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10/28/2014

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All of these operatives for JTF should be ashamed of themselves. Oh, wait...

Hi Al,

Thanks for your stewardship of the Templeton free will project and congratulations on the publication of Surrounding Free Will. In your Slate essay you say "For all we know, ambitious free will is widespread," where ambitious free will is being "able to have made a different decision in the absence of any prior difference."

As far as I know there's no (naturalistic, scientific) evidence for such free will, and lots of evidence that our wills, choices, decisions and actions have sufficient (if sometimes obscure) causes in our beliefs, reasons, brain, body and current environment, such that a different decision would only have occurred given a difference in these causes. So it seems to me that under naturalism there's a vanishingly small chance that ambitious free will is widespread or even a coherent possibility. Isn't this lack of evidence and coherence (despite Robin Collin’s attempt to skew science toward “entity dualism”) part of "the truth about a deep and important issue," at least as we naturalists currently discern it?

Hi Tom,

Can you point me to what you regard as the best evidence for the proposition at issue -- especially this part: "such that a different decision would only have occurred given a difference in these causes"?

Hi Al,

Evidence from most scientific experiments and observations, whether in physics or the special sciences, suggests that outcomes are functions of (caused by) prior conditions according to various laws, such that had the conditions been different, the outcomes would have been different. Given the laws, if we could replicate the conditions the same outcome would occur, any intrinsic randomness aside - the classic thought experiment. This expectation has been confirmed to a rough approximation (since we can't control all variables perfectly) in countless real world experiments and observations. So there's good reason to think that decisions, likewise, are a (complex!) law-like function of prior causes such that for a different decision to have happened, the causes would have had to have been otherwise.

Hi Tom,

2 things. 1. You don't mention any direct evidence for the thesis at issue: namely, that "our wills, choices, decisions and actions have sufficient (if sometimes obscure) causes in our beliefs, reasons, brain, body and current environment, such that a different decision would only have occurred given a difference in these causes." 2. Given our topic, why are we setting "any intrinsic randomness aside"?

Yes, I agree with Thomas: anyone who takes money from the JTF must be a craven sleazebag! Al: you should be ashamed of yourself.

Tom,

If the interaction between two thoughts within my mind is solely a function of previous events, then wouldn’t it follow that my thoughts don’t really interact with one another at the “thought level”? Here’s why I say that: I think it’s fair to say that a thought exists as a wave of billions of neurons firing in a coordinated manner – a thought isn’t one and the same entity as the interaction between any two neurons. So if we believe that the interaction between any two neurons is controlled solely by previous events, and we therefore believe that the interaction of our thoughts (i.e., the composite of neural activity taken together as a whole) is also controlled solely by previous events (i.e., our thoughts are predeterministic in nature) then wouldn’t we also need to believe that our thoughts don’t exert any real control on one another, and wouldn’t that belief be contradictory to what we experience?

Hi Al,

Some direct evidence that our wills, choices and decisions are caused by reasons and beliefs is that people cite them routinely in explanations of their behavior, and most of the time there's no reason to doubt the truth of such explanations since they are highly predictive of future behavior. Had they had different beliefs and reasons, we naturally and rightly suppose they would have acted differently, and if not, they would have acted as they did, for instance were (counterfactually) the actual situation faithfully replicated. This is how we make sense of human behavior: by seeing that it’s a function of various desires, motives, beliefs, etc. We don’t rationally suppose that sane people act independently of such causes such that they could just as well have done X instead of Y in an actual situation, which is what ambitious free will is about.

The same goes for brain, body and environmental states as determinants of action, should we take the sub-personal or overtly physicalist stance in our explanations. We have good evidence that motor outputs, including conscious speech and voluntary acts, are determined by neural processes, such that activating the same pathways produces the same or similar behavior. So I think the thesis at issue is well-evidenced and uncontroversial, especially compared to the claim that for all we know, ambitious free will is widespread.

I set intrinsic randomness aside given this topic since randomness can’t make an act any more the agent’s, even though it might mean, should it play a role in explaining behavior, that the agent wasn't determined to act as she did. Since free will as the basis for moral responsibility or consequentialist accountability is usually cited in order to secure authorship of action, we can safely set randomness aside when considering varieties of free will worth wanting, as Dennett would put it. Unless (as Dennett points out) one is playing rock-paper-scissors with God or Laplace’s demon, not a live possibility under naturalism.

