• WISDOMfromPO-MO
    753
    The phrase "free will is an illusion" has always struck me as ridiculous. Yet, it is increasingly gaining respectability as indisputable, scientifically demonstrated fact. How can the two be reconciled?

    It occurred to me last night that "free will is an illusion" is now (I don't know about, say, 400 years ago) always accompanied by something like "You think that you chose soup instead of salad, but..." and then a bunch of neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary theory, etc. And then--and I think this reveals that there is an agenda, and it is not simply (or at all) the rigorous search for objective reality--almost invariably there is some commentary that goes something like, "Sorry to burst your bubble, but you were fed a bunch of myths and/or lies in Sunday School".

    Sometimes it goes farther than that: we get a lecture about how much suffering this free will myth has caused and how in the future people who know better won't punish others for actions they had no control over.

    But it occurred to me last night that this belief that supposedly everybody has that they could have chose salad instead of soup is probably not the same thing as the free will in "God gave us free will". The latter, as I understand it, is believed to be contained in certain sacred texts that are revealed to us by the divine, and is accepted on faith. It is, as I understand it, not the same thing as that aforementioned belief that supposedly we all subconsciously harbor in our minds and that science supposedly exposes as an illusion.

    Therefore, saying that "free will is an illusion" contradicts theology makes as much sense as saying that "sin is an illusion" or "salvation is an illusion" contradicts theology. The latter two are not subconscious, taken for granted beliefs like the belief that you exist. They are, just as I understand free will, ideas that one consciously acknowledges or denies and accepts (on faith) or rejects (no faith).

    I think that the "free will is an illusion" evangelists need to come up with something to call it other than free will. "Absolute personal autonomy is an illusion", maybe.
  • WISDOMfromPO-MO
    753
    Of course we have free will.René Descartes

    I do not know if you are agreeing or disagreeing with me.

    Is the free will in "God gave us free will" the same thing as the free will in, say, a neuroscientist saying "Free will is an illusion"?
  • WISDOMfromPO-MO
    753
    Aren't all free wills the same thing? Whether it be religious or scientific it is still free will.René Descartes

    You mean "God gave you free will" and "You believe that you chose soup instead of salad" are interchangeable?

    Even if science could leave no doubt that a belief like "I chose soup instead of salad" is an illusion, would that falsify "God gave you free will"? The former is simply about something in one's mind. The latter is, as I understand theology, about our entire nature, constitution, being, etc.

    Where did beliefs like "I chose soup instead of salad" originate? Didn't "God gave us free will" originate in a completely different way?

    I sense that we may be dealing with a category error.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    This is a philosophy forum, not a religion forum. If you have a philosophical point to make, make it, but just saying determinist philosophies don't contradict theology because the book says so is not a philosophical argument.

    If the religious wish to make a philosophical argument (and many do) they are implicitly claiming, as philosophers like Plantagina do, that their epistemological system is defensible. If its not defensible logically, but taken on faith, that's fine, but it's not philosophy, it religion.

    Determinists are suggesting that they have a logical argument which denies free-will. That is relevant to those who think they have a logical argument in favour of free-will. If anyone wishes to abandon logic and simply take matters on faith, that's their choice, but they don't then get to dictate the meaning of terms, nor have they got any place in philosophical arguments. Its pointless just saying "I believe whatever the bible says" as a line of argument. What's anyone supposed to say to that?
  • Rich
    3.2k
    What's anyone supposed to say to that?Pseudonym

    They can give the determinist argument, "I believe you don't".
  • Rich
    3.2k


    I don't think Free Will can be observed in every day experience.

    What can be readily observed is the mind making a choice in the direction that it would like to move and then exert will to try to move in that direction. There is endless evidence of this in our life experiences and is common among all life.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    I didn't say religion had nothing to say in philosophy. I said that those propositions of religious belief which are taken on faith cannot be used to argue against opposing propositions arrived at by logical inference. It makes no sense.

    Imagine I came up with a huge elaborate proof in mathematics that in fact P=nP. What would be the point in someone publishing an opposition simply stating P does not equal nP... "because I believe it doesn't". How does that advance collective knowledge any?

