itself. The best way that the seer or “I” can know itself is through intersubjective communication/reflection with others. Otherwise we really just know the “me” (the self as we see it), rather than the “I” (the self as it really is objectively).
          I would say that ontological determinism/indeterminism is much more relevant to our discussion on the subject of free will, than epistemological determinism/indeterminism is. It does not matter what we can know or not know as members, sub-systems, or participants of this universe or system. Quantum theory implies that this epistemological indeterminism is true and I have no disagreement with it. All this says is that WE, the observers can’t know the past, present or future with 100% certainty, because we actually are unable to isolate ourselves from the experiment (as observers, we become part of the system we’re observing in several ways).

          What matters more is the fact that we don’t even need empirical data to demonstrate that logically, if ontological determinism and/or indeterminism exist, then free will is negated and can’t exist. I believe that the universe is governed by adequate (macro) determinism with a fundamental indeterminism at it’s foundation — thus randomness mixed in with a causal chain of events. Either way, no free will can exist. I haven’t heard one good argument to refute the impossibility of free will — and I don’t believe it’s possible without abandoning logic altogether (which religious theists having already abandoned it). I’ve come to accept that I have no free will. I think it’s very difficult for most people (religious theists, those who believe in moral responsibility, pride, etc.) to accept this because it undermines their very religion and thus their identity. It demonstrates that their accomplishments aren’t really due to their willful effort or willful talents because they had no control over such skills obtained. I still appreciate the beauty, variety and love in the world, even if I have no control over it, and even if the meaning of concepts like love, variety, etc., are changed. It’s a beautiful universe we live in, indeed! I also agree with the general consensus of quantum theory (mentioned in the second article you linked for me) — that if we were to reverse time and start with the same initial conditions say 1 billion years ago (any arbitrary amount of time in the past), that the universe would play out differently. This is what quantum theory implies, that is, an ontological indeterminism at the fundamental level (i.e. randomness). This would also explain why the universe appears to have otherwise arbitrary physical constants, and the ability to support carbon-based life. It’s because time is infinite, and the universe has had an infinite number of possibilities to “try” before reaching the one that allowed those physical constants to eventually allow life as we define it. Looking at the anthropic principle, the universe evolved the way it did, simply because our existence as self-aware entities contemplating the issue requires it to be so. These theories that I happen to agree with (some of them self-discovered) assume that time is infinite and/or the big bang is a cycle that repeats over time with new variety every time due to quantum randomness. Good articles.

          • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

            Yes. I’ve suggested some reasons why people might object to non-free-will in my discussion with Alexis, below. I’m not irreversibly committed to causality (hence determinism or indeterminism) as being the basis on which the universe works. But if one rejects causality to allow in free-will, in order to make it ‘free’ of a prior causes, then it also releases our reality from the causal influence of the ‘will’ – our will is free, but can’t do anything. much less make a choice. Either way, free-will is screwed.

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  • http://www.cognitivephilosophy.net Greg

    I thought that while Dr. Klemm makes some valuable arguments about the problematic nature of the experiments that purport to show that free will is an illusion, he actually sidesteps the fundamental questions about the nature of free will. In the end, I think he’s arguing against a phantom of his own creation.

    I started a new blog recently and was motivated to write up a more detailed response. Check it out!

    http://cognitivephilosophy.net/consciousness/free-will-is-not-what-you-think-it-is/

    • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm W. R. KLemm

      Good point. The thrust of the original paper was to challenge the research that scientists and philosophers use to argue that free will is an illusion. There is certainly room for ideas on just what free will is (but first, one has to concede it may exist).

      • http://www.cognitivephilosophy.net Greg

        Hi Dr. Klemm, thanks for the response. Had you written a blog post discussing how research into the subconscious causes of behavior doesn’t necessarily destroy the notion of free will, I’d wholeheartedly agree with you, and mention so in my post. But your post is titled “free will is NOT an illusion” and you seem to indicate that proving this research wrong is enough justification to say that. That’s where I disagree. A recourse to consciousness is just begging the question.

        There was another article in the BBC recently saying free will had been proven because animals engage in probabilistic, rather than deterministic behavior. I wrote another post discussing that idea as well. http://cognitivephilosophy.net/consciousness/this-still-isnt-free-will/ I think these debates can benefit from a bit more rigorous formal philosophical logic, and is implicitly what I’m getting at in those two responses.

        I think you’re right though and that the debate IS important in the role it plays in human responsibility and ethics. Though I think even that debate is misguided, as I discuss here: http://cognitivephilosophy.net/consciousness/what-we-miss-in-the-free-will-debate/

        To me, the label of “free will” isn’t as important as understanding the causes of human behavior and decision making, and how that understanding can benefit the social and political systems we set up. I’m personally very skeptical of free will, and while I think aspects of the debate are important, whether free will exists or not is somewhat besides the point to me. It’s what we do with our knowledge of causation and intentionality that I really think is the important discussion. Free will is important in so far as it informs that conversation.

        • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm Bill Klemm

          I agree that free will issues are not illuminated well by probabilistic arguments. The idea has been advanced that animals must have free will because their behavior can be more probabilistic than deterministic. For a given situation, there may a range of options and the probability that any one response choice will occur varies with the option. However, this does not mean, as the BBC authors seem to imply, that the behavior is freely chosen and not deterministic. The net behavior IS deterministic, constrained by the probability density function (PDF) for that particular scenario. It is like pulling different colored jelly beans out of a jar: if there are 30% green, 30% yellow, 20% brown, and 20% black, this constitutes a PDF. When reaching into the jar to pull one out at a time, the result is random only within the constraints of the PDF. Eventually after all are selected, you MUST end up with a pre-determined number of each colored bean.

          So I don’t see how this supports the idea of free will. An animal can be programmed by experience to have a certainly probability of response to any given contingency. The total response is governed by that PDF, not free choice.

          Yet I do favor the idea of free will, at least in humans. A human gets to construct the PDF for any given behavior. The construction process can be an act of free choice. In any given hour of the day, I have the option of picking up a cigarette. If I am a smoker, there is a certain probability for each given hour whether I will do that. But I can construct a new PDF in which the probability is CHOSEN to be zero. My subsequent actions are governed by that PDF. But what deterministic process caused me to re-set the PDF? I say it was free will.

        • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm Bill Klemm

          You say that we should “not concern ourselves with the debate over free will, but about how our knowledge of causation and intention should inform how we interact with each other,” as if free-will is irrelevant to the issue. But consider the possible causes of a given intention or act. The options include an unlearned biological propensity operating within a deterministic PDF, a probabilistically determined range of actions determined by prior learning or experience, a highly constrained set of choices created by the environmental contingencies that demand action but only allow minimal possibilities, and — what else: a choice to act that is made by a freely chosen probability. All behaviors have a certain probability of occurring, from zero to 100%. The issue is what creates the probability? Is it something externally imposed? … biologically imposed? … or possibly cognitively chosen?

          Clearly,humans make cognitively chosen decisions. These are often based on decisions on what is the right or best thing to do under a given circumstance. Such decisions create a PDF that does constrain our responses. But humans are free in many cases to make the decision as to what is the right or best thing to do, and thus create a corresponding PDF,

          Clearly, humans make cognitively chosen decisions. These are often based on decisions on what is the right or best thing to do under a given circumstance. Such decisions create a PDF that does constrain our responses. But humans are free in many cases to make the decision as to what is the right or best thing to do, and thus create a corresponding PDF.

          Nobody forces me to quit smoking. I can make that choice freely. Now you might say, it is not free because I have been convinced by data and others that smoking is bad for me. Once I believe that, my choice does become constrained because I have created new PDF where smoking probability is 0. But I did have the alternative of not believing the data or others or of wanting to die happily from the “coffin nails” that given me so much pleasure. I could have decided the tradeoff favored enjoying the benefits of smoking, perhaps even rationalizing I won’t get cancer no matter what. Are these not free-will choices?

          • Steve

            Well since you asked, no, they aren’t free will choices.

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  • http://ronmurp.blogspot.com Ron Murphy

    I agree that there is nothing to demonstrate that we do not have free will. But nor is there anything to demonstrate that we do, beyond how we personally feel about it. But we know how flaky personal perceptions can be.

    What would it feel like to us if we didn’t have free will, if we were just very complex automata that bumbled along in the world, doing some stuff, and behaving ‘as if’ we had free will? Wouldn’t it be just like this?

  • Al

    I see the point you are making in the article. But are decisions made by the conscious mind really “free will”? Are they not still a “simple” computational product of the current state of the “consciousness” and its interaction with reality? Physical structures, synapses formed, chemical balances and distributions, etc, etc.

    Just because the consciousness appears to be more linked to our “sensory human experience” does this really mean any “free will” is really taking place?

    One can even flip the script and say that the subconscious is more indicative of “free will”, as it represents our basest and truest instincts, not bound by societal interpretations and limitations. It’s what our system really, truly wants to do. We can say that the overall system is equipped for better survival and propagation due to a restrictive layer otherwise known as the “consciousness”. Can you really negate this perspective and at the same time not negate elements of the “consciousness = free will” proponency?

    So what is free will? Seems like a wishful dream.

    • Al

      To add to my comment, maybe the researchers did prove that no free will truly exists, though surely before this study — by simply demonstrating that human decision making is a product of a structured physical system — no matter how many layers you slice it into.

    • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm W. R. KLemm

      Al:

      You are in tune with Greg who pointed out that we don’t have a good handle on what “free will.” A common definition is that is a conscious choice or decision among multiple options in which more than one choice or decision could have been made. More needs to be said.

      As to your comment “One can even flip the script and say that the subconscious is more indicative of “free will”, as it represents our basest and truest instincts, not bound by societal interpretations and limitations. It’s what our system really, truly wants to do,” let me say this. To say that subconscious mind “wants” to do is a misuse of language. What subconscious mind does is largely programmed by past experience and learning. That is probable outcomes are biased and to a degree probabilistically predictable. I leave open the possibility that there might be such a thing as “subconscious” free will, as mentioned in one of my earlier replies.

  • theOneWithoutASecond

    Free will is simply incompatible with physics in general. Believing in free will is an outlandish concept requiring more faith than even believing in God.

    Claiming that the physical brain has free will is no different from claiming that a radio has free will. Indeterminism does not support free will, but rather unpredictable will, meaning you can’t control your decisions, but your decisions are unpredictable. Determinism does not support free will, but rather predictable will, meaning you can’t control your decisions, and your decisions are predictable.

    Even without Libet’s experiment his would be the conclusion from physics, if all thought processes exist in the physical brain of course.

    The physical brain is analog device, similar to a radio or any other electrical device. If you believe some how your brain follows different laws of physics than a radio or other electrical devices then you’re basically saying you don’t believe in science.

    • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm W. R. KLemm

      Oh dear, your comments are so outrageous and biased I don’t know where to begin. Physics IS the mother science, but I will not worship at its alter until you guys reconcile quantum mechanics and relativity and figure out what dark matter and dark energy are. To imply that you guys also understand the brain better than anybody else is the height of arrogance from a discipline that does not even have its own house in order.

      Nowhere do I say that I don’t believe in science or that the brain is not an analog device that operates largely on electrochemical principles. In fact, I have a book coming out this Spring with Springer (“Atoms of Mind”) which contains a novel materialistic theory for how brain represents the physical world, including how it might enhance that representation in consciousness.

      • Jorg

        I would suggest that the conclusions about “free will” in THEONEWITHOUTASECOND’s post rest

        upon the tenets of Reductive Physicalism rather than the particular details of modern

        physics’ description of the world.

        Whether we are one universe, one of countless parallel “many worlds” universes, or one of

        an infinite regress of nested simulated universes, Reductive Physicalism would assert that,

        at root, there is a supervening foundational system of self-consistent ‘laws’ describing

        existence (even if it is a description of infinite supervening regress – i.e. “its turtles

        all the way down”). This assumption is at the foundation of scientific inquiry. I, for

        one, find it impossible (paradoxical?) to conceive of a world where this is not the state

        of affairs.

        Arguments about quantum uncertainty enabling “free will” are fallacious, I believe, for two

        reasons. The first is philosophical in nature. While experiments show QM is incompatible

        with a local hidden variable hypothesis, it does not, however, rule out non-loacal hidden

        variable interpretations. The world may still be fundamentally deterministic and one can

        think of plausible scenarios for how this might be (our world is a simulation, etc.), but

        these are just conjecture. For the same reasons I can’t conceive of a “non physical” world

        , I find it impossible to imagine that things really do “happen for no reason”.

        Secondly, even if QM uncertainty is at the root of the system upon which our brains operate

        and our minds rest, there is good reason to believe it has no effect whatsoever as the

        decoherence time scales are MANY orders of magnitude faster than any recognized processes

        influencing a brain’s state of mind [1].

        Zooming back, the entire debate about “free will” seems to rest on shaky ground. The

        concept of “free will” seems to me an ill defined concept we ‘romantically’ wish were true

        for reasons we can’t quite explain. I, for one, view the mind’s perception of “free will”

        as an inevitable consequence of our perception of the passage of time. But whether time

        really ‘flows’ or we just perceive it to and whether our minds exhibit the far less defined

        property of “free will” makes no difference to me. I personally don’t think my mind’s

        perceptions of its existence would be enhanced in any way if the decisions it makes happen

        for in-principle deterministic (but still unpredictable) reasons or for no supervening

        reason at all.

        [1] M. Tegmark, Phys. Rev. E 61, 4194

  • Lachlan

    What would you, Dr W.R. Klemm, say about the following situation. If 2 people were exactly the same in genetics and environment, no mutations no differences, would they necessary act in the same manner to a situation or might they choose to act differently?

    How about a society completely comprising of exactly the same person? Would they have leaders or would they choose to be indifferent.

    • http://ronmurp.blogspot.com Ron Murphy

      Lachlan,

      I don’t think you’ve thought this through.

      For these twins to act exactly the same then every cell, every neuron, every sodium ion, every atom in their bodies would have to be the same – all the time. And they would have to live in exactly duplicated environments. And they would have to be kept separate, from each other any every other possible divergent influence.

      But, even if we allowed the crazy notion that we could create twins exactly to this level of detail, then from that moment on their lives would diverge.

      The Brownian motion in the fluids in their heads would immediately start to trigger what to us look like random events. The flow of blood in their blood vessels would be chaotic at the blood cell level, which would have implications for the supply of blood to the brain.

      The slightest variation in the movement of molecules within a synapse could determine whether a neuron fires or not. And there are trillions of synapses diverging in their imposition on other neurons.

      And then there are all the external influences. As you speak to one twin he’s thinking, “This guy is speaking to me, and not my twin.”, while the other is thinking, “This guy is speaking to my twin and not me. Why?”

      But basically your thought experiment doesn’t get off the ground. In order to create two identical humans to start this experiment you would have to ensure there was no divergence during the creation process. Every atom would have to be perfectly stationary – absolute zero – so that it didn’t start activity in one twin that wasn’t happening in another.

      Do I need to go on?

      Divergence in real twins begins as soon as they are distinct zygotes. And mutation isn’t some strange rare thing. It’s happening all the time, though a lot of it may not have any obvious effect to our eyes.

      Thought experiments have to have some semblance of reality, otherwise they are useless fictions.

      • Lachlan

        I don’t understand what you mean by

        ‘The Brownian motion in the fluids in their heads would immediately start to trigger what to us look like random events.’

        Are you suggesting it is not random?

        • http://ronmurp.blogspot.com Ron Murphy

          I don’t know. That depends on the extent to which causality pertains – and that’s something we don’t know. It appears to, at least at macro levels. And maybe it doesn’t at sub-atomic levels. This calls into question our understanding of ‘random’.

          So, my point was that it ‘appears’ to us to be random, whether it actually is or not.

          And in the context of my point, that is sufficient to be a source of diversity between twins.

    • http://ronmurp.blogspot.com Ron Murphy

      Your second paragraph is more realistic, as a metaphor for the heat death of the universe. Maximum entropy. All is the same.

  • jerry Telle

    The whole question of free will or not is ridiculous. The only thing important is that the free will paradigm is used to efficate ones life — that is explicit awareness of options, choice and outcomes. Implicit thought is that way — even for rats — become aware, weight the options and decide(and do) and assess (RPE) reward prediction error.

    Believing deterministically will no doubt determine!! your potential.

    Jerry

  • http://www.trickslattery.com ‘Trick Slattery

    Hi there. A pleasure to read your blog. I hope you don’t mind dessenting thoughts on the topic.

    I think the experiments are evidence that lean toward what we can already logically understand. You are correct that they do not stand fully on their own, but they show the direction that neuroscience is taking for this topic, and I have no doubt your questions will be answered thoroughly scientifically. If the brain processes a causal direction of ones action prior to them realizing that is the action they will take (up to 10 seconds prior), it is at least supporting evidence for a causality that is not reliant on what the person is thinking at the time – for the direction of the choice.

    But it is not needed to understand that free will is logically incoherent. What we can understand is that free will, the type that implies responsibility, is logically incompatible in both a deterministic universe (entirely causal) as well as an indeterministic universe (one where acausal events happen).

    If the universe is deterministic, our actions are those that are derived from long lines of causation that extend outside of a person. Before we are ever born even.

    If the universe is indeterministic, acausal events that happen within it can never be willed events, as that would require a willer…a cause. Such events, if they affected thought, would be even more detrimental to a person. At least with causality there is willing – just not freely so.

    It is this hard incompatibilist stance that I take in the book I am currently writing. There is much more to the logic and it is thoroughly detailed out in a way that there is no escaping the conclusion. Free will is logically incoherent; therefore the feeling of it is an illusion. Neuroscience is just beginning to point to what can already be reliably known.

    Take care,
    ‘Trick Slattery
    http://www.breakingthefreewillillusion.com

  • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm Bill Klemm

    Well, this is a hard problem. When you say “If the brain processes a causal direction of ones action prior to them realizing that is the action they will take (up to 10 seconds prior)….” you honor my main point. IF is a big “if.” My point was that the evidence does not prove this action was directed before conscious realization. I am open to this possibility for simple, reflex-like actions as a button press. To extend that conclusion, assuming that unassailable evidence for it will someday emerge, to more complex human reasoning seems unjustified by these methods.

    Your second paragraph is an assertion and not defended with evidence or logic.

    Note that the next two paragraphs begin with “IF.” I get confused by all this emphasis on deterministic/indeterministic. Everything, as far as I know, has a cause. Isn’t the issue whether the cause of human choice/decision can every be freely made? Can’t you make a free choice that CAUSES a behavior?

    I assume you are saying that a choice can cause things to happen but nothing can cause the choice, if the choice were freely made. I think this misses the point that neural processes can cause choices and that after the brain integrates the options (IN CONSCIOUS awareness), it decides on one option based on evaluation of the usefulness of the probable outcomes. Why isn’t that “free will” if it is done consciously?

    Maybe the real problem here is semantics, that is, the definition of free will.

    Help me out here.

    • http://www.trickslattery.com ‘Trick Slattery

      “My point was that the evidence does not prove this action was directed before conscious realization.”

      And mine was that it leans toward that direction. Again, I agree it does not stand on it’s own as a sole proof, but it is evidence that at least for button presses it is the case, and there is no reason to conclude that complexity would be different. It is supporting evidence in which there is none that currently goes against it for different actions.

      “Everything, as far as I know, has a cause. ”

      Then you believe in a deterministic universe (an entirely causal universe). Whether that is the case or not we cannot know. IF it is deterministic, my assertion, which I did not delve into at length, is supported by numerous chapters of logic in my book. I can only provide the basics based on your response in a comment box.

      Lets start with this statement and question:

      “I think this misses the point that neural processes can cause choices and that after the brain integrates the options (IN CONSCIOUS awareness), it decides on one option based on evaluation of the usefulness of the probable outcomes. Why isn’t that “free will” if it is done consciously?”

      Even if this were the case, something causes the brain to integrate those very options (whether consciously or unconsciously), and whatever does, has a cause of its own, which has a cause of its own, which has a cause of its own…down to a point of no conscious awareness. If every event has a cause, this leads down a path of antecedent causes that eventually take place outside of the person (again, even before they are born). Such choice is entirely dictated by genetics and environmental causes outside of the control of the person making the decision. Such decisions are not free because they had to come about. There was no possible way to select one of those other options based on the antecedent events. Those other options were never viable. They were only part of the causality that lead to the only possible option. For something to be free (in the sense that implies responsibility), it has to have the ability to have done differently.

      As for the definition of free will, the only one that concerns me is the one that implies responsibility, because it is that type that is illogical. I define free will as “The ability to choose between more that one viable option or action in which that choice is up to the chooser”. It is this definition (or something of that sort) I think people think they have intuitively, and it is this definition that injects responsibility.

      Take care,
      ‘Trick Slattery

  • ronmurp

    I think you are getting to the point when you consider the ‘definition’ of free-will, for the purposes of responsibility and accountability.

    When a rock falls from a cliff and injures someone below we can say, by definition, that the rock is responsible for the injury; but we mean it in an innanimate sense. We say the falling rock ’caused’ the injury, but it being innanimate we don’t find much use in ‘blaming’ rock, punishing it or otherwise seeking retribution.

    The unfortunate coincidence of all events that brought the injured person to the spot at that time, their ‘free-will’, is somehow not responsible in an active sense. On the other hand, if there were signs present that warned of the dangers of walking near the cliff then perhaps we would then say they were responsible.

    In the case of some complex but otherwise ‘non-living’ objects, we do get a little mixed up about this. We are often quite willing to attribute blame and seek retribution from computers or cars, for example.

    It’s no coincidence that in business the ‘corporation’ is viewed as an agent entity in its own right, apart from the people who own it or work in it.

    The attribution of blame and responsibility seems to be a behaviour in the brains of human observers and participants in events. It’s almost as if our attachment to causaility makes us attribute specific causaility – i.e. blame and responsibility – to objects. Where those objects appear more complex and animate, where attribute agency, where the complexity of the causal chains is predominantly internal to the agent and unfathomable in detail to the observers, we seem to have the need to invent, to define, ‘free-will’.

  • ronmurp

    Note also that those who judge other people for wrong-doing, those who attribute responsibility and blame, who seek retribution, well, they too are behaving in the same causal world, and they too are just as responsible, or not, for their actions, their judgementalism, as the person they are judging.

    In other words, those of us who support a system that imprisons ‘wrong-doers’ lack free-will in this as much as the wrong-doers lack free-will in their wrong-doing. It still remains a level playing field.

    This view that there is no real free-will does not suddenly mean we start absolving wrong-doers of responsibility. It merely means we rethink the meaning of these words. It’s also a more compasionate view of the world, because we recognise that we too are at the mercy of causal events just as any wrong-doer is – we are just fortunate enough to have avoided any significant wrong-doing. We may be tempted to pat ourselves on the back for that, because we are morally good. But perhaps we should be a bit more humble than that.

    The ‘free-will’ view is a little too convenient when it comes to attributing blame and seeking retribution and even revenge. Religion has made the free-will model of human behaviour more significant that it warrants.

    • http://www.trickslattery.com ‘Trick Slattery

      Excellent comments. Just to add a few thought to them:

      Not being responsible does not mean that people should not be incarcerated, rehabilitated, or deterred. It just means that they should not be punished for retributive reasons and that they are not deserving of such. We need to remove the construct of retributivism in our thinking and within our criminal system, and replace it with one that is about the utility of society.

      If we did not incarcerate criminals, for example, we cause harms to victims for lack of such preventative actions. Victims that equally do not deserve to be victimized. Just as we might prevent or put down a rabid dog before it bites people, without assigning it “free will”, there are actions that need to happen for the sake of others.

      Also, we need to consider that people are not more deserving than others. The psychology that the free will illusion creates is one that is egocentric and creates much harms in the world.

      Thanks,
      ‘Trick Slattery

      • http://blamegame.us Bill Klemm

        Re: latest comments from RONMURP and Trick:

        Both of you are arguing the free-will illusion position from sociological perspectives. Where is the scientific evidence that it is an illusion?

        I don’t think you read my original paper in Arch. Cognitive Psychology. I (and the peer reviewers)thought I had pretty well demolished what you call the evidence for illusory free will. Those experiments and their interpretation are flawed, even for a simple action like a button press.

        Philosophical arguments seem to dominate the conversation. Where is the science?

        • http://www.trickslattery.com ‘Trick Slattery

          Hi – thanks for the response.

          I have only read this blog post and not your original paper, so I am only responding to that. I am familiar with the original study, however, so I honestly cannot fathom how you conclude its flawed-ness for a button press, but again, I have not read your original paper so cannot judge on that, only on the points you made in this blog post. I will take the time to read your original paper.

          My own arguments are from the logical and philosophical perspective. Certainly we cannot scientifically derive that square circles in another galaxy do not exist, but such a belief in such is illogical (contradictory) even if we felt they exist. Free will is an illusion because it is logically incompatible with the only two possibilities for events (events being causal or events being acausal).

          In regards to the “science”, certainly you are not suggesting that the burden of proof is on the person claiming something does not exist? The feeling of free will is not scientific proof of free will’s existence, it is scientific proof of the feeling of free will.

          If your epistemological stance is one that only allows for the inductive scientific method…for the free will exists stance I have one question. Where is the science?

          Take care,
          ‘Trick

          • Steve

            I agree with Trick’s post… it is up to you to prove the existence of free will if you want to assert its existence.

  • ronmurp

    Hi Bill,

    I agree that the specific evidence is tenuous (i.e. the degree to which that evidence supports to any illusory free-will). The trouble is that any evidence (is there any?) that supports actual free-will in any meaningful sense is also lacking. So, where do we go from there?

    All the evidence from all aspects if physics down to quantum stuff, while not specifically refuting free-will, does not support it in any way.

    If anything the inductive working conclusion, or at least the working hypothesis, is that there is nothing beyond what physics shows us, that the whole of reality is unified at some fundamental level – i.e. it’s our best effort at a representation of reality. Unless we have a very good reason to reject determinism then there is nothing that supports the common notion of free-will.

    Free-will, if it exists as commonly understood, is a fundamentally different thing than we find anywhere else or in anything else other than brains – so the parsimonious hypothesis is that what we think of as free-will is a misunderstanding on our part. This makes sense since we often find that the brain gets things quite wrong. We can readily experience illusions that we acknowledge are illusions; what’s so tough about this one?

    When we factor in what we know about evolution, that we basically arrive where we are now from simpler beginnings, there seems to be nothing in evolution (and evolution conforms to physics) that tells us when this magical free-will is suddenly injected or when or how it emerges. Much more likely that it’s an ‘apparent’ or illusory thing that is merely a behavioural artifact of one particular complex species that can’t get a firm enough handle on the complexity and chaotic nature of its own brain to see the detailed determinism that is driving it.

    Can you point me to any source that you think positively supports free-will?

    • http://blamegame.us Bill Klemm

      Good, now we can both agree that the scientific evidence for or against “free will” is inadequate. There remain two other problems:

      1. Definition of free will (we all define it operationally in different ways)

      2. Quantum physics: there is no compelling evidence I know of that quantum mechanics operates beyond the atomic level of organization. To apply it to consciousness, free will, and mental functions in general seems inappropriate.

      Bill

      • Lage

        Bill,

        I disagree with your point # 2. Quantum physics, assuming that randomness at an atomic level exists, does lead to randomness and differences at higher levels. You can think of this as the butterfly effect. If even one atom is in a different place, the course of events in time will change. How noticeable that change is — is pure speculation — but a difference is assumed nevertheless. With regard to free will, randomness implies that even if we defined a “willed” action to be a result of consistence adequate determinism, if there is a random foundation (i.e. quantum physics), then the macro-result stems from this randomness and thus is out of our control. This would apply to brain activity, structure, sense perception — everything. So it is perfectly reasonable to mention it when it comes to discussing a concept as far reaching as “free will”. If we had unconscious motivations to do something, but due to quantum randomness, this motivation underwent a random change to something else, even if only slightly different, it would have ramifications on your conscious mind, etc.

        Peace and love,
        -Lage

  • ronmurp

    Hi Bill,

    It’s worth pointing out that this blog post makes a specific emphatic claim, “Free Will is NOT An Illusion”. This is a positive claim, and I think most commentors here are addressing that claim. Not only is there not evidence to support this claim, but what little evidence there is about the brain/mind, along with all other knowledge about physics, and philosophical views about what is not yet known, all point, most parsimoniously, to free-will being an illusion.

    But it’s necessary to say that these objections to there being free-will depend very much on what we all think free-will actually is. Most of those that think it is an illusion are talking about the common notion of free-will, whereby an agent can make a decision through some obscure volition or intent that they are supposed to possess. But this notion is really flaky, and I’ve yet to see a definition that distinguishes it from what amounts to decision-making.

    The problem with decision-making is that it is not restricted to the common notion of free-will – i.e. common notion free-will is not required for decision-making. In your paper you invoke notions of decision-making being dispersed over location in the brain, and time – and you use this to build objections to some of the experiments you cover.

    But my fridge makes decisions in this sense. It’s decision-making involves various sensing and motor activities in order to achieve a goal – to keep its inner temperature at some setting. Hysteresis and general timing delays in the system also demonstrate that the decision making is spread over time.

    You acknowledge the difficulty of attributing various discrete observations of brain activity to evidence for lack of free-will, but subtly imply that they support the notion of free-will by default – and sometimes you go further than merely implying it.

    Some specific responses to this post follow:

    1) “Many scientists think that free-will is an illusion.” – OK

    2) “That is, intentions, choices, and decisions are made by subconscious mind, which only lets the conscious mind know what was willed after the fact.” – This is a misrepresentation of (1) This is certainly not the reason for accepting (1), though some think it contributes to the acceptance of (1).

    3) “Many modern scientists also hold that position and have even performed experiments since the 1980s they say prove it.” – This seems a little vague. I agree that they claim that their experiments prove sometimes subconscious decision precede conscious awareness – but this isn’t objectionable since you also agree with that view, though in a larger context where you think prior free-will decisions cause the subconscious actions in the first place (e.g. typing example). What the experiments don’t do, and I’m not aware that the experimenters do claim they do, is that they prove (1).