Hi Tom, it's hard to tell if you are assuming that Al's "ambitious free will" is more ambitious than he means it to be. He's just allowing the possibility that something like Kane's libertarian free will has not be falsified by our best scientific theories (i.e., some quantum indeterminism affecting which way some close call decisions turn out, a view that shows up in similar forms in libertarian proposals by Nozick, Dennett, Mele, Balaguer, and perhaps even William James though pre-quantum theory, with each putting the indeterminism in different 'places' in the decision-making process).

Mele (nor these other theorists) is not suggesting anything like agent-causation or any other theory that might conflict with naturalism. As such, I think the evidence you cite doesn't work to undermine these forms of "naturalistic libertarianism"--nothing in neuroscience or psychology approaches establishment of deterministic laws or sufficient conditions for all decisions and actions and some evidence suggests a place for indeterminism to 'percolate up'. Indeed, it's not clear those sciences could establish determinism if the best theory in physics is indeterministic.

Of course, if you're like me, you think this sort of indeterminism doesn't do anything to help secure a sort of control (or FW) relevant to making us the source of our actions or morally responsible for them. It might, however, help simplify our analyses of modality--e.g., making it easier to explain and understand how any contingent event might have been different, without having to consider alterations to the laws or of events going back to the big bang. If that's all it does for us, however, there's no need for the indeterminism to occur within the agent.

The Slate articles are great! Thanks to Al and the other authors.

I meant to say something about John's message before I approved the others that came in recently. (Perhaps some action-producing randomness threw me off.) In case there's a stray reader who doesn't get John's joke, John is the director of the Immortality Project, a major project funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Eddy, well said indeed.
Tom, I’m confident that all actions are caused. Our question is whether they’re all caused deterministically. And you haven’t offered any direct evidence that they are. You write: “I set intrinsic randomness aside given this topic since randomness can’t make an act any more the agent’s, even though it might mean, should it play a role in explaining behavior, that the agent wasn't determined to act as she did.” So can we put your thesis about determinism and free action as follows: Every action is deterministically caused unless it’s indeterministically caused, and if an action is indeterministically caused it’s not free, because indeterministic causation can’t make any contribution to free action? For a rebuttal of that thesis, see my 2006 book, *Free Will and Luck*. I won’t go into this in a blog, but it’s all there in black and white in that book.

Dr. Mele, I can't thank you enough for all the work you've done on Free Will as part of the Templeton Project and otherwise. It's also my belief that these kinds of projects are like a shot in the arm to Philosophy in terms of bringing into more mainstream areas and also in making it more relevant and interesting to the ordinary masses. Thank you again!

You always have nice things to say, Jeff. I appreciate it. Now, as for that Fischer guy . . .

Eddy, you and I agree that for something like Kane’s libertarian free will (a variety of Al’s ambitious free will) to ground moral responsibility, then indeterminism has to somehow contribute to an agent’s authorship, and we agree that it doesn’t. So what’s ambitious about this free will is not the claim that indeterminism might play a role in causing action, but the claim that indeterminism grounds (deeper, ultimate) responsibility and therefore makes having such free will matter. There’s no accepted, evidence-based account of how indeterminism, should it percolate up, adds to authorship, and it’s not having been falsified is a very weak basis for holding it might exist. So to say that ambitious free will might be widespread for all we know seems unsupported.

You say "nothing in neuroscience or psychology approaches establishment of deterministic laws or sufficient conditions for all decisions and actions". But of course the thrust of neuroscience and psychology is to find out what the laws and conditions are, and we’re getting better and better at that. And it’s those laws and conditions that connect an agent’s beliefs, desires, character, brain and body to her decisions and actions and thus establishes responsibility for them. If indeterminism percolates up, it won’t make her more responsible.

Al, you ask “So can we put your thesis about determinism and free action as follows: Every action is deterministically caused unless it’s indeterministically caused, and if an action is indeterministically caused it’s not free, because indeterministic causation can’t make any contribution to free action?”

Indeterministic causation, should it play a role in human behavior, frees action from the chains of determinism (fwiw), but it doesn’t contribute to an agent’s responsibility for the action as far as I can tell. Does your book explain how that might work?

