This blog is a rebuttal of some arguments found in Marvin Edwards’ essay on free will. For full disclosure, I am monistically inclined. And I cannot do otherwise but find remnants of dualism in Marvin Edwards’ essay. While dualism can be useful to model this universe, it is fundamentally wrong, at least in my opinion. Also, I tend to use determinism in a slightly non standard way, I am not sure this affects the discussion. For me, determinism is a description of ’cause’ and this cause could behave in a classical fashion, in a probabilitistic way (indeterminism perhaps), in a way we might not have thought of yet or some combination. But the general discussion of free will reminds of a quote from Adams. Deep Thought talking to a pair of philosophers.

And it occurs to me that running a program like this is bound to create an enormous amount of popular publicity for the whole area of philosophy in general. Everyone’s going to have their own theories about what answer I’m eventually to come up with, and who better to capitalize on that media market than you yourself? So long as you can keep disagreeing with each other violently enough and slagging each other off in the popular press, you can keep yourself on the gravy train for life. How does that sound?

Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Introduction

Of course, there are various definitions of free will, and as such some are more common than others. There are those that revolve around our legal system, that take into account, undue influence, coercion, mental illness, ie I had a gun to my head, or my tumour made me do it. And for pragmatic reasons I am willing to concede we have free will in this trivial sense, and indeed, I would happily use this phrase in this pragmatic sense. The problem comes when people start believing in morality, in the sense of good and evil. Now Marvin, seems to me, has an emotional response to the use of the strong sense of the definition of not having free will. He calls it a hoax several times in his essay. But of course, historically free will has been closely associated with morality and even hard determinists who believe in morality are giving a nod to compatibilists.

In Marvin’s essay, matter is classified into three: inanimate that behaves passively, living organisms (animate) that behave purposefully and intelligent species that deliberate. While we can debate the validity of this classification, let’s take the three at face value for the moment. It is worthwhile remembering, all three consist of components that mechanistically behave passively with their environment and amongst one another. So, for the living organisms we assign a purposefulness to them although the purpose is all mechanism. I cannot help but assign a remnant of religious conviction to this claim of behaving purposefully (not meant to be an insult). Regarding deliberation, in what way is it not simply an inanimate chemical/physical process or mechanism albeit an extremely complex one?

The essay claims because causality is true for every event, it is so ubiquitous and true we may as well ignore it for practical purposes. I don’t find this argument convincing. This section goes on to claim; For example, if causal necessity is used to excuse the thief for stealing your wallet, then it also excuses the judge who inflicts a harsh penalty. The hard determinist would go on to note that judges are more likely give a harsher sentence late in the morning before lunch. Did the judge use his free will here, for the harsher sentence? A lack of belief in free will is not about excusing the thief or the judge, it is about understanding the underlying causality; well at least for me it is. We may take this concept on board or we might not.

The Deceptions

The original blog can be found here. I suggest that a casual reader might want to review both at the same time. The blog is fairly lengthy, so I won’t touch on every point the blog makes.

Bait and Switch: The initial deception goes like this: “If everything I do is causally inevitable, then how can it be said that my will is free?” Did you see what just happened? The definition of free will just got switched from a choice “free of coercion and undue influence” to a choice “free of causation”.

This reminds of the debate around what atheism means. Is it I believe there is no god, or I lack belief in a god? Sometimes people hold onto a semantic definition with a passion that is simply not worth the energy. My personal take on this is let’s just be clear on which definition we are using, and we can move on. Regardless of what is the correct ‘definition’ of free will, for me the issue (not the definition) is what do we mean by when we say we could do otherwise.

Later Marvin undermines his argument a little, when he discusses Epicurus’s take on atomism and its consequences. So, this concept of not being able to do otherwise and things being inevitable, negating free will has been around for at least two thousand years. It could be argued that if everyone believed they could do otherwise then a concept of free will was not even necessary. It is only with the realization that we might not be able to do otherwise, the concept of free will makes sense.

So, as such, it is not a bait and switch.

What We Will Do Has Already Been Determined: Predetermination suggests that something other than us has already caused what we will to do. Is that true?

I have never heard someone who does not believe in free will say this, strangely enough, or at least not recently. I have heard it as defence for free will by those who do believe in free will and then go onto argue, quite possibly incorrectly, life would be pointless etc. The claim that existence has ‘already’ been determined requires a certain knowledge of the universe that I do not posses, and the current evidence is against classical determinism. To be fair Laplace does intimate this when he suggests an intellect could predict the outcome of the universe:
… know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain … Of course, this is impossible, I suspect Laplace thought so too. For this to be true even in a fully deterministic world, models would have to be infinitely accurate and the data entry infinitely accurate, and the calculations carried out would have to be infinitely accurate too. Plus, the intellect would have to not affect the universe in anyway and in some sense be separate from this universe.

In this discussion Marvin asks, which point should we choose as the cause? for some event that is happening now. This to me seems a strange question, the cause? There isn’t a “the cause”, we and our actions including choices are a product of the universe. At this point the blog moves on to meaningful and relevant causes in the discussion. Apparently, our choices are governed by our interests, concerns, life experiences genetics etc. We will get no argument from me here. Marvin then implies this makes “us” the final responsible cause for our actions. If by responsible, Marvin means the proximate cause, then I have some sympathy for this position. If he means I am morally responsible, then I must also be responsible for my genetics etc. This does not mean I don’t take accountability for the genetics and will bear the consequences, positive or negative, of my choices and actions.

If I heard some hard determinist claiming everything has already been determined, I would give him a metaphorical slap, not because he is wrong; but because I don’t think he has the evidence to make that claim.

Splitting “Me” in Two: The next deception suggests that she and her character are two separate entities, such that it is her character, and not herself, that is in control.

Well I don’t buy into this either. Nor do I buy into the concept that she and her environment are two separate entities either. Every scrap of her physical entity came from the environment as food, water and air, most if not all of her ‘programming’ came from her environment, every bit of her capability to be programmed came from her genetics. Believing her as fundamentally separate from her environment is nonsensical.

  • Plainly, nutrition affects a person’s intelligence, moods, health and physical development in general ie the ability to make decisions.
  • Obviously, our society and our immediate socialization affects who we are, uncuddled babies, our education and peer pressure come to mind. There is nothing unconventional here. Sure, we can break away from a pattern of behaviour, but there are pressures to do that too. Either way our place in society shapes our decisions.
  • And of course, our genetics, which are a reflection of our deeper past environment affect us. In part it could be through illness or evolutionary fitness for what today is a rapidly changing environment.

But if we are simply splitting the concepts of a person in to two or more to explain a concept that is fine by me. Marvin split the universe into inanimate, living and intelligent. I might not buy into this classification. As an explanation it might work.

But that does not mean inanimate objects don’t control things, eg a governor on a steam engine or the Sun keeps the planets in orbit. Let’s not get taken in by the semantic games we play with ourselves.

Shifting Causation to Prior Causes: The next little hoax suggests that we cannot call something a cause if it has prior causes, because those prior causes are the real causes.