    4) “These experiments do not test what they are intended to test and are misinterpreted to support the view of illusory free will.” – While I’m not sure about the first part, I would agree with the second part that I’ve emphasised.

    I agree partly with your twelve points as expressed in this blog post, though I’d respond differently to them when considering how you present them in your paper. But for now my main criticism of some specific ones is as follows:

    There’s a great presupposition of free-will on your part, and this goes right through your paper. “Some willed action, as when first learning to play a musical instrument or touch type (a)must be freely willed because (b)the subconscious mind cannot know ahead of time what to do.”

    (a) Why? Learning to type requires specific detailed actions that become smoother and are left to less conscious brain activity. This does not necessarily imply free-will when first learning – either in the decision to learn, or in the micro-decisions that are necessary to actively learn.

    (b) Why not? It seems clear that the subconscious mind is in play all the time. What prior experiences are at work automating the drive of the subconscious, and to what extent is the seemingly conscious mind falling in with this overall automated drive?

    What appears to be happening here with your approach is that you are using the same ploy that you object to elswhere. You are objecting to the boundaries of some of the experiments you criticise, in that you claim they don’t look at enough areas of the brain or over sufficient time; and yet here you seem to think that the decision to learn an instrument is a stand-alone free-will act, when it too will have been influenced by many external and internal factors – not least the experience of seeing someone else play and ‘inspiring’ you to learn; the experience of being inspired to do something seems an equally inexplicable drive.

    The complexity of this and many more influences, and the impact of empathetic features of the brain, such as the mirror neurons, all points to this being a far more complex ‘decision’ than you allow. There are many ways in which the decision to learn to play an instrument can be interpreted as far from a free-will decision. Again there is a distinction between an entity (a free-will agent or an automata or zombie) making a decision and the possession of commonly understood free-will.

    “Extrapolating from such simple experiments to all mental life is not justified.” – Agreed. But neither is extrapolation from your experiments to free-will justified, for the very same reasons. And nor is the interpolation, the ‘free-will of the gaps’ move, justified.

    “…the research I suggest would not only help identify reliable markers of conscious decision-making.” – That may well be the case, and such experiments would be welcomed. But identifying decision markers of conscious decision-making isn’t identifying free-will – at least not the common view of free-will.

    I don’t think any of the illusory free-will proponents really object to there being ‘conscious decision-making’ going on in the brain. The real question that blog addresses in its heading is something quite different – free-will. Many illusory free-will proponents accept that the conscious aspect of the brain is some sort of planning and decision making system. So the real question is what drives that system acquire its goals, to which it then applies planning and decision making? If you want to insist that this is free-will, then you need to explain more of the magic of free-will – what really is it?

    Neither in this blog post nor in your paper do your really address what you mean by free-will – or at least the free-will that isn’t illusory. In places in your paper you seem to conflate free-will with decision making. In those parts you seem to be aligned with what many illusory free-will proponents think about decision making systems, so maybe there’s lots of overlap.

    In your paper, and in a comment above, you point out the reliance on determinism for the illusory free-will view. I agree. And you too rely on that when performing experiments that supposedly support a notion of free-will.

    I summary, I can see your point about some of the experiments being used to claim too much for illusory free-will, but I can’t see anything that supports free-will, or even explains what it is. I see plenty of unjustified conflation of free-will and decision-making, when decision-making isn’t restricted to the common notion of free-will. I can see how illusory free-will (and physicalism generally) requires determinism, but can’t see an alternative to determinism that works at all, or any that supports free-will.

    So, the questions remain:

    1) What precisely is this magic that is free-will? Do you really mean decision-making? If so, I’m not sure what significant difference there is between you and I on this issue.

    2) How does your notion of free-will come about, from any perspective: physics, biology, evolution?

    3) How precisely do any experiments support the notion of free-will?

    4) If you want to object to determinism, what do you have in its place, and how does that make your experiments support free-will?

    Without good hypotheses that cover all these the parsimonious view is that the brain works like everything else we know about the world. It’s an extremely complex mushy, determinate system.

    • MoeFromGermany

      Hey guys, I cannot really contribute on this subject. But I really enjoy this conversation and want you to encourage to continue.

      I also have one question for the contra free will site.
      How do you live with knowing that you are just tricked by your brain/physics and not an acting participant of the world.

      Sincerely

  • ronmurp

    Hi Moe,

    How do you live with knowing that you are just tricked by your brain/physics and you’re not a solid object but mostly empty space with a few atoms dotted around here and there? How do live with the fact that you are mostly water?

    I don’t worry that I probably don’t have the free-will I appear to have, any more than I worry that I’m not as solid as I appear to be. There are lots of other details about human biology that many people find odd when they first discover it. The concept of human evolution is disturbing to some people – “What? We’re animals? No! God made us above the animals.”.

    All these realities that we discover, or our interpretations of reality, don’t have to have any impact on our personal or social life – though they may, depending on one’s outlook. Many people feel freer when they get the picture of illusory free-will. Not in the sense that it absolves one of any and all responsibility; but in the sense that it puts a lot of human behaviour that’s difficult to understand under the free-will model (particularly the one attached to religion) into a much clearer perspective.

    It doesn’t excuse behaviour in any way, but simply explains it from another angle. And in explaining it that way it produces a more empathetic outlook. It doesn’t mean we stop locking up criminals immediately, but it does mean we have a different outlook on what criminal behaviour is. It removes artificial and often contradictory moral constraints – why is cannabis illegal, but alcohol isn’t? Ethics becomes a pragmatic subject rather than a moral crusade.

    I’m not a Buddhist, but it appears that there are some parallels with some aspects of Buddhist philosophy. It has an element of fatalism too it, though not the “I can’t change anything, so what’s the point?” tragic fatalism that opponents often think is the case. More a “Shit happens!” outlook. Shit happens, but this automaton entity still has to deal with it occasionally, and isn’t averse to making decisions, no matter how automated they are, or how ‘free’ they feel, to alleviate the quantity of shit coming its way.

    This isn’t entirely off-topic, since Bill addresses issues like this in his paper. A common mistake seems to be the thinking that illusory free-will proponents dissolve into nihilism: from Bill’s paper, “…the philosopher, Patricia Churchland (2002), and the neuroscientist, Michael Gazzaniga (1998), recognize the nihilistic nature of the zombian conclusion but are resigned to a position of “it must be so.” ” – It’s not nihilistic (Total rejection of established laws and institutions. Anarchy, terrorism, or other revolutionary activity. Total and absolute destructiveness, especially toward the world at large and including oneself.) The view that it is nihilistic is typically a failure of imagination on the part of those that feel they need free-will – they can’t imagine what it’s like to reject it as a view of what’s actually happening in brains.

    An important distinction again is that of free-will and decision-making. I don’t think you’ll find any modern mainstream philosopher or scientist who thinks free-will is illusory also thinks the human brain does not make conscious decisions. The question is what those decision making processes consist of, how they come about, what drives them – they simply think that it’s not some magical free-will.

    I may be an automaton. But I’m such a complex one that no matter how deterministic the world is, philosophically or in physical reality, to me the world and I remain indeterminate because of that complexity. Rather than worry about which long term sequence of complex and parallel events throughout my life guided me to this point in time to respond to you, it’s more convenient to come up with a story: I’m interested in the brain, and Bill’s article intrigued me, and your question prompted me to respond – or even more succinctly, I ‘decided’ to respond. So, am I a passive automated respondent, or am I an active agent responding out of free-will, and how do you tell the difference?

    • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm Bill Klemm

      I have been avoiding the topic of religion, but since you bring it up, let’s pursue that. You say, “Many people feel freer when they get the picture of illusory free-will. Not in the sense that it absolves one of any and all responsibility; but in the sense that it puts a lot of human behaviour that’s difficult to understand under the free-will model (particularly the one attached to religion) into a much clearer perspective.”

      How can one feel “freer” believing that God arbitrarily and capriciously programs your brain to control all your beliefs, choices, and behavior? I used to be a Presbyterian, until I discovered that many of them really believe in a Predestination in which God decided before you were born how you will turn out and spend eternity.

      While we are on the subject, consider the very radical transformation some people exhibit when they are suddenly “saved.” I suppose you would say God did that to his robot. The whole thrust of the teaching of Jesus Christ is that belief is something you are free to choose or reject.

      • ronmurp

        Hi Bill,

        I don’t believe “that God arbitrarily and capriciously programs your brain to control all your beliefs, choices, and behaviour?” I’m an atheist.

        I think the brain is programmed by a genetic and developmental history that brings to the point where it begins to develop in the fetus, and from there on in continues to be programmed by direct personal sensory experience, with lots of very complex internal feedback, to the extent that, as I say, to us the state of any brain at any instant is practicably indeterminate (whether the larger universe is determinate or not). Its complex decision making processes, of which there appear to be many parallel components not at all well understood, click away working toward many and various overall goals that the brain/body system, the person, has acquired and continues to acquire and adapt to. There seems no need to invoke a free-will model, and I still can’t see how a free-will model is justified.

        My point about free-will and (Abrahamic) religion is that the religious tend to have a need for free-will, to the extent that it’s a necessary requirement from a religious perspective. God is required to give us free-will to explain how an omni benevolent God justifies all the suffering in the world; and it’s a good excuse to apportion blame and seek retribution.

        The predestination model in a religious context is no better than a free-will one. In both cases God is supposed to have willed it without us having any say in the matter – sans any evidence for a God whatsoever.

        “The whole thrust of the teaching of Jesus Christ is that belief is something you are free to choose or reject.” – Jesus was a man who lived about 2000 years ago. And he was a Jew. He may have been a great and novel preacher. But his view of what free-will is was obviously coloured by his religious views and the metaphysics of his age. He didn’t have a further two millenia of philosophy and a few hundred years of science to inform his opinions. We’re a bit luckier than that.

        There is of course the possibility of thinking there is free-will without God. But then this looks like unexplained magic, as opposed to the supernatural magic from God.

        But I don’t want to side-track us too much. I didn’t mean my recent comments to be an atheist rant – I was merely responding to Moe. I’m much more interested in the main topic of free-will, and in your response to my other comments on your main post and paper – basically how you support the view that there is free-will, and what you mean by free-will anyway.

        So, your comment on one of the problems, at July 22, 2011 at 8:31 am: “1. Definition of free will (we all define it operationally in different ways)” – Can you explain what your definition is so I can get a handle on what you mean by your title, “Free Will is NOT An Illusion”.

        • http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/wklemm Bill Klemm

          Ron:

          You asked how I define free will. First you might be interested in the variety of definitions people have used. The first five I came across are:

          1. the ability to act or make choices as a free and autonomous being and not solely as a result of compulsion or predestination

          2. The ability or discretion to choose; free choice: chose to remain behind of my own free will.

          3. The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will.

          4. Free will is the apparent ability of agents to make choices free from deterministic influences.(Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen.)

          5. the doctrine that the conduct of human beings expresses personal choice and is not simply determined by physical or divine forces.

          My definition accommodates most of these positions:

          Free will is a conscious intent, decision, or choice
          that is not pre-determined.

          As for your comments on Jesus, I think you missed the point. His teachings transcend history, cultural “advancement,” and even science. His central message is only obscured by intellectual nuance:

          1. There is a creator God (who created the laws of chemistry and physics that underlie everything in the known universe)

          2. This God loves His creation and wants to save us from our sins, defined as anything that we willfully do to harm ourselves or others.

          3. Belief in Jesus provides the way for sinful humans to become reconciled to a Holy God.

          These core ideas have been muddled by the many lightweight religious thinkers over the centuries (Paul, Augustine, and Aquinas are notable exceptions). A major part of the confusion as regards free will is the view of “fallenness,” that we inevitably sin because of our animal nature. Jesus asserted just the opposite; namely, that we are free to choose righteousness (exemplified by his comment to the whore, “go and sin no more.”

          At this point you might be tempted to say “aha, you are hoisted on your own pitard!” We are animals and therefore cannot help but sin. But righteousness does not mean perfection. Christ does give us the power to sin LESS. Consider the example of Nixon’s hatchet man, Chuck Colson, who since his conversion has for decades been a tireless advocate for Jesus in his prison ministries and has helped thousands of very sinful people CHOOSE to become less sinful.

          If there is no free what and no God to make you do it, what pre-determined you to become an atheist? Why are you unable to change (as Colson and thousands upon thousands of others have)?

          We have not talked much about probability. You are perhaps more LIKELY to be an atheist and I a Christian. Though the odds of choosing the alternative are low, they are not zero. We can still be one or the other.

          Bill

    • MoeFromGermany

      Thank you for your answer Ronmurp.

  • ronmurp

    Hi Bill,

    On free-will…

    So it appears your view of free-will is really a predominantly religious one, or philosophical one influenced by your religious views. But I might remind you of one of your comments: “Philosophical arguments seem to dominate the conversation. Where is the science?” So surely a religious imperative isn’t science.

    Some of these definitions remain vague and don’t really address the issues that make any kind of free-will distinct from decision making, which automatons can perform.

    “1. the ability to act or make choices as a free and autonomous being and not solely as a result of compulsion or predestination”

    - “the ability to act” – Automatons can act.

    - “as a free…” – This is making the definition circular? What is it be ‘free’ in this context?

    - “…and autonomous” – An automaton can satisfy that again.

    - “a…being” – In this context it really means an organic entity, or specifically a human. But there’s nothing inherent in ‘a being’ that means it has free-will in the spooky sense.

    - “not solely as a result of compulsion” – If the deterministic entity is complex enough then the many influences that ‘compel’ the entity to act may make it appear as being more free than it is (i.e. illusory). A fridge thermostat looks less free than Honda’s ASIMO robot, but both are compelled to act by physics, no matter how relatively autonomous each may be.

    - “or predestination” – This has religious overtones, but ignoring the religious aspect it merely means deterministic.

    “2. The ability or discretion to choose; free choice: chose to remain behind of my own free will.”

    - “The ability or discretion to choose” – My fridge has that, with regard to controlling temperature.

    - “free choice” – In what context? My fridge has the free-choice to set my fridge temperature anywhere within the limits determined by it’s environment. I may ask it to set the temperature to 3-deg C, but it might ‘choose’ to set it to 3+/- 10%. Is this a choice you might ask? Well, can I choose to jump a 30ft gap? We are all constrained to various degrees, but just because a human brain has room for movement within a complex set of constraints does not mean it has ‘free-will’.

    - “chose to remain behind of my own free will” – Not sure what that means.

    “3. The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will.”

    - “unconstrained by external circumstances” – Nothing I know of has that ‘freedom’. Examples?

    - “unconstrained by…agency such as fate” – I didn’t know fate was an agency?

    - “unconstrained by…agency such as …divine will” – Since there’s no evidence for any divine will I’d agree that there’s therefore no evidence that our ‘free-will’ (our autonomous decision-making) is constrained by it.

    “4. Free will is the apparent ability of agents to make choices free from deterministic influences.”

    This looks like the closest definition to the common understanding of free-will, in that it specifically opposes determinism. But I agree, it is an ‘apparent’ ability to make ‘free’ choices.

    But it it’s not merely apparent (illusory) then the definition doesn’t go on to say how that comes about, and that’s one of the questions I wanted to put to you. I don’t think it is apparent that we can make choices free from deterministic influences. That’s the whole point of free-will being an illusion.

    “Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen.” – That’s the general idea that under pins all of science. As I said in an earlier comment, it would take the refutation of determinism to make a space for ‘free-will’ independent of determinism so that it could be considered seriously. I realise that’s a tough call, because how do you in fact provide evidence that there’s no determinism when the way we deal with evidence relies on determinism? When we’ve figured that out then maybe we can come back to free-will, but until then free-will seems to be out of the picture.

    “5. The doctrine…” – Nothing new here. Personal choice in this context is just a metaphor for free-will.

    “Free will is a conscious intent, decision, or choice that is not pre-determined.”

    So, where’s the science? What backs up this up? How have you refuted determinism somewhere without me noticing?

  • ronmurp

    On Jesus and religion…

    “His teachings transcend history…and even science…”

    I think you miss the point. He was a guy who lived a couple of thousand years ago. His teachings were only ever either social or religious. Some of his social teachings were great, really cool ideas for his time. But then not much different from many other philosopher prophets. The religious context in which he posed them is arcane. I’m not sure what you even mean by ‘transcends…even science’

    “1. There is a creator God…” – really? Again, where is the science?

    “2. This God loves His creation…” – really? With no evidence for (1), how can you be sure. How to religious adherents know this stuff about this creator?

    “3. Belief in Jesus provides the way for sinful humans to become reconciled to a Holy God.”

    So much packed into this one…

    Belief in Jesus is the just a belief, and being involved in brain science I’m sure you’re aware that what we believe isn’t always so. What’s behind this is clearly a compulsion to believe despite lack of evidence. “Science is the best defense against believing what we want to.” – Ian Stewart (mathematician).

    “Sinful humans” – Sin has context only in a religious framework in which some acts are given that label. Out of that context sin has no useful meaning. And, outside the context of our particular evolution it’s arbitrary.

    For example, we might label infanticide a ‘sin’. But suppose our recent evolutionary history had included the tendency for males to kill the existing young of a new mate, as lions kill cubs from a previous male. Then now it might be socially acceptable when marrying a divorced woman to kill her children from a previous marriage. Sure, we might have adapted this practice, from killing to merely expelling – and that does actually happen in plenty of cases, where teens from previous marriages are driven to leave when the mother takes a new spouse. And if infanticide seems outrageous, then what of the Islamic requirement to kill apostates.

    Sin, in the context of the wider universe, and even within the context of most animals, is an entirely meaningless concept. Only we humans label some acts we don’t like as sinful. And since our evolution is arbitrary, then so are many of our concepts taken out of that human context.

    “These core ideas have been muddled …” – These core ideas remain muddled by religious thinking. Where’s the science?

    “A major part of the confusion as regards free will is the view of ‘fallenness’…” – Again, that’s an entirely religious context and puts only an alternative slant on the more general notion of free-will, which is aligned with Cartesian dualism, that there is something, a soul, a mind, that is free of the material body in some way. Where’s the science.

    “Jesus asserted…” – Then it’s just an assertion.

    “At this point you might be tempted to say “aha, you are hoisted on your own pitard!” We are animals and therefore cannot help but sin.” – No I’m not tempted to say that at all. We are animals, yes. But the sin bit is quite meaningless beyond any fiction a religious view might attach to it.

    “…Chuck Colson…” – Is all this tells me is that a man has changed his behaviour. It may well have been his belief in God that contributed to that change. He might well have changed in a similar way had a Muslim or a Scientologist convinced him to their persuasion. Put a person with his background in his environment then he, as an automaton, is susceptible to change. And, in then going on to persuade others about the power of Jesus he is then influencing them, limiting their ‘free-will’, constraining their environment to one that converts them to Christianity. It’s no surprise that one’s religion is determined by the community in which one is raised, or if you come to religion later, by the one that persuades you, the one that influences your brain to believe that stuff.

    Chuck Colson may well have made decisions. But to what extent they are what is commonly understood as free-will is an entirely different matter. Anecdotes about ‘saved’ Christians aren’t convincing, since they are just as compatible with illusory free-will. If anything I’m persuaded that people come to believe unsubstantiated religious stuff so easily that compelling a human automaton to believe anything is a matter of indoctrination.

  • ronmurp

    “If there is no free what and no God to make you do it, what pre-determined you to become an atheist?”

    My own personal development and influences that programmed me, along with the machinations of my own material brain ticking away as it does. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pleading that atheists are special in some way or different in any inherent way to religious believers. We have just been exposed to philosophy and science that has convinced our brains that this is the right view. In the larger scheme of things, to the wider universe, we are just specks of complex dynamic matter that forms minor blips in the overall expansion and heat death of the universe.

    Now a religious perspective might see some grand divine being sitting outside all that, but those very thoughts, those religious beliefs, do not appear to correspond to any known reality outside the heads of those few billion people that believe it – in other words, everything ever thought of about God or gods is nothing more than patterns of activity inside some of those specks. Religious belief really is insignificant, as is all human thought on a cosmic scale. The only way it has any significance is that which we make of it for ourselves. So, we can carry on trying to understand ourselves and the universe we live in, or we can make up fantastic stories about it all and convince ourselves they are important. We treat most stories of fairies, monsters and gods as fictions to enjoy. It seems the only ones who use those fictions to determine how they live their lives are the religious; and the odd young man who takes violent gaming to heart and shoots up a school.

    “Why are you unable to change…?”

    I am able to change. I was indoctrinated into religion as a child, but changed over time. My opinion changes to some extent every time I learn something. If enough persuasive data comes my way that hits the right triggers in my brain my mind will be changed for me, no matter how I think I might be able to resist. This seems a far better explanation for what actually happens, as believers become unbelievers and non-believers are persuaded to believe.

    In trying to convince you of my point of view there need be no free-will on my part. I’m compelled to interact with you this way by the many complex triggers that are driving me. We often acknowledge how we are driven away from what we think are our concerted efforts – we can be distracted, and even speak of how we lack free-will in that respect. But then when someone has an obvious compulsive habit we also say they have no free-will to resist it. Yet in this in-between state, where we muddle along, trying to achieve some specific goals, occasionally abandoning them for different ones, but in most respects being averagely driven by impulses, we think in such a state the magic that is free-will is up and running? I don’t think so.

    Persuade me. Where’s the science that even hints at there being free-will?

  • ronmurp

    “We have not talked much about probability….”

    We can if you wish. What do you think it has to contribute to the free-will issue?

    • http://blamegame.us Bill Klemm

      Ron et al.

      I’m sorry, I have grown weary of this discussion. I don’t think reason can resolve the issues. Some things may just not be knowable.

      Bill

      • Bruno

        There are attempts to demonstrate a biological concept of free will where truly innovative ideas and actions can be taken by humans and some class of animals. This requires a combination of determinism of indeterminism which is thought that may be exploited by evolution in animal’s brains. Some supporters of this ideas are Martin Heisenberg, Bob Doyle and Björn Brembs. Look for this article (maybe you already know it):

        http://brembs.net/spontaneous/freewill/procroysoc_2010/

        The article is named “Towards a scientific concept of free will as a biological trait: spontaneous actions and decision-making in invertebrates”

        It has been shown that not only quantum mechanics, but also Newtonian mechanics may accept indeterminism as John Norton and have been trying to show. The idea of Causation, even though is useful, may not be fundamental to science (John Norton’s Causation as Folk Science).

        Some may argue that the idea that the brain having the “exact” combination of determinism with indeterminism is highly improbable. But isn’t life itself an improbable phenomenon?

        • Bruno

          Sorry about some grammar mistakes in the penultimate paragraph…

        • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

          Hi Bruno,

          Thanks for the link to Björn Brembs’ paper. I’ve commented on it here. I’m not convinced it refutes determinism the way it claims, but in all other respects a good paper with lots of good refs. Thanks.

  • ronmurp

    Hi Bill,

    OK, thanks for engaging.

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  • Wakawaka

    My knowledge of science and physics is very, very weak: but what I have read about physics points to the most likely reality being casually deterministic. To even consider free will as a reality we would have to make a human centric assumption that human beings and their brains act differently than all other material in the universe. All arguments in favor of free will seem very weak to me, and point to a strong bias for free will’s reality on the part of the author, rather than proof and evidence.

    Ultimately whether we believe in free will or not is irrelevant to its correctness. And, at least at this point of time, most people do not seem willing to consider free will as illusory. It fits better with their religious and moral beliefs if there is a clear & objective difference between right and wrong actions, and good and evil people. As simple and scientifically supported as determinism is, most people find it too large a paradigm shift to consider.

    • J_G

      “As simple and scientifically supported as determinism is, most people find it too large a paradigm shift to consider.”

      Hey dude, I think you are thinking like a 19th century person, when the universe was seen as a clockwork-deterministic universe. Nowadays it has been proven by physicists that not even Newtonian mechanics are always deterministic (look for John Norton).

      And not to say about quantum mechanics (which is not a deterministic theory). The role of quantum effects on life processes have been turned to be essential. For example in photosynthesis, quantum coherence seems to play a key role. Can you imagine life without photosynthesis???? I suggest to you to reconsider if nowadays physics can be considered as deterministic. I think determinism is just a philosophical issue, just as idealism or other old philosophical postures.

      • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

        J_G,

        I don’t think it’s a clear as you make out, and that it still remains a philosophical issue. See the varieties of determinism here, where Hawkins makes a case for ‘adequate determinism’. I think you’ll find some physicists are ok with that, while others might think the case against determinism isn’t demostrated by quantum mechanics, or at least are non-comittal.

        A more significant point is that at the level of brain chemistry and brain cells there is adequate determinism, so that the ontological case any particular cell event determines, or contributes to the function of that cell, and in total those cells determine the function of the brain as a whole and the consequent behaviour of the entity that has the brain.

        In contrast to the ontological question is the epistemological one – to what extent can any system fully know itself or its internal operation in order to be said to have real free-will. Introspection tells us nothing about what’s really happening in the brain, so just because we feel we have free will doen’t mean we have. To us as individuals our inner brain function is indeterminate, so we cannot be sure we have free-will.

        And this epistemological problem can be applied to fundamental physics. We don’t really know enough to rule out determinism. When particles pop in and out of existence there may be an as yet unknown phenomenon that provides a causal explanation for this. What appears random to us may not be. I’m not sure we fully understand what ‘random’ means, other than being unable to determine (epistemologically) what some ultimate cause might be.

        Do you require determinism in order to be certain, to determine, that non-determinism pertains? If non-determinism is the case how do the quantum experiments ‘determine’ this? So is ontological determinism required to be epistemically certain that there is no ontological determinism?

        Even if you allow for non-determinism at some fundamental level of reality it does not make the case for real free-will.

        Most arguments for free-will tend to be clouded by people with biases that really don’t like the idea that humans do not have real free-will. The bias may be heavily influenced by some personal fear of lack of control, or by some dogmatic philosophical or religious stance. It seems we don’t like the idea that all our actions are determined by external events and internal events that we do not control.

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  • GeorgeC

    The obvious alternate conclusion is that they do not understand decision making and how it comes to happen in the brain.
    There’s nothing to support the conclusion this experiment actually measures anything.

  • Alexis Remm

    I have a question about the free will (about his relation with neuroscience).Perhaps Dr.Klemm could answer me.

    i´ve heard of a neurological disorder called “The alien hand syndrome” in which a person seems to have no conscious control of his own hand.

    As far as i know the person thinks consciously “i will move the chair with my left hand” but the left hand not obey that instruction.

    This doesn´t support the view of daniel wegner when he says that the “free will is an illusion”?

    • http://thankyoubrain.com W. R. Klemm

      As I understand it, alien hand syndrome and its related condition of “anarchic” hand, are abnormal states in which one hand is not consciously controlled. That is, free will is certainly not operative regarding this hand. While these abnormal states show that subconscious mind can make the body do things, we already know that. But the lack of control in the alien hand highlights the fact that there IS conscious control over the other hand. At a minimum, control over the good hand and that of the alien hand must be qualitatively different even though the person is conscious throughout. The most parsimonious explanation for that difference is that conscious control can exercise a degree of free will over the good hand and is blocked by the neurological abnormality from expressing control over the alien hand.

      • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

        Bill,

        I agree with your distinction between subconscious and conscious control, so that ‘alien hand’ is not a challenge to free-will.

        Conscious control is not necessarily free-will. If the conscious decision is itself controlled, caused, determined, by prior brain states then in what sense is it ‘free’ of physical causal precursors?

  • Alexis Remm

    I think that the word “free will” can have 2 meanings

    Classical free will:the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints (of course this is not true,every action has caused by prior events,you don’t need to be very smart to know these things)

    Neuroscientific free will:The ability to initiate or stop voluntarily actions or thoughts without total control of the unconscious processes, (This is the one who worries me)

    so leaving aside the issue of “deterministic world”

    i would like to know if conscious processes play a causal role in our actions, or else we are slaves to our unconscious?

    thanks!!

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      Alexis,

      Do you think we live in a causal universe, with cause and effect? I suppose you do because without that any notion of ‘will’, ‘intention’ is meaningless: the ‘will’ is unable to bring about the effects it is suppose to cause. So, for example, to say “I decide to raise my arm. There, I raised it; I will it.” would not make sense.

      We rely on causality to suppose our ‘will’ consciously causes our motor neurons to fire, resulting in bodily motion.

      Cause and effect are such that the effect is determined by the cause (or causes) that cause it. There are causes that can, in principle, be identified, and those that seem to have an unexplained origin. The ones we have observed in our universe are the deterministic causes (they have definite causes themselves) and what at the moment seem undeterministic (uncertainty in quantum events).

      So, our universe appears to be deterministic, with some indeterminism. But even the undetermined effects become deterministic causes of other effects, once they have appeared. And even then, there is some disagreement over the indeterminism of quantum events, in that some scientists feel they too are determined.

      So, I’m not sure how we get away from the fact that all effects have a cause, and that the chain of cause and effect can in principle be accounted for. You don’t get the choice of putting aside determinism (or causality) if that’s actually how the universe works.

      The point is, exactly what is the ‘will’ actually ‘free’ from? In what way is a ‘decision’ not just the effect of causes that precede it? I can’t see how you can account for free-will that is in any sense ‘free’.

      “i would like to know if conscious processes play a causal role in our actions, or else we are slaves to our unconscious?”

      Given everything else about the universe seems that way, and we have no reason to suspect the material brain is any different, then the default hypothesis, or the null hypothesis, should be that it’s all causal. The alternative hypothesis, that we have free-will, not only has no evidence to support it, it isn’t even a sensible notion in a causal universe.

  • Alexis Remm

    Ok Ron

    I agree that there is nothing really “free” in this world (the term is more a euphemism than a reality) but the “will” is not meaningless, perhaps neuroscience can support mechanism, but can not state anything about determinism.