Tom, the answer to the question you asked me is yes. In *Free Will and Luck*, chapter 5 is the main place to look. Recent articles of mine on aspects of this issue are:
“Luck and Free Will,” Metaphilosophy (2014) 45: 543-557.
“Libertarianism and Human Agency,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 87 (2013): 72-92.
“Is What You Decide Ever up to You?” in I. Haji and J. Caouette, eds. Free Will and Moral Responsibility, Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2013), 74-97.
“Moral Responsibility and the Continuation Problem,” Philosophical Studies 162 (2013): 237-255.

Al,

Thanks for explaining my joke--usually my wife has to do that!!!

Keep up the great work with JTF,
John

John, I'm sure that if you show Tina the joke, she'll be glad I explained it.

Al: you are a good sport!

Everyone: here's a little story further illustrating what a good sport Al is. We were in Muenster at a conference organized by Michael Quante a couple of years ago. After the sessions one evening, there was a great dinner at which Al and I were sitting next to each other. (Much drinking of beer occurred by us all--fortunately [see below].) At some point late in the evening, Al said, "Luck is an amazing thing" [or something like that], and I agreed. (We had been talking about luck.) Somehow, and I'm not sure how, the conversation segued to a discussion of baseball and the famous incident when Babe Ruth pointed to exactly the area where he would hit a crucial home run. I was telling that story (about Babe Ruth) to the people sitting across the table from us--including my son, Ariel, my wife (Tina), and Patrick Todd (and others). I was really into the story, and had (well) a bit to drink, and I decided to do a suitable Babe Ruth impersonation by thrusting my finger toward an imagined area of left field where "I" would hit the home run. Unbeknownst to me (NO=-don't worry, this is NOT a Frankfurt Case), just as I was thrusting my finger toward left field, the waitress was bringing hot coffee to Al, and I caused the coffee to spill all over Al. It was scalding hot!!

Fortunately, Al recovered without (too much) damage,my mortification diminished, and we all had a good laugh. Luck is amazing--both good and bad! And Al is a cool (well, once he dried off) guy!

Al, many thanks for those references. Since you, and no doubt others reading this blog, believe ambitious free will is a live possibility, I'm wondering what sort of discovery or new knowledge would help establish it as actually widespread. That is, assuming indeterministic causation is found to play a role in decisions, what findings could settle the question of whether that adds to the control already conferred by deterministic causation, making the agent more responsible?

Tom, you asked: "assuming indeterministic causation is found to play a role in decisions, what findings could settle the question of whether that adds to the control already conferred by deterministic causation, making the agent more responsible?" With that assumption in place (assuming that the role you mentioned is pretty common and relevant to what is decided), we'd mainly be faced with theoretical questions about the nature of control and the nature of moral responsibility. These theoretical questions are discussed in the references I gave you, where you'll find critiques of some arguments that people offer for the conclusion that you favor.

James, you ask: "if we believe that the interaction between any two neurons is controlled solely by previous events, and we therefore believe that the interaction of our thoughts (i.e., the composite of neural activity taken together as a whole) is also controlled solely by previous events (i.e., our thoughts are predeterministic in nature) then wouldn’t we also need to believe that our thoughts don’t exert any real control on one another, and wouldn’t that belief be contradictory to what we experience?"

I'd say that one thought influences another by virtue of the content of the thought, and that's how we experience the causal connection between, say, deliberation and a resulting decision to do X. I don't see any contradiction between this higher level, deterministic explanation (were it not for the chain of thoughts constituting my deliberation, I wouldn't have decided X) and determinism at the lower level in which there's a sufficient set of neural events that accounts for my behavior. That set of events, it's plausible to assume, instantiates the content. As Sinnott-Armstrong points out in his Slate essay, there are many possible such sets which could instantiate that content, so the mental is multiply realizable:

"Mental causation occurs in this way when the more general mental property rather than the particular neural property captures the level of generality that makes a difference to our actions. And if this kind of mental state can cause actions, then there is no further bar to our choices causing our actions."

There's no reason to think, as far as I can tell, that such causation is indeterministic such that if I had a particular mental state, instantiated by some brain state or other, I might well have done something else. Nor is there reason to think imo that if indeterministic mental causation exists (an empirical question) it adds to authorship or responsibility. But of course others here think there *are* such reasons, about which I remain perpetually curious!

