Another attack on free will

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There is a new and interesting article on free will research. This in the LA Times, at https://www.latimes.com/science/story/20...mined-book .

This article is mainly to cover a new and innovative study of (supposed) free will, that claims to prove it doesn't exist. This is Robert Sapolsky’s latest book, called “Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will” at https://www.latimes.com/science/story/20...mined-book. He may present a troublesome advocacy of the totally materialist No Free Will belief system.

Quote:"After more than 40 years studying humans and other primates, Sapolsky has reached the conclusion that virtually all human behavior is as far beyond our conscious control as the convulsions of a seizure, the division of cells or the beating of our hearts."

It's interesting that according to his book a moment of illumination in Sapolsky's early life molded and created his lifelong pursuit of scientific proof that there is no free will, and no real God.

Apparently a quasi-religious experience leading to absolute faith-based conviction of the key idea - essentially a fundamentalist doctrinal closed-mindedness. It seems to me probably an emotional rejection of his faith-based orthodox Jewish upbringing.

Quote:"While grappling with questions of faith and identity, he was struck by an epiphany that kept him awake until dawn and reshaped his future: God is not real, there is no free will, and we primates are pretty much on our own."

This seems to be a quasi-religious illumination experience leading to absolute faith-based conviction of the key idea.

Quote:"(Sapolsky's previous book prepared the ground) by breaking down the neurochemical influences that contribute to human behaviors, analyzing the milliseconds to centuries preceding, say, the pulling of a trigger or the suggestive touch on an arm.

“Determined” goes a step further. If (as the book claims) it’s impossible for any single neuron or any single brain to act without influence from factors beyond its control, Sapolsky argues, there can be no logical room for free will."
..................................
"...when (for example) you reach for that pen, Sapolsky says, so many factors beyond your conscious awareness brought you to that pen that it’s hard to say how much you “chose” to pick it up at all."
..................................
“Who we are and what we do is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control and because of this we are never morally responsible for our actions in the sense that would make us truly deserving of praise and blame, punishment and reward,” said Gregg Caruso, a philosopher at SUNY Corning who read early drafts of "Determined". “I am in agreement with Sapolsky that life without belief in free will is not only possible but preferable.”

Presumably Sapolsky (and Caruso and his ilk) ignore the scientific research work that has in fact demonstrated free will, and also ignore the obvious severe problem that in his theory human consciousness is one and the same as the collective complex deterministic physical interactions of neurons in the brain, which then runs full into the well-known Hard Problem of consciousness, in addition of course to colliding with the very large body of paranormal empirical evidence for the ultimate independence of mind from the physical brain and body. Evidence of the dualist model where when in body immaterial spirit strongly interacts with brain neurons and at least partially determines their mutual interactions. Of course Sapolsky totally ignores that little insight into the problem.

It's interesting that in the end Sapolsky leaves a hint that he is flummoxed by something a little like the Hard Problem, where he is convinced that an immaterial moral dimension or property does in fact exist, even though it is an artifact of the consciousness he claims is completely deterministic and material.

Quote:"We are machines, Sapolsky argues, exceptional in our ability to perceive our own experiences and feel emotions about them. It is pointless to hate a machine for its failures.

There is only one last thread he can’t resolve.

“It is logically indefensible, ludicrous, meaningless to believe that something ‘good’ can happen to a machine,” he writes. “Nonetheless, I am certain that it is good if people feel less pain and more happiness.”"
(This post was last modified: 2023-10-18, 08:53 PM by nbtruthman. Edited 3 times in total.)
(2023-10-18, 08:45 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: There is a new and interesting article on free will research. This in the LA Times, at https://www.latimes.com/science/story/20...mined-book .

This article is mainly to cover a new and innovative study of (supposed) free will, that claims to prove it doesn't exist. This is Robert Sapolsky’s latest book, called “Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will” at https://www.latimes.com/science/story/20...mined-book. He may present a troublesome advocacy of the totally materialist No Free Will belief system.


It's interesting that according to his book a moment of illumination in Sapolsky's early life molded and created his lifelong pursuit of scientific proof that there is no free will, and no real God.

Apparently a quasi-religious experience leading to absolute faith-based conviction of the key idea - essentially a fundamentalist doctrinal closed-mindedness. It seems to me probably an emotional rejection of his faith-based orthodox Jewish upbringing.


This seems to be a quasi-religious illumination experience leading to absolute faith-based conviction of the key idea.