I am reminded of a discussion I was having with a YEC evangelical Christian. When I asked why the universe looks like it is pushing 14 Gy in age. His reply was well God had to make it look some age. My immediate counter to that was well in that case the universe could have come into existence five minutes ago. In short, I too disagree with the premise as presented. But singling out a simple proximate cause is also fraught with inaccuracy, and we understand intuitively we don’t necessarily see all the proximate causes, secondary causes etc, their interaction nor can we assign their importance with certainty. Also, once the proximate cause has shifted to outside of the body then it difficult to assert it is our choice. We don’t have to go very far back in history to see we don’t have free will in the sense of our control.

The assertion that a true cause must be both meaningful and relevant is just that, an assertion. I concede that if we a looking for a reason for leniency or perhaps reward, the big bang made me do it is not a reason for either. Again, I have not come across this argument from hard determinists. Marvin, I must hang out with a better class of hard determinist than is your experience.

Confusing “Can do” with “Will do”: The next false suggestion is that, because she will choose only one option, the one that best suits her at that moment, she “could not have done otherwise”. The error here is a conflation of the concept of “can do” with the concept of “will do”.

There is no confusion here. In the vernacular she may well have the ability and in the vernacular, it is “possible”. The question for me is there a conflation of she thinks can do with she can do?

It’s All Just Physics: Epicurus’s “atomism” introduces the next deception, the suggestion that the “laws” of Physics are sufficient to explain all events.

Here we go onto say that physics does not explain why a car does not stop at red light. My immediate thought was, is this true for an autonomous car? And if not, what are the essential differences between a brain and a computer chip or many computer chips? In a computer chip the rules might be fairly specific, but with many chips the logic might become fuzzy or networked. One of the complaints about artificial intelligence is the underlying “logic”, starts to become opaque, whereas humans can confabulate a reason or logic. Either way the underlying physics has not gone away. Perhaps a good definition of intelligence is to confabulate a reason?

The fact that we need to use different levels of scientific study to explain increasingly complex phenomena does not invalidate the observation that it is all physics. The semantics of the claim in the deception are clumsy; but nevertheless, the intent is spot on.

The Solution is Indeterminism: In modern times, the Epicurean notion of atoms subject to “indeterministic swerves” is mirrored in the suggestion of quantum indeterminacy.

Generally, I have been a little bewildered by Marvin’s use of “reliable” causation. I can only interpret it as causation that can be described by classical physics (including relativity). When we are talking about quantum phenomena they are described by laws, here are a couple Hawking and Mlodinow quotes from The Grand Design:

Quantum physics might seem to undermine the idea that nature is governed by laws, but that is not the case. Instead it leads us to accept a new form of determinism: Given the state of a system at some time, the laws of nature determine the probabilities of various futures and pasts rather than determining the future and past with certainty

The above quote obviously does not contradict what the blog is saying. But the following quote does:

… the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets…so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion

Marvin suggests that the concept of “causal indeterminism” is impossible to imagine. Well it was imagined by Schrodinger when he did his thought experiment of a cat in a box arguing against a certain interpretation of his equation. We can imagine photons going through a diffraction grating one at a time creating an interference pattern. We can imagine doing otherwise no matter how inevitably impossible it might be.

In this section Marvin describes the lack of free will as an imaginary problem. While we might disagree with the intent of this statement, I do think the problem is imaginary. Not having free will is not a problem. If our decisions turn out in reality to be a product of a cosmic dice shaker or it is a Meccano set, so what? Reality whatever it is, is not a problem.

Delusion by Metaphor: The “laws of nature” are a metaphor for the reliable behavior of natural objects.

I agree laws of science can be seen as metaphors, or better still more like useful descriptions that allow prediction. The thought that the moon does not follow the laws of gravity is correct, but it is certainly well described by the laws of gravity. Marvin falls into the same trap (to be fair we all do) when we behave purposely and deliberatively. These too are metaphors for the underlying process. So, I don’t buy his delusion by metaphor because it applies to about everything we might think.

Deception by Figurative Speech: In conversations with “hard determinists” (also known as “free will skeptics”), we often hear claims like this, “since it was inevitable that you would choose A rather than B, you never really had a choice”.

This one bugs me too. I can’t help but feel frustrated when someone like Jerry Coyne unconditionally says we have no choice. But our choices that we do make use the same physics that a creek chooses to meander over a flat plain. There was nothing stopping the creek from taking a slightly different path, we could imagine other paths on its behalf. Similarly, my Excel spreadsheet and computer can choose, and answer based on the inputs and programing. We could feed in a (real) random number generator and we could program the computer to explain how it got its answer to its calculation using the random number.

The comment that we are just “puppets on a string” attributed to hard determinists, I suspect has been misquoted. I will wager, often this just is added by a libertarian or a compatibilist. If not, then a metaphorical slap for this hard determinist is again in order. I will use a more personal example, I have often said that human beings are bags of chemicals. The retort is always I said they are just bags of chemicals. Well my statement was wrong in that it is incomplete, we are immensely complex, shaped billions of years of evolution, by society, our experiences and the fundamental behaviour of the universe. What the compatibilist got out this was just the “just”. Perhaps I should meet up with a better class of compatibilist. But to use the metaphor quoted, it should have been something like we are puppets strung incomprehensibly complexly with each other, the environment, and in space and time.

No doubt readers will recognize Sam Harris’s A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings.

Misinterpreting Neuroscience: Experiments by Benjamin Libet and others reveal that there is unconscious brain activity that precedes one’s awareness of choosing in some very simple decisions, such as deciding when to push a button.

I would agree that the Libet experiment does not prove anything, but it does provide food for thought. I don’t hold the fact the participants had been primed detracts in of it self from the experiment. My problem with the objection even if such an experiment could be done perfectly it would not disprove this version of free will. In fact, just about any study looking at the mechanism would do nothing, in that we accept there is a mechanism; assuming we see signs of a mechanism.

The Presumption of Authority: It is odd that the “Determinism Versus Free Will” hoax has continued for so long.

I must admit I found this strange. Me being of an agnostic persuasion, I take a look at whether an authority figure has the skills to talk about a subject. When people like Hawking and Einstein talk about essentially how the universe ticks and how it might apply to free will, personally I would up my game a little. Marvin simply states his position as incoherent, while I can understand it. Some would argue this position of she could have chosen otherwise than her inevitable choice, straining the coherence a little bit. By this logic, me understanding the chair is not red, yet behaving as though it is, is not coherent (see below). The illusion is strong my bro.

Frankly, I don’t accept Marvin’s authority in that free will requires an absence of causality is a hoax. I can see reasons for that argument. That one has an alternative definition to that of a hard determinist does not make it true. The definition of unicorn might be an equine creature with a single horn. The fact they don’t exist does not make the definition any less valid.

Marvin’s definition defines free will in to existence and mine punts it out.


The basic question is, at least for me, in a given situation could I do otherwise? Some questions a compatibilist might ask are:

  • Do I have the physical capability to carry out the action?
  • Is the situation in some way physically impossible?
  • Do I have a gun to my head?
  • Do I have the mental capability, ie am I disabled in some way?