    For example:Suppose you should take the decision about drinking coffee or tea in the morning.maybe you decide to take the coffee today for some reason (eg you do not like the type of tea that is available)

    Your “choice” was not free (previous events may have influenced the decision,like the type of tea)but in the end it was your decision, you were in accordance with this decision,although it was not completely “free” the decision is according to your desires and motivations of the time (although it is certain that those desires and motivations were determined by previous events and so on)

    I must also remind you that many philosophers support determinism but none of them recognized as a certain fatalism, even in a deterministic universe.

    So if the (maybe determined) conscious processes in my brain make that my arm raises,the “will” was not meaningless (perhaps determined,but not meaningless)

    So, in my opinion the free will is an illusion, but the desires,enotions and intentions are not

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      Alexis,

      “Suppose you should take the decision about drinking…previous events may have influenced the decision”

      More than that. Previous events *caused* the decision.

      A rock rolls down a hill and at the bottom in it’s path. The rock rolls to the right of the tree or to the left. What *made* that decision? Who or what *decided* which way it went? These terms don’t make sense in this context. But, when considering what the brain is made of they don’t make sense there either. Any *decision* we appear to make is just eh outcome of causal sequence. If it is not free to change then it could not have been otherwise. The thing is, we only every observe the one outcome of any of our apparent decisions. When people say “I could have chosen the other option”, this is just a confirmation that they feel as though they could, not that they actually could.

      “the decision is according to your desires and motivations of the time”

      Yes. Your brain states. Which in turn are caused by all the prior events that lead up to that point. Just like the rock, you *choice* is merely the outcome of what your brain was caused to do.

      “I must also remind you that many philosophers support determinism but none of them recognized as a certain fatalism, even in a deterministic universe.”

      That’s because ‘fatalism’ is used in the sense of ‘it’s in the hands of the Gods’ or ‘The Gods fated that it happen’, or in New Age terms, ‘The Cosmos fated that it should happen, or, ‘It was written in the stars’ (in the astrological sense). This meaning of fatalism isn’t the same as unguided outcomes of a dynamic universe.

      “So if the (maybe determined) conscious processes in my brain make that my arm raises,the “will” was not meaningless”

      Then what does ‘will’ mean in this sense. You seem to be redefining ‘will’ to be a passive term with the same meaning as ’caused to happen’ You have removed all usual notions of freely-willed agency.

      “So, in my opinion the free will is an illusion, but the desires,enotions and intentions are not”

      I agree, sort of. Desires, emotions and intentions are our psychological perception of complex caused events. But then free-will is the same.

      Think of how we think of a wave travelling down a rope that has been flicked. There is no wave as such. There is only moving rope atoms, that move according to the connected rope atoms under the influence of an impulse. Stop the rope and the wave vanishes. But, we can still examine the motion of the rope in terms of this imagined *wave* (wavelength, frequency, amplitude). But there is no real wave that remains when the rope is stopped. You can’t touch the wave, only the moving rope.

      The active buzzing busy brain is like the rope in this analogy. It is the real physical thing. Free-will, and consciousness generally is just what the active brain looks like and feel like under our introspective gaze. Stop the brain (when you’re dead) and the conscious vanishes. So, consciousness and free-will are just models of what eh brain is doing, juts as the wave is a model of the moving rope atoms.

      The difference is that the rope is easy to analyze, while the brain isn’t. Having said that there are plenty of experiments on animals, such as Aplysia, which show that brains are biological mechanisms. Ours is just especially complex, difficult to understand, and looks particularly ‘free’ under the poor view of introspection.

  • Alexis Remm

    I agree with many of your statements,however on others not, the example of the rock is too simple,if you put a stone on the edge of a cliff (while at the proper angle of course) is ALWAYS going to fall.that does not happen with humans.This reminds me of the positivism of Comte trying to apply the same rules of the natural sciences to the social

    If i see a man putting his finger on the stove and observe the consequences and rationalize them, I will be forced by nature to make the same mistake? like the example of the rock?

    we certainly don´t have free will but we are not forced by nature to always do the same actions and errors, we can learn from our (or others) errors (not as a rock)

    “Stop the brain (when you’re dead) and the conscious vanishes.”

    A:perhaps you thought the mind is something ethereal or spiritual? of course the brain creates the mind

    “So, consciousness and free-will are just models of what the brain is doing, juts as the wave is a model of the moving rope atoms.”

    B:In fact thay have an effect in our behavior

    But we are losing the ground, the neuroscience (conscious-unconscious) and determinism cannot talk about each other. Thats unscientific,

    Again i´m not a compatibilist, but its seems incorrect to me to talk about “philosophical or natural determinism” in a post about the neuroscience and the “Neuroscientific free will” (note the euphemism)

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      Alexis,

      “that does not happen with humans”

      It does. If you put them at the edge of a cliff at the proper angle they will always fall.

      You are missing the implication that human brains, although much more complex, are still constrained by the activity of their neurons, which in turn are constrained by chemistry and physics. You still have not explained what is extra that turns the complexity of this physical system into something that could have done otherwise.

      People are prepared to place bets on events such as “If I roll this rock down the hill, which side of the tree will it land? How much would you bet?” In that case it’s our epistemic uncertainty that prevents us from knowing, not the deterministic nature of the roll of the rock. It it lands to the left it was always going to land to the left.

      Only the religious think they can change the course of events, by praying. It’s the same mistake that proponents of free-will are making. Whatever your brain was going to do, given everything leading up to the point of some ‘decision’, it was going to do anyway, and which way the ‘decision’ goes is determined too. It just feels to us as if we make things happen by some ‘free’ choice. We can’t see the ‘dice’ of the brain rolling according to complex details, and so it feels as if we choose freely which way it lands.

      “This reminds me of the positivism of Comte trying to apply the same rules of the natural sciences to the social”

      Well, with the social, multiple interacting brains, it’s far more complex than figuring out what a single brain will do. Compared to that even the weather is simple. And, ‘natural laws’ is a misnomer. All ‘natural laws’ are man made models of patterns found in nature. Very complex systems are not amenable to the application of the simple models we can construct. This is why he failed. Leplace’s demon is required to actually do the epistemic work of calculating the ontological determinism. We are not.

      “If i see a man…I will be forced by nature to make the same mistake?”

      No, because it’s not the same circumstances. The light into you eyes and the sound of his scream into your ears *causes* events to happen in your brain, events ingrained by evolution, which *cause* your brain-body to recoil at the prospect. It is more likely that it is *determined* that you won’t that than you will. It is still a causal complex chain of events that in humans rises in the mind as fear of pain.

      “not forced by nature to always do the same actions and errors”

      Of course not, but for deterministic reasons. there is no choice. Just as seeing the man burn himself, had that man been you then no doubt you would have *learned* (your physical brain would have laid down deep memory to *make* you body recoil when it’s in similar circumstances)

      There are of course causes of change in the brain that overcome this learning, by changing the brain to continue with the destructive behaviour. Addiction is a great example of how we are no ‘free’ to choose.

      “perhaps you thought the mind is something ethereal or spiritual?”

      No, I’m trying to emphasise that it isn’t. The brain doesn’t as much create the mind as the mind is what we ‘see’ of a brain in action, just as the wave is what we see of a rope in action.

      “But we are losing the ground, the neuroscience (conscious-unconscious) and determinism cannot talk about each other.”

      Yes, but I don’t think you get the significance. It’s the woolly ‘free-will’ notion that’s in error. Neuroscience is one of the sciences that tries to the causal nature of what is happening in the brain. It’s the ‘free-will’ proponents who fail to explain how the notions of ‘free’ and ‘I could have done otherwise’ fit into our causal understanding of the universe.

      But ‘philosophical determinism’ is simply the name that philosophers apply to the consequences of that other philosophical term, ‘causality’. It is not something different. If there is cause and effect then the effect is *determined* by the cause. That’s what it means. The science of quantum physics has made our understanding of the universe more complicated. But even so, what are undeterministic events to us, still have causes when the occur: they contribute to the determination of what follows. And more fundamentally those indeterminate events will have causes, but we can’t, for now, figure out what they are. But the whole of science is built on our understanding of causality.

      You seem to be making contradictory claims. You say you are not a compatibilist, but by definition a compatibilist is someone who thinks that we are still free, in the sense of ‘I could have done otherwise’.

  • GeorgeC

    Heh. I’m surprised this thread came to life again.. I feel a strong need for 5 sophomores and some pitchers of beer. Free will, do we have it? Could we even TELL from the ‘inside’? Probably not. Intrinsically unanswerable.

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      “Free will, do we have it? Could we even TELL from the ‘inside’? Probably not.”

      Precisely. Introspection is the wrong tool for examining the brain. The brain has no sensory nerves that detect it’s own detailed action, so there is no mechanism for the self-aware parts to sense the action of its own neurons, let alone correlate them to particular feelings. This is why thoughts seem to float free of the physical brain from the perspective of the conscious working of the brain.

      “Intrinsically unanswerable.” – By using introspection, I agree. Though neuroscience has not got there yet there is no intrinsic barrier.

      • http://thankyoubrain.com Bill Klemm

        I respectfully disagree, especially Ron’s point that the brain has no means to detect is own detailed action. Frankly that is uninformed.

        Here is one way a neuroscientist could look at the issue of free will:

        Human brains make choices consciously and subconsciously by real-time evaluation of alternatives in terms of what has been learned previously from other situations and of their anticipated utility. The conscious brain is aware that it is aware of this choice processing and makes decisions in light of such understanding.

        When a given alternative choice is not forced, the conscious mind is aware that it is not obliged to accept any one choice but is “free” to select any one of the available options. Such realization might even guide many decisions at the subconscious level. In either case, the probable value of each alternative is weighed in neural networks, which collectively reach a “decision” by inhibiting networks that lead to less-favored alternatives. Thus, network activity underlying the preferred choice prevails and leads to a willed action selectively favoring the final choice.

        Clearly, the final choice is directed by neural network activity. What governs that network activity is the activity in other networks, which in turn is governed by stored memories and real-time processing of the current environmental choice contingencies.
        What usually gets left out of free-will discussions is the question of how a brain establishes stored-memory preferences and how it evaluates current contingencies. These functions are surely causal, but what is the cause of the cause? Any given brain can choose within certain limits its learning experiences and what it will store as lasting memory. Those choices in turn are often governed by what a brain has learned about the self-interest value associated with given contingencies. So, in some sense, it is learned values that underlie much of choice behavior. It is the brain that assigns value. The real question is whether values are freely chosen or imposed. Values are largely optional choices. The conscious brain directs the choices that govern value formation and reinforcement. Conscious mind makes these choices in the context of its sense of self.

        The Brain’s Avatar Role in Choice Making

        Now we are confronted with explaining how a circuit impulse patterns (CIP) representation of the sense of self can have a free will. First, I reason that each person has a conscious Avatar that is created by brain as an active agent to act in the world on embodied brain’s behalf. (1) Certainly, by definition, the Avatar can make choices and decisions. In that sense, the Avatar may have been released to make its own choices and decisions which can be free in the sense that they are not dictated by subconscious mind. Subconscious mind can certainly exert its own imperatives, but does not always have the power to veto the Avatar choices.

        If the avatar exists as CIPs, how can something as “impersonal” and physiological as that have any kind of “will,” much less free will. Let us recall that “will” is little more than an intent that is often coupled with bodily actions to achieve the intent. We know this kind of thing occurs in the circuitry that controls non-conscious and sub-conscious minds. These circuits automatically generate actions in response to conditions that call for a response. Such actions are stereotyped and inflexible whenever they are controlled without conscious oversight. Why then, cannot similar processes operate in a less constrained way by the Avatar’s CIP representation? They can, and the difference is that in the Avatar, the action may be one of several possibilities and the Avatar is less constrained about which one to pick. In other words, the Avatar — because it is an avatar —is more free to pick an option. You might say that when the brain generated the CIPs to represent the sense of self, those CIPs were endowed with a certain autonomy and freedom of action not available to the other CIPs in the brain that constituted non-conscious and sub-conscious mind.

        Is our Avatar compelled to believe in God or to be an atheist? Is it compelled to accept one moral code over any other, or any code for that matter? Is it compelled to become a certain kind of person, with no option to “improve” ourselves in any self-determined way? If so, what or who does the compelling? How does it help understanding of “free will” to say that we are compelled by our neural network impulses?

        So, it seems to this Avatar that current debates about determinism, free will, compatibilism, are meretricious ways to obscure the important matters of our humanness. The door to understanding what is really going on is slammed shut by assertions that value choices and the decisions that flow from them cannot be free because they are caused by neural circuit impulse patterns. “Free will” debates distract us from a proper framing of the issues about human choices and personal responsibility.

        (1) Klemm, W. R. 2011. Atoms of Mind. New York: Springer.

        • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

          “Clearly, the final choice is directed by neural network activity.”

          What follows this in your comment is pretty much the deterministic account:

          “What governs that network activity is the activity in other networks, which in turn is governed by stored memories and real-time processing of the current environmental choice contingencies.”

          “These functions are surely causal, but what is the cause of the cause?”

          Other causes. The activity of the brain in complex feedback systems, using memory and other current states of the brain.

          “Any given brain can choose within certain limits its learning experiences and what it will store as lasting memory.”

          But seeing this as ‘choosing’ is the very illusion. Let me be clear on this point: the claim that free-will is illusory is the claim that any brain outcome, even those that we feel are freely willed, are the result of causal events in the brain. The illusion is not that this is how we feel (for I agree, we do feel wee freely will our ‘choices’). The illusion is that somehow this is free of causal prior events. What we see as the outcome of ‘choice’ is the outcome of natural physical causes.

          The brain doesn’t *choose* what to learn, it just learns by way of those neural inputs, together with prior memories, that cause the more persistent memories. This is the inner detail.

          An example of how this appears: to the consciousness self-aware brain it might feel we choose to learn about the brain, say by deciding to study neuroscience. But really, what has happened is that deterministic events of the past have built up to pique an interest in a subject, and more reading has strengthened the memory, the knowledge, of the subject, and has driven the person to ‘decide’ to study the subject. The causal effects lie so deep and the detail is so complex that we don’t get to be aware of this level of detail. The consequence is that the conscious brain has this feeling, this notion, that it has made a decision.

          “So, in some sense, it is learned values that underly much of choice behaviour.”

          Yes. The memories, the patterns in the brain, are biased in favour of one particular outcome over another. It doesn’t matter how far back or how recent effects are, they are still determining the outcome that we feel is a choice.

          Apart from the fact that we can’t throw a dice consistently it’s still a mechanical system that is deterministic (ignoring quantum level effects for now on such a large object). Even in such a regular homogeneous cube, its action on being thrown is still sufficiently indeterminate to us to make it look random. Or, if we anthropomorphize it, the dice has ‘chosen’ which way to land.

          Clearly a brain is very much more complex that this. There is still plenty of hidden scope for a great deal of epistemological indeterminacy, even excluding quantum effects, even in a totally deterministic universe.

          So, suppose I like tea and coffee equally well, and at some instant there is no particular desire, no thirst – perhaps I’m reading a book. And unexpectedly (no time to deliberate up to this point) my wife asks me if I’d like a tea or coffee, I might feel I deliberate momentarily, and feel I make a choice. But in the detail of the brain there is enough complexity, far more than in a dice throw, that when I utter ‘tea’, that was caused by something – some cause. The cause appears to me, in anthropomorphizing my own brain activity, to be a ‘choice’. I could alternatively say, in thinking of the dice, that my ‘choice’ was random (so not actually an intentional choice). Or, in keeping with the laws of physics I could say that my ‘choice’ was a determined outcome of the fact that, under those precise circumstances at that time, my tea liking memories overrode my coffee liking memories, and caused, in a way determined by the relative strength of those patterns, that my brain causes tea to be selected. From then on, all the way out to my utterance of “Tea please.”, is in turn caused. The prior cause that you are really looking for is not a ‘free’ choice, but one determined by my prior brain states – in this case the strength of the tea pattern compared to the strength of the coffee pattern.

          Had my wife asked just a second later, then other effects in my brain might have caused, deterministically, the coffee pattern to be the more dominant cause of the outcome.

          Our lack of free-will can be illustrated in choice experiments, where the researchers can prime subjects quite reliably into making specific ‘choices’. The subjects still think they are choosing. In other words they were not free choices, but outcomes of prior causes – just very complex combinations of causes.

          Again, we should not misinterpret our epistemic indeterminacy, our inability to monitor the minute causal detail of the brain, as free-will.

        • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

          “The Brain’s Avatar Role in Choice Making”

          This is just an anthropomorphic model of brain action that is designed to use the very feeling of agency that is in question. I could do the same for a rolling dice. I could say that the dice has an avatar that determines which way up it lands. Clearly we can frame models to fit our preconceptions.

          “So, it seems to this Avatar that current debates about determinism, free will, compatibilism, are meretricious ways to obscure the important matters of our humanness.”

          So now we begin to return to the humanness, which in turn leads to the spiritual and the religious. Science should be showing us what is the case, not what we want to be the case. The very use of he word ‘meretricious’ is already indicating a hidden agenda. There is nothing at all meretricious about understanding the illusory nature of free-will. Your motivation and bias is showing through.

          “”Free will” debates distract us from a proper framing of the issues about human choices and personal responsibility.”

          No they do not. This really misses the point.

          There is nothing in the illusory free-will position that requires us to give up free-will as a model. In science it’s possible, and common, to use many different models. The free-will model is very handy as a means of describing some psychological effects. The use of the notion of agency allows us to describe the extent to which behaviours are localised in a material object that has a high degree of autonomy, such as a human.

          We have no trouble ignoring relativistic effects most of the time. Newtonian mechanics are adequate at most speeds we are familiar with. We choose the model most appropriate to the task.

          One particular benefit of the illusory free-will model is that it makes us think of even wider causes and effects. It also, by impersonalising behaviour, removes the need for retribution and all the ghastly notions of sin that religions have been imposing on us for millenia.

          It very specifically does not remove the notion of responsibility. Responsibility, in deterministic terms, is a measure of the localisation of autonomy. If a man walks down a street striking several people on the head, then it is still correct to say that that man, that determined partly autonomous object, has the most localised responsibility for those actions. Certainly the most effective action is to restrain him. That done, the next is to figure out what caused him to do it. What are the causal determinants. By thinking of it this way, and understanding the very complex nature of causality in action, we are not imposing silly notions such as sinfulness and freely willed evilness, which prevent us looking further.

          But of course the judicial systems of the world have been aware of the potential for extenuating circumstances anyway. Long gone are the auto-responsive mob lynchings and stonings. Everyone gets a fair chance to make their case. So really, the deterministic view isn’t changing as much as you fear.

  • GeorgeC

    Good reasoning/research. Still, by any means, mind trying to determine if it has free will is simply an attempt to lift yourself by your bootstraps. If we are on rails we’d never be able to see it. Absolutely intrinsically unanswerable by any means internal to thought…and what isn’t?
    I know.. no fun at all there.

  • Alexis Remm

    you’re doing it again ron

    Remember Neuroscience keep silence about determinism and vice versa

    Our brains are the most complexly organized things in the known universe,no one fully understands them (although there are people like Sam Harris who think they know everything)

    This post is about the “neuroscientific free will” (remember the euphemism)the role of the unconscious and the conscious in our (perhaps determined) actions and thoughts do you remember that?

    Or we talk about determinism or we talk about neuroscience but we can´t talk about both at the same time,and since this is a blog about the brain neuroscience has the advantage on the debate.

    “Our lack of free-will can be illustrated in choice experiments, where the researchers can prime subjects quite reliably into making specific ‘choices’. The subjects still think they are choosing. In other words they were not free choices, but outcomes of prior causes – just very complex combinations of causes.”

    seems that dualism has influenced you

    That´s so old (and obvious in a materialistic brain) of course if you magnetically stimulate the brain you can change the course of the decisions (but only SIMPLY decisions like pressing the left or the right button) another example of the complexity of the brain that no one fully understands

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      I agree we don’t fully understand how the brain works. But ‘free-will’ still implies us being ‘free’, in the sense that “I could have done otherwise”. I would like to know why proponents of free-will think that is the case.

      “Or we talk about determinism or we talk about neuroscience but we can´t talk about both at the same time”

      Of course we can – we must. Because all science is founded on our understanding of cause and effect. And if a cause causes an effect the effect is determined by the cause. The fact that this is complex and that many causes contribute to some specific effect does not get you out of this.

      The whole notion of free-will and “I could have done otherwise” is directly counter to causality. It is to say that no matter what causes bring my brain to a point where it will go in some specific direction (a specific ‘choice’), I (and what this ‘I’ is is never explained) can be free of these causes and make my brain go in a different direction, to make if ‘choose’ otherwise. It’s saying that this magical ‘I’ can counter the causal model we have of the universe. So, free-will is the oddity that needs explaining in this sense: how does it fit with our causal understanding of the universe.

      And, the fact that we ‘feel’ we have free-will is not good enough. Such introspective feelings on the matter are not a good guide as to what is going on.

  • Alexis Remm

    Ron

    I (we) agree that we don´t have “free will”,but there is a difference between saying that we have no free will and say that all our behavior is unconciously controlled,that´s the topic of this post.Klemm argues that the conscious and the unconscious work together to make all the (“determined”) behavior.There´s no good evidence to say that we are “slaves” of the unconscious.Perhaps the “Classical free will” is dead but the “neuroscientific free will” is not. there is no evidence to say that the conscious does not have a causal role in our actions that´s the point of this post.

    P.D:Please note ron that the “Neuroscientific free will” is only a term that i use to explain the roles of the conscious and the unconscious in the human behavior,do not take it so literally

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      Alexis,

      “there is a difference between saying that we have no free will and say that all our behaviour is unconsciously controlled, that´s the topic of this post”

      But, there is no demonstration in neuroscience that the conscious is not caused by, determined by, the unconscious. In fact there are plenty of examples where the conscious is controlled by the unconscious – as in experiments on how priming can cause subjects to make specific determined conscious decisions.

      The problem is that, because consciousness cannot yet be fully accounted for by neuroscience, neuroscience isn’t in a position to say one way or the other.

      My argument is based purely on the fact that there is no evidence to show that consciousness is independent of the unconscious, along with our understanding of causality (i.e. there are no gaps in which any notion of the conscious making totally free uncaused ‘decisions’ makes any sense).

      What I find is that there is a commitment to the notion of free-will that creeps into arguments by already assuming agency.

      It’s really important to get this point. Take this explanation of the error:

      “While many errors in deduction are due to making unjustified inferences from premises [i.e. validity], the vast majority of unsound deductive arguments are probably due to premises that are questionable or false. For example, many researchers on psi have found statistical anomalies and have inferred from this data that they have found evidence for psi. The error, however, is one of assumption, not inference. The researchers assume that psi is the best explanation for the statistical anomaly. If one makes this assumption, then one’s inference from the data is justified. However, the assumption is questionable and the arguments based on it are unsound. Similar unsound reasoning occurs in the arguments that intercessory prayer heals and that psychics get messages from the dead.”

      The same error of assumption is being made throughout Bill’s paper, this post and many of the comments. They are assuming agency (and the associated notion of the will being free: “I could have done otherwise”) is the best explanation, and then using that assumption as if true. It’s a form of begging the question, affirming the consequent, and probably other errors.

      The error is masked by the way in which it is framed. There are usually statements of support for causality, and that nothing they are claiming contravenes causality. Then somewehre there is a reversion to uncaused causes, hidden in language like ‘neuroscientific free will’. What is ‘neuroscientific free will’? What is it free of? Causality, of being caused? How?

      “Please note ron that the “Neuroscientific free will” is only a term that i use to explain the roles of the conscious and the unconscious in the human behavior,do not take it so literally”

      Then how should I take it? Ficticiously? As fantasy? Note how conscious and unconscious, human behaviour have creap back into the explanation. But aren’t these the things we’re trying to explain? You can’t use them this way:

      P1) Causality holds throughout – I’m not denying causality.
      P2) We have consciousness independent of unconsciousness.
      C) Threefore our conscious will is free of our unconscious.

      You have stated your conclusion in a premise. And, P2 contradicst P1.

      Note that if you reject P1 (I don’t think you do) then you have other problems. But then so does all of science. We get into the problem of cause and effect due to the understanding of Time, problems that lead to solipsism, etc.

      The point that is being missed is that causality, and the lack of evidence from neuroscience to support this notion of the will being free, or the conscious being independent of the unconscious, requires that you explain this missing link. Where is the neuroscience evidence that shows that there is no cause of conscious decisions? Where is the explanation of principle of how the conscious could be free from causal effects?

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy


      “there is no evidence to say that the conscious does not have a causal role in our actions that´s the point of this post.”

      But again you are missing the point. The conscious does have a causal role – it must in a causal system. This isn’t in dispute. What is in dispute, and that which you still avoid, is what causes the conscious action? And, in what way is this conscious action free of prior determinants?

      “There´s no good evidence to say that we are “slaves” of the unconscious.”

      There is zero evidence that we are not. But, note the emotive use of language like ‘slaves’ (see my next comment). This concept, of one agent being the controller of another, goes out of the window in the physics of causality. This too is an important point:

      When moving ball A collides with a static ball B we attribute (by anthropomorphic notions) that A ‘hits’ B; or we say A causes B to move. But when A hits B it’s just as correct to say static B hits moving A, because the ‘event’ (the collision) is a mutual coming together, actually caused by prior events involving A and B. The moving A and static B, at some instant, is the prior event that causes some later event, the collision, and some later event still, the final motions of A and B. Because as much as A causes change in momentum B, so B causes change in momentum A.

      Now, in what way is a conscious ‘decision’ not an actually caused ‘decision’, that is a causal consequence of other activity in the brain and influences, both over time and very recent, from the environment.

      The conscious part of the brain is not a closed system independent of other parts. It even looks like conscious activity is distributed to a great extent, so that there is no one location of consciousness. Traditionally it was thought to be located in the neocortex, but we now know that deeper parts of the brain are integral to notions of self, which is essential for self-awareness, which is the core of ‘identity’ that makes us feel like agents. And agency makes us feel like agents that can ‘will’ actions. And, because we can’t locate prior causes we feel like this ‘will’ is somehow ‘free’.

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy


      If you look deeper, question further, you will generally find that it boils down to variations on the following:

      1) Religious belief requires that there be souls, or some kind of free will, that is consistent with the religious notions of sin. This appears to be the cause of Bill’s motivation. He doesn’t say it explicitly, but look back at the comments. Response: Science is only interested in what is the case, not what you want to believe is the case.

      Follow here, and here. Religion creeps in, but the offer to continue from there is declined. Contemplate Bill’s response:

      “I’m sorry, I have grown weary of this discussion. I don’t think reason can resolve the issues. Some things may just not be knowable.

      What? This is the response from someone who has spent years investigating neuroscience, reasoning about scientific results, but who thinks Jesus has some bearing on the matter, but because that is being challenged all of a sudden it’s beyond reason? This is religious motivation.

      2) Loss of humanism. Atheist humanist belief that our humanism is so special (Raymond Tallis) that we must have free-will. This is a remnant of the religious view of specialness. Response: Claims to specialness are no better than claims from authority. Where’s the science to show we are special.

      3) Loss of freedom. This is usually frames as a fear of being ‘slaves’ of our unconscious, or a fear of ‘fatalism’. Response: If this is the case, then it is, and no amount of fear will change what is the case. This is another argument from what we want to be true rather than what is true.

      4) “It’s obvious” – That is, based on the vividness of the perception, surely we must have free-will. Response: Our introspective feelings of what is obvious are shown to be unreliable when considering matters at the edge of our understanding.

      5) Without free-will we have nihilism. What happens to ‘responsibility’? Response: That isn’t a problem (read this comment, and this one). But the correct response is: consequences don’t determine what is the case. This is another version of rejecting the idea because you don’t want it to be true.

      6) Ontological v Epistemological Determinism – This distinction causes a number of problems. That we can’t figure out what is happening, that is we suffer epistemic indeterminism, does not mean that underlying causality is not ontologically determinate – even in quantum physics. Even if the universe were totally ontologically deterministic (i.e. no quantum stuff or any hint of uncertainty) it would still be indeterminate to us (you cannot determine states of a system if you are part of the system). This is why the notion of Leplace’s demon is used to express determination in principle.

      These, and possibly other drivers, are persuading proponents of free-will to be so committed to it that they assume it (via agency, or consciousness), and then argue from there, with no supporting evidence. So, they are making the error of assuming what they propose to show.

      You might think I am equally committed to determinism, but I’m not. Everything is contingent to me. Show me that causlity does not hold, and then show me evidence that consciousness is independent of the unconscious, or that “I could have done otherwise” is possible, and I’ll be persuaded.

  • Alexis remm

    Ok Ron

    Again we ALL know that the brain creates the mind (and the conscious) but the unconscious drives completely our behavior? No

    Even neuroscientists like Benjamin Libet and John Dylan Haynes say that his experiments cannot provide empirical evidence that says that everything is done by the unconscious (the only one that says those things is Sam Harris….but he is a joke!!)

    On the issue of religion i think that you are using an “ad hominem” argument. That Klemm believes in god doesn´t make it a bad (or a good) scientist!!! he bases his assumptions on empirical evidence.I have read the paper and it´s seems logical to me (and the peer reviewers of “Advances in cognitive psychology)

    So Ron calm down….You do not want to be a pseudoscientist….don´t you?

  • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

    Hi Alexis,

    Let’s get a couple of points out of the way first before getting back on topic.

    I’m not sure what the ‘calm down’ is for. I haven’t been introducing emotive language at all – in fact I’ve tried to explain how your use of emotive language, such as ‘slaves to the unconscious’ is an indication of emotive influences.

    Even your request that I calm down, having done nothing but explained where I think you are going wrong, is itself a deflection from answering the points I made.

    You also misunderstand ad hominem:

    “The ad hominem fallacy is often confused with the legitimate provision of evidence that a person is not to be trusted. Calling into question the reliability of a witness is relevant when the issue is whether to trust the witness. It is irrelevant, however, to call into question the reliability or morality or anything else about a person when the issue is whether that person’s reasons for making a claim are good enough reasons to support the claim.”