    If there are thing you simply believe to be the case on faith, that's fine, but it's pointless discussing them with other people who are trying to use logic to arrive at their beliefs.

    Philosophy is really about trying to arrive at some justified beliefs based off the fewest axioms possible. Theology is about understanding and deriving implications from the axioms already given. The two are only compatible to the extent that the theologian claims to be able to derive religious beliefs from as few axioms as the philosopher.
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    880
    Therefore, saying that "free will is an illusion" contradicts theology makes as much sense as saying that "sin is an illusion" or "salvation is an illusion" contradicts theology. The latter two are not subconscious, taken for granted beliefs like the belief that you exist. They are, just as I understand free will, ideas that one consciously acknowledges or denies and accepts (on faith) or rejects (no faith).WISDOMfromPO-MO

    Not every theology takes free will as a matter of faith. It might be deduced from other more basic beliefs that rest on faith, but itself need not rest on faith. Also, not every theology espouses free will. So, it makes no sense to speak of "theology" as if it was something cohesive and all its propositions taken on faith.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    There's two levels to the question, there's a common sense idea of free will and a highfalutin' sense of Free Will.

    The highfalutin' sense, which, as you point out, is tied in with ideas about the soul and theology, that does seem dubious (though it's not totally out for the count, it of course depends on prior views about the existence of God, etc., and I'm the kind of rationalist who believes that question is far from settled).

    The common sense idea is often supposed to be incompatible with determinism, but it seems compatible to me. The common sense idea is simply that we do seem to ourselves to make decisions.

    When science looks deeper, it finds that we are sophisticated "moist robots" with internal decision making machinery that parses its environment and decides what to do next. The machinery also has a model of itself, its body and the environment (and that would be what comprises our conscious experience, i.e. our conscious experience is the very existence of that internal modelling process, as a relatively discrete physical object, or rather ever-shifting set of physical processes, a "brainstorm" in Dennett's coinage).

    So the thing that's made the free choice is you the moist robot, with your own internal machinery that parses your environment and decides what to do next. The fact that all that machinery is deterministic machinery doesn't make any difference to the fact that the choice belongs to and is expressed by the moist robot and not any other portion of the universe. (Note also that the choice is also free in an interpersonal or political sense, when it's not coerced, and that is intimately a part of the concept as well).

    Things like the Libet experiments don't make any difference either - so what if the moist robot's inner model of its body, internal computer and environment "gets the message" shortly after the moist robot's machinery has already made the decision? It's still literally your decision.

    The puzzle really arises because our consciousness, our conscious experience of self, is of being a commander of the crew of our body. The reality is that we are a virtual commander, i.e. the sense of being a separate something "inside" the body is illusory. (This is what people discover in meditation and mystical experience, the illusory nature of "I", "me", etc., if that's conceived of as being some mysterious thing inside the body peeping out from behind the eyes - although of course that discovery doesn't invalidate the interpersonal use of those terms, which simply serve to help distinguish one moist robot from another, while moist robots are in each other's company.)

    So long as free will is tied to being this supposedly real, separate soul-thing that inhabits the body, then yes, the concept is dubious and stands or falls with the validity of the soul/God concepts.

    But if the soul is a virtual thing, like an icon on a computer screen that represents a whole bunch of stuff that looks nothing like the picture on the icon, but yet it's functional - then the concept of free will just seemed to apply to the virtual entity, whereas it actually applies and functions perfectly well in referring to the totality of the moist robot, with its internal machinery, with its internal model, and its own virtualization of itself, its command routines, etc., within that internal model.

    And in the larger, Laplacian sense of determinism, well we know enough to know that's not really true, natural processes are deterministic, but often unpredictable, and that's why the deterministic processes in the brain have to figure out what to do next, on imperfect information. If their computing power were infinite, then there would be no choice and no decision, strictly speaking, "what to do next" would just fall out ineluctably from the computation. But our brain's computing power is limited, hence it has to make a choice between options, none of which has been formulated on the basis of infinite knowledge about start and end states, with access to infinite computing power to calculate any "chaotic" equations down to absolute perfection.
  • Rich
    3.2k
    moist robot,gurugeorge

    An interesting new nomenclature for Mind. I guess it is suitable for those who like to role-play bots in their life. What happened to Dennett's "selfish-gene"? No longer sells well?