Tom,

Thanks for your reply.

I really like the quote that you mentioned from Sinnott-Armstrong’s Slate essay: "Mental causation occurs in this way when the more general mental property rather than the particular neural property captures the level of generality that makes a difference to our actions. And if this kind of mental state can cause actions, then there is no further bar to our choices causing our actions." That makes a lot of sense to me, however, I’m thinking that the term “general mental property” is used in a broad (vague) sense and further clarification is needed.

I think you’d agree, that in order for things to physically change within a brain, forces are required. At the neuron level (where “particular neural properties” exist), associated forces affect brain activity. Let’s call that the “lower-level”. When control is exerted from the higher-level (i.e., the thought level), it seems fair to say that the neural level is thereby affected. Here’s where I’m going with this… If the neural level is physically affected by something that occurs at the thought level, then there *must* be forces exerted from the thought level which thereby interact with forces existing at the neural level (i.e., the forces add together and form a net sum). To me, that clearly shows that there must be new emergent forces existing at the thought level. A human thought is effectively caused by neurons, but the new emergent forces exerted *from* the thought level aren’t determined by the neurons. I say that because the forces exerted by our thoughts exist in a different field than the forces exerted by our neurons (imagine how the forces associated with two thoughts interact with one another in your mind at the thought level), and forces located in different fields don’t add directly with one another (i.e., there is no deterministic connection/control). There’s some kind of transcendence that occurs when forces that are associated with our thoughts affect the forces associated with our neurons. (I’m not claiming to understand it, I’m simply claiming that it’s happening.)

So here’s where I think that takes us in terms of the bigger picture: Since forces located in different fields don’t add directly with one another (forces exerted by our thoughts don’t add directly with forces exerted by our neurons), the deterministic causal chain is effectively broken at that point, and the new “life” associated with our thoughts may be viewed as indeterministic in nature. I agree that all causes have causes, but not all of the properties associated with a given cause are necessarily predeterministic in nature (i.e., some properties are associated with new life).

The reason mankind has a long history of difficulty explaining these kinds of things (e.g., free will), is due to a fundamental human reference issue: humans can only sense a *very* limited set of forces within the infinitely wide spectrum of all forces, and therefore our scientific methods have trained us to believe that only 4 ea. fundamental forces exist in reality, and all events are controlled solely by those four forces in a predeterministic manner from the bottom-up. I’m thinking that the truth is likely instead: there are an infinite number of emergent forces which exist, and by creating arguments that show our thoughts *must* exert new emergent forces, I believe mankind will take the next step forward and realize that life is fundamentally indeterministic in nature and it’s the source of our free will.

Okay, perhaps that was a little much, but I get passionate about these topics. I welcome your better ideas.

Wait, one more thing… There’s also some vagueness when Sinnott-Armstrong uses the phrase “captures the level of generality that makes a difference to our actions”. My interpretation of that phrase, is that he’s talking about how forces exerted from our thoughts transcend to the neural level and thereby exert sufficient control (within the net sum) to affect our actions.

Jerry Coyne has been posting lots about free will in the last week, including something about these Slate articles (which he describes as "an ad for Templeton"): http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/templeton-dialogue-about-free-will-hint-theyre-for-it/

It'd be great if people weighed in, since he has a large audience and he's saying some egregiously false things about free will and philosophers of free will (along with some true things).

Well, I'm not sure if anyone here tried to post responses to Coyne's post on these articles (I saw one by Tom Clark), but I tried twice, and he did not approve my comments (one pointing out that his claim is false that there is only one study suggesting folk compat intuitions vs lots showing folk incompat, and another laying out what the authors of the Slate articles believe, just to indicate that, for instance, all but one are physicalists, with several incompatibilists and two skeptics).

So, I guess Coyne thinks Templeton has an agenda, but censoring people who disagree with you and present alternative info to your readers is just fine.

I'm glad you told us about this, Eddy. Yes, I don't see anyway around the inference that this is hypocritical behavior on his part. If anyone else had the same experience as Eddy, that would be interesting to know. I don't involve myself much in replying -- or I suppose I should say *trying* to reply -- to posts on other people's blogs. Life is short.

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