    Now here, please don’t jump off at the deep end. This is not to be misunderstood that Bill is untrustworthy. I’m sure Bill is a really nice and honest guy. I’ve read nothing that would suggest otherwise.

    The point is that his religious beliefs seem to be driving his views on free-will. This isn’t directed at just Bill, but is a crucial part of Christian faith itself. So anyone who submits themselves to the Christian faith (and many others), if committed to their religion, as many claim they are, and if they give primacy to the teachings of their religion, as many do, then it is a prerequisite of that religion that they believe in original sin and free-will as part of the doctrine.

    So, it has a direct bearing on this argument. It is not a ad hominem attack.

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      Now, back to business.

      I gave plenty of responses to your points, and you haven’t really addressed any. You’ve actually repeated one of the key errors.

      “Again we ALL know that the brain creates the mind (and the conscious) but the unconscious drives completely our behaviour? No”

      I made it very clear that the ‘conscious’ aspects of the brain do contribute to causal behaviour. Let me repeat your words:

      “there is no evidence to say that the conscious does not have a causal role in our actions that´s the point of this post.”

      And mine:

      “The conscious does have a causal role – it must in a causal system. This isn’t in dispute. What is in dispute, and that which you still avoid, is what causes the conscious action?”

      So, where do I say that “the unconscious drives completely our behaviour”? I don’t know how to make this any clearer. What are you missing? Let’s try the following:

      The relationships I am claiming is the case is this:

      1) Environment -> Unconscious
      2) Unconscious -> Conscious
      3) Unconscious+Conscious -> (Unconscious, Conscious, Behaviour, Environment)

      The crucial point in the causal link is that the Conscious is not free of causes. Bear in mind the following:

      The conscious has no direct access to the environment through our senses. All senses enter the brain at points we cannot detect directly with our conscious facilities. I cannot detect molecules triggering smells in the neurons in my nose. I cannot detect the saccades of my eyes as they provide snapshots to build up my fluid vision – and looking in a mirror I can’t even see my eyes move because the route to my consciousness is disconnected during movement. And nor can I detect which parts of my visual cortex are processing the various aspects of a scene, which bits deal with movement detection, horizontal lines, vertical lines, and so on. My auditory system hears words, but the words arrive into my brain as the firing of a large number of neurons, not as words. All this processing is dealt with before the results become conscious.

      So, could you try again to point out where the conscious is actually free of this causal connectivity to such an extent that it qualifies as being ‘free’ to act, to be ‘independent’. How does it do it?

      Remember, you and Bill are making the claim that there is free-will. I’m not claiming anything other than we should expect our conscious facilities to be caused, like everything else. Where is there room for “I could have done otherwise”?

      • Lage

        Ron, I completely agree with you here. I believe that the issue really comes down to how we define “free will”. I define it as having the ability to make a choice that is not made through a causal chain (no determinism) and not made through randomness (no ontological indeterminism). Since both determinism and indeterminism must be negated for free will to exist (which is LOGICALLY impossible), then free will can’t exist. It’s really that simple. This shows that free will must be an illusion which is a reasonable theory given the fact that is would be a result of our extremely limited cognitive perception of reality (layers and layers of subjective experience with no objectivity possible). From a psychological perspective, I’m in line with Wegner’s “Theory of Apparent Mental Causation” — that is, that the illusion of free will is easily created by the 3 principles that relate our thought to our actions: priority, consistency, and exclusivity. These are the only 3 “ingredients” one needs to experience this illusion and our mind is certainly capable of this. For the logical reasons and more, it is most obvious that free will is an illusion. It’s just hard to accept by anyone who wants to hold onto certain religious beliefs, moral responsibility, pride, etc.

        • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

          I responded to your other post above with very much the same issue on the logic.

          I have to say though that the ‘illusion’ is that we think free-will is genuinely contra-causally free. That we have the illusion, the feeling, that we have free-will I’m not disputing. Even though I think the ‘free’ nature of our will is an illusion and can acknowledge that intellectually, I also acknowledge that we are stuck with the illusion. Much like in being earth bound I sign up to the illusion of a sun-’rise’ and a sun-’set’ while knowing that the experience that the sun rises and sets is a real experience, but what is actually happening is something else. In both cases the illusion (the error if you like) is what we feel is happening.

          So, despite protestations from free-will proponents, there is no need to lose our feeling of free-will. With regard to responsibility the key issue is the degree of autonomy an entity has (i.e. the localisation of where the predominant causal events are). By looking at it this way we can detach ourselves from the retributive instincts that religion seems to be stuck with in insisting on a real freedom of the will. We can instead look at problems of responsibility as problems of localised cause and effect, as pragmatic matters of finding solutions. If anything it allows us to merge this pragmatism with our positive moral drives to look for just and fair solutions, rather than to have our judgement sullied by notions of sin.

          • Lage

            Ron,

            Yes, I would say that there is no reason to abandon our feeling of free will. I believe it to be an illusion based on how our mind works with respect to the order of operations, our mode of conceptualization and time itself.

            Yes, with regard to contra-causally free will, this would mean that we are “causa sui” or initiators of cause, which violates logic and would make us God-like. By definition, God is an entity that is causa sui, so making us the same way, makes us God-like. This in itself could produce contradictions with regard to religious views, as the same religious folks tend to separate us from this “God” only giving “God” these types of powers. This means that you’d have to remove “God’s” ability to see the future, which then falsifies the definition of God as an omniscient being. There are so many levels that free will can be refuted, even if we are forced to argue on religious grounds alone which is sometimes very fun to do (even without logic one can use their religious opponents own beliefs to disprove it).

            Regardless of the argument, the simple fact that determinism and/or indeterminism (randomness) exist, free will can’t exist by definition. It is a simple argument that requires no further thought. The universe does operate on these principles for all practical purposes that we know, as intellect itself is based on causal links and predictability, and quantum randomness adds the opposite but equally damning factor as well. It’s still fascinating to talk about. To think, that either I had no other option but to write this post, or that anything I may think of as creative is a product of randomness is amazing! Nice chatting with you!

            Peace and love!

          • Lage

            Ron,

            I wanted to add that moral responsibility and accountability for our actions is also something requiring precise definition. Technically while we may be “responsible” for our actions because we were a part of the causal chain, any other entity in the universe is equally responsible as they contributed to the state of the universe necessary for that action to take place. People that kill others or get their PhD had no other choice. Their actions were a result of either randomness or determinism (causal chain) so they themselves shouldn’t be proud or ashamed for their past as it was out of their control. I think that this is another reason why people can’t accept that we don’t have true free will. They want to feel like they did a great job and earned their accomplishments (even though it was out of their control), and they want to hold somebody or something responsible for actions they consider to be “evil”. Nothing else could have happened though, if we reversed time, except a random change (due to quantum randomness if it is truly random). People want to feel proud of their accomplishments, or smart or above average, or what have you — but it wasn’t up to them so those feelings are just a part of the illusion (as nice as they may feel sometimes). I remember this to keep myself in check. All we can do is fulfill the illusion while at least being aware of and accepting it. Peace!

  • Lage

    Dr. Klemm,

    First of all, your use of the term “subconscious” implies a lay understanding of the subject — lets use the correct term “unconscious” from now on so that we all can take you seriously as someone learned in the subject of psychology. I’ll let it slide and just continue with my rebuttal.

    Second, these arguments of yours trying to invalidate the conclusions of illusionists don’t matter anyways, because the mere fact that the universe is either deterministic and/or indeterministic negates the logical possibility of free will.

    First to define free will, I would say that most people would agree that this term implies that a true choice is made without 100% predictability (determinism) and it can’t just be random (indeterminism).
    If people are true choosers of their actions or choices (causa sui), then their actions can’t have a cause except themselves. To abandon causality is to abandon consistency and the very foundation of intellect and general reasoning. If you have complete causality, then the choice was a result of events in the past and out of the agent’s control. So the psychological arguments, although relevant, are not even necessary to disprove free will. One need only consider that ontological determinism (causal chain) and indeterminism (quantum randomness) negate the logical possibility of free will. That’s all there is to it. Thus, free will must be an illusion since it does not really exist. If we are to ignore this simple logical argument based on determinism and indeterminism, then there is still loads of evidence that suggest that our unconscious mind, genes, and environmental conditioning (Skinner, et al) is responsible for our actions — and still suggests that free will does not exist. It’s hard for most people to accept this illusionism, especially if their religion depends on their belief in free will as they will defend it to hold on to their identity, but in those cases logic has already been abandoned anyways and then it fails to remain in the realm of scientific discussion. More specifically those that believe in an omniscient “God” would have to believe that this “God” can’t know the future, for if that “God” did even have access to this knowledge, would imply determinism and no free will. To say that this “God” doesn’t have this ability is to say that this “God” isn’t omniscient/omnipotent and would therefore cease to be “God” by definition. These same religious folks would say that “God” IS omniscient and omnipotent so there is no logical way to reconcile these contradictions. So even based on religious grounds alone, free will is contradictory and proven to be false.
    In summary, I’ve seen many arguments that disprove the existence of true free will (even based on simple definitions and logic), but I’ve seen zero (that’s right zero) logical arguments that imply that we do have it. The only logical evidence we have points in the direction that we have an illusion of free will.

    Peace and love!

  • Alexis remm

    Ok both have reason just some things to clarify

    Ron i agree with you about that we dont have free will (i mentioned that in another comments) i´m not a compatibilist

    1:The objective of this article (although the title says otherwise) is not to provide empirical evidence showing that free will exists,is to provide evidence against many neuroscientists and psychologists (Michael Gazzaniga,Daniel M Wegner,Sam harris)they say that our unconscious makes decisions and execute actions before we are aware of (that in many cases is false)and the conscious doesn´t play any causal role in our actions (false).i think that the term “neuroscientific free will” was misunderstood let´s call it now “conscious control” that conscious control is not dead.

    2:The religion issue doesn´t matter is these things,we are talking about neuroscience (and some physics) the religion should play no role in these discussions.the religion of Doctor klemm not hinder their case supporting “conscious control” (please note that i´m an atheist too)

    3:The term “subconscious” although it is not correct is often used to refer to the unconscious (not only used by Klemm, many articles and even universities use it because it´s better understood)so that´s no count for making an argument valid better analyze the content rather than conceptual errors better analyze the content rather than conceptual errors (actually in his paper klemm says that the “subconsious is really a part of the unconscious)

    so that´s all

  • Alexis remm

    sorry for the errors

  • Alexis Remm

    so…the debate is over?? hey guys (Klemm,ron,lage)you have nothing more to say about this (interesting) topic?

    But please if this post comes to the live again,please don´t start with discussions about religion or philosophy, that’s why there are forums for these topics

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      No, not over. I’m writing a more complete response to this post and Bill’s paper. I’ve been busy with other things.

      “But please if this post comes to the live again,please don´t start with discussions about religion or philosophy, that’s why there are forums for these topics”

      But if the mistakes being made are philosophical ones, and if biases of religious belief are persuading anyone to make those mistakes it’s correct to bring them up here, in context.

      On religion in particular I merely pointed out that it was a mistake to use the religious perspective in this debate. It was Bill, the author of the post, who ran with that an illustrated how religious thinking colours the debate. So, the religious dimension is unavoidable in debates about free-will.

      And, this whole debate about free-will remains a philosophical one. Having a philosophical perspective is at the heart of science itself. Get the philosophy wrong and you make incorrect inferences from what science there is. Remember, the position that free-will is an illusion is a philosophical logical one, and a scientific null hypothesis.

      Every notion humans have that they have free-will comes only from introspection – which Bill himself says is inadequate in his paper when ruling out neuroscience experiments that use it. I agree with him on that point. But it cuts both ways. Any feeling that we have free-will, or that “It was ‘me’ that ‘decided’ to learn piano”, or “I could have done otherwise” relies entirely on introspection and should be dismissed from the debate.

    • Lage

      Alexis,

      Since it’s clear that “free will” in the truest sense, does not exist (despite Klemm’s conclusion that it DOES exist), we as readers here can specifically discuss the different roles of the conscious vs. the unconscious with regard to causality and more importantly priority. However, as Ron pointed out, the philosophical and religious issues do come into play and are thus relevant. For the sake of maintaining focus on what you have interest in, in my response here, I will just focus on the causal and priority issues of the conscious vs. unconscious mind.

      First of all, I believe that we can agree on the definition of consciousness, and I would say that unconsciousness encompasses all brain processes that are not included in this conscious “mode”. This means that anything that is outside of my waking consciousness is “handled” by the unconscious. So several questions that one might want to ask with regard to this topic are:
      What processes occur before you have a conscious thought or consciously “will” to do something?
      How does the conscious mind fit in with regard to an individual’s experiential frame of reference?

      I think that most experts would agree that the mind undergoes numerous unconscious processes before one can develop a question mentally or contemplate a choice of any kind (consciously). What “mode” is governing these processes since we are not aware of them? The unconscious of course. It is also clear that the mind employs an ever-changing time-dependent reference frame to make the decision or formulate a thought. The reference frame itself is something that depends on the unconscious mind, as it certainly doesn’t seem that a person is consciously thinking about every moral, value, opinion, etc. that formed the very frame of reference that they employ when “making a decision” or “having a thought” consciously. This implies that the unconscious mind ultimately has priority over the conscious as this frame of reference is ultimately created by the unconscious mind. I’m not arguing that the conscious mind isn’t involved with complex tasks such as proprioceptive feedback loops, etc., nor am I arguing that it doesn’t have a role in executing the decision. The question you may be trying to address here is whether or not the conscious mind is ultimately responsible (has priority) for a decision made rather than the unconscious mind.

      If an individual’s frame of reference is created by the unconscious mind and the conscious mind merely has an abbreviated interpretation of what this frame of reference is (our conscious “version” of reality), it is abiding by the frame of reference like a set of semi-fluidic instructions. While the conscious mind is our interface to the world and the only interface that the unconscious uses to accomplish anything in our reality, I think that because the conscious mind is operating like a computer and following unconscious instructions, it can’t be the creator or initial cause of any choice.

      Here’s an interesting thought experiment: Ask someone who believes in God’s existence (or something that is unfalsifiable), if they can “temporarily” choose to not believe in God’s existence. Can they really choose to do this? Or is their “choice” really non-existent with them having only one possibility by their unconscious frame of reference? Ask someone who’s favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate, if they can “temporarily” choose vanilla as their favorite flavor. Can they really choose to do this? If someone is just trying to pick a flavor to eat and they consciously “choose” to get a scoop of cherry ice cream, what will their choice be fundamentally based on? A conscious frame of reference? I don’t think so. The conscious frame of reference is an abbreviated interpretation of the primary unconscious version (the master version).
      Their choice will be made primarily by the survival-promoting amygdala in the temporal lobe which created an emotional tag (unconsciously) sometime in the past for the same or similar flavors. If they’ve never had that flavor before, then their choice will be made based on Pro’s vs. Con’s which their unconscious mind catalogs. This is what will motivate the person to get a flavor that they like, rather than some actual conscious “choice” occurring. The “conscious choice” here is really a secondary artifact based on unconscious processes governed by genes, past experiences, and/or random mental anomalies that were out of a person’s control. I will say that there are certain flaws in the conclusions derived from some of these psychological experiments (more certainty than may be warranted) that indicate conscious control as illusory, but I think that fundamentally there is more evidence that suggests this illusion to be true rather than the other way around. Our conscious mind is a way for us to subjectively (not objectively) transcend our automatonic reality but I think one of the main reasons for this transcendence is the conscious mind’s priority of short term (in the moment) perception and proprioception. It doesn’t have an awareness of all the unconscious information needed to better establish it as the “mode” that is in true control. So it truncates and abbreviates this enormous amount of unconscious information into a faster responding albeit secondary form that we perceive as the primary frame of reference (the “me”). This is why we feel that “we” are the masters; simply because “we” don’t have access to that unconscious perspective (the ‘I’), and consciousness is simply what we define as the “me”, even though the ‘I’ or the “seer” is the true master. Since the ‘I’ can not see itself completely (just as Kant suggested years ago, which I agree with), we can not see the unconscious that drives everything above it (such as consciousness).

      Peace and love,
      -Lage

  • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy
  • Alexis Remm

    Ron

    I think that you are missing the point.

    The concept of “free will” is different in both ways

    Let’s see that.

    Ron:Free will is the ability to make choices,actions and decisions without previous events or causes (classical free will)

    I agree with you in that.

    Klemm:The ability to make choices,decisions and actions With the conscious having a causal (not ephipenomenal) and necessary role. (conscious control)

    Do you see that?

    If you are going to make a critique about the Bill’s Paper you have to attack the 12 interpretative issues and prove that the experiments show that we don’t have conscious control in our actions plans and decisions. (
    thing that is difficult because their experiments have false premises and bill shows that in his paper)

    In the topic of religion: if the believing of bill about “free will” is for religion issue that matters little. He uses real experiments and real references in his defense for the “conscious control” you cannot criticize the very heart of his paper (Unless you are a professional neuroscientist/psychologist) even they say that the experiments are simple and “we cannot provide evidence for a causal relationship between the activation of the frontopolar cortex and the decision” (soon et al 2011)

    So if you want to make a critique about the paper do it but in the “conscious control” topic, the entire paper not address anything about determinism/underterminism and you will be missing the point of his paper if you only criticize the concept of “free will” that is different that yours.

  • Alexis Remm

    P.D I saw your blog entry about the flies and his “free will” (also I saw some older comments in this post) I note that you are using the Bill’s religion in a very impressive way, you don’t attack his arguments for the conscious control you are attacking his personal beliefs and his concept of free will. That is an easy target for you huh? The really difficult thing is to prove with evidence that the subconscious governs the action of learning piano or to ride a bicycle as Klemm says in his paper “you can argue that the subconscious causes all those actions….but how do you prove that??”

    The Oxford dictionary says this about the ad hominem:

    “attacking an opponent’s motives or character rather than the policy or position they maintain”

    If you say that the religion conducts Klemm’s belief about free will you are using an ad hominem argument and that matters little in this debates

  • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

    Alexis,

    It’s perfectly legitimate to point out where one’s presuppositions (in this case religious belief) are colouring one’s understanding.

    Read this:
    http://brainblogger.com/2010/10/25/free-will-is-not-an-illusion/#comment-604823
    If you read the main post in the context of the title and this response, how can you not think Bill believes we have free-will? Bill is of course ‘free’ to clarify this, but so far hasn’t. His answer would be relevant to the main post here, though not so much to his paper.

    All science presumes causality. Causality can be split into determinism and indeterminism, and each of those has an ontological (what really is the case) and epistemological (the extent to which humans see the case). You cannot get away from this. When science has no clear cut answers, no convincing evidence, then you have to go back to this foundation. The title of this blog is “Free will is NOT and illusion” – the capitalised *NOT* being pretty emphatic. If there is no classical free-will, as you agree, then our feeling that we have it must be an illusion. What else is it?

    And, how can we avoid the philosophy when Bill’s paper titles the conclusion “CONCLUDING PHILOSPHICAL PERSPECTIVE”. How much plainer does this have to be?

    I happen to agree with a lot of what is in Bill’s paper. A critique is not necessarily going to disagree with what is being critiqued. But more on that later.

  • Alexis Remm

    Hi Ron

    Ok I think that you Can’t really attack the objections about the experiments that bill’s points in his paper (excepts perhaps the introspection issue and the generalization about the experiments,but you tend to agree with Bill’s claims in both)

    In religion: unless the objections say that God gave us free will because he loves us and gave us eternal life the objections presented in this post and the paper are valid and compatible with and atheist/agnostic point of view (in fact in the first chapter of his new book “Atoms of mind” he criticizes the use of “sobrenatural” to explain the functions and actions of the brain.)

    Ok Let’s talk about philosophy:

    If you have read about the philosophical question about if we have free will you maybe found that there are too much concepts used by the philosophers to explain the meaning of “free will”

    There are too much concepts for example

    “Free will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints”

    “free will is the ability to make choices,actions or decisions without direct intervention of other entities (God,Satan,other people)”

    “Free will is the ability to deliberate about future courses of action and my reasons to choose them,and make plans in the light of this deliberation”

    (please note that the third definition is compatible with determinism and with the bill’s objections)

    Many definitions are valid for the Philosophical questions about the free will (as you can see both you and bill’s concepts are equally valid) I dont think that you have the only and the most complete definition for “free will” (not at least for philosophers)

    Philosophers like Daniel Dennet,Walter glannon,Alfred Mele,Adina roskies and eddy nahmias accept that we have degrees of free will (see the concepts again) even in a deterministic world.

  • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

    This is one of my points about Bill’s paper.
    [where -> links cause to effect]

    This is how I see consciousness, and subsequently the illusory natuer of free-will in consciousness.

    A) The Caused and Causing Conscious
    1) Environment -> Unconscious
    2) Unconscious -> Conscious
    3) Unconscious+Conscious -> (Unconscious, Conscious, Behaviour, Environment)
    i.e. the Conscious has no ‘free’ capacity, since it too is caused. The diagram on p67 of the paper suggests this. The consciousness, and its ‘will’, is caused and is not free. So, free-will is not an appropriate term for it, whereas illusory free-will is an appropriate term.

    Bill’s point is based on the illusory free-will (IFW) proponents’ thinking this:

    B) The Observer Only Conscious:
    1) Environment -> Unconscious
    2) Unconscious -> Conscious
    3) Unconscious -> (Unconscious, Conscious, Behaviour, Environment)
    i.e. the Conscious is caused, but does no causing itself. This seems to be what he’s objecting to, in that it is what Bill claims that the cited people think.

    But that’s not the complete story behind Bill’s argument. The IFW proponents, in trying to make the point that the conscious is an observer, are essentially saying that the conscious is caused, as in (A).

    Yet Bill is implying, if not stating outright, that not only do IFW proponents hold to (B), but that he thinks something like this is the case:

    C) Free-Will Conscious
    1) Environment -> Unconscious
    2) Unconscious -> Conscious-C
    3) Unconscious + Conscious-C + Conscious-F -> (Unconscious, Conscious, Behaviour, Environment)

    Where Conscious-C is the caused consciousness that Bill acknowledges, and Conscious-F is the free-will aspects of the conscious mind that Bill seems to hold to, and what I am objecting to.

    If Bill can clarify this point it might make the whole issue here clearer.

    So, is Bill claiming that the people he cites think (A) or (B), and, which does Bill hold to. Much of his paper would suggest (A), but then some of it, and this post’s title in particular, would suggest (C).

    Personally, given that proponents of illusory free-will think that the consciousness is caused I can’t imagine they would seriously think that the consciousness would not also feed back (cause) into the unconscious. If he has interpreted any of them correctly in this then I would disagree with them on that point. The term ‘observer consciousness’ is merely one that is meant to emphasise that the consciousness has no ‘free’ will to instagate causes uncaused – i.e. opposing (C), but agreeing with (A) not (B).

    • http://thankyoubrain.com W. R. Klemm

      I do not claim that consciousness (and its choices) is caused by the unconscious mind. I explain where I think consciousness comes from in a book to be release April 8, 2014 by Random House: “Mental Biology. The New Science of How Brain and Mind Relate.”

      In the meanwhile, you might want to read: Klemm, W. R. 2011. Neural representations of the sense of self. Archives Cognitive Psy-chology. Advances in Cognitive Psychology. 7: 16-30. DOI 10.2478/v10053-008-0084-2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3163487/

  • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

    Alexis,

    “…unless the objections say that God…”

    Stop right there. Anything about God is off the table. This is the point I make about religion. Without any evidence or logical reason to suppose there is a God, and arguments from God are null and void. That’s why I specifically point out that if someones religious belief is persuading them one way or the other then it’s not a good reason to be so persuaded.

    “There are too much concepts for example”

    Yes, but that’s the fault of compatibilists typically. There is a very clear notion of free-will that is based on dualism. That’s all we need of a free-will definition. Anyone who claims we have free-will and yet rejects dualism needs to be very clear about what the will is free of.

    “…please note that the third definition is compatible…”

    This is the problem: it turns out that compatibilists re-define free will in such a manner that it no longer means the same as the real meaning and then they claim free-will is compatible with determinism. And, if you read specific compatibilists (Dennett is more fuzzy on this than many compatibilists) you will find that their major motivation is the fear of our rejection of responsibility in the face of determinism.

    Some compatibilists make noises such as “Of course we agree with determinism, and of course we don’t have classical free-will, but what really matters is …. how humans behave toward each other … studies show that rejecting free-will increases lack of responsibility … but of course we can make decisions … I could have done otherwise had the conditions been different…”

    If asked what flavour ice cream I like and I say vanilla, and when given vanilla I say, “No you don’t understand, I mean the vanilla that’s most important: it’s chocolate coloured and tastes of chocolate.” Then I think you get the point.

    “Free will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints”

    This is precisely the slippery definition I’m talking about. What the heck are ‘certain kinds of constraints’?

    “Free will is the ability to deliberate about future courses of action and my reasons to choose them,and make plans in the light of this deliberation”

    This is so chock full of free-will language, but each is so caused that after the first two words you can give a deterministic representation that completely removes the correspondence to the first two words.

  • Alexis Remm

    Ron

    That “unless god say” was irony, i am an atheist just like you but being an atheist don´t give you a magical “philosophical or scientifical” intelligence just say that you don´t believe in churches,crosses and God´s that´s all.And again the 12 interpretative issues are compatible with atheism

    About the “Free will”:

    Bill demonstrates that the experiments who conclude that the conscious is epiphenomenal are silly and flawed, of course that the conscious makes actions and decisions (perhaps no “free” but the conscious clearly controlls much behavior) we don´t know how (completely) the conscioussness work and i think that many people underestimate the role of the conscious.

    The scientists (and philosophers) change the meaning of tthe concept free will many times (E.G in one article sam harris say that the conscious is useless and in 3 months later says that “he plays an important role in our (determined) behavior” but if you pay attention i said that many philosophers think that we have “degrees” of free will no complete free will,no nothing free will we have “degrees” they say.Many scientists say that the free will is

    In fact the first definition of free will is the one used by determinist philosophers and scientists the “certain kinds of constraints” vary in each person.

    About the ice cream example,i think that is flawed, vanilla is one thing and chocolate another,it´s too more difficult to define free will,conscious and unconscious even professionals cannot not reach an agreement on the definition of free will first tell me what is the “correct” definition of free will and then we can discuss that.(i think that you agree with me that even in a deterministic universe we can make choices,decisions and actions controlled by the conscious and planning them to the future,correct me if you don´t agree)

    You are right in some points,the nature programs the unconscious and the unconscious programs the conscious, (of course the conscious can program and feedback the unconscious too).

    P.D I think that we agree in the point that the conscious is not epiphenomenal and the 12 interpretative issues (although they can´t provide evidence for real and unlimited “free will”) they destroy the present neuroscientific evidence against total unconscious control,the debate is going on physics and philosophy let´s take away the topic of neuroscience,unless you have another thing to say….that´s okay for you?

    • Lage

      Alexis,

      Regarding your comment which says:
      “About the ice cream example,i think that is flawed, vanilla is one thing and chocolate another,it´s too more difficult to define free will,conscious and unconscious even professionals cannot not reach an agreement on the definition of free will first tell me what is the “correct” definition of free will and then we can discuss that.(i think that you agree with me that even in a deterministic universe we can make choices,decisions and actions controlled by the conscious and planning them to the future,correct me if you don´t agree)”

      I’m not sure what exactly is flawed with my “ice cream” thought experiment, and I’m unclear what your point was when you said “vanilla is one thing and chocolate another”? Can you elaborate? I merely pointed out that your amygdala and unconscious processes will make the choice for you, and pass the information/preference to your conscious mind (i.e. an abbreviated secondary reference frame).

      Then you said “i think that you agree with me that even in a deterministic universe we can make choices,decisions and actions controlled by the conscious and planning them to the future,correct me if you don´t agree”

      I don’t believe that we can make any true choices at all in a deterministic universe, nor plan anything with a free will, period. You, previously claiming to be an incompatibilist should agree. If you are redefining the “illusion of choice” and just calling it “choice”, then I agree with you. We do have an “illusion of choice” which we could conveniently label as “choice”, but it is not true choice.
      As for future planning, if we ignore the concept of free will and just focus on conscious involvement (even if it’s not free), it appears that we use our frontal cortex for this type of processing, but it is still unclear what role our conscious mind has in this planning (if any at all). Our conscious mind may feel that it’s doing all the planning, but is it? I believe it is controlled in an unconscious manner, at least fundamentally. I believe that there are zero degrees of freedom when it comes to free will. The universe may have freedom due to quantum randomness, but it in no way gives us any degree of freedom.

      Peace and love,
      -Lage

  • Alexis Remm

    Lage.

    I think that you are making many (not all) assumptions from the wrong point of view that the introspection makes.

    as you can see in my response to Ron we cannot fully understand the conscious,we know that the unconscious plays and important and valuable place in our behavior,but the assumptions or experiments of many people that suggest that the conscious is of minor importance,is ephiphenomenal or plays only an indirect causal role in our behavior are using flawed arguments (first they believe that the Libet´s experiments are true,and they say that the conscious can only be studied by the “conscious awareness” of the subject.) i think that the conscious plays a very important role in our behavior. as Klemm says the unconscious program the conscious and vice versa (the issue of the “free” programming is other topic) both conscious and unconscious control and feedback each other the minimalist role for the conscious is only supported by the silly experiments of Haynes and others and the “theory of mental causation” of psychologists like Daniel M Wegner. there are no evidence for minimal or epiphenomenal conscious control of behavior.

  • Alexis Remm

    Lage

    I think that the system didn´t published your comment (i received a notification on my iphone about your comment) please write it again.

  • Alexis Remm

    Lage

    (i´m pretty sure that Ron make the claims that you are using for example the ice cream example,i dont know who´s really debating with me)

    You say “I think that the unconscious makes our decisions”

    but where´s the evidence for that? i don´t know of any REAL evidence for unconscious total control,again the only ones are the fMRI experiments and the theory of mental causation,both have flawed arguments.

    Even in a deterministic lacking free will universe that does´nt show that our unconscious makes decisions and actions before we are aware of.no evidence for that.on the other hand there are plenty evidence for conscious control of behavior.