    I adore it when scientists just make up stories to sell more books.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    It's Scott Adams' amusing coinage, picked up by Daniel Dennett. It's a quick way of thinking about ourselves realistically from the outside, objectively. Obviously it's not how things feel, and it doesn't mean we're being pushed into our decisions by some alien force or that our decisions are "robotic" in the colloquial sense.
  • Rich
    3.2k
    It's Scott Adams' coinage, picked up by Daniel Dennett.gurugeorge

    Fully appropriate. I look forward to more comic books from Dennett's.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    Do you think using an analogy from a comic strip invalidates the points Dennett is making?
  • Rich
    3.2k
    Do you think using an analogy from a comic strip invalidates the points Dennett is making?gurugeorge

    No. I think it fully validates it as pure comic fantasy. Dennett's is just spinning tales from pure imagination. People who want to role-play bots (I use to role-play play Superman as a child) love it.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    No. I think it fully validates it as pure comic fantasy. Dennett's is just spinning tales from pure imagination. People who want to role-play bots (I use to role-play play Superman as a child) love it.Rich

    Dennett is spinning tales from pure imagination? What makes you think that?
  • Rich
    3.2k
    Dennett is spinning tales from pure imagination? What makes you think that?gurugeorge

    Have you ever seen or experienced a Moist Robot in your body?
  • gurugeorge
    517
    Have you ever seen or experienced a Moist Robot in your body?Rich

    How can you see or experience a metaphor, or analogy?

    "Moist robot" is just a humorous way of thinking about yourself in terms of biology, engineering and computation. A human body is like a complex machine, just made of squishy bits and bones instead of metal and plastic. The complex machine has a lump of special fat up top, encased in bone, that is able to register and model the environment (plus itself in the environment) in its substance, just like a highly advanced robot would in silicon (already we can see things coming together in this way with the Boston Dynamics robots). I don't see how it's problematic.

    I get the feeling that you somehow think Dennett is trying to take away your toys (so to speak). I've seen people react this way to Dennett before, and I'd like to understand what's going on with this type of reaction. Could you unfold a bit more what you think he's doing wrong?
  • Rich
    3.2k
    How can you see or experience a metaphor, or analogy?gurugeorge

    I agree, all Dennett's is doing is replacing Mind with the carefully chosen substitution character Moist Robot. I'm sure there were many marketing meetings with his publisher when this cute metaphor was chosen. Definitely appeals to those who love their bot Sci Fi stories. Kudos to the publisher and Dennett's Sci Fi prowness.

    We have to keep track of Dennett's:

    Selfish Genes
    Moist Robot

    My prediction of the next one is:

    Superball Sunday
  • gurugeorge
    517
    all Dennett's is doing is replacing Mind with the carefully chosen substitution character Moist RobotRich

    I disagree, what he's actually doing is trying to bridge the "Scientific Image" and the "Manifest Image." The cute/catchy analogies and metaphors are tools for thought, he's not some sinister, machiavellian figure who's trying to replace our ordinary mental concepts with snazzy new ones, or substituting fashionable, catchy new ones for the old ordinary ones by sleight of hand, he's using these metaphors, analogies and catchy ideas to help us think about how our ordinary mental concepts might be related to our scientific understanding of the world.

    Because after all we do have this problem that science seems to be telling us one thing, and our ordinary mental concepts seem to be telling us another - so how do we reconcile the two? Dennett's general theme is that when you look clearly at what each Image seems to be telling us, maybe it's not actually telling us what it seems to be telling us; maybe the Scientific Image doesn't have the dire implications it seems to have, and maybe by some slight revisions of our ordinary mental concepts, we can see how they can be reconciled with the Scientific Image.