Let’s say that the situation is could I choose not to read a book in this given moment and am I employing my free will to not read the book? Plainly, I can pick up the book or not, I have the skill set and strength. I plainly have the skill set to read and glasses and a light if necessary. I may or may not have the inclination to pick up the book and read, so what? This is an utterly trivial form of free will and not worthy a second moment’s consideration, well that’s a bit harsh. It may have some value in quickly assessing of how we go about our daily lives.

What has the two millennia plus of debate been about? The question is quite a bit deeper than a simple compatibilist view. Or even a complicated one for that matter. It is about the properties of the universe and how human action and perhaps ultimately thought fit into the great scheme of things.

And in the end

There is a chair in my kitchen, I sometimes think about it, it draws my attention. It is red. Now everything I know about physics suggests to me it is not actually red. A variety of photons in the “visible spectrum”, hit the chair, some are adsorbed, tending to warm the chair, others with wavelengths of about 680 nm tend to reflect. There is no “redness” here, so to speak. These reflected photons in or around the red part of the spectrum then strike our retinas. Photochemical reactions in some of our cones happen and electrochemical signals are sent to our brains, then we have an experience of “red”. The latter part still remains a bit of a mystery, but we can identify where we think it is happening. Yet I call it a red chair. Unthinkingly I believe it is red. It is only when I apply understanding and reason to the problem, I understand that it is an illusion, in the sense of not as it seems.

courtesy of

Think about yellow on our monitor screen. Most of the photons that our brain is interpreting as yellow are coming from the blue and green LEDs in our monitor. Our brains interpret complex electrochemical signals from our retinas, and we see them as “yellow”. In this sense, our experience of colour is an illusion. I see the kitchen chair as red. I call the chair red (it is a useful illusion). But the illusion exists nowhere but in the brain. Similarly, it could be argued, the illusion of I could do otherwise exists nowhere but in the brain.

In summary when I say I could do otherwise, it means that I think I could do otherwise and that I am almost completely unaware of the myriads of tiny processes that shape my choices and actions. And the outcome is inevitable.

And Marvin’s final comment

If you’re currently a “free will skeptic” or a “hard determinist”, I hope this essay may finally release you from the Chinese Finger Trap.

The argument might have been persuasive, other than the argument is based on confounding I could do otherwise with I think I could do otherwise.


30 thoughts on “Deception

  1. Hi Rom, thanks for reading my post.

    1. The monism “versus” dualism issue just puts another paradox on the table. We have Reality. And then there’s nothing else to say about that without spitting it up into distinctive parts. So, the “versus” is an illusion.

    2. There are basically only two definitions of free will on the table. (A) The operational definition: when a person decides for themselves what they will do, free of coercion and undue influence. And (B) the irrational (sometimes called “philosophic”) definition: when a person decides for themselves what they will do, free of reliable cause and effect.

    3. You claim that the operational definition, the one actually being used daily to determine matters of moral and legal responsibility is “trivial”. I disagree, because this definition is used to decide whether someone goes to jail or not.

    4. I claim that the fact of universal causal inevitability is trivial, because it is always true of every event. It is not a meaningful constraint upon our freedom, because it is exactly identical to us being us, doing what we do, and choosing what we choose. It is not a relevant constraint upon our freedom, because it cannot be removed. There are no practical circumstances or issues where it is appropriate to bring it up. And that is why attributing significance to it becomes a hoax. ALL of the utility of the concept of reliable causation is derived from knowing the specific causes of specific effects. There is no practical use of the concept of universal causal necessity.

    5. The three deterministic mechanisms — physical, biological, and rational — do not reduce to physics. All of them certainly run upon a physical infrastructure, but the behavior cannot be explained by the physical sciences alone. You also need the life sciences and the social sciences to explain why a car stops at a red light. You cannot explain this event without understanding the biological drive to survive and the rational calculation that the best way to survive is to stop at the light.

    6. Free will and responsibility are secular concepts. Their operational definitions require nothing supernatural. All three deterministic mechanism are natural. When I refer to “purposeful” biological action I am speaking of the goal-directed biological drives to survive, thrive, and reproduce. That is what we call purposeful action. We ask “why is the organism consuming food?” and the answer is “in order to survive”. We ask “why is the organism having sexual intercourse” and the answer is “in order to reproduce”. The behavior is “purposeful” even if it is instinctual rather than deliberate.

    7. You ask whether the judge was acting of his own free will when he gives a harsher sentence before lunch than after lunch. Applying the operational definition, he most certainly was acting of his own free will. His hunger is neither coercive nor undue. So, we can hold him responsible for giving inconsistent penalties before versus after lunch, and correct his behavior. Isn’t that exactly what we want?

    8. Really Rom, do you really wish to bring religion into this? I have no interest in discussing how religions use the concept of free will to excuse their omnipotent gods from responsibility.

    9. The “ability to do otherwise” is a logical requirement of the choosing operation. Two or more options are input, an evaluation is performed, and a single choice is output. At the beginning, it is logically required that we have two real possibilities and the ability to choose either one. The fact that is was causally inevitable that we would choose option A at the end does not contradict the fact that we could have chosen option B.

    10. The notion that we “could not choose otherwise” is literally false, because “can” is only meaningful within the operation of choosing. “Can” implies a possible future. It never refers to an inevitable future. We use “will” to imply the inevitable future. Choosing inputs multiple can’s and outputs a single will.

    11. I’m pretty sure that Laplace’s predictor was intentionally imagined with all the qualities you question.

    12. I disagree with your definition of “moral responsibility”. Morality is concerned with practical matters of benefit and harm. Moral people seek to achieve the best good and least harm for everyone. Moral responsibility is similar to, and overlaps, legal responsibility. The distinction is simply between what we “should not” do versus what it is “illegal” to do.

    13. The practical question of “the cause” is this: Which causes can you do something about? There is nothing we can do about the Big Bang. There is nothing we can do about universal causal necessity. So, they are irrelevant. The guy who steals your wallet? We can do something about that. The impoverished community breeding drug traffic and gang violence? Yes, we can even do something about that. These are the meaningful and relevant causes.

    14. So what do we do about the meaningful and relevant causes of crime? We say that they are responsible for the event. “Holding responsible” is something society does. It is an operation. When you say that “If he means I am morally responsible, then I must also be responsible for my genetics etc.” No. I disagree. You are morally responsible for the harms you cause, deliberately, of your own free will. You are not morally responsible for your genetics or anything else. You are only morally responsible for what that package of nature and nurture that we affectionately refer to as “Rom” does, of its own free will.

    15. I’m not sure what you were trying to say about “Deception #3 – Splitting “Me” in Two”. My point is that a person’s brain, genetic disposition, life history, beliefs and values, are not entities separate from the person. They ARE the person. They are not causes controlling the person against their will. They ARE the person. What they control, the person controls. What they choose, the person chooses. They are a single complex object operating as a person.

    16. In addressing “Deception #4 – Shifting Causation to Prior Causes” you again wander off into religious speculation. I can see how trying to associate me with religion might be a rhetorical strategy, but it is dishonest.

    17. Risk management does not single out just one cause. Investigators of traffic and aircraft accidents will want to know all of the meaningful and relevant causes of the event. And they would want to address, if feasible, every contributing cause. Courts of law can only address one cause, the offender. It is up to the rest of us to have the political will to address the social problems that contribute to criminal behavior. These are meaningful and relevant causes. But the Big Bang and causal necessity itself are NOT meaningful and relevant causes.