Presumably Sapolsky (and Caruso and his ilk) ignore the scientific research work that has in fact demonstrated free will, and also ignore the obvious severe problem that in his theory human consciousness is one and the same as the collective complex deterministic physical interactions of neurons in the brain, which then runs full into the well-known Hard Problem of consciousness, in addition of course to colliding with the very large body of paranormal empirical evidence for the ultimate independence of mind from the physical brain and body. Evidence of the dualist model where when in body immaterial spirit strongly interacts with brain neurons and at least partially determines their mutual interactions. Of course Sapolsky totally ignores that little insight into the problem.

It's interesting that in the end Sapolsky leaves a hint that he is flummoxed by something a little like the Hard Problem, where he is convinced that an immaterial moral dimension or property does in fact exist, even though it is an artifact of the consciousness he claims is completely deterministic and material.

Another book full of anecdotal evidence. I wonder what motivation a materialist like Sapolsky had to write this book (obviously ‘motivation’ doesn’t exists according to his own beliefs so who cares if he wrote the book or not). I feel the whole ‘no free will’ argument quickly becomes cyclic and non-coherent.
(This post was last modified: 2023-10-18, 09:07 PM by sbu. Edited 1 time in total.)
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I'd take it more seriously if he insisted there was no free will because QM is indeterministic.

Determinism is just speculation AFAIK, the current body of actual evidence suggests indeterminism. 

As Carlos Rovelli says in Hegoland it seems a variety of physics theories/ideas like MWI and Superdeterminism are due to a discomfort with the idea of indeterminism. Scott Aaraonson has also pointed out that if QM were to be found to be deterministic this would be an "anti-clue", and the idea of Nature playing this kind of trick is suspect.

Now if one wants to insist this indeterminism is random they can but to me this is also projection onto the evidence.

I think people like the idea of determinism because it seems to provide a universe that makes sense...though if one is genuinely materialist then I think you can only get to a seeming determinism. After all what "laws" could hold this determinism from moment to moment that didn't run into Dualist Interactionism?

“An element of proto-consciousness takes place whenever a decision is made in the universe. I’m not talking about the brain. I’m talking about an object which is put into a superposition of two places. Say it’s a speck of dust that you put into two locations at once. Now, in a small fraction of a second, it will become one or the other. Which does it become? Well, that’s a choice. Is it a choice made by the universe? Does the speck of dust make this choice? Maybe it’s a free choice. I have no idea.”
 -Penrose

I also think determinism is the only way for materialists to try and convincingly evangelize their faith, because telling people mathematics and all its attendant gifts or the great works of literature are mere products of chance is going to kill the atheist-materialist religion at an even faster rate...

And for those of us who think all causation is mental causation a claim by someone like Sapolsky doesn't even rate.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2023-10-18, 09:39 PM by Sciborg_S_Patel. Edited 2 times in total.)
I just had a look at the linked article. A lot of complex thoughts came to me, but I'll say something which may seem somewhat tangential or away from the arguments Sapolsky was making.

I asked myself - or others the question: why are stories so powerful?

That's an indirect response to the quote,
Sapolsky Wrote:"The world is really screwed up and made much, much more unfair by the fact that we reward people and punish people for things they have no control over. We’ve got no free will. Stop attributing stuff to us that isn’t there."

What he's presenting there is a narrative, a description, 'this is the way the world is'. Hence my rhetorical response, "Why are stories so powerful?". There are other stories, fairy tales, novels, religious ideas or parables. All sorts of ways in which we can characterise not just the world we live in, but what we see as more positive or beneficial narratives as compared with destructive or futile ones.

Even Sapolsky takes part in this. By expressing discontent with what he says is unsatisfactory and pointing to something which he considers better, then he has selected a narrative.

What I'm getting at is twofold, there are many narratives, including new, not yet invented ones. Which one we choose matters. Sapolsky acknowledges this by putting forward his views. But is he also saying we should ignore everything he says because he never chose anything after all? If that was the case then why not remain silent? Perhaps he doesn't live by what he describes, he is just another novelist or creative writer?
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More thoughts on Sapolsky's theory of no free will:

I would think that in response to criticism Sapolsky would simply point out that from his assumed completely materialistic and deterministic neuroscientific stance on consciousness, all the multitudinous neurological brain events creating the conscious experiences and willings and apparent free decisions of the decider are the ultimately deterministic mechanical results of immense numbers of atoms in motion and predictably interacting, and therefore just a coincidence. No free will, in fact no "will" at all. It's all an illusion.