    You will note, for example, that he's pretty staunch in defending the concept of free will as necessary for society, necessary for us to use, valuable, and saying that we shouldn't stop using it - unlike many other scientists and philosophers who are running around telling us that free will is an "illusion" and that we must stop thinking in terms of free will.

    His middle-ground is that yes, it's an illusion in a certain precise sense, but it's a benign illusion like money, and it's still hugely important and necessary, and we still need to work with it and use it, just like we do with money. "Free will" doesn't refer to a single thing that has its own ontological existence distinct from physical things, but rather to a set of complex conditions at the scientific level, yet we still need to use the single term to get a handle on that complex set of conditions, or rather: the use of the single term is still the best way for human beings to get a handle on that complex set of conditions.
  • Rich
    3.2k
    replace our ordinary mental concepts with snazzy new onesgurugeorge

    That is exactly what he is doing and it is the only thing he is doing. He gives new names to Mind, for all those who want to be role-play some other little things. I think they only question one might is: What are you? A Selfish Gene or a Moist Robot?

    As for me, I still retain the same Mind as I had since I was a baby. I don't need to think of myself as some cute comic book symbol. I got over that decades ago.

    Because after all we do have this problem that science seems to be telling us one thing, and our ordinary mental concepts seem to be telling us another - so how do we reconcile the two?gurugeorge

    Ignore biological science.

    His middle-ground is that yes, it's an illusion in a certain precise sense, but it's a benign illusiongurugeorge

    I love his ability to come up with compromises that increases his readership base. No doubt his publisher is pleased.
  • Wayfarer
    6.6k
    You will note, for example, that he (Dennett) is pretty staunch in defending the concept of free will as necessary for society, necessary for us to use,gurugeorge

    yeah but as a necessary illusion. Talk about ‘condescending’. The point is, if mind is real, Dennett’s entire life work is undone.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    As for me, I still retain the same Mind as I had since I was a baby.Rich

    How would you know? What would make more sense is to say that you have the same theory of what your mind is that you had since you started thinking about what your mind is. In that case, Dennett isn't asking you to change it entirely, just to revise it and modify it in the light of science.

    Ignore biological science.Rich

    Why?

    yeah but as a necessary illusion. Talk about ‘condescending’. The point is, if mind is real, Dennett’s entire life work is undone.Wayfarer

    He's not saying mind isn't real, he's saying it's not quite what we think it is (although it's partly what we think it is, it does have some of the features we think it has, just not all).
  • Wayfarer
    6.6k
    Of course he says mind is unreal. That’s his entire shtick. Searle and Nagel said his first book should be called ‘Consciousness Ignored.’ No kidding.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    I believe we have will, and I believe it is largely, but not entirely, free. A problem of our mind is that so much of it is inaccessible to the conscious mind, the facility of mind that we are most familiar with. Surrounding the conscious mind is the longer, wider, deeper, and higher unconscious mind where most of our mental processes are conducted.

    It is in this unconscious, non-conscious mind where decisions are made, and passed on for the conscious mind to announce. Experiments have shown that in lab tests, decisions are reached "before we have made up our minds." That is, before we are consciously aware of what we are going to do in the lab set up, the unconscious mind has decided.

    This subtracts nothing from who I am, or who you are. Whatever goes on in my subconscious, unconscious, non-conscious mind is ME. I don't exist just in the conscious mind.

    I am sure, just based on experience, that I am not free to choose all options before me. I have learned some options are unacceptable and I am afraid of some options. (Like, will you jump off this very high diving board for $1000? No, never. It's not an option I am capable of considering.) Torture me with electric shocks and red hot pins under my finger nails. Will I confess what I have vowed never to reveal? Sure. I'm not superman.

    Is some of our behavior determined by physics, chemistry, biology? I suppose it is. Given the prevalence of the right set of chemicals in my brain, I will be unable to maintain positive, upbeat thoughts, even though that is what I prefer. Can I talk myself into and out of a depressive state? I don't think I can will myself to feel depressed, if I don't feel that way. Neither can I talk myself into feeling just fine if I feel very anxious and depressed.