    18. In regards to Deception #5 – Confusing “Can do” with “Will do”, you say, “In the vernacular she may well have the ability and in the vernacular, it is “possible”. The question for me is there a conflation of she thinks can do with she can do?” Well, the answer was spelled out for you there in my post. But let me state it more explicitly. Causal inevitability is about what WILL happen. It has nothing at all to say about what CAN or CANNOT happen. We can explore this more if you like.

    19. Regarding Deception #6 – It’s All Just Physics: You ask “what are the essential differences between a brain and a computer chip or many computer chips?” The answer is that a computer is a tool created by us to do our will. It has no will of its own. The brain evolved to serve a purpose, to improve the chances that the organism could survive, thrive, and reproduce. Now, the evolution was not purposeful. It was just a random series of mutations. But the result was a species with the ability to model reality and imagine possibilities. The model is manipulated mentally and the behavior of the organism is causally determined by choices at the rational level of causation.

    20. “Reliable” causation is the basis of determinism. Given causes will bring about a given effects, always, every time. If the same bowling ball is dropped from the leaning tower of Pisa, it will always fall at a given acceleration and hit the ground in the same interval of time. That’s reliable causation. On the other hand, if the same bowling ball is dropped and each time it fell with a different rate of acceleration and occasionally just floated off into space, then that would be unreliable causation. Same cause but different effects. That would be indeterministic behavior.

    21. Hawkins statement that “…the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry…” is incorrect. A biological organism, such as a squirrel, is a biological process. Set a bowling ball on a slope and it will roll downhill. It obeys the laws of physics and chemistry. Set the squirrel on the same slope, and it will go up, down, left, or right depending upon where he expects to find the next acorn. No one can explain this event using only the laws of physics and chemistry. No one. Not Hawking, not Mlodiow, not Albert Einstein, not anyone.

    22. So I also disagree with your statement that, “our choices that we do make use the same physics that a creek chooses to meander over a flat plain.” Physics can explain a cup of water flowing downhill. But it cannot explain a similar cup of water that hops into a car and goes grocery shopping.

    23. The problem with the puppet metaphor is that there is no puppet-master to be found. Causal inevitability is not an entiry with an agenda of its own. But we are.

    24. Regarding Deception #11 – The Presumption of Authority: I offer your no authority to replace Hawking and Einstein’s concept of free will, other than your own. I was able to see through the paradox as a teenager in the library. Perhaps it takes an innocent mind to see that “The Emperor’s New Clothes” were a hoax. So, your problem in getting this right is much harder than mine was.

    25. Regarding your critical issue of “could I do otherwise?”, consider this: If we roll back the clock to the choosing operation, it will always be the case that, at the beginning of the operation, you “can” choose either option, and, at the end of the operation, you “will” always choose the same option. Causal inevitability can assert what you will do, but it has no implications as to what you can.

    26. Oh, this is important, and I hope you’ve made it this far 🙂. At the end of your post you discuss the “illusion” of a red chair and the “illusion” of yellow roses. I don’t believe that “illusion” is the appropriate word. The brain “models” reality. Input to our senses is processed at several levels into a working model of reality. When that model is accurate enough to be useful, we just call it “reality” or “real”, because it is our only access to the real world. It is only when the model is inaccurate, as when we accidentally walk into a glass door, that we say it was an “illusion” of an open doorway.

    27. The same applies to the use of “confabulation”. While the mind will make up a story if it can’t discover why we did something, it would not be the case that every story is a confabulation. When the explanation is reasonable and consistent with the facts, then it is called “truth”.


  2. 1) Monism … it’s about which is the more accurate description of reality.
    2) Irrational definition versus the avoidance issue. It is only an irrational definition in that it makes free will impossible. And to have a belief in this sort of free will would be irrational.
    3) It is trivial as it deals with a very small subset of the universe and the non trivial definition could also be used to determine who goes to jail.
    4) It is trivial because it is universally true?
    5) Of course your three arbitrary divisions of the universe reduce to processes that are product of what we call “physics”. That the processes are too complicated to be described by physics is irrelevant.
    6) Basically you are using higher level descriptions, with which I have no problem, but I do think they should be coherent with lower level descriptions eg chemistry and physics.
    7) What, the judges hunger was not coercive … it was certainly part of the equation at the subliminal level?
    8) Not sure of the context here Marvin.
    9) You missed my point … what is the difference between thinking I can do A or B, and actually being able to do A or B. Let’s call it two flavours of ice cream inevitable and other I think I can choose either but I will only choose inevitable. At least in a fully deterministic universe.
    10) You are conflating going through the motions of choice with being able to do otherwise. So can a creek take different paths across a plain?
    11) n/a
    12) And yet that is how the concept of morality is used. The problem of “good”, not everyone has the same concept of good. Does the terrorist believe his “good” is greater than yours?
    13) That you think the universe is irrelevant is irrelevant. There is no one single cause and all we need to do is go back in time say to before our conception. There are myriad of causes (forces, whatever) shaping our choices.
    14) So what do we do about crime? Tackle the proximate causes on the broad scale poverty, enrich the environment, education, over crowding. And also on the individual scale. Not that much changes when dropping the concept of free will. Other than perhaps we don’t see people as ultimately responsible for their actions.
    15) You were accusing some philosopher or another of splitting, and yet you do your own splitting on a grand scale. To be fair we all do at times.
    16) My point we are affected by society, families etc. They are affected by religiosity, and we in turn are affected also. Are you claiming to be immune from the subliminal effects? If so that would be dishonest.
    17) Then who on Earth is claiming there was a single cause for everyday events?
    18) You did not answer my question … is there a conflation of she thinks [she] can do with she can do?
    19) You have a will of your own? Really? And yet “your” will is a product of your environment.
    20) So the reliable simply means it can be described by classical physics. So when talking in terms of determinism the word is superfluous.
    21) I am sorry there is nothing the squirrel does that is not inconsistent with physics and chemistry. Biology does not have magical properties. The squirrel is complex. It is not immune to cause and effect. So I find your argument irrelevant. The science of finding acorns should be coherent with the underlying chemistry.
    22) OK this I think is where you are really going wrong. Physics ultimately won’t be able to predict the path across the plain either. But it does understand why it can’t … so to speak.
    23) But you do love your strings though, because without them you don’t have free will. 😉
    24) And yet you don’t see the problems of compatibilism.
    25) Yes it does. If determinism is true thinking we can do otherwise is an illusion. How many times would we have to roll the metaphorical clock back before we choose an ice cream other than inevitable?
    26) Illusion – not as it seems – my kitchen chair does not have the properties of redness that I ascribe to it. It is not as it seems.
    27) The mind is always making up stories. Simply examining the process as I write. This very sentence is a confabulation. But I can give you the reasons why I wrote it. After the fact.


  3. I’m going to try again, this time splitting it into 2 parts.

    Part 1

    2. If you wish to claim that “freedom from causation” is a rational concept, then (a) explain how it works and (b) explain why it only applies to free will, and not freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom from prison, a free lunch, or any other use of the terms “free” and “freedom”.