    (see the book “do conscioussnes cause behavior?, the experiments of Baumeister et al,some experiments suggest that the conscious makes better and faster decisions that the unconscious)

    so even in a deterministic world the consciousness is not ephiphenomenal,maybe less effective than we really know but clearly is not useless.

    P.D:im still waiting for evidence supporting the hypothesis of “the unconscious governs all our mental life”

  • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

    The point of the ice cream analogy was to give a more obvious example of how the compatibilist argument fails. By changing the definition of what I think is vanilla (“No you don’t understand, I mean the vanilla that’s most important: it’s chocolate coloured..”) is obviously unjustified. Compatibilists, by switching the definition of free-will, are claiming that this different definition of free will is compatible with determinism – well so what.

    Until compatibilists started changing the definition the definition of free-will always was about some method by which the will is free of deterministic causes. It’s about as useless switch of meaning as my re-defining vanilla in terms of chocolate and still calling it vanilla. Compatibilist free-will is not regular vanilla free will that is free of causes, so why call if free-will?

    Why not just say, OK, free-will is an illusion, but we’re interested in this other thing that isn’t free-will. We’re interested in living with the illusion and talking about freedom in that context. Why the insistence on defending free-will against the claim that it is illusory, which is what the title of this post does.

  • Alexis Remm

    But if we don´t have free will (again i´m not a compatibilist) how we can ensure moral and legal responsibility? (the only thing that comes in mind are the Gazzaniga´s proposals (see that here) in where he says “The issue isn’t whether we are ‘free,’” “The issue is that there is no scientific reason not to hold people accountable and responsible.”
    but how do you said that?? (please also note that he bases all his assupmtions in the flawed experiments) if we dont have free will for some things (call it for example,Unconscious decisions or deterministic universe) how we can have moral responsibility that you and Lage say? i dont understand if i kill a man with a gun why i´m responsible for that?

    Clear that Ron

    P.D Lage i´m still waiting for evidence supporting the “Dictatorship of the unconscious”

    • Lage

      Alexis,

      I wanted to respond to your moral responsibility question. I don’t believe that we have moral responsibility as our thoughts and actions are a part of a causal chain that we had no control over, or are a result of quantum randomness which we have no control over. Most people that live in a society agree with the idea of moral responsibility, but the reality is, our morals themselves could have been different if the causal chain that led up to the creation of them was different (or the quantum randomness took a different random turn). The only reason we imprison people that kill others, is because we’ve been indoctrinated to do so. The only reason that imprisoned person may have killed someone is because they were indoctrinated to do so. There is no moral responsibility. The universe just “is what it is”. We have no free control over our actions — it is all either predetermined or random. The trouble is that we live in a world where the “illusion of free will” exists and thus we have an “illusion of moral responsibility” but like “free will”, it is also an illusion. We aren’t separate beings and we aren’t objective observers in this universe. We are inextricably linked to the whole and thus our “separateness” and “self” is also an illusion. I tend to think of each “one of us” as an illusory compartment of consciousness, when really everything is one unit in the universe. It just “is what it is”. Quantum physics has been demonstrating this for years, as well as Eastern mysticism. So I believe based on the evidence around us and the very tenets of science itself, that moral responsibility does not really exist. Yes, we are responsible in the sense that we are a part of the causal chain that led to an action — but we are no more responsible for that action than every other bit of matter in the universe. We can try to grade the degree of concentrated causality or localized causality to an individual person over a seemingly unrelated constituent of the universe, but it is an arbitrary distinction based on the illusion of separateness and the illusion of a “self”.

      As for evidence supporting the “dictatorship of the unconscious”, I believe that because our brain undergoes processing before we perceive something, or before we have a thought — we must realize that those processes and chemical reactions are happening outside of our conscious awareness and thus over-rule the subsequent result in our consciousness. The fact that we only use a fraction of our brain during consciousness, compared to all of these other automated processes and unconscious processes, at the very least we must agree that the unconscious and/or non-conscious brain are the majority of all brain activity. I believe that these experiments that measure brain activity before the participants sense the result is adequate evidence in support of this idea. The fact that there is a delay between this brain activity and conscious thought implies that it is prior. If you want to negate the timing accuracy of the individual due to introspection, then you have to negate all consciousness induced data points. You can’t have it both ways, and I think that this is one flaw in Klemm’s rebuttal.

      Peace and love,
      -Lagius

  • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

    “But if we don´t have free will how we can ensure moral and legal responsibility?”

    I’ll get back to how we can have legal responsibility shortly. For now I want to repeat my point about the failure in logic here. Let’s suppose for the moment that we have this set of consequences:

    1) Determinism => No free-will (=> means implies)
    2) No free-will => No Responsibility (this is the bit I’ll get back to)
    3) Determinism => No Responsibility (by 1 and 2)

    That’s it! Wanting to ‘ensure’ we have responsibility doesn’t come into it. You cannot change the argument to this:

    1) Determinism => No free-will (=> means implies)
    2) No free-will => No Responsibility (this is the bit I’ll get back to)
    3) Determinism => No Responsibility (by 1 and 2)
    4) We want responsibility, so that we can apply morals and law.
    5) Therefore, from 4, it must be that 3,2,1 are false.

    This is arguing from desire rather than fact.

    One approach is to say, well, we must throw out all concepts of responsibility, morality, etc. Anythin goes. We are heading for moral nihilism!

    This is the tactic of the religious and many compatibilists who dread the loss of their moral systems. But, they are misunderstanding teh determinist case.

    The causal nature of responsibility:

    Even in a deterministic system there is a sense in which some causes are localised in time and space, even though they have ultimate causes in common with everything else.

    Start by setting up a scenario that has no humans involved, so there’s no temptation to say “Ah, but human intention set that up” (which could be the case with a billiard ball example).

    Imagine an earth quake Q1 causes 26 fist sized rocks to roll down a hill and come to rest on the slop in a particular area, and label these rocks A to Z. Clearly the causal consequences of this event go back to the earth quake Q1, and before that the loose location of the rocks before being disturbed, the weathering and prior quakes that set them there, back to the formation of the mountain, back to tectonic plate movement, …, back to the formation of the earth, …, solar system, …, big bang, … ???

    Now, another earth quake Q2 occurs (with some of the same causal antecedents as Q1) disturbing only rocks A to D further. Rock A rolls down the hill and kills a deer, while rocks B,C,D stop harmlessly short. Only rock A was the local and immediate cause of the death of the deer. The other rocks clearly did not cause the death of the deer. Can we say the last quake Q2 caused the deer to be killed? Well, that quake caused several other rocks to fall too, but only rock A killed the deer. The prior quake Q1 that disturbed A to Z caused A to be in a position that would permit (un-constrain) the last quake Q2 to cause A to kill the deer. The weathering that loosened the rocks caused them to be in positions that would permit quake Q1 and then quake Q2 to cause A to kill the deer. And so on.

    There is still this local, in time and space, sense that A killed the deer. But can we ‘blame’ rock A, hold it ‘responsible’? We tend not to, when thinking rationally, but how often do we blame inanimate objects for problems. We’re used to looking deeper into the causal chains when it comes to inanimate objects, but because we have developed this separate special notion of humans, and because for all our history the brain has been inaccessible to us, we always stop our search for causal sources with the human brain-body system.

    But in a deterministic sense we can still localise the causal source of any human activity. Some examples:

    a) If a rock falls on my foot I will leap in pain, or might even leap to avoid it if I see it soon enough. This is an automatic response. I don’t think anyone would suggest I used my free-will to leap, in pain or in avoidance.

    b) If I see the rock start to fall, say ten seconds before it reaches me I see it coming, and can take evasive action – maybe deciding to hide behind a nearby massive bolder. Because my conscious mind has had time to contemplate the motion of the rock we have a tendency to say I used my free-will to avoid it. But really this isn’t much different from a machine predicting and taking action. So even here, for me, the causal chains are still present: the rock triggers survival behaviour which is ‘programmed’ into most animals; and evolution has caused humans to have brains that can predict and ‘decide’ to act….

    Here’s a deterministic description of that last sentence: Our brains are caused, by brain biology, to acquire patterns in brain states that map to causal consequences such that there is a reasonable correspondence between what will happen and what these patterns represent – we ‘estimate’ the future, we don’t ‘see’ it in any future site spooky sense. The patterns in our brains are caused just as much as the patterns of actuality they predict. And, our brains tend to follow a path of least resistance, that is they are caused to do so, that results in the brain causing (deciding) actual subsequent behaviour. That the brain has several ‘possible’ ‘choices’ available is merely an expression of the fact that several patterns of predictive behaviour are present in the brain, so it seems like we have options, that we could have chosen otherwise; but all the time, whichever is the least resistant causal path is the one that plays out in the causal physics of the brain. We can’t know which path the brain will take. Sometimes brains seem to take the least obvious path to us (deciding to go out in the freezing conditions without protective clothing; thinking we can get away with a murder, …) – but that is really down to the fact that the brain doesn’t have sufficient data, it’s patterns of prediction are ‘biased’, or ‘uniformed’; which is to say our epistemological acuity doesn’t match the deterministic ontological actuality (we do sometimes freeze, we do sometimes get caught, …).

    c) If I have sufficient prior causes my brain may get into a state where it predicts some unfortunate future, say someone is going to reveal that I was involved in a bank robbery. Another alternative prediction show this will be prevented if he dies. Another prediction shows he will be sure of dying if I kill him. … and so goes the causal sequences that result in what we would call premeditated murder.

    In each of the above cases, a,b,c there is a real deterministic sense in which the causes of some action is focused on the human being with greater degree of localisation of time and space. This is the sense in which we can attribute deterministic cause to an individual. We can say a human is ‘responsible’ for the cause of some action, their action, by virtue of the degree to which that individual is the localisation of the cause.

    This makes sense in terms of current morals and law. An immediate act of killing in self-defence is considered less culpable than a premeditated one. And if my automatic leap to avoid a falling rock (a) caused me to knock another person over the cliff we would call this an accident. Our current interpretation of free-will is already accounting for the localisation in time and space of our actions.

    This also applies to someone who is mentally ill and who kills because they feel that they are being attacked when they are not. We say they are ‘responsible’ for the death, but that the causes of their state of mind mitigate against the degree of that responsibility.

    But in both cases of premeditated murder and mental illness we still incarcerate for the very pragmatic reason that we recognise the causal consequences of not doing: they may kill again – the causal determinants that caused them to kill persist and remain localised in their brains.

    The point here, from the determinist perspective, is that we acknowledge the complexity of causal consequences. So, we do not jail people to punish them for reasons of retribution, but because we know incarceration can cause a change of behaviour, if accompanied by the right psychological help – this is a real physical change to the brain we are looking for, with the real causal consequences that they will not kill again upon release.

    What is inexcusable is to incarcerate without proper treatment, which leads to further alienation and re-offending – which is often the incarceration of choice made by those with a commitment to the notion of free-will, who ‘blame’ the individual and think they don’t deserve help to change, that they must ‘choose’ to change themselves.

    So, we can account for responsibility, in law, in a real pragmatic way. And, this approach has a better chance of being informed by science that does any metaphysical notion of free-will that has no evidence to support it. And it avoids the nasty retributive concepts that come from thinking people always have the free-will to change, and that they just have to want to change, and if they don’t then that’s their fault too.

    What we can also recognise, under determinism, is that even though free-will does not exist, it is a powerful illusion that we find difficult, if not impossible, to shake off. This is saying no more than the illusion that the sun moves round the earth and ‘rises’ and ‘sets’ is a convincing illusion when we are watching sun rises and sun sets. I have actually watched sun rises and sun sets and tried to imagine the revolving earth rather than the moving sun; so this latter illusion, being about objects like the earth and sun is easier to overcome. The free-will illusion is so ingrained within our psyche that it is more persistent – but we can still use reason to look beyond it.

    But for every day life, when we’re not worrying too much about life and death, incarceration, law, then it is fine to use the free-will model that we are used to using. I suffer no cognitive dissonance in saying that I have chosen to write this response, even though I know I have been caused, compelled, to do it because my brain is reacting to the patterns caused in it by this post and subsequent comments, and by all my prior opinions (brain states, patterns) representing my views on science and philosophy. And of course all this is causal and dynamic. I’ve been asked, “Why bother with this argument – you are caused to think what you think and I’me caused to think what I think.” Well, yes, but this misses the extent of causality’s reach. It is quite within the bounds of causality for something you write to cause a change in my brain patterns, or something I write might cause a change in yours. And it also misses the point that if we are caused to have this conversation then we will have it, whether we change each others mind or not.

  • Alexis Remm

    I think that if we are determined completely by previous events we don´t have moral and legal responsibility.that would be like blaming a pinball ball colliding with the triggers (changing ball for person)

    At the unconscious:

    There´s evidence for unconscious neuronal firing,but that´s no evidence for the “unconscious dictatorship” clearly much of our behavior is controlled by unconcious processes but not all.The experiments with fMRI measure unconscious neuronal patterns but the researchears can´t say that these processes represent a final decision.

  • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

    ” we don´t have moral responsibility …that would be like blaming a pinball ball…”

    You’re starting to get it. Moral responsibility is just our phrasing, in human free-will model terms, of how human brains have patterns that match the behaviour of humans. There’s a ‘nice’ pattern for good stuff and a ‘bad’ pattern for bad stuff. The different patterns cause different responses.

    “…we don´t have legal responsibility…”

    In nature, you’re right, we don’t. There is no ‘natural law’ regarding behaviour. Animals (including humans) just do what they do. But, human animals concoct (their brains are caused to invent) social restraints on behaviour that, to some extent, correspond to the ‘moral’ patterns that evolution has caused us to experience.

  • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

    “clearly much of our behavior is controlled by unconcious processes but not all.”

    So, from my earlier examples, are you saying that you think (A) or (C) is the case? Because it now sounds like you’re saying (C), and that you do think we have free-will.

    A) The Caused and Causing Conscious
    1) Environment -> Unconscious
    2) Unconscious -> Conscious
    3) Unconscious+Conscious -> (Unconscious, Conscious, Behaviour, Environment)

    C) Free-Will Conscious
    1) Environment -> Unconscious
    2) Unconscious -> Conscious-C
    3) Unconscious + Conscious-C + Conscious-F -> (Unconscious, Conscious, Behaviour, Environment)

    Where “…much of our behavior (Conscious-C) is controlled by unconcious processes but not all (Conscious-F)”

  • Alexis Remm

    (Ron i received a notification for your response on my mail)

    My last post was principally to lage and his hipotesis about “unconscious dictatorship”

  • Alexis Remm

    My point of “much of our behavior is unconscious but not all that´s for emphasize that our unconscious not do all the work choosing our plans actions and decisions without conscious (big) relevance in these matters.

    I know that the unconscious creates the conscious but the unconscious doesn´t have a dictatorship over the conscious. for example if our unconscious says that he wants to use drugs the conscious can say NO! i don´t want that!! (at least in many cases) thats not the same if the unconscious says Do that and you even doesn´t know why you are doing that (unconscious dictatorship).

    So yes the unconscious and conscious are not “free” but the unconscious alone doesn´t have the last word in our decisions.

    Again that´s especially for Lage response about that.

    • Lage

      Alexis,

      I believe that the unconscious does have the last word, ultimately. If our conscious processes are a by-product of, or determined by hard-wiring of the unconscious, then once again, what we perceive as a distinct decision making entity (conscious) is really just a secondary artifact, even if it is the only “mind” that we perceive.

      If we are to believe in a causal universe, then something had to cause the conscious thought? What might that be? It can’t be self-caused, so there had to be something that caused it. The only causes that come to mind (generally) are genes, programming, and quantum randomness. These causes are out of conscious control. Unless you think you can consciously change your genes, or consciously change your programming. If you can’t consciously change these things, then the conscious mind is a secondary artifact stemming from these causes. If the conscious mind can’t control the programming, then it must be the unconscious mind that controls this programming or is the ultimate source of it, based on genetic limitations and the environmental experiences accrued over the lifetime of the individual. So while I believe that the conscious mind is a part of the causal chain stemming from the unconscious, and while I believe that the conscious mind does have a role in executing actions and thoughts based on unconscious limitations and instructions, I don’t believe it has any final say in what the decision is (unless one says that the conscious mind’s final interpretation of the unconscious instructions/decision is somehow a “final say”). I believe that the conscious mind interprets those unconscious instructions/decisions in a way that still allows it to perform its job (our ability to interact with the outside world with a useful concept of reality that allows us to survive), but I don’t believe it makes any final decisions. These decisions were ultimately predetermined by the unconscious (even if a feedback loop is occurring between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind) and it becomes an abbreviated secondary form when entering the conscious realm. It is an “after thought” because it is a result of programming that we are not consciously able to control or aware of. We aren’t aware of this programming that “causes” us to make these decisions (we don’t perceive this programming, even though we talk about it’s existence), so we can’t consciously control this programming and thus the final decisions can’t be made consciously. If some decision is made that truly violates the unconscious instructions, then I believe that it is a result of quantum randomness which is still out of our control.

      Peace and love,
      -Lage

  • Alexis Remm

    Lage

    Again where´s the evidence for that? introspection?

    One thing is to say that the environment programs (determines) our unconscious (i agree with that) and other completely different is to say that the unconscious completely overrides the conscious process. and yes too much behavior relies on unconscious process (E.g walking is often an unconscious process) but to say that the unconscious completely decides where to go or what to say is nonsense!!! if the unconcious worked in that form we never (or at least at minimum) know why we decided that or another option.

    E.G if you consciously deliberate about buying a house or a car the unconscious reasons for that decisions certainly not correspond to the conscious reason for deciding one option.

    so where´s the evidence for that Lage?

    P.D:Please don´t say that the “determinist universe” is evidence for unconscious dictatorship…..determinism doesn´t matter about this issues.

    • Lage

      Alexis,

      Where’s the evidence to refute this hypothesis of mine?

      You said that “the environment programs (determines) our unconscious (i agree with that)”.
      So if the unconscious is already programmed, then how can the conscious decide to do anything?
      The logical answer would be that it decides what to do based on the unconscious programming. If not, then what would allow the conscious to make a decision? Where would the conscious mind get it’s instructions from? It can’t pull them out of thin air, so there has to be a causal source for them. We are products of our environment, which means that we are programmed to make the decisions that we make. If the unconscious is the “mind” that is programmed (which you said you agree with), then the unconscious is what makes the decisions, since the other “mind” (conscious) is not programmed. What part of this doesn’t make sense to you?

      As I said before, I do believe that the conscious mind could play a role in executing the decision (made by the unconscious), but it is getting it’s instructions from somewhere — and I see the unconscious mind as the most likely source of these instructions, thus the conscious is not the source of the final decision. If this isn’t the source of instructions, then what is? Itself? It can’t be self-caused.

      We feel that we know why we decide what we decide, because our unconscious (most of the time) relays the reasons for the decision. We are consciously “aware” of our rationale, even though this rationale is unconsciously programmed. Programming is something dedicated to the unconscious. If you think otherwise, then say so — and explain why. We don’t consciously feel this programming, and introspection is really the only interface with our conscious mind. If introspection is invalid as evidence, then what evidence do you have to refute my hypothesis? We can assume that any processes that aren’t handled by the conscious mind are handled by the unconscious, so whatever we perceive or think about consciously is all we have to work with to confirm that it is indeed consciousness. So by process of elimination, we can assume that anything we are not conscious of, including our programming, is unconsciously controlled. If we were conscious of our specific programming, then you’d think we’d have the knowledge to change it. That doesn’t seem to be the case. If you think that the conscious mind is also programmed, then what evidence do you have to support that claim? Introspection is the key method to study our consciousness — even if it may be subjective. Consciousness is subjective, that’s the whole point. If consciousness is subjective, then the only way to study it completely is with subjective evidence — that is, through introspection.

      It is reasonable to assume that things that we don’t think about or are not conscious of, must either not exist, or they must be processes operating on the unconscious level (by process of elimination). So again I repeat, if we aren’t conscious of our programming — since we are bound by it and have an illusion of free will, then it must be unconsciously controlled, if this programming exists. If our decisions are made by this programming, then it must be the unconscious responsible for this final decision. Is this not enough evidence? If not, explain why not? Explain to me how you can have your cake and eat it too.

      Peace and love,
      -Lage

  • Alexis Remm

    Lage

    How do you know that these unconscious ideas,thoughts or biases don´t have a conscious controlling part? you are using only introspection to support your ideas.

    In fact the conscious plays a major role in our behavior, check out this article:http://carlsonschool.umn.edu/assets/165663.pdf

    P.D:The researchers say that the conscious only serves to play an indirect an delayed causal role,but these assumptions are supported only by the flawed experiments that Klemm criticizes (and introspection) so the conscious is very important for our behavior , i think that the conscious is sometimes understimated.

    Clearly the conscious mind is determined (not free) but there´s a big difference between a conscious decision and an unconscious truly Zombian decision.

    • Lage

      Alexis,

      You still never answered my questions. If it is the unconscious “mind” that is programmed, and you agree that the conscious mind is determined, then how can the conscious mind make a decision? Where does the conscious mind get it’s instructions from to “make a decision”? If it gets it from the unconscious, then it is really the unconscious making the decision. If not, then how do you suppose the conscious mind makes a decision? Where does the conscious mind get it’s instructions to make this “decision”? Are you saying that you believe that the conscious mind is also programmed, separately from the unconscious? If we have this illusion of free will, consciously, then we don’t consciously perceive this programming. Can we really call it conscious programming if we aren’t conscious of it?
      If we can’t, then it must be programming sent from the unconscious mind, as the unconscious encompasses all brain processes that are not controlled by the conscious mind. Explain what you don’t understand about my response.
      If I program a computer (#1) to program another computer (#2), and the second computer is relying on instructions from the first one, then does the second computer ever really make a choice independent of that first computer’s code? I don’t think so. How is this any different than the conscious mind being controlled by the unconscious mind? While the conscious mind feels independent as the causes of our actions and thoughts, isn’t this all really originating from brain processes that we are not conscious of? We might have a problem once again with semantics and definitions here. If the conscious mind is ultimately controlled by a programmed unconscious mind, then can the conscious mind ever really make it’s own decision? One can argue that it makes a decision, but if it is based on the unconscious programming, then the “decision” that it makes loses meaning and is not independent of the “instructor” (unconscious).

      In the article that you listed above, it was mentioned that all behavior seems to be caused from an interplay between conscious and unconscious processes. My hypothesis is that this interplay is really one controlling the other, and it’s because it comes down to how we define the two. Shouldn’t we define consciousness as the frame of mind that gives us awareness and anything at all that we are conscious of? Are we conscious of conscious programming? If not, then it’s not conscious programming — and if the programming exists, then it must be unconscious — and thus the true decider.
      As I mentioned several times over in previous posts, I acknowledge the role that the conscious mind plays in executing or perceiving a decision made. I think where we differ here is how we define consciousness and/or how we define a decision. As in my computer example above, where do you draw the line between the programmer and the programmed? If I program a computer to “choose” apples over oranges, then who or what makes the decision? Is it the computer or the programmer? Is it one algorithm that makes the choice? Is it a transistor? Is it electrons? One could argue that the computer “made a decision” based on instructions from the programmer, but did it really decide or choose anything? Or was it the programmer all along, who chose or decided that he wanted this computer to “choose” apples over oranges? Back to the problem of nomenclature, can we “choose” anything if there really is no choice? If the computer is just an agent representing the programmer’s preference of apples over oranges, then it doesn’t really choose anything itself. This is my point when it comes to the unconscious mind. I don’t think, if the conscious mind gets instructions from a programmed unconscious, that it can make a true decision. If we want to still say that it’s making a decision, then it’s like the computer “choosing” apples over oranges — the “decision” or “choice” loses meaning and then we’re back to square one.

      Peace and love,
      -Lage

  • Alexis Remm

    P.D2 the only support for “truly and ultimate Free will” that Klemm seems to endorse is the title of this paper (probably for a flawed concept of what free will means)

    as Ron says Klemm is suggesting the “causal conscious” in his paper, with no free will but neither under an unconscious dictatorship. so let´s resume this debate.

    A):Perhaps Klemm uses a flawed concept of “Free will” (metaphysical) but that concept does not undermine his defense of “conscious causal control”

    B:The universe is deterministic so we don´t have truly free will (at least the classical concept of “unlimited and total free will”)

    C:There´s no good evidence for that “unconscious dictatorship” the only “evidence” are coming by the unreliable introspection

    D:Maybe we have a degree of moral or legal responsibility in a lacking free will world (i don´t fully understand this point)

    Another point to say?

  • Alexis Remm

    Lage

    I think that you don´t fully understand the issue,Ron explains it clearly above.

    yes the unconscious programs the conscious and both adre programmed by the environment but you dont recognize that the conscious programs too.You are confusing determinism with minimalist conscious

    (UnconsciousConscious)(Environment)

    In your analogy.

    Environment (The programmer)

    Environment programs PC1 (unconscious) and the PC1 programs PC2
    (conscious)

    But the conscious can program the unconscious too,our behavior is not a one way exit.

    In my analogy (and the ron´s too)

    Environment programs PC1 and the PC1 programs PC2
    But the environment can program PC2 to program PC1 too

    Do you see that? Both the conscious and unconscious are determined by the environment (they are not free) but our behavior is not fully programed by the unconscious,the conscious can program the unconscious too.Again our behavior in not a one way exit.Both feedback and program each other.And they can change the environment too (obviously with limitations).

    So they are independent? No i think that there´s no “free” in the universe (determinism)both unconscious and conscious are determined by other things

    But the unconscious completely drives the conscious? Again No both feedback,control and program each other,there´s nonsense to say that the conscious is only a puppet for the unconscious.

    • Lage

      Alexis,

      What evidence do you have that the conscious mind programs the unconscious as opposed to the unconscious being the only thing that is programmed (“dictatorship” that I propose)?

      Peace and love,
      -Lage

  • Alexis Remm

    Lage

    Check out this (interesting) article is very informative and shows that the neuroscience is actually inaccurate to test the free will problem.

    http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/ideas/neurons-v-free-will

    And about psychology perhaps concludes that we act based in unconscious reasons (sometimes) but doesn´t say that the conscious is epiphenomenal or of minimum impact.

    The evidence for “unconscious dictatorship” is flawed and inaccurate,the evidence for conscious causation of behavior is strong and empirically demonstrated.

  • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

    Lage,

    From your referenced piece:

    “This is because many of the distinctively human things that people do take place over time and outside their craniums. Perhaps the brain is the wrong place to look if you want to find free will.”

    “Raymond Tallis, a retired British doctor and neuroscientist. As Dr Tallis puts it in his “Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity”, trying to find human life in the brain is like trying to hear the rustle of a forest by listening to a seed.”

    Tallis is driven by fears. Like Dan Dennett, the compatibilist, he fears that the plebs will become unruly if they learn that their free-will is illusory. But it doesn’t seem like good philosophy to reject an idea because you don’t like its consequences. Tallis dislikes ‘Neuromania’ because it challenges our humanity, according to him. He also dislikes the notion that we are animals. He accepts the principles of evolution, but insists that we are above the animals – that good old religious specialness of humans.

    I’ve got the book, Aping Mankind. Tallis does not make a good case at all. He misrepresents the physicalist case.
    To emphasise again the case against free-will. All the genetic background that influences the development of the brain, and the brains developmental response to its environment, including the intense learning that goes on, all amount to a physical organ behaving naturally. There is no room for the will to be free. What there is amounts to a localised behavioural system that has some degree of autonomy. The that organism, because it can’t detect through introspection its own physical nature, it seems to it, it feels like it is acting independent of its physical self. The will appears free, from subjective perspective. This is the illusory nature of ‘free-will’.

    “As well as casting illumination in what is sometimes the wrong place, today’s scanners are still rather dim streetlights.”

    This is true. But that doesn’t completely nullify what they show: that the only evidence for what consciousness is is demonstrating physical source – the brain. Just because the data is still tentative in explaining the detail it doesn’t mean that this is evidence for the panpsychic case.

    “This fact is nicely illustrated by Dr Tallis’s discussion of a series of experiments that have been widely taken to undermine the notion of free will. In the 1980s, the late Benjamin Libet…”

    But this is old hat. There are later experiments that show delays between act and conscious awareness. But even so, this detail is only one more sense in which science is showing the physical work of the brain.

    One point to take from this is that the physical brain is what is doing all the work that we understand as consciousness. The physical processes that lead to the brain doing stuff leave no evidence for anything additional, anything ‘free’ of physical brain activity. Neither Tallis of anyone else ever provide evidence to demonstrate that the ‘mind’ exists as anything other than processes of the brain. There remains no good reason to suppose our will is ‘free’ in any real sense.

    So, Lage, “The evidence for “unconscious dictatorship” is flawed and inaccurate”

    The ‘unconscious dictatorship’ isn’t really challenged. This is why opponents are still making arguments that are essentially those of the dualist, even while claiming they are not; or they are proposing totally unevidenced ridiculous claims about some mystical consciousness driving everything…

    “…the evidence for conscious causation of behaviour is strong and empirically demonstrated.”

    What? That some specific claims made from fMRI data is being scrutinised and questioned, you think that means that the panpsychic case is made? It does not follow. You have zero evidence for your case. None. You even admit it, in our comments exchange here: http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/ways-of-knowing/. There you do list some assertions that you try to link together as ‘reasons’, but there your use of the term ‘reasons’ really just amounts to an explanation for you holding your view and has nothing that resembles a reasoned argument.

    • Lage

      Ron,

      Umm..what are you responding to or asking exactly? You haven’t made a comment on this blog for quite a while. The comments you quoted were not mine. Was this some error on your part, Ron? This is a blog post on free will. Did you want to continue to talk about free will? We were in large agreement on this issue, so I don’t believe there was much left to debate regarding the issue of free will. I’m an illusionist and I believe that you are as well.

      Peace and Love,
      -Lage

      • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

        I quoted from the link you gave. It refers to Tallis in his position on free-will. I first responded to that.