    So, from my POV, we are left with a constrained free will over which our conscious mind does not exercise much, if any, control. Will does the controlling of the conscious mind, not the other way around. We can feed our minds information, it will make a more or less free choice. How it does that will probably be invisible to us. The invisibility doesn't mean it is all determined. It just means we can't see it happen.
  • Wayfarer
    6.6k
    we do have this problem that science seems to be telling us one thing, and our ordinary mental concepts seem to be telling us another - so how do we reconcile the two? Dennett's general theme is that when you look clearly at what each Image seems to be telling us, maybe it's not actually telling us what it seems to be telling us; maybe the Scientific Image doesn't have the dire implications it seems to have, and maybe by some slight revisions of our ordinary mental concepts, we can see how they can be reconciled with the Scientific Image.gurugeorge

    Some of the biologists [at the 'Moving Naturalism Forward' conference] thought the materialist view of the world should be taught and explained to the wider public in its true, high-octane, Crickian form. Then common, non-intellectual people might see that a purely random universe without purpose or free will or spiritual life of any kind isn’t as bad as some superstitious people— religious people! —have led them to believe.

    Daniel Dennett took a different view. While it is true that materialism tells us a human being is nothing more than a “moist robot”—a phrase Dennett took from a Dilbert comic—we run a risk when we let this cat, or robot, out of the bag. If we repeatedly tell folks that their sense of free will or belief in objective morality is essentially an illusion, such knowledge has the potential to undermine civilization itself, Dennett believes. Civil order requires the general acceptance of personal responsibility, which is closely linked to the notion of free will. Better, said Dennett, if the public were told that “for general purposes” the self and free will and objective morality do indeed exist—that colors and sounds exist, too—“just not in the way they think.” They “exist in a special way,” which is to say, ultimately, not at all.

    On this point the discussion grew testy at times. I was reminded of the debate among British censors over the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover half a century ago. “Fine for you or me,” one prosecutor is said to have remarked, “but is this the sort of thing you would leave lying about for your wife or servant to read?”

    Andrew Ferguson, The Heretic.

    Is some of our behavior determined by physics, chemistry, biology? I suppose it is.Bitter Crank

    I could probably write something here that could really annoy you. Maybe even, scare you. Then a pathologist could come along and take a sample, and say 'ah, Bitter Crank has been scared by something', if he or she was nimble enough. The traces might be picked up in the blood. But what scared you, was the meaning of what you have just read.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    I don't see why having faith in God does not equate to having faith in your senses.René Descartes

    Because if someone shows me an optical illusion I don't try to maintain the belief that my eyes were right and come up with some increasingly convoluted story to explain it. I just accept the evidence that my eyes were in fact mistaken on that occasion. If anyone proved logic to be untrustworthy I would accept that and use the new method they suggest. Religion is not interested in the truth, its interested in making things fit the answer it already has.

    Can I see this "huge elaborate proof".René Descartes

    Of course not, do you not understand how thought experiments work, or the meaning of the word 'imagine'?
  • Rich
    3.2k
    How would you know?gurugeorge

    You have to meditate on the absolute absurdity of quantum wave-particles asking questions of other quantum-wave particles. Do you have a theory for this absurdity? Does Dennett? I mean other than creating little characters that buzz around in the body acting like minds? There is no theory off how this all comes about. All there is is a fabricated bedtime story made up out of thin air.

    , Dennett isn't asking you to change it entirely, just to revise it and modify it in the light of science.gurugeorge

    Exactly what scientific evidence is there that little Moist Robots are zooming around in the body.

    Science measures some neurons kicking around and ah hah! There is the mind. It's the neuron! Now supposed a TV repairmen noticed some LEDs kicking around in my TV set and I said, Ah Hah! There is the mind! What would you say? And then he says that little people are stored in the electronics? Sound like a nice theory to you? I know that we never actually saw little people in the electronics, but they have to be there, right? And then he tells you to always come to him if something happened to notice the little people in the electronics, would you go?
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