    3,4. Facts are facts. (a) Universal causal necessity is a logical fact derived from our presumption of reliable cause and effect. Every event is causally inevitable from any prior point in eternity. EVERY EVENT. If you make a choice for yourself of your own free will, then that was inevitable from any prior point in eternity. If someone holds a gun to your head and forces you to do something against your will, then that was also inevitable from any prior point in eternity. Universal causal necessity tells us nothing that can help us to distinguish between these two events. In any conversation about these two events, universal causal necessity never provides us with any useful information.

    (b) On the other hand, the fact that, in one case, you made the decision yourself, and in the other case, someone forced their will upon you, is a meaningful and relevant fact. The concept of “free will” makes that distinction between the two events. In one case you are free to decide for yourself what you will do. In the other case the choice is imposed upon you against your will.

    Do you really claim that universal causal necessity is a meaningful and relevant fact? If so, give some examples of how it is meaningful and how it is relevant to some practical issue in the real world. (All of the utility of the concept of reliable causation comes from the facts about which specific causes bring about which specific effects. There are none that come from the single fact of universal causal inevitability).

    5,6,21,22. The brain is impressive, but it is limited. It could never track the motion of the individual atoms in a marble, much less in a living, intelligent organism like a squirrel. (Don’t think they’re intelligent? Try keeping them out of your bird feeder). The brain can neither sense nor deal with any specific atom. Instead it deals with “objects” that it generalizes into concepts like “a marble” and “a squirrel” and by discrimination, like “hey, that’s a marble, not a squirrel”.

    And that’s why no physicist will ever take up the challenge of explaining a human choice in terms of the atoms of which the human is made.

    Instead, the brain saves space and energy by dealing with conceptual objects, like “persons”. And it uses concepts like “purpose” to classify and explain the functional operations we perform. We use concepts like “choosing” to describe the “rational” “evaluation” of “options” that lead “us” to “our” “choice” as to what “we” “will” “do”. All of those macro concepts are used to explain and help us to predict our own behavior.

    Our rational manipulation of these conceptual objects is how we imagine, evaluate, and choose what we will do. The cause of our action is at this level of conceptualization, because our brains cannot calculate the position of all the atoms involved and where they are and where it wants to move them to.

    So the mode of causation is by rational calculation. It is not by physical law. In fact, we use the concept of physical law as part of our object algebra. As a result WE can use physics to build rockets that land us on the moon. But physics cannot use us to do anything.

    7. The judge’s pre-lunch hunger does not excuse him from his responsibility to apply the law fairly at all times. Don’t you agree?

    8. You brought up religion when you said this: “I cannot help but assign a remnant of religious conviction to this claim of behaving purposefully”. But free will and responsibility are secular concepts that did not originate from any religion. Religion utilizes the concept to defend their omni-this-and-that dieties from responsibility. But’s that’s their problem. Not ours.


  4. Part 2 (Make that 3 parts)

    9,10,18,25. From the beginning you’ve been pinning your argument upon the mistaken belief that causal inevitability implies that the statement “I could have done otherwise” must be false. And I’ve pointed out that, at the beginning of any choosing operation, it must be true by logical necessity that I have at least two options, each of which is a real possibility, and that I have the ability to choose either one.

    Your counter to this has been “you only think you can choose either one”. And, in your last comment you say, “You are conflating going through the motions of choice with being able to do otherwise”. Your use of “going through the motions” falsely suggests that we have only something that “looks like” choosing.

    But choosing actually happens in the real world. The operation (1) inputs two or more options, (2) evaluates the options, and (3) outputs a single choice. Whether you perform this operation beneath conscious awareness, or by conscious reasoning, or by working out a complex decision with pencil and paper, or in a brainstorming session with a group of people, the operation will involve those three steps in that order.

    Until you reach the end of the operation, you have no reliable knowledge as to what you will inevitably choose. If you already knew what your choice would be, you would never begin the operation. You already know that whatever you choose will be causally inevitable from any prior point in eternity, but that fact is useless, because it doesn’t tell you WHICH choice is inevitable.

    So, for all you know, the choice may be Option A, or, it may be Option B. Perhaps you also consider a third Option C, but then realized that C was impossible to implement. So you go back to options A and B, each of which is still a real possibility.

    Once again, here in step (1) we can remind ourselves that one of these two options will be causally inevitable from any prior point in eternity. But we still don’t know which option we will choose. All we know at this point is that both Option A and Option B are real possibilities, and that we CAN choose either one of them.

    In step (2) we evaluate our options. Option A has certaom benefits and costs. Option B has similar benefits but higher costs. So in step (3) we choose Option A. The choosing operation is complete.

    The cause of our choice was the lower costs of Option A. The lower cost was not calculated by the atoms from which we are built, but by the mental processing performed in our own brain.

    Our question at this point is “COULD we have chosen Option B?”

    Well, we know that Option A was causally inevitable from any prior point in eternity. So we can be sure that it was always true that at this point “We WOULD have chosen Option A.” Therefore, the answer to “WOULD we have chosen Option B?” is No.

    But what is the answer to “COULD we have chosen Option B?” The answer is Yes. It was one of the two options that we could choose in step (1). It was a real possibilities, that, had we wished to do so, we could have chosen and actualized rather than Option A.

    While it remains true, at all points in time, that we WOULD choose Option A, it also remains true, at all points in time, that we COULD have chosen Option B at step (1).
    When ask if we could have done otherwise, we are asking whether we had more than one option to choose from. And we clearly did.

    At the beginning of the choosing operation, “I have the ability to choose Option A” and “I have the ability to choose Option B” are both true statements.

    But you suggest that “we only think we have that ability”. No, that’s not correct, because the meanings of the terms “can”, “ability”, possibility”, etc. are actually derived from the operation itself.

    Within the domain of human influence (effects that we bring about in the real world, like the disappearance of the rain forests and global warming, and the building of cities, etc.) are causally determined by the choosing operation. And the choosing operation is something that we and all other intelligent species perform daily. The operation is governed by our concerns and our interests, and these concerns and interests exist within no other physical object in the entire universe.


  5. Part 3 (I guess it will be 4 parts!)

    12. You’ve shifted the topic here to what is “good”. I actually have a post on that titled “What is Good?”. I’m happy to discuss this with you any time.

    13. Here you suggest that we must go back through time to some arbitrary point in eternity and call that point a “cause” of a current event. No thank you. No one ever does that. A meaningful and relevant cause is one that efficiently explains the event and can be altered to either avoid a negative event or repeat a positive event in the future. Calling the “Big Bang” the cause of the bank robbery is useless.

    14. You ask “So what do we do about crime?” I address that in my post “What is Justice?”. Again, I’m happy to discuss justice (I was chairman of the Honor Court at Richmond Professional Institute).

    15,19. The point is that there is no distinction to be made between the “person” and that person’s brain, genetic dispositions, life history, beliefs and values, etc. What those things that make up the person control, the person controls. What they decide, the person decides.

    16. There are psych studies suggesting that some moral values may be genetically hard coded, but most of our beliefs and values are due to our social influences. We are involved in deciding which of these influences and ideas fit into our current identity versus those that create dissonance, which we may either reject or tentatively accept as we grow and change ourselves.