        Then you used that link to imply that some objections to Libet are sufficient to make your case.

      • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

        Lage,

        Quite right. Apologies. It was Alexis that posted. I should stop trying to respond from a mobile.

        • Lage

          Ron,

          No biggie. Simple mistake. There’s a lot of nested comments on this blog and that makes it easier to confuse one comment for another. Keep on keepin’ on!

          Peace and love!
          -Lage

  • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

    For those that don’t have the book, Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris, these audio segments cover his view of free-will well, and also go on the discuss the implications for morality:

    http://youtu.be/dodTNPp12rg

    http://youtu.be/w6oWft4mD10

    http://youtu.be/NHEryas3ByA

  • http://informationvoyeur.blogspot.co.uk/ Matt

    My optimistic take on the issue – On physics, non-epiphenomenal consciousness and free will:

    http://informationvoyeur.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/on-physics-non-epiphenomenal.html

    Matt

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  • http://neuroautomaton.com Zachary Stansfield

    Professor Klemm relies upon the false premise that because Libet’s experiments do not demonstrate the non-existence of free will, that therefore free will must exist. Despite this fact, he does not state the basis for his assumption that free will has any meaning whatsoever.

    In reality, the problem with free will is that it is both undefinable and implausible. I have yet to be informed of a realistic means by which a will can be “free” of anything, particularly the constraints of the causal laws which guide how our brains function. This is the core criticism of free will, held by neuroscientists and philosophers alike. Rather than addressing this argument, Dr. Klemm completely ignores it.

    I’ve made a longer criticism of Klemm’s point here: http://neuroautomaton.com/?p=272.

    Cheers

    • http://thankyoubrain.com W. R. Klemm

      Response to Zachary (Feb. 232, 2013)

      Free will vs. Creativity

      First, if you claim that free will is undefinable, the assertion that it is implausible seems tendentious. How can you know if it is implausible if you don’t know what IT is?

      More substantively, I am well aware that causal laws govern what we will to think and do and that those laws are implemented in the brain by ongoing thought, decisions, choices, etc. The issue is what is the cause of the cause.

      How do you defend the claim that all our choices are driven by how the brain has been programmed to think, decide, and choose in certain ways? Of course such programming would seem to strip us of free will, but then we chose the many of the experiences and thoughts that created the programming.

      Do we not have an infinite regress here? That is, what we think programs the brain, which influences what we think, which programs the brain, which …

      So, the real free-will issue seems to hinge on “what we think.” By what evidence do we conclude that all thinking is pre-programmed? We surely must concede that much of brain operations is stochastic. That is not to say it is random or without cause, but rather that the cause may not always be not pre-determined. This is what “stochastic” means.

      Now we come to the tipping point of decision when the brain selects among stochastic options, each of which may have its own probabilistic density function. Surely, not all choices are made randomly. And surely, they are biased by prior programming. But it would seem the brain is capable of making a new (creative, if you will) choice that is not compelled by programming. We know from casual observation that some brains are highly creative. Why couldn’t free will a creative act? If so, the corollary is that some people have more free will than others. I know lots of people who are examples of that, some acting like robots, others like “free” thinkers.

      If you insist that free will does not exist, then don’t you have to insist that no brain is creative, that is, can generate thought, decisions, choices, etc. that are not compelled or programmed? In short, I see the need to explain creativity if you want to explain why free will is illusory? Is creativity also an illusion?

  • http://vemaosbonjovi.com/what-is-considered-is-a-smooth/ merrill

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  • DeterminismIsWrong

    Why do determinists if they are so convinced of it even bother sharing it? Even if they were right why is it so important for them to destroy all meaning and value like that?

    If determinism is true it’s a truth that’s not worth knowing. It’s a truth that makes everything meaningless, valueless.

    How do we know the observer effect didn’t impact the experiment by influencing subjects on the quantum level?

    Or more likely how do we know that maybe because it’s just an experiment people don’t bother to engage free will because they don’t really care, perhaps people are capable of turning free will on and off but typically leave this to what ever their attitude is about the thing in question. So do I study to be a scientist, politician, doctor, or lawyer, free will activated, in fact activated and reactivated many times though at times I may make expressions of preference on autopilot as I become more confident in my answer. Do I move my body to X position or Y position, the choice is meaningless so free will doesn’t get activated because it has no meaning to me.

    I enjoy autopilot from time to time but life is meaningless without effort, without making something real. If free will isn’t real then effort isn’t real either.

    I used to be a determinist and that was the most depressing time in my life ever. I am so glad I’m over it.

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      If determinism were strictly true, then everything would be determined, including the fact that determinists MUST then argue for determinism; and it would be determined that you MUST not believe it, if you don’t. And, should you change your mind, then that would have been determined to. And, it would be determined that determinists CANNOT fnd the world meaningless, because it is determined that their brains do not.

      But, you mistake the usefulness of the concept of determinism, as used in this argument about free will. Its real use is as follows:

      We humans cannot tell if the world is determined or not. We have limeited knowledge, limited access to knowledge, about how the universe really works. Our theories and experiments are contingent, the best we can do. It looks deterministic, from classical physics. But then quantum physics introduces a greater puzzle. But what we can’t tell is whether the quantum stuff, though apparently random, is itself determined or not. If random events have no determining causes, then they are uncaused causes? What does that mean? We rely on the notion of causality, because that’s how the world appears to work, but we don’t really understand it. Related to causality is time, because for one thing to cause another it seems to have to precede it in time, the causer is at first not causing some event, then at some point in time it causes the event. But fundamental physics is not dependent in time the way we appear to be.

      So, with all that, we are not in a position to make claims about ultimate reality. And so, IF determinism is true, or IF there is some randomness, or IF there is some other non-causal interpretation of reality, then where is free will in all this?

      All known science has no room for and no evidence for free will. But it does have room for the idea that free will is an illusion, where our inability to sense our own neurons doing the work that we feel is ‘thinking’ makes if feel to us, as individuals, as if our willed thoughts come out of nowhere, free of physical cause. And there is plenty of evidence to show that often, we can demonstrate that what a person thinks was a free willed choice was not.

      There is simply no positive evidence or argument for free will. There’s only the personal feeling that we have it. It is only by each of us reporting this personal feeling that we see others have it too. Free will is a convenient model, possibly and evolved brain behaviour, that was generally a more efficient model for early brains to use, and even an efficient model now.

      But just like other illusions, such as the sun moving across our sky, those that think free will is an illusion can enjoy its convenience just as much as we enjoy a sunset and sunrise. Knowing that the earth is revolving in front of the sun does not detract from the beauty of the sunrise, but can actually enhance it. See Feynman’s ode to a flower.

      “life is meaningless without effort, without making something real.” – We make our own meaning, and make our own effort. If it turns out determinism is true then we have no choice in that matter.

      “I used to be a determinist and that was the most depressing time in my life ever. I am so glad I’m over it.”

      You were doing it wrong. But then, if it’s true you had no choice. Did you choose to be over it? Or was that inevitable too? Is your brain, and all its influences, determining that you now reject determinism? How can you tell the difference between a genuine freely willed choice, and a determined outcome that feels like a freely willed choice? This is the dilemma facing believers in free will.

  • A Dude

    Who I am may decide my favorite color is green. Who I am may decide for whatever reason I want to make my favorite color blue from this day forward, labeling green as disgusting. A year later that feeling of disgust to green happens involuntarily until I change my fav color back to green.

    Who I am may not be decided. But who I am is still deciding. And that is all that I am, all that I can be. The decision is real, the options are real, the reasoning is real, and the fact that anything can happen is real. That means free will is real, dependent on us combined with the information presented to us and the evolutionary design supporting the ability to decide and be aware of the decision about to be made, being made, and recognition that a decision has been made. Willed calling upon the memory of it. All real, all us, not an illusion. Otherwise the illusion is all there is to life, and all of life is an illusion. But that would make the illusion itself reality defined because that is all there is. Free will is real, and it gives us control over sub-reality that is personal life within the confines of evolution’s decision to live.

    Who we are grants us control over who we want to be in confines of who we are and what we want to do. We will an action, if we don’t it doesn’t happen. That is free will. The actions of deciding preceded activation of the involuntary commands to do a specific action. The ability to decide may be due to involuntary or uncontrolled things. But the ability is still there, and its function is to determine what happens to who, how it happens, what happens, when it happens, where it happens, and even why and based on why can change in either direction if a direction is even selected at all.

    Why we decided a certain way doesn’t change the fact that we as far as what we can be decided a certain way. It is all we have, therefore it is reality. Free will IS reality. We did not determine the confines, but within the confines a decision still must be made based on the confines, and the decision made shapes the confines continually. We are conscious and in control over the decisions being made in the confines of who we are that shapes who we are no matter how we came to be. That is real, we decide we do, that changes us. We, however we became “us”, makes decisions that change us further. So as far as we are as much as we CAN be, will EVER be are weighing options and making decisions. Willed action that does not have to happen but must happen to pick specifics among variables: free will. And since that is all that there is, free will is reality. And because that is all that there is, if we are to have laws that attribute personal responsibility we much acknowledge reality: the brain makes decisions and if decisions are not made a lot of actions outside of ourselves don’t occur.

    The decisions are based on who we are, but once we become who we are, it becomes the base of our reasoning. But because that is all there is, that is all we can be. That is our reality. And the reality is: that who we are still is making decisions. That means we as person no matter how we became ourselves are still making personal decisions relative to ourselves based on ourselves for ourselves that further alter ourselves and therefore ourselves define ourselves. How we started: whatever. But the moment we became aware of ourselves and the decision process and realized we can alter it however, we became the commanders of ourselves as far as we can be ourselves. By making certain decisions we can change ourselves in infinitely many ways. Making us all equal, making free will relevant to reality, and justifying the justice system.

    You can go “it’s just who I am!” well in regards to a system that is established and supported continually by everybody regardless of who they are–you are in the wrong. But the system was established by many, not just one, and if you recognize that and don’t care. Who you are doesn’t care and decided to violate the law. You cannot possibly be more than who you are, but that doesn’t change the fact that what you are had options and it chose a specific one. What you are was in control of deciding. That means what you are willed it. How you arrived to being what you are doesn’t change that fact that what you are is deciding. So in the confines of what we can be: we all have free will as far as it goes in deciding amongst possible options and deciding who we want to be which changes how we decide and the options available. We didn’t pick the base. But when the base became aware of the base (itself) the base gained power over everything from that point forward. The base gained will over itself using what was available to it: itself. Then interactions with the outside world gave the base more to work with to add to itself. That is free will, and everybody has it.

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      “Why we decided a certain way doesn’t change the fact that we as far as what we can be decided a certain way”

      Ask what is this “I” or “We” you refer to. You use those terms as if they are the end of the explanatory chain. What biological processes in a brain-body system creates this feeling of being an “I”, the self. Until that is explained your assertions don’t mean anything. It’s as if we looked at the sun and on being asked what it is simply said, “The sun. It is its own being. In being the sun, it is what it is: the sun.” This is just as unsatisfactory as asking about the human sense of being a freely willed self, and answering “I”. It is no explanation at all.

      The term ‘free will’ consists of the noun, ‘will’, and the adjective ‘free’ that qualifies the noun ‘will’. What is the will free of? The dualist knows this means the will is free of material determination. But there is no evidence to support that. All the evidence that we have does support the notion that the will, the program, the general executive program, of the brain body system is a product of material biological processes. Therefore, the introspective feeling that the will is free of material causes is an illusory.

      • A Dude

        Ask yourself how does the material biological process cause it self to function?

        When I say free will, it means free to choose amongst options. For example, you pick up a rock and throw it. You can through it any direction, but you obviously do not throw it at all directions at the same time. A decision is made, a reason behind the action is discovered and it happens. That is will, you are actively planning, and then deciding to do. Like when you plan to write a book and then do it. There is clearly a reasoning process that happened before you wrote the book, and if you had not reasoned beforehand it would not have happened because there would not have been a sufficient reason nor known direction for it to happen. You go to school, you learn something, now you can do more by your brain recalling the lessons learned, but if you had not gone to school: unless somebody came to you and taught you that lesson–your brain could not call upon them.

        Even if this if this is a biological function, if we as humans and the person are of a biological construct than that would still mean the ability to freely choose between options is one of our biological functions because a specific choice is always being chosen out of various possible actions that can occur at any time.

        Also, is is the brain that controls the mind or the mind that controls the brain? Does the brain activate itself? Or is it controlled by the body? If the body starts the brain, what makes the body do? You can reason that voluntary movement is an involuntary function, and that involuntary function is activated inside of the brain. But then if that involuntary part of the brain is what starts the rest of the brain and the body…what is starting it? The cells? What is moving them? How is it the brain can rewire itself to alter its very perception and how it functions, how it reasons? What was wrong with them originally? Even areas in the pre-frontal cortex (an area traditionally involved in self-control) can be specifically and uniquely controlled and it is not unanimous among every human. If it is a part of evolution and evolution is to live then that would be easy to predict: but then this human machine must therefore be incredibly inherently flawed if it can depress itself with its own thoughts and take its own life. If it can starve itself to death just to prove a point. But how does any of this start, if it is indeed all due to involuntary parts of the brain: what is activating those involuntary parts? Themselves? How? And how is it that despite potentially infinite possible methods of activation and action: certain ones are chosen over others?

        Eventually you get to the realization that there has to be an infinite deciding and desiring component that makes up everything (even particles that move themselves–everything is made up of energy, Einstein proved that and it has been demonstrated by particle accelerations and mass-energy conversions) because if there was not, then there would not be anything because nothing would be possible. The brain would just be an outward manifestation of that then. That does not make the brain less real. We are what we are.

        If voluntary is the result of involuntary functions, then that means at the core of our being we are that involuntary function. If the sun is a sun, it IS a sun. How can it be anything other than that? If the illusion existed in the first place, ask yourself how it got there. How are we aware of ourselves thinking at this very moment. Looking at the brain alone, obviously it is because what is now the subconscious evolved an extra layer of consciousness to observe its own process–if not, we wouldn’t be able to have the concept of “I” or “we” because it would not be permitted by evolution. It wouldn’t be energetically, or biologically possible. If there is a concept, there is a reason that the concept arose. For every action there is a…? And if that reason is the brain looking at itself, seeing itself actively START thinking, and START deciding, and START moving, with a clear distinction between when it decides purposely to do something and when that “illusionary” component is not involved and actions just happens…then the consciousness is but a mirror and extra biological function and that which is making these decisions and clearly sorting through different options,and different thoughts, and different feelings is the real “us” because the consciousness does not have any functions besides to be aware, but it is not doing anything with that awareness besides relaying it to that which is actually using the awareness. When we hear our own voice thinking, the voice we are hearing is that “involuntary” us voluntarily deciding and activating specific parts of the brain at specific times. And that is who we really are obviously.

        Ask yourself after all: during the experiments it was clear that even though the motor parts of the brain fired up to move the finger–the part responsible for “voluntary control” was still activated even if it was behind…if that part is not necessary for the movement…why would it be activated? Why would it even be there at all? It wouldn’t make any sense for it to be. Also, if they had not been asked to move their finger…would those parts responsible be moving? If so does that mean they are auto-vetoed until we became aware of the desire to do so and unveteoed the movement? If you are sitting still in a chair, do you rise and move about the room despite your (whatever you claim to be) intentions?

        If the illusion were not possible it would not be, if the illusion is persistent even when we realize it is a so-called illusion than that means we cannot get rid of it it is a part of us. If the illusion proceeds every “fake” voluntary movement, than that means it is required to do so in the context of what a “voluntary” movement is. If it is inseparable from us and involved in every voluntary movement and has been since we recognized as human beings we could control our movements then as the energetic and biological mass construct that is human and person: it is our reality or we do not exist. If we don’t, nothing does, because that is as real as real can get is it not?

        When I say free will I mean that which controls us specifically intending and specifically acting out that specific intention among a myriad of choices on its own. That which controls us is us, that which influences how we are controlled IS still US. What is not us: some guy walks ups and paralyzes you–not in your body, not of your mind, and then puts a computer chip into your brain and controls you with a remote control (obviously this is ludicrous). This is not “natural” free will, another naturally evolved controlled construct is now controlling you, you still have the ability to naturally do it on your own, was doing it own your own, and once free of the dreadful sci-fi hocuspocus chip: you would resume that function. Apparently, as with the case of NDE’s (which has been proven to occur) even clinically dead, if you come back: consciousness still happens, memories that should not be there are there somehow. Death clearly is not enough to stop some functions. That means something other than what you are is effectively blocking that natural function that is a part of you: the real you, the natural you. You can reason that if you destroy the parts of the brain involved in control that would not happen: but if the action does indeed start from something deeper than the brain: wouldn’t it be equivalent to chopping off a hand. You cannot use the hand anymore, because the communications to the hand cannot be expressed. Same with the brain, communication may be there: but that particular body part (the brain compartment) is not there to express it with the rest of the body.

        The sun has its functions that makes it a sun. The human guy has his functions that makes him a human. Saying it is an illusion doesn’t suddenly make the illusion vanish why? Because it is not an illusion. It is really happening. The illusion took place to make you say it was an illusion, yet it did not negate itself. Because that is your prerogative to believe that as the construct that you are…but your evolved functions responsible to come to that erroneous conclusion won’t go away because if it did so would the imaginary you and that is not what evolution which decided what you would be designed. You have no choice but to be real and keep using the “illusion” and that is your reality. Still happening, still in use, still responsible for every voluntary movement, still you.

        When you reply, pay attention to the “illusion” deciding and thinking what to say and then doing exactly what you thought and ponder what is going on that makes that happen. Then think if it did not happen would the reply have been sent? What would it have said? What is upset (if upset) if the you feeling the “upset” does not exist? Can the you that “does” exist get upset? Think? Do? Be self-aware? Control said awareness? Use the awareness? Do anything? If not then where is this concept of “I” coming from? If it is coming from the biological functions that drive everything: then that is the bio function thinking: “I” and if that is coordinated to every thought and movement be it real time, a review or a prediction: then “I” is synonymous to what is. Think about it.

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  • W. R.Klemm

    I have provided an explanation for the biological basis of “I.” It can be found at Klemm, W. R. 2011. Neural representations of the sense of self. Archives Cognitive Psychology. Advances in Cognitive Psychology. 7: 16-30. DOI 10.2478/v10053-008-0084-2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3163487/ and elaborated more fully in Atoms of Mind, Springer publishing.

    • A Dude Named CTBurton

      You sir, have caught my attention, inspired me, reminded me of why I rise when I fall and I haven’t even held the book in my hands yet (though I have read your notes, this, the contents, preface, watched your video describing the book, a bit more etc.)

      I need to make room for the purchase (things are a bit tight now) but I support you. As I support all science, but I think a lot of scientists immaturely make premature “conclusions” without looking at the whole picture. They overlook simple things constantly, common sense things. Such as what obviously has to be for this to be. Me, I’m the guy that learns about the Big Bang and asks the simple questions: how does an explosion explode itself? If no materials are present, then what exploded? How did materials with consistent functions which are the basis for order (energetic particles and the 4 forces that govern their interactions) come from a seemingly disorganized explosion? How can something come from nothing? Science when you get down to it is just the art of asking why and how and that tells us what is, what does what, and what does it all mean.

      If you stop asking why and how when you get to one “conclusion” and ignore the common sense questions like: if they had not considered moving their fingers would the mind and body have started moving their fingers? What if I said move their finger and they crossed their arms and stood up and kicked the chair they were sitting in? Common sense would dictate that the the functions involved in finger tapping would not have been acted out, and if they had not decided to do what they did: the functions involved in that would not have been called upon either. Common sense would then dictate what would be a better experiment from that point. Common establishments: obviously if an action is not enabled by underlying actions it would not be able to be acted out (Newton) like if you did not plan to learn to fish, even if somebody taught you–if you actively ignored them and walked away, guess what? You didn’t learn to fish. Preparation needed, but what began the preparation?

      You correctly pointed out the common sense, and from what I am reading you are finding the science to back it because the common sense cannot be denied, and therefore should be understood and explored: not ignored because that results in a limited and therefore incorrect conclusion. Everything I pointed out, I know you mentioned, because like me and many others: it was rather “duh” moment. But you are taking it further by directing science in what is frankly, a more intelligent direction. But part of why you do that is your morals, which is something else common: anybody with a system to do, has a system that directs that system and that is what is referred to as the morality. Some definitions need to be refined I believe, common sense as in simplistic thinking needs to be paired with the complex. Or in other words, take the most simple steps possible and work your way through. Baby stepping to the big games.

      I understand common sense is subjective and any theory can be debunked at any time, in that case the only true benefit of science to to gather what is currently known from the past and the present for one purpose and one purpose only: to attempt to predict the future which has only one benefit: to control the self that is going into the future effectively controlling the possible future for said self. In the end what I am saying is don’t find one “conclusion” and say that is the end all be all–look around and actually attempt to debunk yourself at every level you can think of once you have done so, now for yourself it is real. Now open the doors and let others try and consider each one who does. It is the only way to ensure within our limits that we are not further limited.

      When I say “common” sense. I mean it is the subjective sense of majority of people provided they don’t ignore it. If it is not “commonly” ignored then that would suggest something is making you behave out of the ordinary. Emotions? Denial? Arrogance. Being open, honest (be willing to admit you are wrong but also be just as willing to admit that you are right), humble (but confident), logical. Is therefore needed to see the biggest possible picture. Open yourself to all of yourself, open yourself to the world, but let logical sorting and ordering of all that is you and all that is outside of you be your guide; or else the interaction and final product of all that is you and other than you will have no choice but to be illogical and in a world of order and rules that had to exist for us all to exist. It has no true power.

      I do not mean to lecture you W.R.Klemm, I mean to say this to everybody who will read this. I truly believe being the typical definition of a good person makes the best scientist available, the best ANYTHING available. You can make assertions and be dominant without being a dishonest bigot closed off to the deepest part of himself and everybody who may oppose him. You can win a race stress-free even when racing against people who hate you.

      That said, even in arrogance, even in narrow thinking and stubborn disposition, how can anybody miss something as obvious as these points you list that literally discredit any “findings” about whether there is or is not free will is beyond me. In the grand scheme of things you sir are just always possible eventuality of the proof of error. But this error should’ve been recognized for what it is when it came to light and never even been published (my honest opinion).

      However, it takes what I think is a special and inherently good individual to go as far as to consider a myriad of points to point out the flaws to the world that is willing to listen. Somebody who cares that people may be being led astray from the true path because of faulty conclusions instead of realizing it is wrong just for themselves and letting other people suffer (and suffering people are) because this is a big topic. For every self aware being: Free will is a biological necessity, it is an intellectual necessity, it is an emotional necessity, it is an evolutionary necessity, it is a human necessity, it is a personal necessity, it is an energetic necessity, and this all became necessity because it was intended to be so, stemmed in the dawn of time; otherwise it would not be–certainly not common to every human being. Doesn’t get more real than that.

      I may read Klemm’s book that has me revved and disagree emphatically with the whole thing, but the fact that a part of me, and I am me (the whole thing) had to first think about it and decide to read the book is a real fact that really happened. Or it would not have happened in the manner that it happened. Planning and intention came first, I may have been a fractions of a second or 7 seconds late to realize that it just happened, but if I had not been aware of my intentions that were about to be acted out before hand then the thought process involved in each step leading up the the purchase and the reading would not have occurred. The scientists involved even say: “start cannot be started but it can be cognitively vetoed”. How can something that has no control over its own functions veto? How can it be cognitively anything? Either they are separate (and the cognitive part obviously gets the last word) or they are whole (and decisions still are clearly being made and you are that which is deciding).

      If the intentions to activate each step were not decided upon: not one step leading up to that output would have activated. It didn’t just spontaneously happen, me as me (all that is me) decided to act that specific way and THAT is why all the functions involved came together. Conscious organizer, information bank, non-conscious workforce. All of it is me. I’m not just one part because they all complete each other. Same as the hand, the foot, the leg, the arm are all parts of one body. Cut the hand from the body and just leave it there and watch it for an couple of hours, see how it does not move. The workforce needs instruction to have orders, information are the orders, that specific functions are chosen over another is due to motivation which may also be in the information bank, but motivation cannot meet information if they are not instructed to meet. And steps cannot be organized to make an act occur if the bits of info are not organized in thought, intent, decision, follow thru, direction. That the workforce must move this but cannot move without the instructions being organized to do so, there must be an umbrella awareness (sense of self–consciousness) for each piece to move to the parts of itself in order to allow the ordered functions.

      If you tell a blind man who just moved to a new area (no clue where he is) to go to the local Walmart and pick up everything on this list (you don’t tell him what is on the list, heck you don’t even hand it to him) and you don’t explain where the store is, how to get there, what you want, how to go there, and he is provided no assistance from anyone or anything. How is he going to get there and get everything on the list> All those things had to come together in order for him to make the trip successfully, return successfully and have successfully gotten everything.

      I imagine Klemm has come to the conclusion that I have only has delved deeper than I have (more than likely explaining it a lot better) that the essence of homo sapien has somehow evolved to be able to ensure it sees the parts needed to make an act possible and make it possible. But that the workforce won’t move with instruction and instruction won’t order without motivation, and that motivation won’t motivate without reason, and that information and all of these things won’t be connected without awareness (binding them all together) they are separate are parts intended for a whole. Together they make something unique and new: together. Just like cells together make a hand that combines with other parts of the arm to make the arm. But we are dealing with the core of everything: all these parts together is “I”, “me”, “you”, “us”. And it is in control of itself. Evolution put them together and allowed them to be because evolution decided the conscious “I” was the next best step. And so the conscious “I” that is human has demonstrated the best ability of all other animals to adapt and yes, even control its environment. All due to the human “I”.

      I will read your book Klemm, because I find myself sounding like Scar from Lion King in the company of his hyenas. That’s a bit mean, but if you have experiments that are sensible and deserve to be tested, I want to hear them. I want to support them, push the notion to everybody I know and do my own part (at least try, maybe it will reach the right ears even if I never know I was the cause) in ensuring that a TRUE test worthy of ending this debate (for a time as long as it lasts) with conclusive evidence in one direction of the other takes place. That way people who throw their common sense out like so much meaningless garbage (wrongly as hell); and go: “if their is no evidence that I can see…”ignoring the fact we can’t physically see the 4 forces at work, just the result that draws the obvious conclusion. But fine, just to not hear the drivel, lets give them a evidence they can look at. But already, any evidence so far: not solid AT ALL. First step done–pointing out the errors. Now decide whether you want to deny it or not, that is going to come down to who you are and what motivates you. But that a person can exist who can take comfort in having to continually suppress an illusion (that cannot be suppressed because it is not really an illusion in the dominant sense of reality that ties us all, perceived by us all), that they get upset and immaturely deny the obvious errors right before them because the thought that they are actually in control of their own destiny and responsible for their own life is just SOOOO overwhelmingly appalling to them…is a sad part of reality that I can understand but wish I didn’t. Magical Physics-defying Big Bang have figurative mercy upon your non-existent-due-to-lack-of-physical-evidence-that-you-are-willing-but-not-really-willing-just-watching-from-a-point-of-perpetual-nothingness-with-no-significance-whatsoever-to-pay-attention-to-question-mark soul.

      Thank you for your efforts to move mankind forward, not backwards W.R. Klemm, I’ll let you know in a 1-3 months (I’ll try to not be as lengthy as this) my opinions about your book. How much I learned and what I learned from it. Surely more thanks to give lie ahead, and if that is the case I assure you I’ll recommend it.

      –A Dude Named Burton.

  • http://thankyoubrain.com W. R. Klemm

    The book, Atoms of Mind, can be had in paperback for $24.95 if you purchase it through a library that has a contract with Springer Publishing.

    I have a book chapter, freely viewable on the web, on the biology of the sense of self. This is a real biological sense that is formed in the womb and of course becomes more robust as enough neural circuitry organizes to support consciousness. This is so fundamental to this discussion, that I urge everyone who is following this to reflect on the ideas explained in this chapter. See

    Klemm, W. R. 2012. Sense of Self and Consciousness: Nature, Origins, Mechanisms, and Implications. In, Consciousness: States, Mechanisms and Disorders. Edited by A. E. Cavanna and A. Nani. Hauppauge, N.Y.: Nova Science.

    Open access available at https://www.novapublishers.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=38801

    • A Dude Named CTBurton

      That just became affordable : )

      A lot better than the $189 and a few cents more bother than I saw earlier. Amazon not being much better. I would’ve paid it though, but if I find it in a library for little more than a 10th of that. I’ll be contacting you back a lot sooner. Thank you, Klemm. I’m looking forward to a good read.

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  • EM

    I typed “how can we be so arrogant to believe we have free will” but then I remembered it’s how nature intended, that we think we have free will.

    • Vocie of Reason

      If that illusion is all you have and your so-called “fake voluntary” functions cease the moment you stop using what supposedly isn’t really there. Then doesn’t that make it your reality? You have nothing else besides it. It makes up your very existence, you can say it isn’t there until you are blue in the face. But you still use it. You don’t feel any other presence but your own. Common sense.

  • http://thankyoubrain.com W. R. Klemm

    I posted this earlier in response to a 2010 comment. I realize now how hard it is to find earlier comments, inasmuch as my original post has drawn so much commentary. I wish “Brain Blogger” had some kind of indexing or more useful search functionality. Anyway, here is the reply to an old post:

    Response to Zachary (Feb. 232, 2013)

    Free will vs. Creativity

    First, if you claim that free will is undefinable, the assertion that it is implausible seems tendentious. How can you know if it is implausible if you don’t know what IT is?

    More substantively, I am well aware that causal laws govern what we will to think and do and that those laws are implemented in the brain by ongoing thought, decisions, choices, etc. The issue is what is the cause of the cause.

    How do you defend the claim that all our choices are driven by how the brain has been programmed to think, decide, and choose in certain ways? Of course such programming would seem to strip us of free will, but then we chose the many of the experiences and thoughts that created the programming.