Among many other problems, this reasoning totally ignores Chalmers' "Hard Problem" of consciousness, of course; and it implicitly totally ignores the reasonable question that arises, then what is experiencing this illusion of consciousness and free will? And it also totally ignores the very large body of empirical evidence for the existence of an immaterial spirit that in life inhabits and interpenetrates the physical brain and manifests in the physical through it. The ultimate nature of this mobile center of consciousness is a total mystery and therefore there is no basis to an assumption of total determinism with no free will. 

What this boils down to is that Sapolsky's theory appears to be deeply incoherent and therefore not warranting a lot of debate.
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(2023-11-07, 04:51 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: More thoughts on Sapolsky's theory of no free will:

I would think that in response to criticism Sapolsky would simply point out that from his assumed completely materialistic and deterministic neuroscientific stance on consciousness, all the multitudinous neurological brain events creating the conscious experiences and willings and apparent free decisions of the decider are the ultimately deterministic mechanical results of immense numbers of atoms in motion and predictably interacting, and therefore just a coincidence. No free will, in fact no "will" at all. It's all an illusion.

Among many other problems, this reasoning totally ignores Chalmers' "Hard Problem" of consciousness, of course; and it implicitly totally ignores the reasonable question that arises, then what is experiencing this illusion of consciousness and free will? And it also totally ignores the very large body of empirical evidence for the existence of an immaterial spirit that in life inhabits and interpenetrates the physical brain and manifests in the physical through it. The ultimate nature of this mobile center of consciousness is a total mystery and therefore there is no basis to an assumption of total determinism with no free will. 

What this boils down to is that Sapolsky's theory appears to be deeply incoherent and therefore not warranting a lot of debate.

I am not really sure the Hard Problem, as originally stated by Chalmers, has anything to say one way or another regarding free will.

There are also people who've believed in immaterial spirits but thought everything was determined by God's plan or were determinists for other reasons.

I would say Sapolsky's primary issues are a misunderstanding of causation metaphysically, in addition to apparently accepting that determinism is what the scientific image shows us at the biological level of brains. 

This is before even getting to stuff like Psi and Survival, though I would agree these do poke potentially bigger holes in his views. 

As an aside, his attempts to influence our decision making by invoking the injustice of punishing people who - under his determinist view - are not morally responsible seems contradictory....
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2023-11-07, 09:12 PM by Sciborg_S_Patel. Edited 2 times in total.)
(2023-11-07, 09:09 PM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: I am not really sure the Hard Problem, as originally stated by Chalmers, has anything to say one way or another regarding free will.

.....................

My point was that Sapolsky's theory assumes a strict materialistic explanation of consciousness as somehow being one and the same as the collective actions of millions of neurons in the neurological structure of the brain and/or simply the physical neurons and synapses themselves. The existence of the Hard Problem of consciousness conclusively disproves that notion. So if then consciousness simply cannot be "what the brain does", then neural processing determinism can't be used to argue for no free will.
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(2023-11-07, 09:09 PM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: I am not really sure the Hard Problem, as originally stated by Chalmers, has anything to say one way or another regarding free will.

I think it does. I think that our subjectivity is the crucial argument against determinism. Most of the arguments I have tried to follow which espouse determinism seem to assume that subjectivity either does not exist or does not influence the outcome of deterministic progression. In other words, the electro-chemical activity of the brain is deterministic and the subjective frame of mind is nothing more than a determined brain state.

If, on the other hand, we accept that mind is more than an arrangement of synapses and electrical charges, then subjectivity is a non-physical influence on our choices and decisions which is outside of the influence of physical particles and forces.
I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.
Freeman Dyson
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Of course, if I take the next step in the argument I was making in my previous post, then subjectivity determines the brain states, not the other way around. And a step further takes us into a subjective universe created by, and determined by, mind. I might refer to the evidence in favour of ID to support this but I would not for a moment see that as confirmation of the God of organised religion.
I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.
Freeman Dyson
(This post was last modified: 2023-11-07, 11:11 PM by Kamarling. Edited 1 time in total.)
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(2023-11-07, 10:16 PM)Kamarling Wrote: I think it does. I think that our subjectivity is the crucial argument against determinism. Most of the arguments I have tried to follow which espouse determinism seem to assume that subjectivity either does not exist or does not influence the outcome of deterministic progression. In other words, the electro-chemical activity of the brain is deterministic and the subjective frame of mind is nothing more than a determined brain state.

If, on the other hand, we accept that mind is more than an arrangement of synapses and electrical charges, then subjectivity is a non-physical influence on our choices and decisions which is outside of the influence of physical particles and forces.

That's a good point, you can't really put "force vectors" on emotions, logical judgements,  and other aspects of our inner lives.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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