    17. I have never claimed that an event must have a single cause. Rather than a “chain” of causes, it would be more accurate to refer to a “network” of branching causes that converge to bring about an event. The point I was making what that the human process of choosing is a meaningful and relevant cause of a deliberate act, more so than some arbitrary prior point in eternity.

    18. See 9,10,18 above.
    19. See 15,19 above.


  6. Lets narrow down the rabbit warren a little bit.

    At breakfast time, it is inevitable that I will choose ice cream A for lunch. The option for me to make the choice becomes apparent at lunchtime. At what point in time could I have done otherwise with respect to choosing otherwise? If I could choose ice cream B, then it was never really inevitable prior to making that choice or even prior to considering the choice.

    regarding 13) I say no such thing.
    14) No need. I was simply repeating your question.
    16 does not bode well for free will.
    17) No but you claim it is one of the deceptions.

    I don’t think freedom for causation exists. The causation may be deterministic or indeterministic. But it is our inability to track causation that gives us (in part) the illusion of free will. You seem accept causation as real, but don’t take it to its logical conclusion. We seem to get stuck in some mental attribute, and we seem to deny these mental attributes are a product of a completely “passive” process or processes.

    re Judge) Hard determinism is not about excusing people. It is about understanding the judge could not have done otherwise.

    Are you claiming, you are in no way affected by your religious environment? It is certainly not a claim I could make, and I don’t go to church at all; Universalist or otherwise, except for other people’s funerals and weddings that is.

    Lets stick primarily to the dichotomy of inevitable and being able to do otherwise for, now.


    1. Sorry, didn’t mean to overwhelm you. Let’s narrow it down to “could have done otherwise”. I went into considerable detail about what that phrase actually means in “Part 2”. But I’ll be happy to take your current example:

      From any prior point in eternity (“at breakfast time” in your example) it is causally inevitable that you will have a decision to make about which dessert you will have after lunch today. Each of the following are also causally inevitable from any prior point in eternity. So I’m going to put an “X” wherever we could insert the phrase “it was also causally inevitable from any prior point in eternity that …”

      1) X there will be two options: ice cream A and ice cream B.

      2) X before you make this decision you can truthfully say “I have the ability to choose either A or B” (to say otherwise puts an end to the choosing process).

      3) X for some specific reason(s), some thought or feeling, perhaps because you want to try something new or because you don’t, you “will” decide to choose ice cream A.

      4) X after tasting ice cream A, it does not meet your expectations, so X you revisit your previous choice, and X you truthfully say “I could have chosen ice cream B instead”. Which means simply that you had another option, and that in the future, if X you are offered ice creams A and B again, you’ll choose B instead.

      The meaning of “can” and “ability” and “possibility” are derived from the choosing process. Within the domain of human influence, the choosing process is the deterministic mechanism that causes our deliberate actions.


      1. X [time] before you make this decision you can truthfully say “I have the ability to choose either A or B” (to say otherwise puts an end to the choosing process).

        While I can say “I have the ability to choose either A or B”, that does not make it the truth per se. You seem to imply causality does not apply to the choosing process. Our choice is not free of causality. So in this sense it is not a “pure” choosing process.

        So your quote is assuming the answer to the question of do we have free will? ie begging the question.


      2. What I’m saying is that “the ability to” literally means “if I choose to, then I will”.
        1) If I choose to eat ice cream A then “I will” eat ice cream A.
        2) If I choose to eat ice cream B, then “I will” eat ice cream B.
        Both of those statements are true.

        But if I choose to eat ice cream C, I will NOT eat ice cream C. Because we’re OUT OF ice cream C. Therefore I do not have the ability to eat ice cream C, even if I choose to. Ice cream C is not a “real” possibility, because I cannot implement it should I choose to.

        Oh, and “freedom from causality” is not a real thing. In a deterministic universe, there are no such things as uncaused events. So if would make no sense to insist that an event must be uncaused before it can be called “free”. As suggested earlier, you need to explain what the heck you mean by “free of causality”.

        Free will is literally an “I will” that is chosen free of coercion and undue influence. It is not “free of causality”, because NOTHING is.


  7. Oh, and “freedom from causality” is not a real thing. In a deterministic universe, there are no such things as uncaused events

    Nobody here is disagreeing with you. So in a fully determined universe that would imply everything is (in a sense) predetermined? The universe cannot be otherwise. But this universe does not look like it is fully determined, at least classically. Adding indeterminism (or a probabilistic component) into the mix, we agree, does not help the free will conundrum one iota.

    So free will does not exist in this sense. I agree with the use of your trivial sense of free will. But I do not go through semantic machinations to pretend that I could do otherwise.


    1. Well, if you can define “can” without using itself or a synonym (e.g., ability, possible, etc), then let me know. I tried to define it operationally, and I think that works. But I’m open to suggestions.

      Freedom from causation does not exist. Therefore, no use of the terms “free” or “freedom” can be taken to imply such a thing. Because they cannot, they do not.

      Therefore, the suggestion that “free will” implies “freedom from causation” is false.

      Therefore, the true meaning of free will is a choice we make for ourselves free of coercion or undue influence. Fortunately, that is the meaning that everyone ordinarily uses and applies correctly in practical matters of moral and legal responsibility.

      Reliable causation is the trivial fact. Causal inevitability is a trivial fact that is logically derived from the trivial fact of reliable cause and effect.

      While a specific cause, such as a guy holding a gun to our head, is experienced as a constraint upon our ability to choose for ourselves what we will do, reliable cause and effect itself is NEVER experienced as such a constraint.

      Reliable cause and effect is the mechanism from which all our freedoms are derived.

      Thus, the perverted idea that reliable causation robs us of all our freedom must be a a lie, a deception, a grand hoax that philosophy has played upon itself.

      And that is the deception.


  8. Freedom from causation does not exist. Therefore, no use of the terms “free” or “freedom” can be taken to imply such a thing. Because they cannot, they do not.

    And yet some people can use their apparently free will and believe they are in some way independent of cause.

    What is obvious to me is that we use the verb can in two different ways.
    1) Something is possible if we ignore the real world constraints. eg in a scientific sense a reaction can occur if it is thermodynamically feasible, but it might not because of kinetic constraints.
    2) In a free will context (could do otherwise), can takes into account both the thermodynamic and kinetic constraints.

    In the end, it could be argued that the perverted idea is something being inevitable is compatible with being able to do otherwise. This could be said to be a hoax, a cruel semantic trick compatibilists have played upon themselves and others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, let’s do a reality check.
      1. When you were offered the choice between two flavors of ice cream, were you able to choose either one?
      2. Tomorrow, when you complain that the flavor you choose did not satisfy you as you expected, what will you say when I ask you “Could you have chosen something else?”


  9. 1) Vernacularly yes … in a determined world no.
    2) Irrelevant

    It is the semantics that is tripping you up. Can a river unconsciously choose its path?
    My chemistry will choose an ice cream or not. It cannot do otherwise, although it can imagine otherwise.

    We keep going over the same ground, over and over again.