    Do we not have an infinite regress here? That is, what we think programs the brain, which influences what we think, which programs the brain, which …

    So, the real free-will issue seems to hinge on “what we think.” By what evidence do we conclude that all thinking is pre-programmed? We surely must concede that much of brain operations is stochastic. That is not to say it is random or without cause, but rather that the cause may not always be not pre-determined. This is what “stochastic” means.

    Now we come to the tipping point of decision when the brain selects among stochastic options, each of which may have its own probabilistic density function. Surely, not all choices are made randomly. And surely, they are biased by prior programming. But it would seem the brain is capable of making a new (creative, if you will) choice that is not compelled by programming. We know from casual observation that some brains are highly creative. Why couldn’t free will a creative act? If so, the corollary is that some people have more free will than others. I know lots of people who are examples of that. Many people act like robots or zombies. Others are “free” thinkers.

    If you insist that free will does not exist, then don’t you have to insist that no brain is creative, that is, can generate thought, decisions, choices, etc. that are not compelled or programmed? In short, I see the need to explain creativity if you want to explain why free will is illusory? Is creativity also an illusion?

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      Just on the point of referencing earlier comments, I agree it’s hard to find them, but once found you can provide a link for others to go to: right-click on the date & time above the comment and copy the link….

      So, the link to your last comment that I’m responding to is:
      http://brainblogger.com/2010/10/25/free-will-is-not-an-illusion/#comment-753664

      I think Zachary’s comment you are refering to is this one:
      http://brainblogger.com/2010/10/25/free-will-is-not-an-illusion/#comment-724434

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      I agree that if we can’t define free will, at least to some reasonable degree, then we can’t really say much about it.

      I think it is very well defined: the will (the intention to act, with purpose, with some goal) of a human being is (a) free of all physical causes, or (b) at least has some aspect that is free of physical causes.

      (a) Is the notion of a free willed non-physical mind that directs human physical activity, but is not in any way influenced by the physical brain. The ‘mind’ here could be the individual free minds of each human, or perhaps a soul, or maybe just some local artefact of a panpsychic consciousness. The point is that the adjective ‘free’ qualifies the noun ‘will’ and is meant to mean it is free of physical causes.

      (b) This qualification allows free will proponents to accept that the brain interacts with the mind (or soul or whatever) bi-directionally. So, though the will makes decisions that are free of the brain it can also be influenced by the brain. Someone who is in a high emotional state may find that their ‘mind’ loses control of the base emotions so that they’d things that they would not otherwise do.

      This seems like the most common understanding of free will that has been spelled out clearly since Descartes at least, and something along those lines is essential for religious people to make any sense of ‘sinfulness’, because sin requires such a free will.

      This is the free will I think there is no evidence for at all. And, all evidence from the brain sciences and evolution is that the brain is an entirely physical evolved organ that acts as a physical central control system for the human animal, and that there is nothing more, no magic, no separate non-physical mind or soul.

      The illusion is that we have the above free will when we actually do not. What we have, because of the centralised nature of the central nervous system, is an autonomous behavioural system. Autonomous systems have ‘degrees of freedom’, which is no more than a description of how many ways they are unconstrained.

      A rock falling down a hill has certain degrees of freedom, in that it is free to fall and bounce around in all sorts of detailed ways, but is still overall constrained to a downward direction.

      A human automaton has degrees of freedom which allow the brain body system to respond in all sorts of complex ways, some initiated over long periods, as we plan and direct our lives. But the ‘will’, the intention, that we employ is itself caused.

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      “The issue is what is the cause of the cause.”

      Yet other prior causes.

      “How do you defend the claim that all our choices are driven by how the brain has been programmed to think, decide, and choose in certain ways?”

      I think this misrepresents the nature of the programming, and what a program is.

      Using the computer analogy, a program is a sequence of instructions. We tend to think of computers as follows: they are initialised (programmed) with a program and then spend their time running that one program, responding to the environment’s inputs and output data.

      But this is a simplistic picture of human programming. It’s also a simplistic picture of computers too, and only really describes programmable control systems where you do indeed load it with a program and merely let it respond to the inputs it was programmed to respond to.

      General purpose computers are not like that. The CPU has a simple program hard wired into it, but it’s a very general purpose program. Its job is to interpret yet other programs that are delivered to it. To the CPU these programs are just data.

      This is significant, so it’s worth repeating: programs are just yet more data to some other program that runs them. So, a general purpose computer can turn its hand to a vast range of unrelated tasks, because it is capable of responding in a very general way to data: the data that is some program X, plus the data that is fed into program X – both a program and its data are both data to some other program.

      This analogy still isn’t quite representative of human behaviour, but it puts us in the right direction.

      The basic program of a human is their genetic makeup – this analogous to the machine programming of the CPU. All this program does is cause other very tiny programs to work, such as determining how proteins are made. A particular gene does not contain the programming purpose or intention of making a human behave in a particular way. But, the presence of that low level programming can affect behaviour as a consequence of its low level programming as it is propagated, as a cause of yet more causes, as a program that drives yet other programs.

      A CPU can add numbers. It might be adding numbers that describe your bank account, or computing the next address where it is to find the next program to run – it doesn’t care; it’s just adding numbers. Just as a CPU arithmetic adder adds numbers, without knowing anything about what those numbers mean, so a human gene has no specific programming function – it only encodes very low level stuff, like protein production.

      Think of a spread sheet program and a word processing program. Imagine also an executive program that switches between these depending in the input it receives, so when some numbers need processing it focuses on (runs) the spread sheet on the data it sees (entering through the keyboard), but when it decides it need to process words it switches its focus to (runs) the word processor. What is this executive program? Windows, on Windows machines. The Windows program monitors yet more inputs, from keyboard and mouse, and figures out which task to focus on merely by responding to some mouse wiggles and mouse clicks.

      Humans have many more of these higher level programs. We can make breakfast, drive cars, perform complex maths, argue on the internet, … Where do these ‘programs’ come from? They are learned throughout our lives.

      Spread sheet and word processing programs are traditionally loaded once, and maybe updated now and again. But modern programs, particularly on smart phones and tablets, keep updating themselves – they keep adapting to their environment. Of course in computers this is still the result of external programmers spotting problems and correcting errors, changing the program and pushing the updates out to many devices. What’s the human parallel?

      Humans tend to ‘update their programs’ continuously. While we’ve been involved in this debate here we have all been receiving opinions from others – we have been receiving data that in a vague English language sense, describes how our brains are programmed on the matter of free will: each of us is expressing how our particular brain is programmed to understand free will and whether we have it or not.

      In some cases the data we receive will alter our internal data on free will, and may even change our programming, so that we start to behave differently. Some of us may be changed from free will proponents to ones that think free will is an illusion; while the converse conversions may also occur.

      Human programs have many more inputs than a computer program. It takes something very specific for a computer to have an ‘off day’ or a ‘bad mood’ or to ‘lie’ – such as a faulty power supply, a virus, a program error. Humans can have their programs influenced moment to moment, so in the middle of this sentence I might suddenly have the urge to break of and make a cup of … ah, that’s better, where was I, … tea.

      Did I freely will that I make that cup of tea? Or did some biological thirst drive program, along with my learned tea making program and my tea liking program, suddenly trigger a mental intention: “You want a cup of tea, now!; so stop writing and make a cup of tea; … but I want to finish writing this …; no, you want a cup of tea now, but you can carry on thinking about the problem while you make the tea; … you want a cup of tea now, so do it!; .. no, I must get this finished, …” and so it goes on, much below the level of actual consciousness.

      Programs are nothing more than data that is used to determine the action of a computer; and so too, all the data our brains receive throughout our lives is data that determines how we are programmed. Yes, our programming can change moment to moment, and at the same time we can stick to long term programs, such as building a career, raising a family, saving for a new car, … But these are all programs that our brain has learned to acquire and run, and often they compete, where urgent short term problems crop up which cause us to veer off to run a problem solving program before getting back onto performing other short term task programs that direct us to some bigger goal.

      A human is a mash-up of programs. Many run in parallel – my thirst builds slowly and propagates to the top of my programming stack the longer I wait, and eventually triggers immediate action that temporarily overrules a longer term but less immediate task. Most human programs are below the level of immediate consciousness.

      Even conscious programs can be put into subconscious mode. Suppose I want to look presentable today because I’m going for an interview, but on the way there much of my checking of my hair, my tie, avoiding spilling coffee on my suit, they all become little subconscious pop-up tasks that drive little motor actions. On my drive there my body takes over automatic control of my car most of the way as I contemplate what I’m going to say at the interview. This contemplation itself may be a nervous response that I don’t consciously intend to do. The night before I knew I needed a good night sleep, but my subconscious nervous behaviour kept pushing stuff into my brain, keeping it active, keeping me awake. And yet all this is part of my ‘willed’ goal to succeed at an interview. Why am I going to the interview? Did I freely will that? No. I was driven to it by desires to succeed in my job, to earn more money, to enjoy a better work environment, … all sorts of things contribute to the fact that I am ‘willing’ to do this, and it is an autonomous singular goal I am set on, but the willing to do it is not some free will, but is a caused will, caused by many other factors.

      How about when I pause at a decision point? Let’s look back at the decision to have a drink. OK, so my decision to have a drink was driven by thirst, But, should I have tea or coffee? Surely this is a free will choice? Surely I have the choice to ‘do otherwise’? I weigh up the options. Coffee would really be nice; but I had a coffee a while ago; and a nice tea can be more refreshing; … which do I ‘feel’ like having? – hang on, don’t rely on feelings, make a free willed decision! OK, how do I do that? Tea or coffee would be nice. How do I actually make a free willed decision? In what way is any decision I make free of my brain? I can’t decide, so I just go and see what I do? What makes me choose?

      If we examine our actual choices we seem to be able to identify two types.

      One is the logical decision making where we have some goal and need to decide how to achieve it. This is no more than a program weighing the odds. We don’t have every bit of data to categorically choose one option over another; so we often weigh up options, balance them, and make a sort of heuristic calculation, a probability assessment. This is not free will, but programming in action.

      The other type of decision is the rather inconsequential one, where we are choosing between tea and coffee: we like both, we have both, they are equally easy to make, there is nothing biasing one or the other. This type of choice seems much more like a random choice. The brain is flipping a coin unconsciously, and the brain-body just ‘chooses’. This isn’t free will. It’s a choice not constrained by external influences, so it is mostly free of external influences. But it’s a decision made in the brain, an autonomous but physical responding reacting brain. The choice, the willed outcome, is not a free willed one that is free of physical brain causes. It is choice determined predominantly by the physical brain in that moment, with only longer term external influences: I like both tea and coffee, which is ‘liking’ a program learned and acquired over time, and I have both in the house, as a result of a shopping program that in turn takes account of the fact that I have been programmed to like tea and coffee. And so it goes, endless complex physical adaptations and responses of the brain.

      Back to the program/data false dichotomy…

      In computing the distinction between programs and data is only one of convenience – it’s all ‘bits’, ‘bytes’, streams of data. Even for a program such as a spread sheet we could consider its input data to be a ‘program’. When I enter a set of numbers in a spread sheet configured with certain equations then the spread sheet ‘program’ has been ‘programmed’ with some equations, and then has been ‘programmed’ with a set of numbers, and a result will appear. I can change the set of numbers – in other worlds I can ‘program’ the spread sheet with a different input set, and it will produce a different result.

      The human brain ‘programs’ or ‘data’ consist of the following:
      1) Genes that build proteins that build other stuff that divide and build cells
      2) Genes that build proteins that build other stuff that differentiate cells
      3) Genes that build proteins that build other stuff that uses food that drives 1 and 2
      … lots of gene and cell level stuff – biology at work. Eventually the infant is born, having some rudimentary input data, some prgrams, from its environment in the womb, but basically has some brain that while similar to all others is already unique. …

      The infant opens its eyes and starts sensing vague patterns. The patterns repeat and start to form more permanent patterns in the brain so that when the input visual pattern occurs again there is a familiar neural recognition – the infant begins to recognise parent faces and voices, touch and smell. The infant brain is acquiring data, programs.

      Words are spoken and recognised and eventually the child picks up language. This happens both because of an inherited history that results in the genes programming regular areas of the brain (Boca’s and Wernicke’s areas are in the same place for all humans), and because humans receive the stimulation of language as they grow. But it’s a flexible programming system that can adapt to any of the many human languages we use, to the extent that a first language is far more strongly ‘programmed’ that any later ones.

      This is where computers and humans differ more significantly – but still, it’s mostly in degree rather than in kind.

      Computers are only as adaptable as the programs they are programmed with, and can update only to the extent that the programs they are programmed with can receive new program updates – they need an update program that knows how to get updates, and they need programs that tell the update program what version they are on, and so on.

      Humans have an evolved ‘update program’ – the whole brain learning system, the capacity to absorb data and form neural connections that respond to yet more data. The human infant brain can be in many very different environments and can ‘update its programs’ on the fly, as it grows, to adapt to the local environment.

      As with computers there are limits determined by the hardware and the programs. The human programming hardware, the brain, cannot run a calculator program that can add up one billion numbers in a few seconds, while computer hardware is capable of that. Humans rely on being programmed, by learning. A human that drops out of high school and stops reading books has not been programmed to understand calculus, but many humans that stick around the maths classroom can be programmed through learning to solve calculus problems. Similarly a computer not loaded with a spread sheet program cannot perform spread sheet tasks.

      So, all human behaviour is programmed, initially and partly by genes, but to a great extent by data it receives as it lives and grows. This data IS the very programming of a human that makes it do the things it does. It is a continuous and adaptive programming. But it is still the programming of programs by data that becomes programs.

      The ‘programming’ model, of computers and of humans, is a human model of convenience. It all is still just physical stuff reacting. The physical stuff is reacting on the very small scale, just doing what it does.

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      “Do we not have an infinite regress here? That is, what we think programs the brain, which influences what we think, which programs the brain, which …”

      Well, in a way, depending on how we think of ‘infinite’.

      The programs/data that we are running now is the result of the accumulation of programs/data we have acquired over our lives, as continued adaptation of the individual.

      That includes feedback programming. (1) My brain has an opinion on free will. (2) My brain expresses that opinion. (3) Someone else hears that and thinks and constructs a response, according to their programming. (4) They respond, expressing their opinion. (5) I receive that and absorb its meaning in relation of my programming.

      So, what happens to my programming at (5) is partly influenced by what my programming did at (1), and even to some extent how I hear myself expressing my opinion at (2) – this is the most immediate feedback. And then (4) is also influenced by what is happening to the programming of my interlocutor at (3), because that adaptation determines what he says at (4).

      In this sense it is not infinite in forward duration, but bounded by the length of my life from that point and the extent to which I think about it and subconsciously ruminate on it. My future programming is determined and bounded by my past programming and my future updates in response to data I receive. When ‘I’ die my programming will stop – the ‘I’ that is the human organism, me.

      It is unbounded in the past to a far greater extent, as follows.

      The earliest specific programs we can identify for a single individual, me, are the egg and the sperm and the genes they carry, and from that moment ever more cells grow from that source and are programmed from then on by the environment, as determined by particular events, such as (1) to (5).

      But of course these genes that I’m endowed with that have some impact on what I think now have a longer history, back through all evolution. And along the way there are many events that had they been different would not only alter how I would come to think about free will, but most likely would prevent me being here at all.

      Had some distant pre-human ancestors taken a different path for food they may have died out, so that some other pre-human may have led to a different dominant species now.

      Had some early chemistry not given rise to what became the dominant tree of life, then some other might. Or might not – it seems difficult to be sure, but it looks like life is likely product of complex environments like Earth. And once life starts it seems difficult to stop, because it is so adaptive, because it is so easily programmed to adapt to its environment by changing, by mutating, by evolving – the ultimate adaptive program.

      Had the interacting forming of the elements of the Big Bang reacted in some different way, whole galaxies would have been in different places, with who knows what life forms if any; but we particular humans would not have been here.

      And before the Big Bang, if we could figure out all that? Maybe there is an infinite trace, or maybe it is finite. Maybe it is ultimately entirely deterministic or random or whatever.

      The point about infinite regress isn’t one to be solved now. The important point is that it’s quite easy to hypothesise about an entirely causally consequent human behaviour, that is just as complex as human behaviour is, using simple program/data metaphor to explain how any action a human performs is always caused by the collective of prior and current events, internal and external.

      The program/data metaphor perhaps is persuasive because of how complex humans are and how complex programmed machines are. In a sense we can use the programming metaphor at any level. The electron is programmed, by some reality we don’t yet understand, to reside mainly in certain energy levels – to mix metaphors. All our descriptions of reality are metaphors, our inadequate attempts to model reality as we find it. Not surprisingly we are sometimes reluctant to adopt some metaphors, and free will proponents don’t seem to get that the program/data metaphor is not implying we are simple pre-programmed by our genes.

      The data we receive throughout life, including the data that we also call food, all contributes to our programming. The food metaphor hides the fact that atoms of food are components that change a tiny infant to a thinking adult. The food is the contribution to our program/data in that it makes up the cells of the brain, so that parts of those cells, the synapses, can form patterns that determine how we react and behave – the food is a very real part of our programming.

      The extent to which we are physical program/data automatons is hidden by the complexity of it all. We are all so lost in just one tiny part of our programming, our conscious lives, that we feel that that is the be all and end all of our identity, who we are; and we feel it is free of the physical actuality that it is made of because we cannot feel, in our introspective thoughts, how these physical atomic, molecular, biological neuronal machine components are ticking along. We deceive ourselves, we fall for the illusion.

      We can argue about the extent to which a particular action is caused predominantly be current internal programs (I intend to finish this soon) or by momentary external stimuli (there goes the door bell, I must answer the door). But to some extent it is all caused by a complex mixture of influences, moment to moment. We only have behaviours that are autonomous to varying degrees. No human action is invoked by a will that is free of this physical causation. We do not have a will that is actually free. We do not have free will.

    • http://thankyoubrain.com W. R. Klemm

      In reference to my post at http://brainblogger.com/2010/10/25/free-will-is-not-an-illusion/#comment-753664, I was hoping somebody would comment on what I thought was the main point, namely:

      “Why couldn’t free will a creative act? If so, the corollary is that some people have more free will than others. I know lots of people who are examples of that. Many people act like robots or zombies. Others are “free” thinkers.

      If you insist that free will does not exist, then don’t you have to insist that no brain is creative, that is, can generate thought, decisions, choices, etc. that are not compelled or programmed? In short, I see the need to explain creativity if you want to explain why free will is illusory? Is creativity also an illusion?”

      • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

        Creativity is mainly about novelty. But not any old random stuff.

        The brain forms patterns that have some correspondence with the experiences of the external world. The patterns are stored as memories of different types, and are triggered again during recall. But the components of memory, neurons, synapses, have no inherent meaning – no more so than memory bits in a computer – they can be turned to any concept, depending only on context. The meaning we experience in our thoughts must come entirely from context. From being an infant the accumulation of repeating external experiences must cause contextually related patterns in the brain. In such a complex brain it should not take much for cross fertilisation, cross-talk, interference of data, to cause novel arrangements, novel recalls of concepts that were not laid down as experience.

        In such a brain it would not take much for slight variations in neuron patterns to cause a novel change as experienced as a new concept. The concept of wings and pigs come together to form a concept of flying pigs. Or a spoon handle becomes a can opening lever because the brain can recognise the pattern of a spoon handle being similar to a lever – the brain can trigger neurons based on similar shapes, but also trigger associations based on alternative uses of such similar shapes. [I accept these are contrived examples used purely to make a point of principle. I have no evidence that this specifically how the mechanics of the brain achieves this. The empirical evidence may not support this; but that it is plausible in principle is all that is required to make the point that free will (for which there is no evidence) is not required for creativity.]

        So, the novelty of creativity is not just random noise, but is mostly bounded by the many concepts and their contexts already in the brain, so much creativity consists of coming up with new ideas that are influenced by and use existing ideas. But less frequently the novelty is such a departure from existing concepts and contexts that the extreme novelty of genius grade creativity comes up with something never before experienced, a great new idea.

        There is nothing special required for this creativity. In principle, if such flexibility could be programmed in computer models then computers could produce novel ideas – they could be creative. There are other limits that continue to make this difficult, but it is nothing to do with requiring free will.

        Why does creativity seem so spontaneous and inexplicable? This is, after all, one of the reasons we attribute magical properties to creativity, as if mechanistic systems are not up to such spontinaty. It is no surprise that free will and creativity are seen to be free of physical brain causes. In most cases the will, and the novel ideas of creativity, seem to spring into mind with no prior cause. But the conscious mind cannot detect neurons in action, either those of the decision making processes that cause action, the will, or those that produce the creative events that cause novel ideas to appear. And much brain activity is unconscious activity, so we are not aware of much of the decision making or creativity that is buzzing away beneath the conscious awareness.

        So I don’t see any problem with complex autonomous brains making decisions or being creative. No need for free will, and no need for magical creative sparks. I think complex dynamic biology is enough.

      • http://lagevondissen.wordpress.com Lage

        If you insist that free will does not exist, then don’t you have to insist that no brain is creative, that is, can generate thought, decisions, choices, etc. that are not compelled or programmed? In short, I see the need to explain creativity if you want to explain why free will is illusory? Is creativity also an illusion?

        Yes. I would agree that the brain is not creative, if people are equating “creative” with free will. I believe that all thoughts, decisions, choices, etc. are compelled and programmed. I would say that “creativity” is associated with a brain that is capable of identifying more relationships between variables (including some that are more complex than average). So creative people are seeing things that others just aren’t seeing. Going along these lines, creative people may have some higher than average aspect of their intelligence since they are seeing relationships between variables that others do not see.

  • http://thankyoubrain.com W. R. Klemm

    In reference to my post at http://brainblogger.com/2010/10/25/free-will-is-not-an-illusion/#comment-753664, I called for a response to the idea that creativity is a form of or requires a degree of free will. Ron and Lage took up the invitation. Here is my response to their latest posts:

    Ron:
    You say that “It is no surprise that free will and creativity are seen to be free of physical brain causes.” But I maintain that both have physical brain causes. This conclusion is not as inconsistent as people may think about your point that creativity is bounded by representations of many concepts and their contexts already in the brain. Constraint imposes limits on expression of free will but does not necessarily block all possibility of a role for free will.

    Lage:
    You assert that creativity is also an illusion, that a creative act is just identifying more relationships among variables than in non-creative acts. But doesn’t this just restate the issue? How does one explain “identifying new relationships?” Deliberate identifying relationships, novel or otherwise, is a willed effort. And achieving such identification is surely accomplished by neural activity. But the result of such activity is not predestined (nor is it random) and for less creative people it seldom occurs.

    So are we back to square one? Is choosing to search for novel relationships done freely? If not, why doesn’t everybody do this? And what about the cognitive processes that assess new ideas as they dynamically ebb and flow in the creative mind? Are the decisions free or not? How can we say?

    • http://lagevondissen.wordpress.com Lage

      Is choosing to search for novel relationships done freely? If not, why doesn’t everybody do this? And what about the cognitive processes that assess new ideas as they dynamically ebb and flow in the creative mind? Are the decisions free or not? How can we say?

      No, it isn’t done freely. The brain is recognizing relationships based on the plethora of contextual information it has acquired over one’s lifetime. It is all programmed. Some brains are likely able to recognize more relationships than others based on more effective neural wiring and/or more useful information acquired over its lifetime. So the decisions are not free. Creativity is not freely willed. More effective neural wiring and/or more data acquired will enable that brain to recognize more relationships than a “non-creative” or “less creative” brain.

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      “But I maintain that both have physical brain causes.”

      If what you are calling ‘free will’ has physical brain causes, then it is not a will that is free of physical brain causes, which is what traditional free will implies, at least since Descartes.

      I’m not sure what it is about the ‘illusion’ notion that is not acceptable to you. The ‘illusory free will’ notion is not a claim that we do not have physically based autonomy, it is the notion that humans have the feeling that their will is not physically caused in the brain when all the evidence suggests it is.

      Humans really do feel they have free will. Humans really do feel that the rotating mask’s concave side is convex. Both are brain illusions.

      The latter is a brain illusion, but the data is acquired through the eyes, so it is called an optical illusion, to distinguish it from, say, audible illusions. But all human illusions are responses of the brain telling is things are one way when in fact they are another.

      The illusion of free will tells us the will is free of physical cause, when it is not. That’s the illusion.

      And it has nothing at all to do with creativity that I can tell.

  • http://thankyoubrain.com W. R. K

    In response to Lage’s latest comment on creativity at http://brainblogger.com/2010/10/25/free-will-is-not-an-illusion/#comment-754652:

    You could argue that creativity does not come from free will on the grounds that some brains are likely able to recognize more relationships than others if they have more effective neural wiring and/or more useful information acquired over its lifetime. Perhaps I can accept some of that. What about the choices of the past that created that effective neural wiring and more useful information? This is just another example of the repeated regress point that I made earlier.

    Just repeating over and over that choices are not made freely does not make the argument any stronger, just as speaking louder does not provide more validation. Moreover, this present repeated claim of illusory free will does not address the decision to search for creative relationships nor the decision on when success has occurred nor the decision to accept one new idea as valid and useful and stop the search.

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      “Just repeating over and over that choices are not made freely does not make the argument any stronger”

      But it is not simply repeated. You have been given very specific explanations as to why the term ‘free will’ is associated with Cartesian dualism, and justifiably so, since the adjective ‘free’ qualifies the noun ‘will’ and under Cartesian dualism this means free from physical causes, not caused brain activity.

      You are simply using the term ‘free will’ to mean autonomy of an entirely causal but centralised nervous system. Choices are not made freely in the traditional ‘free will’ sense. They are made within a range of degrees of freedom of a complex central nervous system.

      And still no connection between free will as dualist free will, or non-free causal autonomy of a central nervous system, on the one hand, and creativity on the other.

  • http://thankyoubrain.com W. R. K

    More on Creative Imagination

    Children are especially effective at creative imagination. Fantasies and new ways of thinking come easily to them. As a result, scientists have been using fMRI brain scans to learn more about how children do this. In one study, scans were taken of 15 children who were asked to imagine abstract visual shapes and mentally combine them or to dismantle them into separate parts. During imagining, widespread activation occurred over a large part of the brain, indicating that creativity engages a large part of the brain’s “global workspace.”

    This research needs to be interpreted in the context that children are more creative than adults and, of course, in the context of free-will debates.The findings suggest that children are especially adept at accessing more of their global workspace. Why can’t adults do that as well? If creativity is programmed by past learning, adults should be more creative than children, as children have little knowledge to build mental programs on. This is consistent with the common observation that scientists often become more creative when they switch fields or topics within their field. It is as if accumulated information and experience get in the way of creativity and reduce the brain’s ability to access enough network workspace to be fully creative. So, certainly willed creativity is more freely done in children, or as illusionists would say, the brain circuitry of children is less walled-off from programmed access than in adults. But what creativeness program? Children don’t have much programming. In other words, I would suggest that prior programming does not enable creativity but rather diminishes a free choice and capacity to achieve it.

    Schlegel, A. et al. (2013). Network structure and dynamics of the mental workspace. Proc. Nat. Acad. Science. September. doi:10.1073/pnas.1311149110.

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      “Children are especially effective at creative imagination.”

      Well, this would fit in with the speculative explanation I gave above.

      While still early in the process of accumulating contextual maps where meaning derives from the relationships between absorbed concepts that correspond to the world, they are less constrained than adult brains that have far more complex conceptual maps. There is no understanding of the limitations of human movement, for example, so a child might quite easily wonder why humans can’t fly unaided, or can’t run as fast as a train. Show a child film like Superman and there is no reason to believe it possible; but listen to nerd teens leaving a movie theatre and you heare conversations as to why so many of the special effects are implausibly fantasy.

      When it comes to imagining shapes adult humans already have a massive contextual map built up from experience.

      “During imagining, widespread activation occurred over a large part of the brain, indicating that creativity engages a large part of the brain’s “global workspace.””

      Well, fair enough. But what is that telling us about creativity that has anything to do with free will, or that creativity is not a feature of a physical brain just doing its thing? Sounds like the brain is responding in such a global way because it can, whereas an adult brain already has patterns laid down that would respond in more local and predictable (i.e. not so creative) ways.

      “This research needs to be interpreted …”

      Exactly. My tentative interpretation seems a reasonable one to me that doesn’t need the invention of a free will, but works quite well with a caused autonomous will.

      “Why can’t adults do that as well?”

      Because they are patterns of neurons with synaptic connections that already respond to the stimulus adequately? Ask an adult for some novel arrangement of shapes and their brain automatically offers arrangements that is is already aware of. Ask an experienced computer programmer to come up with an algorithm that solves a novel problem, and his ‘creative’ activity would pull out some algorithm he knows solves a similar set of problems already, before he bothered starting to explore completely novel algorithms. That’s what learning is. That’s what experience is. That’s why a creative artist will hit on a theme of work and create within that theme – how many animals has Damian Hurst cut up since he first struck on the idea of cutting animals up?

      “If creativity is programmed by past learning, adults should be more creative than children…”

      It is not programmed in that fixed sense. When an ‘expert’ seems, to non-experts, to be in the process of being creative he is not always plucking brand new ideas out of his ass. All his past experiences, all his past ‘programming’, is a warehouse of idea parts from which he can concoct novel and yet meaningful ideas. While the less constrained child’s ideas may be less constrained in some ways they have fewer useful contexts in which to place those ideas.

      “children have little knowledge to build mental programs on”

      So, children that know about families, houses, cats and dogs, fairies and Santa, a novel idea that they need to express has a much smaller contextual field in which to take on meaning, and so the novel neuronal connections don’t have much meaning, and are therefore difficult for the child to express in language of the known concepts; or they are expressed in the same limited contexts, and so even though they are novel for that child, many children come up with similar novel fantasies. Just walk around school classrooms of young children in most cities and the paintings on the wall, no matter how creative for each child, will all be quite familiar.

      But the expert has some exponentially expanding concept space in which to place novel ideas, and he has a wealth of experience from which to draw. The novelty, the creativity, in each case is quite different.

      “This is consistent with the common observation that scientists often become more creative when they switch fields or topics within their field.”