    The issue is not whether we choose or not. We plainly do. It is the nature of the choice that is at issue. We agree it is not a free choice. It may have some particular types of constraint missing, ie guns to the head and tumours. But ultimately there is no choice in the outcome.


    1. We already agreed that the universe is deterministic. I’ve offered you two flavors of ice cream. Do you have the ability to choose either one or not?

      I’ve explained for you how it is possible for you to truthfully say that you can choose either one. And, as you suggest, that’s exactly what everyone says, all the time.

      And, I’ve explained how you can truthfully say “I could have chosen the other flavor, but I didn’t.”

      It is a matter of what the words mean in actual operation.

      So, either you can tell everyone that they must stop “lying” and insist they drop the vernacular, or, you can admit that the vernacular is the actual source of the meaning of these words.

      In an interview with the “Saturday Evening Post” back in 1929, Albert Einstein said this: “In a sense, we can hold no one responsible. I am a determinist. As such, I do not believe in free will.” And then, a few lines later, he adds this, “Practically, I am, nevertheless, compelled to act as if freedom of the will existed. If I wish to live in a civilized community, I must act as if man is a responsible being.”

      On the one hand, Einstein insists that free will and responsibility do not exist. And then he turns around and suggests that he must act as if they do exist. The position is incoherent.

      And it makes no difference whether it is Einstein or just you and I, it is still incoherent.


  10. We already agreed that the universe is deterministic. I’ve offered you two flavors of ice cream. Do you have the ability to choose either one or not?

    1) Vernacularly yes … in a determined world no.

    And, I’ve explained how you can truthfully say “I could have chosen the other flavor, but I didn’t.”

    This depends if by ‘truthfully’ you mean you honestly believe or in reality. If it is the latter then, you are wrong, I think.

    So, either you can tell everyone that they must stop “lying” and insist they drop the vernacular, or, you can admit that the vernacular is the actual source of the meaning of these words.

    I don’t have the free will to do that, nor does that make practical sense. It’s like the word “spontaneous”, it has different meanings in different contexts. eg a fire versus a party.

    On the one hand, Einstein insists that free will and responsibility do not exist. And then he turns around and suggests that he must act as if they do exist. The position is incoherent.

    And yet it makes perfect sense to me. I gave the example of the red kitchen chair … I understand it is not red, yet I can’t help but think of it as red. In what way is that incoherent?


    1. The red chair is red. There is some physical property of the chair which causes it to reflect light in the red spectrum. On the other hand, if you truly believe it is not red, then what color is the chair?

      You are correct that the meaning of words is derived from their context. Specifically, by how the word is used in that context, how it operates to carry meaning.

      Explain the context of “freedom from causation”. My point is that there is no such context, because there is no such thing as “freedom from causation”.

      It is therefore irrational to define “free will” as “a choice free of causation”.

      But then, you seem to think that all of his is a semantic trick to deceive you. Unfortunately, the hoax that free will means freedom from causation has spread widely now. Not much I can do about that. All I can do is set the matter before you as clearly as I can.

      But, if you can’t get it, then you can’t get it. Sorry if I wasted your time.

      It has been nice discussing the issue with you. Best wishes.



  11. The red chair is red. There is some physical property of the chair which causes it to reflect light in the red spectrum. On the other hand, if you truly believe it is not red, then what color is the chair?

    As such colour need not exist outside of the brain. It is a property of photochemical reactions in the retina, and the processing that occurs in the optic nerve and the brain.

    Explain the context of “freedom from causation”. My point is that there is no such context, because there is no such thing as “freedom from causation”.

    This is the basis of early libertarian free will. Essentially we think of ourselves (in this case) as mini first cause generators or gods … not that libertarians would admit to that.

    Here is Jerry’s talk on free will. I suggest you watch between 7 and 15 min where he provides data that most people see themselves as somehow free from determinism.

    Thank you for wasting your time Marvin too. I hope I have managed to give you some inkling of where you might be going wrong in all this.


    1. People do not perceive themselves as “free from determinism” without first being deceived into believing that determinism is something that constrains them.

      Absent that deception, we would never perceive reliable cause and effect as a meaningful or relevant constraint. After all, reliable cause and effect is how we operate, how our heart beats, how our mental processes function. Reliable cause and effect is us walking down the street, deciding where we will vacation this summer, and choosing what we’ll have for lunch. Without reliable causation, we would no longer be free to do any of those things. Even worse, without reliable causation, no atom could maintain its structure, and no plant or animal could ever live.

      Reliable cause and effect is a prerequisite for all of our freedoms. Without it we’d have no freedom to do anything at all. That’s why “freedom from causation” is an irrational concept.

      It is only when reliable causation is presented as a boogeyman that robs us of all control over our lives that the religious seek sanctuary in the supernatural and the atheist seeks solace in quantum indeterminism.


  12. People do not perceive themselves as “free from determinism” without first being deceived into believing that determinism is something that constrains them.

    Can you cite a study or reference for this?

    It is only when reliable causation is presented as a boogeyman

    Who is representing this as a boogey man? Reference please. We agree it is a statement of fact.

    Nor is not having free will a boogey man or hoax.


    1. The ordinary person’s understanding of what free will is about was studied by Dr. Eddy Nahmias and others. Here are two studies:

      As to determinism being presented as a boogeyman that robs us of control over our own destinies, here are a couple:

      1) “There isn’t a “the cause”, we and our actions including choices are a product of the universe.” — Here you are saying that the universe, not ourselves, is controlling our choices. The universe is the boogeyman robbing us of our control.

      2) “We don’t have to go very far back in history to see we don’t have free will in the sense of our control.” — Here you are saying that prior causes are the boogeyman robbing us of control.

      3) “But our choices that we do make use the same physics that a creek chooses to meander over a flat plain.” — And here you are saying that physics is the boogeyman robbing us of control.

      Nothing here is particularly new to me, Rom. I’ve seen quite a few of the videos. I’ve also taken Richard Carrier’s on-line course on Free Will, which goes all the way through Harris’s book and other resources. But, basically, I saw through the problem as a teenager in the public library. That deterministic event, where we decide for ourselves what we will do, is what used to be called “free will”.


    2. Here are two references to studies exploring how ordinary people use the term “free will”:

      Here are three quotes from your own post that present determinism as something that robs us of control over our choices:

      1. The boogeyman is the universe: “There isn’t a “the cause”, we and our actions including choices are a product of the universe.”

      2. The boogeyman is prior causes: “We don’t have to go very far back in history to see we don’t have free will in the sense of our control.”

      3. The boogeyman is physics: “But our choices that we do make use the same physics that a creek chooses to meander over a flat plain.”


  13. 1. The boogeyman is the universe: “There isn’t a “the cause”, we and our actions including choices are a product of the universe.”
    2. The boogeyman is prior causes: “We don’t have to go very far back in history to see we don’t have free will in the sense of our control.”
    3. The boogeyman is physics: “But our choices that we do make use the same physics that a creek chooses to meander over a flat plain.”

    These statements are not boogeymen, they are statements as accurate as I could make them about the real world. Boogeymen don’t exist, other than in people’s imaginations.

    Nahmias’s paper seems to support your position, I will take a closer look over the weekend.

    Note Nahmias’s work has been sponsored by the Templeton Foundation.


    1. The universe is an inanimate object,with no interest in anything we do or anything we choose. When you say our choices are a product of the universe, you cast the universe as an entity that is controlling our choices and our actions. That is not an accurate picture of reality.

      It is the same case with prior causes. When you, as an autonomous adult, are making your own choices, all of the deterministic causal mechanisms involved in bringing about that choice are within you, and are an integral part of who and what you are. In physical reality, you are the object that is making and controlling that choice. Prior causes cannot bypass you to bring about the choice. So to say that “We don’t have to go very far back in history to see we don’t have free will in the sense of our control” is literally, objectively, and empirically false. Again, it falsely conveys the idea that something external to us is controlling what we do.

      Nor can control of our choices be attributed to physics. Unlike the water in the creek, we do not respond passively to physical forces. The tree squirrel counters the force of gravity by scurrying up the tree. That’s where he makes his home. Which way he goes is not determined by physical forces, but by biological drives to survive, thrive, and reproduce. So, when you say, “… our choices that we do make use the same physics that a creek chooses to meander over a flat plain”, you have again distorted physical reality.

      In each of these cases, you have asserted that some “thing” other than we, ourselves, is controlling what we do.

      And I have pointed out that the thought that “something external is controlling us” is perceived by most people as a threat, just like a boogeyman.

      The reaction to the threat is to claim that it is not true (and, in fact, none of your three statements is actually true in objective reality). And that’s why you get the backlash against determinism.

      What I’m trying to point out, is that determinism is NOT a threat to our freedom, but rather the very mechanism of all our possibilities.


  14. Marvin
    Are you saying the cause and effect that is described by “physics” has nothing to do with our so called choices?

    What I’m trying to point out, is that determinism is NOT a threat to our freedom, but rather the very mechanism of all our possibilities.

    But only one of them is an actual possibility, that will be a result of “physics”.

    It goes back to my thermodynamic analogy. There might be several possibilities for thermodynamically feasible chemical reactions, but kinetics will ultimately choose which path will be followed. Our choices are a function of diffusion rates within and across our neurons. In no meaningful way do we control these functions.

    The behaviour of our bodies is completely passive, we might describe it in terms of purpose etc. But then you are simply anthropomorphizing chemistry and physics.

    Determinism is not a threat full stop, nor is a lack of free will.


    1. Okay, I had to laugh at the irony of “you are simply anthropomorphizing chemistry and physics”. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t me. It was the “random” mutations over 3.5 billion years (see Wikipedia article on Abiogenesis) that eventually resulted in anthropos.

      There was no purpose behind these mutations, other than the purpose of survival that arose in the earliest life forms, and prevented their extinction. Life forms that did not act in their own interest to survive, didn’t. Animals that failed to evolve a sense of hunger simply did not eat. And they died. Those that evolved a hunger mechanism, and spent time and energy finding and consuming food, survived.

      When it came time to vote on whether they should survive or not, the only ones who showed up to vote were those that acted purposefully to survive, thrive, and reproduce. They had evolved the mechanisms of survival as parts of their own bodies. And this is the only location within the physical universe where biological purpose can be found, within the bodies of living organisms.

      The universe didn’t care. Physics didn’t care. Prior causes didn’t care. But living organisms, either by instinct (biology) or by choice (rationality), behave in ways that physics alone cannot explain.

      Determinism can only be saved by adding reliable biological causation and reliable rational causation to reliable physical causation. And then we can assert that every event is the reliable result of some specific combination of these three.

      The three mechanism all run on a physical infrastructure. But only physical causation is accounted for by physical laws. To get to biological causation, you must organize physical matter into living cells. To get to rational causation, you must further evolve living cells into a capable brain, and turn it on.

      And then you get us, anthropos, the willful creatures who act deliberately to further their own interests and deal with their concerns.


  15. Perhaps we could take a step back here.
    Please would you go through of what you think are the mechanics of making a choice?
    eg choosing an ice cream.


    1. Choosing ice cream involves taste preferences, which are biological, and, if you’re overweight like me, it can involve rational calculation, such as which desert is sufficiently satisfying but with fewer calories. (I use MS Access to track my calories).

      Due to evolution, we tend to seek food that is high in calories, based on our species earlier lives as hunter-gatherers, when meals were fewer and farther apart.

      Food preferences are etched into our memories by experience. Those that produced higher levels of immediate satisfaction conditioned our brains to recall them as good experiences.

      So, when presented with two choices, it only takes a moment to recall our preference and make the choice. On the other hand, if we need to think about it, perhaps to evaluate the effect this will have on our diet, then that takes longer. I’ve read or heard that whenever conscious thought is needed, it dramatically slows things down. The pianist, who was hyper-aware when first learning to play, can now move his fingers over the keyboard without thinking.

      There are conscious processes and unconscious processes working in the brain. Conscious awareness itself is one of the processes running on the neural infrastructure. (For a good theory of consciousness, see Michael Graziano’s “Consciousness and the Social Brain”. For a breakdown of other mental processes see Michael Gazzaniga’s “Who’s In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain”).

      I am presuming that both the biological causation and the rational causation are as reliable as the physical causation. However, keep in mind that a rational process may be reliable, but still come up with the wrong answer. And it may be influenced by biological factors, as in the case of your hungry judge. And that’s what I mean when I say that every event is reliably brought about by some specific combination of physical, biological, and/or rational causation.

      And, of course, rational causation is absent from living organism that lack sufficient neurological development, and biological causation is absent from inanimate objects.

      There is no absence of reliable causal mechanisms involved in choosing between two ice creams. But the most meaningful and relevant causes of my choice happen to be integral parts of me. And what they choose, I have chosen.

      Does that answer your question?


  16. No I am talking about the mechanics not the perceptions.

    Lets start at the sound waves that come from me asking what flavour of ice cream would you like?


    1. Sound and light waves are translated through one or more intermediate processes where they are eventually translated into perceptions. For example, light waves hit the retina upside down and the image is turned right side up by intermediate processes. If you take Psych 101 they’ll cover perception. I was a psych major and I recall this experimented reported on TV where subjects were given glasses that made everything appear upside down. It took a day or two but after a week they were able to function normally because their brain compensated. They were disoriented briefly when it was time to take the glasses off. As to the mechanism of hearing, I just checked Wikipedia, and they have good article under “Hearing”.

      As I understand things, the brain makes sense of its external and internal sensations by composing a model of reality as it encounters different sensations like touch, sound, sight, etc. When the model is accurate enough to be useful, we call it “reality”, because the model is our only access to reality. When the model is inaccurate enough to cause problems, we call it an “illusion”.

      I presume that perception is a mechanistic process running upon the neural infrastructure, primarily in the cortex. But conscious awareness, per se, seems to be located (hang on while I check my notes) in the cerebral cortex on the right side, especially involving the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) and the superior temporal sulcus (STS). according to Michael Graziano’s “Consciousness and the Social Brain” (pages 32-33).

      I’m not a neuroscientist, but both Graziano and Gazzaniga are.

      Anyway, I’m not sure if I’ve answered your question sufficiently to convey the fact that it is mechanistic and it is specifically the mechanisms that are us that are doing the perceiving and the choosing.


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