      Yes. Good point. And entirely consistent with the above. The spaces from which they can draw ideas, and the useful spaces in which they can place novel ideas, becomes much greater. The more you know of a speciality increases your capacity to be creative, but restricts the domain of creative ideas – and such specialists might come up with one or two great ideas in their careers if they are lucky. If you are spread too far and thin then you can place ideas in many different spaces, but have less experience upon which to call – and so your ideas may be novel, but a little crazy and not much use (how many perpetual motion machines have been ‘invented’ by amateurs that don’t know enough physics to understand why their ideas won’t work?). But if you have specialised in several fields, if you are a polymath, then your creativity has greater scope – and on top of that, to everyone else, to the jacks of all trades with limited depths, and the extreme specialist, the creative polymath is celebrated as a genius.

      This is all quite consistent with natural explanations of brain behaviour. It has nothing to do with free will.

      “But what creativeness program? Children don’t have much programming.”

      You are misunderstanding the meaning of ‘program’ in this context. It is not the sense in which a spread sheet program is different from q word processing program. Programming in this sense merely means the extent to which a brain has acquired patterns that match experience, which in turn influences how the brain can respond to further experiences.

      “I would suggest that prior programming does not enable creativity but rather diminishes a free choice and capacity to achieve it.”

      I would suggest you are supposing creativity is a free will issue, when you have not explained how free will works, or how it has anything to do with creativity. My suggestions above may be speculative, but they are not particularly troublesome for a physicalist illusory free will model of the brain.

  • http://thankyoubrain.com W. R. K

    Muslims Seem to Oppose Freedom and Free Will

    I just ran across a Muslim blog post that you all need to see:

    http://thedebateinitiative.com/2013/09/12/the-fallacies-of-the-free-will-argument-for-individual-freedom/

    According to Abdullah al Andalusi, Muslims believe that the notion of free will is a flawed Western doctrine that emerged in The Enlightenment. Only God has free will, which is why Muslims so frequently qualify their assertions with “if it be God’s will.” Muslims argue that the definition of free will is the ability of an individual to initiate and cause actions without those actions being caused themselves. But why does it have to be defined that way? I suggest that this is a straw-man definition that is contrived because it is easy to refute. Of course all choices and actions have a cause.

    Paradoxically, Muslims assert that people are responsible to God for what they choose to think, believe, and do. So God – Allah – is an unjust, arbitrary, and even sadistic, God that holds us accountable for things we have no control over. This could well be correct, but if so, why are we obliged to revere and worship such a God? Obviously, we should fear such a God. But to what end? What we do is beyond our control. We can’t choose freely to fear or worship for that matter.The whole point of Muslim faith would seem that we must fear God. But we are not allowed by their doctrine to freely choose whether to fear or not.

    Yet as one plows through the cited blog post, the author equivocates, ultimately admitting that people do have some control and therefore accountability. Thus, even though humans cannot and do not have complete free will, they do have some free will. But no degrees of freedom are allowed in this debate. You are either free or you are not. Muslims say not.

    I am struck by the observation that many of the scholars with whom I debate this subject are professed atheists. Yet here we have strange bed fellows of atheists and Muslims. Go figure.

    • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

      “Muslims argue that the definition of free will is the ability of an individual to initiate and cause actions without those actions being caused themselves.”

      That relates to Cartesian dualism only in that both reject physical cause of willed action in the brain, by brain activity.

      Dualism: non-physical mind cases will actions which is may do through mediation of the physical brain, which would explain why it’s possible to find brain events that correlate to willed actions.

      The free will Muslims reject (as characterised by your reference to a Muslim source): free will actions have no cause.

      The trouble with both these is that there is no evidence to support them. That’s it in a nutshell. We have nothing ever detected that is a non-physical mind. We only ever guessed there was a non-physical mind because our mental experience does not reveal the physical connection. My hand touches something sharp, I feel it, so common sense, as a starter, tells me senses are in the physical world. But when I think and come up with a willed action I cannot ‘feel’ the neurons causing that willed action, so the will feels free of physical causes.

      So, from a common sense pre-scientific point of view dualist free will seems a fair guess. But science has not detected anything that could constitute the mind, and the physicalist explanation is more and more consistent with data. So, based on all available evidence the will is caused by physical brain activity and is not free.

      The Muslim un-caused free will is a poor straw man. But then their God that has free will is lacks evidence even more than dualist free will does. At least with dualist free will, that is just how the experience feels. God stories are inventions with no evidence. They were possibly dreamed up to explain phenomena that were not run of the mill, that didn’t happen every day – earthquakes, volcanos, storms, disease – and with ever more rationalisation developed into well-established religions. But there is no evidence to support theistic beliefs. The universe itself is so far well explained by materialist science, and where the science hasn’t gone yet there are only God of the gaps arguments provided by the theists.

      “Paradoxically, Muslims assert that people are responsible to God …”

      But all God beliefs require that believers presuppose a God; to which they then attribute powers, and then consequences in the natural world, from its creation to all sorts of personal interest in us. But there is never any reason to presuppose a God. Take the presupposition of God out of all theistic belief systems and they fall apart.

      “Yet as one plows through the cited blog post, the author equivocates…”

      I cannot recall any theist that does not equivocate when discussing the foundations of their beliefs.

      “I am struck by the observation that many of the scholars with whom I debate this subject are professed atheists. Yet here we have strange bed fellows of atheists and Muslims. Go figure.”

      Far from it; and I don’t see how you actually deduce that from anything you said.

      “But no degrees of freedom are allowed in this debate.”

      Of course there are. The localised autonomy of a human brain, with a history of learning and acclimatisation to its environment, is a centralised causally responsive and causally activating system. It is in and is an integral part of the material world. Degrees of freedom, like any other system, determine how many ways it can respond to its environment. It’s complexity and its variability, and the details of its operation determine that it has a great deal of flexibility in how it is internally caused to respond. This is an autonomous system that can proceed throughout the container organism’s life, seeking food, shutting down for sleep, being driven to procreate in most cases, being driven to explore its environment, and in that process to control its environment. It may still be difficult to say why it decides to ponder its own origins. Is that a by-product behaviour? Are all complex brains naturally self-interested as they reach certain degrees of complexity? There’s a lot we don’t know, but there’s as yet no evidence that would support anything other than an atheistic interpretation of the biological systems that are humans. No need to presuppose a God just so you can dream up explanations.

      Autonomy describes the degrees of freedom within which such brains operate, but this isn’t the free will of dualism, mind, soul, God. It is a physical process that gives the owner an illusion of having a will free of that physical process. That’s all.

      • Anonymous

        Response to Ron about Muslim view: http://brainblogger.com/2010/10/25/free-will-is-not-an-illusion/#comment-755320

        I am not sure why you implied that I advocated dualism. I am an authentic neuroscientist, after all. When you and other atheists frame free will as a dualist concept, you confirm my earlier charge that you guys have constructed a straw-man argument because it is so easy to refute. Basically, yours is a rhetorical tactic that opens a door to promote atheism. Free will or not free will could have nothing to do with religion, though both sides appropriate it for their own purposes.

        Your concluding statement, “No need to presuppose a God just so you can dream up explanations,” could just have easily been phrased, “No need to presuppose atheism …” I say you just hung yourself on your own pitard.

        • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

          Anonymous/W.R.K/W.R. Klemm

          I wasn’t implying you were a dualist. Though I might infer that from your use of the term ‘free will’ I accept you also say in various places that you are not.

          I gave those descriptions of the Cartesian dualist free will, and a response to the free will Muslims say does not exist, in order show that they are both different from the illusory free will notion.

          If you keep using the term ‘free will’ for what is an entirely physical brain process then you will continue to be misunderstood.

          I don’t need a rhetorical door to promote atheism, and nor do I need to presuppose atheism. I’m quite open minded to any possibility, even some form of theism. I settle on atheism, not as a presupposition but as a working conclusion based on the lack of evidence of a theistic god, and so I am as a consequence of that an a-theist.

          I do not presuppose that there is no alien race that due to the differences in our planets and the suns of those planets such an alien arriving on earth would have super powers – so I do not presuppose a-supermanism. But anyone who positively claims that superman’s alien race is a possibility needs to bring some evidence to the table or else I will be by default a-supermanists. Being a-supermanist seems quite reasonable because the stories of superman, and his race, suggest powers that are not compatible with our models of the physics of this universe. It seems to be quite sensible to be an a-supermanist as a working conclusion, until there is evidence to suppose otherwise.

          On the other hand, without any reason to suppose there is a superman race if the supermanist claims there is, and then claims various crimes near miss disasters were stopped by a visiting superman flying faster than a speeding bullet, then first they have to presuppose there is such an alien before they can go on to make further unevidenced claims about what superman has and has not done

          You see the difference between presupposing some claimed entity and having a working conclusion of such an entity not existing if there is no evidence to support the claims. If claimants for the entity want to tell us what that entity does actually do, then they have presupposed his existence, and then explained events as being done by it, all without evidence.

          When believers claim God exists, and further claim that he loves us, wants us to be good, and will be upset with us if we are not, then without any evidence to support their claims they have to presuppose he exists first, and then use his presupposed existence, and nature, in order to then make claims about the consequence of his existence.

          The most ridiculous example of this is the following …

          1. God exists (the presupposition).
          2. God inspired/revealed/wrote/instructed the writing of the bible.
          3. Because God inspired/revealed/wrote/instructed the writing of the bible, it is the inerrant word of God.
          4. So, when the bible tells us about God, it must be true.

          This is a circular argument that has to presuppose God in order for the rest to follow. But there is simply no reason to presuppose God in the first place. Remember, for all Christians the ONLY supposed evidence for Jesus is the NT. But there is no reason to suppose the NT is correct about Jesus, unless you start the whole ball rolling by presupposing God.

          Scientology has presuppositions about its back story. Don’t bother presupposing all that stuff and it becomes mere fiction. Just like Christianity, or Islam.

          Of course many atheists have been brought up as Christians, Muslims, etc. I was brought up as a Christian. So a presupposition of a God was impressed upon me, and being a child I believed it. As a child I was in no position to understand the philosophical arguments, and so it would be fair to say that in accepting that belief I effectively presupposed God did exist. Later I figured out that there was so little supportive evidence (i.e. none that I know of) that I stopped believing. So, by whatever measure you choose, I am not a presuppositional atheist.

          Can you see that the presuppositions, regarding theism and atheism, are entirely on the theist side. Just as they would be for a supermanist, or a fairyist. Unless they had evidence of course.

          So none of this on free will has had anything to do with atheism or theism except in as much as free will is important to theists that believe that God gave us free will. It becomes clear that there is a keen motivation for a religious neuroscientist to continue to make claims for free will, and to reject the notion that it’s an illusion, when the parallels between that mental illusion and others (such as optical mode ones).

          A religious neuroscientist would also likely avoid responding to the simple explanation as to why free will is an illusion. It’s not complicated, so I’ll make the point again: the conscious processes of the physical brain cannot detect the physical firing of the neurons of the brain, so to the self-aware physical brain its whole consciousness, and its will, feels as though it is free floating personal mind with a will that is free of physical cause. Our will feels like dualist free will, when really we are just complex automata that act with a vastly complex number of degrees of freedom. Could you actually respond to that point. If you are not a dualist, then what is the will free of, if not free of physical causes? If it is not free of physical causes, does that mean we are automata, biological chemical organisms that do not have anything like a free will that would be useful for religious belief?

  • http://thankyoubrain.com W. R. Klemm

    In reply to Ron (http://brainblogger.com/2010/10/25/free-will-is-not-an-illusion/#comment-755570) and others who are like-minded:

    I have no idea where you got all that “superman” stuff? Are you hallucinating?

    As for your comment: “the physical brain cannot detect the physical firing of the neurons of the brain, so to the self-aware physical brain its whole consciousness, and its will, feels as though it is free floating personal mind with a will that is free of physical cause. Our will feels like dualist free will, when really we are just complex automata that act with a vastly complex number of degrees of freedom. Could you actually respond to that point. If you are not a dualist, then what is the will free of, if not free of physical causes? If it is not free of physical causes, does that mean we are automata, biological chemical organisms that do not have anything like a free will that would be useful for religious belief?” I will say this:

    “The physical brain cannot detect the physical firing of neurons of the brain?” Where did you get such a notion? That is exactly what physical brain does do. It detects the firing of its neurons, manipulates the firing, and produces outcomes and memories, represented by different patters of firing. Realize that even the conscious mind exists as patterns of nerve impulses and thus it should come as no surprise that such mind can detect the representations of thought and choose among options within the “degrees of freedom” that you acknowledge to exist.

    “… we are just complex automata that act with a vastly complex number of degrees of freedom?” Degrees of freedom: how can that mean outcomes are pre-ordained? The brain’s numerous degrees of freedom means it is free to choose one option over another. True, brain is not free of physical causes, but that is not the fundamental issue, though it suits your purposes to keep saying that is what I believe. “What is the will free of?” you ask. It is autonomous and at least partially actualized, free of compelled choice.

    You also keep saying that free will is a foolish religious notion. Yet, you do not respond to my arguments about contrived definitions of free will and that the issue of free will exists with or without religious connotation.

    I have grown weary of this tendentious and tedious debate and accept my share of the blame for it. Others have apparently grown weary too, dropping out and perhaps tiring of the contest of wills between the Ron and Lage team and me.

    Atheists and Muslims think they make the choices they do because they have to. Well, I too have a choice, and I don’t have to make their choice. Free or not — true or not — I make my reasoned choice because it is infinitely more positive and satisfying. The great mathematician, Pascal, said in essence that he had nothing to lose and everything to gain by believing in God, while atheists have nothing to gain and everything to lose by not believing in God. While Pascal’s logic is impeccable, I think there is a better reason. Life is more fulfilling when you live it in the joy and hope of the Lord.

  • http://ronmurp.net Ron Murphy

    W.R. Klemm:
    http://brainblogger.com/2010/10/25/free-will-is-not-an-illusion/#comment-756065

    With regard to my “the physical brain cannot detect the physical…”

    My particular point was incomplete, but I have expressed this point more completely several times elsewhere in responses to you. It should read something like: the conscious processes of the physical brain cannot detect the physical firing of the neurons of the brain.

    I take it that you cannot report which of your neurons are processing some thought you have. I take it that using introspection you cannot detect the origin of various thoughts.

    This is not unusual in physical systems generally. Though computer operating systems can run monitoring processes that detect some details of the computers operation it doesn’t have access to the detailed processing within the CPU. It could not, for example, tell you which gates are switching, how the electrons are flowing. If a system, computer or brain, could detect all the aspects of its own operation that would cause the sort of infinite regress or recursion you were concerned about in some earlier comments. By not being aware of too much detail the brain can perform a certain amount of self-monitoring of its processes: it can introspect, it can ponder its own thoughts after they occur. But what it can’t do is actually detect where they are occurring in the brain in any details. The result, for the conscious processes, is that the thoughts appear to come spontaneously, as if they were the result of some uncaused free will. That is the nature of the illusion.

    “it should come as no surprise that such mind can detect the representations of thought…”

    I agree. It detects the representations, the high level representation, and not the detail of the neuronal activity causing the representations. Just as a thermometer detects the general dynamic excitation of the physical vibrations of molecules, and does not measure individual molecules. From our perspective we see an expanding liquid column, but not the increasing dynamic action of the liquid molecules. The liquid molecules are merely becomeing more spaced appart in their dynamic exitation, but to us we see only the liquid volume increasing. For anyone who didn’t understand thermometers they might think that the amount (mass) of liquid is increasing, but that would be an illusion caused by the appearance of the expanding volume.

    “…and choose among options within the “degrees of freedom” that you acknowledge to exist.”

    Yes. That’s what most who contest your OP have been arguing. Choice, as in any decision making circuit, is not free of the physical causes that drive that decision making circuit to make decisions. The will, the outcome that is chosen, is not free of physical causes, so it is incorrect to call it ‘free will’ especially when ‘free will’ is so clearly used to mean free of physical causes of the brain, and is usually associated with a separate mind or a sould.

    “The brain’s numerous degrees of freedom means it is free to choose…”

    A thermostat circuit that controls the temperature of a fridge is choosing when to turn the motor on or off, based on its physical circuit and its inputs. It’s a simple control system. A more complex three term controller in some process plant is carrying out decision making, but in a more complex way. A computer control system, using complex algorithms that monitor and respond to long term events, using memory to record transient status and using that along with current inputs, is making decisions with greater degrees of freedom. A human brain that chooses one option over another is doing so using even more complex input and internal processing. But it is still all physical processing, as you already agree. It is not free will. Choice does not imply free will. Choice when made in a brain is the outcome of an extremely complex brain circuitry. It’s a complex decision making process, but it is not free will.

    “It is autonomous and at least partially actualized, free of compelled choice.”

    Now you are equivocating on ‘compelled choice’. In a choice over vanilla or chocolate, where I like both, then I could be compelled by coercion, or by persuasion. These are the external examples of being compelled that you seem to be referring to. But without any current external limitations, being presented with both vanilla and chocolate, my brain does indeed make a decision in the end and chooses one. But what is making that happen? You call it free will, and humans generally feel they want to say it was an unrestrained free will choice. It really does feel like the free will of dualism. We cannot detect what particular neuronal actions suddenly make us choose one or the other, so this feeling that the choice is spontaneous and free of physical cause is an illusion.

    I think you keep missing this point. I’m not saying we feel we don’t have free will. I am not denying that we feel we have dualist free will. It really does feel like that. But some neurons must have caused that final instant of choice that resulted in my brain choosing. You seem to be missing the nature of the illusion.

    I do not say free will is a foolish religious notion. It is a natural human feeling that we cannot avoid, just as our brains cannot avoid the feeling that the concave side of the rotating mask is convex. Our brains are involved in a physical process (light from a concave mask, or neurons being switched to one choice over another) but the conscious brain is interpreting them as something else (a convex mask, or a spontaneous choice free of physical causes). With all that I’ve said in this regard I’ve made it clear that the feeling of free will is not a foolish notion but an actual feeling.

    The problem as far as religion is concerned is that it is the dogma that predetermines that humans must have the free will to be sinful or good, so that God can judge them. If the theism was dropped, or altered in some way, so that there was no prior requirement to support the notion of free will as an actuality, then it would not be problematic to see how it is an illusory feeling.

    “contrived definitions of free”

    They are not contrived definitions.

    1) The notion of a free will that is free of the physical brain is one with a long history, and one that still persists. It was most thoroughly embedded into our understanding of the mind by Descartes, who wanted free will because he believed in God. His Cogito is a great process of doubt, but his religious convictions made him loose track of that doubting process. He presupposed God, and forced that belief on his reconstruction of the mind.

    2) Religion has the notion of a soul that can survive death. This soul carries with it aspects of the living person, but not the corporeal body. So the soul as a non-physical entity fits in very well with the notion of a free non-physical mind.

    3) To humans, as they think, reflect on how they think, try to catch their thoughts as they form, cannot detect the underlying physical processes that cause those thoughts.

    How is all that a contrived definition of free will? It is well documented throughout philosophy and religion.

    It is you that is using a contrived definition. You are defining free will as an entirely physical process of the brain. You are hung up on choice, when choice is just fine in all other systems you would accept are automata. Why do you persist in this definition free will that not only departs from the existing descriptions of it in 1 – 3, but confuses the very free will debate that has raged for millennia. The whole point of the debate rests on the will being free of physical causes as would be the case if only a separate non-physical mind existed, if only there were evidence for it.

    Free will notion could exist without religious connotation. This is simple logic:

    F = Free will
    R = Religion – those that require free will, like Christianity

    F R

    N N OK
    N Y Conflict – rligion needs free will
    Y N OK
    Y Y OK

    From row 1, if religion didn’t require free will and there was no free will, there’s no argument.
    From rows 3 and 4 I agree with you, free will debate can be independent of religion.
    But only 4 satisfies religion. religion cannot do wothout free will

    “Well, I too have a choice, and I don’t have to make their choice.” – Well, that’s because your brain causes you not to make their choice, at least as long as you are not persuaded to. Having a choice and making it is a mechanistic process of a brain.

    “I make my reasoned choice because it is infinitely more positive and satisfying.”

    Well, now you are making my point for me. You are agreeing that it is the satisfaction and the feeling of positivity it gives you that is dictating your brains choice. And, as a bonus, since when was it a good idea to make a decision about how the worls works based on whether it’s a comfortable idea or not? That isn’t reason, it’s emotion.

    Pascal was talking nonsense. Without any evidence to support the notion of god there is no reason to believe in one. You seemed to miss the whole point of the superman analogy in this respect. Should Pascal believe in superman just because we can imagine such a being? There is no evidence for superman, and no evidence for a divine Jesus that can do similar miracles. Superman could walk on water because he can counter the effect of gravity. Both Superman and Jesus are imagined fantastical persons, and there is no evidence for either. Both have been written about in books of myths.

    “While Pascal’s logic is impeccable”

    It isn’t it’s extremely poor. Pascal’s argument is a wager. A wager is a guess or estimate made with incomplete knowledge. It is at heart a probabilistic argument. But that requires known probabilities to make it useful. We don’t kow any of the probabilities regarding anything about the origins of the universe. If God does exist then the probability of his existence is 1. If he doesn’t, it’s 0. The point about probabilities is that we don’t know anything. So Pascal’s wager is simply a poor application of probability.

    “I think there is a better reason. Life is more fulfilling when you live it in the joy and hope of the Lord.”

    So, in doing neuroscience do you decide before an experiment what the outcome will be, by deciding to choose the most satisfying result? Since when has satisfaction been a determinant of investigations into how the world works?

    Joy and hope? You have just descibed quite succinctly that you rely on wishful thinking. You WANT your religion to be true because it SATISFIES your feelings. It has nothing to do with reason. The notion of free will being an illusion is quite simple, easy to understand, consistent with how humans feel they make choices rather than how their brains actually ake them, and is consistent with a history of dualism and theological souls. It seems that your rejection of the illusory nature of free will and your determination to distort the meaning of the term is entirely driven by your religious belief and your religion’s requirement that there should be free will. You even make bogus points about the free will debate being independent of religion, and I agree it could be, as shown above in a simple logical table; but, it’s the religion that isn’t independent of free will.

  • God

    This whole page is utterly insane. Some religious tripe is supposed to be better than science? You want common sense? Here try this scenario: A person comes across something terrifying. They just freeze. another person might run etc. The person that froze later says they have no idea why they reacted like that. So any claim of free will means the person CHOSE to freeze.

    As for Pascal’s wager, common sense alone easily defeats it by concluding all other religions are just ignored. But this is even better because it requires theists to abandon several of their cherished beliefs about god and/or heaven if they are to escape its logic.

    The End of Pascal’s Wager: Only Nontheists Go to Heaven (2002) by Richard Carrier

    Argument 1: Who Goes to Heaven?

    It is a common belief that only the morally good should populate heaven, and this is a reasonable belief, widely defended by theists of many varieties. Suppose there is a god who is watching us and choosing which souls of the deceased to bring to heaven, and this god really does want only the morally good to populate heaven. He will probably select from only those who made a significant and responsible effort to discover the truth. For all others are untrustworthy, being cognitively or morally inferior, or both. They will also be less likely ever to discover and commit to true beliefs about right and wrong. That is, if they have a significant and trustworthy concern for doing right and avoiding wrong, it follows necessarily that they must have a significant and trustworthy concern for knowing right and wrong. Since this knowledge requires knowledge about many fundamental facts of the universe (such as whether there is a god), it follows necessarily that such people must have a significant and trustworthy concern for always seeking out, testing, and confirming that their beliefs about such things are probably correct. Therefore, only such people can be sufficiently moral and trustworthy to deserve a place in heaven–unless god wishes to fill heaven with the morally lazy, irresponsible, or untrustworthy.

    But only two groups fit this description: intellectually committed but critical theists, and intellectually committed but critical nontheists (which means both atheists and agnostics, though more specifically secular humanists, in the most basic sense). Both groups have a significant and trustworthy concern for always seeking out, testing, and confirming that their beliefs about god (for example) are probably correct, so that their beliefs about right and wrong will probably be correct. No other groups can claim this. If anyone is sincerely interested in doing right and wrong, they must be sincerely interested in whether certain claims are true, including “God exists,” and must treat this matter with as much responsibility and concern as any other moral question. And the only two kinds of people who do this are those theists and nontheists who devote their lives to examining the facts and determining whether they are right.

    Argument 2: Why This World?

    It is a common belief that certain mysteries, like unexplained evils in the world and god’s silence, are to be explained as a test, and this is a reasonable belief, widely defended by theists of many varieties. After all, if no test were needed, then God could and would, out of his compassion and perfect efficiency, simply select candidates at birth and dispense with any actual life in this world, since God would immediately know their merits.

    Free will cannot negate this conclusion, since if God cannot know us because we might freely reverse ourselves, then God cannot fill heaven with trustworthy people: for anyone in heaven may through an unexpected act of free will become or do evil. And given an eternity, it is probable that most of the population of heaven will do something evil. After all, if free will prevents him, then God cannot predict who will or won’t do evil and thus he can never select those who will be forever good from those who will not, except by some inductive test.

    Since those who will be forever good must naturally be rare in comparison to the set of all those people appearing to be good up to their deaths, it follows that, lacking a reliable inductive test, most of the population of heaven will not be genuinely good. It follows that a god who wanted better results would probably distinguish the genuinely good, and thus deserving, from the untrustworthy and undeserving, by subjecting all candidates to a reliable test, and it would be reasonable to conclude that this world only exists for such a purpose.

    Argument 3: No God or Evil God

    If presented with strong evidence that a god must either be evil or not exist, a genuinely good person will not believe in such a god, or if believing, will not give assent to such a god (as by worship or other assertions of approval, since the good do not approve of evil). Most theists do not deny this, but instead deny that the evidence is strong. But it seems irrefutable that there is strong evidence that a god must either be evil or not exist.

    For example, in the bible Abraham discards humanity and morality upon God’s command to kill his son Isaac, and God rewards him for placing loyalty above morality. That is probably evil–a good god would expect Abraham to forego fear and loyalty and place compassion first and refuse to commit an evil act, and would reward him for that, not for compliance. Likewise, God deliberately inflicts unconscionable wrongs upon Job and his family merely to win a debate with Satan. That is probably evil–no good god would do such harm for so petty a reason, much less prefer human suffering to the cajoling of a mere angel. And then God justifies these wrongs to Job by claiming to be able to do whatever he wants, in effect saying that he is beyond morality. That is probably evil–a good god would never claim to be beyond good and evil. And so it goes for all the genocidal slaughter and barbaric laws commanded by God in the bible. Then there are all the natural evils in the world (like diseases and earthquakes) and all the unchecked human evils (i.e. god makes no attempt to catch criminals or stop heinous crimes, etc.). Only an evil god would probably allow such things.

    Argument 4: The Test

    Of the two groups comprising the only viable candidates for heaven, only nontheists recognize or admit that this evidence strongly implies that God must be evil or not exist. Therefore, only nontheists answer the test as predicted for morally good persons. That is, a morally good person will be intellectually and critically responsible about having true beliefs, and will place this commitment to moral good above all other concerns, especially those that can corrupt or compromise moral goodness, like faith or loyalty. So those who are genuinely worthy of heaven will very probably become nontheists, since their inquiry will be responsible and therefore complete, and will place moral concerns above all others. They will then encounter the undeniable facts of all these unexplained evils (in the bible and in the world) and conclude that God must probably be evil or nonexistent.

    In other words, to accept such evils without being given a justification (as is entailed by god’s silence) indicates an insufficient concern for having true beliefs. But to have the courage to maintain unbelief in the face of threats of hell or destruction, as well as numerous forms of social pressure and other hostile factors, is exactly the behavior a god would expect from the genuinely good, rather than capitulation to the will of an evil being, or naive and unjustified trust that an apparently evil being is really good–those are not behaviors of the genuinely good.

    Therefore only intellectually committed but critical nontheists are genuinely good and will go to heaven. Therefore, if a god exists, his silence and allowance of evil (in the world and the bible) are explained and justified by his plan to discover the only sorts of people who deserve to populate heaven: sincere nontheists. And this makes perfect sense of many mysteries, thus explaining what theists struggle to explain themselves.

    God’s hiddenness is necessary on this account, since his presence would inspire people to behave as if good out of fear or selfish interests, not out of courage or compassion or a sense of personal integrity.

    A false, evil image of God in the bible is necessary in order to test whether the reader will place morality or faith first, so this tests moral courage in the face of assertions, threats and promises of reward. It also tests cognitive trustworthiness, since it is wrong to trust what someone merely wrote, over scientifically established truths and the direct evidence of reason and the senses.

    Natural evils and unchecked human evils are also necessary on this account, since only in such a way can a god “demonstrate” that no moral power is behind the universe, that there is no custodian, and by that means lead a rational, compassionate observer to conclude there is no god. If the universe were well-ordered, with inherent moral enforcement and the containment or restriction of evils, observers would conclude there is a god and thus, again, might act as if good out of fear or hope of reward.

    The only way to truly test human beings is to see if we will become nontheists after serious and sincere inquiry into these matters: to see if we have the courage and fortitude to choose morality over faith or loyalty, and be good without fear or hope of divine reward. No other test will ensure a result of the genuinely good being self-selected into a predictable belief-state that can be observed in secret by god.

    Conclusion

    Since this easily and comprehensively explains all the unexplainable problems of god (like divine hiddenness and apparent evil), while other theologies do not (or at least nowhere so well), it follows that this analysis is probably a better explanation of all the available evidence than any contrary theology. Since this conclusion contradicts the conclusion of every form of Pascal’s Wager, it follows that Pascal’s Wager cannot assure anyone of God’s existence or that belief in God will be the best bet.

W. R. Klemm, DVM, PhD

W. R. Klemm, DVM, PhD, is Professor of Neuroscience and Professor of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences at Texas A&M University. He has written several books including Improving Everyday Memory, Core Ideas in Neuroscience, Blame Game. How To Win It, an Armadillos.
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